Helping a friend move yesterday wasn’t part of Anthony Servideo’s offseason workout program, but it offered further evidence of his improved health. Some heavy lifting that couldn’t be taken lightly after everything he’s gone through.
The Orioles chose Servideo in the third round of the truncated 2020 draft out of the University of Mississippi, intrigued by his athleticism at shortstop, the lateral movement and soft hands. He was a top 30 prospect in the system until injuries and the influx of other talented young infielders lowered his status.
Professional baseball has exposed its fickle side to Servideo. Rewarding on draft day and in many of the games that he’s played, but cruel in its delays and interruptions.
The pandemic caused the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season, circumstances beyond his control. Servideo underwent sports hernia surgery in July 2021, stayed back at extended spring training this year and returned to the injured list in July with a groin strain.
A total of 44 games in two seasons spread between the Florida Complex League and Single-A Delmarva. Not exactly how he imagined it.
“It’s definitely been tough dealing with the injuries physically and mentally, especially seeing everyone else go out there and play, and play full seasons. The kids that I got drafted with,” said Servideo, whose grandfather, Curt Blefary, played for the Orioles and was the 1965 American League Rookie of the Year.
“Early in my rehab process I was too worried about that kind of stuff, and so I’ve grown to focus more on myself rather than, 'I’ve got to catch up to these kids, I got drafted with these kids, I’ve got to be like them.' I focus more on myself.
“Everyone’s path is different, and so that helped me stay focused on what I need to do to get better and get back on the field.”
Servideo is only 23 years old and time is on his side, but he’d like a straighter path.
Confident in his health after the sports hernia surgery, Servideo missed a month of games this summer with discomfort in his groin similar to what he experienced in his previous injury.
“The pain came back and then we took care of that,” he said. “We thought it was something in my hip, but no, it was just the groin strain.”
The down time was harder on Servideo because of the late start to his season, with the Orioles wanting to keep him back at extended spring training to slow-play his return.
“It was just extra work and maintenance, because they wanted to make sure that I was all good to go before they rushed me up to an affiliate, and just to get more at-bats. That’s the main reason,” he said.
“It (injury) did kind of come back, which is why I bounced back and forth from Delmarva to Sarasota. It’s all about reps now and catching back up.”
Servideo lives in Jupiter, Fla., and for the first time is working out at Cressey Sports Performance in nearby Palm Beach Gardens, a popular facility with players, especially during shutdown periods caused by COVID-19 and the expiration of the last collective bargaining agreement.
“I guess the big thing is I’m healthy, so that will affect my offseason pretty heavily. Being able to train the way I want and that kind of stuff,” Servideo said.
“My main focus for this offseason is to get stronger and to stay healthy. Building up the muscles that have been broken and just putting on good weight and building all the muscles around where my injury was. You’ve got to build up those muscles.
“They’ve kind of dialed in what we need to work on. Been doing that for a while and feeling pretty good. This is actually my first time going there. It’s been pretty good so far. I grew up in Jupiter and they built the facility basically the next town over, and I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. A lot of baseball players go there, and a lot of big leaguers, so I decided to give it a go and I’ve enjoyed it so far.”
Servideo registered a .489 on-base percentage last year in 20 games with Delmarva, drawing 28 walks and striking out 26 times. He appeared in only 24 games this summer and was a combined 9-for-73 with his first professional home run, never able to get rolling with the injured list again a barricade.
In 17 games at Mississippi in 2020 before baseball shut down, Servideo used some subtle adjustments in his swing to hit .390/.575/.695 with five home runs over 87 plate appearances. He stole 34 bases in 38 attempts in three collegiate seasons. The Orioles drafted him after outfielders Heston Kjerstad and Hudson Haskin and infielder Jordan Westburg, and ahead of third baseman Coby Mayo and pitcher Carter Baumler.
Westburg, formerly Servideo’s Cape Cod League teammate, was named the organization’s minor league Player of the Year this season and is expected to make his major league debut in 2023, perhaps on opening day. Gunnar Henderson, baseball’s No. 1 prospect, arrived on Aug. 31 and could be the starting third baseman or shortstop next season.
MLBPipeline.com ranks Mayo as the No. 7 prospect in the system, Connor Norby No. 11 and Joey Ortiz No. 17, the last two reaching Triple-A in 2022 and having monster years. Shortstop Jackson Holliday was the first-overall selection in July and is ranked No. 3.
Servideo is driven rather than bitter. He knows that he could be on the same trajectory if his body allows it.
“That’s the exciting thing, seeing those guys move up quickly like that,” he said. “Westburg will probably debut next year and Joey has a good shot at doing that. And Norby, as well. It’s just exciting. It just motivates me even more to do everything I can to stay healthy and to play well.”
The Orioles have lots of resources in place to assist Servideo beyond his performance on the field. He’s received valuable counseling from Kathryn Rowe, their mental skills coach, and FCL manager Matt Packer. Matt Blood, the Orioles’ director of player development, has offered encouragement during Servideo’s lowest points.
“He’s been understanding about everything that’s been going on,” Servideo said. “He hasn’t lost faith in me yet.”
Servideo can laugh at that last part. “Yet.” He’s in excellent physical condition and a positive frame of mind.
“It’s time to go, it’s time to show them why they drafted me and the player that I am,” he said. “Those people have helped me a lot. Honestly, it would have been 10 times harder without them. And obviously the athletic trainers have helped me – Gary (Smith) and Byron (Campbell) and everyone in the department.
“I’m all good now. I feel good, which is pretty important. The main goal is to just stay healthy. It’s been a while since I’ve been 100 percent.”