Elias explains policy on testing (plus workout notes, draft signings)

Orioles outfielders Dwight Smith Jr. and Anthony Santander remained absent for a fifth consecutive day of workouts. Explanations are going to be withheld for now based on a club policy that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias shared this afternoon.

While other teams have confirmed the numbers of positive tests for COVID-19, making names public if given permission, the Orioles are giving the silent treatment.

“We have a really elaborate testing setup that has been issued by the league, but we are also taking it above and beyond as an organization,” Elias said during a Zoom conference call with the media. “We’re being very thorough. Anyone who’s around the players, around our closed environment here at Camden Yards is getting regular testing. And part of the nature of this testing is that there are going to be false positive readings. It can take some time to find out that they’re false positives, and any individual who gets a positive, regardless if it ends up being a true positive or ultimately a false positive, may be out for some time.

“So given that fact and the fact that also people may be away just waiting for their test results if there is some retesting that needs done, or a slight delay in the results coming in, or perhaps they have been asked to quarantine as part of a contact trace or anything like that going on, we feel that it’s not our place to attempt to provide a play-by-play or minute-by-minute update on the status of such individuals.

“I think there’s a lot that you’re going to be able to infer as the season goes on with people coming and going and how long they’re gone, but this is a private health matter. There will be players that will be out sick for other reasons over the course of this year, as is the case every year, and we don’t get into too much detail there. And ultimately, we want to leave it up to the players to talk about the experience, if they want to ... whenever that experience resolves one way or the other. Even if it turns out they were a false positive or an asymptomatic case or whatever it may be. So that’s the way we’re handling it. I understand it’s not perfect, but I think for all those reasons it’s the best approach, and we’ll give the players and the staff members the best measure of privacy and the luxury of time for their individual situation to play out.”

Better to have speculation than the drawbacks that come with publicizing the results.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way or really appropriate way to perfectly handle this situation,” Elias said. “We don’t like to be cagey or withhold info, but again, this is a private medical matter for these individual people and I don’t think it’s in anyone’s best interest to get out in front of it, mislabel something and have to unwind that later for whatever reason. So recognizing that clarity can take some time in these circumstances. There are other players that maybe are coming here and there were circumstances locally from where they were coming from that is slowing their intake or slowing their leaving that area.

“There’s just a lot going on right now and I think eventually things will become clearer, but that’s the way our organization is approaching this. I think we’re not the only one like that, and ultimately the players are made available to media at various times and we’ll leave it up to them to talk about whatever they want to talk about on this topic.”

Today marked the first time that Elias has tackled the subject in a media session. Manager Brandon Hyde said after the second day of the summer workouts that he was directed to avoid discussing it.

“I just think we want to ease our way into this a little bit,” Elias said, “because sometimes it’s not a binary outcome when there’s an initial test and someone might be back two days afterward and for some it might be weeks. We want to gather a little bit more experience with this before we even start citing numbers, but again, I know the league as a whole will be publishing aggregate numbers and I think we’re going to continue to maybe look at a way of representing that ourselves.”

Players can go on a COVID-19 injured list, which again offers the opportunity to keep their identities shielded from public consumption.

“I think there’s going to be a lot that you’re going to be able to infer based on roster moves,” Elias said. “Anyone who’s following the team or the league closely will be able to infer and that just ... is what it is.

“My understanding is that Major League Baseball is going to continue revealing the statistics of positive tests and that information will continue to come out at regular intervals. But I and the organization - and I think everyone involved has talked about this - feel it’s not the best way to handle it to immediately announce if someone’s tested positive and then the degree to which they’re symptomatic, whether they’re asymptomatic, and then two days later it turns out it was a negative test. We’re just going to take it a little more cautiously and slower, at least at first as we ease our way into it.

“This is an unprecedented situation. The sport is making an effort to get going. It’s a tough circumstance, a lot of challenges involved. I think we’re doing a great job of it. ... Our players have been complimentary and feel good. It’s early. I understand that things may happen, but we feel that we’ve done everything we can do under unprecedented circumstances and we like our chances to have a successful season. But there are going to be aspects of the way we handled this that may evolve.”

Making the opening day roster seemed like a certainty for Santander and Smith, the latter perhaps a little more challenged but still expected. However, the inability to get on the field eventually could hurt them.

“It depends on the individual, it depends on how much work we can get in before the 24th,” Hyde said without mentioning anyone specifically. “At this point right now we’re 17 days away. It depends on what kind of shape they come in and how much work we can get in the last week before the 24th.”

Elias said the camp is functioning “smoothly” thus far as the team gets ready to play a succession of intrasquad games beginning tonight. He’s usually seated behind home plate while wearing a mask and operating a radar gun.

Forty-five of the 60 pool players have been revealed, and others will be added in increments and directed to Camden Yards or an alternate camp location. Some players already have been told that they’re part of the pool.

Elias referred again to some “roster gaming reasons” that caused the team to wait on certain players. He conceded that it can be frustrating for some people following along that the information isn’t precise. But it’s the nature of the 2020 season and how the Orioles are forced to approach it that creates some vagaries around the comings and goings of players.

The possibility exists that the Orioles could add players to the pool via waiver claims, free agent signings and trades.

“We’re still in the process of finalizing combinations for our second site,” Elias said. “We’re making really good progress there, but similar to our preparation here at Camden Yards, we’re being very thorough and careful setting that up to be as safe as possible. Getting ahead of planning so we’re not having to alter operations once they begin and taking our time to get that right.

“So hopefully, we’ll be announcing that site soon, which will allow us to have a full 60 players here in the area. Until then, we’re not able to do so.”

The Orioles are hoping, like everyone else, that they’re able to start and complete a 60-game season.

“I feel great about it,” Elias said. “We’re here. Our players are in remarkable physical shape, particularly the pitchers. I’ve got to compliment this group for keeping sharp. The velos have showed up. Some of them are kind of more in early spring training form, others look like they’re in midseason regular season form. But everyone is where they need to be or better.

“We feel like we’ve got a good plan in place to execute this season. We’re up against an unpredictable circumstance here with a virus that has been enigmatic since it arrived here, but we have a lot of good support from the league and our own organization. After getting in here and seeing this, I was just kind of wowed by the setup here at Camden Yards and how clean and thorough and spacious everything is. I feel better about it than before we started, but we’ll just see what happens.”

Elias also said the club is making “active progress” on signing the rest of their 2020 draft picks.

“I expect some news on that front soon,” Elias said.

It happened quickly, with a source confirming the signing of third-rounder Anthony Servideo, a shortstop from the University of Mississippi, for $950,000. Slot value for the 74th overall pick was $844,200.

MLB.com’s Jim Callis first reported the signing.

The Orioles are wrapping up their draft business. They also signed third baseman Coby Mayo a fourth-rounder from Marjory Stoneman Douglas (Fla.) High School, for $1.75 million and have a $1.5 million agreement with right-hander Carter Baumler, a fifth-rounder from Dowling Catholic High School in Iowa.

The Baumler signing will make the Orioles 6-for-6.

Thumbnail image for Iglesias-Throw-White-ST-sidebar.jpgShortstop José Iglesias didn’t appear on the field today due to back soreness that required treatment, according to Hyde.

Today’s workout included live batting practice sessions from Asher Wojciechowski and Chandler Shepherd, which played out during the two-hour media access.

Position players circled the bases and threw before separating for drills in the infield and outfield and later taking batting practice.

(The Orioles need more work on recording outs at the plate on balls hit to a drawn-in infield.)

Stevie Wilkerson fielded balls in right field and his versatility and roster expansion to 30 players on opening night certainly work in his favor.

Andrew Velazquez also worked out in right, retrieving balls in the corner and off the out-of-town scoreboard. He’s also a super-utility candidate and might have earned a spot on the roster back in March.

Renato Núñez stood alone in the infield and fielded grounders hit by Hyde, who wore a mask during the session, as teammates hit in the cage.

Other hitters used the grassy area in front of the batter’s eye beyond the center field fence to work on their bunting, limited space at Camden Yards and the need to spread out leading to extreme ideas.

Tommy Milone and Thomas Eshelman will be the starting pitchers for Wednesday night’s intrasquad game, which is scheduled for 7 1/2 innings in a controlled environment. Hyde said 16 position players will participate.

Reliever Miguel Castro has been throwing on the side and will pitch Wednesday.

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