Matt Blood is beginning his second season as the Orioles’ director of player development. He joined the organization in September 2019. The 2007 University of North Carolina grad has worked in Major League Baseball for nine years with St. Louis and Texas before joining the Orioles.
He and the O’s minor league and player development staff, at least most of it, have convened in Sarasota, Fla. for minor league spring training. Opening day on the farm is May 4. Some players and coaches are at the Bowie alternate site, but the bulk of the group that will make up three of the four O’s farm teams is holding camp currently at both Ed Smith Stadium and Twin Lakes Park.
On Sunday, Blood joined me on my postgame radio show, “Extra Innings” on 105.7 the Fan. Here are some of my questions and his answers from that interview.
Blood said there is some excitement in Sarasota right now. While there are some players at the alternate site, after missing out on last season, this is the first time most of the minor league players and coaches are together at one time since 2019.
“There is a really good vibe going on in Sarasota right now. I think everyone is excited to be here. There’s a lot of good practice going on, a lot of competition. The energy is high and the players really seem to be enjoying it and getting a lot out of it, which is ultimately the No. 1 goal. As of now, I certainly have no complaints.”
Blood said many players, even without a minor league season in 2020, got in some good work on their own and reported to this camp in shape and looking quite good. Has anyone really stood out?
“I’ll say this: Overall, I am really pleased with the way our guys look. Physically, I’ve seen pitchers that look great and I’ve seen position players that have really put in work on their swings, on their bodies. And, it’s honestly a little better than I was expecting. So, that’s great. Individual names, it’s still early. We haven’t really played any games (as of last Sunday). So, don’t hold me to any names quite yet. But I think there are a lot of players who obviously took advantage of the time, put a lot of work in, and it’s showing.”
Have you had to make some concessions to health and safety rules, or is this a little closer to a normal minor league spring training?
“It’s definitely closer. We have health and safety protocols that we have to follow in regards to how many people we can have in the clubhouse or the dugout. We have to wear masks and do meetings outside, grab-and-go meals, and there is not as much hanging around as in the past. But it does have a much more normal feel and we also feel there is light at the end of the tunnel as well. We’re really pushing as many players and staff to get the vaccine. I get my second shot soon, very excited about that. I think we are moving in the right direction toward some normalcy in the future.”
Catcher Adley Rutschman is expected to begin the year at Double-A Bowie. Will he move up at some point? What is the plan for him for this season?
“Well you’ve got to keep in mind that Adley has never played a full professional season. So, the plan is to have him play day in and day out and to experience the ups and downs of a season. And getting at-bats every day and making adjustments to those that are making adjustments to him. You know, just experiencing that. That is what he needs. I’m not going to project how quickly he moves and this and that, but he’s never played a full professional season. So that is really what he needs at this point.
The organization made some nice pitching strides during the 2019 season. Before last year the club added some new hitting coaches. What do you hope they can bring to the young hitters?
“On the hitting side we would like to see a systematic improvement. It’s always going to be a challenge. But we would like to hope through the acquisitions we’ve made, in addition to our new coaches and our emphasis on practice design and deliberate practice, that we see some returns on the field with the guys.
“A big part of our practice is you need to swing at pitches that you can hit hard. We need to try and avoid chasing or swinging at pitches you can’t drive. That seems to free up the hitters a little bit to not feel like they have to cover off the plate or pitches that are pitchers’ pitches. We train that in practice and we emphasize hitting the ball hard and hitting it in the air. I think that our hitters have really embraced it. So far, we’ve seen good results down here. Now, we haven’t gotten to play games yet, and that is the ultimate test.”
Earlier I wrote this entry after talking with Blood, who told me that tandem or piggyback pitching is coming to the O’s farm this year.
Let’s play two, again: It’s not how they drew it up. Rainout, doubleheader, followed by a rainout and another doubleheader. But the Orioles will host Seattle this afternoon in another twinbill after a rainout last night. A four-game series played out over two days.
Both games of the doubleheader will be seven innings. The first game will begin at 12:35 p.m. ET, followed by a second game approximately 45 minutes after the first game concludes. Fans holding tickets for the originally scheduled 1:05 p.m. game today should use those tickets for both games of the doubleheader. Gates will open at 11:35 a.m., one hour before first pitch.
The Orioles (5-6) are 2-6 since their 3-0 start, and the win in the second game of Tuesday night’s doubleheader was their first home win in five tries.
Had the Orioles played last night, Trey Mancini was not going to be in the starting lineup.
“He showed a lot of frustration (Tuesday) and I just wanted to give him a day off where, try to clear his head a little bit, watch the game and still be available in a big spot potentially late in the game,” manager Brandon Hyde said on his Zoom call before the rainout. “I think it’s important that guys are being so tough on themselves that you kind of take it away from them a little bit, let them relax and not put so much pressure on themselves.”
For more on Hyde’s pregame video press conference click here. Also click here for comments from Ryan Mountcastle yesterday about his five-game hitting streak and efforts to get his bat going while continuing to work on his defense.