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Minor leaguers reflect on the ‘longest spring training of all time’

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What’s it like to be a minor leaguer without minor leagues?

While the coronavirus has shut down all levels of North American professional baseball, the major league players possess far more hope of competing this year than do their lower-level counterparts.

The Post spoke with two minor leaguers — one pitcher, one position player — both of whom signed out of the 2019 draft and approached 2020 as their first full professional season … until the pandemic hit. Here are their stories:

The pitcher: Montana Semmel, a Yankees right-hander chosen in the 36th round last year.

Based in his native Stamford, Conn., Semmel has seen friends lose grandparents to coronavirus and has helped raise money to combat it. He nevertheless has focused as well as one can on his job.

“I’m just trying to stay in shape,” he said. “I’m throwing every day. There’s not much you can really do because we’re all still locked up, up here. The gyms are closed. It’s hard for me to try to get into a baseball facility. It’s been rough.”

Most of his mound sessions take place at his alma mater, Westhill High School. At the direction of the Yankees, the 18-year-old throws two mound sessions a week and plays catch the other days. His primary point of contact is former Yankees pitcher Preston Claiborne, who was supposed to work as the pitching coach for one of the Yankees’ two Gulf Coast League entries at the Rookie level.

John Rave
John RaveAP

There is chatter of an extended camp in the fall to make up for lost time. Yet as Semmel noted, “We don’t know about Wave 2 [of COVID]. It’s just all rumors for now.”

The position player: John Rave, a Royals center fielder selected in the fifth round last year.

In Bloomington, Ill., where he attended high school, the 22-year-old Rave, who played at nearby Illinois State, has found places locally to get in his work. He takes batting practice four times a week and works out with gym equipment four times a week.

“I’m treating it like the longest spring training of all time,” he said.

He also participates in two Zoom meetings per week arranged by the Royals, one large gathering of every player in the club’s system — in which Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore often addresses the group — and one smaller get-together of position players where they chat with coaches or coordinators. Among the big names who have spoken to them at these meetings, Rave said, are current Royals Whit Merrifield and Hunter Dozier, retired All-Stars Tim Hudson and Shane Victorino, and Twins third baseman Josh Donaldson, a former A’s teammate of Royals minor league hitting coach Andy LaRoche.

The hope is that, if and when Major League Baseball reopens, young guys like Rave can at least go to the Royals’ complex in Arizona and work together. Said Rave: “I’d love to get out there.”

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