ST. PAUL — Logan Shore describes it like Groundhog Day.
From his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., he lifts weights twice a week — on Tuesdays and Fridays. He throws. He checks in with members of the Tigers organization periodically — pitching coach, trainer, strength staff. And repeat.
Shore, a minor-league pitcher in the Tigers organization who is from Coon Rapids, Minn., feels like he’s in a better spot than he was when spring training abruptly shut down in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic, so he keeps pushing forward.
And yet Shore — and thousands of other minor league players — don’t know what exactly they’re training for. As Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association try to work out their differences, Minor League Baseball players wait patiently to be told what comes next for them. At this point, the odds of a traditional Minor League Baseball season seem low, if nonexistent. Minor League Baseball teams are reliant on fan attendance to bring in revenue. If and when Major League Baseball comes back, fans are not expected to be in attendance.
“I think that’s just kind of the elephant in the room, honestly, between everyone,” said Twins minor leaguer Matt Wallner, who is from Forest Lake, Minn. “(I’m) just kind of hoping for something, whether it’s at the spring training facility in Florida or just whatever it takes, to get some baseball in and not lose a year.”
And so, players train as if there will be baseball.
Alex Hassan, the Twins’ director of player development, said once players left spring training in mid-March and got settled in at their respective homes, the Twins had virtual meetings with each player. They went through their player plans, laying out goals for the season and things the organization had identified as areas to improve.
They also got a sense of what equipment each player had access to so they could find out what additional resources players would need at home. Then they sent baseballs, tees, nets and other equipment to players who needed that to continue their training.
From there, they split up position players and pitchers. The plan for pitchers is more scripted than hitters, Hassan said, with them throwing bullpen sessions and then a pitching coach or coordinator checking in about once a week. It’s more challenging to simulate at-bats and real game-like repetitions for hitters, he said, but coaches and coordinators check in with position players frequently, too.
“It seems like we’ve had pretty regular contact with our guys in some form or fashion,” Hassan said.
Wallner, who the Twins selected with the 39th overall pick in the 2019 draft, works out in a pole barn at his house which has a batting cage in it. Gophers infielder Zack Raabe comes over, and his father, Brian Raabe, throws to the two of them. Wallner said there is daily contact from a trainer in the organization checking in to monitor for potential coronavirus symptoms, weekly check-ins from a strength coach, along with calls with Class A Cedar Rapids hitting coach Bryce Berg and hitting coordinator Donegal Fergus.
Shore works out at at facility in Arizona, the one he normally trains at during the offseason. Since it is in the same building as a physical therapy center, it was deemed essential. Shore said he was thankful the facility never closed.
Alex Call, a prospect in the Indians organization who went to high school in River Falls, Wis., has been all over the place in the past couple of months since leaving spring training in Arizona. He has been working out at an acquaintance’s pole barn outside of Chicago, on his former high school field in River Falls, even a community field when he was up at his cabin near Brainerd, Minn.
And Sam Carlson, a minor leaguer in the Mariners organization from Burnsville, Minn., is back home working out with his younger brother, Max, who is draft eligible. For Carlson, the 2020 season was supposed to be an important one. The pitcher, a second-round draft pick in 2017, got injured that summer, had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and hasn’t pitched since that first summer as a pro. It was a long road back, but he was feeling full go and healthy when spring training began.
“It was right when I was supposed to get back,” he said. “But I’ve found ways to make it beneficial and work on things that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to work on if I was (in) a full-season setting at this point.”
That includes addressing mechanical changes in his delivery to make throwing more efficient, plus working on a business management degree online through Arizona State University. If he’s able to take a full course load of classes this summer, he would be a senior this fall. But the hope for Carlson — and Minor League Baseball players around the country — is that baseball is back before then, in some form or another.
Until that comes, it’s just a waiting game for so many.
“You kind of just wake up every morning and think maybe everything will go back to normal. That’s how everyone in the world thinks (about the virus). It’s not just a baseball player thing,” Carlson said. “But it’s like, ‘Hey, when this thing’s going to be normal? Is it ever going to be normal?’ So it’s just trying to get the most out of every day until the time comes when I can go back to doing what I enjoy doing.”