Seth Gray couldn’t have gotten off to a better start in his first spring training. He went 3-for-7 in minor league action and got to appear in two big-league games with the Minnesota Twins.
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In his first at-bat wearing a Twins uniform on Feb. 26 in Fort Myers, Fla., Gray followed up a home run by Nelson Cruz, a 16-year Major League Baseball veteran, with a home run of his own against reliever JD Hammer, who appeared in 19 games last season for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Picking the brains of the big leaguers, playing alongside them, wearing the same uniform, it was a great time for the Shawnee High School graduate and former Wright State third baseman, who was a fourth-round pick in 2019.
“It was awesome,” Gray said. “I’ve always dreamed of being in that moment. It was surreal, but it was something I’ve worked for forever. It’s kind of a testament that hard work pays off and if you want to get somewhere, you’ll get there.”
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic shut baseball down weeks later, and the status of the season remains a question mark as players and owners trade proposals and take turns releasing statements of frustration to the media.
Since driving home from Florida in March, Gray has spent the spring at home in Springfield. He’s had access to a batting cage at the Springfield Baseball LAB near the Ohio Masonic Home and recently hit against Tecumseh graduate J.T. Brubaker, a Triple-A pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization who spent much of the spring at their spring training facility in Bradenton, Fla.
Gray thanked Matt Fultz, a former Shawnee assistant coach who runs the Springfield Baseball LAB, for giving him free rein at the cages during the spring.
“I’m in here about every day,” Gray said. “I’m able to stay sharp and stay ready for when we hope we get called up to play.”
Whenever that happens — this year or next — Gray will be able to continue a pro career that got off to a promising start last summer.
Gray hit .225 with 11 home runs and 36 RBIs with the Elizabethton Twins (Tenn.) in the Appalachian League at the rookie level. On Aug. 30, the Twins promoted Gray to the Class-A Cedar Rapids Kernels in the Midwest League, and he .313 (5 for 16) in four games.
“I learned a lot about myself,” Gray said. “I learned some things I need to work on, but overall it was a good learning experience. I showed some good things, some good signs but also saw some things I need to improve on and tweak and work on in my swing. I thought it was a great first year for me. I showed some power. I learned a lot about myself and took that into the offseason and got a lot better.”
Gray spent the offseason in Springfield, splitting time between Wright State, before its facilities got shut down by the COVID-19 crisis, and the Springfield Baseball LAB. Gray would often work out with Gabe Snyder, a former Wright State teammate now in his third season in the Twins organization.
Gray and Snyder, a 21st-round pick in 2018 who hit .261 with 22 home runs in 2019, played together at the end of last season for Cedar Rapids. Now both are in the same situation as every other minor-league prospect. It’s a waiting game.
“I don’t know if the minor leagues will have a season,” Gray said. “We have to wait until the big league (situation) shakes out and see what they’re going to do. Even if we don’t have a season, I’ve heard talk of a taxi squad for the big-league roster. I don’t know if there’s a chance I get on that. I think there might be.”
Gray said he can’t remember going this long without playing baseball.
“It is kind of a weird time,” he said. “Everyone is anxious to get back. They’ve got to do what they’ve got to do to keep people healthy. I understand that. I’m definitely ready to play some ball.”
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