It has been just over a year since the Red Sox took lefthander Jay Groome with their top selection, a development that thrilled the team, given that it viewed him as one of the foremost talents — perhaps the foremost — in the 2016 draft.
To date, though, Groome has had few opportunities to validate such a view, given that he left his only game with Single A Greenville this year with a lat strain.
Groome will start for the Lowell Spinners in their season opener Monday as he works his way back to Greenville. To this point, he has thrown just eight innings as a professional. While that has prevented a meaningful evaluation of him on the mound, Groome has offered some significant signs about his career direction off it.
Groome was available to the Sox because of concerns about his signability and makeup. The signability question was answered when he agreed to a $3.65 million bonus. As for the makeup questions, one year removed from a draft process that featured plenty of loud whispers about off-field transgressions, Groome has received raves from Red Sox officials and teammates for his commitment to his profession.
In the offseason, Groome and his family (his mother and father as well as twin 4-year-old brothers) relocated from New Jersey to Fort Myers. The pitcher lived five minutes from the Sox’ spring training facility, proximity that allowed him to get on a five-day-a-week workout schedule with team trainers while gaining insight into how veterans such as Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, and Jackie Bradley Jr. work. The 6-foot-6-inch lefty lost weight yet gained strength and, though just 18, has the physical presence of a big league rotation member.
“Moving down to Fort Myers was a huge positive and something that kind of shows you his commitment level,” said Red Sox farm director Ben Crockett. “When provided a road map of how to get better, he wants to do that.
“I think he understands the talent that he has and is starting to understand what it’s going to take, what the difference is between professional baseball and what he was doing as an amateur. He’s taken well to the routine and structure of professional baseball.”
For Groome, the offseason was an occasion to appreciate his opportunity. Spending time with his young brothers, he saw a chance to give them better opportunities than he had as a kid. Beyond that, a trip to the Red Sox’ Dominican academy lent further perspective.
“There were a lot of tryouts when we were there,” recalled Groome. “There would be kids who showed up with no shoes — just a glove and a hat.
“[A scout] said, ‘You guys thought it was hard getting recognized in the States — imagine coming from here.’ That’s when it really hit me.
“I’d rather wake up doing something I love every day than be miserable doing something I don’t like. I’m making money doing what I love. I’m going to take every advantage I can to get better and eventually hit that end goal of getting to the big leagues.”
Of course, off-field comportment can carry Groome only so far. Ultimately, his advancement toward his lofty goals — he looks forward to the day when the teams that passed on him in the draft watch him win the World Series — will be dictated by what he does on the mound.
While Groome’s stuff in recent extended spring training in Fort Myers fell short of what he’d demonstrated as an amateur, in his most recent outing he had the stuff that made him a top pick, showing a 92-96-m.p.h. fastball while throwing roughly a dozen curveballs, all for strikes.
“There was a clear separation, a clear step forward, and back to kind of what we had seen previously,” said Crockett.
That suggested that Groome was ready for a brief stop in Lowell — perhaps just one start under the lights and in front of an Opening Night crowd — before he returns to Greenville, with a sense of possibility in front of him.
Devers heats up
In a WEEI interview this week, Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski described the status of Rafael Devers as a near-daily conversation in the organization. With back-to-back 2-for-4 games that included homers Wednesday and Thursday, the 20-year-old is now hitting .308/.369/.561 with 12 homers, including a .383/.420/.766 line in 12 games this month.
With those numbers — as the youngest player in the Eastern League — why does Devers remain in Double A?
“He’s continued to flash good at-bats at times as the month has gone on, and at times he’s seeking consistency from at-bat to at-bat,” said Crockett. “It’s probably something we did see a little more of earlier in the season.
“Obviously he’s getting some good results now, having some good at-bats, doing some pretty good things. And yet I still think there’s opportunity for him to keep improving on the offensive side and for him to continue with his routine on the defensive side.”
Henry Owens walked a career-high eight batters Tuesday, the latest evidence of his increasingly drastic control struggles. He has walked 48 batters (in 58 innings), the most in the minors. For now, Owens remains on schedule to make his next start for Pawtucket, but significant changes — whether moving to the bullpen or changing arm slots — could be explored in the near future. “When players struggle, you talk about a lot of different things, from usage to pitches to mechanics, all sorts of things,” said Crockett. “At this point, there has yet to be anything of significance other than smaller changes that have already been implemented. Nonetheless, those conversations are certainly happening.”
Mets minor leaguer Tim Tebow, playing with Single A Columbia, caused considerable excitement while playing in Greenville this week against the Red Sox affiliate. Ticket sales for the first two games of the series rose from an average of about 4,700 to roughly 6,400. Everything that Tebow did inspired a considerable reaction — a run-scoring double, a strikeout (which resulted in coupons for a free burger for every fan in one section of Fluor Field), or a comebacker.