NYPL preview: Groome ready to let loose

Top Red Sox pitching prospect gets Opening Day nod for Lowell

Jay Groome is Boston's top pitching prospect despite having thrown just eight innings as a pro. (Sandy Tambone/MiLB.com)

By Craig Forde / Special to MiLB.com | June 19, 2017 11:00 AM ET

Coming off the best regular season in their 20-year history, the Lowell Spinners enter the 2017 campaign with a fresh rebrand and a first-round talent looking to use New York-Penn League Opening Day as a platform to show his full return from injury.

After making his season debut for Class A Greenville on April 10, Red Sox 2016 first-rounder Jay Groome will make his second start of the season in the Spinners' season debut as he works his way back from a lat injury that sidelined him just 50 pitches into his first full season.

"I'm ready to go," said Groome, the 12th overall selection last year. "I feel like myself again, so that's all I could ask for. I just can't wait to get out there and finally play a real game."

Boston's top pitching prospect is itching to get back to business after the layoff, the first major downtime the 18-year-old has suffered in his young career, though he does chalk up the experience as one to learn from.

"You learn that baseball is a mental game," he said. "It's very frustrating at times, but you just learn from everything that happens. When you get your chance to throw again and compete, it's awesome."

Lowell pitching coach Lance Carter, who has been working with Groome since late last season, points to the youngster's composure and competitiveness as two areas that allow him to excel when he hits the mound.

It also doesn't hurt that he throws two plus pitches, with a mid-90s fastball complementing a deadly breaking ball that was lauded coming into last year's Draft. And while his off-speed offering is still a work in progress, Groome is confident he can get it to the level of his other two pitches within a year's time.

"My fastball and curveball are my two best offerings right now," he said. "Still working on the changeup, but it's progressing very well. Hopefully I can get it to be a plus-plus pitch soon."

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Groome pitched two games on the road with Lowell last season, including a playoff start, after being promoted from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. Being tapped as the Spinners' Opening Day starter will give him the opportunity to pitch in front of the Lowell fans for the first time.

"He's made a lot of progress," said Carter, who said Groome will likely be limited to five innings in his return. "I'm looking forward to seeing him get out and compete against another team here."

"It's great to live out every kid's dream, and I'm finally doing it," Groome said. "I get to wake up every day and do what I love, play baseball."

Taking a stab at it: Two years after coming to a career crossroads, Nate Spears is the new hitting coach for the Lowell Spinners.

After a wrist injury helped guide his path following 13 seasons in professional baseball, including seven games with the Boston Red Sox, he accepted an open invitation from Red Sox field coordinator David Howard and spent last season with Class A Greenville, observing all he could while serving as a fourth coach.

"You can learn a lot from everyone in this game," said Spears, a fifth-round selection by the Orioles in 2003. "There's so many different perspectives and everyone sees the game in a different way."

Spears knows he can learn a thing or two from the players as well and is more than happy to absorb all he can about his hitters in an effort to ease their transition to the next level. He also feels that drawing from what worked for him, and what didn't, during his 12-year playing career will go a long way in establishing a level of comfort for the youngsters.

"I'm just trying to learn from all the other coaches that come in and trying to give my experience back to the players," Spears said. "Pick their brains, because the players know a lot -- they know their swings a little better than I do. So, a lot more listening and observing and when I see something here and there we'll try to tweak it a little bit. I want the players to be as comfortable as they can in the box. I know I like to be comfortable. I didn't like hearing seven different things as I'm going up to the plate. I try to take that into account. The things that I liked, give back, and the things I didn't, try to steer away from that."

Williamsport remodel: After investing $4 million into sprucing up BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field -- which includes a brand new playing surface, a $1.1 million premium deck, new safety netting and new bullpens and dugouts -- the Crosscutters are ready to show it off.

Not that they'll need to add any shine to the upgrades at the ballpark, but their promo schedule will certainly help bring the Williamsport experience to greater heights this season.

Helping to polish things up at BB&T Ballpark this season will be the likes of The Human Cannonball, Dave "The Bullet" Smith on July 6, Jeremy Ambler from the AMC hit show The Walking Dead on July 8 and the beloved Phillie Phanatic will come to check out the future Phillies on August 5.

"As we get set to debut over $4 million in renovations to BB&T Ballpark, we wanted to be sure our promotional schedule was jam-packed with fun and exciting events for what we know will be a very special season of Crosscutters baseball," said Williamsport Vice-President of Marketing & Public Relations Gabe Sinicropi in a press release.

Prospect you need to see in person: Will Benson, Mahoning Valley

The Indians seem to have an endless supply of star outfield prospects. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound 2016 first-rounder is the next in line and carries some high hopes on his athletic shoulders. The Atlanta native, selected 14th overall out of the Westminster School in the 2016 Draft, has raw, impressive tools that should be bursting at the seams following time at extended spring training. He led Cleveland's Rookie-level Arizona League team with six home runs, 10 stolen bases and 22 walks last year, and 19 of his 33 hits were for extra bases. Benson also drove in 27 and scored 31, while making just one error in 39 games in right field. Having just turned 19 only days before the season opener, there is still plenty of work to be done, but Cleveland's No. 7 prospect has the tools to become a complete player.

Series you need to watch: West Virginia at Mahoning Valley, July 4-6

Over the first three weeks of the season, these two sides will square off eight times, including a two-game season opening series in West Virginia. The last three of these early games between the two will be in Mahoning Valley and should, by then, give a strong indication as to which way both of these teams are going as they play outside the cut-throat Pinckney Division.

Last things last

Last season's championship: State College over Hudson Valley in two games
Last back-to-back champion: Staten Island Yankees, 2005-06
Last no-hitter: Ranger Suarez, Williamsport vs. Auburn, July 6, 2016 (7 innings)
Last perfect game: Gabriel Castellanos, Brett Lilek, Steve Farnworth, Batavia vs. Mahoning Valley, June 24, 2015
Last 90-strikeout pitcher: Marcos Molina, Brooklyn (91), 2014
Last 10-win pitcher: Mitch Gueller, Williamsport (10), 2015
Last 20-save pitcher: Pat Venditte, Staten Island (23), 2008
Last to collect 100 hits: Argenis Reyes, Mahoning Valley (101), 2004
Last cycle: Ryan McCarvel, State College, June 30, 2016
Last 20-homer hitter: Marcell Ozuna, Jamestown (21), 2010

Craig Forde is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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