Jay Groome was chosen by the Boston Red Sox in the first round of the 2016 Major League Baseball draft. He has pitched in just 20 games since then, including one start in Lowell in 2016. Contributed photo

Without a minor league season, without affiliated teams playing real games, only a few minor leaguers are getting to play – those intrasquad games going on at the alternative training sites, like in Pawtucket for the Boston Red Sox.

Just meaningless, practice games?

“It’s not (real games), but it is for me,” left-hander Jay Groome said. “I’m showing these guys what I got. I have a lot to prove.”

Groome turned 22 on Aug. 23. It seems he’s much older, having been drafted four years ago – in the first round, 12th overall, and signed by Boston with a $3.2 million bonus.

There is a reason that Groome feels he has a lot to prove. For the Red Sox investment, Groome has delivered only 66 innings in the minors, none about the low-Class A level. Various injuries, including the major one to his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery in 2018, have kept the prized prospect shelved.

This 2020 season was going to give Groome a chance to take off with his talent.

“I was at a great spot in spring training, getting ready to break camp,” Groome said. “Then this all came through. I started feeling sorry for myself. What the heck?”

He was not alone in his feelings when the coronavirus pandemic suspended spring training and then canceled the minor league season.

But the Red Sox were not going to let one of their prime guys sit idly, only pitching bullpen sessions for the summer. When major league teams established 60-man player pools, Boston not only invited players who might be needed to reinforce the major league team, but also prospects who the Red Sox wanted to work out and monitor, like Groome, fellow pitcher Bryan Mata, outfielder Jarren Duran, and corner infielder Triston Casas, 20, the 2018 first-round draft pick who has played two games above low A.

“We’re doing the best we can to simulate a competitive environment,” Red Sox director of player development Ben Crockett said of the Pawtucket intrasquad games. “That part of it has gone really, really well; the number of reps the guys are getting on a daily basis … keeping pitchers on their routine.”

Groome has been able to locate his 92-94 mph fastball well. His bread-and-butter curveball is fine, and his change-up is developing.

“What we’ve seen has been really impressive,” Crockett said, “He did finish the season strong last year, and healthy … (But it was) such a short stint last year, we were looking forward to seeing more of that this year.

“For a guy who has had limited opportunity, we thought this (alternative training site) was a great chance to work on things and build a little workload. Both have been successful so far.”

To give the players a break from their routine, they played an intrasquad game at Fenway Park last Sunday, on Groome’s birthday.

“I pitched that day – four innings,” Groome said. “It was the first time in a very long time I threw 75 pitches.

“It was my third time at Fenway, but my first time pitching (there). It was not the (debut) I had hoped, but it was still awesome envisioning what it will be like with a full crowd and everything.”

Groome’s real debut at Fenway may be only a couple seasons away, if he can stay healthy. As fun as it was to throw 75 pitches at Fenway, his recovery time was more important.

“I was happy with the way I bounced back in the next couple of days,” he said. “My arm felt good. I feel healthy. I’m happy that everything is coming along.”

Normally, we would say that Groome (and Mata) will be placed on the 40-man roster this fall to protect then from the Rule 5 Draft in December. But there is nothing normal about this year – and no word on how service time will count for minor leaguers.

Also, we would be talking about Groome probably pitching in the Arizona Fall League, or getting extra work in the fall instructional sessions in Fort Myers, Florida. But, with the pandemic, nothing is certain.

“We’re waiting for guidance on what we’ll be able to do,” Crockett said.

Groome’s 2021 season is expected to begin in Class A … with a promotion to the Portland Sea Dogs in his sights; a chance to pitch in real games, and keep proving himself.

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