While MLB lockout continues, Dodgers prospects take part in a real minor league camp
It was the kind of scene you’d expect this time of year.
Players in Dodger blue jerseys playing catch, fielding grounders and taking live at-bats beneath a warm Arizona sun.
Coaches and instructors watching on from the side, monitoring activity across three finely manicured diamonds at Camelback Ranch.
The familiar buzz of laughter, guidance and conversation that accompanies the start of a new season.
Indeed, on Thursday afternoon, all the familiar markings of Dodgers spring training were present.
Everything, except the major leaguers who are supposed to be taking center stage this time of year.
Instead, almost three weeks removed from what should have been the report date for MLB players across the league, the sport remains frozen at the highest level amid an owners lockout that has already led to the cancelation of several weeks of spring training games and the first two series of the regular season.
On the backfields of complexes around Arizona and Florida, it leaves only minor league camps to carry on. Because minor leaguers aren’t represented by the Major League Baseball Players Assn., the lockout doesn’t apply to them. Thus, they’ve been quietly preparing in recent weeks for the on-schedule start to their seasons, staging their own spring training under a considerably dimmer spotlight than usual.
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“Obviously, it’s a little different not having the major league team around,” said Will Rhymes, the Dodgers director of player development. “[Not having] the buzz that that creates and the opportunities for our younger players to go over and get experience with the major league staff, in that way it’s unfortunate.”
For minor leaguers in the Dodgers’ organization, however, this isn’t a wasted camp. This year will be the most normal schedule many of their prospects have experienced in their pro careers, after the pandemic caused the 2020 minor league season to be canceled and the 2021 campaign to be delayed.
And while young players won’t have the chance to interact with their big league counterparts, or appear in big league spring games, or compete for a spot on the major league roster (barring a sudden resolution to the work stoppage), they will still be able to compensate for lost time in their development — to keep building toward their long-term futures.
“It’s nice,” said pitcher Ryan Pepiot, a third-round pick in 2019 who is ranked second in the Dodgers’ farm system by MLB Pipeline. “We had a spring training shutdown. We had an alternate site … COVID protocols, getting tested every other day. So having a semi-normal offseason was very enjoyable.”
The absence of major leaguers aside, that sense of normalcy has continued into spring training, where players not on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster have been working out for the last several weeks.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Rhymes said. “Even last year, we didn’t have answers until pretty late as to what minor league camp would look like and what the minor league season would look like, the anxiety of that. At least this year we know that, even if the major league side has some hurdles, we are going to go off on schedule.”
On Thursday, the first day Dodgers minor-league camp was open to media members, the clubs’ top prospects were on display.
Pepiot and fellow highly touted pitchers Bobby Miller and Landon Knack took the mound in an exhibition against a local independent team. Left-hander Maddux Bruns, the team’s first-round pick last year, highlighted a session of live batting practice. Top position players such as catcher Diego Cartaya, infielder Michael Busch and outfielder Andy Pages also continued readying themselves for what will be the first full-length minor league seasons of their careers.
“It’s been a lot of peace of mind for the players and staff,” Rhymes said.
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Of course, the MLB lockout remains a distraction, too. The way young players typically have a big-league call-up in the back of their mind, they are now grappling with the fact that, for the time being, the top rung of the sport’s ladder is out of reach.
Such are the realities of baseball in 2022, with one complication replacing another, forcing minor leaguers to find silver linings in the present while keeping their focus on the future.
“We’ve been following it,” Knack said of MLB’s work stoppage. “But for the most part, we’ve just been preparing for what we’ve got coming up. Minor league season is going on as normal, and you try to focus more on that than anything else.”
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