MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Even though Minor League Baseball leagues across the country are shut down for the summer, former Wheeling Park pitcher Michael Grove still has a chance to elevate his game. Grove has been selected for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 60-man ‘Spring Training 2.0′ roster. The team will be split into two groups and will begin workouts in L.A. Friday.
When the pandemic shut down all sports across the country in March, Grove traveled around looking for places to train and remain in a normal routine.
“I spent the first month or so down in Florida because nothing was open at home,” Grove said. “Then I came back when stuff did start opening up. I just did my best to be wherever was going to give me the best opportunity to stay on my throwing schedule and stay on my lifting schedule with hope the season would pick back up at some point.”
Spring training 60-man rosters feature a mix of MLB veterans and top prospects from the minor leagues. Grove will likely remain in L.A. when the regular season begins as part of the Dodgers’ ‘taxi squad’. That group will workout separately.
“There’s not a whole lot of spots for prospects. I was hoping I would be on it but I wasn’t a hundred precent sure.
“These are crazy circumstances. Everybody is going through the same things. For me, I want to use the year to get better in every way I can and to compete and earn a spot. But I don’t think about how it is going to affect me down the road.”
Grove made his professional debut last season with the Class A-advanced Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in the California League. In 21 games (all starts), Grove went 0-5 with a 6.10 ERA. He struck out 73 batters and walked 19 in 51.2 innings of work. When he broke in with the Quakes, Grove had not pitched in a competitive game in 24 months following Tommy John surgery.
“I was just getting back into form and getting a feel for all the stuff I lost during surgery. It had been two full years from when I pitched at WVU and when I pitched in Rancho. I was getting my feel back, especially for off-speed pitches.”
Grove’s numbers improved late in the season. In four of his last five starts, he pitched three shutout innings.
“It was more about process than the numbers. And they told me going in that the Cal League is a notorious hitters league. I was kind of going in with a hand tied behind my back. I was going in with a fastball and an OK slider that kind of disappeared during my rehab. So it took me a while to find that again. I added a curve. Towards the end of the season, my velocity started going up again.
“To be in a game, it is more adrenaline. I just hadn’t had that in a while. So a lot of it is mental. Getting that part of it back was big.”
When the 2018 MLB draft rolled around, the Dodgers were one of a handful of teams to express serious interest in the right-hander. He did not pitch in the 2018 season and could have opted to return to WVU for a redshirt junior season in 2019.
“We were basically telling teams that the first two rounds, you are probably going to be alright. After that, just don’t draft me because I was going to go back to school. The Dodgers took a chance on me and it worked out.
“They were one of four or five teams that was seriously interested. They had to go off video and Trackman data numbers. They had to go out of the box there because they weren’t able to see me pitch live in my junior year.”
Grove burst on the scene in Morgantown in his freshman season. He posted a 3.40 ERA in 16 games working as a starter and as a reliever. A year later, Grove bettered those numbers with a 2.87 ERA in 9 starts. He struck out 61 batters in 47 innings and took a perfect game into the eighth inning in a start against Kansas. Weeks later though, his season ended and he would later undergo elbow surgery.
“I finally started to do consistently well every week and when that happened it sucked because we were coming into our own with a chance to host (an NCAA regional) that year. I know how good our team was that year and I didn’t have a chance to have an effect in the postseason, which was hard.”
Grove graduated from Wheeling Park High School in 2015 after leading the Patriots to back-to-back trips to the Class AAA state tournament.
“It probably wasn’t until my junior year that I was getting serious looks for college baseball. The summer before my senior year, I went to a lot of showcases at different schools and I was getting offers basically everywhere I went. It was then I realized I was probably as good as all these guys that were getting recruited.”
Although Grove’s MLB debut may still be at least a year away, his goal is to stay ready in the event that the Dodgers make the call earlier than anticipated.
“I just want to focus on getting people out. Crazy things happen especially with the way this season is shaping up. If there is some sliver of a chance to be called up and pitch in an MLB game, I am going to do everything I can to make that a reality.”