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While not unexpected, the cancellation a week ago of the minor league baseball season has left four former University of Maine players on the sidelines this summer.
The players are disappointed the season was canceled because of complications caused in major league organizations by the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are staying positive.
“It sucks but I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and try to get better every day,” pitcher Cody Laweryson, a former star at Valley High School in Bingham who is in the Minnesota Twins organization, said.
He has been working out at the high school in recent months.
Major League Baseball plans to conduct an abbreviated 60-game schedule starting later this month before transitioning into the playoffs.
Shortstop Jeremy Pena, a shortstop who is the property of the Houston Astros, isn’t dwelling on the negatives.
“You can’t be upset at something you can’t control,” Pena said. “There are worse things. I’ve been pretty much staying in shape.”
Catcher Chris Bec (Toronto Blue Jays) and shortstop-third baseman Danny Casals (Milwaukee Brewers) are the other former UMaine standouts in pro ball.
Despite the cancellation, the players don’t think the lost season will hamper their overall development.
“I’m not worried about it,” Laweryson said. “I just want to be even stronger next season.”
The right-hander said he feels great and hopes to return to the Twins’ training facility in Fort Myers, Florida, as soon as it reopens.
Pena has been working out in Rhode Island and said he has enjoyed spending time with his family.
Laweryson, a 14th-round draft pick of the Twins, had an impressive rookie season in 2019. He registered an outstanding 1.57 earned run average with 63 strikeouts and 10 walks in 46 innings between Elizabethton of the Appalachian [Rookie] League and Class A Cedar Rapids of the Midwest League. He allowed just 27 hits.
Laweryson hopes added strength will give him more velocity on his fastball and said that he continues to work on developing a curve.
Pena, a third-round pick of the Astros, played in 11 exhibition games for the parent club this spring. He went 2-for-18 with a double.
In 2019, he batted a combined .303 between Quad Cities of the Class A Midwest League and Fayetteville of the Carolina League. He hit seven homers, 21 doubles and seven triples with 54 runs batted in and 20 stolen bases in 109 games. He also made just 11 errors on 338 chances.
“I want to build off that. I want to improve every aspect of my game,” Pena said.
Pena, Laweryson and Casals are receiving $400 per week plus health benefits from their respective Major League teams through Aug. 31 while Bec will be paid through Sept. 7.
The Blue Jays and Brewers paid their minor leaguers just through the end of June.
Bec, a fifth-round draft pick of Toronto, hit .232 with two homers, 24 RBIs and 16 stolen bases for Dunedin of the High Class A Florida State League in 2019, his second season as a pro.
Casals played for Milwaukee’s Rookie League team in Arizona in 2019 and hit .333 with three homers, 16 RBIs, eight doubles and six stolen bases.
One of the temporary MLB rules changes involves placing a runner on second base to start every half-inning if a game is tied through nine innings.
“We put a man on second in extra innings in the minors and it creates more excitement,” Laweryson said. “It prevents 19 or 20-inning games” and saves pitchers’ arms.
The designated hitter also will be used in both leagues, not just the American League.
“I’ve never been a fan of letting pitchers hit even though I would have loved to hit,” Laweryson said. “It takes a spot away from a hitter. This will give more hitters an opportunity.”
He also said the shorter, 60-game schedule enables every team to compete for a playoff spot.
Pena is happy that there will be a season, albeit a shortened one.
“The fans want baseball and the players want baseball,” Pena said. “We’ll see how it goes.”