PORTLAND, Maine — Jay Groome learned a valuable lesson as he worked back from the Tommy John surgery he had in 2018: Patience.
“It kind of made me a firm believer in don’t look too far ahead,” Groome, one of the Red Sox’ top pitching prospects, said this week. “I think even when I was rehabbing, I was looking too far ahead, so I would get down on myself a lot, because I wasn’t at that stage.
“But I finally realized everyone’s different, just move at your own pace and time will work itself out.”
Six years since being drafted by the Red Sox in the first round, Groome is carrying that same mindset. But it’s also hard for him not to daydream a little.
It’s an exciting time for the top pitching prospects in the Red Sox’ system. Some, like Josh Winckowski and Connor Seabold, are getting big-league opportunities. Others are moving up to Triple-A, like top pitching prospect Brayan Bello. Chris Murphy, a close friend of Groome, got the call to Worcester last week.
Groome, meanwhile, is continuing to grind away in Double-A Portland, where he’s been pitching since last September. He’s one of two pitchers on the 40-man roster (Bryan Mata, too) who are in Double-A, the rest in Triple-A or the majors. But while he may be a bit behind, Groome doesn’t feel too far away from experiencing his dreams.
“It’s always in the back of my head, especially now that Murph got promoted,” Groome said. “It’s like, wow, it’s one step closer. Who knows what can happen? Just keep being diligent with your work. It paid off for Murph.”
When he returned from Tommy John in 2019, Groome said he set two goals for himself: Stay healthy and pitch in the big leagues.
The latter, obviously, will take more time, but he has stayed healthy. He just needed to exhibit some more patience to really start proving himself again. After COVID-19 canceled the 2020 minor league season, Groome finally experienced a full season in 2021, when he made 18 starts for Salem before moving up to Portland for his final three starts.
This season, Groome has been trying to build on that. The results have been up and down – his walks are up – but that’s part of the process as he builds more confidence and shows he can continue to be relied on every five days through a full season.
“It’s just going out there and proving to himself that he can continue to do that and work at a high level,” Double-A pitching coach Lance Carter said. “He’s on a mission, and he really is focused. I think last year was a big builder of that.”
Groome knows that to make it to the next level of his career, he has to continue to hone in on his secondary pitches, particularly the changeup and slider he’s been improving on the last few years. Both pitches he feels like are coming along well.
The left-handed Groome said he’s happy with his slider’s progress, but wants to do a better job of putting away lefties with it like did last season. He’s been watching video and pinpointing how he had success with the pitch last season. Meanwhile, he said the changeup is a pitch that over the course of June, he was experimenting with a bit. He wanted to play it in the zone to see what kind of contact he could induce with it, rather than pitch for swings and misses all the time.
Groome said his focus this season is trying to attack the strike zone as much as he can.
Red Sox left-handed pitching prospect and 2016 first-round pick Jay Groome photographed as a member of the AA affiliate Portland (ME) Sea Dogs in 2022. (Photo by 365DigitalPhotography.com)
“That’s how I want to be, that’s what the Red Sox want out of me and at the end of the day, it’s my job to execute the pitches,” Groome said. “I’m so diligent in my work and my bullpens and throwing program. I used to be kind of laid back on that stuff and I just know that’s what’s going to help me get ready and get me better each week.”
Carter, who spent some time with Groome in Lowell after he was drafted in 2016 but has worked with him much more closely now as his pitching coach, is seeing the lefty’s increased confidence in his secondary pitches.
“Any time the more weapons that you can have, it’s about throwing them for strikes and quality strikes, not just having the pitch, but the quality of the pitch and being able to throw them in the strike zone in all counts, and I think that’s where he’s growing,” Carter said. “Having confidence to be able to throw something other than just his fastball and curveball in those counts, to both left-handed and right-handed hitters. I think that’s something he has to do to be able to pitch at the major league level and he’s getting better and better at it.”
When that time comes is obviously uncertain right now, but Groome is doing everything in his power to be prepared for the next level of his career – wherever and whenever that may be. He sees the opportunities his fellow prospects are getting, and while his past has taught him not to think too far ahead, he’s human enough to know the opportunities available in his near future.
“Being up here, it’s nice because there always is that thought that I’m one call away, especially with everything that happens now with COVID,” Groome said. “Guys go down with COVID, you see how quick some stuff can change. I just know I want to be ready for anything that happens and when I get my opportunity, I’m going to run with it.”