Yankees' Montana Semmel motivated to make an impact in 2022

Montana Semmel signed with the Yankees on July 12, 2019.

The last time Stamford, Conn. native and New York Yankees minor league pitcher Montana Semmel toed the rubber in a professional baseball game was Aug. 27, 2019, more than 900 days ago. As he reports to minor league spring training next week, Semmel is motivated to make up for lost time.

The 6-foot-5 225-pound right-hander was selected by the Yankees in the 36th round of the 2019 draft out of Westhill High School, 1,065th overall. The second-youngest player taken in the draft, Semmel was 17 years and five months old at the time his name was called.

Initially committed to play baseball at the University of Connecticut, Semmel was sidelined during his junior year by Tommy John surgery. As a result, he shifted his commitment from Connecticut to Chipola Junior College in Florida, where Semmel would be draft-eligible following his freshman season, as opposed to Division l where he would have to wait until junior year.

“I was planning on going to college,” Semmel explained. “The Yankees called me and they talked to me every day until the signing deadline.” Adding with pride, “they committed to me.”

Semmel, who grew up a Yankees fan living 40 minutes from Yankee Stadium and idolizing Mariano Rivera, agreed to a contract with the Yankees on July 12, 2019.

At his side throughout the signing process was Kelly Rodman, the scout who first watched Semmel pitch as a sophomore in high school, and saw to it that the Yankees snagged the Connecticut kid in the late rounds of the draft. Rodman, one of three female scouts in Major League Baseball at the time, passed away in March 2020 following a battle with cancer.

After inking his deal, Semmel reported to the Yankees minor league training facility in Tampa. He spent the final month of the 2019 minor league season pitching for the rookie-level GCL Yankees, posting a 2.89 ERA in 9.1 innings of work over six relief appearances.

Semmel reported to his first spring training in 2020 just as the pandemic brought the world to a halt. When his teammate and throwing partner Denny Lorrondo tested positive for COVID-19, Semmel spent 14 days quarantining in his Tampa hotel room. Not long after, the 2020 Minor League Baseball season was canceled and he returned home to Stamford.

While building strength back up in his throwing arm in the fall of 2020, Semmel felt soreness in his right elbow. He was diagnosed with a flexor strain, which forced him to stop pitching and undergo physical therapy, seeming to erase the issue.

Semmel felt back to form heading into the 2021 season, then, moments into his first outing, he re-injured his elbow. X-rays and an MRI exam showed that he had strained his flexor yet again. After a PRP injection and extensive physical therapy, he was still bothered by the lingering pain. Instead of pitching on a professional mound, Semmel was sent home in the summer of 2021 to rest.

Following Tommy John surgery in 2018, the canceled season in 2020, and injury in 2021, Semmel spent his third summer in four years as a spectator. “It was disappointing, but at the same time I couldn't do anything about it,” he explained. “It was boring (and) it was weird. Another summer just sitting around waiting to play again.”

Semmel moved to Palm Beach, Fla. in the winter to train at Cressey Sports Performance. Run by Yankees Director of Player Health & Performance Eric Cressey, it is considered one of the premier training facilities in the country, used by a wide variety of MLB stars.

Matt Hinkley, the pitching coordinator at Cressey Sports Performance, has been working closely with Semmel throughout the offseason. “Everything looks really good right now,” He said, referring to Semmel’s progress. “He’s in a spot where he's feeling pretty confident in himself and the stuff is matching the confidence.” Hinkley added, “he goes out there and competes, fills the zone up with all of his pitches… and the amount of movement that he creates on the ball is a lot to deal with as a hitter.”

The 20-year-old Semmel throws a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and has reached 97 MPH, numbers he hopes to dial-up in 2022. His repertoire features three varieties of fastballs; a sinker, four-seam, and two-seam, as well as a change-up and recently added slider.

“Coming through an injury from a psychological standpoint is not an easy thing,” Hinkley explained. “There are two options; you can dwell on it or you can get to work. In my experience working with Montana, he’s been very consistent with his effort, with his attitude, and I think he’s poised for a really big year.”

Semmel officially reports to Spring Training in Tampa next week, where he will be pitching to batters in front of Yankees coaches for the first time in over a year.

“It's going to be fun getting out there with my teammates, actually getting on a pro mound and facing pro hitters again,” he explained. “I’m excited to show that I'm back and I’m healthy. It's going to be a good year.”