In a normal MLB draft with 40 rounds, teams are willing to take some chances — especially in the later rounds. It is common to see teams draft talented high-school, or draft eligible college sophomores late in a give draft even with the knowledge that those players are likely heading to or back to college. It is worth the risk as those players taken in the late rounds often blossom into players that command a pick near the top of the draft.
In 2019, the Yankees took just that chance on right-handed pitcher Montana Semmel, who is primed to show that the organization landed a top-of-the-draft talent in the later rounds.
The Yankees saw four former late round picks drafted on day one of the 2020 draft. Bryce Jarvis (37th round, 2019), Austin Wells (35th round, 2018), Tanner Burns (37th round, 2017), and Alika Williams (32th round, 2017) all were picked by the 37th overall selection last week. These are players who the Yankees had identified early in their careers and took a chance on signing.
The success of these players to develop into elite draft prospects casts a different light on some of the late round picks that the Yankees have signed, and notably Semmel. In 2019 the Yankees signed the right-handed pitcher out of Stamford, Connecticut with their 36th round pick.
The 6-foot-4, 225 lbs Semmel has the strong athletic frame that scouts and evaluators are looking for in a potential starting pitcher. First noticed by the late Yankees scout Kelly Rodman, Semmel rebounded from Tommy John surgery as a high-school junior to remain on the Yankees radar. His bounce back also caught the eye of other evaluators. The Perfect Game scouting service graded in the highest category of their rating scale in the category reserved for a “Potential very high draft pick and/or Elite level college prospect.”
Committed to Junior College baseball powerhouse Chipola College in Florida, the Yankees were able to sign Semmel away from that commitment for a $125,000 signing bonus. That is the maximum amount that teams can offer a player taken after the 10th round of the draft without it counting against their bonus pool for signing other picks.
Semmel was routinely throwing in the low 90s coming out of high-school, maxing out at 92 mph. Since joining the organization he has reportedly added several mph, hitting the mid-90s with his fastball. Semmel also uses a big curveball that he throws in the mid-70s to get swings and misses. The young pitcher has a change up in his arsenal but needs to find more consistency before it becomes a reliable offering.
After being drafted, he saw limited action in six games for the Yankees Gulf Coast League affiliate in 2019. Over 9.1 innings he posted a 2.89 ERA with a 1.29 WHIP. This season Semmel was likely headed for Rookie-Advance Pulaski or Short-Season A Staten Island when the season was postponed.
Semmel was in camp with the Yankees’ minor leaguers this spring when COVID-19 shut down training. He had a near miss with the disease himself, when one of his regular throwing partners RHP Denny Larrondo tested positive leading to a 14-day quarantine for the Yankees minor leaguers.
Semmel has a cousin who is a nurse on the front lines of COVID-19 response for Stamford Hospital, and he took stock of the situation and is attempting to help. Using his twitter account, and working with his family and agent, he has raised money for Stamford Health’s COVID-19 Pandemic Response Fund during the hiatus from baseball.
Watching multiple past draft picks of the Yankees puts a different light on the types of players taken late in any given draft. While some of these players head back to campus, a few like Montana Semmel end up signing with the team and have the potential to develop into a late round steal.