In the 36th round of the 2019 draft, the Yankees selected high school pitcher Montana Semmel. With the help of a dedicated scout in the late Kelly Rodman the Yankees were able to convince Semmel to sign and begin his professional career. The 19-year-old recently took time to talk with Pinstripe Alley about his path to the Yankees and how he has found his motivation to improve when faced with adversity.
Semmel grew up a short drive from Yankee Stadium in Stamford, Connecticut. Being in the Yankees organization is a big step to a young man who dreamed of playing in the Bronx.
“I grew up being a Yankees fan” Semmel said. “Getting picked by the Yankees was pretty cool for me and my family ... I was definitely a big Jeter fan growing up and loved watching Mariano Rivera.”
After committing to UConn for college, Semmel faced a great challenge over the next year as an elbow injury derailed his season.
“Junior year comes around and I have Tommy John,” said Semmel. “It was definitely discouraging originally because I knew I was going to be out for a year. When therapy came around, it almost turned into motivation. I was really building my arm up and I knew I was going to come back stronger. So yes, it was discouraging, but I really turned it around and used it as motivation to get back and be better than I was going to be before, and it turned out well.”
Returning to the field during his senior season, Semmel again impressed the scouts but had a new perspective on how he wanted to chase his professional dream.
“I looked at it and said I want to go pro,” said Semmel. “I decommitted from UConn and committed to a Junior College in Florida, Chipola ... One of my best friends, Bobby Zmarzlak, was on the radar big time and he drew the scouts to my games; then, they started watching me. They came back and kept coming back and it all came from there, and the Yankees picked me up. I was originally going to go to college, because I thought I was going to go for a year and maybe I could get drafted higher ... but I really couldn’t say no to the Yankees.”
A big part of the reason that Semmel could not say no to the Yankees was due to the relationship he built with Yankees scout Kelly Rodman, who was one of three female scouts in MLB at the time. She sadly passed away from cancer in March of 2020 at age 44.
“She was the first pro scout to come see me pitch,” said Semmel. “She came to every single high school game so we really got to have a good connection ... [after the draft] She would call me constantly and say ‘please just sign its going to be the best thing for you.’ She’s the one that got me to the Yankees and I give everything to her. Yeah, she was awesome.”
Still just 17 when he reported to the Yankees facilities in Tampa the team took it very slow with Semmel during his professional debut.
“Previous to signing I really didn’t throw much. I threw a couple of games for a local team around here, but I really didn’t throw much that summer, so they really didn’t want me to get out there and hurt myself; there was no rush,” said Semmel. “I didn’t throw in a game for over three weeks. They really wanted to break me down, they were like, ‘You’re so young, we just want to see what you have. We don’t want to get you in a game yet.’
“So for the first week, they just had me throw on the field — nothing on the mound. The second week, I threw one ‘pen, then the third week, I threw a couple of ‘pens and a couple of lives and I eventually got into a game. I started playing some games, and actually, our season ended early that year because of a big hurricane, so they ended the season August 30th. So I only got a couple of weeks of playing, but it was worth it.”
Semmel had a close call with COVID-19 during camp in 2020. After COVID-19 derailed minor league spring training and the entire season, Semmel pushed himself into action and used his resources to support a local hospital.
“My throwing partner, Denny Larrondo, tested positive, and we had a huge conference call saying someone tested positive in the organization,” said Semmel. “Then all of a sudden, we were shut down for two weeks, and we were all thinking that we were going to get sent home. Were we still going to play? We didn’t know what was going on. So we were stuck in this hotel for two weeks — we couldn’t really leave because we were quarantined. They eventually sent us home, and it got worse up here (Connecticut) and it wasn’t fun.
“One night, we were just sitting down for family dinner. We were just talking about helping out for Stamford. So I reached out to my agent and said that I wanted to help Stamford Hospital because my cousin is one of the head nurses there. She couldn’t sleep with her family; she had to sleep downstairs. So I was constantly on the phone with her and my agent. My agent contacted Stamford hospital and put something together. I reached out to literally everyone trying to get supplies, water, mask, and eventually got some.”
He has since focused on his training, including traveling to Florida to work with Eric Cressey and his team. The training also heavily involves feedback from the Yankees pitching coaches.
“I went down there at the end of October and stayed down there for a couple of months,” said Semmel. “Some of the strength and conditioning coaches work for the Yankees now, but they have two pitching coordinators that don’t work for the Yankees. After I pitch, I send all the videos to the Yankees and they give me feedback on what I need to do better. I also have a guy up here that I share videos with, just to give me ideas on how to improve and ways to get better.”
The result of his offseason work is an improved pitch that Semmel is excited to show off in game action.
“I went into my first Yankees season with just a fastball, changeup, and curveball,” said Semmel. “The first time they saw the curveball, they were like, ‘It needs to get quicker, faster, velocity-wise. We are not going to change it now because it’s impossible to change it in two weeks.’ But then COVID came around and that’s when I really got the time to work on it. Now its really improved and its turning into a slider with a quicker break, so I’m happy about that. I’m excited to use it this year. I’m excited to be back.”
Montana Semmel has only pitched in six games for the Yankees organization, but has the potential to be a breakout prospect in 2021. He could start the season with Low- A Tampa or in extended spring training, but is worth keeping an eye on.