By: JOSEPH SIMILE / SPORTS CO-EDITOR
I recently had the chance to sit down with Lucas Sweany, a prospect in the Minnesota Twins farm system. Sweany was able to lead me through the effects of COVID-19 on the MLB Draft process and the ensuing undrafted free agency process, as well as life as a minor leaguer going through rehab.
One of the major ways COVID-19 impacted Sweany and many other young baseball players was the reduction in draft size.
While in 2019 the draft was 40 rounds, 2020 saw the draft shrink to only five due to COVID.
Going forward, the MLB draft will be 20 rounds. The 87% reduction in draft rounds resulted in many young players like Sweany not getting the opportunity to hear their name called during the draft, or receiving the phone call letting them know their dreams of becoming a professional baseball player have come true.
The 6’6 southpaw is known for his high strikeout-to-walk ratio, posting a 2.91 mark in his three years at Pacific, and a 5.0 mark in 2019 for the Valley Blue Sox of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, finishing third on the team (one of the two pitchers with higher marks was LIU pitcher Rob Griswold).
Q: Has becoming a professional athlete lived up to your expectations, and what is different than you anticipated?
A: For me it’s a little different because I’ve been hurt the whole time I’ve been a professional athlete. I signed a few months after COVID hit, and I wasn’t hurt then, but before my first spring training I got hurt. So right when I came here, I was hurt, went through rehab, got surgery, and now I’m almost back to being healthy again. So for me, it hasn’t quite lived up to my expectations yet, just because I haven’t really gotten to participate at all.But I still do have high hopes for when I play.
Q: How has COVID-19 affected your career up to this point? From the draft, to going undrafted, to where you are now.
A: It really affected the draft process a ton. I was expecting to go around the 10th round or maybe a little later, so I missed out on an opportunity for a lot of money there. But I just bet on myself and signed as an undrafted free agent, just wanting to go into pro ball. COVID really messed up not only the draft process but also my whole first year. But I think it’s been pretty normal the last six to ten months, at least I’d assume. I didn’t play any pro ball pre-COVID so I don’t really know what it was like previously. I think it’s getting back to normal now I’d say.
Q: What have the COVID-19 protocols that you’ve experienced been?
A: Initially when I came here for spring training, there was a whole quarantine in the hotel room by yourself for the first few days. Then when we got there, it was masks for a few weeks until we all got vaccinated. The Twins got anybody who wanted to be vaccinated. So for guys that are vaccinated, masks are not a requirement, and testing is only required if you have symptoms. So I’ve luckily not had to go through any testing because I’ve been away from it and I’m vaccinated. Things are getting to be pretty normal around here for those that are vaccinated.
Q: What does your day-to-day life look like as you’re rehabbing and ramping up getting into the season?
A: Ever since I’ve been here, it just goes: In the morning I do my prehab, then I’ll either throw, or not throw and lift or do a stretching & mobility routine, and do conditioning on certain days. Most days I’m done by 12 when I eat lunch, and then I have the rest of the day free. There’s a lot of free time here, especially when you’re in rehab and not playing games.
Q: Who would you say has been the biggest help in getting you to this point of now being able to play baseball professionally?
A: There’s been a lot of influences in my life. My dad has really helped out (with) paying part of my tuition to play college baseball. My agent was a real help in the whole signing process, and I’ve had several pitching coaches pre-college that really helped me develop as a pitcher.
Q: Was there a moment in your career or life where it clicked for you that you had the talent and you could become a professional baseball player?
A: For me that would be my senior year of high school. My first three years of high school I didn’t pitch great, I was solid, and I grew my junior year of high school. I was about six foot going into my junior year, and ended up 6’3 at the end, and I’m 6’6 now. That senior year of high school I really developed thanks to one pitching coach I had (Dave Giberti). I had a really insane season that year, I threw three no hitters and I was second in the nation in strikeouts. I ended up committing to Pacific at the end of that year, and then I realized I had a chance to get drafted after a few years in college.
Q: After going undrafted, were the Twins the only organization to reach out to you?
A: When the undrafted period started, the Twins were the first team to call, but I was expecting the Braves to call first because they had been hot on me during the whole draft process. So we were expecting to go with the Braves, but then the Twins called and the Braves didn’t really have the opportunity, because the scout that really liked me didn’t have the authority to offer me a contract. So we decided to go with the Twins.
Q: How long was the period of time between when you received the call from the Twins and when you decided to go with them?
A: The first day of the process was a Sunday, and they called that night around six o’clock, and I ended up signing the next day around two or three o'clock. It was really a weird process, they called me and my agent said just don’t answer the phone, just let him handle it. So I told him the Twins called me, here’s the guy's number, and he did all the negotiating and I was honestly kind of out of the loop a little bit. It was funny, I was golfing the next morning just waiting on the call, and I obviously didn’t play well because I was thinking about it the whole time, because it was a big moment.
Q: Were you watching the draft the entire way through and following along the process?
A: Yeah I watched the draft just hoping for a call. Anytime I saw one of the teams that talked to me coming up to pick soon, I was hoping I’d get a phone call. I kinda knew it wasn’t gonna happen. I didn’t get a full season and I didn’t get to show scouts enough, and that’s why I didn’t end up going in a five round draft.
Q: At the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, what do you want people to remember about you and your career?
A: I would say I want them to remember how hard a worker I was and how good a teammate I was. That’s really what I strive to be. I want to be a good teammate and a guy who’s helpful to the organization. I wanna be known for grinding and putting all my effort into all the time, whatever the task is.