BILLINGS — While all baseball players and fans would love to see the Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball seasons begin, Arizona Diamondbacks prospect Michel Gelabert is still staying close to the game.
Professional baseball has been shut down since March 12 when spring training was halted due to coronavirus.
The 23-year-old Gelabert, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound left-handed pitcher who was born in Havana, Cuba, had only been at spring training two weeks when baseball activity was suspended.
When play was suspended, Gelabert returned home to Billings where he resides in the offseason with his wife Sarah, who is from the Magic City.
In an effort to stay close to the game and keep his skills sharp, Gelabert has been working out with the Class AA American Legion baseball Billings Scarlets.
“I knew (Scarlets coach) Adam (Hust) before because I was practicing at Triple Play Academy and he said I could come over and practice with the boys and help them,” said Gelabert on Thursday as the Scarlets practiced at Pirtz Field.
“With no leagues right now, it’s hard by yourself,” Gelabert continued. “To come here with the boys, I love baseball. I enjoy talking to the boys and helping them. They learn a lot from me and I learn a lot from them.”
Hust said he met Gelabert this past fall at Triple Play Academy, which is owned and operated by Billings American Legion Baseball. Hust is the general manager of the facility.
“He needed a place to work out and walked into our building one day and he has been with us ever since,” Hust said. “He went to spring training, and after a week and a half down there he had to come back.”
Hust said through indoor workouts over the winter, Gelabert and the Scarlets built a relationship. The longtime Scarlets’ coach said Gelabert will visit about situational baseball situations with the Scarlets and “just kind of hang out and talk baseball.”
“He’s such a good person,” Hust said. “The kids gravitate to him and he’s around them and they watch his work ethic and how he prepares and throws, and pick up some things that can make them better.”
Scarlets pitcher Michael Horrell said Gelabert has shown him different grips for pitches like a curveball, slider and cutter, and they’ve talked about body mechanics while pitching. Horrell enjoys having Gelabert at practices and is soaking up the knowledge he has.
“He talks with all the pitchers about improvement we can make with our pitches and grips and just how to become a better player,” Horrell said.
Catcher Jarron Wilcox has also worked with Gelabert.
“He teaches us a lot of stuff,” Wilcox said. “I catch him all the time and it’s fun to get new looks.”
Last year, Gelabert pitched for two teams. For the Kane County Cougars, a Single-A team located in Geneva, Illinois, that competes in the Midwest League, he started all 10 of his games and went 3-2 with a 2.96 ERA, fanning 47 and walking 19. He also played with the Hillsboro Hops in Oregon, a Single-A short season team in the Northwest League, going 4-1 in nine games, starting four. He struck out 31 and walked 21.
Gelabert signed a minor league free-agent contract with the Diamondbacks in May of 2018. He appeared in one game in 2018 with the Missoula Osprey of the Pioneer League.
As for this year, Gelabert believes he would have started at the Class A or Class AA level, but “it would have depended on how I did in spring training,” he said.
When the Scarlets play games in Billings, Gelabert said he watches. “Sometimes I’m in the dugout, too,” he said.
“Missing them on the road is hard,” Gelabert said of the Scarlets. “When they do a road trip, I can’t go.”
Horrell said having Gelabert around the team “is almost like having an extra coach here. He comes and has breakfast with us after practice. He’s a good guy.”
“We love him. He’s great,” added shortstop Caden Dowler. “He just helps us slow the game down and knows what he’s talking about.”
The Major League Baseball team owners are negotiating with the players’ union in an effort to salvage the 2020 season. However, Gelabert is not sure there will be a minor league season this year even if the big leaguers return to the field, saying those in the MiLB system may report for training.
“The last thing I heard was we might go there and just practice any day in July,” he said. “That was in May and we are in June already. A lot of things can change.”
While the Scarlets will be happy if professional baseball players at the MLB and MiLB levels resume baseball activity, they’ll definitely miss him.
“He’s the best guy,” said second baseman Nate Dewar. “He’s so down to earth and genuine.”
Hust said Gelabert will be ready for action at the MiLB level.
“The good thing about him is he is working hard,” Hust said. “When they get the call, he’ll be ready to go. … He’s champing at the bit to play some baseball.”
And while he’s close to the game and is now part of the Scarlets’ family, Gelabert is ready to play ball.
“If it was up to me, I’d been down there a long time ago playing and practicing,” Gelabert said.