It’s a bittersweet time for former Bradley baseball player and current Pittsburgh Pirates minor leaguer Luke Mangieri.
Under normal circumstances, Mangieri would be settled into the routine of playing baseball every day for the Single-A Greensboro Grasshoppers. Instead, he’s back home in Peoria.
“It’s always nice being home, but at the same time, it’s weird,” Mangieri said. “Sometimes at night I’ll think about it, and it’s like, ‘man’ I could be …. in Florida playing baseball and it’s 8:30 at night and I’m watching TV.”
To keep himself in shape, the left-handed-hitting left fielder has been lifting weights in his basement and taking cuts in a family friend’s batting cage. He also has a weekly Zoom meeting with his hitting coach and regularly communicates with a nutritionist from the Pirates organization.
Aside from that, it’s a waiting game with no end in sight.
“They haven’t really said what the future holds for us,” Mangieri said. “I feel like no one really knows right now.”
Before spring training was put on hold in mid-March, Mangieri was getting ready to re-join Greensboro, where he played the final 47 games of last season.
After hitting .322 and collecting 35 RBIs in his junior year at Bradley, Mangieri was selected by the Pirates in the 25th round of the 2018 MLB Amateur Draft. After signing, he was assigned to short-season Single-A West Virginia and was promoted to full-season Single-A for the last 11 games of the season.
In 2019, Mangieri started the season back in West Virginia, where he hit .328 with a slugging percentage of .517 in 17 games with the Black Bears. The hot start earned him the promotion to Greensboro, where he hit .231 to go with five home runs in 47 games.
“My first year was okay, I was somewhat happy with how I played, I had a really bad finish, but I mean, [you] can’t really expect much in your first year of pro ball,” Mangieri said. “Last year was kind of a step in the right direction for me, as far as numbers go.”
The transition from college ball to affiliated baseball isn’t always an easy one. Not only is the competition a step up, but the culture shift from the team-oriented atmosphere of college ball to the self-oriented atmosphere of pro-ball took some getting used to for the Peoria native.
“In pro ball, everyone’s working towards the same goal of getting to the big leagues,” Mangieri said. “In the Minor Leagues, it’s all about you sometimes, and no one’s really there to help you out, so you got to push through it yourself.”
From a competition standpoint, Mangieri said he was well prepared by the Missouri Valley Conference. In his three years playing mainly designated hitter with the Braves, Mangieri posted a slash line of .314/.407/.451. When he was drafted, he was Bradley’s active leader in hits.
In his preparation for the minor leagues, Mangieri believes collegiate summer ball was a formative experience. In his two full seasons of summer baseball, he played in the Coastal Plain League and Northwoods League, both of which feature games nearly every day of the summer.
“The Northwoods League, for sure, is probably the closest thing to pro ball. Just as far as the travel, the schedule, you get pre and post-game meals there,” Mangieri said. “If summer ball isn’t your thing, then honestly pro-ball is probably not your thing, either.”
Amid the COVID-19 outbreak, much of the chatter surrounding Minor League Baseball has been negative. MLB has proposed a consolidation of the minor leagues which would reduce the number of teams in the system from 160 to 120. The proposal has been met with opposition from fans and politicians, as the plan would likely result in job losses and leave many communities without access to professional baseball.
However, Mangieri pointed out the consolidation of the system could be a positive thing for players working their way to the majors.
“Since I’m in the system already, I’m on board with it,” Mangieri said. “Selfishly, it’s a good thing that they’re cutting teams because it just makes the path to the big leagues shorter … I guess if I was a college prospect going into it I’d be a little nervous about it, just because the draft is probably going to get shortened and a lot of people are not going to get opportunities to play professional baseball that probably would have two or three years ago.”
Discussions between MLB and MiLB about the proposal are ongoing.
While no teams have been cut yet, nobody has an opportunity to play baseball at the moment, with stay-at-home orders and restrictions on large crowds abound across the nation.
As a result, Mangieri finds himself in a similar spot as most sports fans, hoping and waiting.
“I just hope everything goes back to normal soon,” he said. “It sucks seeing Bradley Baseball on the sidelines right now. Normally, I like following them … Hopefully, sports can come back sooner than later.”