CLEVELAND — Unfortunately, Reese Olson finds himself, like the rest of the nation, in a holding pattern.
Which is not a good thing if you’re a young baseball pitcher trying to make an impression in a talented Major League Baseball organization.
Olson, a 2018 North Hall graduate, was supposed to be immersed in his second full season in the minor leagues after being drafted in the 13th round by the Milwaukee Brewers after his senior season. He was an integral part of the Trojans' 2017 Class 3A state title team, the first-ever for the program.
He was scheduled to begin the 2020 season with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, a Class A team in the Midwest League nestled in scenic Appleton, Wisc., about 35 minutes southwest of Green Bay.
Instead, you can find him most days, now, at Line Drive Academy in Cleveland. He's working to stay in shape and get prepared for whatever season, if any at all, emerges once the coronavirus has run its course across America.
“It’s definitely frustrating because we were just about to start playing games at spring training,” Olson said Tuesday after a 10-minute bullpen session at Line Drive, supervised by former North Hall catching standout Jared Oliver.
“I’m not too worried about it stunting my progress or anything. I’ll be ready when we get ready to go.”
But that is the big question. MLB and its minor leagues were scheduled to begin in early April. That is on hold for now.
Olson was looking to his second season in pro ball as a possible launching point to garner attention inside the Brewers organization. The tall right-hander as a prep player was a consistent 90-91 mph on the radar gun. Now, after a season of pro tutelage, he is popping the mitt at 96-97 mph to go with a solid curveball, a change-up, and a developing slider.
In 2019 with the Timber Rattlers, Olson went 4-7 with a 4.66 ERA in 27 appearances (16 starts) in 94 2/3 innings. He gave up 104 hits and walked 47 while striking out 87. But over his final 10 appearances of the season, he was 2-2 with a 3.43 ERA in 39 1/3 innings yielding just 39 hits and fanning 41.
The adjustments and early struggles of professional ball was something Olson knew he would have to endure.
“I was one of the youngest guys in the (low-Class A) league and it took me a little time to get adjusted,” he said. Olson didn’t turn 20 until near the end of the 2019 season. “But I felt I was a lot more comfortable over the second half of the season. I was definitely better and it was something to build off of for sure.”
There was also the heightened competition level...
“Just a huge jump in competition from high school,” said Olson, who was sent straight to Class A, skipping the usual short-season league for incoming prep players. “Four-year college players and guys from the Dominican Republic who have been in pro ball for like four or five years. These guys are good so it takes time to see what you have to do.”
...And probably for the first time extended travel without his family. But he also knew he was living a dream.
“There were some really long bus rides, like a 13-hour one to Kentucky. That was rough,” he said. “But I really didn’t care about that stuff. It was always my dream to play pro ball and I was doing that. It was a lot of fun most of the time.”
Now, with the 2020 campaign on hold, Olson is spending the time he would have been using to fight for a promotion to high-Class A Zebulon (N.C.) to fine-tune his craft. A newly-developed slider has been a key focus, and he’s getting help at Live Drive from Oliver, who spent time in the Boston Red Sox system.
“I started throwing that this spring so I’m trying to add that,” he said. “Jared really knows a lot about pitching and is a big help. The big thing I am learning in the pros is to have great fastball command and a pitch for every direction.
“The fastball gives me a riser, the curve breaks down, the change-up goes into righties, and the slider can give me the break away (from rght-handers). I had to learn quickly that everyone (in the minors) can turn on a fastball. I could just throw it by most high school players. Not up here.”
But until a decision is made by MLB on when, or even if, to start the 2020 season, Olson is in a perpetual spring training of sorts.
”I haven’t heard anything about when we’re going back. It’s frustrating because I am ready to go. I’m just looking at this as another off-season really and just try to work on what I need to do to get better,” he said.
“I’m just hoping we’ll get that call. But even with all this not knowing, it’s still so much fun. It doesn’t really feel like a job to me. Other than winning the state championship, this is the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball.”