By David Willis
---- — LOWELL — At just 18 years old with a baby face, lanky build and shy disposition, Jamie Callahan looks like a high schooler left over at LeLacheur Park from the state title games played here over the weekend.
Without a uniform, the unassuming righty easily blends into the crowd of young interns who man the park throughout the season.
But as he worked through his warmups on the field yesterday, in preparation for his start tomorrow, Callahan showed the stuff that makes him one of the most exciting prospects in the Boston organization
Callahan earned his first real taste of being a Red Sox prospect last night as a member of the Lowell Spinners. They opened their home schedule with a 5-1 victory over the Connecticut Tigers.
“This is quite an experience,” said Callahan, the No. 27-ranked prospect in the organization. “It’s pretty weird being so young and going through all of this. It’s humbling. I feel very privileged to have this opportunity. This was the first time I really got to be in front of a crowd.”
Callahan kicks off his second summer of professional baseball, after being selected by the Red Sox in the second round of the MLB draft last season when he was just 17.
“If we didn’t think he was ready, he wouldn’t be here,” said Lowell Spinners manager Bruce Crabbe. “We are excited to see what he can do.”
Callahan first began to create buzz as a first baseman his junior season at Dillon (S.C.) High, hitting .450 with seven homers and 45 RBIs.
But as a senior, he firmly established himself as a pitcher, finishing 7-1 with a 0.89 ERA and 113 strikeouts in only 50.0 innings pitched.
His talent, production and size — 6-foot-2, 210 pounds— began to draw the attention of scouts. He was ranked the No. 49 prospect overall by Baseball America, and ESPN even called the righty with the low 90s fastball and sharp slider a potential late first-round pick.
“It all went by so fast,” he said. “I didn’t really realize what was going on until it was almost over. I was meeting lots of people. Initially I had signed to play for South Carolina, and I was going there unless a team picked me in the first two rounds. I was going to come out if I was selected in the second round.”
That is exactly what happened on draft day 2012, when the Sox picked Callahan in the second round, pick No. 87 overall.
So, at 17 years old, when classmates were worrying about proms and finding a summer job, Callahan was a member of the Boston Red Sox organization, signing a deal with a $600,000 signing bonus.
The teenager had to have a long talk with his parents before making his final decision.
“We talked and they felt like I was mature beyond my age,” he said. “They thought I could handle it. Before I knew it I was on a plane to Boston for physicals, then I was thrown right into the process and was playing rookie ball.”
Callahan reported to the Gulf Coast League, appearing in five games for the rookie league squad, allowing five hits and five runs in 8 2/3 innings.
He spent the early part of 2013 in extended spring training before reporting to Lowell last week. He was going to pitch the home opener, but got bumped back two days due to a rain out and a roster move.
“This is such a great environment,” he said. “I’ve never played in front of anyone, and now I get to play in front of Red Sox fans and it is such an honor.”
How he ranks
Callahan is one of two 18-year-olds on the roster, along with outfielder Manuel Margot, a native of the Dominican Republic. There are also two 19-year-olds, infielders Cleuluis Rondon of Venezuela and Tzu-Wei Lin of Taiwan.
The oldest Spinner is 29-year-old Matt Maloney, who is on an extended stay while rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
One jewel to another
As a Red Sox farmhand, Jamie Callahan cannot help but dream of one day playing at Fenway Park.
If he does, it would be Callahan’s second opportunity to pitch at one of Major League Baseball’s crown jewel ballparks.
Two summers ago, Callahan had the opportunity to pitch at Wrigley Field in the Under Armour All-American Baseball Game, a that featured the best from the US, Canada, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
“It was awesome,” he said. “Walking through the locker room, knocking all the history and all the players that have walked through there is pretty amazing. It was crazy.
“Maybe it will be Fenway next.”
Opening Day at a glance
Kendrick Perkins was the hero in his second opening day as a Lowell Spinner, going 4 for 4 with a double and three RBIs in the 5-1 win over Connecticut. He is working his way back from a concussion.
“I’ve been trying not to put too much pressure on myself this season,” said Perkins. “I wanted a fifth at-bat. I feel like I have grown as a hitter. Once I got hurt and went back to Florida, I really wanted to change my game.” ...
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Watertown police chief Ed Deveau, who played a major role in the manhunt following the Boston Marathon terrorist bombings, and two of his officers threw out the first pitch.