LINCOLN – Nick Zammarelli boarded a plane Thursday night fully confident that he made the correct decision – one that figures to benefit him in the long run.
As tempting as it was to turn pro, the recent Lincoln High School graduate believes in his heart of hearts that the pursuit can wait a few years. College life featuring side orders of education and baseball at North Carolina’s Elon University beckons for the 18-year-old Zammarelli following a spring and summer that can be best summed up as a whirlwind.
The carousel officially stopped spinning when Zammarelli told the Boston Red Sox “thanks, but no thanks” late Wednesday. Earlier in the day, he took batting practice at North Providence High School under the watchful eyes of Red Sox scouts Ray Fagnant and Quincy Boyd before all parties shifted to Westerly for an R.I. American Legion Senior Division contest involving Zammarelli’s North Providence Post 29 club.
After watching Zammarelli go 2-for-2 with a triple, three walks and two stolen bases against Gordon Greene Post 27, the Red Sox scouts presented an offer that the youngster felt money-wise was “a fair amount.” He wasted little time in letting the appropriate people know that he was heading to school.
“I feel relieved just because everything is off my shoulders,” said Zammarelli upon reached via cell phone on Thursday. “What it basically came down to is that I wanted to get three years of education under my belt and improve my draft stock for my junior year.
“This past week, I had been leaning towards Elon unless the Red Sox came at me with an offer that surprised me,” Zammarelli continued. “I’m just going to focus on Elon right now and get ready to play college baseball and do my school work.”
After watching a player who had been on the program’s radar well before his junior year at Lincoln High endure a stretch where coming to Elon was merely another option on the table, Greg Starbuck and the rest of the Phoenix baseball family can now exhale. They know that Zammarelli will be in an Elon uniform for at least through the spring of 2016, which is the earliest the prospect can throw his name back in Major League Baseball’s draft pool.
“With Nick deciding to come, it’s almost like getting a new recruit. We’re extremely happy,” remarked Starbuck, associate head coach at Elon. “Obviously it was a little stressful for us because we were hoping Nick would come, but when it comes down to it, you want him to make the best decision that helps to further his education and baseball career.”
The message the Elon coaches delivered to Zammarelli was straightforward.
“They told me that I made the right decision and to get ready for the 2016 draft,” the future Elon contributor stated. “Back in November [when Zammarelli inked his National Letter of Intent], I had no idea that I would be drafted. Everything came so quickly, but I’ve gained so much interest from so many teams that I can only think of what I have ahead of me in three years in terms of how many more teams will become interested and the teams that are already interested become even more interested. I’m excited.”
The Red Sox began their courtship during the latter stages of Zammarelli’s senior year at Lincoln High, a period of time that saw him go from signed, sealed and ready to be delivered to Elon’s doorstep to the focus of multiple MLB scouting bureaus. The attention he wound up receiving was at times overwhelming – a total of 20 scouts showed up for Lincoln’s league opener on April 8. It also lent credence to the belief that he would hear his name called at some point during the annual first-year player draft.
On Saturday, June 8, the Red Sox drafted Zammarelli in the 28th round, pick No. 833 overall. Instead of submitting an offer, the Red Sox classified Zammarelli as a “summer follow-up,” meaning he would continue to be tracked during the weeks leading up to the July 12 signing deadline.
A First Team All-State honoree and an All-New England selection by the National Baseball Coaches Association, Zammarelli easily carried over the momentum from his senior season to his Legion duties. In 38 at-bats with North Providence, he batted a robust .632 to go along with a .708 on-base percentage. Fagnant, whose scouting territory includes the Northeast and Canada, was present for three North Providence contests with fellow Northeast scout Boyd and Southeast Crosschecker Fred Patterson each appearing at one game.
As Friday’s drop-dead deadline for teams to come to terms with their draft picks approached, the Red Sox let Zammarelli know that they thought his best defensive fit would be at second base due to the range he displayed as a shortstop. MLB.com listed the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Zammarelli as a third baseman on draft day, with Starbuck noted that he projects as either a corner infielder or corner outfielder for the Phoenix.
According to one industry source, Boston felt Zammarelli “was versatile enough to play a number of positions at the next level.” His “hand speed at the plate” and “athleticism” stood out whenever the Red Sox had scouts present.
“The Red Sox were very good,” Zammarelli noted.
Zammarelli joked that he’s already one day behind in college as the second summer session at Elon began Thursday and runs through August 1. Friday will mark his initiation as a Division I student-athlete and include responsibilities such as completing the homework assigned from the one class he’s enrolled in along with getting to know his Phoenix teammates in advance of the fall season.
“When Nick committed to us, we thought we were bringing in someone who had a chance to compete and win a job as a freshman,” said Starbuck.
There was a time not long ago when this college-related scenario was far from etched in tone. After experiencing a moment of clarity, it’s now full speed ahead for Zammarelli.
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03