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Decision looming for Lincoln baseball star Zammarelli

June 9, 2013

Lincoln High senior Nick Zammarelli makes a play at shortstop during a recent game at Chet Nichols Field against Woonsocket. Zammarelli must decide whether to sign with the Boston Red Sox or head off to play Division I college baseball at North Carolina’s Elon University. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN

Lincoln High senior Nick Zammarelli has been presented with two envelopes. One is marked “college” – as in the opportunity to play Division I baseball at Elon (N.C.) University. The second envelope is labeled “pros” – as in an invitation to sign a professional contract with the Boston Red Sox, the team that selected him in the 28th round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft.

The two metaphorical envelopes lead down different, mutually exclusive paths. If Zammarelli honors his commitment to Elon, he would have to wait a minimum of three years to re-enter the MLB draft. If he agrees to terms with the Red Sox, he immediately forfeits all four years of college eligibility and would likely be assigned to the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League.

There may be no wrong decision in this particular instance, but there are plenty of variables to dissect and analyze before Zammarelli plots the course of his baseball odyssey. He has some time to consider his decision, as MLB teams have until July 15 to agree to terms with a drafted player.

“I’ll sit down with my parents (father Nick Jr. and mother Lisa) and go over what’s going on and then take it from there,” stated Zammarelli following his final high school game on Saturday, a 1-0 walk-off loss to North Kingstown in the R.I. Interscholastic League Division I playoffs.
The more Zammarelli became the apple of the pro-scouting bureau’s eye during Lincoln High’s season, the more it was understood that mapping out a draft strategy and sharing it with prospective ball clubs was needed. In his attractive athletic scholarship to Elon – according to the school’s website, the tuition for the 2012-13 academic year was $28,980 with room and board $9,480 – the family had a means to set the bar that teams would have to mull over.

“Nick had a number and he let teams know what that number was, which is good. That’s the way you need to do it,” said Elon Associate Head Coach Greg Starbuck, who was on hand for Saturday’s Lincoln game at North Kingstown.

How the draft works now is that teams have an assigned bonus pool for the top 10 rounds. According to Baseball America, the Red Sox were allotted $6,830,200 for the 10 picks they had in rounds 1-10. If a team proves unable to sign one of those top 10 selections, it’s not as if the money that assigned to that particular pick is thrown back into the pot and used on a lower draftee.

Given the ongoing dialogue between all parties, fingers were crossed that Zammarelli would hear his name called at some point last Friday, when rounds 3-10 were conducted.
Of particular note, the assigned values for the seventh and eighth rounds resembled those of what it would roughly cost to receive an undergraduate degree from Elon – someplace in the $160,000-and-above range. One MLB club did express interest in making the local prospect its 10th-round selection, but ultimately chose another prospect.

In the world of professional drafts, hopefuls are subjected to a team’s whims that can change depending on which way the wind blows. As Zammarelli learned, just because a scout expresses that Player X has early-round potential, it doesn’t automatically result in the execution of such grand hopes.

But as noted earlier, Zammarelli is an 18-year-old, soon-to-be-high-school graduate with viable options. Heading to Elon remains a distinct possibility, though the Red Sox have expressed interest in tracking him in the weeks leading up the July 15 signing deadline. Expect to see Zammarelli play American Legion ball for North Providence Post 29.

Just to explain the criteria for a “summer follow-up,” which Zammarelli would be classified as, let’s go back to the 2009 draft when the Red Sox took fellow Lincoln native and Bishop Hendricken 12th grader Chris Costantino in the 49th round. A conversation with Boston General Manager Ben Cherington – then the assistant G.M. to Theo Epstein – helped to clarify the organization’s stance on the matter.

“We take a lot of high school players deeper in the draft with the intent of getting to know them better in the summer and see if it’s worth exploring a deal,” explained Cherington during a June 2009 interview. “Generally in the early rounds you have a pretty good sense of who the player is and the odds of signing him. There’s something to like when you get that deep in the third day of the draft, but there’s still some work needed.

“You try and evaluate a high school hitter in New England when it’s cold, which can prove tough. Not too many games are played in the spring and you’re not always facing the best competition,” Cherington added.

The Red Sox didn’t have much of an opportunity to further evaluate Costantino due to multiple injuries the player suffered. In Zammarelli’s case, it remains to be seen if the Red Sox make an offer that proves worth his while. Otherwise, he’s Elon-bound, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t a bad consolation prize.

“Obviously, it’s tough both ways. We want Nick to be at Elon, but at the same time, if he gets drafted where he wants to get drafted, that’s great for him,” stated Starbuck.
“There’s always going to be a wait-and-see period because you never know what’s going to happen, but I think Nick and his family understand the entire process. He’s a good player right now, but he has a chance to be really, really good three years from now.

“Ultimately, it’s not about the (school), it’s about what you want to do,” Starbuck continued. “Here’s the information, now you’ve got to make a good decision.”

To those who know Zammarelli best, they feel he will be just fine.

“Whether Nick goes to the pros or Elon, he’s going to be great,” feels Lincoln head coach Andy Hallam.

Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03

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