On July 10, 2016 Salem Red Sox relief pitcher Jamie Callahan was struggling against the Lynchburg Hillcats. This wasn’t surprising as the 22-year-old entered his 21st appearance of the season with an ERA north of four and an ugly walk rate of 6.06-per-nine innings (27 BB in 40.1 IP). Lynchburg, the Cleveland Indians affiliate, was the top hitting team in the Carolina League.
A second-round pick of the Boston Red Sox in the 2012 MLB Draft, Callahan had failed as a starting pitcher and was now struggling as a reliever against Advanced-A competition. For sure there were flashes of the talent that gave him his prospect status, but he began the year unranked in any organizational Top-30 list. More and more he looked like a bust.
A Mark Mathias infield single coupled by a throwing error from shortstop Deiner Lopez allowed Bobby Bradley to score the Hillcats’ fourth run against Callahan and gave the club a 5-4 lead. Red Sox pitching coach and former major leaguer Paul Abbott walked out to the mound for a visit.
His message? Trust your stuff. Callahan has a great fastball; why was his breaking ball becoming his primary pitch? Abbott returned to the dugout and Callahan struck out Taylor Murphy to end the inning. The Hillcats would win the game 7-4, and Callahan suffered his second blown save of the year and got the loss to fall to 3-3. His ERA for the season rose to 4.50.
From that point forward, he was a changed pitcher. Abbott’s visit not only gave him a good pep talk, but it restored his confidence. It was noticeable how sure he looked of himself on the mound and how he carried himself in his subsequent appearances.
For the rest of the season Callahan, called “Bulldog” by his teammates, made 15 appearances, threw 23.2 innings and allowed just three runs for an ERA of 1.14. He cut his walks down to just 3.42 BB/9 and his strikeouts remained high at a rate of 9.51 per-nine. Also of significance was that before that mound visit Callahan had thrown strikes 59% of the time and after, he was throwing them 66%.
Even this year with outside results at the Triple-A level not looking terrific, his walks have remained relatively steady and his strikeouts have trended up. But scouting stats is a dangerous game, especially when it comes to relief pitching prospects.
Callahan was the 2012 Gatorade High School Player of the Year in South Carolina, after posting a 0.89 ERA and 113 strikeouts in 50.0 innings as a senior at Dillion HS. He also managed to hit .439 with 5 home runs. Callahan passed up a scholarship at the University of South Carolina to sign with the Red Sox after they selected him in the second round.
The 6-2 righty was a starting pitcher for the first four and a half years of his career, but midway through the 2015 season, he moved from the starting rotation to the bullpen. In his second year with the Greenville Drive of the South Atlantic League in 2015, Callahan made six starts and was 0-3 with a 9.14 ERA. After a transition to the bullpen, he went 7-3 with a 3.06 ERA and finished second on the team in strikeouts (94 in 89.1 innings).
He features a strong three-pitch power mix of a fastball that sits 93-97 and touches 98, a splitter and a slurve that all generate swings and misses. Many talent evaluators see Callahan as a middle relief type, but I see his ceiling as a potentially dominant reliever if he polishes his command.
Like many young pitchers, he can get flustered when things start to go wrong, however, that was almost absent during his dominant stretch at the end of the year last year. Most of the time, Callahan has the same calm, in-control demeanor on the mound that he displays off the mound. Callahan being the centerpiece of the return for Addison Reed is a good get for the Mets, and he should be a big piece of the Mets bullpen for years to come.
Joe Vasile is a broadcaster for the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball.