Going into last year’s draft, Nick Longhi heard the chatter about where he would possibly end up.
Team after team told him they were thinking of taking him in the first round.
There were ifs.
As in “if something happens to the guy we want . . . ”
But Longhi figured he had reason to go into draft day with high expectations. Picturing himself being selected between the second and fifth rounds didn’t feel like going out on a limb.
Then those rounds passed. Then the rounds stretched into the teens. Then the 20s.
It took 30 rounds for Longhi to hear his name called.
Initially, falling that far made him reconsider whether then was the time for him to play professionally. He was being recruited by Louisiana State, and at that point it seemed like the better option.
“When I got picked up in the 30th round, obviously the first thing on my mind was college because I didn’t think I was going to get anything close to what I wanted,” Longhi said. “So I was planning on going to college. I told the LSU coach there’s a 95 percent chance I’m coming to college.”
The only thing that made him think again was the team that drafted him. It wasn’t any of the ones he expected. But it happened to be the team he spent his whole life following.
Even though he lived in Venice, Fla., and made a name for himself there as a masher at the plate, Longhi was born in Springfield, and being a Red Sox fan was in his DNA.
“Of course, I mean, it was kind of disappointing to be picked up in the 30th round as opposed to where I was supposed to go,” Longhi said. “But it couldn’t have been by a better team. They told me to be patient and I thought about it, and when is the next time I’m going to be drafted by my favorite team in professional baseball?”
The Sox sweetened the pot by offering Longhi a $440,000 signing bonus, the fourth-highest offered to anyone in their draft class. It made it hard for Longhi to refuse.
“The Red Sox came in, made a good offer, and I just had to take it,” Longhi said. “I kind of couldn’t turn it down from my favorite team. If it was any other team that offered me that amount of money in that round, I wouldn’t be playing professional baseball. As fate had it, the Red Sox got everything and I was eager to sign. I wanted to play. The first thing on my mind from Day 1 out of high school was, I want to play professional baseball.”
This year, in his first full season in the Red Sox system, Longhi leads the short-season Single A Lowell Spinners with a .346 batting average. Even though he’s still looking for his first home run, nine of his 27 hits have gone for extra bases. He’ll be one of the Spinners’ centerpieces when they face the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in a Futures at Fenway Game on Sunday.
Even though he’s only 21 games into his pro career, the 18-year-old, who has been playing left and right field and designated hitter recently, is driven by one day making Fenway his home park.
“It gives a whole new meaning to playing,” Longhi said. “It’s not just going through the motions and trying to get better. It’s going through the motions, trying to get better, trying to get wins, and at the same time trying to work up to Fenway because that’s where I want to be. There’s just nothing better.”
For as much as his family lived and died with Sox games while he was growing up, Longhi has only been to Fenway three times (for his 11th and 12 birthdays, and then recently when Mookie Betts, who befriended Longhi in spring training, made his Fenway debut).
“That’s probably my biggest problem being so young is that, you know, I wanted to be at Fenway yesterday,” Longhi said. “But I mean, that’s not realistic. So the biggest key for me is to take it one day at a time and just be myself and just keep playing the game and trying to win with my teammates and have fun.”
On the field, he’s admittedly a bundle of emotions. He wears them on his sleeve after a bad at-bat or a loss. But as much as he wants to progress as quickly as possible, he understands the steps he has to take and doesn’t want to skip any.
“I think part of me has understood that there is a process — seeing these guys, getting more reps, playing often, and just getting reps at the plate, getting at-bats, playing in the field — that I’m going to get better,” Longhi said. “That I’m still young enough that I’m going to get better.”
Three to watch
Deven Marrero, Pawtucket — With the numbers he was putting up at Double A Portland this season (.291, five homers, 39 RBIs), it was only a matter of time before the 23-year-old shortstop was promoted to the PawSox. He’s kept it rolling in his first eight games at Triple A, going 9 for 30 with two doubles, two RBIs, and a stolen base.
Mike Miller, Salem — A broken hamate bone sidelined the 24-year-old infielder for the first two months of the season, but since making his debut in June, Miller is hitting .344 with seven doubles, 13 RBIs, and three steals. Over the last eight games he’s hit .532.
Trey Ball, Greenville — It’s been a difficult season for the Sox’ first-round pick from a year ago, but he put together arguably his best start on Sunday, striking out a season-high eight and giving up just one run on five hits over five innings in a 10-5 loss to Augusta.
Take it easy
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said there were no imminent plans to promote Blake Swihart to Triple A with fellow catcher Christian Vazquez being called up to Boston on Wednesday. In 72 games, the 22-year-old Swihart is hitting .292 with nine homers and 44 RBIs, while backstopping a Sea Dogs pitching staff that’s put up an Eastern League-best 3.67 ERA. Cherington also said he has no intentions of rushing Marrero to the majors either after his promotion a week ago to Pawtucket . . . In eight games since being returned to the Red Sox July 1 after being taken by the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft in December, Michael Almanzar is hitting .360 (9 for 25) with a double and a home run for Portland . . . From May 3 to July 2, Sea Dogs lefthander Brian Johnson went 11 straight starts without giving up more than two earned runs. Then along came the Binghamton Mets, who tagged him for seven runs on eight hits in 2⅓ innings on Monday. It was the most runs he’s given up at any level in the minors . . . A concussion landed Peter Hissey on the Sea Dogs’ disabled list for most of June, but in 18 games since his return, he’s hit .422 with eight RBIs and five extra-base hits.Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.