Steady thunder introduced Red Sox Mid-Atlantic area scout Chris Calciano to first baseman Josh Ockimey in the winter of 2011-12.
At an indoor winter showcase event, a sound reverberated across the gym from where Calciano was working at a tee station.
"I just hear this crack, every 15 seconds, of a wood bat absolutely annihilating a baseball," recalled Calciano. "I grabbed one of the young college players helping out and said, 'Can you watch this station for me for a bit?'
"I wander over and see a big, strong, young kid just laying into it. It was Josh."
Ockimey was preparing for his high school sophomore season, but from the time of that introduction, he remained on the Sox scout's radar, straight through his senior year at Neumann-Goretti High School in South Philadelphia.
"I made sure I kept that note in a safe place," said Calciano. "He wasn't going to be one who slipped through the cracks with me."
Yet even as Ockimey punished the baseball and emerged as one of the top high school prospects in Philadelphia leading up to the 2014 draft, he managed just three homers as a senior and 13 total. Of course, those numbers are a bit misleading, given that Neumann-Goretti's baseball team shared a field with the football team.
"I think the exact dimensions were 390 down right field, 440-450 in the right-center gap, 522 dead center, about 440 in the left-center gap, and 360 down the left-field line," recalled Ockimey, who hit all of his high school homers on the road. "If you got it out of there, you didn't belong in high school."
Ockimey proved that during three workouts in big league ballparks in 2014. He went deep in cavernous Marlins Park, nearly reached the second deck at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, and drove pitches over the bullpen wall at Fenway Park.
"We don't have too many high school hitters that roll up there, swinging from the left side with a wood bat, and drop the ball in the bullpen," said Calciano.
Still, Ockimey, who was taken by the Sox in the fifth round of the 2014 draft, has flourished in Single A in a way that few could have expected.
After he hit four homers in 92 games in 2014-15, he has launched seven through 34 games with the Greenville Drive this year.
Yet he's done more than just show power. This week, Ockimey was tied for the minor league lead in walks with 30 after reeling off a run of 22 straight games reaching base. He's hitting .294 with a .436 on-base percentage and .571 slugging mark, ranking second in the South Atlantic League in homers, OBP, slugging, and OPS.
He's combining raw power with an unusually advanced approach for his league, resulting in a breakthrough.
"He's always been known for being a pretty bright kid who has an idea of what he's trying to do," said Greenville manager Darren Fenster. "He's a big boy and he's got some juice, but he doesn't try to jack the ball, which to me is pretty impressive.
"I'd describe it as incredibly impressive for a 20-year-old, drafted out of high school, who has the strike zone discipline that this kid has shown here in the early going. His pitch recognition has been very good.
"To his credit, when he does go after a pitch, he has a very good understanding of the pitches he can hit well, with the discipline to lay off something he might not be able to handle, even if it's a strike. Those are some learned traits that you very rarely see at this level.
"It's very impressive and very encouraging going forward."
Ockimey said he has focused on taking advantage of counts in his favor, looking for specific pitches in areas where he can drive the ball. He has operated with a well-defined strike zone, helped by the fact that he has acclimated to contact lenses that have improved his vision to 20/15.
"They help me so much," Ockimey said. "There are some pitches I definitely wouldn't have been able to lay off without contacts."
He has positioned himself to drive the ball with noteworthy frequency — something that can help him toward his ambitious goal.
"I have a goal for every game," said Ockimey. "I want to be the best damn player on the field, every game. I take that to heart.
"The cliché is to say, 'It's baseball. Some days you'll have your best, some you'll have your worst.' That's true, but I don't like to say I wish or I should have played better."
Ball is rolling
Lefthander Trey Ball is making up for lost time after a late start to the season with High A Salem. The 2013 first-rounder (No. 7 overall) is 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA in four starts, including three straight outings of six or more innings that culminated with a career-high seven shutout innings with six strikeouts and two walks Monday.
Last year, with Ball's fastball/curveball/changeup mix getting hit too regularly, he and Salem pitching coach Paul Abbott worked to start incorporating a slider into his repertoire. The results were mixed down the stretch.
This year, a pitch that sometimes has the action of a slider and sometimes operates more like a cutter has given Ball a weapon to get inside against righties. That, in turn, has opened the plate for his changeup, while also permitting his fastball (90-91 m.p.h., topping out at 93) to show improved results.
"It's a big league pitch," said Abbott. "It's a nice complement to his repertoire, for sure. It allows him to have another option besides going to his changeup to get righthanders out. He throws it in on their hands, gets a lot of ground balls with it. It eliminates extended at-bats."
Ball's performance likely will have him pushing for a promotion to Double A Portland soon.
Lefthander Roenis Elias fanned a career-high 13 in 7⅔ innings Wednesday, the most strikeouts in a game by a PawSox pitcher since Jin-Ho Cho fanned 15 in 1999 . . . Righthander Kyle Martin, a 2013 ninth-rounder, has punched out 28 (with just three walks) in 21 innings, posting a 33.7 percent strikeout rate that leads all International League pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched . . . Sam Travis drilled a pair of homers Sunday in Pawtucket, the first multihomer game of the Triple A first baseman’s career.
Close to home
Ordinarily, a Double A assignment for a recently productive big leaguer who'd spent the previous three years in Triple A and the majors would represent a disappointment. But for Nate Freiman, a 29-year-old native of Wellesley, the news that the Sox had purchased his contract from the independent league Long Island Ducks and assigned him to Portland came as a thrill. "I couldn't wait to sign," said Freiman, who hit .370/.429/.630 with a homer and four doubles in his first nine games for Portland. "Being with the Red Sox is really special for me, growing up 15 or 20 minutes from Fenway Park. Playing there in 2013 [with the A's] was incredible. It would be really cool to get back. I'm definitely working for that." . . . Andrew Benintendi followed an 0-for-4 Double A debut with a 2-for-3 game that included a double and walk Tuesday. However, Wednesday produced a milestone that suggested Benintendi is at a level that may challenge him in a way that the 2015 first-rounder's previous stops have not: He went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, the first time in 91 pro games he struck out more than twice.