Red Sox pitching prospect Noah Song and his Team USA get their first shot at earning a trip to the 2020 Olympics, beginning Saturday.
Song, alongside other Sox prospects Bobby Dalbec, C.J. Chatham, and Tanner Houck, will play against the Netherlands in the World Baseball Softball Confederation Premier12 tournament in Mexico. Song will pitch out of the bullpen for the first time since high school. Houck will get a shot to start, an opportunity he’s looking to capitalize on. Chatham and Dalbec will patrol the infield.
It’s an experience of a lifetime for the four players. An opportunity that isn’t easily attained and shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“It definitely means a lot to me,” Song said during a phone interview Thursday. “Probably more than most baseball players.”
Song understands that, but there are depths to his story that don’t necessarily pertain to his teammates.
Whatever the outcome, the rest of the USA squad is guaranteed more baseball with their respective organizations.
For Song, however, this tournament could be his last.
Song, 22, a fourth-round pick out of Navy in June, is still an active member of the military and has a two-year active service duty requirement. Currently, he’s awaiting a decision by the Department of Defense on whether he can defer those two years, so he can continue to pursue baseball. If it rules against Song’s request, the righthander will begin training as a Naval Flight Officer in December. The two-year gap could stall — or end — Song’s baseball career.
“This is to be determined for me,” said Song, a 6-foot-4-inch righthander. “All I have to look forward to is the next couple of weeks and trying to make the most out of it.”
Song isn’t dwelling on the outcome. Looking beyond this tournament does nothing for him. He’s at peace with whatever decision is made.
“I think it helps me relax a little from a baseball standpoint,” Song said. “It kind of takes the pressure off because I don’t feel like I have to be perfect. Obviously still compete, but also enjoy the game, enjoy my teammates enjoy the opportunity that I have.”
So far, he’s made an impression on current Phillies pitching coach Bryan Price, who’s the pitching coach of the US team.
“Noah is a great talent,” Price said. “He has the athleticism, temperament, and feel to become an excellent pitcher. He has an explosive fastball, a hard late-breaking [slider] and a very good feel for his curveball and changeup. He is not afraid of the older competition and competes at a level well above his age and experience.”
Houck, who’s gotten to know Song through this tournament, described his pitches as a “heavy ball,” which usually means a high spin rate.
“I’ve gotten the privilege to throw with him pretty much every day,” Houck said. “He has a very electric arm. He’s truly a unique individual.”
According to Baseball America, Song’s fastball sat at 95-96 miles per hour during an exhibition game last Saturday, topping out at 98. But while Houck said he’s looking to make an impression heading into spring training, and is utilizing this opportunity to not only compete but to improve his pitch mix, Song waits. His fate, he said, is out of his hands.
“It very well could be the last time I throw,” said Song, who allowed two runs and fanned 19 in 17 innings for the Single A Lowell Spinners this season. “It doesn’t make me feel anymore demoralized or anything like that. It’s the cards that I’ve drawn and what I’ve chosen to do by serving so if that’s what it takes then that’s what it takes. I’ve understood that.”
Team USA Premier12 schedule
All times Eastern.
Saturday: US vs. Netherlands (Guadalajara), 2 p.m.
Sunday: US vs. Mexico (Guadalajara), 8 p.m.
Monday: US vs. Dominican Republic (Guadalajara), 8 p.m.
Nov. 11-16: Super Round (Chiba and Toky0, Japan)
Nov. 17: Medal Round (Tokyo)
Julian McWilliams can be reached at email@example.com.