Still, this scout and many others, armed with radar guns and slow-motion Edgertronic cameras, regularly tested their calves to travel to U-32 this spring to see 18-year-old right-hander Owen Kellington, a throwing prospect who put their status on the talent assessor map for the first time in decades.
It’s hard to spot Vermont. The cold weather squeezes the high school regular season to about five weeks, a time of year when scouting services prey on priority players. And the level of competition makes it difficult to assess an outstanding person compared to his peers; a player must be special to attract scouts.
Kellington qualified. It has become common this spring to see 10 to 20 Scouts on their outings.
Several reviewers – with 15, 20, 30 or almost 40 years of high school and college experience – noted that Kellington gave them their first reason to visit Vermont. Two proudly observed that with a match at U-32, they had explored 49 states (one had yet to see a match in North Dakota, the other in Alaska).
“I had never seen a major league scout at a game,” said U-32 coach Geoff Green. “Having 20 – I think that partly explains why this is particularly important. “
This is not part of the standard coverage area for New England Boy Scouts, but regional and national cross-checkers have come to the area to see a pitcher who has a commitment to the University of Connecticut but who is probably a consideration for day 2 (rounds 3-10) in this year’s draft.
“He’s a prospect,” said a regional counter-auditor.
Over the past several decades, the culture of amateur baseball in Vermont has received the greatest attention not for a player but for a policy. In 2008, the state became the first in the country to implement a pitch limit in high school games.
“I had never seen a major league scout at a game. Having 20 – I think that’s part of why it’s particularly important. “
Geoff Green, U-32 coach
As for the outlook? Only one player drafted from Vermont – right-hander Kirk McCaskill, who was retired in the fourth round in 1982 from the University of Vermont – has reached the big leagues. No high school player has been drafted and taken out of state since 2002, when the Red Sox beat southpaw Tyler Pelland in the ninth round.
Kellington, who has said he’s unsure whether he’ll go to college or pursue a professional career, aims to be next.
“I think the first person who spotted me was a Mets recruiter,” he said. “He said I would always be known as ‘The Vermont Kid’ because few kids come out of Vermont. It’s a big part of what I try to do.
“It’s great to represent a state, especially when that hasn’t happened [since McCaskill]. It’s super cool for me. I would love to represent Vermont.
Kellington has already stood out from any other player seen in the Central Vermont high school ranks in recent years – a fact that became clear during a recent outing against Harwood High School.
Harwood’s cover erupted in excitement when the team’s first hitter fouled a fastball on the opening pitch of the game. The enthusiasm was understandable, given that the best starters in central Vermont typically feature fastballs in the ’70s to’ 80s.
“Anything more than 83-84, you think, ‘Okay that’s different,’” Green said. “And then having Owen throwing 90-92 is just a whole different category. It is unique in my experience. I have never seen a pitcher throw this hard in Vermont in my life.
There would be more foul balls against Kellington’s fastball but no balls in play on a day when he struck out the first 18 batters. This performance was very much in line with his five straight hitting innings at the start of the season, in which he recorded all 15 strikeouts per strike.
Later in the outing, Kellington spun a curved ball that froze a Harwood hitter who briefly feared for his life before seeing the field smash to the plate. The batter stepped out of the box and, as the color returned to his face, patted his pounding heart with a smile – a mixture of bewilderment and amusement.
“I could plot swing and failure rates on his pitches, but what good is it?” One reviewer noted on a day when Kellington got 34 puffs out of his 94 pitches.
That day, Kellington allowed his first – and, ultimately, the only – earned run of the season. In the seventh inning, he left a slider on the plate (the only type of ground he allowed a hit on at least in his first 30 innings of the season) that resulted in a brace on the opposite field, at the big dam of the pitcher.
“I’ve always set a high level for myself, especially in Vermont baseball,” he said. “I never want to give up a blow or a walk. It will happen. It’s frustrating, but it will happen.
A sacrificial sacrifice and a savage swing-and-miss ball pitch culminated in that one run, a day when Kellington struck out 20 strikes at bat and allowed a hit in seven innings.
Kellington’s success this year was not measured simply in the presence of Boy Scouts. The U-32 won its first state championship in school history, with Kellington in relief (three days after striking out 17 batters in seven innings) to shoot three innings with seven punches for conclude.
With the outing, Kellington wrapped up a season in which he pitched 49 innings (regular and playoff) with a 0.18 ERA, 133 strikeouts, 7 hits and 11 walks.
His senior season is over, the future awaits. After graduating last Friday, Kellington pitched two innings the next day (no hits, two walks, three strikeouts) for the Burlington Lake Monsters of the Futures League – a wood-batting league made up mostly of players. academics who offered him a higher level of competition ahead of next month’s draft.
According to a major league source, several teams have invited the right-hander to prepare for training sessions in front of a full complement of their evaluators. Kellington is intrigued by the growing possibilities of the pros, but still excited about how he could develop at UConn.
“I haven’t made a decision anyway,” he said. “I think I’ll probably decide closer to the draft. Either way, I’m in a good position. I am convinced that I can keep improving, keep improving.
If he does, “The Vermont Kid” can insert a new pin into the baseball card.