It took 63 years but Lord Botetourt High School finally has a player in the big leagues. Zack Kelly, a 2013 graduate of LB, was called up to the Boston Red Sox on Sunday and made his pitching debut on Monday in Minneapolis.
Kelly pitched a scoreless eighth inning in Monday’s 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins. He entered the game opening the sixth inning and struck out the first two batters he faced. He got Gilberto Celestino looking on a 3-2 count, then struck out Sandy Leon on a called third strike. Luis Arraez grounded a single to right but he was thrown out trying to steal to end the inning. Kaleb Ort, another recent call-up, replaced Zack to start the seventh.
Both Kelly and Ort were called up Sunday as Hirokazu Sawamura and Austin Davis were designated for assignment by Boston. Zack had been pitching well for the Sox Triple-A team in Worcester. The 27-year-old posted a 2.72 earned run average for the WooSox while striking out 72 batters in 49-2/3 innings.
It’s been a long road to the big leagues for Kelly, who attended Concord University after graduating from Lord Botetourt High, then transferred to Newberry University after his sophomore year at Concord. Unselected in the 2017 Major League draft, he signed with the Oakland Athletics for a $500 signing bonus. He was released in April of 2018 but signed with the Angels. He pitched three seasons in the Angels’ system before being released in 2020. At that point he had elbow surgery to have a ligament reattached.
Kelly joined the Red Sox organization in 2021 and made his way up the ladder through Double-A Portland and Triple-A Worcester. He was invited to spring training as a non-roster player this spring and followed with an outstanding season Worcester, culminating in his call-up to the Boston team Sunday.
Zack is expected to pitch exclusively out of the bullpen for the Red Sox. His fastball reaches 96 mph and he has an excellent changeup and an 89 mph cutter. Boston’s scouting report reads as follows.
“Ceiling of a consistent seventh-inning arm. Likely lacks late-inning upside due to inconsistent command, but could stick around for a while as a sixth-inning arm. Fastball and changeup both project as plus pitches, with changeup showing true bat-missing ability. Cutter is more of a pitch-to-contact offering at present, but if it improves, would give him a third pitch that can miss bats. Late bloomer who could continue to improve and see his stuff take a step forward again.”
Current Lord Botetourt baseball coach Todd Smith and former LB baseball coach Chuck Pound are all but certain Zack is the first LB grad ever to make the big leagues. The school opened in 1959 and no one in the LB athletic Hall of Fame has MLB credentials. Smith has followed Zack’s rise up the ladder and proudly watched his major league debut Monday.
“Zack looked great last night, was hoping they would send him out for another inning but happy with what he did,” he said.
The Red Sox conclude their series with the Twins tonight, Wednesday, then open a four-game home series with the Texas Rangers at Fenway Park Thursday. The Red Sox are in Baltimore for a weekend series on September 9 through 11 for fans who might want to make a road trip to see LB’s finest in the bigs.