Josh Pennington always knew he wanted to play professional baseball.
The Lower Cape May Regional High School graduate made it a reality Friday, signing an entry-level contract with the Boston Red Sox. He was selected by Boston in the 29th round of the first-year player draft in June.
Pennington turned down a scholarship to play baseball at Division I St. John’s University. He let the school know a week prior to the draft that he was going to sign if selected, and those chances were pretty good despite an elbow injury suffered in April that nearly derailed his dreams.
“Having a chance to play college baseball was a great honor, but it was a dream for me to be a professional baseball player,” Pennington said on the telephone Friday from Fort Myers, Fla. “When that opportunity arose, there was no way I was going to be able to turn that down.”
The right-handed pitcher signed a deal with a $90,000 signing bonus. He also received a college scholarship plan that’s good for two years after retiring if he ends up leaving baseball early.
Pennington had been on Boston’s radar for a while. Pennington said he always knew that Boston was the organization he wanted to be a part of, even before he got hurt or knew he was going to be drafted by the Red Sox in June.
“I pretty much fell into a perfect scenario,” Pennington said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better. The facilities down here are absolutely amazing. They take care of us guys better than I could have even imagined. It really was the best possible outcome.”
Pennington’s journey to the Red Sox organization almost took a detour this April in South Carolina.
Lower Cape May traveled to Myrtle Beach for the Cal Ripken Experience. There were scouts from a handful of major-league teams watching players, and the Red Sox and New York Yankees sent scouts to watch Pennington pitch.
During warmups prior to the game, Pennington felt something pop in his pitching arm. He had torn his ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, ending his senior season.
He only pitched in two games this past season, striking out 25 batters in 11 innings. During his junior season, he was dominant with a 0.53 ERA in 30 innings.
Famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews performed Tommy John surgery on Pennington at the end of June to repair the ligament. The Red Sox wanted him to get the surgery, which Pennington took care of himself, before they could evaluate him and offer him a contract.
Pennington was in Fort Myers rehabbing with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox a week before he signed. He will remain there until the season ends in September before heading back to New Jersey. He hopes to start a throwing program by late October.
“It’s pretty much a cut-and-dry plan that’s set by weeks,” Pennington said. “Every week is a new goal you want to hit so you can progress further in the rehab.”
Pennington was one of four former Cape-Atlantic League players selected in this year’s draft.
St. Augustine Prep graduate Joe Gatto was selected by the Los Angeles Angels with the 53rd overall pick, and his teammate Zach Warren was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 23rd round. Chris Knott, who graduated from Egg Harbor Township in 2010, was drafted in the 34th round by the Tampa Bay Rays after playing four years at East Stroudsburg University.
Warren has decided to go to the University of Tennessee.
Pennington is the second Lower Cape May Regional alumnus currently in professional baseball. Matt Szczur, who graduated in 2007, plays for the Iowa Cubs, the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A affiliate.
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