Tyler Callihan reminisces on the first time he visited University of South Carolina. He was 10 years old and driving with his baseball travel team coach to a tournament. The coach asked his son and Callihan if they wanted to make a detour and check out South Carolina’s then-recently constructed Founders Park.
South Carolina was hosting a free-admission baseball scrimmage. They went into the ballpark and watched. Callihan even caught a foul ball. It was the first college ballpark he ever visited.
The memory remained in the back of his mind when the college recruiting process began. South Carolina baseball extended Callihan a scholarship offer as a high school freshman, and he was instantly set on signing with the program, he said.
“I was obsessed with the place ever since,” Callihan said. “They won back-to-back national championships, and I knew this was the place to be.”
Callihan may never play baseball for South Carolina, though. He is a well-regarded prospect for June’s MLB draft. He’s one of the top prep hitters in this year’s class and has a chance to be a first-round pick.
“Playing baseball is my lifelong goal,” Callihan said. “Whether that’s professionally or college, I’m going to be doing it no matter what. Wherever I am, as long as I’m playing baseball, I am going to have a great time with it. It’s honestly just God’s plan to where it’s going to take me.”
Callihan is a 6-foot-1, 200-pound left-handed hitter. His best trait is his hitting ability. He has impressive raw power and consistently barrels up pitches.
The Florida native hit six home runs throughout his junior high school season last year. He already has surpassed that total with nine home runs this season.
He hit .528 with two home runs as a member of USA Baseball’s under-18 national team last summer.
“I feel like I can take an inside pitch and put it out to right field,” Callihan said, “and I can take an away pitch and put it out to left-center. I control the whole zone and plate.”
He said he struggled at times during his high school season last year with the slower velocity. He worked on his approach throughout the offseason to wait back on pitches and drive them to all fields, he added.
Continuing to refine his approach is Callihan’s focus over the remaining part of his high school season.
“I want to continue to channel in on my pitch and not chance anyone’s pitches, especially early in the counts with high school pitchers,” Callihan said. “I just don’t want to chase outside of the zone and waste at-bats.”
Callihan primarily plays shortstop for Providence High School in Jacksonville, Florida. He also plays catcher and serves as the team’s closer.
Throughout the showcase circuit last summer, Callihan moved around the diamond and primarily played first base due to the depth of high-end talent in the middle infield and at third base.
His defensive play drew mixed reviews. But Callihan admits he thought his defense was his best tool going into the summer. The criticism motived him to improve. He dedicated time in the offseason to improving his footwork, range and athleticism in the field.
If he opts to bypass the professional ranks this summer and attend South Carolina in the fall, Callihan said he wouldn’t have a defined position.
“I asked my coach that a couple weeks ago and he told me, ‘Hitter,’” Callihan said. “It’s the response I usually get. He said it just depends on what position opens up. He said he could see me at third base, second base, first base or even in the outfield.”
His future defensive position is the biggest question mark with professional scouts. Some believe he’d be an intriguing offensive-minded catcher. He plays the position once every “three or four games” for his high school team when catcher Nathan Hickey, a Florida commit, pitches.
Callihan believes his defense is a strength in his game. Although he’s open to playing anywhere he said he’s most comfortable at third base.
“I enjoy playing third base the most because my idol growing up was Chipper Jones,” Callihan said. “I loved watching him play, and I try to be just like him. It’s my favorite position.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for four years. He’s interviewed 133 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.