Vettleson Maturing, Preparing for the Grind

Vettleson is working on defense.

2010 first round pick Drew Vettleson finally got his first taste of professional baseball with the rookie level Princeton Rays in 2011. After tearing up the Appalachian League in July, the young outfielder limped to the finish with a disappointing August. This off-season he is committed to becoming a better all-around player and better preparing for the grind of a long season of playing baseball.

Drew Vettleson's calling card has always been his bat. But this off-season he has come to the realization that his hitting alone will not carry him to the big leagues.

"When I came into the minors I wasn't really into defense, wasn't really into base running. But being around all these coaches that are always stressing that the only way your going to be able to get to the big leagues is if you can do it all - I mean that really made me pay attention to detail," the 20-year-old Vettleson told me while standing in front of his locker in the Rays' clubhouse at Tropicana Field last week.

Vettleson is now taking more pride in trying to become a better all-around player and credits Rays' minor league outfield and baserunning coordinator Skeeter Barnes for helping him improve his defense.

"Skeeter Barnes has helped me a lot in the outfield. I don't have blazing speed, but I feel like with the stuff he's told me that my instincts are getting better and I just have a better feel for the game now."

But it isn't just the desire to become a more complete player that is driving Vettleson this off-season - it is the realization that he needs to be a better conditioned one too.

"I kinda found out at the end of last season that I didn't get into the shape that I wanted to be in," Vettleson continued.

"Now this year, I've come down here and I'm pushing myself and finding that I can actually do it. I've been doing a lot of work at home too."

Vettleson hit .395 with RISP in 2011.

The young outfielder hinted that his lack of conditioning may have attributed to his poor August when he hit .191 and struck out 27 times in 94 at bats.

"I think the biggest part is just getting my body in shape. Last year at times I played well in every aspect and then other times not so much. But I felt like my body wasn't in shape to where I was capable of being as consistent as I wanted to be."

His poor August was in stark contrast to his incredible month of July.

He hit .384/.458/.677 during the month and had 17 extra base hits (including 10 doubles and five home runs) in 99 at bats while driving in 24 runners.

This season Vettleson would like to put together a more consistent performance and believes that by being in better shape he can accomplish that.

"Last year I really experienced the ups - and especially the downs. I think I ended the season on an 0-for-25 after having a pretty hot July. So this year I'm trying to get my body ready so I can start and finish strong."

The native of Bremerton, WA knows that he is not alone as he continues his ascent through the Rays' minor league system and is thankful to have played with other top draft picks like Josh Sale and Jake Hager last season at Princeton.

" I don't wanna say that it's been a lot of pressure being a higher draft pick and your kind of expected to do more, but it's been nice having other guys that are looked at and are on high radars too. It kind of takes a little pressure off you, because you're going through the same thing as everybody else."

Vettleson may desire to be better prepared in 2012, but he nonetheless made an impression on Princeton Rays general manager Jim Holland for both his on-field and off-field accomplishments last season.

"The numbers show that other than a couple of slow games at the start and a couple more at the end, that a good argument could be made that Drew Vettleson was our steadiest position player throughout the 2011 season," Holland told me in an interview last November.

"And, for me as a minor league GM, he was a joy to work with in terms of community events and the relationships he built with our fan base here. Tampa Bay named him as the 2011 Princeton Player of the Year, our fans voted him as our 2011 Most Popular Player, and I designated him as our nominee for Tampa Bay's "Erik Walker Award" for his community service and actions he displayed both on the field and in the clubhouse as a teammate. I don't believe we have had a player here making a clean sweep like that."



John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at raysdigest.com@gmail.com.

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