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Granden Goetzman (pronounced "Getz-man") looked right at home standing in front of his locker in the Rays' clubhouse at Tropicana Field after a workout at the Winter Development Program last month.
And why shouldn't he be comfortable? The 19-year-old 2011 draft pick is very familiar with the landscape at the Trop, was a rabid Rays' fan growing up and has seen many a game from the stands at the team's home ballpark in St. Petersburg, FL.
But just because he is a local product, Goetzman doesn't feel any additional pressure to perform well as a proud community casts a watchful eye on the graduate from Palmetto High School.
"I don't really feel pressure," Goetzman said with a big smile on his face. " A lot of people know me from around here and that makes it more comfortable."
Goetzman was able to play in front of many supporters last season as he made his professional debut for the rookie level GCL Rays last June in nearby Port Charlotte. The young outfielder was grateful to have the support.
It’s kind of nice having the local fans come out. As a hometown guy it’s kind of nice to have that."
Goetzman hit .173 in 75 at bats and also struck out 17 times in 85 plate appearances and would be be the first to admit that his debut didn't go as well as he had hoped. But an an injury that kept him off the field for some time last season was partially to blame.
"I was in the GCL a little bit, but I had a little issue in the groin area. I didn’t play too much," Goetzman said.
Despite being hobbled by the injury, Goetzman was able to still gain a lot of valuable knowledge and experience from his first taste of professional baseball.
"I learned a bunch of stuff - the lifestyle, what it’s going to take, fundamentals and stuff like that, Goetzman continued. "I just learned a lot about the basic every day grind and that you got to be ready for that."
Goetzman played shortstop his senior year at Palmetto, but going into the draft last year, many scouts opined that a shift to third base may be in his future. Still others maintained that he had the speed to play center field and the arm to play a corner spot in the outfield.
The Rays' seem to have settled on the latter, and despite not having the prototypical body-type of a center fielder, Goetzman says that, for now at least, he has not been working out at all in the infield.
"I’m pretty much done with the infield," Goeztman said. "I think center field is where I am to be. But I’m a big guy, so maybe the corners. I’m gonna try and keep my speed up and stay in center. Center field is what I want to do and is what I am working for."
At 6'4" and 200 pounds, Goetzman is indeed a "big guy", and his power numbers in high school definitely stand out. He hit .413 with 8 home runs and 32 RBI and 20 of his 33 hits were of the extra base variety his senior year at Palmetto.
But Goetzman has above average speed despite his size and he lists continuing to develop into a complete, five-tool player as one of his main goals in the coming years.
"I really try and work hard to be a five-tool player - hit for power, hit for an average, play great defense," Goetzman said as fellow 2011 draft pick Tyler Goeddel looked on from his locker next to Goetzman's. "I’m just really working hard to be a five tool player. I think I’m getting there and I’m just going to keep working at it."
To reach that goal, he has been training this off-season at the IMG Baseball Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and has been working on a little bit of everything.
"I’m over at IMG Monday thru Friday. We’ll do movement stuff, speed stuff. - baseball activity every single day - lifting weights and all that stuff. It’s a good place over there."
The Winter Development Program he attended last month was a good experience for Goetzman, and he was happy to be experiencing what being a big league ballplayer is like with so many of his new friends and teammates from the 2011 draft.
"Everybody is great guys and I spent a lot of time with them at Instructs. It’s a good group of people and good players. It’s just a good group to be around and learn from," he said.
"I mean we’re in the Major League clubhouse, so it’s really cool to be around and get a taste of what we’re working to be."
Rays director of minor league development Mitch Lukevics knows that mini-camps like the Winter Development Program are essential for developing top, young talent - especially for high school players like Goetzman.
“When they come in, there is such a huge acclimation period for these young guys, and more so for the high school athlete than the college athlete,” said Lukevics. “(Goetzman) is here in our winter development program, he’s getting more acclimated. You can see him loosening up now. He feels more at home."
So far Lukevics is pleased with what he has seen from Goetzman and though the journey has just started for him, Goetzman has the ability to follow in the footsteps of another local high school product - Rays outfielder Matt Joyce - and one day play in the outfield at Tropicana Field.
“Granden’s a wonderfully gifted athlete that has a great amount of potential,” Lukevics said. “Now in this journey with the minor leagues, we’re going to have to get that potential out over the course time. But he’s a wonderfully gifted athlete, he’s a hard worker with great character, and we expect really great things down the road from Granden.”
Goetzman is up for the challenge and knows that his goal to become a major league player begins in earnest this season.
"I'm looking forward to a fresh start and showing what I can do," he said. "I'm excited for the start of Spring Training."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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