Appy notes: Rays' Schnell applying lessons

No. 15 Tampa prospect soaked up vets' advice while rehabbing

A first-round pick in 2018, Nick Schnell is batting .289 with a .365 OBP through 11 Appalachian League games. (Cliff Welch/

By Bob Sutton / Special to | July 16, 2019 10:40 AM

Disruptions to the opening parts of Nick Schnell's professional career came with certain rewards.

Through various injury rehabilitation stints, the 2018 first-round Draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays got the opportunity to spent time with some of the organization's more seasoned players.

"I didn't have the start to my professional career that I really wanted," the Rookie Advanced Princeton outfielder said. "But I got to spend a lot of time with older guys who were rehabbing, seeing how they managed things and their mind-set of the game."

Schnell, 19, has been making up for lost time since his July 1 arrival in the Appalachian League. Just reaching that point was the challenge.

He sustained a broken bone in his right wrist last summer, curtailing his Gulf Coast League season after 19 games. He underwent minor surgery on his right knee in April to correct an ailment he described as stemming from wear and tear.

"He was set back with an injury that eventually landed him here," Princeton manager Danny Sheaffer said. "He had a little hiccup in spring."

During the down time, Schnell created a bond with players throughout the Rays system. While in Port Charlotte, he sought to tap knowledge from rehabbing Minor Leaguers including position players Grant Kay, Ryan Boldt and Joe McCarthy along with pitchers Brent Honeywell Jr. and Ian Gibaut.

By the time he was healthy, he was more than ready to get it cranked up with Princeton.

"It's a nice change of scenery," he said. "And playing at night, there's an atmosphere."

Schnell produced at least one hit in 10 of his first 11 games under the lights.

2019 MiLB include

His first pro home run came in his first at-bat in the GCL last year. This year, he homered in his second at-bat for Princeton. Both were opposite-field shots for the left-handed hitter.

"I don't think I've tapped into my pull-side power," he said. "In games, I really haven't shown that."

Because Schnell barely played last summer, Sheaffer said there are certain aspects that make him seem like a first-year player.

"Seeing a high school kid go opposite field, it's pretty legit," Sheaffer said.

The manager sees Schnell as a natural center fielder. The Tampa Bay organization groomed another center fielder with Indiana roots in Kevin Kiermaier, so perhaps that's something to watch.

As an amateur, Schnell produced significant power numbers for Roncalli High School in Indianapolis -- enough so that the Rays made him a priority in the Draft and he bypassed playing in college for Louisville. He wants his power to carry over to the pro game.

"I'd like to think I'll be able to hit for a lot of power once I start playing more," he said. "I've showed a little bit of power, so I'd like to think I have some."

Schnell said the key will be sustained playing time so he can settle into a groove.

"I haven't played long enough in spurts at the same time to be able to show what I can do," he said. "I'm young. I have a lot of time. There's no rush to get me to a higher level. I can get my at-bats in. I think that's my biggest goal, is to get in a season and get in all my at-bats."

In brief

Fitting in: New York Yankees first-rounder Anthony Volpe homered in his seventh pro game with the Pulaski Yankees. The next night, he posted his first triple. There have been few other hits across the first few weeks for the shortstop, but he said he's trying to make the adjustment as an 18-year-old in new situations. "I'm just one of the guys," he said, knowing there will be attention on him. "That's how I want to be. The whole team has taken me in."

Run with it: Burlington Royals second baseman Jay Charleston became the first player to reach double-digit stolen bases in the Appalachian League this season. "I just try to get on base and work from there," said Charleston, a 2019 Draft pick out of the University of Tennessee. "We have a lot of speed on the team and we know we can do well with that." Through 25 games, the Royals had 35 stolen bases -- twice as many as half the teams in the league.

Still in uniform: Rich Donnelly said he was ready to retire before taking the position as manager of the Kingsport Mets, marking the long-time baseball man's first go-around in the Appalachian League. He might have been content promoting his book, "The Chicken Runs at Midnight," until the New York Mets inquired about him returning to the organization. "I was doing the book tour and I got a phone call," said Donnelly, who spent nearly three decades in various big league roles. "I like working with the kids." He turns 73 in August.

Bob Sutton is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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