With the conclusion of the 2011 Appalachian League season on August 30, Tampa Bay Rays' prospect (and 2011 Princeton Rays' outfielder) Drew Vettleson looked back on his first professional season and reflected on his successes and, most importantly, the things that he learned from the excellent player development system of the Rays. In fact, as you will learn later in this story, a person could consider his season as "award winning" in more ways than one.
Vettleson proved in his first season that he has the ability to hit for a high average as he finished the season with a .282 batting average after being above .300 for the greater part of the campaign. He ended the season in Princeton with 13 doubles, 4 triples and 7 homers in 234 at-bats. The left-handed hitting resident of Bremerton, WA showed that he is much more than just a pull hitter as he was also frequently going to the left-center field gap with power, staying true to his approach at the plate.
"I just try to stay with the same approach "up the middle" at the plate," claimed Vettleson.
"Overall I think the season went well and I learned a lot from the Rays instructors," stated Vettleson. He credits several names from Tampa Bays' extensive list of instructors: Jim Hoff, Skeeter Barnes, and Joe Alvarez, for his improved base running, outfield play, and footwork.
"A lot of the balls I was able to get to was because of things I picked up from them which has helped me become a better fundamental baseball player," admitted Vettleson.
The 6"1', 185-pounder certainly brings more than just his bat to the field as he showed an impressive arm in the field via gunning down six base runners over the course of the season who tried to test his outfield play.
"You can't just expect things to happen, you have to get up, get your work in and perform at game time," said Vettleson.
Of the 61 P-Rays' games he appeared in this summer, one stands out above the rest in his mind.
"The third game versus Bluefield (July 2) at home was easily the most memorable moment for me. After going 0-4 in my first four at-bats that day and to come away with a hit in my last at-bat to get the walk-off win was big for me. That really showed me to trust my approach and I just stayed focused through it all and was able to come up with a big hit," revealed Vettleson.
Following that moment, Vettleson stayed white hot in July at the plate, hitting .384 with five homers while also earning "Appalachian League Player of the Week" in the final week of July.
And, now after having one productive season under his belt, he is looking forward to improving his game even more this fall.
"I have (fall) Instructional League during late September through early October and then I'll be getting my body ready for spring training and next season," stated Vettleson.
It seems logical that as Vettleson continues his journey to the Majors, that he will continue to have a positive impact wherever his playing career takes him.
One ignition point for that became apparent when he was announced on the field just prior to the P-Rays' last home game on August 27 that he was the fans' choice as the "2011 Princeton Rays' Most Popular Player." The award is designated as a result of season-long fan balloting from official ballots that appeared in P-Rays' program/yearbooks sold in 2011.
Another honor was tacked onto the Vettleson resume' during a pre-game closed-door clubhouse meeting just prior to the team's last game on August 30 in Elizabethton when it was announced by P-Rays' general manager Jim Holland that he would be Princeton's 2011 nominee for the Tampa Bay Rays' annual "Erik Walker Award."
Since 2007, each of the Rays' domestic minor league affiliates submit one nominee for the award, which is presented annually in memory of the former Tampa Bay Rays' minor league pitcher who died tragically in October 2006 after his first season with the organization. The award recognizes a Rays minor league player who exemplifies teamwork, sportsmanship, and community involvement. By being Princeton's nominee, Vettleson already will have $500.00 donated by the Tampa Bay Rays in his name to a charity of his choice. The overall winner from the nominees will be presented with a commemorative plaque, and the Tampa Bay Rays' will donate $2,500.00 in the winner's name to the charity of his choice.
Vettleson joins the list of prior Princeton nominees for the award of Justin Reynolds (2007), Joey Dettrich (2008), Ryan Wiegand (2009), and Victor Mateo (2010). Wiegand, in fact, was the overall winner of the award for the entire Tampa Bay Rays' organization in 2009.
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.