It’s a thick August dusk in Princeton, W.Va., a cicada chorale throttling the evening's serenity as it plays the sun’s methodical exit, stage west.
As the day's sun cycle ends, so does live batting practice for the Princeton Rays, rookie-league affiliate of the club’s Tampa Bay namesake. A few dollops of sticky teenagers amoeba their way to the dugout while the scrubs du jour lug ball buckets and L-screens.
Two friends linger, the speedy rightfielder pitching to the acclaimed power hitter like Roy Hobbs to the false Bambino. It’s a lefty-lefty matchup, but Drew Vettleson has seen what Josh Sale can do to changeups. He grins. Fastball, 89 mph, just off the plate away, sinking action.
Of course, Vettleson has also seen what Sale can do to fastballs. Now he’s seen it again. The ball THWACKs off the bat and POPs off the left-field wall almost simultaneously. The hit caroms halfway back to the infield. A pure power hitter putting on an oppo clinic.
Sale takes off his cap, wide smile; Come on, Vetty, tell me that wasn’t the ‘show-me’ pitch.
Laughing, Vettleson waddles off the mound, mocking his muscle-bound teammate and hollers dugoutward, Hey! Cammy! Toss me my leather! He flings the glove from his right hand and puts the new one on his left. Back to the mound.
To the inattentive bystander, what happens next would be a perfectly normal, impressive-but-not-surprising thing for a professional baseball player to do. Had this bystander not seen Vettleson’s first lefty offering or failed to notice that he threw it with the wrong hand, the 93 mph right-handed fastball with tailing action back toward the inside black wouldn’t be that startling.
Of course, Josh Sale isn’t startled. The 215-pound leftfielder opens his hips and unloads on the pitch like a piledriver on a plump grape or Rey Maualuga on any human. It’s 389 feet to right-center but Sale’s ball clears that by 50.
This bleeding melodrama is a work of fiction, but it's by no means unrealistic. Not only can Vettleson hit at least 89 mph with both hands, but Sale will crush anything his teammate offers. It’s not that Vettleson is a bad pitcher, it’s that Sale is freakishly proficient with the bat.
The amount of control and power he has with BBCOR bats is unbelievable.
The fact that Vettleson isn’t a pitcher also isn’t because he’s a bad pitcher. It’s because he, too is freakishly proficient with the bat—scouts project a long career of .290, 20 homers and 20 steals to go with a strong arm(s) in right field.
Tampa Bay knows how to scout talent (see: Crawford, Upton, Hamilton, Baldelli, Longoria, Price, Niemann, Hellickson, Davis, Jennings, Moore, McGee, Cobb, Colome, Torres, must I continue?), meaning Sale and Vettleson—two Rays 2010 first-round picks—will likely start for the big club within four years.
What’s the connection here? What’s the point?
Both 20-year-old top prospects are Washington state baseball products, and they’re not alone. Well, I meant they’re not alone in minor league baseball, but no, they’re not alone on the Princeton Rays, either. Washington-born top-100 2011 draft picks Ryan Brett and Jeffrey Ames join the aforementioned corner outfield tandem in West Virginia. First-rounder Blake Snell of Shorewood is playing for the Gulf Coast Rays, one level down. More Washington-born talent speckles top prospect lists nationwide.
You’ve seen the All-Contemporary Team. This is the All-On-Deck Team. We takin' over.
See it after the jump.