Rays' top talent gathers at Winter Workouts

Rays' top talent gathers at Winter Workouts

Rays' top talent gathers at Winter Workouts
ST. PETERSBURG -- Josh Sale didn't know Drew Vettleson personally in high school, he just sometimes saw him on the ball field. The two prep stars, both first-round picks of the Rays in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, went to school on opposite sides of Washington state and were acquaintances at best.

Still, Sale admitted Wednesday that it's nice to be able to travel 3,000 miles and see a familiar face. And Vettleson agreed.

"It makes the transition a little easier, I think," Vettleson said following the third day of Winter Workouts at Tropicana Field. "It made it easier, going through the whole process together."

Sale was the Rays' top pick in 2010 (No. 17 overall), while Vettleson was scooped up with the 42nd pick. Both are powerful left-handed hitters, play in the outfield and were equally impressed with their first taste of real Rays workouts after visiting the field briefly after signing with the team.

"This is all great; it's like an early birthday present," Vettleson said. "It's just nice being here with all of the great, great competition. It's nice to be on that same level.

"I was champing at the bit [to get here] a little ... you want to get out there and play."

Once separated by 90 minutes between their home cities, the two are roommates in St. Petersburg as they attend daily workouts this week at Tropicana Field, make a guest appearance at the Pinellas Park Boys & Girls Club and attend media training. They were part of a group of 25 promising prospects invited to the minicamp, which will serve dual purpose as a Spring Training warmup.

Baseball America dubbed Vettleson the best pure hitter among high schoolers in the 2010 Draft, and also ranked him second-best prospect in Washington (behind Sale) and sixth-best corner outfield prospect. He's also ambidextrous and switch-pitched his junior year, tossing two no-hitters.

"It feels crazy being a high school player, hanging out with your high school teammates and now you're hanging around the big guys," said Vettleson, 19. "It's a cool feeling."

Baseball America ranked Sale the best high school power hitter, the top corner outfielder, the No. 10 overall prospect, No. 5 position player and top high school outfield prospect in the Draft. But fans clamoring to see him in person may have to wait a while, as the Rays are notoriously disciplined when it comes to prospects getting plenty of Minor League time under their belts before they reach the big stage. Still, when Sale hit a soft-toss pitch over the wall in straightaway center Wednesday, it was hard not to fantasize about much the 18-year-old could help the Rays in the near future after losing Carlos Pena to free agency this offseason.

"It's always fun to be able to come out here with these guys," Sale said. "It's like reality is setting in now. ... I'm ready to play, that's for sure. I really haven't played too much since high school.

"I'm here to figure out what I need to improve on the most, and what I'm lacking so I can work on that for the next two months before Spring Training."

Also attending the Winter Workouts was Tim Beckham, baseball's No. 1 overall pick in 2008. The hype -- and pressure -- has surrounded the young shortstop throughout his three-year career with Tampa Bay, and the 20-year-old has battled some perhaps unfair criticism as he adjusted to professional baseball.

Last season at Class A Charlotte (Fla.), he was a little sillier; maybe didn't take things too seriously. He improved along the way, but his .256 average and 25 errors left room for more to be done. He left for his hometown of Griffin, Ga., perhaps a little unsatisfied.

He showed up Wednesday a more mature, laid-back version of the man who left in September. Beckham has goals now and a definite game plan in hand. The tattoo on his left biceps reads, "For many are called, but few are chosen." The Bible scripture said a lot, but Beckham was eager to finish the thought.

In baseball terms, he's obviously a "chosen one." Now, he said, is the time to act like it.

"I'm ready to go get it now," he said. "As a player and a person, I've gotten better. I'm just going about it in a different way.

"[My goals are] to trust myself, never lose confidence, keep your head up and it'll all work out. I'm trying to get better, man. I'm trying to get back to where I feel I need to be."

Dawn Klemish is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.