Vettleson prides himself on 'team first' attitude
Outfielder with a cannon arm idolized Griffey Jr. growing up
VIERA, Fla. -- It was the morning of Feb. 13. Outfielder Drew Vettleson woke from a good night's sleep and realized there were several missed calls on his cell phone.
It was the Rays, who were desperately trying to reach him. When he returned the call, he learned that he was part of a four-man trade that sent him, catcher Jose Lobaton and left-hander Felipe Rivero to the Nationals for right-hander Nathan Karns.
Vettleson, 22, was shocked. The Rays did all the talking. But after he got off the phone, he was excited to join an organization that wanted his services. And before he knew it, he was in the Nationals' Minor League accelerated camp, where top prospects hone their skills under the watchful eyes of assistant general manager Doug Harris and the Minor League coaching staff.
Vettleson had never been to a Minor League camp like this one.
"[The Rays] didn't have this kind of stuff right here," Vettleson said. "It's great that we are getting all this work in before everyone shows up. I'm comfortable with all the footwork, the hitting coaches and how we operate here. It has been nice to get here early, keep going and meet other guys. It has been great."
Vettleson wants to show the Nationals that he is not only one of their top prospects, but a great teammate.
"That's something that I prided myself on when I was with the Rays, being there for everybody," he said. "You can't wish anything bad upon someone else. We all want the same goal -- make it to the big leagues."
The left-handed-hitting Vettleson was Tampa Bay's supplemental first-round selection, the 42nd overall pick, in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. In 314 professional games in the Rays system, he hit .276 with 66 doubles, 15 triples, 26 home runs, 171 RBIs and 45 stolen bases. He was a Midwest League All-Star and team MVP after posting a .772 OPS and 20 steals for Class A Bowling Green in 2012.
"He has put up good numbers in a tough, accelerated high-A level at 21 years old," general manager Mike Rizzo said at the time of the trade.
Harris doesn't know where Vettleson will start the season; the next three weeks will determine that.
"We are putting our arms around him," Harris said. "Early on, we are impressed with his approach, his swing path. He has really interesting hitter instincts. There is some strength that he has a chance to tap into down the road. There is some leverage in his swing. As he matures physically, I think he has a chance to come into some power."
Vettleson is considered an above-average outfielder with a cannon for an arm -- his 13 assists for Class A Charlotte last season can attest to that. But he made 14 errors, seven during the first month of the season. He acknowledges that he was nervous before making the decision to slow his game and focus on getting the ball first, then making a strong throw.
"I was trying to be too quick with everything," he said. "I was trying to be Superman out there. You can't do that, because baseball is going to humble you real quick with you trying to overdo things."
Growing up in Washington State, Vettleson loved the game of baseball because of his parents, Jerry and Kim, who were softball players. He grew up a Mariners fan, and Ken Griffey Jr. was his hero.
"Watching him make all those plays, his bat, it was the sweetest swing in baseball," he said. "He had a swing I wanted to have. Growing up, watching him day in and day out, he was a guy worth watching."
Vettleson hopes they say the same about him in a few years.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.