Central Kitsap grad Drew Vettleson signs with Tampa Bay Rays

Drew Vettleson, a 2010 Central Kitsap High School grad, throws a pitch during a game in 2009. - File Photo
Drew Vettleson, a 2010 Central Kitsap High School grad, throws a pitch during a game in 2009.
— image credit: File Photo

Drew Vettleson needed a last-minute deal to become a professional baseball player.

He needed less than 24 hours to discover the perks of being one.

A day after agreeing to a Major League Baseball deal with the Tampa Bay Rays, Vettleson found himself at what could become his new home field, watching the Rays defeat the Texas Rangers 10-1 before 18,156 fans Tuesday night at Tropicana Field.

Vettleson watched batting practice, toured the facilities, met players, signed autographs and even appeared on the JumboTron, receiving a warm ovation along with fellow rookie and new teammate Josh Sale of Bishop Blanchet High School in Seattle. The duo sat together during the game in a suite above center field.

"Going to the game, experiencing it and that atmosphere, it was great," Vettleson said by phone late Tuesday. "I'm still running on adrenaline. I have been all week."

Vettleson, 19, reached an agreement with Tampa Bay about 20 minutes before Monday's midnight signing deadline for rookies, landing a signing bonus of $845,000 and taking a major step toward becoming a big-league player. The Rays drafted Vettleson No. 42 overall in the 2010 Major League Draft in June, but it took two months for the parties to reach an agreement.

On Monday, Vettleson and Sale spent the better part of the day completing physicals and visiting with doctors, something he said helped take his mind off the negotiations.

But it wasn't until Vettleson received a text message from his agent minutes before the deadline that he learned he was a member of the Rays organization. He would have played at Oregon State University had he not signed with Tampa Bay.

"I was pretty sure I'd sign, but it was still nerve-wracking," Vettleson said.

The ambidextrous star has already received plenty of advice, including words of encouragement from Texas Rangers all-star outfielder Josh Hamilton, who was drafted at age 18 in 2001 by the Rays as well.

"He told me, 'Congratulations, but the works starts now,'" Vettleson said.

No player from Central Kitsap had gone pro since 1998 grad Todd Linden signed with the San Francisco Giants in 2002. He now plays in Japan.

Vettleson was heavily scouted during a three-year career at Central Kitsap that included three state tournament appearances. He was the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year in 2009 and 2010 and accepted a full-ride scholarship to Oregon State.

High school coach Bill Baxter called Vettleson not only one of the most talented players he's ever coached, but a player who has yet to reach his potential.

"He's got all the tools," Baxter said. "It's always a crapshoot when you reach that level, but he's got the right attitude, he's grounded and he's a hard worker."

"I think he's got a great chance."

Playing pro ball has been a lifelong dream for Vettleson, he said, so when Tampa Bay selected him in the draft, the decision to pursue that career was easy.

Now he faces a long and grueling path to the majors.

"It's a huge jump," Vettleson said of transitioning from high school to pro ball, having no college experience. "It's going to take some time for me to get comfortable, so I think I just need to keep my head on straight and not get down on myself."

Vettleson will report to the Rays' training complex in Port Charlotte, Fla., next week and could see playing time with the Rookie League Gulf Coast Rays before instructional league play begins next month.

Scouts have said Vettleson is capable of becoming a middle-of-the-order hitter in the Majors, praising his bat speed, ability to hit to all fields and the power that could come as he bulks up his 6-foot-1-inch, 185-pound frame.

He is projected to play either right or left field.

As for Vettleson's plan now?

"Even when I struggle, I need to come out the next day ready," he said. "In baseball, there's always a tomorrow."

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