Vettleson’s versatility leads to ascension

PORT CHARLOTTE — Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon said during spring training that Drew Vettleson’s path to the majors would follow his bat.

When he was selected with the 42nd pick in the 2010 MLB draft, front office personnel were equally impressed by his strong arm from the outfield.

But it was with both arms back home in Bremerton, Wash., that a teenage Vettleson initially started to make a name for himself.

Vettleson was part of a rare breed, able to throw a baseball fast with either arm. That led to coaches, teammates and scouts watching him pitch wherever he went.

The gift appeared at a young age. Vettleson’s mom, Kim, and dad, Jerry, played high school softball and baseball, respectively, and encouraged him to pick up the game. But Kim was a left-hander and Jerry threw with his right, meaning Vettleson would have to borrow the glove of the parent he wasn’t playing catch with.

“I think I was more of a lefty to start out,” Vettleson said.

As he got older and started playing around the infield more, his right hand became more dominant. Around 11 years old, as his right arm was starting to become more taxed with pitching, he had an idea while skipping stones with his left hand on the beach: further develop the left side so he could rest the right without sacrificing playing time.

“He could play the outfield left-handed as well as he could right-handed, I thought,” said Bill Baxter, Vettleson’s high school coach. “He’s definitely got more pop with his right arm, but he was as good playing left-handed as any player I had playing right-handed.”

The fact that Vettleson, who threw three no-hitters his senior season, could throw with both arms meant he could show off his batting because he wouldn’t need more rest.

“I never had to worry about a sore arm or not playing the next day,” Vettleson, who could throw in the low 90s with the right and high 80s with the left arm, said.

And as Vettleson played more often, more people took notice for both his bat and pitching abilities. At the Baseball Northwest showcase, Vettleson was ranked the No. 1 player in the state of Washington out of Central Kitsap High School. That led to more national showcases and even more attention.

“By the time of his senior year, we had the full crew of scouts following us,” Baxter said.

Baxter said Vettleson handled the hype flawlessly.

“He’s got a very good family and good support from his mom and dad, who kept him pretty well grounded,” Baxter said. “He’s just got that good attitude, he’s a fun-loving guy. He’s got a good sense of humor and handled it extremely well.”

As the rest of his family incessantly stared at the TV on draft day, Vettleson was pacing and was often forced to the back of the room.

After nearly three hours of waiting and watching 41 other names be called before him, Vettleson was finally selected.

Within 10 seconds, the MLB Network analysts after already mentioning Vettleson’s desire to play outfield and bat professionally, couldn’t help rave about his ability to pitch with either arm.

“I tell you what, he’s gonna get some fun in the clubhouse,” Greg Amsinger said on the broadcast. “Guys are going to be like, ‘Show me how you do this.’”

And from the moment Vettleson walked into the clubhouse with the Princeton Rays, the teammates did just that.

“They’ll be like, ‘Hey, let’s see one left-handed,’” Vettleson said. “And they’re always like ‘Whoa!’ It’s always fun to see people’s reaction when they see it for the first time.”

These days, Vettleson exclusively plays right field throwing right-handed. But during batting practice when he is shagging fly balls, he will show off his gun and deliver an accurate strike back to home with the left.

But it’s still the right one during a game that makes jaws drop. Strike after strike to the plate on runners tagging up from third have yielded nine outfield assists with the Stone Crabs this season.

That number isn’t on pace to match his 20 with Bowling Green last season, but it’s impressive nonetheless. It’s easily the best arm for Charlotte, and rates among the best in the Florida State League.

“It’s God-given,” Charlotte manager Brady Williams said. “He works at it, and he knows what he can do out there.”

At the start of the season, Vettleson struggled to adjust to Charlotte Sports Park, leading to most of his 13 errors and .933 fielding percentage this year.

Williams said Vettleson has made great strides adjusting to major league-size fields and expects the low fielding percentage to rise quickly in the future.

“I think he was pressing a little bit out there, but recently he’s settled down,” Williams said. “You’re starting to see what he can do out there. It’s good to see because he can be that game-changer out there.”

As Vettleson continues to go up the ranks of the minors and realize his dream of one day playing in the majors, he’ll continue to wait.

And like it still does whenever he watches the video of him being drafted — which he said he watches regularly — Vettleson’s heart will race.

But then he’ll take the field before the game and take cuts during batting practice. He’ll shag fly balls and take the glove off his left hand and put on a show for the fans.

At that point, he’ll be right at home.

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