After enduring a long off-season and scorching hot temperatures at extended spring training in Port Charlotte, the Princeton Rays are excited to finally start their 2012 Appalachian League season.
The team arrived in Princeton, West Virginia earlier this week and participated in practices and media day before the season-opening series against the Kingsport Mets. More than anything, the players were ready to start playing against other teams.
"I just got in this week on a plane," said catcher Chad Nacapoy, a 2012 draft choice out of California, "We're just all really excited to be here and we want to start playing real games."
Shortstop Brandon Martin, a first round draft choice in 2011, is also looking forward to the season and said he will be working hard to prepare for each game throughout the summer. "We're all ready to go for the season," he said. "I want to make sure I get out there in the cage in the mornings before games."
The Princeton squad this season is very diverse in both age and nationality, with players between the ages of 18 and 23 from Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, and even Australia. Third year manager Michael Johns says his job is unique in that he has a special responsibility to make sure these young players are ready.
"This will be the first professional experience for most of these guys," he explained. "For many, it will be their first time playing night games, especially guys in the Latin program who have never played under the lights."
One of these players is 18-year-old Venezuelan catcher Oscar Hernandez, who grabbed everyone's attention with his incredible numbers in the Venzuelan Summer League last year. His .402/.503/.732 slash line and 21 home runs in only 239 at-bats is ridiculous, but we don't exactly know the level of competition he was facing in Venezuela. This will be his first time playing in America, so we'll be sure to track his progress going forward as he makes the transition to the States.
Hernandez's first season in America may not be a walk in the park and could come with some challenges. Australian infielder Darryl George made his transition to the States last season when he played in 24 games for the GCL Rays, but said it was daunting and he was quite nervous. "This year it has been a lot easier transition- wise," said George. "Now I know what to expect."
There are seven players on the team who were selected in the recent draft; four of them pitchers, and they all will be getting their first taste of professional baseball. Pitching coach Darwin Peguero said that developing these younger pitchers is a gradual process that progresses as they work their way up the ranks.
"These guys are mostly learning how to pitch with the fastball and working on how to command it on both sides of the plate," he said. "We try to keep it simple so they understand it. When they get to the higher levels, then they will learn how to go with their off-speed pitches."
The way hitters are prepared at this level is quite similar, says Princeton hitting coach Reinaldo Ruiz. "Right now, we teach them how to get a routine before the game and warm up before the game, which mentally prepares them. We teach them how to recognize pitches and the little things that help them develop for the future."
As the season kicks into gear, Rays fans can finally sit back and follow these young prospects they've heard so much about. With such a young team, it is difficult to predict what will happen. At the very least, this gives fans every reason to watch.
Matt Tracy is the Princeton beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @matthewtracy.
______________________________________________________________ Subscribe to RaysDigest.com today! Only $79.95 brings you one full year of Total Access Pass and all premium content on RaysDigest.com, the Scout Player and Roster Database (including the 'Hot News' at the top of the site), Breaking News and Information, Total Access to all Scout.com Websites and Player Pages which detail the progress and careers of players from high school, college, the minors, and the pro ranks.
Sample the RaysDigest.com Total Access Pass at no risk for 7 days, then pay only $7.95 or $21.95. If you want to save 2 months off of the monthly subscription price, simply choose the annual RaysDigest.com Total Access Pass at $79.95.