By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Two months ago, Coty Blanchard was snagging grounders on the infield at Jacksonville State University in Alabama.
Now, thanks to the Major League Baseball draft, he is pursuing his goal of advancing through the Tampa Bay farm system as a member of the Princeton Rays.
Going into Saturday’s action, the shortstop from Leesburg, Ala., had four hits in 15 at-bats — and three of the four were doubles. He also drew three bases on balls, and had stolen one base.
Blanchard was selected by Tampa Bay in the 15th round of last month’s draft.
“It was the third day,” he recalled. “I woke up listening to it, got a call from some teams. Somebody said, ‘Man, the Rays are calling.’ The next thing you know, I heard my name. It happened just like that. It was a great feeling.”
Immediately, he started inquiring about the Tampa Bay minor-league approach, and liked what he heard.
He said, “I just knew that they really work with their guys. They get ’em into the program, and it’s more about them than winning ballgames — getting them better every day. That was a major thing.”
The scoop on the Appalachian League was also positive.
He said, “I heard a lot of good things: Not a lot of travel, the teams are good, the stadiums are nice. There’s a lot of talent in this league.”
He signed with the Rays just before the Princeton contingent was breaking up camp in mid-June in Florida. He drove from Alabama to West Virginia to report in and meet his new teammates. It was his first trip into the Appalachian Mountains.
“It was beautiful, driving in,” he said. “It was a big change, coming in here.”
The P-Rays who had already been working as a unit for weeks welcomed the newcomers, he said. “All the guys were great,” he said. “They accepted us really easy.”
There were some immediate adjustments to professional baseball. Learning to swing a wooden bat wasn’t too difficult. Remembering that the field boss of the team is called a manager was another thing to learn.
“I learned not to call them coaches,” he said. He commented about the coaching staff, “They’re great. I’m excited to be playing for them.”
He said he was focused on “playing hard every day, giving myself a chance to excel.”
Blanchard attended Jacksonville State for the past three years, playing quarterback in football — and being named Ohio Valley Conference freshman of the year on the gridiron. As a sophomore, he helped the Gamecocks to a share of the conference championship.
In his “other” sport, baseball, he was tabbed the 2011 OVC All-Newcomer Team and a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball after batting .335 as a true freshman.
This spring, he batted .305 for the Gamecocks, drove in 37 runs and stole 15 bases.
He was drafted in 2010 by the Baltimore Orioles, but chose instead to play college ball.
Now he is in the pipeline for a different team in the American League East.
“I’d love to get to play in that division,” he said. “The AL East has always been one of the toughest division, if not the toughest, in the (majors). You want to play the best. So if Tampa gave me the opportunity, hopefully, I’ll be up there one day.”
— Contact Tom Bone at