By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The 2013 Princeton Rays take to the field for the initial time tonight as they visit the Danville Braves in one of five games around the Appalachian League.
Leading the Rays into battle will be first year manager Danny Sheaffer. He takes the helm from Michael Johns, who led the team the three previous seasons.
A former major league catcher and coach, the Mount Airy, N.C., resident is looking forward to the next 72 days in which the Rays are scheduled to play 68 games.
“I thought we had a quality extended spring training,” Sheaffer noted. “I haven’t seen anything like that in all my years. I say that because they played with energy, played with effort and when we came down to the last two or three weeks of extended spring training, we started to put our clubs together and we played pretty well as a unit.”
There are still some question marks as far as what to expect when the Rays hit the field, due to newly added players and the competition.
“Until you see the other team on the field and what you’re competing against, you really don’t have any expectations or opinions on how it’s going to go,” Sheaffer said. “I think we’re going to play the game right. We’re going to play the game hard and I’m excited about what we have on the field. And just equally as excited about what we have on the field, I think we’ve got some quality individuals. These are good kids and when you combine that with some athletic ability, we’re going to have fun.”
The Appalachian League is considered a developmental league and since pro baseball came to Princeton 25 years ago, more than 50 players who honed their skills at Hunnicutt Field for either the Pirates, Patriots, Reds, or Rays have found their way onto major league rosters. While fans may question managers’ decisions, they may not be aware that player development is just as important as winning. For Sheaffer, he thinks the two go together.
“Of course you want to shake hands at the end of the game and if you develop players and they get better, then you will be shaking hands,” Sheaffer said. “At the end of the day if we end up winning a ball game and we end up costing development because of that, we haven’t done our job. If we end up losing a ball game and we end up developing a player to be a better major league player, or a player at a higher level, we’ve exceeded expectations and that’s what we want to do.”
The Rays will send Jorge Rodriguez to the mound tonight against the Braves. And while the lineup is not “set in stone” according to Sheaffer, he does have an idea of who will be in it at this point.
“We’re looking at guys like (Bralin) Jackson, (Spencer) Edwards, (Jesus) Araiza and (Yoel) Araujo to be at the top of the lineup, with (Leopoldo) Correa somewhere in the middle, (Travis) Flores somewhere in the middle,” Sheaffer said. “We’ve got some new guys coming in with some pretty good college bats. We know they’re going to help us out, but we’ve got a little progression to get them in. Until they’re ready to go on a daily basis, it will be mostly kids that were in extended spring with us.”
The last few years Princeton has had a strong pitching staff and this year looks to be more of the same. When asked what he felt at the present time the strength of the team, Sheaffer was quick to answer and talked about all of the team’s qualities.
“That’s kind of hard because I haven’t seen them play other than just the couple of teams that we have in extended spring, but I’m going to take a shot in the dark and I’m going to say our starting rotation is very, very solid,” Sheaffer commented. “I’m going to say we can run at the top of the lineup. We’ve got some guys who can knock the ball out of the ballpark. Defensively, I’ve seen a club that can make all the plays.
“But again, until the lights come on, literally, we don’t know what we have, but we’re excited about it.”
First pitch from Legion Field at Dan Daniel Park is scheduled for 7 p.m.
— Contact Bob Redd at