Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 15, 2007

Familiar faces grace 2007 Princeton Rays


PRINCETON — From 1988 through 2002, at least one player from each of the Princeton professional baseball teams have played in the major leagues.

“We have had 42 former Princeton players go on to play Major League baseball,” Princeton general manager Jim Holland said. “Twenty-five of those 42 have made their debut since May of 2001.”

Who will get the call from the 2007 club? Who knows.

While it’s not all that much of a surprise that Rocco Baldelli, Pokey Reese and Josh Hamilton — all former first round picks — eventually reached ‘The Show’, who would have thought 89th round draft choice Travis Phelps would have done the same.

Or, that Brandon Backe would start the fourth game of the World Series for the Houston Astros in 2005 against the Chicago White Sox.

“Backe was a little-used back-up outfielder/infielder here in 2000,” Holland said. “In 2005, he was standing on the mound pitching in game four of the World Series as the starter, so you just never know.”

The roster of players that will arrive in Princeton on Sunday evening has been released. As is usually the case, it’s a mixture of returnees, recent high school and college draftees, and a few free agents.

Both Tyree Hayes and Chris Andujar, who played for the P-Rays last season, have seen their fathers reach the peak. Hayes — the son of Charlie Hayes — was actually in the dugout when the Yankees won the 1996 World Series over the Atlanta Braves, while Andujar’s father, Joaquin, was a four-time All-Star pitcher with the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros.

The 18-year-old Hayes — an eighth round draft choice last season by the Devil Rays — had a solid 2006 campaign in Princeton, posting a 3-1 record with a 2.48 ERA in 40 innings. That included a complete game shutout in Johnson City. Andujar was 3-5 last season with a 5.66 ERA in 12 appearances.

First baseman Eligio Sonoqui, who batted just .201 with nine runs batted in last season, also returns. A ninth round draft choice in 2006 from an Arizona high school, Sonoqui posted astonishing numbers there as a senior, hitting .586 with 10 home runs and 45 RBIs.

Joining Hayes and Andujar as pitching returnees are Matt Fisher (0-0, 6.48 ERA, 15 games), Chris Fessler (0-1, 5.59 ERA, 13 games) and Robert Gil, who spent the last two seasons at Hudson Valley in the New York-Penn League. Gil was 0-1 with a 9.45 ERA at Princeton in 2004.

Dustin Biell, who batted .364 with seven home runs as a high school senior in Kenmore, Wash., was a fifth round selection during the recent draft. The highest draftee assigned to Princeton, Biell had already committed to play baseball at Washington State.

Ironically, Shawn O’Malley — a fifth round selection from a Washington high school last season — had also committed to play baseball for the Cougars. Instead, O’Malley also wound up in Princeton, and was the highest draftee to play for the Devil Rays for most of the campaign.

Four high school and four college hurlers will round out the staff for Princeton manager Jamie Nelson and pitching coach Marty DeMerritt.

Kevin Brophy, a 21st round draft choice from UCLA, is joined by Kevin Boggan, a 19th round selection from Boston College. Brophy made 74 appearances during his career with the Bruins, while Boggan had 69 relief outings for the Eagles before becoming a starter as a senior.

The other college arms include Michael Southern (15th, West Hills JC, Calif.) and Angel Chapa (24th in 2006; Treasure Valley CC, Oregon).

The prep ranks will be represented by Kyle Ayers (14th, Illinois high school), Joey Dettrich (18th, Washington); Chris Luck (20th, North Carolina) and Kevin Chavez (34th, New Mexico).

Ayers, who stands 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, had a 24-inning scoreless streak as a high school senior, while Luck fanned 108 batters as a senior in just 60 innings. He also hit .458 with 10 home runs.

Sonoqui will get a challenge at first base from Central Michigan product Ben Humphrey, who was a 28th round selection. The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Humphrey hit .362 with 10 home runs this season, and set a school record with 72 RBIs as a junior for the Chippewas.

Among the third base prospects is Jeffrey Carroll, a free agent signee from Cal State-Los Angeles. Carroll, a Division II All-America, batted .390 with 16 home runs and 76 RBIs, along with 72 runs scored and 26 doubles for the Golden Eagles. He set single season and career records for runs scored.

A quartet of prospects could comprise the middle infield positions. They include Michael Ross, a 34th round selection in 2006 and Robi Estrada, a 19th round pick. Both were draft-and-follow selections, spending one season in junior college before turning professional.

Ross batted .326 and scored 54 runs for Northwest Mississippi Community College, while Estrada hit .352 and scored 45 runs for El Camino Junior College in California. That duo combined to steal 40 bases last season.

That duo will be joined by second baseman Omar Luna and shortstop Jimmy Scholzen. An 18th round selection in 2004, Scholzen has spent the last two years completing a Mormon mission in San Francisco.

Biell will be joined in the outfield by two more draft-and-follow prospects, Kyeong Kang, a 15th round draft choice last season, and Justin Reynolds, who was picked in the 31st round.

Kang is the first South Korean to enter professional baseball through the amateur draft.

They’ll be joined by free agent signee Jeremy Hall and Ronald Edwards, who played three games at catcher for Princeton in 2005 and missed all of last season with a shoulder injury.

Fordham product John Mollicone leads the three-headed catching trio, having batted .325 with nine home runs and 53 runs batted in last season for the Rams. A 27th round pick, Mollicone threw out 43 percent of potential base stealers.

He’ll be joined by Mark Thomas, a 22nd round pick in 2006, who hit .300 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs at a Georgia junior college. Mayobanex Acosta, a free agent, will also compete for time behind the plate.

Nelson returns for his fifth season as Princeton manager, while DeMerritt has been a pitching coach with the San Francisco Giants and Chicago Cubs. He served that role with the Giants during the 1989 World Series.

That duo will be joined by hitting coach Rafael DeLeon, trainer Nick Medina and clubhouse manager Allen Fisher.

Princeton opens its 2007 season on Thursday by hosting the Kingsport Mets at Hunnicutt Field at 7 p.m. The first 700 fans will receive a Devil Rays magnet schedule, while the first 500 will get a Devil Rays ballbat pen.

A ‘Meet the Devil Rays’ Night will be held at Hunnicutt Field on Monday from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Practice sessions, all of which are open to the public, will be held Monday (6:30 p.m.), Tuesday (2 p.m.) and Wednesday (6:30 p.m.).

Fans are encouraged to meet the Devil Rays’ bus when it arrives at Hunnicutt Field on Sunday at about 6 p.m.

Note: The Bluefield Orioles will not release its roster until today...The Princeton Devil Rays contributed to this article.

—Contact Brian Woodson