By BRIAN WOODSON
PRINCETON — There is a Beckham on the roster for the Princeton Rays. It’s just not Tim or even David. There is, however, a Burt Reynolds.
Jim Holland, Princeton’s general manager, has released the names of the players that will start the 2008 Appalachian League season with the Rays when the campaign begins Tuesday against the Pulaski Mariners at Hunnicutt Field.
It includes plenty of familiar names from last year’s squad that finished 33-35. The Rays were third in the Eastern Division, and had the fifth best mark in the league.
“We’ve got a good bit of experience there,” Holland said. “We’ve got 14 returning players, and nine of those are pitchers and they did some good things for us.
“(Eli) Sonoqui and (Justin) Reynolds were regulars for us.”
Sonoqui, a ninth round pick in 2006, returns for his third season in Princeton. He was batting .333 with 14 RBIs and five doubles before a wrist injury ended his year. Reynolds, a 31st round selection in ‘06, batted .270 with four home runs, 16 RBIs and 16 stolen bases for the Rays. He played in 64 of Princeton’s 68 games.
“Sonoqui was tearing the league up and then he got hurt,” Holland said. “Reynolds played every day for us.”
Not on the roster is Tim Beckham, the top pick in last week’s Major League Amateur Draft. His brother, Jeremy Beckham, a second baseman from Georgia Southern, arrived in Princeton on Thursday to play for the Rays. He was a 17th round selection.
As for Tim Beckham, Holland knows about as much as anyone else. Beckham, a shortstop from Griffin, Ga., is still unsigned.
“Who knows, you just have to wait and see,” Holland said. “We’re just spectators like everybody else.”
Princeton also returns Dustin Biell, a fifth rounder last year by the Rays, who batted .218 with 20 RBIs and seven stolen bases in center field. Mayo Acosta, a catcher, is also back. He batted .234 with 11 RBIs and 10 doubles, and led Appy League catchers, throwing out 16 of 51 potential base stealers.
Nine pitchers return, including Michael Southern, a 15th round pick last June, who was 0-3 with a 2.45 ERA in 19 appearances. He fanned 26 batters in 22 innings and also recorded six saves.
Kyle Ayers (3-3, 3.86), a 14th round pick in ‘07, fanned 26 batters in 37 innings, and added two saves, while Chris Luck (3-1, 2.17) — a 20th round selection — fanned 43 batters in 37 innings.
Both Matthew Moore (0-0, 2.86) — an eighth round pick in ‘07 — and Joseph Cruz (2-0, 0.0) — selected in the 30th round — put up good numbers in limited appearances. Moore fanned 29 batters in 20 innings, while Cruz had 13 punchouts in nine frames.
Other hurlers back include Angel Chapa 0-2, 3.52), Kevin Chavez (2-1, 8.38), Jose De La Cruz (0-2, 8.66) and Chris Diettrich (0-0, 27.00).
D.J. Jones also returns, an 11th round pick in ‘07 who didn’t sign until late, deciding against playing football at Auburn. Without playing a game, Jones is listed as the Rays’ No. 30 prospect by Baseball America’s Prospect Handbook.
“He was a high draft pick,” Holland said. “He signed late and never played here, but did come here at the end of the year.”
Biell, Reynolds, Cruz and Sonoqui were also listed as being on the Rays’ Minor League depth chart in that publication.
Seven players from last week’s MLB Draft will suit up for the Rays to start the season, including Jeremy Beckham, who batted .333 for the Eagles as a senior, scoring 41 runs and driving in 25. He struck out just 22 times and had 24 stolen bases. He also had an impressive .973 fielding percentage.
The highest selected player will be outfielder Brian Bryles, a 12th round selection who batted .410 as a senior for an Arkansas high school.
Others include pitchers Jason McEachern (13th, Hickory, N.C.), Matt Long (34th, Cal State-Bernardino) and James Bagley (35th, San Jacinto JC).
McEachern, who was 21-4 over three prep seasons, was 11-0 as a senior, fanning 140 batters in just 79.3 innings on the mound for a North Carolina high school.
Long was 6-7 for the Coyotes with a 3.13 ERA with 117 strikeouts and just 40 walks in 100 innings. He was eighth in the nation in Ks. Bagley, who was a 25th round draft choice of the Cubs in ’06, turned down an offer from Lamar to turn play for the Rays. He was 7-1 with a 4.87 ERA for San Jacinto this season.
A pair of Titans from Oral Roberts will also play for the Rays. Catcher David Geneo, an 18th round selection, will be joined by Mike Jarman, a pitcher for the Titans, who went in the 26th round to the Rays.
Geneo batted .347 with 10 home runs and 55 RBIs for the 48-14 Titans, while Jarman was 11-3 with a 4.25 ERA. He fanned 95 and walked 45 in 102 innings.
Several players from the Dominican Summer League will be in Princeton, including outfielder Ramon Novas, who batted .313 with six home runs and 33 RBIs. Alexander Colome was 1-6 with a 2.97 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 39.1 innings.
Included among the remainder of the 31-man roster is outfielder Burt Reynolds, a 30th round selection of the Nationals in ‘06. Reynolds has spent the last two seasons at Okaloosa-Walton Junior College, and recently signed a free agent contract with Tampa Bay.
Joe Szekely replaces Jamie Nelson as Princeton manager. He’ll be joined by pitching coach Marty DeMerritt, hitting coach Rafael DeLeon and coach Hector Torres.
Princeton opens its 20th season as a franchise on Tuesday by hosting the Pulaski Mariners. The Devil Rays won the Appy League title in 1994.
Note: The roster for the Bluefield Orioles hasn’t been released.
—Contact Brian Woodson