By JONATHAN GREENE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
On Wednesday, the Princeton Rays released their roster and their fans will be seeing many new faces.
Out of the 26 players on the initial roster, only one — infielder Felix Gonzalez — is making a return.
“We’re pretty pleased,” Princeton general manager Jim Holland said. “We’re being sent a lot of players who played in the Gulf Coast League last year. We have not one, but three first round picks from a year ago.
“Plus, we’ve got some older college guys from the 2011 draft. We believe they’re going to mesh and be something special. Obviously, we only have 26 right now and we’ll be anticipating more.”
Josh Sale leads the group of first round picks, along with Drew Vettleson and Justin O’Conner.
Sale, a 6-foot, 215-pound outfielder from Seattle, was taken 17th overall in the 2010 draft. Coming into the 2011 season, Baseball America named him the No. 6 prospect in the Rays’ system.
Vettleson, who was taken 42nd overall from Boise, Idaho, will join Sale in the outfield after participating in the Rays Winter Development Program in Tampa this January.
Joel Caminero and Deshun Dixon round out the outfielders. Caminero was signed as a free agent in 2007 and Dixon was drafted in the 10th round last year out of Jackson, Miss.
O’Conner and Jake DePew are currently the two lone catchers on the P-Rays roster and both were taken in last year’s draft.
O’Conner comes highly rated after being selected 31st overall last June. He played in 48 games in the Gulf Coast League, where he had 13 doubles, three home runs and 29 RBIs. He was named the No. 8 prospect in the organization following the season.
The infield is where second-year manager Michael Johns will have decisions to make, and where Rays’ fans will see 2011 draft picks.
Johns will have to sift through eight players when penciling in his lineup, including five who will be experiencing minor league baseball for the first time after being drafted earlier this month.
Gonzalez will be joined by 2010 third round draft pick Ryan Brett, who tore up Gulf Coast pitching last season. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Brett batted .303 in 27 games with five doubles and two triples.
Junior Rodriguez is the only other infielder with experience after playing 12 games last season with Hudson Valley. Rodriguez was signed as a free agent last year.
At least one familiar name will be on the field. Cameron Seitzer, who the Rays took in the 11th round in this year’s draft out of Seattle. Seitzer is the son of Kevin Seitzer, who played third base with the Kansas City Royals.
Seitzer will be one the of the tallest P-Rays coming in at 6-foot-5, and used his size to touch Big 12 pitching last year at Oklahoma for a .358 batting average and four home runs in 60 games.
He is one of five infielders who were drafted this month, along with Taylor Motter, Garret Smith, Ryan Terry and Jonathan Koscso.
Motter was taken in the 17th round out of Coastal Carolina and was described by Baseball America “as a solid, reliable defender at shortstop with a solid-average arm.”
Smith, a 20th round selection, was a pitcher and shortstop with Boston College who the Rays currently have targeted for the infield. Terry is a third baseman from Monmouth taken in the 21st round after batting .382 with seven home runs and driving in 43 runs.
Koscso is another third baseman who the Rays picked in the 29th round from South Florida. While not showing the prototypical power numbers of a corner infielder, Koscso batted .340 with a .447 on-base percentage.
Princeton will currently have 12 pitchers on opening day with a nice righty-lefty mixture Marty DeMerritt, who is in his fifth-year with the P-Rays.
Eleven of the 12 come from the Gulf Coast League with varying results.
Pedro Silvestre was tied for first in the league with six wins. He finished 6-0 with a 2.29 ERA in 51 innings on the mound.
Matt Spann and Brandon Henderson were both successful, posting ERAs under 2.00
Spann, a lefty who was drafted in the 25th round of 2010, has a 1.48 era in 24 1/3 innings while striking out 22 and walking only four. Henderson, another lefty taken in the 15th round of the same draft, was equally as impressive with a 1.59 era and setting down 28 batters and walking three in 22 2/3 innings.
Marcus Jensen (30th round in 2009) and Reinaldo Lopez (2008 free agent) are two righties who had ERAs near 3.00 last season, and should help Princeton continue to be near the top in the Appalachian League pitching statistics.
Eduar Quinonez, Jose Molina, Kevin James, Ian Kendall, Lucas Irvine, Felipe Rivero and Matt Swilley will round out the pitchers.
Rivero was in the Venezuelan Summer League where he dominated the competition. In 51 2/3 innings, he posted a 2.09 ERA, struck out 44 and walked 10. Irvine was a 27th round choice from Northwestern State in Louisiana.
More players should be added throughout the season, including some before the season opens on June 21 at home against Burlington.
— Contact Jonathan Greene