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MWL notes: Vettleson a threat from field
Former pitcher transforms arm into outfield gun for Hot Rods
07/19/2012 10:24 AM ET
Bowling Green's Drew Vettleson ranks second in baseball in outfield assists.
Bowling Green's Drew Vettleson ranks second in baseball in outfield assists. (Jeff Murwin)
Drew Vettleson would take two baseball gloves with him out to the mound when he pitched for Central Kitsap High School in Washington. If he was pitching with his left arm, he tossed his left-handed glove to the back of the mound. Pitching as a righty, Vettleson would switch gloves and toss the other to the back of the mound.

When he went to showcase and tryout events, he showed off his switch-pitching talents.

"I switch-pitched all through my youth and in high school," said Vettleson. "I did showcases where I'd throw both left-handed and right-handed. I always got a pretty cool reaction."

Vettleson, though, isn't carving out a career in pro baseball as a pitcher. He's making his mark as a hitter, and the damage he does with his arm strength is as an outfielder for the Bowling Green Hot Rods.

A 6-foot-1, 185-pound first-round Draft selection of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010 (42nd overall), Vettleson is second in pro baseball with 16 outfield assists (Daniel Robertson of Tucson tops the list with 18). Vettleson led all of pro baseball in outfield assists most of the season after collecting 10 in April.

The numbers slowed when Midwest League teams quit testing his arm.

"It's something that's really exciting, when I see that I have all of these assists," Vettleson said. "Coming into the season, I wanted to stress defense. In the offseason, I went outside and did a lot of long toss with my father to increase my arm strength.

"I came into Spring Training with the mind-set that I wanted to learn all of the little details of playing defense," he added. "Working with our outfield coordinator, Skeeter Barnes -- that really helped me a lot on all of the footwork and slowing down the game. When I see a ball hit out to me, I want to get to it as quickly as possible, but once I get to the ball, I want to slow down and make sure I get as good a throw as possible. A more accurate throw is more important than throwing it as hard as you can and not knowing where it's going."

Bowling Green manager Brady Williams said Vettleson has developed consistency with his arm.

"Once Drew got strength in arm, he gained confidence," Williams said. "He knows he has a good arm. He's very diligent and works on consistent throws to home and third. He even threw a guy out at first on a ball hit to right field -- that was pretty impressive. He enjoys changing the game. He wants the ball hit to him with a guy at second, guy at third."

Vettleson, who bats left and throws right, has been a constant threat for the Hot Rods at the plate, too. He's hitting .284 with eight homers and 44 RBIs.

"Everybody always asks if I switch-hit, since I would switch-pitch," he said, "but that's not how it worked out."

Although switch-pitching was fun, hitting has always been Vettleson's passion.

"Growing up, I always wanted to be a hitter," Vettleson said. "Even in high school, hitting was what I wanted to do. Switch-pitching was fun to do and it was fun to see people's reactions, but it wasn't what I wanted to do after high school. I wanted to be more known as a hitter."

Williams said Vettleson, who turns 21 on July 19, is a mature hitter for his age.

"Drew has a good eye and good hand-eye coordination," Williams said. "He battles. His two-strike approach is good for a young kid. He finds a way to put the ball in play. He has an aggressive swing, and shortens up when he needs to."

In brief

First knockout: Lansing pitcher Aaron Sanchez entered Thursday's game against Quad Cities with an 8-0 record and 0.72 ERA but left with a second-inning knockout and his first loss as Quad Cities scored a 15-3 victory. Sanchez had given up five earned runs all season, but Quad Cities hit him for five runs (and two homers) in 1 1/3 innings. Matt Williams led the River Bandits' assault with four extra-base hits, including a three-run homer.

Cross-marketing: West Michigan has been turning to NFL players for first-pitch action. Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, a former star at Michigan State, threw out a first pitch July 7 and local high school and college star Jared Veldheer, an offensive tackle for the Oakland Raiders, will throw out the first pitch Thursday.

Lucroy rehab: Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy will have a four-game rehab assignment with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers starting Thursday, and ticket sales spiked once the news leaked. Lucroy has been sidelined since late May with a broken right hand.

Curt Rallo is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.
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