A Ray of hope: Jefferies starring on a club full of young prospects

July 17, 2009 

Bowling Green Hot Rods Jake Jefferies

MERCED SUN-STAR

Jake Jefferies sees the future of the Tampa Bay Rays all around him. He sees it every day as he looks around the locker room of the Bowling Green Hot Rods. The former Buhach Colony catcher was drafted by the Rays in the third round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft. Jefferies signed with the Rays out of UC Davis and spent his first year in rookie ball. This year he's playing with some of the top prospects in the Rays' organization in Bowling Green, Kent.

"We have 10 guys that were drafted in the first 10 rounds," Jefferies said. "I'm catching a good pitching staff. A lot of our top pitching prospects are on this pitching staff."

Pitchers like Matt Moore (eighth round, 2007), Nick Barnese (third round, 2007) and Shane Dyer (sixth round, 2008).

Then there's shorstop Tim Bechham, who was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2008 draft.

It was Beckham who was the target of a practical joke.

"The team had a Tim Beckham magnet night," Jefferies said. "They handed out magnets to all the fans.

"Some of the players got a bunch of the magnets and covered Tim Beckham's Range Rover with them."

Jefferies is enjoying his time in Bowling Green.

Why wouldn't he be?

He's hitting right behind Beckham in the No. 3 hole every night.

After a slow start, Jefferies is hitting a respectable .270 with 6 homers and 43 RBIs.

"Hitting is kind of my place of mental freedom," Jefferies said. "I don't have to think at the plate.

"It's just see the ball, hit the ball. When I'm on defense there's a lot of thought that goes into it."

Hitting has always come relatively easy for Jefferies. However, adjusting to wooden bats did take some time.

"When I got to the Rays one of the things they did was change my batting stance," he said. "I'm standing taller now and it's helping me get to the inside pitch

"I went into pro ball trying to use my college swing and it didn't work. With a wooden bat it wouldn't work. I was breaking bats.

"I lifted up my stance. I'm standing a little taller and I can see pitches better. I see the changeup better."

Jefferies primary focus this year has been on improving defensively. Specifically on his footwork and improving his throwing time.

When he was a senior at Buhach Colony, Jefferies could catch a pitch and fire a throw that would reach second base in about 1.9 to 2 seconds.

At UC Davis his "pop time" jumped to 2.25 seconds.

Two-tenths of a second doesn't sound like much, but it's a big help when you're trying to throw out baserunners.

"Somewhere in college my mechanics got a little messed up," Jefferies said. "I'm trying to fine tune some things. I got bigger and when you get bigger, it's harder to move."

Working with the Rays catching coordinator and his Bowling Green coach Matt Quatraro -- who was a minor league catcher during his playing days -- Jefferies has dropped his "pop time" to the 2.0-2.1 range.

Quatraro likes what he sees.

"It's similar to any young player, Jake needs to improve everywhere. If he didn't he would be in the big leagues already," the Hot Rods manager said.

"I think he's going to hit. As his pitch selection gets better, and it's improved a lot, he's going to hit for more power.

"He's a consistent thrower and receiver and he's a good left-handed bat. That's a valuable thing."

His goal is to be back down to 1.9 seconds.

"I need to mature. Not necessarily personality-wise. Just physically," Jefferies said.

"Defensively, I've got a lot of work to do. I think I'm improving, I'm just not where I want to be. Offensively, I can work on pitch selection.

"But I think I'm doing OK. I'm in Low-A right now. I still have three or four levels to go before I get to the big leagues."

The Rays have invested a lot in Jefferies.

They spent an early pick on him and gave him a hefty signing bonus.

They've sent their catching coordinator to work with him and sent him to an instructional league last year.

It's obvious the Rays feel Jefferies has a bright future.

He's doing what he can to make sure it happens.

"I'm in a good spot for me," Jefferies said. "I can work on some things to help get me to the next spot. I'm working hard and I'm doing everything they tell me to do."

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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