Sports

Sweet swing follows Jefferies

DAVIS -- Jake Jefferies didn't panic or lose himself, even as his sweet left-handed swing started to fail him.

The former Buhach Colony star was among the top collegiate hitters at UC Davis and a third-round pick by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2008 draft.

So there were lofty expecations for Jefferies heading into his pro debut.

Yet in his first season with the Hudson Valley Renegades -- the Rays' short-season A club in upstate New York -- Jefferies found himself in one of the worst hitting slumps of his career.

"I started out really, really slow," said Jefferies, in Davis now preparing for his first spring training. "I think it was the adjustment to the wooden bat. At one point, I was hitting .170. I mean, it was really bad."

Then...

Like any good career hitter, muscle memory kicked in.

"I looked back at past summers when I was using wood bats. I started those years just about the same way and never really gave up," Jefferies said. "I just kept working hard."

And swinging.

Jefferies quickly found his groove and finished his 66-game season with a .315 batting average -- the highest of any Renegade player with at least 100 at-bats.

The 6-foot-2 catcher closed with a flurry, reaching base safely in 9 of his last 10 games.

During that stretch, he was 15 of 36 with four doubles, four walks, one home run and eight RBIs.

"It turned out to be a great offensive season in my eyes," said Jefferies, who led the team in hits (75) and doubles (16) and was second in RBIs (41) and total bases (103).

"(The slump) was weird, but then again I've been there before. I knew what it would take to adjust and get it right again. I'm up for challenges -- and it was a challenge.

"I still have a lot of work to do, but I took a step in the right direction."

Which direction his playing career goes remains uncertain.

Jefferies will likely receive his orders next month when he reports to the Rays' Spring Training facility in St. Petersburg.

One sports blog, RaysProspects.com, has Jefferies ticketed for Low-A Bowling Green.

No matter where he goes, Jefferies' sweet swing is sure to follow.

"I'd like to experience the playoffs in the minor leagues," he said. "Maybe lead my team to a division championship."

Jefferies File

POSITION: Catcher

BATS: Left

THROWS: Right

YEARS PRO: 1

ORGANIZATION: Tampa Bay Rays

DRAFTED: Third round, 78th overall pick in 2008 draft.

LAST YEAR: Played in 66 games with the Hudson Valley Renegades, the Ray's short-season A club. Batted .315 with team-high 75 hits and 16 doubles.

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