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Originally published March 12, 2011 at 6:21 PM | Page modified March 12, 2011 at 11:22 PM

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Locals Josh Sale, Drew Vettleson teaming up with Tampa Bay Rays | Inside Pitch

Josh Sale and Drew Vettleson were only passing acquaintances as they tore through the high-school ranks but are now teammates in the Tampa Bay organization.

Seattle Times baseball reporter

Josh Sale and Drew Vettleson, the two top baseball prospects in the state of Washington last year, were only passing acquaintances as they tore through the high-school ranks.

They knew of each other, of course, and they were even teammates on an occasional all-star team. Yet for the most part, they traveled in different orbits.

"We never really knew each other well," Vettleson said.

But that changed last June when the Tampa Bay Rays selected Sale, out of Bishop Blanchet High School, with the No. 14 overall pick in the draft, then used their supplemental first-round pick to take Central Kitsap's Vettleson at No. 42 overall.

By the time the two — both 19, born within 14 days of each other — reported to Rays minor-league camp this past week, they were good buddies. The relationship was forged while they hung out in Tampa through their down-to-the-wire signing negotiations in mid-August, and later traveled to the Gulf Coast League and instructional league together.

"Whether or not they move up the system together, I think they'll always have that bond," said agent Joe Urbon of CAA Sports, who represents both Sale and Vettleson, along with other area players like Grady Sizemore and Travis Snyder.

The fact that the Rays selected yet another Puget Sound player in the third round (shortstop Ryan Brett from Highline) has helped all the players' comfort levels considerably as they get their first taste of professional spring training.

Sale said in a phone interview from Port Charlotte, Fla., where the Rays train, that he and Brett have played together since they were 14 and are "workout buddies" in the offseason.

"We're all cool with each other," he said of the three Seattle-area players.

Sale was considered the top prep power hitter in last year's draft. In the offseason, working out at Rips Baseball in Des Moines (where his hitting coach was former Mariner Jason Ellison), he dropped 18 pounds. He credits a regimen that included shuttle runs in the sand, and said, "I'm actually stronger than I was."

Sale said his goal in his first camp is "to show them things they expect from me, and I hope I show them things they didn't expect — in a good way."

Vettleson, like Sale, put up monster numbers in high school, hitting .490 with seven homers as a senior at Central Kitsap to earn Baseball America's distinction as the best pure high-school hitter in the draft.

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Yet he gained his most attention by being a "switch-pitcher" on the mound. That rare skill is now on hiatus as he learns the intricacies of the outfield.

"It was always fun to see the reaction of the crowd," Vettleson said from Port Charlotte. "But I didn't want to be known as the kid who switch-pitched. I want to be known as a good outfielder and hitter. Basically, it's a fallback plan, and I'm hoping I don't have to fall back on it."

The two almost didn't start their pro careers, going right down to the midnight deadline in August before signing. Had talks broken down, Sale was set to play for Gonzaga and Vettleson for Oregon State.

"It went down to literally the last handful of seconds," said Urbon, who brought both clients with him to Tampa during the final days of negotiations.

Sale ultimately signed for a reported $1.62 million bonus, Vettleson for $845,000.

"I always had confidence because Joe was in my corner," Sale said. "I'm not saying it wasn't nerve-racking. There were points we were sitting there sweating bullets. But I was having fun with it, too."

Sale and Vettleson signed too late to play in the minors, but were sent to the Rays' Gulf Coast League team to work out and get a taste of pro life for a couple of weeks. They later had a stint in the instructional league, and now are embarking on their first camp.

"I'm more excited than nervous at this point, to be honest," Sale said. "Me and Ryan have put in the work all offseason, so there's no reason to be nervous. Jason Ellison told us that, and we took it to heart."

Vettleson said his nerves disappeared when he took the field on Wednesday for the first workout.

"Once I was on the field, I was just doing what I've done my whole life," he said. "It turned out great."

Notes and quotes

Evan Longoria kept his sense of humor after learning that his 1967 Camaro RS, valued at $75,000, had been stolen from a shop in Arizona where it was being repaired.

Referring to the popular commercial in which his cap is stolen, Longoria said, "Hopefully, I won't be getting asked if I found my car yet by a ton of people."

• It was a scary moment in Yankees camp Thursday in Tampa, Fla., when 85-year-old Yogi Berra took a tumble in the clubhouse that necessitated the Hall of Famer being taken to the hospital in Clearwater as a precaution.

Turns out that a sip of hot soup was the culprit. Startled by the temperature, Berra fell backward. He was deemed OK and released.

On Friday morning, Berra was back in Yankees camp, where a reporter asked him how he liked Clearwater.

"Didn't like the soup," Yogi said.

• The emergence of Juan Carlos Linares, a right-hander signed out of Cuba last season, has added to the Red Sox's surplus of outfielders. It's possible they could deal former Mariner Mike Cameron, though they like him off the bench to spell J.D. Drew in right and play center against some tough lefties.

• The Phillies have considerable concern over All-Star second baseman Chase Utley, whose patellar tendinitis in his right knee is not getting better.

Someone asked Utley recently if he anticipates being able to play at all this year. His answer was cryptic, and not too reassuring for Phillies fans.

"My goal is to alleviate this as quickly as possible but still keep in mind that I have a career ahead of me," Utley said.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

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