This time last season, Granden Goetzman's excitement was palpable.
The Palmetto grad and Tampa Bay Rays prospect was readying himself for his second season of professional baseball, feeling more prepared and more comfortable than he was during his short stint with the franchise's Gulf Coast League affiliate in the summer of 2011.
And early last year, the results proved that out: In 12 games with the Rays' Rookie League team in Princeton, Goetzman totaled more hits, scored more runs and stole more bases than he did in 25 games in the GCL.
And then ... .
"It was during pregame and I went to take early hitting," Goetzman said Thursday. "I couldn't even swing."
Goetzman was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back, stopping his season in early July and sending him back to the Rays' minor-league complex in Port Charlotte for a rehab assignment.
But his small sample size in Princeton made a big impact on the Rays, who this season sent Goetzman to their low Single-A team in Bowling Green, Ky.
"I'm very happy," said Goetzman, the Rays' second-round pick in 2011. "Every year, I'm getting closer and closer. It's progress."
He's playing left field with the Bowling Green Hot Rods of the Midwest League, Goetzman's first full-season professional team.
"It's the same game, but now it's every single day," Goetzman said. "It's going to be a long year, and I'm just getting used to the grind and playing every day."
Goetzman was getting used to life in Princeton last year and was hitting .298 with eight RBIs and seven stolen bases in eight games, a marked improvement after hitting .173 in 25 games with the GCL Rays the previous summer.
"I got off to a pretty solid start in Princeton," Goetzman said. "I spent the offseason just rehabbing."
After spending the winter strengthening his core to better support his back, Goetzman spent the spring in Port Charlotte before reporting to work in Kentucky. He is hitting .172 with a home run and six RBIs in seven games with the Hot Rods.
"I would defintely say I'm off to a slow start, but it's an extremely long season. I can turn this around," Goetzman said. "I'm just trying to stay positive.
"It's defintely a nice feeling (to have a longer season to work with). In high school, you play 25 games, and you could hit .400 or .500 in those 25 games. Now, I'm playing in over 100 games."
Goetzman's next promotion could bring him close to home: The Rays' high Single-A team, the Charlotte Stone Crabs, plays in Port Charlotte and competes in the Florida State League's South Division with the Bradenton Marauders.
For now, however, he is staying patient.
"Every year, I stay more comfortable, I know everybody," Goetzman said. "The Rays do a great job of developing young talent."
Prime's first spring
Another local draft pick, Manatee grad Correlle Prime, is in extended spring training with the Colorado Rockies. Prime was drafted by the Rockies last year and reported to the organization's Rookie League team in Grand Junction, meaning this was his first spring training.
He hit .283 with 11 RBIs last season in short-season ball.
"I'm getting my reps, getting my at-bats," Prime, a 12th-round pick, said last week from the Rockies' minor-league complex in Arizona. "That's how you go about getting better.
"This is a great organization to be in. They don't want to rush the younger guys, and they take real good care of us."
Prime is hoping to break camp with one of the Rockies' short-season affiliates.