Coatesville’s Belnome fighting to get back to Majors

Sees versatility as boost to future return with the Rays

By Thomas Joyce, Special to The Times


Vince Belnome, a 2006 Coatesville Are High School graduate, is hoping his ability to play all four infield positions and hit right-handed pitching will get him another shot at the Major Leagues in 2015.

PAWTUCKET, RI — After getting a taste of big league action last season, Coatesville native Vince Belnome is determined to get back to the top level with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Last year, Belnome had a cup of coffee in the Majors after six years of minor league ball. He played in four games for Tampa as a designated hitter, collecting a hit in ten at-bats while drawing three walks. Now, he looks to make it back up to the big league club but for now, he will get his work in with the Durham Bulls (Tampa Bay Rays AAA affiliate).

Many tremble in fear and feel immense pressure when called upon to contribute at the top level but now that Belnome has a little service time under his belt, he has a better idea of what it is like in the show.

“It’s the same game no matter where you’re at,” Belnome said. “You know low-A, AA, AAA, the big leagues, it’s all the same game. They have to throw the ball over the plate, you have to hit the ball, throw the ball and catch the ball.” 

This past off season, the Rays designated Belnome for the assignment– taking him off the 40-man roster. No longer on the list of immediate call-up possibilities for the Rays, the 27-year-old does not feel any added pressure to preform.

“I try to not look at it as pressure,” he said. “I’m just going out there trying to play the game to the best of my ability. I’ll let that speak for itself and the guys up top can make the call.”

Belnome was a standout at Coatesville High School, graduating back in 2006 before moving on to a highly successful career at West Virginia University. In his junior year for the Mountaineers, he hit over .400 with an on-base percentage over .500.

At Coatesville, he hit .490 in his high school career and holds the school’s record for batting average. As an underclassman, he also played basketball but he gave it up once he made the varsity baseball squad his sophomore year.

The biggest jump for pro players to make is from AAA to the big leagues because there are so few open spots. Nowadays, teams put an emphasis on versatility more than ever. Guys who can play a number of different positions have a better shot at making a ball club simply because they can get their name penciled into the lineup more often.

When asked to describe what position he played with one word, he used the word infielder as opposed to naming a position. Drafted as a second baseman in the 2009 MLB draft, calling Belnome a second baseman is an understatement.

“I’ve gotten pretty comfortable at first base these past few years but like you said, I was drafted as a second baseman,” he said. “I played there my first few years and last year, I played some third base and took reps in the outfield. I mean that’s the thing: the more positions you play, the better chance you have at getting your name in the lineup.”

Durham is packed with middle infielders so Belmore will not be seeing much time there. He is the starting first baseman for the AAA club, but he likely see reps at those three or four other positions on occasion. On Friday, he got the start at third base for Durham against the Pawtucket Red Sox (Boston Red Sox AAA affiliate).

While he struggled against lefties last year, he hit righties well in that same time span. In 317 at-bats against north paws, he hit .259 with a .374 on-base percentage; 40.24% of his hits were for extra bases.

At the plate, Belmont is a patient hitter who led the Bulls in walks last season. Plate discipline is one of his biggest assets as a player which is why it should come as no surprise that he models his approach at the plate after one of the all-time greats.

“Ted Williams is probably my favorite hitter,” he said. “He was patient, drawing walks and getting on base. I take pride in my on-base percentage. The hits will come but the more walks you get, the less at-bats– but it counts towards on-base percentage. I’ve always been like that through high school, college, all the way up to the Majors.”

As a AAA player not only is Belnome fighting for a spot on the Rays, but the other 29 big league ball clubs as well. If he hits righties well and shows he is capable defensively at a few different positions, teams will take notice.

Entering his fourth year in AAA, Belnome hopes to put separate himself from the rest with his unique approach both at the plate in the field. This past off season, he continued to work on being a guy who stands out among his peers.

“Just trying to be versatile,” he said. “Working on being able to play a number of different positions and then working on my swing as well. I’m trying to perfect that be a complete hitter.”

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