Toby Staveland of Juneau took a big step toward realizing his dream of playing in the major leagues by signing a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves over the weekend.
Staveland, a right-handed pitcher who was picked by the Braves in the 44th round of last June's baseball draft, is just finishing up his sophomore year at Mendocino College in Ukiah, Calif. After his last final May 22, Staveland will head to Florida for extended spring training, where rookies will be assigned to their minor league teams. Staveland said he expects to be sent to Danville, Va., to play for Atlanta's advanced rookie league team starting June 22.
``If they think I'm good enough, I'll give it a try,'' Staveland said by phone from Ukiah.
``He's a good athlete,'' Mendocino coach Kevin Smallcomb said. ``Toby can hit, bunt and field his position. He's a baseball player, not just a pitcher. Toby's a shortstop that's pitching.''
Staveland is believed to be the first athlete from Juneau-Douglas High School to sign a pro contract with a major league baseball team, at least since the draft began in 1965.
Tim Kissner, who also played for Mendocino in the early 1990s and is now an area scout based in Pensacola, Fla., for the Cleveland Indians, played one year of professional baseball with an independent minor league team -- the Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan) Diamond Dogs of the Prairie League. But that team was not affiliated with a major league franchise. There were some Juneau athletes to play minor league baseball in the 1940s and 1950s, but none in recent years.
Staveland posted a 13-4 record in his two seasons at Mendocino College -- 10-0 with a 4.01 ERA in 1999 and 3-4 with a 3.56 ERA this season. Staveland was voted Mendocino's Rookie of the Year in 1999.
On the mound, the 6-foot-3, 215pound Staveland throws a twoseam fastball in the 88-92 mph range. He also throws a knucklecurve, which Smallcomb said is very good when he has command of the pitch, plus he throws a straight-curve and a straightchange.
But both Staveland and Smallcomb agree Staveland is still raw as a pitcher. That's one reason Staveland decided to sign now with the Braves, who have a history of developing young pitchers, instead of taking a chance of going back into the draft in June and ending up with a team that doesn't develop its players as well.
``That's the reason I want to go there. I know they know a lot, and I've got a lot to learn,'' Staveland said. ``It's just the luck of the draw I'm with a good pitching team. I think the Braves are the best team I could get.''
``He didn't pitch a whole lot at Juneau-Douglas High School, so he's still kind of immature as a pitcher,'' Smallcomb said. ``But he's got a higher ceiling for his arm. He's a fresh arm who's not all pitched out. For us he's a threefour pitch guy, but he needs more command and control.''
Staveland was one of four Alaskans, all pitchers, picked in last June's draft, and he's the first to sign with a team. Staveland and the other Alaskans picked - Juneau's Chad Bentz in the 34th round by the New York Yankees, Soldotna's Chris Mabeus in the 37th round by the Boston Red Sox and Chugiak's Joey Clark in the 38th round by the Montreal Expos - all chose to go to college instead of signing over the summer. The only Alaskan currently playing minor league baseball is Kodiak's Dustin Krug, who posted a 3-7 record with five saves and a 3.36 ERA for the Lansing Lugnuts, an `A' team in the Chicago Cubs organization.
While Staveland decided to return to school, Smallcomb said the Braves followed him closely through the season. J. Harrison, Atlanta's area scouting supervisor, watched Staveland pitch in the fall season at Mendocino and again early in the spring when he brought in one of Atlanta's crosscheckers. They liked what they saw, and when Mendocino missed the playoffs Harrison made Staveland an offer.
Staveland signed the contract on Saturday. He said the contract included a $21,000 signing bonus and an $18,000 education stipend for six semesters of school at $3,000 each. Staveland, who is married and has a young daughter, will make $850 a month in the minors.
``The Braves really did their homework, and it was a good draft-and-follow pick,'' said Smallcomb, who coached both Bentz and Clark with the Anchorage Glacier Pilots of the Alaska League last summer. ``They stayed with him the whole year.''
Smallcomb, who spent eight of the past 12 summers as a coach with the Glacier Pilots, has had several Juneau baseball players at Mendocino College in recent years, and he said he likes the hustle they bring to the program. Kissner was his first player from Juneau, followed by Chad Cary, current Iowa State third baseman Rob Conway, Staveland and current Mendocino third baseman Wade Walter. Smallcomb said he'd like to continue the relationship.
``I've always had a lot of luck with the Juneau kids,'' Smallcomb said. ``They play hard, and they're not whiners. I don't know if it's because they're used to adversity, but they've all been good kids.''