Juneau's Chad Bentz was out trolling for king salmon near the North Douglas boat launch Tuesday morning when his brother's cell phone rang.
The call was from the Montreal Expos, letting Bentz know they'd just picked him in the seventh round of the 2001 First-Year Player Draft for Major League Baseball.
"I'm happy. That's great," Bentz said Tuesday night as he, his brother Josh and friend Ryan Wilson barbecued one of the two 23-pound kings they caught earlier that day. "They found me out on the water somehow. This is a good organization to be in. They're not very good, so there's a chance to move up."
Bentz, a sophomore left-handed pitcher at Long Beach State, was the 203rd pick overall and the first of two Alaskans picked Tuesday in the first day of the three-day, 50-round draft. Soldotna's Chris Mabeus, a senior right-handed pitcher at Lewis-Clark State University, was taken in the 13th round by the Oakland Athletics, the 401st overall pick.
The draft continued today, starting with the 21st round, and no other Alaskans had been chosen by the 30th round.
Bentz's selection is the third-highest of an Alaskan in the history of the draft. It was also an improvement over Bentz's 34th-round selection by the New York Yankees after his senior year of high school in 1999, when four Alaskans were picked for the largest group of Alaskans chosen in one draft.
Last year right-handed pitcher Brian Montalbo of Anchorage's Dimond High School was chosen by the Atlanta Braves with the last pick of the fourth round, the 130th pick overall, to become Alaska's highest pick. In 1994 current NBA guard Trajan Langdon of the Cleveland Cavaliers was drafted in the sixth round by the San Diego Padres out of East Anchorage High School.
Bentz hinted he might be ready to sign if he gets the right offer. The Expos are working with Lenny Streylitz, who will handle Bentz's negotiations. Bentz has a refundable ticket to play for the Orleans Cardinals in the Cape Cod League this summer, but he sounded ready to move up to the next level, where hitters use wooden bats that break off at the handles when pitchers throw inside. In college, hitters use aluminum bats and hitters can hit the same inside pitch out of the park that would saw off their wooden bat.
"I'm looking for whatever's fair for that round, maybe a little more because I can still go back to school," Bentz said. "I'm sick of aluminum bats, so I'm almost positive I'll sign. I'm looking forward to breaking some bats."
If Bentz signs, he will join two other Alaskans in the minor leagues, Dustin Krug of Kodiak and Toby Staveland of Juneau.
Staveland just completed extended spring training with the Atlanta Braves and will join Atlanta's short-season Class A team, the Jamestown (N.Y.) Jammers, next week as a right-handed starting pitcher. Krug is in the Chicago Cubs organization.
Staveland was another 1999 draft pick, in the 44th round by the Braves, but he didn't sign until last May after completing his sophomore season at Mendocino Community College in Ukiah, Calif. Staveland posted a 2-0 record with a 1.20 ERA for Atlanta's Rookie League team called the Danville (Va.) Braves, then was promoted to Jamestown in July where he compiled a 2-2 record with a 5.20 ERA.
During extended spring training, Staveland pitched 34 innings with a 1.50 ERA. He only allowed four walks and 12 hits, plus he struck out 1.1 batters per inning and was the second-best pitcher in camp, his father Stephen said. Staveland is now listed at 6-4, 240 pounds after hitting the weights hard this winter, and recently hit 95 mph on the radar gun.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.