Former Juneau-Douglas High School pitcher Toby Staveland moved a step closer to his major league dream this week.
Staveland, who is pitching in the Atlanta Braves minor league system, was promoted on Tuesday from the Danville (Va.) Braves to the Jamestown (N.Y.) Jammers, said Renee Oakes, the director of public and media relations for the Danville team.
The Danville Braves are an advanced rookie-level team, playing in the Appalachian League. The Jamestown Jammers are a short-season A-level team, playing in the New York-Penn League.
Staveland isn't the only former Juneau-Douglas High School baseball player doing well this summer.
Rob Conway, a 1996 JDHS grad and current Iowa State third baseman, will be playing in the Southeastern Collegiate League's all-star game this Friday at Clemson University, representing the Carolina Sox. Chad Bentz, a 1999 JDHS grad and current left-handed pitcher at Long Beach State, combined with two relievers to throw a 5-0 shutout for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots of the Alaska League Tuesday night, beating the Anchorage Bucs.
Staveland, a right-handed pitcher who was a 44th-round pick by the Atlanta Braves in 1999, made his fifth appearance and first start for Danville on Monday. He threw six innings, allowing four hits, two runs (both earned), two walks and four strikeouts. With Monday's performance, Staveland improved to 2-0 with a 1.20 ERA in 15 innings, with only 10 hits, two runs and 12 strikeouts.
``He was pretty excited,'' said Wilma Staveland, Toby's mother. ``He pitched a day ago (Monday) and won. Then they called him in and told him he was being promoted and put him on the plane to New York, where he was met by a limousine.''
Oakes said Staveland left Danville after Monday's game, and was in New York on Tuesday.
Staveland, a 1998 JDHS grad, signed with the Braves in May, after finishing his second season with Mendocino Community College of Ukiah, Calif. In his two years at Mendocino, Staveland posted a 13-4 record with a 10-0 mark and a 4.01 ERA in 1999 and 3-4 record with a 3.56 ERA this spring. He was Mendocino's 1999 Rookie of the Year.
Conway, who saw spot action for the Glacier Pilots last summer, is hitting .383 with nine doubles and five triples for the Charlotte, N.C.-based Sox this summer. Conway, who was recruited as a designated hitter and has been playing some third base, has even seen action on the mound, throwing six innings and allowing just one earned run.
``It's not as competitive as the Alaska League, but it's giving me a chance to work on some things like (strike) zone discipline,'' Conway said by phone from Charlotte. ``It's pretty competitive, though.''
The SECL is a wood-bat collegiate league based in North Carolina and South Carolina and will expand to Georgia next fall. Carolina coach Jeff Baughn said many of the parks are large, and only one Sox player has homered yet this season. Conway had 10 homers at Iowa State this spring, but hasn't hit one yet for the Sox. But Conway said homers aren't really part of his game and he's learning to hit more line drives.
``I really like the way he's swinging the bat right now,'' Baughn said. ``He's taking what the pitchers give him and he's using the whole field. He's adjusted well.''
Conway was recruited strictly as a designated hitter, but when one of the Sox third basemen was injured and lost for the season Conway moved into one of the team's two spots at third (Baughn uses a platoon system because the league schedules a lot of doubleheaders). He's also played some shortstop and second base this summer, and has played errorfree baseball. In college, Conway had 21 errors with most of them coming when he was playing out of position at shortstop.
``He's on the all-star team because he's been one of our most valuable players,'' Baughn said. ``His batting average is about third on the team, but he was our first choice for the all-star game because he does so much for us. He'll do whatever you ask.''
For Bentz, who is in his second season with the Glacier Pilots, things are going much better this year even if he did miss 11 days with a sore pitching shoulder before Tuesday's start.
Bentz won his first decision of the season Tuesday, throwing twohit shutout ball and allowing just five baserunners over 5 2/3 innings. For the season, Bentz has allowed five earned runs in 20 2/3 innings for a 2.18 ERA.
``It felt good to be on the hump (mound) again,'' Bentz told the Anchorage Daily News after Tuesday's game. ``My arm didn't hurt at all. I couldn't be more happy, except for those two walks in the sixth (that resulted in a reliever being brought in to finish the inning).''
Bentz, a 34th-round draft pick by the New York Yankees in 1999, struggled to a 9.50 ERA last summer with the Pilots as one of two players in the Alaska League making the jump from high school ball.
Born without a right hand, Bentz also showed he can field his position in Tuesday's game as he picked up a comebacker in the fifth inning and threw out the baserunner by a couple of steps. Bentz holds his glove on the stump of his non-pitching hand when he throws, then quickly slips it on after his delivery, much like former major leaguer Jim Abbott who also only has one hand.
``I love comebackers,'' Bentz said. ``People don't think I can do it, that I won't get the glove on in time. I practice that every time I throw a ball. Some kids were asking me how I do it so fast, but after 20 years you get used to it.''