In the sixth inning of his fourth professional game Monday night, Joe Staley ripped a pitch over the left-field fence for his first home run.
“It felt good to get it out of the way,” Staley said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s definitely an adjustment going to the wood bat.”
The former Decatur Eagle standout catcher joined the San Francisco Giants’ Arizona Rookie League team in Scottsdale two weeks ago after signing his first contract. The Giants picked Staley in the eighth round of this year’s draft.
His selection by San Francisco followed an All-American season in the NAIA at Lubbock Christian. The junior backstop hit a .440 batting average with 92 hits, 12 home runs and 69 RBIs. He boasted a team-best .543 on-base percentage. He finished the season with just one error behind the plate to compile a 96.6 fielding percentage.
It was the second time Staley was drafted. In 2007, he was drafted out of high school by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 39th round. He elected not to sign, instead attending Stephen F. Austin and then Lubbock Christian.
Through his first four games, Staley is hitting .188 with three hits and three RBIs in 16 at-bats. He is adjusting to life in the pro ranks.
“It’s still the game of baseball, but it’s a job,” he said. “It’s something you get paid to do. You’ve got to bust it every day.”
He’s living with a roommate in a Holiday Inn while at Scottsdale.
One of the toughest adjustments is the amount of time on the field. During his first week before the start of the rookie season, he was on the field from early in the morning until the middle of the afternoon.
“I was at the field at 6 and was practicing by 6:30 to noon,” Staley said. “Then we’d lift. It’s a job.”
Even after the games started, the time on the field has not waned.
“We’re out there practicing two or three hours before the game,” Staley said. “It’s a full day. We’ll get an hour off, and then we’ll play. The toughest thing is learning how to conserve energy and eat right. It’s a long day, especially in the Arizona heat.”
At the start of most games, the temperature is well above 100 and only cools into the 90s by the end of the ninth.
Staley played his first rookie-level game June 22 against the Athletics. He faced major-league veteran Brett Tomko, who was with the rookie team on a rehab assignment.
“He definitely knew how to throw the baseball,” Staley said. “I K’d twice and grounded out. He’s a good pitcher. It was fun to hit against a big-league pitcher.
“I’d only been swinging a wood bat a couple of days and then faced him. Welcome to pro ball.”
In his second game, Staley collected his first hit and stole a base. He also threw out a runner on the bases.
“There’s a lot of raw talent here,” he said. “It’s a grooming process. They are trying to fine tune you into a major-league player.”
Staley is unsure what the future holds. He said the spring will be huge for him.
“If I have a good spring, they could put me in AA, or I could be back here at rookie ball. It’s not all talent. It’s about being mentally prepared,” he explained.
Staley’s mother, Pam, is proud of her son and the opportunity he has.
“He’s on the road to reaching his dream,” she said. “You want your children to reach their dreams. He set his sights on playing in the majors. He was determined and never took his eyes off that goal.
“To see this happen for him is an answer to his prayers and my prayers for him.”