June 15, 2005 - The next time T.J. Steele steps into the batter's box against Colin Thomson, the stakes may be much higher. At least the level of competition will be.
Northwest standouts Steele and Thomson were the only two high school players from Tucson selected in the this year's Major League Baseball amateur draft, held June 7 and 8.
The Houston Astros drafted Steele, who clobbered 10 home runs for Canyon Del Oro High School this year, with the club's pick in the 22nd round (674 overall). Thomson, of Mountain View, was selected 17 rounds later, in the 39th, by the New York Mets (1169).
Although the majors came a calling, it will be a while before Steele and Thomson see the inside of a big league dugout.
The St. Louis Cardinals were ready to draft Steele with the club's third round pick, but the two sides couldn't agree on a contract. The redbirds instead opted for Darryl Jones, of Spring High School in Texas.
Other clubs inquired about the CDO outfielder, including the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, before Houston eventually drafted him.
"I didn't think I was going to get drafted after that first wave of drafts," Steele said. "I just said 'Well, see you in three years.'"
If he hadn't been selected by any of the 30 major league teams, Steele was ready to attend the University of Arizona on a baseball scholarship. Under baseball rules, a player who plays for a Division I program cannot become eligible for the MLB draft until he is 21 years old.
On paper, Thomson's selection by the Mets is puzzling. The right-hander finished the year with a 3-6 record for the Mountain Lions. Still as the draft neared, the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and the Mets contacted the hard-throwing senior whose numbers reflect a Mountain Lion offense that couldn't score runs.
Unlike Steele, who may sign and opt to play rookie ball, Thomson will instead walk on to the staff at Pima Community College. The Mets will retain the rights to the hurler for one year. If at that time the club and the pitcher can't agree to a contract, Thomson would be eligible for the 2006 draft.
Thomson can thank his surprising draft selection to the workouts he did in the fall with White Sox scout and Tucson resident Bryan Huie.
"I was pretty surprised," Thomson said. "I never expected to be drafted."
As for facing Steele, the two went head-to-head once during the high school season with Steele collecting one hit in three at-bats.
After going 10-2 on the year and leading the Falcons to state runner-up in Class 4A, Catalina Foothills ace John James was not drafted. James will most likely opt to join the rotation at UA in the fall, where he was given an athletic scholarship.
The Oro Valley Mixed Doubles Club is always looking for new players. The group, which consists of about 12 members, meets every Sunday at 7 a.m. at Ironwood Ridge High School. For more information, call the group at 575-0829.
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