Futures journey a long one for Stansberry

Padres prospect aims to be first Major Leaguer born in Saudi Arabia

(Portland Beavers)

By Evan Mohl / MLB.com | June 28, 2007 9:05 AM ET

Take a gander at the World roster for the 2007 Futures Game, and you'll find a plethora of young prospects from well-established baseball countries.

At least until you come across Craig Stansberry.

Stansberry was born in Saudi Arabia -- a country yet to produce a Major Leaguer. His dad was working with a building materials company in Dammam when Craig was born. However, before the second baseman could even pick up a baseball, the Stansberry family packed up and returned to the United States.

Stansberry is also 25. While that's young by most people's standards, it's borderline over the hill in a Futures Game, where the oldest outfielder on the World roster -- Wladimir Balentien -- is 22.

Major League studs such as Grady Sizemore, Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Joe Mauer and Jose Reyes are all younger than Stansberry. By game time in San Francisco on July 8, a good number of Stansberry's teammates still won't be old enough to drink legally in this country.

Stansberry, to say the least, isn't your typical Futures All-Star.

"I was a little surprised at first [when I made the World roster]," said Stansberry. "I'm just excited to be in the game."

The long journey to San Francisco picked up in Plano, Texas, where Stansberry struggled to make his varsity baseball team. The second baseman's high school -- Plano Senior High -- had one of the biggest student bodies in Texas. As a result, the odds of making the varsity as a freshman or sophomore were slim.

This caused problems for Stansberry. An aspiring pro or college player needs the experience and hype of playing on varsity by at least 10th grade. Without it, players won't receive attention from the elite traveling teams or Division I schools. To advance to the next level, players need a good amount of exposure.

"You have to have some hype going on around you in high school," said Stansberry. "You have to get on really good summer-league teams, you have to play varsity as a freshman or sophomore to get your name out there. There was none of that for me."

To further complicate matters, the Plano Independent School District makes a distinction between high school and senior high. As a result, players -- like Stansberry -- who might have been able to squeeze onto the varsity squad as a freshman or sophomore, are relegated to junior varsity.

"The fight to get onto varsity really hurt me," said Stansberry.

In his junior year, his first at Plano Senior High, Stansberry made the varsity baseball team. He was one of two juniors on the squad.

With really no offers to play Division I baseball, Stansberry went to Junior College (JUCO) in Texas. Unlike the majority of high school ballplayers without a baseball scholarship, Stansberry refused to throw in the towel.

"I wanted to play baseball," said Stansberry. "For me, there's no other way, it's just what I was going to do."

Stansberry knew he could play. He just had to prove it.

At North Central Texas College, he did just that. The second baseman led the Lions to the NJCAA Championship in 2001 and was named to the JUCO World Series All-Tournament team.

"I knew I could play, and I could do well," said Stansberry. "For me, it wasn't, 'Oh, I have to get drafted.' I just went year to year wanting to be successful at each next level."

A year and a half later, he reached the next step. Rice University offered Stansberry a chance to play on its 2003 team.

In his first year in Division I baseball, Stansberry hit .309 with six home runs and 56 RBIs in 70 games to help the Owls capture the College World Series. In the biggest game of his life, the championship clincher, Stansberry went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and two RBIs. Fittingly, the second baseman assisted on the final out of the game.

That summer, the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Stansberry in the fifth round.

Stansberry followed the CWS victory with a New York-Penn League championship at Williamsport. He hit .307 with 21 RBIs in 45 games. Stansberry continued his ascent up the Minor Leagues, driving in 67 RBIs in 106 games for Hickory of the South Atlantic League. After hitting .351 in 21 games in High-A ball, Stansberry earned a promotion to Double-A in the middle of the 2005 season. Halfway through the 2006 season, the second baseman found himself in Triple-A Indianapolis.

Stansberry was on top of the world. Step by step, the kid from Saudi Arabia was climbing his way up the professional baseball ladder.

However, a few weeks after his promotion to Indy, the success all but stopped. By the end of the year in Triple-A, Stansberry's batting average had plummeted to an abysmal .223. For the first time in six years, Stansberry struggled.

"As I started to struggle," recalled Stansberry, "hitting coaches started saying this and that, and then some of the player-development guys wanted to change this and that. It becomes a slippery slope."

His momentum had all but stopped.

While Stansberry tried to figure out what went wrong, the San Diego Padres claimed the second baseman off waivers. The Pirates decided not to protect the 24-year-old.

Stansberry started at square one. He went back to his original approach from junior college that landed him in professional baseball: He went back to the basics.

"Going in the offseason, I wanted to throw all that behind me," said Stansberry. "I wanted to find a consistent swing -- something that I could stick with -- continue to work on my approach."

Stansberry's simple, focused-on-the-now approach paid dividends once again. The second baseman has crushed the ball for the Triple-A Portland Beavers this season. Stansberry is batting .306 with 81 hits and 46 RBIs this season. He's tied for the league lead in doubles with 27, and has earned a spot on the Futures World Team as one of the best prospects in the Minor Leagues.

When asked if he, the elder statesman, had any advice for the young prospects on his team, Stansberry said, "They're probably going to go through some ups and downs. Everybody does as they develop. You have to learn from the hard times and come back stronger than you were before, that's one of the key elements in coming through the Minor Leagues."

Stansberry is a prime example.

In a Futures Game, being 25 and from Saudi Arabia aren't typical. But then again, neither is Stansberry.

Evan Mohl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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