Kelly Maebe always knew he would get a shot at pitching professional baseball. He just never imagined it would happen so quickly.
Just four days after graduating from Crescenta Valley High School, Maebe, the 19th-round selection of the Chicago White Sox in the June free-agent draft, made his professional debut.
The 18-year-old left-hander struck out the first batter he faced in an inning of perfect relief work for the White Sox rookie team at Sarasota, Fla., on Monday.
"Everything went great," said Maebe in a telephone interview. "You can't be nervous about pitching, you just have to go out there and throw the ball."
Maebe is not about to get nervous. He knows it is just the beginning of what can be years in the minors before getting a chance at the majors.
Needs Height, Weight
For now the initial item on Maebe's agenda for making it to the big leagues is to grow. He stands a hair over 5-9 and weighs only 165 pounds, a far cry from the proportions most major league clubs demand.
But the White Sox, who drafted 21 players, are willing to take a chance on the baby-faced Maebe, who looks like he should be throwing newspapers instead of fastballs.
Club officials, including West Coast scout Craig Wallenbrock, are betting that Maebe will bloom physically.
"He's what we call a project," said Wallenbrock. "We knew we were taking a chance, but we're trying to project what he could be four or five years down the line.
"One of the things we're projecting is that he's going to grow. We think the potential is there, he just has to grow."
The White Sox hope Maebe will develop like older brother Art, who was released by the San Francisco Giants in 1981 after two years in the farm system. Art, now 25, who was about the same size as Kelly in high school, grew to 6-3, 195. Family doctors have said Kelly will top 6-0.
"We were going to wait and see how he grew and developed over the summer, but then we thought, 'What the heck, let's see what he can do now,' " Wallenbrock said. "We knew his brother grew later and became a pretty good pitcher. We're looking for the same thing out of Kelly."
Maebe believes it's just a matter of time until he starts to develop physically.
"My family is full of late bloomers," said Maebe. "My brother was my size in high school, then he just shot up. Now he's 6-3. I'll probably do the same. The doctors told me when I was 14 that I would be between 6-2 and 6-3."
Wallenbrock points to Maebe's large hands and size 11 1/2 shoes as indicators that the young pitcher will grow taller.
"Most people grow into their hands and feet," Wallenbrock said. "If he does, he'll be a pretty good ballplayer."
Wallenbrock first saw Maebe play two years ago in a winter league. Maebe was a 5-4 right fielder.
'Liked His Arm'
"I liked his arm right off the bat," Wallenbrock said. "He was tiny then, but he had a loose arm with good velocity on the ball. That's what impressed me.
"That's when I decided to keep an eye on him. Whenever I had time, I'd look at him play and see if he had grown and how he was progressing."
Wallenbrock has seen Maebe pitch about 10 games, including a one-hit, 5-0 victory this season over Burroughs High in Burbank. He has clocked Maebe's fastball at 82 miles per hour on the radar gun.
"It's rare to get a high school kid to break 80," Wallenbrock said. "Only about five kids in the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys were able to break 80. We believe a major league pitcher has to throw in the high 80s, and we think he'll be there if he grows."
But Maebe, who has also developed an impressive curve ball, was not on the White Sox shopping list until just weeks before the draft. The young left-hander impressed Wallenbrock while pitching for the scout's summer collegiate league team, the San Gabriel Valley Huskies.
'Better Than I Thought'
"He looked better than I thought he would in all four outings he pitched," Wallenbrock said. "I put him in to see how he would react against older guys and he did very well. We were going to wait and see if he was going to grow and progress during the summer, but then we decided to draft him because of the way he was pitching."
No one was more stunned by the decision than Crescenta Valley Coach Randy Siebert.
"I was really surprised he was drafted," Siebert said. "I thought there was no way in the world it would happen. I was surprised they would take a kid like Kelly right now because he is so small."
Maebe, mainly a relief pitcher and right fielder as a junior, was a second-team All-Pacific League selection this season with a 6-3 record and 2.53 earned-run average. Crescenta Valley finished with an 11-12 record overall and 6-9 in league.
"I told myself at the beginning of the season that I have to do it this year to go somewhere, so I worked hard and did it," said Maebe, who signed with the White Sox last Wednesday for an undisclosed amount.
Siebert disagreed with Maebe's decision to sign.