Kyle Lobstein has put on a baseball uniform and taken the pitching mound hundreds and hundreds of times in his life. The next time the former Coconino High standout takes the field, he'll do it as a professional.
Lobstein, the Daily Sun's prep baseball player of the year the last two years, signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Rays Friday afternoon, beating the deadline for prospects to sign with professional clubs by about nine hours.
Specifics of the deal were not released, but the team announced on its Web site Lobstein received a $1.5 million signing bonus.
The left-handed pitcher, who was picked 47th overall in June's Major League Baseball amateur draft, will report to Princeton, W.Va., on Sunday to join the Princeton Devil Rays, the Tampa Bay's rookie-league affiliate.
"I'm at a loss for words," Lobstein said minutes after signing his contract. "I'm excited, overwhelmed, a little scared, but it's a great opportunity and I'm ready to go."
Lobstein signed a letter of intent with the University of Arizona in October, but will forfeit his college eligibility to begin his professional career. However, as part of Major League Baseball's college scholarship plan, the Rays will pay for eight semesters of college for Lobstein, giving the former Panther an allowance of $10,000 per semester.
"Progressing through the season, I was leaning more towards the professional side," Lobstein said. "I felt that I was ready for that point in my life and that's what I wanted."
Two representatives from the Rays, area scout Jayson Durocher and national scout Tim Huff, were on hand when Lobstein signed the deal. Lobstein's parents, sister, grandparents and high school coach were also there to celebrate.
Durocher and Huff arrived shortly after noon and went over all the details of the contract with Lobstein. After about 20 minutes of going through all the paperwork, Lobstein signed the contract and officially became a professional.
The deadline for draft picks to sign with their respective clubs was 9 p.m. local time, Friday night. Although it went down to the final hours, both sides expected a deal was going to get done before the deadline.
"We felt pretty confident. He told us right away what his expectations were and we knew that before we took him," Huff said. "We took him, planning on meeting those expectations. We wouldn't have taken him in the second round if we didn't think we could sign him. We honestly feel like we got two first-round picks."
As the area scout, Durocher attended several of Lobstein's games and bullpen sessions over the past few years. Right away, Durocher saw a lot of things he liked in Lobstein, similar to most Major League teams, and was hopeful Lobstein would still be available when the Rays picked at No. 47.
"For me, having played for a long time, he had one of the cleanest deliveries and arm actions that I've ever seen at any level," Durocher said. "He was also very mature for his age. On the field and off the field, he's unflappable, which will serve him well as he gets into professional baseball. I just liked the way he handled himself on and off the field.
"He was under a microscope and everybody was scrutinizing him and he handled it well. A lot of times, kids his age can't handle that."
While in Princeton, Lobstein won't actually pitch in a game and instead will work with the team's pitching coach and get on a throwing program. After Princeton's season ends Aug. 26, Lobstein will return to Flagstaff for a couple of weeks before heading down to St. Petersburg, Fla., to play for the Rays' instructional league team.
The instructional league team is made up of each team's top- tier prospects. It lasts for about four weeks and the teams play four games a week. It's meant to prepare the prospects for the next season's spring training and give them a taste of professional ball.
"I'm really excited to get out there. I've been waiting for this for a long time," said Lobstein, who spent Friday morning at Coconino handing out signed baseballs to former teachers and coaches. "I was definitely itching to get out there. Now, it's time to get to work. I'm real thankful to the Rays for giving me the opportunity and I'm ready to show them they made a smart decision."
Daniel Berk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 556- 2251.