Rayborn opts for pro ball with Padres, not Ole Miss

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 5, 2004

MERIDIAN &045; Give the San Diego Padres credit. For someone who was facing probably the biggest decision of his life, the team made it awfully easy.

Christopher Rayborn gave the Padres and scout Bob Filotei a thumbs-up Sunday night in Grand Junction, Colo., after the former Adams Christian hurler ended his career with Meridian Community College when the Eagles were eliminated from the National Junior College World Series.

Rayborn, who had signed with Ole Miss but was drafted last year by the Padres, was able to ride back to Meridian Tuesday preparing to be a Padre and report to short-season Class A ball June 12 in Peoria, Ariz.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;They made it worth my while,&uot; said Rayborn, who inked with the Rebels and head coach Mike Bianco in November. &uot;It was everything I wanted. It came at the right time. My family and I had talked with (Filotei), and we had talked with him for a while. The money was right, and everything was right.&uot;

Part of the package the Padres offered was to pick up the tab for the rest of his college education and a place to live. The team had drafted him last summer as part of a draft-and-follow pick from the 34th round, and Filotei had the team’s national cross-checker scout come in to see the 6-2 Rayborn in person.

Once negotiations began and Rayborn had a threshold of whether to stay or go, the Padres had no problem with it.

&uot;I had a dollar amount in my head &045; how much it would take me to go to the Padres,&uot; he said. &uot;They met what I wanted. That’s all it took.

&uot;I called (Ole Miss) and told them that day. They were pretty disappointed, but they were happy for me. They told me I was still an Ole Miss Rebel. They were disappointed, but they weren’t going to ruin my day, the best day of my life.&uot;

The Padres made the pitch this time after the improvements Rayborn made on the mound under the direction of MCC head coach Mike Federico. A hard-throwing righty who once relied on his heater, Rayborn had to develop other pitches to adjust to the level of competition.

He’s got a changeup and slider to go with his fastball and curveball.

&uot;Last year when I saw him at Meridian, I still didn’t think he was ready to go out and compete at the pro level,&uot; Filotei said. &uot;But he became a pitcher this year and not just a thrower. Everybody liked him and thought we ad a very good player on our hands.&uot;

The Padres don’t plan to tinker with him a great deal &045; Rayborn said he’ll continue to start on the mound once he reports to Class A ball. That team will play 70 games in 77 days, and Rayborn will join the five-man starting rotation.

He finished with his second season with the Eagles as the ace of the staff, averaging well over a strikeout an inning with a 9-2 record and 2.87 ERA. But he’ll step it up when he reports to Class A ball.

&uot;Basically, he’s going to be playing against a lot better players from top to bottom,&uot; Filotei said. &uot;I know some of the teams he played against had one or two good players, but he’s going to be facing quality batters 1 through 9. It’s going to be a step up, but the way we’ve seen him throw this year we feel it’s going to be a good competition for him. But it’s nothing we feel he can’t handle.

&uot;Hopefully he’ll go out there, perform well and move up the ladder of his dream of playing in the big leagues.&uot;

The biggest thing the Padres may be sold on is Rayborn’s maturity from his first season at Meridian to his second. Rayborn left Adams Christian a tall, lanky pitcher who never spent time in the weight room and relied on his talent alone.

He left high school hitting 170 on the scale, but he’ll report to the Padres close to 200 pounds.

&uot;When I saw him in high school, he was about 6-1, 170 pounds,&uot; Filotei said. &uot;Now he’s between 6-3 and 6-4 and close to 200 pounds. He’s got some maturing to do and get stronger, but he’s turning into a pitcher and is not just throwing velocity. He’s more confident on the mound than he’s ever been. He made the transition from a guy that has a good arm to a guy who has a good arm and can pitch, and that’s the making of a good pitcher.&uot;

The right-hander gets a chance to take a break this week before reporting to Arizona. And it gives him a chance to forget about the bad things that happened to the Eagles at the World Series after they dropped decisions to Pensacola and Grayson County (Texas) for the early exit.

&uot;The first game I pitched, and the weather was terrible,&uot; Rayborn said. &uot;The wind was blowing out probably 40 mph. It was rainy and cold. It was the most miserable game I’ve ever played in in my life. Nothing went our way. I’m glad I’m going to get a little break before I go.&uot;