Major leagues beckon for local college athletes

The world champion Kansas City Royals came calling for Santa Rosa Junior College's Anthony Bender. And he's put them on hold.|

The world champion Kansas City Royals came calling for Santa Rosa Junior College’s Anthony Bender. And he’s put them on hold.

The hard-throwing Bender, who helped the Bear Cubs win the state championship last month in Fresno, was selected in the 20th round of the Major League Baseball draft last week (613 overall).

Two Sonoma State University players, Ryan O’Malley of San Jose and Ryan Luna from Corcoran, were also drafted, in the 25th and 28th rounds, respectively.

Bender - a 6-4, 210-pound right-handed pitcher from Petaluma - has committed to playing baseball at CSU Northridge, a Division 1 school where he could also continue his higher education. Bender, a Casa Grande grad, earned his associate’s degree in communications at SRJC this year.

He and the Royals haven’t talked money yet, which likely will be the deciding factor, he said.

The signing money for those drafted in rounds 10 to the 40s, Bender said, is around $100,000.

“Which sounds like a lot, but once taxes come out, really isn’t,” he said.

Several others teams, including the Cubs, Dodgers and Nationals, had contacted Bender but passed.

“They were all asking me if I’d go for the minimum (money),” he said. “I always said I’m going to go to school, but I’ll try to get into a higher round for more money. So we’ll see.”

In his freshman year, Bender made his reputation with an explosive fastball and solid secondary pitches. And he can hit. Before he suffered an oblique strain early this season, he was batting middle-lineup.

Not playing until the final month of his sophomore season likely hurt his draft position.

Over both years, Bender pitched 53 innings, allowing only 7 earned runs, while striking out 46 and walking 19 batters.

As a freshman his earned run average was 0.97, and as a sophomore with seven appearances, 1.65.

Bender’s athletic performance was notable, but Bear Cub coach Damon Neidlinger said ?even more important for the 21-year-old is that he has worked hard academically to give himself options.

“It has benefited him professionally because professional baseball is very good at understanding when you’re dealing with people who don’t have any options,” he said. “If you don’t have any options, your leverage goes way, way down.

“Because Anthony’s done a fantastic job of getting where he’s at academically and putting himself in a position where he could get a Division 1 scholarship, he has options.”

A regional Royals scout came across Bender early, director of scouting Lonnie Goldberg told

“There was a point in the draft … he came in and said, ‘Look, I saw this kid. Let’s make sure we select him, tie him up and see if we can figure something out.’?”

Goldberg said he acknowledged the unknown with Bender but said the organization liked his power and control over the past two years.

Bender hopes to nail down details of the Royals’ plan for him in the next couple weeks, before a deadline to sign next month.

“It’s not a solid number in my mind yet,” he said. “We’ll see what they come up with and what their plan is for me.

“The Royals have not offered anything yet, but I hope they will soon. And then we can come to an agreement and I can get on my way. It’s exciting.”

If the offer isn’t right, Bender will stay on track to finish college.

“Him going to Northridge is not something he views as a step down or even a Plan B,” Neidlinger said. “He’s dealing with Plan A and Plan A. He’s got a choice to play big-time Division 1 baseball in a conference that’s very, very good and has a lot of great players … or he could play minor league baseball. That’s a choice he’s very comfortable with.”

With Luna and O’Malley’s selections, SSU coach John Goelz adds another two players to a list of dozens who’ve been drafted during his tenure at the school.

He said he advised both young men to put it in perspective.

“It’s one day at a time and try to keep the uniform on your back in comparison to life,” he said. “Baseball is important, but not the most important thing in the world.”

O’Malley, a third baseman who played one year for SSU, was chosen by the Atlanta Braves in the 25th round as the 739th overall pick.

He became the first SSU player since Harmen Sidhu in 2013 to be drafted by an MLB club.

This season, O’Malley led the team in slugging percentage (.557), runs scored (35), hits (59), runs batted in (32), doubles (14), triples (2), home runs (7), multiple-hit games (17) and walks (34), and was second on the team in batting average (.335).

In February, O’Malley won Player of the Week honors after going 7-for-12 with three doubles, three home runs, six RBIs and six runs scored, including an 11th-inning walk-off home run against Cal State San Bernardino in his first game with SSU.

Luna, who played for two seasons as a Seawolf, was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 28th round as the 830th overall pick.

Also a right-handed pitcher, Luna posted the best ERA among Sonoma State starting pitchers this season at 3.05, going 4-4 with 57 strikeouts in 62 innings. He was 8-9 over two season with a 3.13 ERA, which included a no-hitter last season.

You can reach Lori A. Carter at 521-5470 or On Twitter @loriacarter.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.