POCATELLO — Payton Cleaves has been a steady presence in Pocatello’s clubhouse.
He’s taking that leadership to the next level.
On Wednesday, the senior signed to play baseball at Treasure Valley Community College. He’ll take his top-of-the-lineup speed, high on-base average and shortstop-caliber defense with him, filling holes all over a roster.
Oh yeah, he can pitch, too.
“You can’t say enough about him and the things he’s accomplished to get where he’s going,” Poky coach Vinnie Benavidez said Wednesday at the Pocatello High School media center.
Cleaves led the Indians’ everyday hitters in several stats this past season, including hits (40), batting average (.430), on-base percentage (.500), stolen bases (eight) and batting average with runners in scoring position (.441). He also pitched 28 innings with a 3.00 ERA — second-best among Poky pitchers who threw at least 15 innings.
His versatility, talent and intangibles gave him several options to play college baseball. Like many recent Pocatello baseball alumni before him, Cleaves decided on Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Oregon.
“There was a lot of choices honestly, and it was kind of difficult to figure out where I wanted to go, how far I wanted to be away from home, and make sure I made the right choice before I actually picked one,” Cleaves said. “I feel like this one is the right one.”
Among the former Poky baseball players Cleaves follows to TVCC are Dawson Keller and fellow shortstops Chase Teter and Trent Cooper. Fellow class-of-2019 Indian Trei Hough signed to play for the Chukars in April.
The programs have successfully worked together because of proximity — TVCC is about 4 hours west — and thanks to similar coaching philosophies.
“The coaching staff there likes our kids,” Benavidez said. “They come from a program that, I believe, and that they’ve relayed to me, is disciplined and almost college-ready. They reach out to us a lot and want to know what we have.”
The factors combined to create the right fit for Cleaves. He’ll get to join Hough next season, plus Blackfoot products Rhys Pope and Payson Mills.
On top of that, TVCC’s academics gel with Cleaves’ interests: biology and wildlife studies.
“They have pretty good programs for what I want to go into,” Cleaves said.
Cleaves admitted he’ll miss home, the Poky program and all the friends and teammates he’s spent countless hours with over the years. But playing college baseball has been a goal of his for a long time. And with some familiar faces joining him in Ontario, Cleaves won’t be that all that far from home.
“I’m still going to be able to move on and play baseball at a college level,” Cleaves said. “It’s going to be something different and new, which is going to be really nice. See how I stack up against everyone else up there.”