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Stingers' Brault strengthens draft position with solid spring

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Willmar’s Steven Brault delivers a pitch against the Thunder Bay Border Cats on opening day May 29 at Bill Taunton Stadium.

For Willmar Stingers pitcher Steven Brault, professional baseball was always the goal.

But the 6-foot-1 lefthander didn’t receive any interest as a senior at Grossmont High School in El Cajon, Calif. Brault wound up attending NCAA Division II Regis University in Denver and immediately stood out as a hitter.

He hit .369 as a freshman and was named Freshman of the Year in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. He continued to hit well as a sophomore and made the All-RMAC Third Team but struggled on the mound, posting a 7.09 ERA through his first two seasons.

It all clicked this spring, though, as he pitched his way to a 2.63 ERA and averaged more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings while hitting .397, earning an All-RMAC First Team berth.

Brault said conditioning and tweaking his delivery brought the sudden changes.

“I got a little stronger, a little bigger,” he said. “I changed a little in my windup and mechanics, just to help my timing.”

And suddenly scouts were interested.

Brault said he was first contacted by a scout in early March when Regis was playing Colorado Mesa. The scout was there to look at the Mesa starting pitcher. The interest in Brault increased quickly.

“It was just one scout from the Yankees,” Brault said. “And then it was kind of a lot all of a sudden. I’ve heard from 24 teams.”

Stingers’ infielder Max Kuhn had the attention of scouts early.

He was a 24th round selection by the Oakland Athletics in the 2011 MLB draft out of Zionsville (Ind.) High School.

Kuhn said it was a great feeling being drafted but he elected to play college ball at Division I Kentucky instead.

“From how many scouts came to my house and were coming to my games, I suspected (getting drafted), I just wasn’t sure if it would be worth signing,” he said.

“For me, I had a dollar amount in mind, but I ended up going to school,” Kuhn said. “The Kentucky coaches came to my house and convinced my parents I should go to school, so my parents kind of made that decision for me.”

Kuhn just finished his sophomore season and will be draft-eligible again in 2014. Four-year college juniors and seniors, and any players attending a two-year college are eligible under MLB’s rules.

Kuhn said college has been a great experience and has taught him a lot.

“Hopefully I can have a good summer and a good year and get some interest and get drafted again next year,” he said.

Brault could already be on his way.

“I’m not supposed to say anything, but I want to go,” he said.

Rounds 1 and 2 of the draft begins at 6 p.m. today. Rounds 3-10 will be Friday and 11-40 on Saturday.

With three seasons worth of players to draw from and a strong 2012 team stocked with sophomores and juniors, the number of Stingers’ alumni drafted this season could reach double-digits.

The Stingers have 35 draft-eligible former players and 14 on the current roster.

Baseball America, a leading publication that covers college and pro ball, does an annual ranking of the Top 500 draft prospects. Brault made the list at No. 419, which projects to approximately the 13th round. Six former Stingers also were ranked: No. 39 Hunter Dozier (Stephen F. Austin), No. 187 Ricky Knapp (Florida Gulf Coast), No. 325 Mikey Reynolds (Texas A&M), No. 326 Sean Dwyer (Florida Gulf Coast), No. 404 Andre Wheeler (Texas Tech) and No. 496 Thomas Taylor (Kansas).

Knapp, Wheeler, Dwyer and Reynolds have all been drafted before, as have Isaac Ballou (Marshall), George Asmus (Sonoma State) and Logan Davis (San Diego).

Forrestt Allday (Central Arkansas), Jerad McCrummen (Texas Tech), Dillon Haupt (San Diego), Scott Lieser (St. Cloud State) and Kenny Roberts (Alabama) could also hear their names called in the later rounds of the draft. From 1998 to 2011 the draft lasted 50 rounds, but was trimmed to 40 rounds last season. Players who go undrafted are free to sign professional contracts, as did former Stinger Kurt Spomer with the Los Angeles Angels.

Ben Brewster

Ben Brewster covers the Willmar Stingers and other area sports, as well as laying out the daily sports section cover for the West Central Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @benbrewster.

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