Four former Mid-Columbia baseball players were selected in the Major League Baseball Draft on Saturday, starting with former Hanford High slugger Isaac Benard in the 23rd round (690th overall) by the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Rays later added former Kennewick High infielder Trek Stemp to the fold with their pick in the 29th round (870th).
Former Stanfield High pitcher Quin Grogan was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the 30th round (903rd), while former Southridge pitcher Connor O’Neil was picked up in the 32nd round (955th) by the Detroit Tigers.
Benard, who just finished his second year at Mt. Hood Community College, said he is ready to begin his pro career.
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“I have always wanted to do this,” Benard said. “If the offer is right, I will probably go.”
The son of former major leaguer Marvin Benard, Isaac had a stellar sophomore season for the Saints, hitting .385 with 30 hits, three home runs and 20 RBIs in 24 NWAC games.
He caught the eye of several major league teams, but the Rays were not who he expected to give him a call.
“I’ve been in touch with some teams, but not the Rays,” he said. “I did do a workout for them a few weeks ago, but the big team after me was L.A. (Los Angeles Dodgers). I was surprised when (Tampa Bay) called.”
After stellar junior and senior seasons at Hanford, Benard thought he might be ready for the bigs. But the 5-foot-10, 215-pound left-hander soon found out he had more to learn.
“I came here (Mt. Hood) and learned more than I thought I knew,” Benard said. “My physical ability was there, but I didn’t have the mental toughness to be on my own. Now I think I do.”
Looking ahead to his future, Benard played in the West Coast League — a wood-bat league for college players — last summer for the Cowlitz Black Bears in Longview, where he hit .283 with with a .338 on-base percentage. He also had 20 RBIs, 10 doubles, two home runs (including a grand slam) and seven stolen bases.
“Putting up good numbers in a wood-bat league is big,” said Benard, who planned to have a follow-up call with the Rays on Saturday night.
If Benard signs with the Rays, he’d likely be assigned to their minor league affiliate, the Hudson Valley Renegades, in Fishkill, N.Y.
Unlike Benard, Stemp isn’t sure he’s ready to be a Ray just yet, with a year of eligibility remaining at Washington State and coming off a terrific season in which he was named All-Pac-12.
Stemp’s stance before he was drafted was it would take a big offer to lure him away from his senior season with the Cougs. However, now that he’s seen his name up on the draft board ...
“It feels different. It’s a little harder to decide,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity either way. My coaches at WSU called me right away and congratulated me, told me to do what’s best for me.”
Stemp led WSU with 65 hits and was fifth in the conference with a .355 batting average. He also was tied for second with 12 stolen bases.
The 5-10, 160-pound Stemp also scored a team-high 32 runs and led the Cougars with 17 multiple-hit games.
He has until July 15 to decide and expects to hear back from the Rays in the next few days.
Stemp was in the middle of coaching the Kennewick AA Bandits at a tournament in Yakima when he was picked. He was unaware until his phone started buzzing with congratulatory texts.
This is not the first time the Rays have come sniffing around for Tri-City talent. The organization drafted current Seattle Mariner Shawn O’Malley out of Southridge High School in 2006, and fellow Southridge alum Ty Jackson was selected by Tampa Bay last June.
Grogan, who tured 23 on Saturday, has had plenty to celebrate as of late.
Just a week ago he picked up the win in the NAIA World Series title game for Lewis-Clark State College as the Warriors won their second consecutive championship. He also was named to the All-World Series team.
“I’m pretty happy with what’s going on,” said Grogan, a 6-2, 205-pound right-handed pitcher. “It’s the opportunity I’ve wanted — to play pro baseball. I am going to go. It’s a new journey. They say play as long as you can — you have the rest of your life to work. I’m going to take it and run.”
Stanfield coach Bryan Johnson said he believes Grogan is the first former Tiger to be drafted.
After two seasons at Blue Mountain Community College, Grogan transferred to LC State, where he had a brilliant career. This season, he was 5-1 in 14 apppearances. He pitched 75 1/3 innings, striking out 83 batters, walking 33 and boasting a 1.91 ERA, lowest among the regular starters.
“I definitely got a good experience at LC,” Grogan said. “They always say ‘fear no one, go after everybody.’ It’s how you have to approach it. It was fun, especially to win those titles.”
Grogan already had decided to take what the Twins will offer. He said he will be assigned to the Twins’ affiliate, the Fort Myers Miracle, in Florida.
O’Neil just finished his junior year at Cal State Northridge, where he was 5-5 with a 3.07 ERA over 58 2/3 innings for the Matadors.
A transfer from Central Arizona College two years ago, the 6-2, 190-pound right-hander also posted 70 strikeouts and walked 33.