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Jesuit ace is back on track

MIKE READLING, BOB PUTNAM
Published June 6, 2004

TAMPA - It's been more than a week since Jesuit pitcher Michael Branham left the Class 3A semifinal game after 10 of the worst pitches of his career.

Before he made it to the dugout, Legends Field was buzzing about what the performance had done to his draft status.

A little more than a week later, the answer seems to be not too much.

Branham worked out for the Devil Rays on Monday, throwing 25-30 pitches to live batters as scouts and upper management looked on at Tropicana Field.

The outing went well, his father, Mike said, as the control and velocity Branham has become famous for were reestablished.

Branham worked out for several other teams Thursday night in what Mike Branham described as a private workout and he will throw for the Yankees today at the team's minor-league complex on Himes Avenue.

The state semifinal meltdown may have only occurred 10 days ago but to Branham, it might as well have been 10 months.

"He's put everything behind him," his father said. "To him, it's all in the past."

He said the calls from scouts the past week have been as steady as before the state tournament.

And, instead of press for details as to what happened that night, Mike Branham said the inquiries are directed at his son's well-being.

"The calls I got were not about baseball at all," he said. "They've been more concerned with how he's doing. They've expressed a lot of concern for him and how he's handling everything."

Baseball America has projected Branham as a second- to fifth-round selection all season. He finished the year with an 11-2 record (with one save) and 160 strikeouts in 792/3 innings.

His ERA rose to 1.05 after allowing two earned runs - his 11th and 12th of the season - in the state semifinal.

It is unclear how much, or if at all, one outing can affect draft status, but Mike Branham said that is something the family isn't concerned with now.

"We have no expectations, no illusions," he said. "It will be nice to just get it all over over with. Whatever happens, happens. We have no control over anything at this point."

Plus, as the Branhams have said all along, the worst thing that can happen is Michael ends up playing at the University of Florida, where he has a scholarship waiting.

WORTH THE WAIT: Eric Beattie's decision to not sign with the Devil Rays and head to the University of Tampa turned out to be a good one.

Perhaps 46 rounds better.

Beattie was drafted in the 47th round by Tampa Bay out of Riverview High in 2001 but opted to throw for the Spartans. Not too many people blame him for the move.

Beattie led all Division II pitchers with 15 wins last year, then led the Cape Cod League with a 0.39 ERA. His best pitch is his fastball and his biggest attribute is the fact he can throw it virtually anywhere he wants. Some are projecting his ability to be of Double-A caliber right now.

This season he is 10-5 with a 3.38 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 104 innings.

He is projected as a possible first-round selection.

FACE IN THE CROWD: Last week, former Seminole High standout Keith Stegbauer was featured in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" segment.

A senior at Central Connecticut, Stegbauer was leading the NCAA's Division I with 1.46 runs scored per game, and his .436 averaged ranked sixth in the nation at the time.

The exposure was nice, but it wasn't enough to boost Stegbauer's draft status.

Baseball America does not have him listed among the top 15 players in lower New England. Stegbauer still could be drafted, but it may come in the lower rounds.

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