Chance encounter paying off for Mets' Regnault
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. --- The golf course isn't exactly the place one would expect a dream of playing for an MLB team to come to fruition. However, for pitcher Kyle Regnault of the New York Mets, that is exactly what happened.
Regnault was working, unloading bags at a Port St. Lucie, Fla., golf course, when he handled the clubs of Phil Regan, the pitching coach for the Mets' Class A Advanced affiliate in St. Lucie. Regnault and Regan got to talking about the game of baseball and how successful Regnault was in his past season for the Quebec Capitales of the Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball.
Regan was especially intrigued with Regnault when he mentioned his pitching arm.
"It kind of tickles my imagination whenever they say they are a left-handed pitcher," Regan said.
After a series of tryouts for Mets officials in 2014, the 26-year-old from Johnston, R.I., found himself going from playing in the small six-team Can-Am League to signing a contract to pitch in the Mets system.
Regnault's journey to the Mets has been a long one. He underwent Tommy John surgery after his first two years at Chipola College in Florida. He then transferred closer to home, to the University of Rhode Island. Regnault appeared in only 13 games for a struggling Rams team, posting a 4.85 ERA and 0-2 record as he worked his way back to his pre-Tommy John form. After finishing at URI, Regnault joined the Can-Am League's Worcester Tornadoes as he continued to recuperate from the surgery.
"I was still recovering," Regnault said. "Tough to get signed when you are only throwing that much. So I went to a couple of workouts after my college career finished up and ended up hooking up with an indy league team."
Regnault's first year in independent league baseball for Worcester was a rough one. He went 1-6 with a 3.80 ERA for the Tornadoes. After one year with Worcester, Regnault was sent to the Quebec Capitales. In two seasons in Quebec, he posted an 8-8 record with a 4.14 ERA.
After his second season in Quebec, he crossed paths with Regan on that St. Lucie golf course.
"I was an indy-ball player for three years. I was undrafted, kind of grinding my way through to try and get signed by an affiliated team, and I met Phil one day on a golf course," Regnault said. "It is a funny story how it worked out, but eventually he got me in front of the right eyes and he kind of believed in me and what I could do."
Regan credits Regnault's diligence as a key factor in the Mets' decision to sign him. Anytime Regnault had a chance to practice his throwing, he did, according to Regan. Even when his Mets tryout was delayed and he had no one to throw to, Regnault practiced by throwing rocks into the ocean to work on his form.
Regan said that Regnault continues to try and learn the game by speaking with others that have already made it.
"He talked to Major Leaguers who would come down because they are rehabbing with us and he would always be playing catch with them. He always wanted to talk to them," Regan said. "Ask about his slider, ask them about this, a very inquisitive kid that wants to get better."
Regnault made the most of his opportunity in his first season in the Mets system, posting a 1.99 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 39 games for the Class A Advanced St. Lucie Mets. He recorded seven saves in eight opportunities, struck out 53 batters in 58 2/3 innings and held opposing hitters to a .208 average. And while he was old (26) for the level, Regnault then went to the Arizona Fall League and worked to a 1.17 ERA over eight appearances against far more advanced hitters.
Regnault enjoyed his time in the Fall League, learning from excellent minds and playing against the best of the best.
"Being around these coaches every day, you are getting great coaching every day. Coming up here it is great to see these types of hitters because you are not going to get away with mistakes. You really have to focus in on what you are doing and keep on moving forward," Regnault said.
Regnault's participation in the Arizona Fall League made it the second straight year that the smallest state in the country had a representative in MLB's "graduate school," something Regnault is very proud of.
"There is always a place in my heart for Rhode Island," Regnault said. "It is where I grew up. Anytime you get the chance or the opportunity to go out and represent your state, you want to make them proud and give them something to root for. "
Regan has a lot of confidence in Regnault. It is a belief based on more than 50 years in the professional game. The 77-year-old has been a pitching coach for the St. Lucie Mets for seven seasons and been around pro baseball in many different roles since making his pitching debut for the Detroit Tigers in 1960.
"Probably, I would think he would come to Spring Training. He probably has a good chance to make our Double-A club and you know you pitch in Double-A and then it is just a matter of going on and getting people out," Regan said. "That is one step away from the Major Leagues, really."