Indiana Prospects provide development, college opportunities

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Developing players and getting them to the next level — college or professional.

That is the mission of the Indiana Prospects travel baseball organization.

Mission accomplished.

President and director of operations Shane Stout says the Prospects have placed more than 400 players in colleges the past seven or eight years.

Dillon Peters, son of Prospects founder Mark Peters, played at Indianapolis Cathedral High School and the University of Texas before before a 10th-round selection in the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Miami Marlins. The left-handed pitcher made his MLB debut for Miami Sept. 1, 2017.

The past year, IP enjoyed a success rate of 50 college commits in one age group of 52 athletes.

“In my opinion that’s what it’s about,” says Stout. “We teach them, keep them healthy and get them into a good institution where they get a good degree.

“We take more pride in being able to network and out-work our competition.

“Look at our track record.”

Stout is looking to put his teams in the best tournaments — win or lose.

“We’re out there to get exposure in front of the college coaches,” says Stout. “I’m not going to go around and hunt trophies.

“If I wanted to go 52-1 in a year, I could.”

The Prospects 17U-Woolwine squad won the 2017 Marucci World Series in Baton Rouge, La.

Also last summer, the Prospects sent a 16U team against the Orlando Scorpions with a player firing 95 mph heat.

“We’re not hiding or ducking from anybody,” says Stout, who coached IP’s first Perfect Game USA national tournament champions at the 15U BCS Finals in Fort Myers, Fla., in 2010. “You throw your best against our best.

“We try not to water things down. We don’t consider our teams A, B and C. Baseball is baseball. Anybody can beat anybody.”

Going to the top-flight tournaments and inviting many colleges to attend scout days, the Prospects are looking to find a fit for everyone.

“We try not to let players slip through the cracks,” says Stout. “Baseball is one of the few sports you can play at any given level. There’s nothing wrong with Division II, Division III, NAIA or junior college.

“If you’re good enough, you’ll still have a chance to get drafted.”

Stout is constantly on the phone, making connections. Before tournaments, he sends out contact sheets for players who are eligible for communication. He includes the game schedule, pitching rotation, academic and high school coach’s contact information.

“I reach out to the colleges,” says Stout. “I try not to leave any rock unturned. That’s why I have the credibility with the college coaches I do.

“It’s who you know.”

Schedules and travel details are knocked out during the winter with the help of IP coaches. Younger teams start in the spring and play as many as 60 games with high schoolers playing around 40 contests and about five to seven tournaments in the summer. They shut down before school starts again in the fall.

Stout does not want to overload the younger players and encourages the older ones to pursue other sports.

“We give kids an opportunity to have something of a summer and it’s not just baseball, baseball, baseball,” says Stout. “For pitchers, fall is the time for them to take a break (and rest their arms). (Playing football, basketball etc.) creates a more well-rounded athlete to mix it up and do other things

“College coaches watch my players play in high school basketball games. They see that quick twitch (muscle) and how they handle themselves on the court.”

Travel baseball goes places that high school teams do not and plays at a time — the summer — when colleges can devote more time to recruiting.

But Stout sees the relationship between travel ball and high school as very important.

“We embrace the high school coaches and try to keep them involved as much as possible,” says Stout, who counts prep coaches on the IP coaching staff. “It’s a process that involves high school baseball, travel baseball and the young man’s work ethic.

“Sometimes there’s a disconnect with how it gets done.”

IP, which typically fields about two dozen teams from U9 to U18 and trains at Fishers Sports Academy, draws the majority of its players from Indiana but they do come from other places.

New Jersey’s Joe Dudek and Joe Gatto played for the Prospects and then the University of North Carolina on the way to minor league baseball — Dudek with the Kansas City Royals and Gatto with the Los Angeles Angels.

Other Jersey product and IP alums Austin Bodrato and Luca Dalatri went to North Carolina and the University of Florida, respectively. Florida’s J.J. Bleday went to Vanderbilt University.

“They come play for us every weekend,” says Stout. “They’re not a hired gun or anything. If you’re going four hours, it doesn’t matter which direction. Everybody knows which tournament they need to be in.”

Why would you play for the Indiana Prospects living in New Jersey?

“You treat people the right way,” says Stout.

Doing things the right way is important to the IP Way.

“You put on an Indiana Prospects uniforms we’re going to shake the umpire’s hand and we’re going to respect the game,” says Stout.

The number of players on each 15U to 18U roster varies depending on the number of pitcher-onlys.

“In larger tournaments, you may play eight games in five days,” says Stout. “We want to bring a kid to college as healthy as he can be. I always try to error on the side of caution.”

New Albany’s Josh Rogers, Bloomington South’s Jake Kelzer, New Castle’s Trey Ball and Andrean’s Zac Ryan are also among Prospects alums who pitched in the minors in 2017.

INDIANAPROSPECTS

The Indiana Prospects travel baseball organization has placed more than 400 players in college programs in the last seven or eight years. The group is founded by Mark Peters, son of Miami Marlins pitcher Dillon Peters. Shane Stout is president and director of operations. (Indiana Prospects Photo)

 

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Evans building a family with Valparaiso Vikings baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Head coach Todd Evans likes to think of his Valparaiso High School baseball team as a family.

Evans relishes the opportunity to teach his young Vikings about more than hitting, running, pitching and fielding.

There are the life lessons that carry them on to being husbands, fathers and productive citizens.

“Wins and losses are one thing,” says Evans, a 1999 VHS graduate who has been coaching baseball at his alma mater since the early 2000’s and is heading into his fourth season as head coach in 2018. “I want them to come away saying they learned more than baseball. I want them to be a good friend and teammate and, later, a father and member of the community.

“I’m looking to build a family just past my own.”

All of those years but the first his assistant has been big brother Chad (Valparaiso Class of 1996).

“It’s a family affair on a game day,” says Todd, who regularly sees wife Janelle, daughter Evangeline and son Sullivan at the park along with Chad’s wife Holly, daughter Lilly and son Aaron.

Todd and Chad’s parents — Dale and Cindy — and Janelle’s mother — Jaclyn — can also been seen cheering on the Vikings.

That rooting section is going to get a little bigger soon.

Todd and Janelle are expecting another girl in January. Todd won’t be surprised if he gets called away from an early-morning training session with his baseball players.

Todd Evans was a football, wrestling and baseball athlete at VHS — competing for three Hall of Fame coaches (Mark Hoffman in football, John Cook in wrestling and Pat Murphy in baseball).

Evans walked on in baseball at Valparaiso University for then-Crusaders coach Paul Twenge.

Evans coached one baseball season at Westville High School then became a three-sport coach at Valpo High.

Starting in 2001, Evans has been a football assistant for Hoffman and then Dave Coyle and has moved to the freshmen team since becoming head baseball coach.

Evans was head wrestling coach at VHS before giving up that position in 2009 and has since become a mat official.

He started as a freshmen coach when Mickey Morandini was head baseball coach, moved to varsity assistant under Coyle and then replaced Coyle as head coach heading into the 2015 season.

Each of his coaches has lent something to Evans’ coaching style.

“I’m a little mold of every bit and piece I’ve taken,” says Evans, who is now 37. “In coaching three different sports, there are different mentalities. In football, you rely on everybody around you. Wrestling is about the individual. Baseball is a combination of both. You have to focus in and do your job at that specific time.”

Murphy goes into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January.

“He was coaching against Hall of Fame coaches his whole career — guys like Ken Schreiber, Dave Pishkur, Jack Campbell and Bob Shinkan. This is a nice honor for him,” says Evans, who played on Murphy’s last Vikings squad. “Murph was a no-nonsense guy.”

Evans saw in Coyle a very organized and prepared coach.

“I still run my practice similar to the way he did,” says Evans.

A 5-foot-10 right-handed pitcher, Evans is grateful to Twenge (who is now head baseball coach at Minnetonka High School in Minnesota) for the opportunity he gave him to play college baseball in his hometown.

“Paul took a gamble on me,” says Evans, who would be the Crusaders’ closer by the end of his freshmen season. “He was the epitome of a players’ coach. You wanted to come to practice everyday. A lot of what (Twenge) did was routine, but once you got into the game you were prepared for those things.”

Evans does the same with his VHS players and concentrates on fundamentals.

“I want to be prepared for 90 to 99 percent of those situations,” says Evans. “Our kids will not bat an eye when those things occur.”

Another thing Evans gained in his college baseball experience was relationships — people who have continued to be in his life long after his VU graduation in 2003.

“You’ve got to love the you’re playing next to,” says Evans. “I’ve got 10-plus seniors (at VHS) and they’ve played with each other for a long time. It’s going to be a fun year. I’m looking forward to it.”

Three of Evans’ seniors have already committed to play college baseball — Nick Caputo at Wabash College, Marcus Gholston at Arizona Western College and Gunnar Pullins at Olivet Nazarene University.

Max Roberts, a 2016 VHS graduate, played one season at Wabash Valley College and was chosen by the Seattle Mariners in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The 6-5 left-handed pitcher is the son of Washington Township High School head coach Randy Roberts.

Evans’ paid assistants for 2018 besides brother Chad include VHS graduates Chance Garrison and Greg Simms. John Nuppnau is a volunteer.

It varies, but Evans likes to have 15 to 18 players on his varsity, junior varsity and freshmen squads.

“This year’s freshman extremely talented so I might push that number up to 20,” says Evans. “I try to have depth with the new pitching rules. More is better than less. We try to make everyone a pitcher at some time or other.”

Valparaiso plays on-campus on Viking Field. Last fall, pads and netted railings were added to the sunken dugouts. This was done for safety and also added more room to the bench area.

Evans says a referendum was passed in Valparaiso that could bring turf and lights to the field in the next few years.

“I’m not sure on the timeline,” says Evans. “It would be nice to be the first school in Porter County to have turf and may be able to host a sectional.”

The Vikings played in the IHSAA Class 4A Chesterton Sectional in 2017 and are grouped with Chesterton, Crown Point, Hobart, Merrillville and Portage in 2018. Valpo’s last sectional crown came in 2012.

The Duneland Athletic Conference, a circuit established in 1970, counts the Vikings as charter members. Other DAC schools are Chesterton, Crown Point, Lake Central, LaPorte, Merrillville, Michigan City and Portage.

As in the past few seasons, conference games will be Tuesday and Wednesday home-and-home series in 2018.

“The thought process behind this is that you couldn’t have same pitcher beat you twice,” says Evans.

LaPorte’s Evan Miller actually beat Valpo three times — twice in the regular season and then the sectional — a few years ago before the new format.

Evans, who is also a physical education teacher at VHS, has witnessed a change since his playing days and feels a responsibility.

“Kids now have more individual training and expect a higher level of coaching and competition,” says Evans. “It’s my job to see that when they step out against a D-I pitcher here and a D-I pitcher there that they are not made a fool of. They are prepared and can let their skills taken over.”

TODD&CHADEVANS

The Evans brothers — Todd (left) and Chad — have been coaching baseball together at their alma mater for more than a decade. Todd is heading into his fourth season as Vikings head coach in 2018.

New Albany graduate Rogers stays in control as pitcher in Yankees organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh Rogers gets paid to throw a baseball now.

But the left-handed pitcher in the New York Yankees system is still following the advice of his head coach at New Albany High School.

Rogers was advised by Chris McIntyre to focus on the mental side of the game and things he can control and not to worry about those he can’t.

“It’s stuck with me,” says Rogers, who counts McIntyre as a good friend. “It’s like wanting to move up the ladder in the Yankees organization. I had been playing well in Tampa for so long.”

But Rogers knows that is the Yankees’ call.

After going 4-3 in eight starts with a 2.22 earned run average, 51 strikeouts and eight walks in 52 2/3 innings with the High Class-A Tampa Yankees (recently renamed the Tarpons), the southpaw starter did get the call in late May of 2017 to advance to the Double-A Trenton Thunder.

Before a bone spur ended his season on June 28, Rogers went 4-2 in seven starts with a 4.62 ERA, 29 K’s and eight walks in 39 innings.

“It’s been a long off-season for me,” says Rogers, who has been working out at the Katy Hearn Gym in New Albany and resumed throwing about three weeks ago in preparation for a Jan. 12 arrival at spring camp in Tampa. “I’m definitely going early. I’m comfortable with the Yankees staff. I hope to get an invite to big league camp this year.”

As a youngster, Rogers played in the New Albany Little League. Prior to his days at New Albany High School, his team came within one win of going to the Little league World Series in Williamsport, Pa., losing in the finals of the 2007 Great Lakes Regional.

For the next three summers, he played for the Indiana Prospects elite travel ball organization.

As a New Albany High Bulldog, he went 24-2 with a 1.07 ERA and 259 strikeouts.

He had already chosen the University of Louisville over Vanderbilt University prior to his senior season, which wound up lasting only a few innings in the first game of the season.

Rogers felt a twinge in his left elbow.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” says Rogers, who wound up having Tommy John reconstructive surgery. He graduated from New Albany June 2 and enrolled in summer school at Louisville the next day. He worked out twice a day and rehabbed his arm.

“It was a real grind,” says Rogers. “But it paid off. I came back sooner than we expected.”

The 6-foot-3 lefty was able to pitch for the Cardinals about a month into the 2014 season. He made 14 mound appearances (nine starts) and went 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA, 47 strikeouts and 12 walks in 52 innings.

Rogers then spent the first of two straight summers with the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod League.

“That’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball,” says Rogers, who was a combined 4-1 in nine starts with a 3.60 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 18 walks in 45 1/3 innings in 2014 and 2015. “The best players in college baseball are all in that league.”

Rogers earned second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors and his second all-Louisville Regional selection in 2015, going 8-1 in 16 starts with a 3.36 ERA, 82 strikeouts and 25 walks in 93 2/3 innings.

At the Louisville, Rogers played for head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

Rogers credits McDonnell for his leadership and getting him ready for the challenge of pro baseball.

“It’s impressive the way he lives his life,” says Rogers of McDonnell. “He takes advantage of every single minute to make people better.

“When you go to the University of Louisville, you know what you’re getting into. It’s not an easy journey. You’ve got to earn that playing time.

“You also learn how to eat right, work out right and sleep right. These are things that have gone a long way into helping me with my career to this point.”

Rogers retired many a high school hitter with his breaking ball. In college, Williams convinced him that was not the way to go at higher levels.

“He’s the No. 1 reason I chose the University of Louisville,” says Rogers of Williams. “Hitters were at such a disadvantage when I threw a curve in high school. I thought that would carry over to college or professional baseball. (Williams taught me) a well-located fastball is the best pitch in baseball. Coach Williams really taught me how to pitch.”

Being draft-eligible after his sophomore season, the lefty was selected in the 11th round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Yankees and signed with area scout Mike Gibbons.

Rogers split the 2015 season with the short-season Staten Island Yankees and Low Class-A Charlestown (S.C.) RiverDogs then 2016 with Charleston and Tampa. In those first two pro seasons, he went 14-6 in 29 appearances (24 starts) with a 2.71 ERA, 131 strikeouts and 25 walks in 139 2/3 innings.

Josh (23) is he oldest child in a family of five. Bobby and Eldora also have Haley (21) and Chase (12). The family was able to watch Josh pitch in-person plenty when he was at Louisville and they have gotten to see him a few times in each of his pro seasons.

Rogers is 38 credits shy of a sport administration degree at Louisville.

“I promised my parents and Coach Mac that I will get my degree,” says Rogers. “I’ll keep chipping away at it.”

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Rogers looks to command his pitch selection of fastball (thrown as a four- or two-seamer or cutter), slider and change-up. When he was moved up to Double-A, he was convinced to throw the fastball even more frequently — maybe 65 percent of the time.

Rogers spent many an hour in the bullpen with Tampa pitching coach Tim Norton learning to develop the change-up and making mechanical delivery tweaks. The two also battled it out on the golf course.

“It’s a pretty cool relationship,” says Rogers. “You don’t call them ‘Coach’ in pro ball, just their name.”

While the Yankees certainly take an interest in the development of a player, he knows the responsibility ultimately lies with that player.

“It’s your career,” says Rogers. “If you’re not ready and slacking, it’s up to you.

“The Yankees do a lot of job of giving people equal opportunity. It just may take longer to someone that is a higher draft pick that they’ve given more money to.

If you control what you can control and focus on helping your team win every time out, the chips will fall where they’re supposed to.”

JOSHROGERSTRENTON17

Josh Rogers, a 2013 New Albany High School graduate who pitched two seasons at the University of Louisville and was drafted in 2015 by the New York Yankees, delivers a pitch in 2017 for the Double-A Trenton Thunder. (Trenton Thunder Photo)

 

 

Coachability, athleticism help Kelzer make splash in two sports

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Kelzer casts a pretty imposing figure on a pitching mound.

At 6-foot-7 and close to 250 pounds, he looks like he means business when he comes out of the bullpen late in a game.

As a right-hander in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, he plays with intensity and swagger.

But it wasn’t always that way for the Bloomington, Ind., native.

Kelzer recalls being a freshman swimmer at Bloomington High School South.

“I was not really that good,” says Kelzer, who is now 24. “I was tall and lanky and skin and bones. I was 6-6 and maybe 160. That’s pretty skinny for someone that tall.”

With time, Kelzer filled out his frame.

With encouragement from his coaches, he became a fierce competitor — no matter the sport. He swam and played baseball at South for four years and football for his first three.

He gained even more confidence when he was allowed to pursue the mound and the pool at Indiana University.

Kelzer was a two-time high school All-American swimmer. He was a part of state championship relay teams (200 freestyle in 2011 and 2012 and 400 freestyle in 2012) and placed fifth in the 50 freestyle (2012) while helping Bloomington to runner-up finishes in his junior and senior seasons.

Kyle Ruth was the Panthers head coach in Kelzer’s sophomore and junior seasons. Kirk Grand was an assistant in 2010-11 and head coach in 2011-12.

“Swimming is a sport where you stare at a line at the bottom of a pool,” says Kelzer of Ruth and Grand. “They were young and brought new styles and techniques. They kept things really exciting and competitive among the swimmers.”

As a South baseball player, Kelzer was impacted by head coach Phil Kluesner.

“He taught me the basics of baseball and how to compete,” says Kelzer. “You have to battle from the beginning to the end of the game. (Kluesner) brought the intensity every single day. It got pass down to all of his players.”

Kelzer went to IU with the idea of swimming and playing baseball.

“I was going to give it a shot for first two years and juggle both,” says Kelzer. “It happened I picked (baseball) my sophomore year.”

When then-Hoosiers head baseball coach Tracy Smith opted to redshirt him as a freshman, he was able to concentrate on swimming. He did that for one season.

“I look back at it now and was a genius idea,” says Kelzer. “It was really smart move on (Smith’s) part. It gave me another year of leverage. I had that experience of being a college athlete for a year with swimming.”

While Smith’s team was moving toward a 2013 College World Series appearance, Kelzer was learning lessons in the water in a program led by Ray Looze.

“He really knows his stuff,” says Kelzer of Looze. “He knows how to push each individual swimmer to their absolute limits.”

Baseball came back into Kelzer’s life his second year in college. He went on to pitched three seasons at Indiana (2014-16), going 8-10 with eight saves and a 3.09 earned run average.

He made 25 mound appearances (all in relief) in 2014, 17 (11 starts) in 2015 and 22 (all in relief) in 2016. He threw a total of 145 2/3 innings with 149 strikeouts and 52 walks.

Smith put Kelzer in a starting role at the beginning of the season when Kyle Hart was not yet available after having Tommy John surgery.

Before Smith and Brandon Higelin left after the 2014 season to become head coach and pitching coach at Arizona State University, they imparted wisdom to Kelzer.

“Tracy is a really, really good coach,” says Kelzer. “He’s not just coach, he’s a teacher.

“It was a bigger learning curve with Higgy. I had not pitched for a year so I was that piece of clay he was able to mold into any pitcher he wanted me to be.”

Higelin is now director of baseball operations at the University of Arizona.

Chris Lemonis came on as Hoosiers head baseball coach and brought Kyle Bunn on as pitching coach, beginning in 2015.

Kelzer credits Lemonis for helping him form the mindset of a dominant pitcher.

“If you’re team scores you some runs, you go out there and have shutdown innings,” says Kelzer. “You have to have that fearless attitude and that swagger. You act like you belong out there. (Lemonis) gave me the confidence to own up to my responsibilities on the mound.

“Bunn took (the mold started by Higelin) and helped me be what would be best for me.”

All the while, Kelzer listened and put his knowledge into action.

“I like to think I was a very coachable athlete,” says Kelzer. “I was able to hone in on what the coaches were saying. That was one of the key reasons I was able to compete at such a high level in two sports.

“And there’s always that God-given talent of being 6-foot-7.”

Since he was past 21, Kelzer draft eligible after his first two collegiate seasons. He was picked in the 22nd round of the 2014 draft by the New York Yankees and in the 14th round of the 2015 draft by the Chicago Cubs, but opted to go back to school each time.

The first time he passed on pro ball, he was just getting back into the game.

“I needed to develop as a person,” says Kelzer. “I was still pretty young. I was 21.”

The second time, he wanted to prove he could have a better college season.

Kelzer selected in the 18th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Phillies.

The big righty spent parts of 2016 and 2017 with the Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters in the short-season New York-Penn League and finished the 2017 season with the Low Class-A Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws.

To date, Kelzer has made 32 appearances (all in relief) and is 2-2 with three saves. He has 43 strikeouts and 18 walks in 42 1/3 innings with a 4.89 ERA.

While starters have a routine leading up to their next appearance, relievers have to always be ready to go.

“You have no idea when you’re going to be throwing,” says Kelzer. “You have to be 100 percent focused every single game.”

The youngest of Tom and Roberta Kelzer’s three children after Sarah and Hannah, Jake grew up playing many sports. He started playing baseball as a little kid, but his only travel baseball year was at 15.

“Dad never wanted me to get worn out or sick of the game,” says Kelzer. “Looking back at it it was beneficial to my career in baseball.”

With an eye on his long-term future, Kelzer is to graduate Dec. 16 with a Business Management degree from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs.

“I like where that management can take me,” says Kelzer. “I like that leadership role and that competitive feeling.”

Having his schooling complete also gives the reliever a sense of relief.

“It’s always nice to have that lifted off your shoulders so you can focus on baseball,” says Kelzer. “That’s going to be my life after this weekend. That’s going to be a great feeling.”

Before heading to Florida for spring training, Kelzer has been working out at IU.

“Lemonis opens up everything to us,” says Kelzer, who is reunited with strength and conditioning coach Will Alli. “It’s something cool IU does for its returning athletes. Many have to go out and join a gym. I’m extremely blessed with that.”

Kelzer goes through a program set up by the Phillies and Alli adds in his exercises.

“It’s about staying active and healthy,” says Kelzer. “Show up at spring training and be able to crush everything. That’s the main goal.”

JAKEKELZER

Jake Kelzer, a 2012 Bloomington High School South graduate, helped win state titles as a swimmer and was good enough in both sports to swim and play baseball at Indiana University. He started his pro career in the Philadelphia Phillies system in 2016. (Lakewood BlueClaws Photo)

 

After elbow procedure, Penn graduate Szynski working his way back in Athletics system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Skylar Szynski has not delivered a pitch in a regular-season baseball game for more than a year.

A tear in his right elbow — the first major injury of his diamond life — cropped up near the end of preseason camp.

“I was feeling good all through spring training,” says Szynski, the former Penn High School standout and Oakland Athletics minor leaguer. “I threw my (simulated) game (and the arm began to hurt).

“I’ve been sore. But that’s regular soreness.”

An examination revealed the damage.

As a high schooler, he had originally accepted a scholarship offer to play at Indiana University or the $1 million signing bonus that came with being taken in the fourth round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Athletics.

At Penn, he won 27 career games (20 as a junior and senior), including the 2015 IHSAA Class 4A state championship (a 3-2 win for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos and the Kingsmen against Terre Haute North).

The hard-throwing righty opted to go pro and saw limited action the summer in the rookie-level Arizona League.

On an innings restriction limit coming off his senior high school season, Szynski appeared in seven games (all starts) in a month with the Arizona League Athletics. His professional debut came was June 29. He gave up three hits and four runs in 1/3 of an inning. He went on to log 13 1/3 innings, going 0-3 with an 8.10 earned run average, eight strikeouts and four walks.

After a short break, he went back to Arizona to throw bullpen sessions in the fall instructional league.

It had been hoped that rest would allow him to continue without surgery. But that was not possible.

Now, Szynski had another decision to make.

Would he have right-arm ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (Tommy John surgery) or repair?

Szynski chose UCL repair — which generally has a recovery time half as long a reconstruction.

Decoding against a stem-cell shot, collagen tape was wrapped around the repaired elbow and then the pitcher started on his journey to get back in the game.

The last few months, Szynski has been at Oakland’s spring training complex in Arizona for five-days-a-week rehabilitation program.

“It’s going pretty good,” says Szynski. “I work on shoulder strength and have soft tissue massage on my elbow and forearm.”

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Szynski and a half dozen others are led by Athletics pitching rehab coordinator Craig Lefferts, a former big league pitcher. This week, they moved from 60 to 75 feet to play catch.

Lefferts watches Szynski and company to make sure they are using the proper mechanics and not overdoing it.

“We’re throwing around 65 mph,” says Szynski, who goes through arm care protocol with shoulder and elbow movement after these sessions. That is followed by working out, 10 minutes in the cold tub and a consultation with trainers.

When Szynski is in Indiana (he lives in Granger with parents Brent and Robin and little brothers — sophomore Camryn and eighth grader Bradyn), he is a regular at Sharpley Training in Elkhart.

Former Notre Dame baseball and football player Evan Sharpley pushes Skylar to the limit.

“Everyday is brutal,” says Szynski. “There’s no easy days at Sharpley’s.”

At 6-foot-2, Szynski has been looking to put more weight on his frame and get to around 215 or 220.

“That should help with my durability,” says Szynski, who was at 207 as a Penn senior.

Szynski throws both a four- and two-seam fastball, circle change-up and curve.

“The change is the pitch I need to work on the most,” says Szynski, who turned 20 on July 14. “I need to throw more strikes with that. In high school, I really didn’t need it. Here, you need three pitchers or better to succeed.”

Szynski says the Athletics sees his breaker as more of a slider. He is trying to fine tune the pitch and get more break downward and less sweeping action.

Plans call for Szynski to come back to Indiana for Christmas and New Year before he heads back to Arizona and resumes getting ready for spring training and the 2018 season.

“I should be game ready toward the end of spring training if everything works out,” says Szynski. “I’ll probably be in extended spring training to get some innings in.”

From there, he hopes to be once again standing on a mound in a regular-season game. It could happen close to home. The Athletics’ Low Class-A team is the Beloit (Wis.) Snappers. Beloit is slated to visit the South Bend Cubs July 11-13.

SKYLARSZYNSKI

Skylar Szynski delivers a pitch for the Arizona League Athletics during the summer of 2016. The 2016 Penn High School graduate had elbow surgery and missed the entire 2017 season. He is working his way back for 2018. (Robin Szynski Photo)

 

Conwell stays positive with his Cowan Blackhawks baseballers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is a game filled with moments of failure.

Even the very best players and teams will inevitably have plays or games that don’t go their way.

Ryan Conwell chooses not to dwell on the negatives.

The Cowan High School head baseball coach always looks for the silver lining.

“I’m constantly trying to stay positive — no matter what,” says Conwell, who was hired in the fall of 2014 and heads into his fourth season of leading the Blackhawks program in 2018. “Baseball is such a mental sport. Kids get down on themselves enough. They don’t need me mashing it into their heads as well.

“If you fail 7 out of 10 times at the plate, you’re doing well. We have to find something good out of every at-bat and find what we can do better the next time.”

Conwell is a 2002 graduate of Wapahani High School, where he played four baseball seasons — three on varsity — for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley. After graduation, Conwell coached junior high baseball for the Raiders for seven years.

By observing Dudley, Conwell saw the importance of fundamentals and mental toughness.

“We did a lot of reps of everything,” says Conwell. “Almost every practice there was a drill that focused on the mental part of the game, not just the physical part.”

One drill called for nine players to start in the dugout and sprint to nine different positions on the field then spring back to the dugout. Then players had to quickly figure out the next position they would take and then run there. The object was for everyone eventually being at all nine positions.

If two players ever landed at the same place, the mental toughness/communication drill would start over from the beginning.

There was always a lot of work on defensive situations.

What might happen next?

Where does the throw go if the ball is hit to me?

“(Dudley) also insisted that every player on the field needed to be moving on every play,” says Conwell.

After his time with Wapahani, Conwell moved across Delaware County to Delta High School for four seasons — two as a junior varsity coach and two as a varsity assistant on the staff of Terry Summers.

“He went a lot more into the details of the game,” says Conwell of Summers. “He wanted to make sure things were covered. It could be something as small as the wheel play or certain pick-off moves. We worked a lot on situational hitting.”

Conwell has taken what he’s learned about the game and molded it into his own style, which focuses on positivity and fundamentals.

“We do some team building exercises early in the year,” says Conwell. “We frequently stop during a practice to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“Several players play multiple positions. My whole infield can be different depending on who’s pitching that day.”

At a Class 1A school with an enrollment around 230, the Blackhawks have not fielded a JV team since Conwell has been in charge. He is hoping that might change this spring and get his younger players some more playing experience.

“I have a really good incoming freshmen class,” says Conwell. “I think I’ll have eight or nine freshmen. We could have 20-22 kids total.”

The Blackhawks had 18 players in 2015 (including Luke Miller, who is now on the Indiana University team) and 16 in both 2016 and 2017.

Feeding the program is the emergence of a junior high team in 2017. Playing on the varsity field from late May to early July, a combined squad of seventh and eighth graders is expected to play again in 2018 in the Eastern Central Indiana Junior High Baseball League. It’s a circuit that has been headed up by Wapahani’s Jason Dudley.

Cowan plays its games on-campus.

“Every year, we try to do something (to the facility),” says Conwell. “Money is always an issue.”

In Conwell’s second season, a four-foot fence was put up in front of the dugouts. It enlarges the bench area and brings players a little closer to the action.

Re-surfacing of the infield is on the wish list for after the 2018 season.

The Blackhawks play in the 10-team Mid-Eastern Conference (along with Blue River Valley, Daleville, Eastern Hancock, Monroe Central, Randolph Southern, Shenandoah, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del). Eastern Hancock and Shenandoah joined the MEC in 2017-18.

Conwell also likes to get many of the traditionally-competitive 1A and 2A teams in the area on his non-conference schedule, including Seton Catholic and Union City in 1A, Burris, Centerville, Eastbrook, Hagerstown, Lapel, Northeastern and Winchester in 2A. Cowan is also slated to play 3A schools Delta and Mississinewa.

The Blackhawks are grouped in a 1A sectional with Anderson Prep Academy, Daleville, Liberty Christian, Southern Wells, Tri-Central and Wes-Del. In the future, Conwell would like to get more sectional opponents on Cowan’s regular-season schedule.

Not currently in the classroom, Conwell is taking online classes from Western Governors University toward a teaching certificate. Away from coaching, he works I work LifeTouch, a senior portraits lab in Muncie. Ryan and Katlyn Conwell have a daughter named Kinley. She was born in April of 2016 — in the midst of her daddy’s second season at Cowan.

Former Blackhawks baseball player Justin O’Conner is a minor league free agent who began his pro career right after the catcher was selected in the first round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays.

RYANCONWELL

Ryan Conwell, who heads into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Cowan High School in 2018, shares a moment with wife Katlyn and daughter Kinley (born in April 2016).

McIntyre guiding baseball program at tradition-rich New Albany

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

New Albany High School is proud of its past and looking forward to its future.

Founded in 1853, New Albany is oldest public high school in Indiana and one of the oldest west of the Alleghenies.

There are many proud alums sending their children to the school where they attended.

It’s at this place that Chris McIntyre heads into his 24th season as head baseball coach in 2018.

“We have a lot of tradition,” says McIntyre, who has led the Bulldogs to a 487-206 mark with 10 sectional championships — the most-recent in 2016 — and five Hoosier Hills Conference titles and 12 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series participants in his first 23 seasons. “Our kids take a lot of pride in wearing the uniform. They really put New Albany first as to where their priorities lie.”

While some of his top players go with travel baseball organizations, McIntyre, the former IHSBCA president and an all-star series coach in 2000 and 2016, still coaches a summer high school team through a schedule of about 25 games in an urban school district that has 50 percent of its students on a free-or-reduced-lunch program.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to find high school teams to schedule games,” says McIntyre. “But there are some players who would never get a chance to play the next season without it. It’s an important part of our program. If we ever lose that, it’s going to hurt us.”

While the Bulldogs don’t have an indoor hitting facility, they do have Mt. Tabor Field.

Located on the Mt. Tabor Elementary School grounds about four miles from the high school campus, the field sports a Bermuda grass playing surface that was recently laser-graded. To save on maintenance, there is turf around home plate and baselines have been sodded.

Since the facility is land-locked by a road and a drainage ditch, high fences — 12 feet in right and left fields and 18 feet from gap to gap — were installed a few years ago.

“We’ve taken away some of the cheap home runs,” says McIntyre.

More improvements are on the way following the 2018 season, including new dugouts, bleachers, press box and concession stand.

The land adjacent to the field has been the home of New Albany Little League. That organization has moved and the school corporation-owned land will go to the construction of the junior varsity field.

“It’s going to look a whole lot different than it does now,” says McIntyre. “We’re really spoiled.”

While there are bound to be exceptions, McIntyre does not expect the scoreboard to get a workout.

“We pride ourselves in always having good defensive teams and pitchers who throw strikes,” says McIntyre. “If the other team doesn’t score any runs, you have a pretty good record.

“We don’t tend to have too many high-scoring games. We don’t beat too many people 10-9.”

McIntyre says the ability to run can play a major role in a high school baseball team’s strategy.

“You can change the game with your overall team speed,” says McIntyre. “But that comes and goes. Sometimes you have those guys and sometimes you don’t. It’s the luck of the draw.

“At the 4A level, you face such good pitching, you’re not going to score a lot of runs.”

That’s where it comes back to making the plays on defense and pitchers holding the other team in-check.

McIntyre talks to his players about being mentally strong and disciplined and controlling the controlable.

“You can’t control the umpire or the other team’s pitching,” says McIntyre. “You can control where you are on defense, where you throw the ball, how you running bases, getting signals correct and all those things.”

Besides New Albany, the Hoosier Hills Conference (along with Bedford North Lawrence, Columbus East, Floyd Central, Jeffersonville, Jennings County, Madison Consolidated and Seymour).

The HHC does not play a regular-season conference schedule. The conference champion is determined during a tournament in early May. Games are pre-drawn and played Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

HCC teams are spread out. New Albany is about 75 miles from Bedford North Lawrence and 55 from Columbus East and does not see the Stars or Olympians unless it’s in the tournament.

The weekends are when the Bulldogs may travel to or host teams in Evansville like Mater Dei, North or Reitz. Jasper and South Dearborn are regulars on the schedule as is Fort Wayne Carroll, which comes to New Albany early in the season.

Lowell (Mich.) stops in town for a split doubleheader involving Seymour on the Red Arrows’ way back from spring break in Pensacola, Fla.

The Bulldogs are scheduled to play games in northern Kentucky near Cincinnati.

IHSAA travel rules restrict teams from going more than 300 miles from the state line.

“We try to play a couple teams every year we’ve never played,” says McIntyre. “We can get into northern Alabama and the northern tip of Mississippi. Nashville (Tenn.) is as far as we’ve gone.”

New Albany, an IHSAA Class 4A school, is coming off a 17-10 season in 2017. The Bulldogs played six freshman and sophomores at various times.

First-team all-state first baseman Ryan Robison (who has not yet made a college commitment) and Chase Rudy (a Purdue commit) are already three-year varsity players expected back for their senior seasons in New Albany colors.

Graduates currently with college programs include Austin Dickey at the University of Louisville, Timmie Redford at Kaskaskia College in Illinois and Jack Shine at Hanover College.

Josh Rogers pitched for Louisville and is now in the New York Yankees organization. The 6-foot-3 left-hander appeared in seven games at Double-A in 2017. In three pro seasons, he is a combined 22-11.

McIntyre is a 1986 graduate of Jeffersonville, where he played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Poole.

“He was a super guy,” says McIntyre of Poole. “You don’t realize it at the time, but look back on it and realize how little he ever raised his voice. You just respected him. When he raised his voice, he meant business. He wanted it done and he wanted it done now.”

Even years after his retirement, Poole amazes McIntyre with his baseball mind.

“He remembers every pitch from every game,” says McIntyre. “He knows the game inside and out.”

McIntyre did not play at but did study at Indiana University Southeast. He spent one season as an assistant to IHSBCA Hall of Famer Wayne Stock at Clarksville and three as an Evansville North assistant before taking the reigns at New Albany.

McIntyre recalls Stock’s prowess as an offensive instructor.

“He was an old school baseball guy and he was awesome at teaching hitting,” says McIntyre. “He never bunted. He was a true ‘Earl Weaver’ kind of manager, playing for the three-run home run.”

He also remembers Stock as a generous man that often went into his own pocket to help where he saw a need.

“There wasn’t a thing he wouldn’t do for a kid,” says McIntyre.

Looking to coach his own personality, McIntyre wants his players enjoy the time spend with him.

“You just hope you leave a good impression with your players,” says McIntyre.

A math teacher at New Albany, McIntyre is married to biology teacher Shannon. The couple have two boys. Tyler (15) is a sophomore baseball player. Kevin (11) is a competitive swimmer.

CHRISMCINTYRE

Chris McIntyre is going into his 24th season as head baseball coach at New Albany High School in 2018. The 1986 Jeffersonville High School graduate is 13 wins shy of 500 for his career. (Tom Little Photo)

 

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Contact Steve Krah at stvkrh905@gmail.com