Category Archives: Pro

Gregor displaying baseball tools, helping others reach their goals

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Conrad Gregor does his best to use baseball’s five physical tools (speed, arm strength, fielding, hitting for average and hitting for power).

As a third baseman, first baseman and left fielder for the New Jersey Jackals of the independent Can-Am League, the lefty swinger has played in 72 games for the 2019 season (through Aug. 9) and is hitting .324 with nine home runs, 15 doubles, four triples, 49 runs batted in, 68 runs scored, 61 walks, 34 stolen bases and a .459 on-base percentage.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder has amassed 22 multi-hit games with four in a “friendly” against the Cuba National Team and four three-hit games.

Batting No. 3 for manager Brooks Carey, the graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School (2010) and Vanderbilt UniversityVanderbilt University (2016) went 0-of-3 then 1-for-1 with a double, three runs scored two walks and one stolen base Friday as New Jersey (40-32) beat Sussex County 4-0 and 10-1 at Yogi Berra Stadium in Little Falls, N.J., and moved within 5.5 games of the league-leading Miners.

Besides the tools, Gregor also sees the importance of using mental skills, work ethic, mindset, consistency and a desire for excellence.

“It’s what’s between your two ears,” says Gregor of mental skills. “As a pro, you play on a nightly basis. You have to survive the ups and downs of being a hitter in baseball.

“I have to get my body ready to play 140-plus games a year. You have to be a good teammate at all times — even when things aren’t going well for  you individually. Have a ‘team at-bat’ — no matter what that may be.”

Gregor, 27, grew up playing the Carmel Dads’ ClubCarmel Dads’ Club and for the Carmel Pups.

In middle school, he went with the Indiana Prospects. In high school, he joined the Midland Redskins and helped them to an American Amateur Baseball Congress Connie Mack World Series title in 2009. He played a couple of high school falls with the Kanas City Royals Scout Team.

Eric Lentz was Gregor’s head coach at Carmel High School. They have stayed in contact through the years.

“He’s got a great baseball mind,” says Gregor of Lentz. “I learned a lot from him. He’s about bringing it everyday, keeping the blinders on, doing the little things and playing team baseball to win games.”

“I’ve passed it on to the people I teach.”

During the baseball off-season, Gregor runs Anchor Down Sports Performance in downtown Carmel and many of his clients are junior high, high school and college ballplayers.

“I want to help people the best that I can,” says Gregor, who completed his finance and entrepreneurship degree during fall semesters after beginning his pro baseball career in 2013 and is certified in weightlifting and functional movement systems.

Anchor Down — a name that gives a nod to the Vanderbilt Commodores — has a presence on social media, including Facebook and YouTube.

Gregor was selected in the 40th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox, but opted to go to Vanderbilt. He played three seasons for the Commodores (2011-13), hitting .327 with nine homers, 45 doubles, 115 runs batted in, 117 runs scored, 33 stolen bases and a .444 on-base percentage over 186 games.

“It was a great honor to be able to play and learn from one the best-regarded baseball coaches in the sport,” says Gregor of head coach Tim Corbin, who led Vandy to the College World Series championship in 2019 and is to be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2020. “He provided me with a lot of useful lessons.

“He helped me become not only a great baseball player, but a great person.”

Picked in the fourth round of the 2013 draft by the Houston Astros, Gregor signed that June then had an unforgettable family moment in 2014 in Davenport, Iowa.

Conrad slugged his first Midwest League home run and his father — Marty — caught the ball. Marty and Megan Gregor had made their way out to a restaurant near right field and Marty was there to collect the souvenir.

Gregor was in the Astros system into 2017 then played 69 games with New Jersey before being picked up with the Boston Red Sox organization at the end of 2017. He played 12 games in he Red Sox chain along with five for the independent Atlantic League’s Lancaster (Pa.) Barnstormers and 98 with the Can-Am League’s Rockland (N.Y.) Boulders in 2018.

The Can-Am League all-star hopes to help New Jersey to a league title in 2019 (the regular season ends Sept. 2 and the playoffs conclude Sept. 15) then come back to Carmel to re-charge and then head out again.

Gregor is currently shopping around for a chance to play winter ball in Mexico, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic.

“I’m at the stage of my career where it’s ‘what have you done for me lately?’ It’s performance-based,” says Gregor. “I’m looking to continue playing.”

Always a righty thrower and lefty batter, Gregor sees advantages in swinging from that side of the plate.

“Being left-handed gives you a head start running to first base and you’re facing a lot of right-handed pitchers so the off-speed pitch is coming into your barrel.”

When teaching hitters, Gregor likes to point to the great left-handed swings — like the sweet one with the high finish used by Ken Griffey Jr. — and encourage his students to use what works best for them.

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Conrad Gregor, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Vanderbilt University, is playing professional baseball in 2019 with independent New Jersey Jackals. (New Jersey Jackals Photo)

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Conrad Gregor, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Vanderbilt University, is playing professional baseball in 2019 with independent New Jersey Jackals. Gregor has also played in the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox organizations and owns and operates Anchor Down Sports Performance in Carmel.  (New Jersey Jackals Photo)

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Mt. Vernon (Posey), Southern Indiana product Brown contributing in Braves system at bat, behind the plate

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Logan Brown takes pride in being a contributor on both offense and defense.

Take a recent game for the Florida Fire Frogs at the Daytona Tortugas.

The lefty-swinging Brown produced the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth inning and then went behind the plate in the bottom half to guide his pitcher and the team to victory.

“I got a change-up and doubled over the right fielder’s head and we went ahead 2-1,” says Brown. “We won with our closer (Daysbel Hernandez).

“It’s always nice to help the pitchers out. In the end of the day, they’re the one making the pitches. But I hope they feel comfortable throwing to me. That’s always a big priority to me.”

When his son was age 3 or 4, Kevin Brown noticed that the boy was turning into a lefty. Being a professional catcher himself (the elder Brown was a receiver for the Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Milwaukee Brewers and Boston Red Sox between 1996-2002), he let his boy keep swinging from left side but changed him to a right-handed thrower.

Logan Brown, who was born in Evansville, Ind., grew up in nearby Mount Vernon and played Mount Vernon Youth Baseball and travel ball for the Mount Vernon Wildbats (coached by Dan McNamara and including future high school and college teammate Drake McNamara), Southern Indiana Sharks (coached by Kevin Brown, J.D. Mobley and Kevin Krizan and featuring teammates Cody Mobley and Austin Krizan) and Evansville Wolfepack (coached by former big league infielder Joe Lis) and for Mount Vernon (Posey) High School.

Along the way, he played some in the infield. But his primary position was catcher and his high school coach — Paul Quinzer — trusted him to call pitches.

“(Quinzer) was a great coach,” says Brown, who was an all-Southwest Indiana Conference performer after batting .384 as a senior. “He knows you have that kind of potential.”

The trend of letting him call pitches continued for Brown at the University of Southern Indiana, where Jeremy Kuester was the pitching coach and Tracy Archuleta the head coach.

“He’s a fantastic coach,” says Brown of Archuleta. “He wants what’s best for every single player. He knows how to run a program.

“If he knows you can do better, he’s going to let you know. He knows you have that potential. He’ll say things like ‘I know you have more in your tank.’”

Archuleta has led the USI to two NCAA Division II national championships. The Screaming Eagles went 106-63 during Brown’s time on the team (2016-18) as he hit .313, .276 and .338 with 127 starts. USI won regional titles in 2016 and 2018.

Brown notes that many of his minor league teammates and opponents played D-II baseball.

Selected in the 35th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Braves, Brown has continued calling pitches as a professional.

“It’s a lot of reading the hitters and things like that,” says Brown. “It’s more than just throwing pitches. You see how the hitters react to it. You see their swing path.”

The Kissimmee- based Fire Frogs play in the 12-team Advanced Class-A Florida State League. Seeing a team one time is enough for Brown to pick up on hitters’ strengths and weaknesses.

“You can’t get repetitive or they’ll sit on pitches,” says Brown. “It can’t be the same rhythm for every at-bat.

“Throw a throw a question mark in there to confuse them. A 3-2 curve ball is enough to get them guessing.”

Brown’s background in the infield also serves as catcher.

“It translates,” says Brown. “The pitcher may spike a curve ball or slider. You stay through it and pick it.”

With a bat in his bands, Brown looks to make adjustments.

“I know the movement on baseballs is a little better (each step up the minor league ladder),” says Brown. “I’m sticking to my approach. I like to think ‘drive the ball the other way.’ But it depends on what the pitcher is doing as the game and the at-bat goes on.

“To be a good hitter, you’ve got to make adjustments throughout the at-bat.”

Brown, who turns 23 on Sept. 14, began the 2019 season with the Low Class-A Rome (Ga.) Braves and played in 51 games, hitting .301 with one home run, 11 doubles and 26 runs batted in.

In his first 35 games with the Fire Frogs, Brown is hitting .272 with three homers, five doubles and 16 RBI. He his hitting .289 with six runs driven in over his last 10 games.

Brown says he likes to emphasize his strengths and work on what he understands to be his weaknesses during the off-season.

The next two stages in the Braves system are Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett (Ga.).

Though he is not yet sure what the Braves have in mind for him at season’s end, Brown says expects to be in Mount Vernon at some point and helping his father at the Kevin Brown Baseball & Softball School.

Kevin Brown played baseball at USI while Logan’s mother, Rachel (then Murray and now Daniel) played tennis (Logan also played the sport in high school). Logan’s parents have remarried and he has seventh brothers and sisters in the Mount Vernon/Evansville area, ranging from 2 to 20.

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Logan Brown, a Mount Vernon (Posey) High School graduate and former University of Southern Indiana player, is now a catcher in the Atlanta Braves system. (Florida Fire Frogs Photo)

 

Southpaw Hougeson experiencing pro baseball with Gary SouthShore RailCats

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Seth Hougeson is always looking for a challenge.

The Indianapolis native grew up playing multiple sports, trying to become proficient in each of them.

He competed in soccer, football, tennis, bowling and volleyball and wound up being the best at baseball and that’s what took him to various collegiate levels and now has the left-hander pitching as a professional.

Hougeson (pronounced Ho-geh-sin) is in the starting rotation for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats of the independent American Association. He is scheduled to take the ball today (Aug. 1) when Gary plays host to Winnipeg.

The youngest of Richard and Cara Hougeson’s three sons behind Japheth and Caleb, Seth attended Calvary Lutheran and Trinity Lutheran schools, where his mother was a teacher, before going to high school at Indianapolis Lutheran.

Seth could walk a few blocks from Calvary to participate at the Edgewood youth league on the south side. He later played travel ball for the Adam Robertson-coached Indy Bats.

“That’s where I learned and developed at an early age,” says Hougeson of the Bats. “(Robertson) brought out my competitive side. He was a very awesome coach.

“I owe a lot to him. We still stay in-touch.”

Hougeson says competitiveness is his No. 1 strength as an athlete.

“I never give up,” says Hougeson. “I’m always trying to complete that task in front of me.

“I’m hard-working and always doing the little things right. In college, I always prided myself on PFPs (Pitchers Fielding Practice drills).

“It was about fielding my position as a pitcher and being athletic enough to get off and field that bunt and throw it to first.”

Like a fifth infielder?

“Absolutely,” says Hougeson, who turned 22 on April 25.

Indianapolis Lutheran won four sectional titles with Honor Roll Student-Athlete Hougeson on the team and head coach Dick Alter leading the Saints.

“He expected a lot,” says Hougeson of Alter. “He wanted to push you until he got what he was looking for — the best out of your every single day.

“At first, I was a little standoffish. I didn’t know how to respond to it. But, as a I grew up and I matured, it’s just kind of clicked with me. He’s not against me. He’s for me and wants the very best for me.”

Hougeson came to appreciate Alter’s years of experience and it helped groom him for college and beyond.

“I’m always looking for the most competitive baseball and trying to better myself,” says Hougeson. “I continue to get better with the higher level of competition because it continues to push me to get to that next level.”

Concordia University Wisconsin is an NCAA Division III program. In his freshmen season (2016), Hougeson earned honorable mention on the all-Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference and was on the NACC all-freshman year, going 3-3 in nine mound appearances (eight starts) with a 3.35 earned run average. In 40 1/3 innings, he struck out 38 and walked nine.

Next came Dyersburg (Tenn.) State Community College. In his one season with the Eagles (2017), Hougeson was named National Junior College (NJCAA) National Pitcher of the Year after going 14-1 with a 1.49 ERA. The southpaw struck out 107 and allowed just 74 hits and 35 walks in 92 1/3 innings.

Hougeson landed at NCAA Division II Delta State University in Cleveland, Miss., for his final two college seasons.

As a junior in 2018, Hougeson went 2-1 with a 5.60 ERA in 12 games (eight starts) for a DSU team that went 42-11 and played in the NCAA Division II South Regional. In 35 1/3 innings, he fanned 39 and walked 22. As a senior in 2019, he made 14 appearances (10 starts) and went 9-0 with three complete games (one shutout) and a 2.44 ERA. In 59 innings, he whiffed 55 and walked 14. The Statesmen went 42-14 and played in the D-II South Super Regional.

Mike Kinnison retired as Delta State head coach at the end of the season and will be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2020.

“He’s one of those old-school, hard-nosed coaches,” says Hougeson of Kinnison. “He’s not going to stop until he gets the best out of you.”

Hougeson began his 2019 summer with the Palm Springs Power in the Southern California Collegiate Baseball League.

“I went out there with no expectations,” says Hougeson. “I was just going to play the best baseball I could possibly do. If I was going to get signed by a team, I was going to be very, very grateful for that.

“If nothing happened out of the summer, I was just going to hang it up and say I gave it all I had.”

He is 15 credit hours plus an internship short of his sports management degree and plans to finish with online classes. He sees himself using his many baseball connections to get job in front office job in baseball which could lead to becoming a general manager.

Or he could follow a long family tradition and go into military service.

“I’d love to join the Air Force and become a fireman,” says Hougeson, noting that his father is currently active in the Air Force and serving overseas. Both brothers (including Caleb Hougeson, who was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 46th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as an Indianapolis Lutheran third baseman) are in the Army. A grandfather and uncle served in the Marines and a cousin is currently with that service branch. An aunt is in the Air Force.

But sports management or military service are in the future. Hougeson’s present is focused on baseball.

The southpaw pitched in three Palm Springs games and signed with Gary on June 30. That same day, he made his pro debut, tossing four shutout innings while giving up two hits with one strikeout and one walk in a no-decision start against the Kansas City T-Bones.

Altogether, Hougeson has appeared in six RailCats games (five starts) and and is 1-1 with a 6.65 ERA. In 23 innings, he has racked up nine K’s and issued nine free passes.

A 6-foot-2, 185-pounder, Hougeson possesses a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, “circle” change-up and curve ball. He usually has an over-the-top release, but sometimes drops down a little and gets arm-side run with his fastball.

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Seth Hougeson, an Indianapolis Lutheran High School graduate who played college baseball at Concord University Wisconsin, Dyersburg State Community College and Delta State University, is now with the independent professional Gary (Ind.) South Shore RailCats. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Lefty Thurston competing with independent Gary SouthShore RailCats

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

For the third straight game, Ryan Thurston took the mound for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats and for the second time, he nailed down a victory.

The left-hander pitched in his 24th contest for the independent professional baseball team Tuesday, July 30 and set down the Winnipeg Goldeyes in the ninth inning at U.S. Steel Yard.

During his scoreless frame, Thurston yielded a single and ended it with a caught-looking strikeout in helping the RailCats to a 2019 season-high tying fourth straight win.

On Monday in Franklin, Wis., Thurston picked up his first pro save by recording the final two outs with no hits and two walks in a triumph against the Milwaukee Milkmen.

The Sunday game saw Thurston pitch an inning and give up two runs and three hits as visiting Gary topped Milwaukee.

These are situations that Thurston lives for. He’s been drawn to them since he was a kid playing baseball and basketball in southern Indiana.

“I love to compete,” says Thurston. “I may not have the best stuff.”

Thurston has two kinds of fastballs — a four-seamer and two-seamer — plus a change-up, curveball and slider.

“I’d like to think my ball moves,” says Thurston, a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder. “(My fastball is) 85-89 (mph), depending what I want to do with the ball — sink it or go up in the zone.

“I’ve tried to develop more as I’ve gotten older. You have to have fastball command. You’ve got to be ready everyday. You need to throw every pitch in every count.

“If it’s 2-0 and it’s their best hitter, you may not still throw fastball. It might be a change-up or curveball away. It’s more of a thinking game.

“I have the same fastball and same slider I had in college, I just think a little more. I adapt a little more as the game goes on.”

Dan Thurston, Ryan’s father and the former Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School head coach, has long been emphasizing mental toughness to his youngest son (Former Madison police chief Dan and Madison Middle School math teacher Jackie Thurston have Trey, Ryan and Trisha).

“You’ve got to keep a level head,” says Ryan. “Baseball’s a game of failure and you have to deal with failure.

“It’s about being mentally-prepared and mentally-ready.”

Ryan Thurston played his earliest organized baseball at the youth league in Madison and then travel baseball with the Greenfield-based Indiana Bandits, coached by Jeff Montgomery. In his 16U and 17U summers, he played for the Cincy Flames.

Thurston’s coach at Western Kentucky University was John Pawlowski.

“He pitched in the big leagues (with the 1987 and 1988 Chicago White Sox),” says Thurston of Pawlowski. “He really knew his stuff.

“He taught me a lot about different pitches and when to throw them and being the the best I can be.”

Thurston graduated from Madison Consolidated in 2014 and Western Kentucky in 2017 with a graduate school year at WKU in 2018 (he played for the Hilltoppers in parts of five seasons and earned a financial management degree).

At Madison, he won four baseball letters at Madison, earning all-state honorable mention as a senior. He was all-conference and team MVP three times. He also garnered three letters in basketball.

At Western Kentucky, he pitched in 66 games (52 as a starter — 14 in each of his final three seasons) with 13 wins, 299 strikeouts (second in program history) and 174 walks in 306 2/3 innings (third in WKU annals).

As a senior, the lefty pitched a career-high 80 2/3 innings while allowing a career-low 15 extra-base hits. He finished the season with a 4.24 ERA, although that mark stood at 3.08 prior to his final two starts. He was the only pitcher in Conference USA to secure wins over both Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech.

Thurston signed as a free agent with the Toronto Blue Jays organization and pitched in 13 games (nine in relief) in 2018 before being released.

The 24-year-old southpaw signed with the American Association’s Chicago Dogs and pitched two games with that franchise before Gary claimed him off waivers.

With the RailCats, a team he joined May 26, Thurston is 2-0 with a 2.58 earned run average. In 35 1/3 innings, he has 33 strikeouts and 16 walks.

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Ryan Thurston, a 2013 Madison (Ind.) Consolidated High School graduate who pitched at Western Kentucky University from 2014-18 and holds a financial management degree from that school, is now a relief pitcher for the independent Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Right-hander Pepiot brings competitive spirit to Dodgers system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Pepiot enjoyed visiting Midwest League baseball parks as a kid.

He went to see minor leaguers in South Bend, Fort Wayne and Dayton.

“Now, I’m playing here and it’s pretty cool,” says Pepiot, a first-year pro in the Los Angeles Dodgers system.

A hard-throwing 21-year-old right-handed pitcher, Pepiot is with the Midland, Mich.-based Great Lakes Loons.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder throws from a high three-quarter arm slot and sports a four-seam fastball that ranges from 93 to 96 mph and a “circle” change-up with depth and fade that moves at 83 to 85 mph to go with a sweeping slider and “1 to 7” curveball.

Pepiot (pronounced Pep-E-Oh) was selected in the third round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers out of Butler University in Indianapolis.

LA’s first-rounder — Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate and former Tulane University slugger — Kody Hoese — is now Pepiot’s Great Lakes teammate.

After four appearances and five innings in the Arizona League, 2016 Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate Pepiot was sent back to the Midwest, where the weather is not as hot and he’s closer to family and friends.

The son of Mike and Christine Pepiot and older brother of Kyle Pepiot has hurled a pair of two-inning stints with Great Lakes — the last on July 25 — and sports a 2.00 ERA, combining the AZL and MWL. He’s currently on a limit of about two innings per outing.

Asked about his best qualities as an athlete and Pepiot is quick to answer.

“I’m a great teammate, a big time competitor and very hard-working,” says Pepiot, who played for head coach Ryan Bunnell as a Westfield Shamrock.

“I like Coach Bunnell,” says Pepiot. “He’s really personable. He knows the system and knows the guys. He’s doing a fine job over there in a really tough (Hoosier Crossroads) Conference.”

Pepiot learned much from travel ball coaches Chris Estep and Scott Shirley in a long tenure with the Indiana Mustangs (9U through 17U) and competed for the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays prior to his freshman year at Butler.

Recruited to the Bulldogs by Steve Farley, Pepiot adjusted when Dave Schrage took over the Butler program prior to his arrival on campus.

“I went into it with an open mind,” says Pepiot of the change. “I looked at it as a clean slate and a chance to impress coaches.

“I wanted to make way into the starting rotation and I did that as freshman.”

Pepiot honed his craft in the New England Collegiate League with the Keene (N.H.. Swamp Bats) and in the Cape Cod League with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks in the summers following his freshman and sophomore seasons.

“I checked all the the boxes at Butler,” says Pepiot.

As a freshman in 2017, he led the team in starts with 13 and went 4-4 with a 4.39 earned run average and 79 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings.

He followed that up as a sophomore in 2018, by going 6-0 with a 2.62 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings in 15 games (12 starts).

Pepiot’s junior campaign in 2019 saw him post a 4-4 record, 3.92 ERA and 126 K’s and 78 frames in 14 contests (all starts).

Always an aggressive pitcher, Pepiot says he appreciates how the Dodgers emphasize throwing strikes.

“Some pitchers throw around the zone,” says Pepiot. “The strike zone is our friend.

“We want to win the race to two strikes.”

Great Lakes won the Eastern Division title in the Midwest League’s first half and is guaranteed a playoff berth. The regular season concludes Sept. 2 (Labor Day).

When the season is over, Pepiot is slated for a month back in Arizona for the instructional league. He is not sure yet where he will train during the off-season.

The next steps on the Dodgers organization ladder above Great Lakes are Advanced Class-A Rancho Cucamonga, Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Though he won’t be able to do it it this year, Pepiot does plan to go back to Butler to finish his degree. He is 21 credits shy as a finance/marketing double major.

Mike Pepiot is is in automotive sales. Christine Pepiot is is a special education teacher at the elementary level.

Outfielder/right-handed pitcher Kyle Pepiot was part of the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and is heading into his freshman year at Butler.

The Pepiot brothers were teammates for one season at Westfield. The younger brother has also picked his older brother’s brain about the next level and taken live batting practice against him.

“He’s a quiet kid,” says Ryan of Kyle. “But he is one of the hardest-working kids I know.

“He’s going to do some big things at Butler and really surprise some people.”

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Ryan Pepiot, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate who played at Butler University, is now a pitcher in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

 

‘Stubborn approach’ has Evansville’s Owen at Triple-A level with Pirates

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hunter Owen was playing in his fifth game since being promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis.

The Evansville, Ind., native was facing a knuckleball pitcher for the first time.

After grounding into a fielder’s choice in his first plate appearance on Thursday, July 18, Owen belted the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the third inning from Syracuse right-hander Mickey Jannis for a two-run home run and the Indians went on to beat the Mets 9-1 at Victory Field.

“You can’t prepare for (the knuckleball),” says Owen. “You have to be willing to battle and stick to your stubborn approach.”

Owen, who swings from the right side, says that when he’s going good he looks for a pitch in a particular location and doesn’t miss it.

That kind of pitch recognition comes with repetition.

“The majority is experience — a lot of at-bats at each level,” says Owen. “The higher up you go, the better the stuff is.

“(Experience) allows you to progress as a hitter — visually and physically.”

Owen was selected out of Indiana State University in the 25th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He experienced 187 at-bats for the short-season West Virginia Black Bears in 2016. In 2017, he had 12 AB’s with the Black Bears, 291 with the Low Class-A West Virginia Power and 10 with the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates.

There were 401 at-bats with the Advanced-A Bradenton (Fla.) Marauders in 2018. He opened 2019 with 235 more for the Double-A Altoona (Pa.) Curve.

Owen hit .257 with five homers and 34 runs batted in for 2016, .284 with 13 and 49 in 2017 and .262 with 18 and 60 in 2018.

At Altoona, his numbers were .298, 15 and 44 before his promotion.

The biggest difference between Double-A and Triple-A?

“The pitching,” says Owen. “Guys can throw three to four pitches wherever they want it.

“They have a better plan of how to attack you.”

Owen really learned how to play in attack mode from his head coach at Evansville Mater Dei High School and with Funkhouser American Legion Post 8Jeff Schulz (who played 40 games in the majors with the Pirates and Kansas City Royals).

“What sticks with me is the aggressiveness mentality,” says Owen. “You’re going up to the plate to do damage.

“You also want to be as much of a well-rounded player as a you can be.”

Growing up, Owen was mostly a shortstop. In high school, he was also used at second base and third base (and was also honorable mention all-state on the football field).

Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs told him to embrace versatility and Owen is comfortable in the infield, outfield or behind the plate.

“Any ability to crack the lineup and be versatile for my team,” says Owen. “(Hannahs) made me the ballplayer I am today — for sure.

“More than anything, he helped me grow mentally. He takes pride in having ballplayers with a lot of character that are good people.”

While he’s got 52 minor league homers, Owen does not classify himself as a pure home run hitter.

“I have gap-to-gap power,” says Owen, who is 5-foot-11 and 197 pounds. “I have the ability to drive the baseball over the wall (with a combination of bat speed and strength).”

Owen notes that every hitter has a launch angle — that’s just physics.

He sticks with the approach that’s more conducive to his swing.

“I’m hitting down through (the baseball),” says Owen, who also has 70 doubles and 12 triples in three-plus minor league seasons.

Owen, who resides in Fishers, Ind., in the off-season, began training last winter with Mike Robertson at Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training (IFIT) to increase his mobility, overall strength and speed.

“They help you maximize your physical potential,” says Owen.

Now that he’s playing home games in Indianapolis, Owen has had many family and friends in the stands and expects to see more.

“It’s super humbling to have so many people reach out who are interested in my career,” says Owen, who turns 26 Sept. 22. “The big support system behind me makes it super special.”

The youngest of former University of Evansville baseball player Steve and wife Kena Owen’s five children (following Michael, Leslie, Tyler and Mandi), Hunter took advantage of the lessons that position afforded him.

“It was awesome,” says Hunter. “I really took hold to my two brothers.”

Tyler Owen played four years of NCAA Division I baseball at Murray (Ky.) State University.

“He helped me through my high school and college career,” says Hunter of Tyler. “Picking my brother’s brain was super helpful.”

Hunter attended St. Philip Catholic School through the eighth grade and played for the school teams as well as the Southern Indiana Bombers prior to high school. He played a summer with the Jeremy Johnson-coached Evansville Razorbacks before heading off to ISU.

As a Sycamore, Owen was redshirted in 2013 then played from 2014-16. He hit .342 with nine homers and 59 RBIs, including .350, six and 47 as an all-Missouri Valley Conference outfielder in 2016.

At the time he began his pro baseball career, Owen was working toward and sport management degree and plans to complete it at some point.

Right now, he’s battling and being stubborn in his approach.

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Hunter Owen, an Evansville (Ind.) Mater Dei High School graduate who played at Indiana State University, is now with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. (Indianapolis Indians Photo)

 

Batesville native Miller sees pitching change in half century of pro baseball

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dyar Miller’s 51 years in professional baseball wrapped in 2018 as a pitching coach for the Triple-A Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies, an affiliate of the Houston Astros.

The Indiana native witnessed many changes to the game as a player, manager, coordinator and coach.

When Miller began his career as a unsigned free agent catcher with the Philadelphia Phillies organization out of Utah State University in 1968, there were no pitching coaches in the minors. He did not work with a coach dedicated to the art until he was in the big leagues.

Miller, who was born in Batesville and graduated from tiny New Point High School (there were 14 in his graduating class), was turned into a pitcher by the Baltimore Orioles in 1969. He first toed the rubber in a major league game with the Orioles on June 9, 1975. Earl Weaver was Baltimore’s manager. George Bamberger was the O’s pitching coach.

“The Orioles are the first organization to use a radar gun,” says Miller, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer who pitched seven MLB seasons with Baltimore, the California Angels, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets. “We used to phone or fax the game report in. Now it’s on a computer.

“When I first signed, (minor league teams) had a manager and a trainers. Trainers took care of injuries.

“(Pitchers) talked among ourselves. Back then you repeated each league two or three times and you watched. We did not have video. We tried to learn from an opponent.”

At the end of his career, Miller was often in video sessions with his hurlers, breaking down TrackMan information.

“Sometimes the pitcher would beat me to my office, looking for the data,” says Miller. “The Astros mandated that we have cell phones or iPads — company-owned — for bullpen sessions. That was the (minor league pitching) coordinator’s call.”

As a coach, Miller encouraged his more-seasoned pitchers to pass information along to other hurlers.

“They’ll listen to their peers,” says Miller. “Just tell me what you’re telling them.

“In the big leagues, they still do it that way.”

From 1995-2012, Miller served in many roles with the St. Louis Cardinals organization, including pitching coach, roving minor league pitching instructor, minor league pitching coordinator and major league bullpen coach.

It was a standard rule for Cardinals starters to watch fellow starters do their side work and chime in with their observations.

Miller insisted that his pitchers always play catch with a purpose.

“I have to remind guys of that every time you throw a ball, throw to a target — maybe the left shoulder, right shoulder or chest,” says Miller. “Long toss was real big there for awhile.”

Each organization is a little bit different. But many have pitchers start at 60 feet and work their way out to 120 or more.

“Some do it up to 20 minutes on a certain day,” says Miller. “It’s more of a recovery thing. They get the lactic acid out of there.

“Moderation is the best thing. Some guys do too much long toss.”

Miller likens the minor leagues to a laboratory and development — rather than winning the pennant — is the focus.

“We experiment with things here and there,” says Miller. “(Players) develop something that suits them. We’re not cloning everybody.”

At the same time, organizations have specific throwing programs.

“It’s pretty strict,” says Miller. “The Astros don’t like you throwing sinkers unless you’re like Charlie Morton and have a real good one. They stress the change-up.

“There are drills and we give them options — things to work on — each day like inside throws and crow hops. It’s pretty hands-on now, but there’s still leeway to be individualistic.”

Miller says that the higher player climbs the minor league ladder, the more they know themselves and what works best.

the higher you go in the minor leagues,

“At the lower levels, they are watched like a hawk,” says Miller.

The diamond veteran has his pitchers look for external cues — visualizing throwing the ball outside the body and going for the outer or inner halves of the strike zone.

“It’s more effective than internal (cues),” says Miller. “Nowadays, the favorite saying is ‘recent studies show.’ We’ve got what been studied and been shown to work.”

Then there’s the matter of rhythm.

“That’s an external thing, too,” says Miller. “You want to find your tempo and rhythm and pound the strike zone.”

The idea is to get the synchronize with the other body parts.

“There should be no stress on the arm,” says Miller. “It’s coming through because your torso is rotating.

“Your arm just comes along for the ride.”

Like winding a spring or a top, the pitcher loads up then it all comes loose at once.

“That’s how you get the extra pop on the ball,” says Miller. “A lot of people have trouble getting the load or it will leak out.

“It takes time to figure all that out.”

It took time for Miller to gather all his pitching knowledge.

“I knew about 1/10th or less when I was pitching than I do now,” says Miller, 73.

He does know that he is busier now away from pro baseball than when he was in it. Miller turned down an offer from the Mets to finish the 2019 season as pitching coach at Triple-A Syracuse.

“It was tempting,” says Miller, who moved from Batesville to Indianapolis in 1997 to be closer to a major airport and now spends his days working around the house, catching up with family and friends or fishing at his place on Lake Monroe.

Dyar and wife Bertha are on their second marriages. Between them, they have six children and 14 grandchildren with one on the way.

His sons look forward to the annual Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame Celebrity Golf Classic Oct. 4 in Jasper.

Miller still follows the game on television and was able to attend a Wright State-Indiana game in Bloomington, where he was able to catch up with IU director of player development Scott Rolen (who played for the Cardinals) and WSU head coach Alex Sogard (who pitched in the Houston system).

Another pupil in the Astros organization — right-hander Cy Sneed — made his major league debut June 27.

Former Houston farmhand Trent Thornton is now in the starting rotation for Toronto.

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Batesville, Ind., native Dyar Miller served in several capacities in the St. Louis Cardinals organization from 1995-2012. (St. Louis Cardinals Photo)

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Dyar Miller, an Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer, was in pro ball for 51 years — the last few as a pitching coach in the Houston Astros system. (Houston Astros Photo)