Category Archives: Pro

Hasler breaks down pitching delivery, long toss

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chicago White Sox bullpen coach Curt Hasler was back at the place where he really got his professional baseball career going.

Back in 1988, Hasler was the starting pitcher for the first South Bend (Ind.) White Sox game at what was then known as Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium. His battery mate that day was Mike Maksudian.

On Jan. 20, 2020 he was at Four Winds Field to talk about pitching with the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club.

Hasler lives in South Bend, teaches youth players during the winter at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and is the father of White Sox minor league hurler Drew Hasler.

The elder Hasler talked about the delivery and his belief in the power of long toss.

Hasler broke down pitching deliveries (some from the stretch and some from the wind-up).

“The best deliveries belong to starters in the big leagues,” says Hasler. “Relievers can get a little shaky.

“Relievers are only responsible for 15 to 30 pitches. Starters are responsible for 110 or 120. You’ve got to have good delivery to do that over and over again.”

From the stretch, White Sox right-handed reliever Jimmy Cordero begins with his feet shoulder width apart with most of his weight on his back leg.

“When he’s ready to go, all he’s going to have to do is transfer the rest of the 30 percent that’s on his front leg to his back leg and get to a balance position,” says Hasler. “This the simplest thing Jimmy can do. I can lift high. I can lift low. I can slide-step from this position.”

Hasler says that if a pitcher sets up too wide it takes an effort to get back over the rubber.

White Sox left-handed reliever Aaron Bummer’s delivery to very simple.

“He just lifts and goes,” says Hasler. “He comes set with feet and toes in line and slightly closed and more weight on the back leg.”

White Sox righty reliever Evan Marshall balances over the rubber and slightly rotates his hips while lifting his front leg.

“He’s in an athletic position,” says Hasler. “You’re not athletic with your feet and legs straight and your knees locked out.

“Eyes on target start-to-finish.”

The majority of major league pitchers do these things in their own way. Hasler says you can always find someone who’s different but those are the outliers.

“You want to make the guys that are good the rule,” says Hasler. “How high (Marshall) lifts (the front leg) is up to him. He has slide-step. He has a shorter one and has one with nobody on (the bases).

“Just as long as you get back to balance.”

Then Cordero was shown going toward the plate and in the process of separation.

“When your leg goes and your knees separate, your hands have to separate,” says Hasler. “They can’t be late. I’m not going to be on-time. My hand’s not going to catch up.

“He’s going to ride down the mound in a powerful position.”

Showing a photo of Max Scherzer, Hasler notes how the Washington National right-handed starter uses his lower half.

“He’s into his legs,” says Hasler. “The back leg is the vehicle to get you to where you want to go.

“I want all my energy, all my momentum, all my forces going (straight toward the plate).

“You’re using your glues and your hamstrings. You’re not really uses your quads.”

Houston Astros right-handed starter Justin Verlander is another pitcher who really gets into his legs and glutes and rides down the mound in a power position.

White Sox righty starter Lucas Giolito uses his hamstrings and glutes as does Los Angeles Dodgers left-handed starter Clayton Kershaw — the latter sitting lower than most.

Hasler says Giolito has one of the better riding four-seam fastballs and the correct way to grip it is across the four seams with the horseshoe pointing out (longer part of the finger over the longest part of the seams).

“It’s going to give you the most-efficient spin and the best ride,” says Hasler. “If that’s what you’re looking for.”

Righty closer Alex Colome gets into a powerful position with a slight tilt of the shoulders in his delivery.

Hasler says all pitchers, infielders and outfielders (catchers are a little different) have to step to where they throw.

“Being in-line is really important,” says Hasler.

Pitchers work back and front.

“I got over the rubber,” says Hasler. “Small turn. Upper half led. Lower half stayed back. I got into my legs. I’m going to the plate. I’m creating this power position. I’ve created created a little bit of tilt back with my shoulders.

“Now I’m going to work back to front, north to south, top top to bottom — anything you want to call it. I’m working (toward the plate).”

Hasler says pitchers who have a lower arm slot — like Boston Red Sox lefty starter Chris Sale — set their angle with their upper body.

In showing White Sox righty starter Dylan Cease and his “spike” curveball, Hasler noted that the wrist has to be a little bit stiff.

“You can’t be floppy over lazy with it,” says Hasler. “Dylan has spin the ball from 1-to-7 (o’clock). Nobody spins it 12-to-6. No one has an axis of 6 o’clock.”

For those without technology, Hasler says the best way to see if a player is spinning the ball the right way is play catch with them.

To learn to throw a curve, pitchers must learn to feel and spin the ball.

Hasler is a long toss advocate.

“Long toss is one of the most underrated and underused things out there,” says Hasler. “It’s a huge tool for kids.

“It can help arm strength. It will help you attain the best velocity you can attain. I’m not going to tell that it’s going increase velocity. It’ll give you the best chance to throw as hard as you can.

“It’s going to help you stay healthy.”

A problem that Hasler observes when the White Sox select a college player in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is their lack of throwing on non-game days.

“They tell me they were a Friday night starter in college,” says Hasler. “What did you do Saturday? Nothing. My arm’s sore. What did you do Sunday? Nothing. We didn’t have practice. What did you do Monday. Nothing. We had an off-day.

“He’s pitching Friday and not playing catch Saturday, Sunday or Monday. That’s a mistake.

“You need to play catch. You need to use it to keep it going.

“If you’re hurt then don’t (play catch). If you’re just a little sore then do (play catch). You have to understand the difference between soreness and being hurt.”

Hasler showed a long toss sessions between Giolito and White Sox righty starter Reynaldo Lopez.

“(Lopez) doesn’t start crow-hopping until he gets about 120 or 150 feet away,” says Hasler. Lopey long tosses at about 220 feet and he can do it because he’s strong.

“He’s on his front leg. There’s no exiting stage left or stage right. When we’re playing long toss, my misses can be up. But my misses can’t be side-to-side.

“When I miss right or left the ball is screaming at me that something’s wrong.”

Giolito crow-hops from 90 feet and back. But nothing comes “out of the hallway” (no throws would hit the imaginary walls).

“His first step is pretty aggressive and he’s going in the direction I want to go,” says Hasler. “If my first step is small, weak and little then what’s my second step going to be?”

The tone is set for long toss and as the thrower moves back, the tone and tempo picks up.

“Pitching and long toss are violent acts, but they’re done under control,” says Hasler.

Cubbies Coaches Club meets at 6 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month during the baseball preseason. To learn more, call (574) 404-3636 or email performancecenter@southbendcubs.com.

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South Bend’s Curt Hasler is the bullpen coach for the Chicago White Sox. He spoke at the Jan. 20, 2020 South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club. (Chicago White Sox Photo)

 

January 2020 is Hall of Fame month for Barmes

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Clint Barmes and his family reside about 30 miles north of Denver in Mead, Colo.

There they can experience a “Rocky Mountain High.”

The past two Fridays, Barmes has experienced highs back on his native soil.

On Jan. 10, the Vincennes, Ind., native was inducted into the Indiana State Athletics Hall of Fame in Terre Haute. He went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on Jan. 17 at a ceremony in Indianapolis.

The Class of 2020 also included George Cuppy, Tony Uggen, Scott Upp and Brian Abbott. Dennis Kas was recognized in the Hall of Fame spotlight.

Barnes, a 1997 graduate of Vincennes Lincoln High School, played two seasons at Olney (Ill.) Central College and one at Indiana State University. A shortstop, he was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 10th round of the 2000 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and made is big league debut in 2003. He played with the Rockies, Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Pirates and San Diego Padres and retired after the 2016 season in the Kansas City Royals organization.

His 13-year career included 1,186 games, a .245 batting average, 89 home runs, 208 doubles, 43 stolen bases and 415 runs batted in.

Since retiring, Barmes has jumped into youth coaching. He is part-time assistant baseball coach at Berthoud (Colo.) High School. Much of his time is spent coaching his own children.

Clint and Summer Barmes’ son Wyatt (12) and daughter Whitney (9) are involved in sports and are coached by one or both parents — Wyatt in baseball, basketball and soccer, Whitney in softball, basketball and soccer.

“Our weeks are pretty full,” says Barmes, who was going to go to Los Angeles from Indianapolis for Wyatt’s all-star travel tournament.

“We didn’t want to burn him out,” says Barmes. “He still wants to work and do that kind of stuff in the wintertime. I don’t want to hold him back either.

“I wanted to give him a chance to see what other talent’s out there at his age level and keep him going in sports.”

When Clint Barmes was 12 he was playing about 25 Bambino League baseball games a year in Vincennes. He played at Lincoln High for Phil Halsema and Chris Rhodes.

“I was a Cardinal fan growing up and I wanted to play in the big leagues,” says Barmes of his boyhood aspirations. “That didn’t change until around my senior year in high school. I didn’t know if it was going to happen for me. I was open to play college ball. Just past high school.

“At Olney Central, I got a little bigger and a little stronger. The work I was putting in compared to the high school level was night and day. Putting all that extra work into it, I really started to take off.”

Barmes played for head coach Dennis Conley at OCC.

“(Conley) taught the game and it was more than just seeing the ball, hitting the ball, catching it and throwing it,” says Barmes. “It was breaking down the simplicities of the game and trying to follow and think ahead.

“That’s when all that stuff really started to come to me. It started with him. He’s a brilliant man. He’s really passionate and knowledgable about the game.”

Barmes is grateful what Conley did for him when he was a player there and also for the chance to come back during the winters as a professional and train since Olney is only about 30 miles from Vincennes.

At ISU, Barmes played for Bob Warn. He credits the IHSBCA Hall of Famer for giving him freedom while also adding to his game.

“(Barmes) allowed me to play and be the type of player that I was at that time,” says Barmes. “He could have broken me down. There was so many things that I was doing that weren’t the right ways to do it.

“Once I got into pro ball I had to completely change my swing. But, thankfully, I had success like I did (Barmes hit 375 with 93 hits, 18 doubles, seven triples and 10 home runs to go along with 63 runs scored, 37 RBI and 20 stolen bases as a Sycamore). He let me play.

“I remember learning to play the game the right way once I got to college. It was anticipating — especially at shortstop. I was learning how to pay attention to hitters and pitchers on the mound and what they’re trying to do. It was following the game and whatever is being called. Before, I was waiting for the ball to be hit my direction as simple as that sounds.”

Barmes came out of college with a “metal bat swing” and needed to adjust with the help of Rockies minor league instructors Alan Cockrell, Billy White and Theron Todd.

“You look at the sweet spot on a metal bat compared to a wooden bat — not to mention the weight is a little heaver with wood,” says Barmes. “I learned to use my hands and work down and through the ball to create backspin. (With a metal bat), I would get a little long, drop my back side and try to lift. I was thinking that was how you were supposed to drive the ball.

“The (metal) bats we used were pretty loaded when I played in high school and even college. You could get jammed and still hit home runs. The ball off our bats was pretty hot.”

While Barmes was used at other positions (he logged 351 MLB appearances as a second baseman), he identified himself as a shortstop.

“That’s where I loved to play,” says Barmes. “Shortstop was always my love. That was always my favorite position.”

Barmes came to understand what it meant to shift and that if the pitcher hit his spot, it was likely the hitter would send the ball to a certain spot on the infield and he would be ready for it.

“You try not to give it up too early,” says Barmes. “But you start cheating (in that direction) in certain ways.”

There came a point where Barmes might be asked to play in the hole for a right-handed pull hitter or told to play right of the bag with a hitter who projects to hit it that way.

“(Shifting) never happened to me until I was in the big leagues,” says Barmes. “Nowadays, I’ve seen it in Little League.”

Don Baylor was Barmes’ manager in Colorado.

“Don was a great coach all-around,” says Barmes. “He was very knowledgable about the game and more on the mental side.

“At the big league level, that’s very important. If you can’t hit by the time you get to the big leagues, it’s going to be a struggle. Now you have to work with your mental and approach.”

Barmes says it helps to clear the mind so the hitter can focus on seeing the ball or what they’re going to do in a particular (ball-strike) count.

“(Baylor) talked about throwing your hands in the slot,” says Barmes. “I picked that up from Don (as well as Cockrell, White and Todd).

“That was the old-school way of teaching hitting and it worked for me. My hands started my swing and my body would kind of do what it does. If I started thinking lower half or anything but my hands, a lot of times it slowed me down.”

Clint was not the first Barmes to play in the majors. A relative on his grandfather’s side of the family — Vincennes-born Bruce “Squeaky” Barmes — got a September call-up with the 1953 Washington Senators. He played 11 full seasons (1950-60) in the minors and hit .318 and made all-star teams in the Florida State League and Tri-State League. A 5-foot-8 left-handed hitter, he was known for his speed.

“I didn’t meet Bruce until I was in A-ball,” says Barmes. “I was playing for Asheville (N.C.) and we were in Hickory (N.C.).

“This older gentleman is yelling at me from the concourse, ‘Hey Barmes!’ and at that point nobody ever pronounced it right (it’s Bar-Muss). This guy must know me because he’s saying my name right. He starts talking about Vincennes and throws out all these names of people I’m related to.”

After that, Clint got to know Bruce and his family and would see them on trips to the East Coast.

During his speech at the IHSBCA Hall of Fame dinner, Barmes thanked all his coaches from youth leagues on up.

“Now that I’ve been coaching, I understand what it means for these kids to get good coaching,” says Barmes. “The role they are playing is very important. The impact that they have on these young players may be more than they realize.

“I’m one of them.”

CLINTBARMES

Clint Barmes, a Vincennes (Ind.) Lincoln High School graduate who played at Olney (Ill.) Central College, Indiana State University and 13 seasons in Major League Baseball, was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Jan. 17, 2020, in Indianapolis — a week after he went into the Indiana State Athletics Hall of Fame. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

2019 Top Baseball Stories Out of Indiana

EPISODE 1: Little League
Featuring coaches from both teams in 2019 Indiana Major Division Little League championship.

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EPISODE 2: High School
Featuring Brian Jennings, Head coach, Griffith High School and announcer for 2019 IHSAA State Finals in baseball.

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EPISODE 3: American Legion
Featuring Timothy Hayes, Manager, 2019 Indiana District Champion Terre Haute Wayne Newton Post 346.

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EPISODE 4: Travel Baseball
Featuring Bill Sampen, former pitcher for Montreal Expos and co-founder of Indiana Expos travel baseball organization.

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EPISODE 5: South Bend Cubs
Featuring Joe Hart, President, South Bend Cubs.

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EPISODE 6: Indianapolis Indians
Featuring Cheyne Reiter, Director of Communications, Indianapolis Indians.

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EPISODE 7: The Base Indianapolis
Featuring Rob Barber, Executive Director, The Base Indianapolis.

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EPISODE 8: College & MLB
Featuring Steve Krah, veteran sportswriter, founder IndianaRBI.com.

Dunno sees transfer of energy key to pitching velocity

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Being a maker of tools, Rich Dunno looks at pitching a baseball with an engineering mind.
“I’m always looking for the bigger, better, faster things,” says Dunno, a Fort Wayne-based toolmaker and baseball coach who spoke about pitching mechanics Dec. 15 at the Huntington North Hot Stove as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger. “Pitching mechanics is so broad and so variable. But there are absolutes — things that I see that every pitcher does in their own certain way.”
One of these absolutes is the ability to transfer energy during the kinetic sequence that is pitching a baseball.
“What we want to do is have the hips open before the upper body,” says Dunno. “That’s what they call separation and is a big part of keeping the arm healthy and maximizing velocity. That’s one of the transfers of energy.”
Dunno says the biggest transfer of energy comes at heel plant.
When done correctly, the energy results in more velocity coming out of the arm.
“If we fly open, we never get the effect of that extra torque that’s going to cause us to go harder because the lack of separation,” says Dunno. “Any time we open early, the early hip rotation will cause that arm to drag.
“It puts excessive stress on the inner part of your shoulder and the medial part of your elbow — your UCL area.”
Dunno recommends the book, “The Arm” by Jeff Passan for those who want to know about the history of arm injuries in baseball.
If pitchers transfer energy in an efficient way to create velocity and have pin-point control have a better chance of sustained success.
As a pitcher himself at Fort Wayne North Side High School and then in college, Dunno would let it fly.
“I never knew where it was going,” says Dunno. “There has to be a mixture of velocity and control.”
Dunno has traveled all over the country to talk with pitching experts such as Tom House and Ron Wolforth and has studied thousands of deliveries. He shares his knowledge with his pitching pupils.
Left-hander Andrew Saalfrank, who was Big Ten Conference Pitcher of the Year at Indiana University and was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks and D.J. Moore of Huntington U., who was being scouted by a several teams, are both Dunno students.
“My goal is to keep these guys as efficient as possible with the least amount of arm stress along with maximizing velocity,” says Dunno. “That’s what it’s all about.”
When working with young hurlers, the first thing Dunno does is videotapes them throwing out of the windup and the stretch.
“Whatever sticks out in my mind as a visual, that’s what we initially work on,” says Dunno. “Before anything else, I look at what the glove arm is doing.  “(The front arm) allows us to stayed closed on the front side and be a lot more consistent.”
Dunno refers to what the forearm and elbow is doing during the delivery as blocking and the forearm should be showing for as long as possible.
“To this day, I hear coaches say point your glove and throw,” says Dunno. “I don’t like the mitt being the boss. I want the elbow to be the boss.”
Dunno talks about having a strong elevated front side during the delivery.
What about the glove?
“My pitchers direct it right into the arm pit when they’re done that keeps the front side consistent,” says Dunno. “It’s right in the nest.”
Since the lead arm and the throwing arm are connected in the motion, if the path of the glove is inconsistent then so, too, will the release point be inconsistent.
“You hear it all the time: Consistency. Consistency. Consistency,” says Dunno. “Scouts are looking for repeatable mechanics. If you can’t repeat them, you’re never going to be consistent with any pitch.”
During Dunno’s research, he came to learn the importance of the drop-and-drive and how the lower half of the body can add speed to a pitch.
Dunno is the inventor of King Of The Hill, Queen Of The Hill and King Of The Swing ground force trainers and the devices are used by several professional and college teams. He’s invited to MLB camps to educate their coaches on how and the benefits of training with the King of the Hill.
The president of Ground Force Sports, Dunno gets to the go to Major League Baseball spring training each year to confer with some of baseball’s top minds.
“You want to ride the back side as long as you can,” says Dunno. “It all plays into late explosion.”
The device helps the user to keep from rotating their hips too early.
“You keep the back side flexed so you can drive through the front  leg,” says Dunno. “Force plate data is showing the high-velocity pitchers are getting more force off the back side than other pitchers and they land a lot harder.”
Now is the time of year that Dunno travels to various clinics. He was recently at the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Convention in Atlantic City and NFCA clinic in Chicago and will be at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention Jan. 2-5, 2020 in Nashville.

For more info go to www.GroundForceSport.com.

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Rich Dunno’s King Of The Hill ground force trainers are used throughout professional and college baseball.

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Rich Dunno has even introduced his King Of The Hill trainer in Canada.

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The Washington Nationals use the King Of The Hill ground force trainer, invented by Fort Wayne’s Rich Dunno.

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The San Francisco Giants also use the King Of The Hill ground force trainer, developed by Rich Dunno of Fort Wayne, Ind.

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RICHDUNNO2019

Rich Dunno talks about baseball pitching mechanics at the Huntington North Hot Stove clinic session on Dec. 2015, 2019. He is a toolmaker and coach who has intensely studied how to pitch for efficient and optimum velocity and control. (Steve Krah Photo)

Cubs minor leaguer Jordan breaks down principles of infield play

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Levi Jordan, an infielder in the Chicago Cubs organization, holds an economics degree from the University of Washington.

To study economics is to look at efficiency, trends and systems. Jordan sees that transferring to sports and, specifically, baseball.

“There are more efficient ways to play the game,” says Jordan, who played 66 games for the Midwest League champion South Bend Cubs in 2019 and shared aspects of infield play at the monthly South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club session Monday, Dec. 16 at Four Winds Field. “You can master your foot work or perfect mechanics. There are just little things that you can add on to your game that makes you a more efficient player.”

Jordan covered areas such as pre-pitch routine, science and technique, circle of focus, the difference in corner and middle infielders, where and how to practice, communication and infield positioning and shifts.

Pre-pitch routine can go by many names – prep step, set step, de-cleat/re-cleat.

“Essentially, the pre-pitch routine is a way to adapt rhythm and timing,” says Jordan. “We’re trying to optimize range for infielders. We’re trying to give our infielders the best possible chance to make not only the routine play, but expanding their routine play range.”

And it’s another way for players to be on their toes and locked in.

Jordan explained science and technique in four parts:

1. Eyes register an event, message is set to the occipital (visual) lobe in the brain.

2. Message travels from the occipital lobe to the frontal (decision) lobe.

3. Decision is made to take action.

4. Motor cortex sends control signals to the spinal cord and on to the relevant muscles.

“Between .2 and .3 seconds your brain can react to something,” says Jordan. “I’ve been told it’s not humanly possible to react to something visual in less than .2 seconds.”

With the de-cleat/re-cleat, the cleats are literally taken up out of the ground and back into the ground.

“The reason for that is so that .3 seconds of reaction can happen while you’re in the air,” says Jordan. “Many coaches have told me you want to be on the ground at contact. I argue with them all the time. If I’m on the ground at contact, the next thing I have to do is pick my foot up off the ground, which doesn’t make sense.

“If the reaction process happens in air, your decision to move right or left happens before your feet are on the ground. Your feet can move in a way to move in that direction by the time you’re on the way back to the ground.

“That perfect timing is what optimizes our infield range.”

For right-handed throwers, the right foot hovers above the ground, there is a false step and they move to make the play.

Jordan was first introduced to the circle of focus at Washington, where he started as a walk-on out of Puyallup and wound up on the all-Pac 12 team and played for the Huskies in the College World Series before being selected by the Cubs in 29th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The Huskies head coach was Lindsay Meggs, former head coach at Indiana State University.

Mental coaches in the Cubs system explain the focus principle to players.

“As a human being if you really intently focus on something, you can only do it for a certain amount of time,” says Jordan. “We don’t want to always be ready. I know that sounds different, especially for younger kids.

“If your brain focuses for shorter intervals of time, you want to relax your brain when you don’t need to be focused per se.’”

Jordan says the infielders step out of the circle of focus between pitches.

“It’s a time to anticipate the ball being hit to you,” says Jordan. “You’re going over in your head that if the ball is hit to me, I know what to do.”

It’s a time where infielders can communicate the number of outs and “flush” their previous at-bat and focus on the next defensive play.

In between pitches is also a time to present in the moment and be where your feet are, something that the late Dr. Ken Ravizza, one of Jordan’s favorite mental coaches, talked about.

“Once I step into the circle of focus, that’s when the pitcher is in his motion,” says Jordan. “You want to eliminate thoughts at this point. You’re going to have some kind of rhythm with your feet, getting in the ready position and beginning that beginning that process of de-cleating/re-cleating with a clear mind. You’re expecting the ball and ready to make the play.”

Jordan has a lower prep step and will wait until the ball is crossing the contact zone to come off the ground.

To illustrate the difference between corner and middle infielders, Jordan used Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman and Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies.

As a corner, Chapman has a lower head and eye level, a wide base, the glove is his shin or knee. It is the best position for him to move one or two steps left of right.

“At third base and first base, you have less time to react to the ball,” says Jordan. “You’re closer to the plate compared to a middle infielder. You don’t necessarily have time to get into a sprinting position. The majority of your plays are one, two, maybe three steps to your left or right.”

As a middle, Albies stands with a high, upright posture with his hands at his hips and a narrow base. This allows him to be quick to sprint and is the best position to cover more ground left, right, forward or back.

“We’re trying to cut out nonsense movements — things we don’t necessarily need to do – to be more efficient infielders,” says Jordan. “I don’t know that the timing is different between corner and middle infielders. Everybody should be in he air at contact.”

Jordan says players can get better at pre-step routine etc. during batting practice, drill time and speed/agility/weight room time.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important batting practice is for me to take those mental reps at third base, shortstop, second base,” says Jordan. “Being a utility player, it’s important for me to understand the angles and be comfortable in different positions seeing the ball off the bat.

“You can understand the type of pitch and what time does the bat come off the hitter’s shoulder for him to hit me the ball.”

Jordan notes that defensive shifting is growing in baseball cited a definition of a shift by David Waldstein in the New York Times: “It shows how a batter has the propensity to hit the ball to certain parts of the field. Teams will position their infielders accordingly.”

“I personally like it,” says Jordan. “It can really help your team win with team defense.

“It’s inefficient to put a defender where a batter’s never going to hit the ball, in my opinion.”

The pros of shifting including cutting down the size or something else.

“I see that all the time in Low-A ball,” says Jordan. “Some of my closest friends and teammates were left-handed batters who pulled a lot of ground balls.

“They would step up to the plate and see this giant, gaping hole at third base and try to put or lay a ball down the line for a double. All of a sudden, they are down 0-2 (in the count) because they are doing something they don’t normally do as hitters. That’s an advantage of the shift.”

On the negative side, it can put young infielders in uncomfortable positions. They are at places they don’t take practice reps.

“If not practiced enough, (shifting) can work in a negative way,” says Jordan.

There’s also the idea that many younger batters will mis-hit the ball, making the direction of the batted ball very unpredictable.

“It’s probably not worth putting on a heavy shift unless you are in pro ball or late college ball because hitters don’t really know what they’re doing (at the younger ages) and have a decent amount of bat control,” says Jordan.

Shifting can be done with data or by reading tendencies.

Jordan also sees the importance in communication in the infield.

“I was taught at a young age, if you move and you’re vacating a spot, you need to move somebody with you,” says Jordan.

For example: The shortstop takes a few steps to his left and the third baseman moves accordingly. The shortstop lets the third baseman know he is moving toward the middle or wherever.

The first baseman might let the second baseman know he’s playing on the foul line, moving in for a bunt or might need more time to the get to the bag if he’s shifted to his right. Fielders are talking about coverage.

“Communication is key,” says Jordan. “The success of your team defense and lack of errors depends on how successful you are at communicating with your (teammates).

“You’ve got to be vocal on the infield in order to relay those messages.”

Jordan says the Chicago Cubs use a numbering system for infield positioning (0 for straight, 1 for 1 to 3 steps pull side, 2 for 3 to 5 steps pull side and 3 for heavy shift). These come out of the dugout.

Others might use hand signals. That’s what was done when Jordan was in college.

For the past several off-seasons, Jordan has worked with Billy Boyer (who is now infield and base running coordinator for the Minnesota Twins).

Boyer, who says “Defense is nothing but a glorified game of catch,” is what Jordan calls a true teacher of the game.

“There’s a difference between coaching baseball and teaching baseball,” says Jordan. “A lot of organizations these days are moving toward teaching because they’e seeing the results that it develops players a little better. “Players respond better to somebody teaching them something to do rather than the evaluation part of a coach. A coach will be intimidating to some players because they think they are evaluating.”

Jordan will conduct an infield camp for high school players from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20 at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center. For more information, call 574-404-3636.

LEVIJORDAN

Levi Jordan, who played in the infield for the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs in 2019, shared principles of infield play with the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Anderson native Shirley fitting puzzle pieces together as White Sox amateur scouting director

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Taking his ability to evaluate baseball talent and manage people, Anderson, Ind., native Mike Shirley is embracing the complexities of his new job as amateur scouting director for the Chicago White Sox.

Shirley, 49, took over his current role in late August. He was named assistant scouting director for the White Sox in November 2018. He began serving the organization as a cross checker in 2010.

As a cross checker, Shirley managed five or six area scouts.

“I was very active with a certain set of people, helping guide their schedule and my own schedule,” says Shirley. “As assistant scouting director, I was helping the director fulfill the entire (Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft) process.”

That meant helping to coordinate the entire amateur department while also acting as a national scout.

As director, Shirley is in charge of everything for the amateur scouting department.

“There’s so much more that goes into being a baseball scout than looking at players,” says Shirley. “There’s management of people, (molding) philosophy, understanding budgets and personnel and keeping everybody on track.”

Shirley notes that more attention is paid to the draft than ever before and there are so many pieces to the puzzle.

“I love the fact that scouting is so difficult some days to put all these pieces in order,” says Shirley. “That’s the most interesting part of the challenge that comes with it.”

With the training now available, players are now reaching the elite level at younger ages.

“Prospects now have currency and value as your organization changes and grows,” says Shirley. “The restructuring at the major league level has changed.

“The rebuild has changed the dynamic of what prospects mean. If your club is in a rebuild and it’s you know it’s not competitive let’s say in 2019, your processes become completely different.”

Clubs take into consideration drafting players that will give them the most currency in the market place.

“There are times now you’re drafting players you know — based on your cycle of talent from top to bottom — may be used as trade chips to get you to the next major league star,” says Shirley. “That’s really changed. There was a time 20 years ago when every team felt like they had a chance to win and every team was running for the title.

“We’re all trying to be competitive, but we also understand where are cycles of talent are (at any given time).”

With the 2020 season and June draft looming, where are the White Sox led by executive vice president Ken Williams and senior vice president/general manager Rick Hahn?

“We’re hugely in a position to be successful for the next five to eight years,” says Shirley. “It’s pretty well-documented we’ve in a rebuild process the last four years. It’s been trying times for everybody, especially for our fans, to stomach the tough days and the losses. I think we’re on the back of that now.

“Everybody is so excited about where we’re headed and what we’re capable of doing in the near future. Our young talent is significant. Our minor leagues is strong.”

Shirley is always taking in information from members of the White Sox amateur scouting department.

“The listening skill has to be sharp everyday,” says Shirley. “You have to be able to comprehend what these guys are doing and listen.

“There’s constant communication.”

During the season, area scouts are filing daily reports and messages are flying back and forth via calls, texts and emails.

A recent three-day recent organizational meeting at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., brought together all the scouting department and part of the player development staff.

“It was designed to get everybody in one room,” says Shirley. “We talked about philosophy, planning and where are evaluations are for the 2020 draft class.

“We listened to player development speak about players we’ve drafted in the past, where those players are at and shared information.”

It’s all about getting better and evaluating performance as scouts and player development folks.

“We did a good job here. We missed here,” says Shirley. “There’s constant evaluation of those two departments. We try to work together to make sure our decisions are tighter. Where are we missing? Where are we strong?

“You’re looking at it with full transparency. You’re not tricking yourself.”

Shirley has began conducting conference calls with his 17 area scouts.

“It’s a little deeper conversation than just what they submitted on the follow list,” says Shirley of a catalog of every player in a scout’s area that is likely to be drafted in 2020. “We want to listen to their voice.”

Scouts have been meeting with high school and college players and will continue to do so. These interactions help the White Sox put the make-up piece together in their draft evaluation.

Shirley says the club wants to know if a player is smart of lackadaisical, engaged or disengaged in the conversation or is a grinder.

“How do they go about their business?,” says Shirley. “What’s their family dynamic like? What’s their mom and dad like? Who influences them the most?”

Those pieces start to be put together via these conference calls.

“We’re always willing to take a risk on players who have elite talent,” says Shirley. “But if you don’t have elite talent and you have bad make-up, obviously there’s a red flag we try to stay away from.”

Scouts have been working on the 2020 draft for two years already. They were on the road again three days after the conclusion of the 2019 draft.

Most of the players who wind up in college, we’ve seen when they are in high school,” says Shirley. “The depth at which we follow these players is significant. The elite players we spend a lot of time on.”

There’s many ways to track players, including seeing them play in-person, video services, TrackMan and Rapsodo data and more.

“There’s so much more to the process than what your eyes tell you any more,” says Shirley. “We have multiple angles and multiple opinions.

“The sharing part among your departments becomes so tremendous. Everybody is in the boat rowing together trying to get to the destination.”

Born in Anderson, Shirley played at Pendleton Heights High School for Bill Stoudt, who was selected to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006.

Stoudt-coached teams won 654 games with 14 sectional titles and three regional championship and 10 conference championships in 32 years as a head coach through 2012. He sent a number of players into college and professional baseball.

“He was tremendous,” says Shirley of Stoudt. “He built a program of high-end talent.

“He expected you to show up and held you accountable. He pushed you to be you best. He was demanding and his demand forced you to raise your expectations for yourself.”

Shirley graduated from Pendleton Heights in 1988 and played his freshmen collegiate season (1989) at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac, Mich. As a “draft and follow” player, Jonathan Michael Shirley was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 45th round of the 1989 MLB Draft, played his sophomore season at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill., then played in the Indians system from 1990-94.

Having an elite arm in right field, Shirley was reluctantly converted to a pitcher. He hurt his arm, underwent Tommy John surgery and was released. He concluded his pro career with the independent Anderson Lawmen in 1995 (Mid-America League) and 1996 (Heartland League) while also completing his degree at Indiana University.

Mike and Kimberly Shirley have been married 22 years and have three baseball-playing sons.

Jaxon Shirley is at Lubbock (Texas) Christian University after starting his college career at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College and transferring to Oklahoma University. He was drafted by the White Sox in the 34th round out of Lapel (Ind.) High School in 2016 as a 6-foot-4, 190-pound second baseman. He is now a 6-5, 220-pound left fielder.

Caden Shirley is a freshman at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Colton Shelton is a Lapel senior.

Various ailments, including stress fractures, caused Caden and Colton to miss long stretches of development as high school players.

“Being a baseball man like I am and watching my own children suffer, it’s been one of the biggest challenges as a father,” says Shirley. “You see how hard they’ve worked through their lifetime and you see them lose almost two years of their careers and it’s very difficult.”

For years, Shirley has operated a training facility in Anderson called “The Barn.”

“There’s so many young, talented players in there that have bright futures,” says Shirley. “That’s why I’ll always stay connected.

“You want to give them the guidance and give your expertise.”

Players from youth through major league come to the facility to train.

Jeremy Hazelbaker, who has played in the big leagues, took swings at “The Barn” during Thanksgiving week.

Minor leaguer Nick Schnell (selected in the first round by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018) got in the cage before heading off to Florida.

Zack Thompson (a first-rounder for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019) and Drey Jameson (a first-rounder for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019) have trained at “The Barn” since they were youngsters.

So has Cole Barr, a Yorktown (Ind.) High School product who slugged 17 home runs at Indiana University in 2019.

“It’s been a really productive situation,” says Shirley. “There are guys in there who are going to be the next Nick Schnell or next Cole Barr.

“It’s a special place. We don’t ever try to be famous. We’re not on Twitter. If you’re a baseball guy, the proof’s in the pudding. Are you making players or not? Are you helping players get to their goals?”

MIKESHIRLEY

Mike Shirley, a native of Anderson, Ind., is the amateur scouting director for the Chicago White Sox. He is a 1988 graduate of Pendleton Heights High School. (Chicago White Sox Photo)

 

Reds’ VanMeter talks about hitting approach, intangibles

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh VanMeter has morphed as a hitter.

From his days growing up in Ossian, Ind., playing travel baseball for the Summit City Sluggers and then his progression from Norwell High School to minor leaguer to big leaguer with the Cincinnati Reds, VanMeter has experienced change.

The 24-year-old shared his knowledge Sunday, Dec. 1 as the lead-off speaker for the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics hosted by new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger, who coached VanMeter as a youngster.

“My view on hitting has changed so much throughout my career, my life, whatever,” says VanMeter, who made his Major League Baseball debut May 5, 2019 and hit .237 with eight home runs and 23 runs batted in over 95 games with the Reds. “I don’t hit the same now as I did when I was 12. I don’t hit the same now as I did when I was in high school or even two years ago when I was in the minor leagues.”

VanMeter gave advice to hitters around 12.

“Just want to build a solid foundation, work from the ground up and really focus on contact,” says VanMeter. “You want to get a good base, be short to the ball and get the barrel to the ball. Keep it really simple the younger you are.”

VanMeter says things begin to change in the early teens. That’s when hitters can begin to driving the ball and not just making contact.

“A lot of it is dependent on what your physicality is,” says VanMeter. “I was small (5-foot-7 and around 120 pounds at 15), but I had a really good foundation to build on.”

VanMeter, who turns 25 March 10, 2020, says that at the highest levels of the game, it is important to get the ball in the air to produce runs.

“For a lot of youth players and youth coaches that can get misinterpreted,” says VanMeter. “When I talk about getting the ball in the air it’s not about hitting a pop-up. You want to drive the ball in the air.

“You get to a certain age and balls on the ground are outs for the most part.”

At younger ages, players with speed are often encouraged to hit the ball on the ground to beat the throw to first or hope for an error by the defense.

“That’s a really bad skill set because it’s really hard to break habits the older you get,” says VanMeter. “If by the time you get to high school all you do is hit ground balls, you’re not going to have a lot of success.

“It’s really hard to break that pattern of what you’ve been doing the last three to four years.”

When giving lessons, VanMeter has even been known to make his hitters do push-ups when they hit grounders in the batting cage.

VanMeter says he does not pretend that he has hitting around figured out, but he does have core principles.

At an early age, he worked at his craft.

“I spent a lot of time trying to get better at hitting,” says VanMeter. “I spent a lot of time in the cage.”

VanMeter notes that when it comes to cage work, tees are for mechanics and flips or batting practice is for things like game situations, timing, and pitch recognition.

“If you struggle hitting off the tee, you need to make some mechanical changes,” says VanMeter. “The ball ain’t moving.

“You should be really good at hitting the ball off the tee.”

VanMeter, who was selected by the San Diego Padres in the fifth round of the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Norwell, changed his swing two off-seasons ago after having essentially the same approach for more than a decade.

“Coming up through high school and my first few years in the minor leagues, I was a big bat-to-ball guy,” says VanMeter. “I was steep in the (strike) zone. I was really only concentrating on getting the barrel to the ball because that’s what I was taught growing up.

“Obviously, it worked for me.”

VanMeter has learned to hit the ball out front and put it in the air pull-side.

“The best hitters pull the ball 70 percent of the time,” says VanMeter, who rejects the idea that hitters must go to the opposite field. “Youth hitters are behind the 8-ball when they get to college or into professional baseball. They don’t know how to pull the ball. It’s been drilled into the their head. They’ve got to hit the ball the other way.

“There are not many guys unless they are (New York Yankees slugger) Aaron Judge who can consistently hit home runs to the opposite field gap. You’ve got to learn to pull the ball first before you learn to hit the ball the other way.

“Pulling the ball is not hitting duck hooks down the third base line. It’s hitting a back spin ball into the left-center gap if I’m a right-handed hitter. For a left-handed hitter, it’s the right-center gap. That’s where the damage is going to be done.”

The pitch that’s down and away in the zone is hard to pull. That’s a pitcher’s pitch. Moving closer to the plate will bring that pitch closer to the hitter’s attack zone and the change to do damage.

“Damage is what makes you a good player,” says VanMeter. “It’s being able to produce runs.

“Baseball is all about producing runs and limiting runs. If you can do those two things, you’ll play for a long time.”

VanMeter advises youth players to get better at strike zone recognition and that starts in BP.

“You should only swing at strikes in the cage,” says VanMeter. “It’s not just swing the bat at every pitch.

“You need to take a breather. It’s not rapid fire.”

VanMeter recalls that he was 8 when a lesson taught to him by Sluggers founder Mark Delagarza.

“He said baseball is not a cardio sport,” says VanMeter. “You should not be getting your heart rate up when you’re swinging a bat.

“In my opinion, between every swing you should step out, take a deep breath and step back in just like a real game.”

Growing up, Josh spent countless hours taking cuts off his father, Greg VanMeter. And they weren’t all fastballs. There were also breaking balls and change-ups.

“We want to feel good, but at the end of the day, we have to challenge ourselves, too, to become better hitters,” says Van Meter. “You should treat BP more like a game.”

VanMeter says he can see MLB teams hiring independent pitchers to throw batting practice in simulated game situations.

To see pitches, recognize placement, spin and more, big league hitters often stand in during bullpen sessions.

“If we’re facing a guy with a really good breaking ball, I would go stand in on Trevor Bauer’s bullpen because all Trevor wants to throw is breaking balls,” says VanMeter. “You don’t even have to swing. You don’t even need a bat. All you’re doing is training your eyes.”

In recognizing the strike zone, the left-handed-hitting Van Meter splits home plate into thirds — outer, middle and inner.

“It’s about hunting an area in the zone that we want to attack,” says VanMeter. “It’s really hard to hit three pitches (fastball, breaking ball and change-up) in every zone.

“You can hit a fastball pretty much in any zone if you’re on fastball timing. But if (the pitcher) throws a breaking ball and I’m on a fastball , it’s going to be really hard to hit no matter what anybody says. Everybody says, ‘sit hard, you can adjust to soft.’ That’s not as easy as it sounds.

“Knowing the zones and knowing what you’re good at can be a really positive strength.”

VanMeter says that most high school pitchers command the zone away from the hitter.

“Knowing that, I’m going to sit out over the plate because it gives me the best chance to succeed,” says VanMeter. “The key to being a really good hitter is being able to sit out over the plate and take (the inside pitch) for a strike.”

Why?

Most will foul that pitch into their foot.

Having a plan when you go to the plate is another one of the biggest keys you can have,” says VanMeter. “You’ve got to be smart to be a hitter.

“It’s not dumb luck.”

The idea is to get into hitter’s counts (0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 3-1) and avoid pitcher’s counts (0-1, 0-2, 1-2).

VanMeter did that often last spring with Triple-A Louisville. At the time he was called up in May, he was hitting .336 with 13 home runs, 31 RBI, 17 walks and 23 strikeouts. On April 29 in Toledo, he slugged three homers and drove in eight runs.

Up with the Reds, VanMeter began to learn the importance of being ready to hit the first pitch.

“I’ve always been a patient hitter,” says VanMeter. “I’m not a guy who’s afraid to take a strike or get to two strikes

“(Big league pitchers) are way to good for you to take a first-pitch cookie right down the middle. be ready to hit that first pitch. It’s all a mindset.”

VanMeter, who had smacked his first major league homer off St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas July 20 in Cincinnati, remembers a pre-game conversation with Cincinnati hitting coach Turner Ward on Aug. 31 with the Reds facing the Cardinals right-hander Michael Wacha in the second game of a doubleheader in St. Louis.

“Why do I feel scared to make an out on the first pitch of an at-bat?,” says VanMeter, recalling his question to Ward.

He was told that the question was not stupid since VanMeter is an elite bat-to-ball hitter who regularly puts the ball in play, is good with two strikes and walks a fair amount.

“Sometimes you just have to choose your spot,” says VanMeter. “(I decided) I’m going to look for a fastball up in the zone (against Wacha) and I’m just going to swing. Sure enough, I get a fastball up and I hit it out of the park on the first pitch of the game.

“What hitting comes down to is giving yourself the best chance to succeed.”

VanMeter has come to make an “A” swing and avoid a “panic” swing.

“We want to get our best swing off every time we swing the bat — every time,” says VanMeter. “We don’t want to compromise our swing just to make contact.”

Taking a panic swing just to make contact can often be worse than missing the ball altogether. A hitter can be in a 1-0 count, get out over his front foot on a breaking ball and hit a weak dribbler to the right side.

“Now you’re taking a right turn back to the dugout,” says VanMeter. “You’ve got to train yourself to take your best swing every time no matter what.”

Hitters must commit to a plan and trust their swing.

“With those silly mistakes we make, we don’t really trust ourselves to get our best swing off and have a productive at-bat,” says VanMeter.

It also takes confidence, but this can’t be given.

VanMeter had a parent ask if he could give his kid confidence.

“No, I can’t funnel your kid confidence,” says VanMeter of his response. “Confidence comes from preparation.

“If you prepare, you’re going to be confident.”

What about a timing mechanism?

“Timing is not about getting your (front) foot down,” says VanMeter. “Your foot’s going to get down before you ever swing the bat. I’m never going to swing with my lead foot off the ground.

“When do I pick my foot off the ground? That’s the biggest thing. When you pick your foot off the ground, you’re going to go regardless.

“I pick my foot off the ground when the pitcher separates his hands. That all comes into sync. I want to make my forward move when his arm is starting to come forward.”

VanMeter now stands straight up and just goes forward, but knows that younger hitters need a lode as a way to generate power.

“Your legs will always be the strongest part of your body, but especially at that age,” says VanMeter. “High school kids are not in the weight room enough.”

As a professional, VanMeter goes against conventional wisdom and uses the straight bar bench press in his training.

“The less reps, the more weight the better,” says VanMeter. “I do two max effort days a week (build up to a one-rep max) and two dynamic effort days a week (more of a speed program).

“The only way you’re going to get stronger is by doing max effort work. You’re not going to get crazy strong by doing three sets of 12. That’s just not how it works. You’ve got to lift heavy to get strong.

“When it comes to baseball, you’ve got to train speed and power because that’s the kind of sport it is.

“My cardio is playing basketball. You’ll never see me on a treadmill or running sprints. Baseball is not a cardio sport. It’s a power sport. It’s a short-interval sport.

“The biggest measurement when it comes to running in baseball is can you get from first from the home on a double in the gap?”

Baseball players are graded by five tools — speed, power, hitting for average, fielding and arm strength.

But there is also a sixth tool — intangibles. The Reds saw that in VanMeter, who was drafted as a shortstop but has played second base, third base, left field, right field and first base in their system.

“It’s being a winning player, knowing the game, being a good teammate, being a good leader,” says VanMeter. “When you get to the big leagues, those things matter. In the minor leagues, it’s all about (the five) tools.”

This past year, VanMeter got to meet one of his idols — 10-year big leaguer and 2006 World Series MVP with the Cardinals David Eckstein — and asked him how he did what he did at 5-8, 165.

“I just grinded day in an day out,” says VanMeter of Eckstein’s response. “I was a good teammate. I was a winner.

“That’s what people want — winning players.”

HUNTINGTON NORTH HOT STOVE

At Huntington North H.S.

Sundays, 2:30-5 p.m.

(Free)

Remaining Speakers

Dec. 8 — Kip McWilliams (Outfield play); Dennis Kas (Infield Play/Fundamentals); Thad Frame & Donovan Clark (Baserunning)

Dec. 15 — Rich Dunno (King The Hill Trainer/Pitching Drills); Kip McWilliams (Team Drills/Championship Practice); Gary Rogers (TBD)

Dec. 22 — Dan Holcomb (TBD); Dennis Kas (Offensive Approach/Situational Hitting); Mark Flueckiger (Batting Practice with a Purpose)

Jan. 12 — Gary Gatchell (Hitting); Bret Shambaugh (Being Competitive on Game Day)

Jan. 19 — Tom Roy (Pitching/Mental … Calling a Game); Dr. Travis Frantz (Staying Healthy — Tips on Avoiding Injuries in Your Career)

JOSHVANMETERREDS19

Josh VanMeter, a Norwell High School graduate, made his big league baseball debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 2019. (Cincinnati Reds photo)