Bringing instructors, athletic trainers and strength and conditioning experts under one roof, Pro X Athlete Development serves clients in Westfield, Ind.
Pro X (short for “Professional Experience”) celebrated its grand opening at it Grand Park facility in April 2019 after getting started in a temporary downtown location in 2017.
“We want to provide an all-inclusive training experience for our athletes,” says Joe Thatcher, former major league pitcher, co-founder and president at Pro X. “We provide sports performance so athletes can get bigger, stronger and faster. We have rehabilitation with Dr. Jamey Gordon. We have sports-specific instruction (for baseball, softball, golf and football).”
Thatcher, a Kokomo, Ind., native who worked with Gordon (who is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, Athletic Trainer and Strength and Conditioning Specialist as well as partner and Director of Athletic Development at Pro X) during his baseball playing career, wanted to replicate what he experienced in the majors.
“Everyday I walked into the clubhouse the coaching staff, training staff and strength staff knew what I was doing,” says Thatcher, who last pitched for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs in 2016.
“We take any physical limitations barrier and it leads to better success in baseball training,” says Thatcher. “One of the stigmas is that we’re an indoor baseball facility. We are about true athlete development.”
Using the latest innovations in the field, Pro X develops a plan for each athlete while working to keep them healthy.
“We make sure you’re moving the way you’re supposed to while getting bigger, faster and stronger so your body can handle more force,” says Thatcher. “You have to decelerate or you’re going to get hurt.
“That only happens if you’re training the right set of muscles to do that.”
During the winter, Pro X has 10 to 15 professional players working out at the elite facility which features 60,000 square feet in total with over 35,000 square feet of open turf space, 22 batting cages (11 full), 3,000 square-foot weight room, golf simulators and much more.
“The sports rehabilitation/training area is the heart and soul of who and what we are,” says Thatcher of the place where athlete assessments and private-pay rehab sessions are performed. There’s a full strength staff.
“We saw an opportunity,” says Thatcher of a circuit that gave a place for several players displaced by the Coronavirus pandemic shutting down summer leagues. “We threw it together in about a month. It took a lot of work to get it up and running and a lot of flexibility with state regulations and COVID-19.”
About 100 players took advantage of a play-and-train option which allowed them to play in games — usually on Mondays and Tuesdays at Grand Park with occasional games at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis or Kokomo Municipal Stadium on other days — and train at Pro X Wednesday through Friday.
“(The CSL) is centrally-located which can be an advantage for us,” says Thatcher. “We’ve had a lot of really good feedback from college coaches who had kids in our league.
“We’re already starting to work on next year.”
The league has also featured players who graduated from high school in 2020.
“They’ve got to see what (college baseball is) going to be like,” says Thatcher. “They get on the field with the same field of guys you’re going to be competing against.”
The No. 5-seeded Turf Monsters bested the No. 2 Snapping Turtles 5-4 in the inaugural CSL championship game contested Friday, July 31 at Victory Field.
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
Nanny, who bats and throws lefty and plays in the outfield and at first base, goes after baseball and life the same way.
“My biggest strength is my ability to want to get better every single day,” says Nanny. “I showed up to the park everyday with a plan of how I want to attack the day. I see where I’m at and where I need to get better in order to take my game to the next level.”
Nanny says he’s always been that way.
“That’s the way my dad raised me,” says Daylan, the oldest son of Jamie and Jennifer and older brother of Skylar (12), a player for Evoshield Canes Midwest. “Be your own biggest critic and always find a way to get better so you’re never really getting complacent.”
Nanny has learned its not hard to settle.
“It’s easy to do,” says Nanny. “You see a lot of guys do it.
“The guys who can push themselves — day in and day out — and find a way to get better, even if it’s something super small, hopefully it makes a difference in the end.”
Nanny hit .394 for his high school career, including .452 with a career-high 38 hits as a senior and earned honorable mention on the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 4A all-state team.
Originally committed to the University of Evansville, Nanny played one junior college campaign at Arizona Western and hit .347 with 11 doubles, one triple, one home run, 34 runs batted in and 46 runs scored to go with 39 walks and a .487 on-base percentage in 57 games.
At NCAA Division I Western Carolina in Cullowhee, N.C., he started 50 times as a sophomore (42 in right field, seven at first base and one at designated hitter) and batted .320 with seven homers, 19 doubles, 31 RBIs, 22 walks and a .403 OBP.
Nanny played in all 15 games before the season was halted, starting 12 in the outfield and three at first base. He batted .211 (12-for-57) on the shortened season with four doubles and seven RBIs while scoring 12 runs.
“I had some uneasiness about how the spring went,” says Nanny. “I had two really good weeks and I had two really bad weeks. I really couldn’t get into a rhythm. It was good-bad-good-bad.
“I had a 1-for-14 stretch at the end that didn’t sit too well with me. I thought I had put in a lot of work to be ready for the season and it didn’t happen.”
Not that he would go back and change it.
“It helped me figure out what I really do to be successful,” says Nanny. “I learned from it. I grew from it.
“I’m a way better baseball player now because of that struggle.”
“The way the world is right now, you’ve got to be ready for anything,” says Nanny, who has two years of college eligibility remaining thanks to an extra year granted by the NCAA with a big portion of 2020 being wiped away. “I don’t want to rule anything out. It’s very different times to say the least.
“If I go back to Western Carolina, I go back to Western Carolina. If I sign (a pro contract), I sign. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m prepared for anything that comes my way.”
Nanny is one year away from a Psychology degree. What he learns in the class room — or online — he tries to apply to his daily life, including on the diamond.
“I find myself learning about the mental side of the game more,” says Nanny.
“I read it once every couple months,” says Nanny. “It’s a very interesting book that gave me a whole different perspective on how to go through the day in and day out of the baseball grind and how to mentally be able to stay at an even keel level.
“This game is hard and it’s easy to let the game get you down. The game’s going to hit you and you have to be ready for it.
“You have to control the things you can control you can control on a daily basis to give yourself the best chance for success. Once you take that swing or the ball leaves your hand, it’s out of your control. You have to be OK with that.”
Nanny notes that “Chop Wood Carry Water” is not a sports book.
“It’s more of a life book, honestly,” says Nanny. “I don’t get too into sports psychology. I try to keep it as basic as possible.
“It’s finding the simplicity within the complexity.”
Born in Indianapolis, Nanny moved from the Ben Davis to the Plainfield school district as a middle schooler. From the age of 13, he played travel baseball with the Indiana Outlaws (now known as the Evoshield Canes Midwest).
“We created because a lot of these guys had nowhere to play,” says Luke Dietz, director of operations for Bullpen Tournaments and acting commissioner for the College Summer League. “We also give them the option to play-and-train, too.”
The CSL is set up to have games turf fields on Mondays and Tuesdays (this week that meant one Monday and two Tuesday). Players can go through training at Pro X, located on the Grand Park Sports Campus, Wednesday through Friday.
Several players also work in various capacities at Grand Park.
“We were not planning on having a collegiate league,” says Dietz. “The way everything happened gave us a way to do it safety.
“We think this is going to be a good opportunity for us to do it for years to come. What’s great about us is that you play all your games here and you have a training schedule as well.”
The focus in the league is not to extend anyone too far.
“We’re directly in-contact with all of their coaches at their colleges,” says Dietz. “They’re setting their programs with us (at Pro X).
“(CSL coaches and trainers) know this guy is only supposed to throw 25 pitches this week. He’s not going to go past that.
“That sets us apart from other leagues.
Dietz says ‘The League” is focused on the needs of the athletes and that’s how the the idea of playing a few games plus training and earning money by working came about.
“Everything we do is for the players,” says Dietz. “It’s not about revenue or anything like that.
“We probably have 40 guys working for us to pay off the league. That’s an opportunity for them to see how we opportunity and put some money in their pocket.”
The CSL sports 261 players, which were gathered through them asking to be invited and by recruiting. Of that number, more than 120 come from NCAA Division I programs.
“It’s not just a league in Indiana,” says Dietz. “It’s a high level of competition college league for sure.”
Daylan Nanny, a Plainfield (Ind.) High School graduate who was a lefty-swinging junior outfielder/first baseman at Western Carolina University in the spring, is in the CSL.
“It’s cool to be back here playing,” says Nanny, who was a 14-year-old travel ball player with the Outlaws (now Evoshield Canes Midwest) in some of the early games at Grand Park and then went to work there. “I’ve spent a good amount of my time on the Grand Park complex. Bullpen Tournaments is a great place to work. They’re great people and I love it.”
Nanny appreciates the summer league’s format.
“This is a really good opportunity to get better,” says Nanny. “The middle of the week to the end of the week is to work on what you struggled with on Monday and Tuesday
“Use that time and get ready to come out the next week ready to play again. It’s a unique setting. If you do it right, you can get really good out of here.”
Some players are from junior colleges and others are incoming freshmen. One ballplayer came from Texas and is staying in a motor home with his father.
There are athletes staying with teammates who live in the area, some in an Air BnB with buddies and others in apartments.
“We sold it as a commuter league, trying to get all of our local guys,” says Dietz. “Especially with the uncertainty of when we were able to start the league because of everything go on in the world, we weren’t going to be able to do housing on such a short notice.”
Every team has at least two college coaches on its staff. One of those is Butler assistant Matt Kennedy.
“We want to get the guys back on the field, knock the rust off a little bit and get them reps,” says Kennedy. “We want to prepare them to go back to their institutions in the fall and be ready to play.”
There was a couple of weeks of “spring training” leading into CSL games. Players came out and took batting practice and fielded grounders. Pitchers threw bullpens.
Kennedy says he expects teams will play close to 36 games in eight weeks.
“In my opinion, that’s a good thing,” says Kennedy. “It’s not 70 games. It gives these guys enough time to play and develop and time to rest and get int he weight room as well.
“These guys have been done basically for three months. Easing them into it with this format is really good. Guys have plenty of time to recover.”
DeJesus and former WOWO radio personality Charly Butcher founded the Fort Wayne Cubs, which later became the Diamondbacks.
Born in Ponce, P.R., DeJesus moved to Moss Bluff, La., as a boy then Beaumont, Texas, where he was one of only two sophomores to play varsity baseball at West Brook Senior High School (catcher Jason Smith, who went on to the University of Texas-Arlington and the Colorado Rockies organization, was the other).
It was as a 10th grader that DeJesus caught the attention of University of Southwestern Louisiana assistant coach Emrick Jagneaux.
“He said, ‘once you get this thing figured out with the curveball, I’ll come back and pick you up,’” says DeJesus of Jagneaux. “He was true to his word.”
DeJesus went to USL (now known as the University of Louisiana-Lafayette) and went 23-1 in three seasons (1990-92) for the Mike Boulanger-coached Ragin’ Cajuns.
The lefty was 22-0 as a starter. He came on in relief against Oregon State University and three crucial errors led to his only college setback.
In his three seasons, the Ragin’ Cajuns went 47-18, 49-20 and 38-23 and won two American South Conference titles and a Sun Belt Conference West crown.
DeJesus won 13 games for Southwest Louisiana in 1992, was an All-American, co-Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year and selected to Team Puerto Rico. An elbow injury suffered during the Olympic Trials kept him from going to the Barcelona Games, where first-time Olympic baseball qualifier Puerto Rico placed fifth.
In the summer of 1990, DeJesus played American Legion Baseball in Louisiana for McNeese State University head coach Tony Robichaux and assistant Todd Butler.
Robichaux was head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette 1995-2019 (he died after the 2019 season) and won more than 1,100 games in his 33-year career.
The Twins selected DeJesus in the 17th round of the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
He got into just two games in 1992 then went 9-0 at rookie-level Elizabethton, Tenn., in 1993.
“He’s one of the nicest overall men that has ever graced us with his presence,” says DeJesus of Smith. “His philosophy was very simple: Show us what you can do.”
DeJesus remembers that Smith was very mild-mannered until the morning after an Appalachian League playoff loss at Bluefield, Va., that saw the team get extra-boisterous at the hotel.
Let’s just say the Twins were chewed out before riding back to Tennessee.
Playing at Low Class-A Fort Wayne in 1994, DeJesus encountered manager Jim Dwyer and pitching coach Stew Cliburn.
It was in Fort Wayne that DeJesus, who was in the bullpen at old Memorial Stadium, witnessed the first professional home run for 18-year-old Alex Rodriguez.
DeJesus can still see the hanging slider by Shane Bowers, who had a cup of coffee with the 1997 Twins, that A-Rod popped for the Appleton Foxes.
Southpaw DeJesus was 5-2 with two saves, a 0.93 earned run average, 55 strikeouts and 13 walks in 38 2/3 innings at Fort Wayne and was at Double-A Nashville briefly before injury cut his season short.
DeJesus recalls that a Nashville TV station aired a lengthy piece about his injury. Xpress manager Phil Roof and pitching coach Rick Anderson were complimentary, saying how the lefty had the make-up to be a top-flight closer or set-up man.
“My fastball never came back after surgery,” says DeJesus.
After four games at Double-A New Britain, Conn., in 1995, DeJesus spent parts of that season and all of 1996 in independent pro ball with the Alexandria (La.) Aces and the Rio Grande Valley White Wings in Harlingen, Texas.
DeJesus was with Alexandria again in 1997 and hooked on with the Chicago Cubs system, going 3-1 in eight games in 1997 and 5-5 in 1998 — both for High Class-A Daytona, Fla.
Stan Cliburn, twin brother of Stew and Alexandria manager in 1997, fondly recalls DeJesus.
“Great competitor and a winner when he toed the pitchers mound!,” says Cliburn. “Class act.”
Ricky VanAsselberg, who is now the general manager/field manager of the Acadiana Cane Cutters summer collegiate team in Lafayette, La., was an Alexandria teammate.
“I love Javi,” says VanAsselberg. “What a great guy. Great competitor.
“Warrior on the mound.”
It was Alan Dunn, Daytona pitching coach in 1997, that DeJesus learned the 3-2-1 pitch sequencing method that he employs with his young players to this day.
“He showed me that concept and it’s made a world of difference,” says DeJesus. “It gives you the opportunity to be your own pitching coach.”
The method begins with 12 pitches to various parts of the strike zone — inside and outside — and allows the pitcher to evaluate where is more or less consistent, where he is improving or regressing and where his mechanics can be altered to effect the release point.
DeJesus, who likes to take to Twitter to debunk modern training philosophy, is not a big fan of speed for speed’s sake.
“Look at players’ heart,” says DeJesus. “That can’t be quantified. They don’t play for numbers.
“Velocity is king now. To me that’s not pitching. That’s measurables. You have to integrate velocity and command.
“If you have no clue where it’s going, what’s the purpose of training.”
When teaching his sons to hit, DeJesus has spent time listening to hitting coaches and it’s also helped him as pitching instructor.
“The more I know about hitting, the more I can help pitchers,” says DeJesus. “We can expose weaknesses.”
Puerto Rico-born Jose Santiago, a former big league pitcher and Daytona’s pitching coach in 1998, tried to get DeJesus to become a coach in the Cubs organization.
“I thought I still had some games to play,” says DeJesus. “I wanted to retire on my own terms and not someone else’s.”
“I had extra down time,” says Whisler, now 37 and the owner of Wes Whisler Academy at The Strike Zone, 15475 Endeavor Drive, Noblesville (he founded his business in 2014, buying The Strike Zone and re-branding it). “What can i do to keep my mind sharp and give back to the younger generation?
“At the end of my playing career, I was able to make a smooth transition to coaching and instructing, something I loved to do.”
There are three regular baseball instructors at the academy — Whisler, Travis Reboulet and Brent Miller (also with Pastime Tournaments).
Jim Reboulet, who helps Travis coach the Indiana Nitro 18U Gold team, has conducted infield schools.
After two years as general manager, Whisler is also in his second full year of running USAthletic Baseball Club, a travel organization he took over from long-time friend Rob Barber when the latter began focusing on The BASE Indy urban youth inititative.
USAthletic Baseball Club currently has four teams — 15U, two in 16U and 18U.
Whisler says he looks to added other levels in the future, but is building with purpose.
With the recent lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, USAthletic players just got back together after about 10 weeks apart.
“Everybody is on a shortened time frame and under the gun,” says Whisler, who will see teams open their seasons June 14. “We’ve got to be ready to go. We pretty much jump into games.”
Whisler is always trying to provide another learning tool for his players and encouraging them to be students of the game.
Problem is the pandemic shut down live baseball in mid-March and Major League Baseball still has not started in 2020 season.
“If you’re going to play, one of the best ways is by watching,” says Whisler. “Wait, there’s no games on (TV).”
Plans call for USAthletic to play in games at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., Victory Field in Indianapolis plus road trips to Louisville and St. Louis.
Whisler has about 125 private instruction clients at his academy — many are two-way players.
A lefty hitter and thrower, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Whisler was a first baseman/designated hitter as well as a pitcher through his college career and first two pro seasons.
“That’s all I knew my entire life,” says Whisler. “I said let’s see how it plays out. Essentially, they were getting two players for one.”
In three seasons at UCLA (2002-04), Whisler hit .304 with 34 home runs and 129 RBIs and also went 11-14 with a 5.00 earned run average, 172 strikeouts and 105 walks in 259 1/3 innings on the mound.
“The decision came down after two seasons that we’re going to make you a left-handed pitcher,” says Whisler. “That’s the way we want it.
“At the time, the system was loaded with first baseman. (As a pitcher) I could be on the upswing and move up quicker.”
Whisler made three relief appearances with the big-team White Sox in 2009 with Ozzie Guillen as manager and Don Cooper as pitching coach and remained in pro baseball through 2013. He retired having been in Triple-A in six of 10 minor league seasons.
Whisler got his organized baseball start at Skiles Test Little League in Indy’s Lawrence Township. His seventh grade year, his family, including father Mike, mother Kristie and older brother Brandy, moved to Noblesville.
Jeff Mault affirms that the body’s lower half is the foundation of baseball.
When instructing pitchers or hitters at Extra Mile Baseball in a pole barn next to his rural home near Kimmel, Ind., the former college and professional player talks a lot about the important part played by biggest muscle groups.
“I’m a mechanics guy,” says Mault, who had close to 20 lessons on his schedule this week and counts third baseman/second baseman and Wright State University commit Jake Shirk (Fort Wayne Carroll High School Class of 2020) and left-handed pitcher/first baseman and University of Kentucky commit Carter Gilbert (Northridge Class of 2022). “Hips is where it’s at with pitchers. I don’t care about the arm slot. If you can do what I want you to do, your arm will not hurt. Period.
“I had one of the very first ones,” says Mault. “It’s awesome.
“I wish I had it when I was playing.”
A right-handed pitcher and right fielder in high school then pitcher-only after that, Mault played for Tim Schemerhorn at West Noble (the Chargers won the IHSAA Class 3A Lakeland Sectional in 1998 then lost 7-5 to Northridge in the first round of the Wawasee Sectional with smoke-throwing Mault and Doug McDonald as the top two pitchers).
Mault got the ball up to 92 mph in high school.
“I didn’t have anything else,” says Mault. “I had a curve that curved when it wanted to. I couldn’t throw a change-up.
“My theory was throw hard in case they missed it. That’s how I pitched.”
“It seemed like home,” says Mault. “It’s out in the middle of nowhere with cornfields.”
Mault grew up on a farm and still tends to chores at his in-law’s place in Wawaka, Ind., besides a full work week as parts/service advisor at Burnworth & Zollars Auto Group in Ligonier and having a half dozen lawns to mow.
Mault was a medical redshirt his freshmen year at Olney Central after a hairline tear was found in his ulnar collateral ligament, which is similar to the injury that leads to Tommy John surgery.
“(Surgery) was not even suggested,” says Mault. “Tommy John doesn’t make you throw harder. It’s the rehab (which for Mault took about nine months).
“The next year was a mental block. I just didn’t feel comfortable throwing hard.”
In his third year at OCC, Mault was back to normal and the Blue Knights won 39 games.
Olney played in a fall tournament at Austin Peay State. Governors head coach Gary McClure was looking for a closer so Conley used starter Mault to finish two games.
Once at Austin Peay State, Mault set the single-season school record with 10 saves in 2003. In his senior year (2004), he alternated closing and starting until he accumulated the three saves he needed for what made him at the time the Governors’ career saves leader.
Springfield/Ozark Ducks manager Greg Tagert offered Mault a chance to play with that independent professional team. He instead went for what turned out to be a very brief stint with the Gateway Grizzlies.
“I pitched in one game and they let me go,” says Mault. “When there’s money involved, it’s cut-throat.
“But if not for that, I wouldn’t be where I’m at. Everything works out.”
Mault was released the following year in spring training.
“I worked out with Triple-A,” says Mault. “I was on the field for two hours and got called back in and they let me go. That was rough.
“But I was still going to play.”
He came back to Noble County and worked on the farm then finished college in fall of 2004.
In 2006, Tagert was in his second season as manager of the Gary SouthShore RailCats and brought Mault aboard. The righty went 0-2 in eight games (six in relief) with five strikeouts and five walks in 18 1/3 innings with a 4.91 ERA.
Mault was reunited with former Olney Central assistant Andy Haines in 2007. At that point he was manager of the Windy City ThunderBolts in Crestwood, Ill., and is now hitting coach with the Milwaukee Brewers. The pitcher went 3-0 in 11 contests (eight in relief) with 21 K’s and 17 walks in 24 1/3 innings and a 3.70 ERA before his pro career came to a close at 26.
Jeff and Abbey Mault have two children — daughter Cora (9) and son Casyn (6). Abbey is an Arts teacher at Central Noble Junior/Senior High School in Albion, Ind.
Jeff Mault, who pitched at West Noble High School in Ligonier, Ind., Olney (Ill.) Central College and Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn., was signed by the Seattle Mariners and pitched in Everett, Wash., in 2005. (Everett AquaSox Photo)
Jeff Mault, a former college and professional pitcher, offers instruction at Extra Mile Baseball in Kimmel, Ind.
“We focus more so on youth development — all the skill sets,” says Matt Chandler, who founded the Jaguars in the early 2000’s and is in the second year of a re-boot with a 13U squad in 2020 — his 31st year as a baseball coach. “We cover the intangibles that rec ball may not provide.
“We emphasize body and athletic development before we even get to the baseball training.”
Chandler says there is an emphasis on arm care, including recovery.
“There is a specific way we develop our pitchers,” says Chandler. “The kids experience what they’re going to experience in high school if they get to that level.
“Typically, we take 30 minutes of every practice for stretching and throwing properly and that includes some long toss.”
All bullpen pitches are charted.
“We have a bullpen goal for each kid,” says Chandler. “For example, we might try to throw at least 50 percent strikes.”
These numbers are turned into rankings and shared with the players.
“We build a lesson on how to compete, hold yourself accountable and improve,” says Chandler. “We do similar things for hitting and fielding.”
During batting practice, all defensive chances are charted and the goal is to go error-free on at least 96 percent of them.
But it’s about more than baseball.
“We’ve got to continue to let kids know it’s OK to pray,” says Chandler, who has lost two former players to suicide — one who had played for him at Harrison High School and another former Jaguar. “After every game, we take a knee and give God the glory.
“We want them to know that their coaches have their best interests at heart and they’re more than a jersey number. Every kid I come in contact with them, that I’m here for them and they’re loved. I want to be an outlet for these kids.”
Chandler says he wants players to continue to learn and grow in the game and also have fun so they don’t get burned out, giving it up even before they get to high school.
The organization’s originator says the Jaguars gives opportunities to families who may not have the time or funds to devote to full-fledge travel ball. The team plays many of its games in Lafayette with the Wea Summer Rec complex being a common site.
In 2019, the Jaguars played around 30 games.
“We’re in wait-and-see mode,” says Chandler. “We ordered equipment and gear in anticipation of playing a 15-game schedule that would begin in May. It’ll be whatever state and federal government allow. We usually have a Tippecanoe County rec league.
“But with the (COVID-19 Coronavirus) pandemic that did not get off the ground. Many local teams shut down for the year. We want to allow kids and families to continue and grow and develop so we organized our own league (run by Ryan Johnson).”
Chandler regularly consults with high school, college and pro coaches to increase his baseball knowledge.
“In order for the Jaguars organization to grow, I have to grow as a coach,” says Chandler. “If I don’t, I’m doing a disservice to my players and my program.”
Over the years, the Jaguars have had high school-age players. There are currently 13 players — mostly sixth and seventh graders.
Chandler was born and raised in Lafayette. He played two years of high school baseball at Lafayette Central Catholic. After transferring to Lafayette Jeff, he was cut in his junior and senior years (1988 and 1989).
“I still loved the game,” says Chandler, who began coaching baseball in local youth leagues at 18 and is still at it.
Chandler served as head junior varsity coach on the staff of Joel Strode at West Lafayette Junior/Senior High School in 2009 and 2010 then went back to the youth leagues while coaching the Jaguars on a part-time basis. He was head JV coach at Harrison, where Pat Lowery is head coach, in 2015 and 2016.
In 2017 and 2018, Chandler was head coach at Faith Christian School in Lafayette. As far as he knows, he was the first African-American head baseball coach at the high school in Tippecanoe County.
“Then God called me to a bigger purpose — to re-start the Jaguars program to give back to the youth of our community,” says Chandler.
Matt is married to Jennifer Chandler and has a 20-year-old step-daughter named Hannah.
For just the third year in 31, Matt is coaching his sons — Matthew Chandler Jr. (13) and Thomas Chandler (12).
“It’s a blessing to mentor and coach them,” says Matthew Chandler Sr.
His Jaguars assistants for the second year are Mark McIntosh, James Casab and Vernon Ford.
McIntosh has been a board member and coach at Frankfort (Ind.) Little League. His son, Xavier McIntosh, is a Jaguar.
Casab (Harrison) and Ford (Faith Christian) both played for Chandler, making more than a dozen former players who have coached with him over the years.
“It’s bigger than any trophy I could ever win,” says Chandler. “They come back and give to the kids. They show (current players) what it looks like to give back.”
Thomas Chandler (left) and brother Matthew Chandler Jr., play for Jaguars Baseball Organization, Inc., in Lafayette, Ind. The Jaguars were formed by Matthew Chandler Sr., in the early 2000’s and re-booted in 2019.
Matthew Chandler Sr., is the founder of Jaguars Baseball Organization, Inc., in Lafayette, Ind. The 2020 season marks his 31st of coaching the sport.
After that came a very brief stint as a player with the Rockland Boulders of the independent professional Can-Am League. He finished out the 2015 season with the Pomona, N.Y,-based team as a player-coach.
In 2016, DeYoung was a coach with the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters in the Northwoods League, a college collegiate circuit. He coached catchers, outfielders and hitters for a team that won both halves of a split season and the playoffs. More than a dozen players on that team went on to sign professional contracts.
“It’s best preparation for professional baseball there is,” says DeYoung. “We played 72 games in 75 games.”
There were no days off for the Wisconsin Rafters staff with the league’s all-star game, showcase and postseason. That meant a stretch of more than 80 days without time off.
In 2017 and 2018, DeYoung was bench coach/hitting coach with the Crestwood, Ill.-based Windy City Thunderbolts of the independent pro Frontier League. At the time, the league was predominantly a rookie league and has since consolidated with teams in the Can-Am League.
“It revives guy’s careers and helps them get back into or have their first shot at affiliated baseball,” says DeYoung of indy ball.
DeYoung has pro hitters coming from all over Chicagoland to hit with him at the Omni 41 and Morris Baseball facility in Schererville, Ind.
As bench coach on a staff led by manager Iggy Suarez, DeYoung did many things. He coached first base and third base, instructed players on catching and base running and assisted Suarez, hitting coach Nelson Paulino and pitching coach Bob Kipper.
When Ryan Johansen became assistant hitting coordinator for the White Sox, he asked DeYoung to join the organization.
“The White Sox seem to be a really good fit for me,” says DeYoung. “They’re moving in a really good direction.
“It’s exciting to see the steps they’re talking and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”
He will be a bench coach for Barons manager Justin Jirschele, who will be 29 when the Southern League season opens.
“I will aid in the work load and try to make everybody’s job easier,” says DeYoung. “I’ll collect data and just try to be the voice of reason.
“Genuinely caring about players. That’s how I go about player development.”
DeYoung is scheduled to report to spring training in Arizona Feb. 8. Before then, he will continue to teach lessons and clinics through Devin DeYoung Pro Baseball/Softball. But he’s carved out time to learn about players who may land in Birmingham in 2020 and for his family.
Devin and high school sweetheart Samantha DeYoung reside in St. John and have a daughter, Ella (7).
Much of what DeYoung knows about business came from working as a youngster at DeYoung Interiors of St. John, which was established in 1928.
“It helps you quantify things you can’t see within the swing,” says DeYoung. “You get a baseline and create a player plan. You can see deficiencies in the swing or a movement assessment. We can eliminate some guessing.
“We can find out what these players are capable of doing physiologically. We’re really early in the process.”
Devin DeYoung (11) talks with Dustin Pedroia during a Greenville Drive game. DeYoung, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., was a coach in the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. (Greenville Drive Photo)
Devin DeYoung (11) talks with Jonathan Ortega during a Greenville Drive game. DeYoung, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., was a coach in the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. (Greenville Drive Photo)
Devin DeYoung (11) coaches third base in 2019 for the Greenville (S.C.) Drive in the Boston Red Sox organization. The team’s home park has its own Green Monster. DeYoung is a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. (Greenville Drive Photo)
Devin DeYoung (left) sees relationships as the key to player development. He was with the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. The graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., is now with the Chicago White Sox system. (Greenville Drive Photo)
Devin DeYoung, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has known he wanted to be a baseball coach since 13. Here he is in 2019 with the Greenville Drive in the Boston Red Sox organization. (Greenville Drive Photo)
Devin DeYoung swings the fungo bat as a coach for the Greenville (S.C.) Drive in the Boston Red Sox organization in 2019. The graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., is now in the Chicgao White Sox system. (Greeenville Drive Photo)
Devin DeYoung, a 2008 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., knew at 13 and taking hitting lessons from John Maleee and Anthony Iapoce that his future was as a baseball coach. He was with the Greenville Drive in the Boston Red Sox system in 2019 and will be with the Birmingham Barons in the Chicago White Sox organization in 2020. (Greenville Drive Photo)
Now an Ohio State University orthopedic surgeon based in Columbus, Ohio, who has worked with New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians doctors, Frantz was back near his college town Jan. 19 for the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.
Frantz spoke on several topics, including strength and conditioning, mechanics, simple physics, risky behaviors, baseball specialization and the injury epidemic.
“This is pretty new stuff,” says Frantz, who shared his knowledge and findings from studies conducted by Major League Baseball and others. “This is the best of what we know at the moment for how to keep guys healthy.
“In order to stay healthy you need that whole 180-degree arc of shoulder motion (internal or external rotation). Guys who are short on that we know, particularly in the shoulder, have 2.5 to 3 times more likely risk of suffering an injury when they start to lose that flexibility and that range of motion.
“When there’s rotator cuff weakness, that’s another risk factor for shoulder injury. A shoulder surgery for a pitcher is the kiss of death.
“Elbows we’re really good at. We now have a 97 percent return to the same level with Tommy John surgery. Rotator cuff surgery is 40 or 50 percent. It’s not great.”
“The whole shoulder adapts when your throw and you’re overhead that much,” says Frantz. “Even the actual bone itself remodels. It does what we call retrovert, meaning it tilts back a little bit.
“The late cocking is a good thing. You get a lot generated from that. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a normal adaptation for high-level throwers over time.”
Frantz notes that elbow injuries commonly occur alongside hip and core injuries. There is an exponential increase in MLB oblique injuries in the past seven years.
Those with hip injuries also have more elbow injuries.
Throwing engages the kinetic chain — movement at one joint affects movement in another.
Frantz says body regions must be conditioned properly. He adds that there is no perfect training system.
“Every therapist, strength and conditioning coach and ‘expert’ will have their opinion,” says Frantz.
Keys to strength and conditioning include doing movements that appropriate for age/level
Well-balanced i.e.. kinetic chain and with an appropriate dosage.
Doctors have found that complete rest may be bad, too. It used to be that heart attack patients were put on weeks of strict bed rest.
“We now know that is one of the worst things we could have done,” says Frantz. “We encourage them to get up and move and lightly stress the heart a little bit.
“A lot of the strength and conditioning coaches now are buying into that philosophy. Taking three days off, just sitting there and not doing anything at all is probably worse than doing something lightly for a couple of days.”
It’s active recovery to keep things moving and loose.
Frantz says there are now many strength and conditioning programs founded in “real” science.
“It has good philosophies,” says Frantz. “It makes sense in what you’re doing and is well-rounded.
“Be careful of the programs that have marketed upon just one success story. Or it’s one pro athlete who is a freak and would have had success with anything he did. They just happen to have his or her name on this program or institution.”
In addressing mechanics, Frantz says the biggest strides made in biomechanics and pitching mechanics in general occur in youth baseball between ages 9-13.
“Interestingly, as your mechanics improve the force that’s put on your elbow joint increases,” says Frantz. “Everywhere else in the body your risk goes down.”
Frantz says that once proper mechanics are developed, there is no difference in mechanics of those with elbow ligament tears and those without.
Kinetic factors associated with pitching injury include early trunk rotation (loss of hip and shoulder separation vs. maintained hip and shoulder separation), altered knee flexion and increased elbow flexion at ball release leads to increased elbow torque.
Looking at simple physics, Frantz says there are 64 Newton meters of force generated at the elbow with each pitch (bone and muscular structures see 32 Nm and the ulnar collateral ligament sees the other 32 Nm).
“Unfortunately what we’ve shown in lab studies looking at elbows is that (the UCL) fails at 33 to 36 units of that force,” says Frantz. “Essentially every time you throw, you’re within a few percentage points of maximum strength before that’s going to break.
“That’s why you’re seeing the amount of injuries you’re seeing.”
The greatest cause/risk factor for injury is increased velocity. Other things that make for a bigger force are increased body weight and height.
MLB revealed that the percentage of pitches 95 mph or above was 4.82 in 2008 and 9.14 in 2015. Where will it be in 2020?
In this era of high strikeout totals, research shows that 18.8 percent of pitches at or above 95 mph resulted in a swinging strike with 8.2 percent for deliveries less than 95 mph.
“Velocity works,” says Frantz. “It’s not going anywhere.”
Off-speed pitch velocity has also increased.
Frantz issues a warning for high injury risk.
“Be aware of the 14- to 18-year-old who hits a growth spurt, gains 25 pounds and suddenly throws 10 mph harder,” says Frantz.
Risky behaviors include pitching with tiredness (7.8 times more likely for injury), pitching with pain (7.5 times more likely for injury), catching when not pitching (2.8 times more likely for injury), pitching on consecutive days (2.5 times more likely for injury) and playing on multiple teams at the same time (1.9 times more likely for injury).
“There’s a difference between having a little bit of fatigue and having true pain when you’re throwing,” says Frantz. “It’s difficult to isolate, particularly in younger kids.
“As guys play a lot they can get a feel for it.”
Frantz says every player’s description of pain and what they can handle is different and coaches need to know their athletes well enough to understand that.
Studies show that breaking balls have not been found to be a direct contributor to arm injury while velocity does contribute.
In players undergoing Tommy John surgery, there is no difference in the amount of curveballs/sliders thrown compared to those who stayed healthy.
Breaking balls have been showed to increase arm pain by as much as 86 percent and arm pain increases injury rates.
Pitch counts have been widely instituted at various levels since 2004.
Frantz says there is no magic number.
Pitch counts do force players, parents and coaches to stop pitching when the arm pain and tiredness are likely to be ignored.
One website resource for guidelines sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball is PitchSmart.org.
Frantz says it is well-documented that throwers in warm weather regions, where there is more actively, the incidence of injury is higher than those in cold weather places.
In looking at specialization, Frantz quoted a study by the New York Yankees doctor of youth baseball in New York state.
The average age to begin dropping sports to focus on another is 8.1 years old.
In interviewing the youth players, he learned that 84 percent wished they played more sports, 47 percent thought about quitting last season and 33 percent were told by baseball coach to stop playing other sports.
In addition, 74 percent reported an injury, 55 percent stated it wasn’t fun to play while they were hurting, 47 percent were told by a parent or coach to keep playing despite pain, 25 percent had hired personal trainers and 5 percent of parents said they would suspend grade/redshirt to gain a competitive advantage.
What’s more, players with elite coaching had an injury rate of 38 percent. The rate dropped to 7.1 percent to those without elite coaching.
Frantz says an argument for not specializing comes from current MLB players.
They have generally been found to have played more sports than current high school players and “specialized” two years later (age 14 vs. 12 now) than current high school players.
Forty percent of big leaguers say specializing at any time did not help them reach professional baseball.
What does science say on the subject?
Frantz notes there is clear evidence of improved physical, emotional and learning development when playing multiple sports.
There is no advantage in specialization before 12 years of age and a clear increase in injuries.
While there have been very little studies done on the youth injuries, studies have revealed that baseball is a relatively safe sport at the highest level. MLB has 3.6 injuries per athlete-exposures compared to 21.4 for the NBA.
Position players have greater incidence of injury and most injuries involve ligaments and tendons.
During a three-month high school season, most injuries occur during the first month.
Frantz says that many claims about weighted balls are not based upon sound science.
Weighted balls have been shown to increase velocity. But that’s with 4- to 6-ounce balls used over the 10-week period by high school and college athletes.
Frantz says there are not current protocols on how weighted balls help as warm-up or recovery tools. It’s a coaching/pitching preference.
There is no evidence weighted balls hurt or harm mechanics.
Nor has there been any study done to prove they reduce injury.
Frantz says there are plenty of myths surrounding long toss.
He has found that is does not increase arm strength.
Throwers lose about 5 percent of arm strength over the course of the season and 11-18 percent from the start to the end of the game.
Long toss may help endurance and arm speed, but does not promote proper pitching mechanics.
Motion analysis has shown significant differences and that increases when long toss goes beyond 180 feet.
There’s an even higher stress on the arm with max effort crow hop long toss.
Yes, long toss is important, but not a requirement. Many pro players never throw more than 120 feet.
It’s a balancing act between increasing endurance and arm speed vs. cumulative fatigue.
Frantz adds that long toss is helpful, but must be used in combination with downtime, good arm care and quality strength and conditioning.
“There is not one perfect long toss program,” says Frantz.
Dr. Travis Frantz, an orthopedic surgeon in Columbus, Ohio, covered many baseball topics at the Jan. 19 Huntington North Hot Stove clinics. Frantz played at Fremont (Ind.) High School and Huntington (Ind.) University. (Steve Krah Photo)