By STEVE KRAH
Dustin DeMuth’s fourth professional baseball season gave him the chance to see what it means when you move up the ladder.
DeMuth, who was selected in the fifth round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Indiana University by the Milwaukee Brewers, played 96 games at High-A Brevard County, Fla., and 34 contests at Double-A Biloxi, Miss., in 2016 then 116 more at Biloxi in 2017.
“It was definitely an up-and-down season,” says DeMuth, who hit .244 with nine home runs, 20 doubles and 40 runs batted in from the left-handed batter’s box and also honed his skills at first base in ’17. “There is a separator from High-A to Double-A ball. It was a grind. It was fun though. I learned a lot.”
DeMuth, a 2010 LaPorte High School graduate, saw the pace of play speed up in the Double-A Southern League. He also faced pitchers who have better command of their stuff.
“You see velocity all through the minor leagues,” says DeMuth. “(Double-A pitchers) have velocity and can put it where they want it. They can locate off-speed pitches. You have to be ready for any pitch in any count.
“They’ll attack you differently every time you go up there. You have to keep making adjustments.”
Defensively, DeMuth continued to pick up on the cues needed to play well at first base.
“I’ve always been a pretty good hitter,” says DeMuth. “But I always thought my defense was lacking.”
DeMuth has picked up a number of things from Brewers coaches on hitting, fielding and footwork.
“A lot of people have different ways of teaching things,” says DeMuth. “You find something that clicks in your head,you understand it and you go with it.”
DeMuth’s off-season has been eventful. He got engaged to girlfriend of more than four years — Caitlin Hansen — last November and the couple plans to wed this November.
Dustin and Caitlin met through mutual friends. The Roncalli High School graduate is a former defensive specialist on the IU volleyball team.
DeMuth has also been in Bloomington working out with the Hoosiers baseball team as he gets ready for 2018 spring training in Arizona. The Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate is at Colorado Springs, Colo.
Indiana’s program is now headed by Chris Lemonis. Tracy Smith was the Hoosiers head coach when DeMuth played in Cream and Crimson.
DeMuth credits Smith for instilling mental toughness in his players.
“He helped us move on from the rough spots and mistakes and continue to grind,” says DeMuth of Smith, who is now head coach at Arizona State University. “He was a great mentor for all of us.”
It was a talented and close-knit group that played in the College World Series in 2013 and the NCAA Regional in 2014 and won back-to-back Big Ten Conference titles. DeMuth’s teammates included several players on their way to pro baseball, including Kyle Schwarber (who made his MLB debut in 2015 with the Chicago Cubs), Aaron Slegers (2017 with the Minnesota Twins), Sam Travis (2017 with the Boston Red Sox) and Jake Kelzer (a Bloomington native now pitching in the Philadelphia Phillies system).
“It was like a family to be honest,” says DeMuth. “Most of those guys are still good friends.”
DeMuth was drafted in the eighth round by the Twins in 2013, but opted to go back to IU. After being chosen as a third-team All-American as a junior, he was a first-team All-American while hitting .374 with five homers and 40 RBIs as a senior. His career average was .344 in 236 games (all starts) and left the program ranked No. 1 all-time in doubles (63) and No. 2 in hits (316).
Born in Merrillville, DeMuth went to school in Highland, Ind., through sixth grade, went to Edgewood Middle School in Ellettsville, Ind., then moved to LaPorte during his seventh grade year. He played four seasons for the LaPorte High School Slicers and is grateful for the chance head coach Scott Upp gave him to be a varsity regular in left field as a freshman.
“That was a big deal back then,” says DeMuth. “(Upp) is one of the reasons I went on to play baseball in college.”
A three-sport athlete at LaPorte, there was a time early in his prep career where DeMuth ranked basketball and football ahead of baseball.
But he saw 6-foot-2 point guards becoming a rarity at the big-time college level and began seeing the opportunities on the diamond.
“I always wanted to go to college and play D-I and baseball was definitely the best route to go,” says DeMuth, who is featured in the book Slicer Baseball, A Cut Above: The History of LaPorte Baseball.
While in high school, DeMuth played a few summers of travel baseball for the Indiana Chargers.
At IU, he followed up his freshman year with the Winter Park Diamond Dawgs of the Florida Collegiate Summer League and his sophomore year with the Wareham Gatemen of Cape Cod Baseball League.
Dustin, 26, is the youngest Dave and Judy DeMuth’s four children, coming after David, Jenny and Julie. Dave, a former Merrillville High School assistant principal, is retired. Judy DeMuth is superintendent of Monroe County School Corporation. The girls both played college basketball — two-time all-Big Ten performer Jenny at Indiana and Julie at Ball State University.
Dustin DeMuth, a former LaPorte High School and Indiana University baseball standout, is going into his fifth season in the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2018. (Biloxi Shuckers Photo)