Tag Archives: Area scout

’22 Evansville North grad Decker adapting to life with the Dodgers

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Cameron Decker was a young baseball player at McCutchanville Community Park on the north side of Evansville, Ind., when he donned a Dodgers jersey.
Flash forward about a decade later and Decker is with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
The 18-year old was selected in the 18th round of the 2022 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers. The draft was held July 17-19, he signed July 30 and last week finished a short stint in the Arizona Complex League. He came back to Evansville for a few days then headed back to Glendale, Ariz., for “bridge” league and Arizona Instructional League (which conclude Oct. 8). The Dodgers’ training complex is at Camelback Ranch.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder enjoyed a super senior season at Evansville North High School in 2022. He made 115 plate appearances and hit .447 with 12 home runs, five doubles, three triples and .617 on-base percentage as a righty-swinging shortstop. He bashed six homers in the Huskies’ first three games.
“It was my goal going in to hit a lot of home runs,” says Decker of the offensive approach at the end of his high school career. “(After the hot start), I saw a ton of curveballs and balls. I switched my mindset to be less aggressive and more patient and take what comes my way.
“As a pro, I’ve tried to hunt fastballs. In two-strike counts, I’m looking to put something in-play.”
While he has not fully committed to it, Decker is considering becoming a switch hitter.
“When I was about 12 I took a few (lefty) swing in the cage and my body felt well and not awkward,” says Decker. “I’ll sometime hit (lefty) in the cage to loosen things up.”
Decker was selected to play in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series June 25-26 at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion and Evansville North head coach Jeremy Jones was head coach for the South.
A University of Central Florida commit, Decker opted to go pro rather than attend college.
“It was a combination of a lot of things,” says Decker of the factors that went into his decision. “Three years of college is a lot of time. You’re not guaranteed to be drafted again. Development in pro ball is higher than three years of college.
“My dream since I was a little kid to play Major League Baseball.”
Decker, who turns 19 on Sept. 22, is getting used to the transition from amateur to pro baseball.
“I’m enjoying you a lot,” says Decker. “It’s a job and it’s a lot of baseball. We’re at the field 9 to 12 hours a day getting work in and playing games.
“I’m around a lot of smart people who love baseball. It’s pretty cool.”
The Dodgers have used Decker as a corner infielder but he has also gotten reps in the outfield and at shortstop and second base.
Decker considers strength and the ability to cover ground in the infield and outfield and run the bases well as some of his best qualities.
“I’ve always been a strong kid,” says Decker. “I’ve always had power regardless of my height. I’ve been working on being more mobile and loose. “It’s part natural strength. I also hit weight room three times a week for a whole-body workout.”
Since the end of his freshman year at Evansville North, Decker has worked out with Tyler Norton, who is a strength and conditioning coach for the Dodgers and runs TNT Fitness and Performance in Fort Branch, Ind.
Decker was born in Evansville and grew up on the north side. After playing at McCutchanville, he was with Highland and competed in the Indiana Little League State Tournament at age 12.
Playing for father Chad Decker, Cameron went into travel ball with the Evansville Thunder.
“Then it was time to go chase bigger things,” says Cameron, who was with the Canes Midwest coached by David Bear and Phil McIntyre his 15U and 16U summers and 5 Star Midwest coached by Jerry Cowan at 17U.
Along the way, Decker impressed scouts including those with the Dodgers, especially after he showed well in an event in Jupiter, Fla.
Dodgers Upper Midwest area scout Mitch Schulewitz (who pitched the University of Illinois-Chicago) signed Decker to his first pro contract.
Cameron — the oldest of Princeton (Ind.) Community High School graduates Chad and Libby Decker’s two sons — comes from a family with a strong baseball pedigree.
Grandfather Joe Don Decker played at Indiana State and in the Cincinnati Reds system. He was a 1962 spring training roommate of Pete Rose and went as high as Triple-A.
Father Chad Decker set records at Princeton then went to the University of Central Florida as a pitcher. After developing arm problems, he transferred to Indiana University to study business and now sells dental insurance.
Cousin Jeff Goldbach broke Chad’s Princeton hitting records and was drafted in the second round of the 1998 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs. He was tragically shot and killed in Greensboro, N.C., in 2021.
Uncle Quinn Decker pitched at Indiana State and lettered in 1996.
Brother Cole Decker (Evansville North Class of 2024) is a lefty-swinging and lefty-throwing outfielder who spent the summer of 2022 with the traveling Louisville Legends. The spring high school season was his first baseball season playing with his big brother.
“We’re a very tight family,” says Cameron. “But summers are usually split with mom and dad trading off (to followed one brother or the other).”
Libby Decker is a former social worker now in marketing. She holds degrees from Indiana State and UCF.

Cameron Decker. (Los Angeles Dodgers Photo)
Cameron and Chad Decker from the McCutchanville days.

Cameron Decker’s first Los Angeles Dodgers organization jersey.

Cameron Decker (left) and Los Angeles Dodgers strength and conditioning coach Tyler Norton in Glendale, Ariz.

Former pro pitcher Wechsler hunts for gems as White Sox area scout

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Wechsler grew up playing baseball in Madison County, Ind.
Born in Anderson in 1980 and briefly residing in Texas, he landed in Pendleton and was educated there through high school at Pendleton Heights (Class of 1998.
As a right-handed pitcher, he excelled at Ball State University (1999-2001) in nearby Muncie and then had professional baseball adventures in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and in independent ball.
When his playing career was over in 2006 — the year he turned 26 — Wechsler became a car salesman.
But that wasn’t for him.
“I needed to get back into baseball somehow, some way,” says Wechsler, who spent a short time as a Ball State volunteer assistant before becoming an area scout for the Chicago White Sox.
Most days from February through the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (which was July 17-19 in 2022) see McCordsville, Ind., resident Wechsler on the road evaluating talent in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
After a short break, he goes into summer and fall coverage. He is currently in San Diego for the 2022 Area Code Games.
Wechsler uses a mix of analytics and the eye test when grading players.
“You have to know them both,” says Wechsler. “These metrics just give you another piece of information to dissect a guy. The more information the better.
“I dug in on that stuff when it came out so I could talk intelligently about it. That’s what we do. That’s our job.”
As an area scout, Wechsler does not have the authority to sign players.
“I put numbers on them,” says Wechsler. “At a certain point a cross-checker or a national guy will come in.
“You build the base so you’ve got a target in the spring.”
He wants to find players who can hit, run and throw, but there’s more to it than that.
“It’s not so much the physical tools, it’s how they’re wired,” says Wechsler. “Do they have the right make-up? Professional baseball is hard. It’s a grind. It’s long. It’s just tough. The tools are the easy part.
“Mental toughness is a portion of it. What kind of teammate are they? Are they self-motivated? Do they love the game or just like the game? Are they coachable?”
It’s often creating a portfolio that has a beginning, middle and end.
“You start to build a profile and see how they mature,” says Wechsler. “Can they handle failure? It’s a very humbling experience.
“It helps that I played and was in a clubhouse. I know that life’s like.”
Wechsler played at Pendleton Heights for Bill Stoudt, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2013, the Arabians’ diamond became known as Bill Stoudt Field.
“He was awesome,” says Wechsler of Stoudt, who saw the pitcher chosen for the 1998 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series. “I had breakfast with Stoudty about a week ago.”
Wechsler has been known to stay at Stoudt’s Florida condo for a week at a time while attending spring training.
Wechsler met Anderson native Mike Shirley (who also played for Stoudt at Pendleton Heights) as a high schooler.
“He was one of those guys I met at a younger age when I needed guidance and advice,” says Wechsler. “I know I got lucky.”
Shirley is now Director of Amateur Scouting for the White Sox and operates The Barn training facility in Anderson.
Wechsler has been one of the pitching instructors at the facility and witnessed a long list of talent walk through the door.
“(Wapahani High School alum and St. Louis Cardinals left-hander) Zack Thompson grew up in our building,” says Wechsler.
John Miles was Wechsler’s manager with Anderson George H. Hockett American Legion Post 127.
“We were good,” says Wechsler of that Legion ball team.
At Ball State, the 6-foot, 255-pound righty learned from Cardinals head coach Rich Maloney. Over the years, he has watched him recruit players that went high in the MLB Draft (65 players have been selected 72 times with six first-rounders).
“He likes long athletic bodies,” says Wechsler of Maloney. “I probably didn’t fit his mold.”
Projectability is another key.
“You have to do that at that level,” says Wechsler.
The scout takes some credit for telling Maloney about right-hander Drey Jameson (Greenfield-Central Class of 2017), who came out of high school as a 6-foot, 145-pounder and pitched two seasons at Ball State (2018 and 2019) before being chosen in the first round in 2019 by the Diamondbacks.
“Drey is one of the most competitive human beings I’ve ever met,” says Wechsler. “He has a chip on his shoulder.
“He’s wired different than most guys.”
In 2022, 6-foot southpaw Tyler Schweitzer (Hamilton Southeastern) was drafted in the fifth round out of Ball State by the White Sox.
“He was light-tossing lefty who dove in the weight room and brought up his velocity,” says Wechsler of Schweitzer.
Draft selections who were Wechsler teammates at Ball State include outfielder Larry Bigbie (a Hobart High School graduate who played the majors and Japan), catcher Jon Kessick, right-handers Travis Minix and Christopher Cabaj and left-hander Jason Hickman in 1999, Hickman, lefty Adam Sheefel and infielders Shayne Ridley and Jeremy Ridley in 2000, catcher Doug Boone and right-hander Jason Paul in 2001 and righty Bryan Bullington (a Madison Consolidated alum and the No. 1 overall pick) and lefty Luke Hagerty, righty Paul Henry and Boone in 2002.
Bigbie, Bullington and Shayne Ridley are in the Ball State Athletic Hall of Fame.
Wechsler took the bump 53 times for the BSU Cardinals (40 starts) and went 23-13 with a 4.69 earned run average, 219 strikeouts and 92 walks in 232 1/3 innings.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2001 draft, Wechsler pitched for the rookie-level Missoula (Mont.) Osprey (2001), Low Class-A South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks (2002), High Class-A Lancaster (Calif.) JetHawks (2003 and 2004) and Double-A Tennessee Smokies (2005). He was with the Atlantic League’s Somerset Patriots (Bridgewater, N.J.) in 2006.
His managers were Chip Hale (Missoula), Dick Schofield (South Bend), Mike Aldrete and Wally Backman (Lancaster), Tony Perezchica (Tennessee) and Sparky Lyle (Somerset).
Through Backman, Wechsler came to know Mark Haley (who managed in South Bend 2005-14 and is now 1st Source Performance Center general manager and South Bend Cubs Foundation executive director).
South Bend resident and White Sox bullpen coach Curt Hasler and South Bend Clay High School coach and former Coveleski Stadium groundskeeper Joel Reinebold is counted among Wechsler’s many friends in baseball.
Another Pendleton Heights alum and Ball State player — Aaron Etchison — is now a scout for the Cleveland Guardians.
Brock Huntzinger, who was drafted out of Pendleton Heights in 2007, was named last week by new head coach Tracy Smith as pitching coach at the University of Michigan.
Wechsler started 56 of 161 pro appearances and went 25-29 with a 4.32 ERA, 352 K’s and 169 base on balls in 426 2/3 innings.
Justin met Niles, Mich., native Ryan Davis when he was playing for South Bend and she was an intern with the team. The couple now have three daughters — high schooler Grace and middle school twins Madalyn and Makenzie.
Catcher Scott French, who played at Ball State from 2000-02 and has been an instructor at The Barn and an Indiana Bulls coach/director, was best man at Justin and Ryan’s wedding.

Justin Wechsler

Former three-sport star Mucker entering 22nd year as Oakland Athletics scout

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kelcey Mucker grew up in the southern part of Indiana and excelled at multiple sports.
Born in Washington, Ind., and moving to Lawrenceburg, Ind., around 18 months, Mucker would go on to shine at Lawrenceburg High School. The 1993 graduate played in the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star Boys Basketball Series as well as the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and the Indiana Football Coaches Association North/South All-Star Game.
At the time, he was told he was the first to ever pull off that three-sport feat.
One of his teammates in the Indiana-Kentucky and IHSBCA North-South games was Jasper’s Scott Rolen. Both were named to the 2018 Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame Silver Anniversary Team.
Mucker, who swang the bat from the left side and threw the baseball and the football with his right arm, was headed to Indiana University on a football scholarship with plans to also represent the Hoosiers in basketball and baseball when his path turned to professional baseball.
Selected in the first round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins, all-state outfielder Mucker did not sign right away and had time for those summertime all-star appearances.
One day before he was to begin classes at IU — Aug. 9, 1993 — the 6-foot-4 athlete signed with the Twins.
“The offer was good and I weighed my options,” says Mucker, the Lawrenceburg High School Athletics Hall of Famer. “I feel like I could’ve played baseball a lot longer than the other sports.”
Basketball was his favorite and he excelled at football. He did not put the time into baseball he did the other two.
“It was something I could do,” says Mucker, who went on to play 597 pro games, including 109 with the 1995 Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards.
Mucker played in the Twins system 1993-99 — seeing time at Double-A the last two years. He hooked on with the Cleveland Indians organization as a minor league free agent in 2000 and was released in April.
The Oakland Athletics hired him as a scout and assigned him to a Deep South territory. He first moved to Metairie, La., outside New Orleans. He was in Baton Rouge, Fla., for 14 years and three years ago moved 20 miles east to Denham Springs, La., where he lives with wife Lisa.
Mucker, who is beginning his 22nd year with the Athletics, is responsible for knowing the baseball talent in Louisiana, Mississippi and southeast Texas (Houston area).
At this time of the year, Mucker is spending much of his time getting ready for the spring season. He meets with potential signees through in-home visits or (since the COVID-19 pandemic) sometimes over Zoom calls.
“Getting into homes was pretty big for us as area scouts — that face-to-face contact,” says Mucker. “That’s still challenging going into 2022.
“I like talking to parents and kids at the ballpark. It’s not so impersonal.”
Mucker’s job is tied to being organized.
“It’s knowing my area and what’s going on on a daily basis — not only for me but my supervisors and everybody above me so they can get that second look,” says Mucker. “We all can evaluate a player. What ballparks are we going to get in?”
Emails let him know when there are changes in games and he’s always on top of the forecast.
“I feel like I’m a weatherman,” says Mucker. “Rain is not good for a baseball game.”
But — generally speaking — the weather is good and baseball can be played 12 months a year in Mucker’s area. In the winter months, that is often a workout or showcase.
“Kids are always working out — sometimes a little bit too much,” says Mucker. “From the draft (now in July during the MLB All-Star break) until start of the season, we’re getting ready for 2022.
“I try to see everybody we can prior to next spring so we have an idea.”
Unlike Indiana when the snow might still be flying in April, high school baseball in Mucker’s territory tends to start the third week of February.
Mucker also keeps tabs on players’ social media accounts.
“They might Tweet something they shouldn’t and be a bigger risk,” says Mucker. “For us as scouts that’s part of the equation.”
Not all MLB organizations bring their scouts together during the draft. With the exception of 2020 with travel restrictions, Mucker and his colleagues go to Oakland during that time.
Mucker is vice president of the Southeastern Scouts Association — a group made up of scouts living in the Deep South and representing all 30 MLB teams.
“We meet once a year and talk about initiaves and giving back to the game within our region,” says Mucker, who has also been part of the Buck O’Neil Professional Baseball Scouts & Coaches Association.
Mucker notes that there is some uncertainty about what will transpire in baseball until the current lockout is resolved.
Scouting has always been competitive, but now that the draft has been cut down to 20 rounds (it was 40 in 2019 and five in 2020) it is even more important to know as much information as possible about players and also what other organizations think about him.
How much do the Reds like that player? Can we wait until the third round or take them in the second?
“It’s another way — on a bigger scale — to be organized within your territory,” says Mucker.
Though he’s lived away from Indiana more than two decades, Kelcey Adair Mucker still has family ties there. His father — retired Indiana State Police trooper of 30 years — Hubert Mucker Jr., is just outside Lawrenceburg. Brother Stacy Mucker and son Kelcey Aaron Mucker live in Lawrenceburg with many other family members in Washington or Indianapolis.

Kelcey Mucker in 1996.
Gathering at the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle, Ind., in 2018 (from left): Hubert Mucker Jr., Kelcey Adair Mucker, Stacy Mucker, Kelcey Aaron Mucker and D’Kari Mucker.

Owens leading Bellarmine into NCAA D-I era

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

When Larry Owens was playing baseball for Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School in the mid-1980’s, he had no sense of his future in the game.

Red Devils coach Don Poole, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1990, helped Owens see what could be.

“He opened my eyes to what was possible in baseball,” says Owens of Poole. “I didn’t have any clue I could play baseball beyond high school.”

Poole let the young left-handed pitcher know that the coach and some of Owens’ teachers could open some doors with their recommendations.

“I thank God for him,” says Owens of Don Poole Sr., who died in June at 82. “He helped me see I can have a job in baseball. That’s cool.”

Owens also appreciated Poole’s steady demeanor as a coach.

“(Coach Poole) never got too high and he never got too low,” says Owens, who was a classmate and teammate at Jeff of 2021 IHSBCA Hall of Fame inductee Chris McIntyre (the long-time head coach at New Albany High School).

Owens, who graduated from Jeffersonville in 1986, went on to play in college and briefly in the pros and has been a baseball coach since the spring of 1992. 

The future head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., was on the Jeffersonville High staff of Jerry Rusk (1992) and Al Rabe (1993).

Entering the college coaching ranks, Owens was as assistant to Warriors head coach Scott Rendel at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., in 1994 and 1995. 

In the fall of 1995, Owens was a volunteer at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State University) with Keith Guttin as Bears head coach and Paul Evans as pitching coach.

When Mike Snyder left the University of Louisville as pitching coach, Owens got the job and served with Cardinals head coach Lelo Prado in 1996 and 1997.

The 1999 and 2000 seasons saw Owens as pitching coach for Governors head coach Gary McClure at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.

That was follow by a four-year stint (2001-04) as Tigers head coach Dave Anderson’s pitching coach at the University of Memphis.

In the summer of 2005, Owens got his first taste of pro coaching. He was pitching coach for the independent Golden League’s San Diego Surf Dawgs with manager Terry Kennedy, who had played in the majors with Anderson. It was also the last season as a player for a 46-year-old Rickey Henderson.

“It was awesome,” says Owens of his season in San Diego. “We played National League rules with no DH. That changes how you run the game quite a bit with double-switching. It’s about getting through a game and not crushing your bullpen.”

Owens learned that managing at the pro level was as much about managing personalities as game situations.

“It was a way to deal with people that I appreciated,” says Owens. “There’s a skill to it. You’re trying to get people to do things.

“That’s the approach I take at Bellarmine. We’re marrying both sides — amateur and pro.”

Owens was an area scout with the Boston Red Sox in 2006.

The 2021 season will mark Owens’ eighth as head coach at Bellarmine. It will be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I after years at the NCAA D-II level.

Owens played his freshmen college season at Bellarmine for coach Kevin Kocks.

“He was on the cutting edge with a boatload of passion,” says Owens of Kocks. “He believed in doing things fast and intense.”

One of Owens’ teammates was sophomore lefty Scott Wiegandt, who went on to a stellar diamond career and then became Bellarmine’s director of athletics. 

When the time was right, Owens accepted Wiegandt’s invitation to come “home” from a baseball odyssey that saw him hold coaching jobs in Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, California, North Carolina and Virginia. He was a pitching coach in the Chicago White Sox system from 2007-13, spending four seasons with the Kannapolis (N.C.) Intimidators and three with the Bristol (Va.) White Sox. His managers included Chris Jones, Nick Capra, Ernie Young, Pete Rose Jr., and Bobby Magallanes.

“I didn’t leave professional baseball just be in college,” says Owens, who turns 52 on Dec. 31. “It had to be the right fit for me to leave what I was doing and this is right fit.”

Owens notes that each time he moved in baseball it was to better himself. Coming back to his home area also meant being closer to family. A bachelor for his first four decades, he got married in 2008. Larry and Kelley’s blended family now includes four children — McKenna (22), Dawson (19), Grayson (11) and Easton (9).

Owens, who was featured on the Dec. 7, 2020 Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV and hosted by Jeremy Sheetinger, is leading Bellarmine’s move to D-I baseball. He cut his term as American Baseball Coaches Association NCAA D-II chair short when his program made the switch.

The northern-most team in a southern league, the Knights are now in the ASUN Conference (along with Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Liberty, Lipscomb, North Alabama, North Florida and Stetson.

“It’s exciting,” says Owens of the process. “There’s a transition period that happens. I want to have what my opponents have in terms of player development and facilities. We don’t have those things yet.

“There’s so much value in player development. To me, it is many, many things — not just the just the physical, mechanics, measuring things or getting in the weight room,” says Owens.

Bellarmine is hoping to break ground soon on a new baseball complex.

“I’m excited for our returning seniors that were allowed to come back and play a Division I schedule,” says Owens, who welcomes back six of seven players who had originally assumed the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign was their last. The coach says four of those returnees have a legitimate chance at pro baseball.

After his one season playing with Bellarmine, Owens transferred to Vincennes (Ind.) University and played for Trailblazers head coach Jerry Blemker (National Junior College Athletic Association Hall of Fame Class of 2007).

“He was a great man,” says Owens of Blemker. “He taught us how to grow up and be a man in a variety of ways.

“He was demanding, but fair. He wasn’t for everybody, but if you paid attention to the right things you were certainly going to learn a lot.”

Blemker held his student-athletes accountable. They were accountable to their teammates. They were expected to be a good person — on and off the field.

“Coach has some standards,” says Owens. “We’re on the team. We have to live up to them.”

At the time, junior college baseball was not restricted in number of games so Vincennes played around 45 games in the fall and 85 in the spring. The 1998 Blazers won more than 50.

“There was a doubleheader everyday,” says Owens.

On top of that, he had to take more than a full load in each semester and then six hours during the summer while playing in the Cape Cod League to be eligible for a four-year school.

That ended up being Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga., where Lebanon, Ind., native Joe Roberts was the Pirates head coach.

“Joe gave us a chance to play,” says Owens. “He figured out how to build a roster and put guys in the right spots.”

Armstrong State went from NCAA D-I in 1987 to NCAA D-II in 1988 and went to the D-II World Series that first year and several times after that.

Clyde Oliver was then the Pirates pitching coach.

“Clyde taught us how to pitch,” says Owens. “You were not just heaving things. You’re trying to navigate the game. It’s how you use your stuff. The pitcher’s job is to get people out. 

“There’s a really good time for a 3-2 breaking ball and there’s a really bad time for it. You have to pay attention to the game situation. It’s not as simple as lifting your leg and throwing it as hard as you can.”

Owens was selected in the 27th round of the 1990 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by he Atlanta Braves and played that summer for the Pulaski (Va.) Braves, but he knew his future was in coaching.

So after taking 1991 off, he launched into what has been a baseball coaching odyssey.

Larry Owens talks to Ryan Wheat (Louisville Legends Video).
Larry Owens, a 1986 graduate of Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School, is entering his eighth season as head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky. The 2021 season is to be the Knights’ first in NCAA Division I. (Bellarmine University Photo)

Former Pendleton Heights catcher Etchison scouting for Cleveland Indians

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Etchison used to play baseball for a coach who was invested in his players as people as ballplayers.

Now Etchison evaluates diamond talent with an eye for more than the obvious skills.

Etchison was a catcher for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt at Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School, graduating in 2007.

“He is one of he best human beings of all-time,” says Etchison of Stoudt. “He was close with his players and his players were close with each other. Everyone who played for him just loves him.

“He was so much more than a baseball coach. He was invested in you. He genuinely cares about people.”

Etchison, 31, makes it a point to look Stoudt up whether it’s in Indiana or Florida.

In his third year as an area scout for the Cleveland Indians, Etchison greatly values character.

“The Indians very progressive in how they go about scouting,” says Etchison. “We collect information and get to know a player. Every player has strengths and weaknesses.

“We emphasize make-up as an organization. The make-up is just so huge.”

Etchison, who played at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., and the University of Maryland after his Pendleton Heights days (which included back-to-back Hoosier Heritage Conference championships in 2006 and 2007 and a senior season in which he hit .392 with five homer runs, seven doubles and 20 runs batted in and a spot on the 2007 IHSBCA North/South All-Star team; former Arabians head coach Travis Keesling assisted Stoudt; The PHHS program is now headed by Matt Vosburgh), wants to know a player’s level of perseverance and his ability to overcome challenges and perform under pressure.

His job is to identify someone who will impact the game at the big league level.

As an area scout living in Dexter, Mich., Etchison is responsible for a territory which includes Indiana and Michigan plus Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, northern Kentucky, South Dakota, western Ohio and Wisconsin.

He goes to games and tournaments in the spring and summer and scout days in the fall featuring players from these territories or — especially in this time of no live baseball because of the COVID-19 pandemic — analyzes video to do player assessments and projections.

“I don’t know what we would have done without Synergy (Sports Technology) video,” says Etchison. “We can see mechanical things on tape — things that weren’t possible 10 years ago — and go through it with a fine-tooth comb.”

That’s one piece of the scouting puzzle.

“We’ll never not value going to the ballpark,” says Etchison. “There are a lot of things you can’t see on tape.”

Among those are pregame routines and what the player does during warm-ups or batting practice and how he interacts with his coaches and teammates. Body language won’t always show up on a video that is cut up by pitch and swing.

It is said that there are five tools in baseball (hitting for average, hitting for power, base running, throwing and fielding).

“Old school scouting relies so heavily on tools,” says Etchison. “In the majors, a lot of players have one or two.

“The hit tool, that’s the one that matters (for non-pitchers).”

Etchison hears people say that an outfielder can run like a deer and has a cannon for an arm.

But can he effectively swing the bat? Those defensive tools might show up once or twice a week.

“The bat shows up four times every game,” says Etchison. “All (big league) outfielders are offensive positions.”

Etchison, who also played travel baseball with the Indiana Bulls prior to college, redshirted his first season at Ball State (2008) and apparel in 20 games for Greg Beals-coached Mid-American Conference West Division champions in 2009.

Knowing that he would see limited playing time in his third year, Etchison made the choice to transfer to Chipola and joined the that program just weeks before the start of the 2010 season.

“The first time I really took a chance on myself was going down there,” says Etchison. “It was a sink-or-swim situation.”

He could either make it or go back to Indiana and leave his baseball career behind.

Playing for Jeff Johnson on a team loaded with future pro players, Etchison became part of the Chipola Indians brotherhood.

“It’s one of the top junior college programs in the country,” says Etchison. “(Johnson) had a very similar impact on his players as Coach Stoudt. He was a big personality, a great baseball coach and a great mentor.

“(Chipola) opened doors for me.”

Johnson had a relationship with then-Maryland head coach Erik Bakich and it helped Etchison land with the Terrapins as part of Bakich’s first recruiting class. He played in 28 games (25 as a starter) in 2011 and 31 (20 as a starter) in 2012. He threw out 14-of-25 runners attempting to steal during his senior season which opened with a dislocated finger that caused him to miss two weeks. He had already suffered a broken hand and a torn meniscus while at the Big Ten school.

Etchison was a Maryland team captain as a senior, helping the Terps win 32 games.

Meanwhile, Bakich encouraged Etchison to consider coaching when his playing days were over. He graduated from Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in Finance from the Robert H. Smith School of Business in December 2012.

“He thought I’d be good at it,” says Etchison. “I had a few real world job opportunities in the finance industry. My parents (Jeff and Shelly Etchison) encouraged me to get into (coaching). They’ve always wanted me to go out and take chances.”

When Bakich became head coach at the University of Michigan he brought Etchison on in the volunteer role, one he stayed in for five seasons (2013-17) plus part of the fall before going into scouting.

“I fell in love with coaching,” says Etchison. “I really loved being around baseball everyday.”

There was continuity in the Wolverines program and chances to earn money by working camps.

“I was in a great spot,” says Etchison, who briefly got the chance to go on the road and recruit when Sean Kenny left Michigan for the University of Georgia. “Financially, I was able to survive.”

He also got to spend time around a mentor in Bakich.

“He is one of my closest friends,” says Etchison, who got married last summer with Bakich performing the wedding ceremony.

Aaron became the stepfather to two boys — Reid (now 10 and in the fourth grade) and Grant (now 7 and in the first grade). Emily Etchison, who is from Saline, Mich., is due to bring a baby girl into the family at the end of July.

Etchison explains why he became a scout for the Cleveland Indians.

“The organization was extremely impressive,” says Etchison. “It was a great opportunity for growth.”

Another significant person in Etchison’s baseball life is fellow Anderson, Ind., native Mike Shirley, who is now Director of Amateur Scouting for the Chicago White Sox.

Growing up, Etchison was a regular at Shirley’s training facility.

“Like so many players who grew up in the area and are proud to be ‘Barn Guys,’ I would be remiss if I did not give credit to him for being a baseball mentor and friend for over 20 years,” says Etchison.

AARONETCHISON

Aaron Etchison, a Pendleton (Ind.) High School graduate who played baseball at Ball State University, Chipola College and the University of Maryland and coached at the University of Michigan, is an area scout for the Cleveland Indians.

 

Christman sees baseball through a scout’s eyes

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kevin Christman has been in professional baseball for well over half of his 54 years. He signed his first pro contract as a teenager.

At the end of last summer, Noblesville, Ind., resident Christman concluded a 13-year stint as a scout for the San Francisco Giants and has three World Series rings to show for it. As an area scout, his territory included Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. He also coached at Giants Fall Scout Team that included several players eventually selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including Ryan Campbell, Garrett Christman, Harrison Freed, Cory Malcom, Connor Mitchell, Mitch Roman, Tanner Tully, Nolan Watson.

While he is assessing his next move, Christman is helping out Sue and Chris Estep at Round Tripper Sports Academy.

“I’m giving back to the game,” says Christman, who has served as a general manager, coach and advisor on curriculum, facilities and the baseball industry over the years at the place where sons Garrett and Connor Christman trained and played for the Indiana Mustangs as well as Noblesville High School’s 2014 IHSAA Class 4A state champions, which were recently inducted with the NHS Athletic Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020. “I’m giving back to the program. I’ve always been available for them.”

Christman went to Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif., and was a 6-foot-3 catcher in the Philadelphia Phillies and Giants systems before beginning his scouting career on the West Coast with the Milwaukee Brewers and joined the Giants player evaluation staff in 2006.

Along the way, the Midwest became his territory and he and wife Linda moved their family to central Indiana.

Christman has watched technology grow and become a big part of player development.

“It’s changed strength level opportunities,” says Christman. “We understand nutrition and what’s out there to use.

“There’s still a lot of unproven aspects of the technology. The game’s the game. But you don’t leave any stone unturned. You use all resources.”

Chistman uses technology, but he has long employed his evaluation and personal skills to find prospects and to see what makes them tick.

“My job was to always bet on a heartbeat,” says Christman. “With what we were spending on players, that’s just as important. We can’t lose sight of that.”

Christman studies players. Once they pass the eye test, he goes in-depth.

“What has he learned? What has he not learned?,” says Christman. “I could almost be like an FBI agent.”

Like other scouts, Christman would project a player’s potential to get to the majors.

“It’s all conjecture,” says Christman. “I think he can do this.

“It’s like a lump a clay you can mold.”

Only a small percentage of players who enter the system will ever have a cup of coffee in the big leagues.

“It’s a very difficult process,” says Christman. “Eventually, physical talents become similar.”

Things like make-up often make the difference between those who break into the majors and those that don’t.

That’s why scouts like Christman will work hard to find and sign the best players.

“I’m a winner,” says Christman. “It’s a competitive business.”

The proving grounds in baseball is at the high school and college levels.

Christman says many big leaguers were signed out of high school. But the latest trend is to sign college players.

“(Colleges can) develop them three years longer,” says Christman. “(Professional teams tend to) go with a proven track record. History will prevail. That’s what’s driving the sport now. There will be another adjustment later.”

Of course, not all big leaguers are known on the national level by the time they’re 16 and performing in showcases.

“One of the joys of scouting is finding that one guy who’s not in the mainstream,” says Christman.

That’s the story of Adam Duvall, a graduate of Butler Traditional High School in Louisville who played at Western Kentucky University and the University of Louisville, made his Major League Baseball debut with the Giants and played with the Cincinnati Reds 2015-18 and the Atlanta Braves in 2018-19. He was a corner infielder in college and has been mostly a left fielder in the bigs.

“His signing was not analytically-driven,” says Christman of Duvall. “He made the game look easy. He had better than average makeup.

“He’s a worker. It’s the grass roots story of a champion.”

MLB has been talking about shrinking the minor leagues, possibly a contraction of 25 percent of teams. If that happens, what would it look like?

With rookie leagues decreased or eliminated, Christman says its likely that players with the least amount of experience would remain in an extended spring training setting before going to Class A ball.

“They will keep players in the complex longer and there will be a higher revolving door at the top,” says Christman. “Either they’re big league players or they’re not.

“It’ll be a little more hands-on at a younger level.”

Noting “it’s all about spots,” Christman says it will harder to enter into baseball at the lower level.

As it stands now, minor leaguers train and play with their organizations from March to September and then are essentially on their own until the next spring.

Christman says a streamlined affiliated baseball could see teams conducting mini-camps throughout the year kind of like OTA’s in football.

KEVINCHRISTMANWSTROPHY

Kevin Christman poses with the World Series trophy. The Noblesville, Ind., resident won three World Series rings as a scout with the San Francisco Giants.

GIANTSWSRINGS

Kevin Christman earned three World Series rings as a scout for the San Francisco Giants. The Noblesville, Ind., resident has been in pro baseball for more than half his life.

 

Getting to know players well is key for Rangers area scout Medici

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

How a player can swing a bat or throw a baseball is important to Texas Rangers area scout Mike Medici.

But it goes deeper than that.

“It’s about doing a better job of knowing the person,” says Medici, who lives near Danville and Avon on the west side of Indianapolis. “I appreciate the story. I like to know what drives them, the influences in their lives.

“There’s adversity. It’s not smooth sailing all the time. It’s important knowing anything and everything about them. I go as deep as I have to. I go to the people who don’t have a vested interest.

“It’s anyone who is going to give you a straight answer about that player. If he shows up to camp and he’s a screwball and not putting in the work, that comes back to the signing scout.”

Much can be learned from trainers and strength and conditioning coaches who sometimes spend more time with players than their on-field coaches.

Some players may be found to be a little immature or party too much.

“They may have been coddle a little bit in high school,” says Medici. “We can work with that.

“If so-and-so needs to grow up a little bit, teams will try to pair guys up away from the complex that are going to be good influences on each other.”

Medici says the high school player is the riskiest to draft but offers the most upside because of their age and the time they have to develop.

Major League Baseball organizations are investing in these athletes so they want to know what they’re getting and scouts like Medici are the ones gathering much of that information and forming those relationships.

Medici, who was an area scout in Indiana and Illinois for the Toronto Blue Jays December 2009 to June 2013 before going with the Rangers and scouting Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky since November 2013, sees mid-range prospects getting to and making an impact at the big league level.

He uses Paul DeJong — a fourth-round draft pick in 2015 out of Illinois State University and now the starting shortstop of the St. Louis Cardinals — as an example.

“We want to see how big the make-up component shapes who he is,” says Medici.

Gavin Lux was a 2016 first-round selection by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Wisconsin. He made it to the majors in 2019, but not before experiencing some trials in the minors.

“I could have told you that he will overcome,” says Medici. “That’s the kind of kid he was with a tireless work ethic and dedication to the game.”

Medici notes that some players have never really experienced prolonged failure, begging the question: “Can he handle adversity and overcome?”

“A high school kid may have been the big fish in a small pond for a long, long time,” says Medici. “When they fail and they’re trying to make adjustments at a high level and they don’t know how to handle it.”

Medici relates it to football.

“How many Five Star high school recruits become great NFL players?,” says Medici. “They go to college where there is structure and systems that allow them to succeed.”

It changes when the athlete becomes a professional.

“I tell my guys, ‘it’s your career,’” says Medici. “You have to own your career. We’ll guide you, but you’ve got to put in the work.”

Born in Albany, N.Y., Medici is a former catcher at Shaker High School in Latham, N.Y. (north of Albany) and NCAA Division I Niagra University near Niagra Falls, N.Y., and an assistant coach at The College of Saint Rose in Albany.

Medici says his background as a catcher helped him make the switch to scout.

“It’s amazing the way they see the game,” says Medici of catchers. “They end up learning every position on the field and they know pitching staff.”

When he was hired by the Blue Jays and then general manager Alex Anthopoulos, Medici moved to Chicago. When he went to the Rangers and added Wisconsin and Kentucky to his territory, he settled in the Indianapolis area.

“We absolutely love it here,” says Medici. “The thing I’ve learned about living here is that people are passionate about their sport

“This has been a very productive state for me. Every year, there’s players up here.”

Invited to fall instructional league while with the Blue Jays, Medici was able to be sort of a member of the coaching staff, hitting fungos, pitching batting practice and soaking it all in.

“I would listen, learn and ask questions,” says Medici.

Also while in Chicago, Medici lived near Sal Fasano and learned a lot about baseball from a man who played at the University of Evansville and was a catcher in the big leagues and now a catching coach for the Atlanta Braves.

Former major league infielder and coach Mike Mordecai and hitting coach Anthony Iapocci are also counted among Medici’s baseball mentors.

Medici estimates that he puts in 30,000 miles a year looking for prospects. Whenever possible, he commutes to be home with his wife of seven years, Beth (a southern Illinois native), and their three children, 6-year-old son Miles and 1-year-old twins Beckham (boy) and Raelyn (girl).

With fall games winding down in the Midwest, Medici is transitioning to doing face-to-face meetings with college players. He will do this up until about Thanksgiving then turn to high school players. During the winter, he will invite college players in to work out — often at former major league pitcher Bill Sampen’s Samp’s Hack Shack in Plainfield.

“I can see them work away from campus,” says Medici.

There has been rumors of restructuring and shrinking the minor leagues and the scout has his take.

“If you start taking levels aways, it’s going to hurt the development,” says Medici. “The game’s getting younger.

“There’s a need to have (multiple levels). You can’t rush young kids.”

Medici, who also holds a masters degree in sport management from Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., started a website last winter — ScoutSchool.org — as a way to educate scouts and bring them together as a community.

Medici went on The Baseball Awakening Podcast to talk about scouting in June.

 

The Medici family (from left): Raelyn, Beth, Miles, Mike and Beckham. Mike Medici is an area scout with the Texas Rangers. The family resides near Danville and Avon on the west side of Indianapolis.

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The Medici family (clockwise from upper left): Mike, Beth, Miles, Beckham and Raelyn. Mike Medici is an area scout for the Texas Rangers. The Medicis reside near Danville and Avon west of Indianapolis.

18666The Medici family (from left): Beckham, Beth, Miles, Mike and Raelyn. Mike Medici is an area scout with the Texas Rangers. The Medicis live in central Indiana.