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Hagerstown graduate Bartlett looks back on Mizzou diamond days, first year of pro baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Effective pitching can be compared to real estate.

It’s all about location, location, location.

Cole Bartlett learned to locate his two-seam fastball more during his final college baseball season and carried it over into his first professional campaign.

Bartlett, a 6-foot-2 right-hander and 2013 Hagerstown (Ind.) High School graduate, finished up his playing days at the University of Missouri and was selected in the 25th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I was able to locate that fastball more,” says Bartlett, who also throws a circle change-up and curve ball. “It’s something I really worked on at Mizzou with (pitching) coach (Patrick) Hallmark.”

After four varsity seasons at Hagerstown, including winning 10 games as a senior, Bartlett appeared in two contests as a Missouri freshman in 2014. That summer, he pitched for the Sedalia (Mo.) Bombers of the MINK League. He tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm and had Tommy John reconstructive surgery August 2014.

Rehabilitation time kept him off the mound for about a year. He was a medical redshirt at Missouri in the spring of 2015 and resumed pitching in practices and intrasquad games that fall.

Bartlett went 3-5 with three saves and a 3.90 earned run average, 26 strikeouts and 11 walks in 55 1/3 innings over 31 appearances (28 in relief) in 2016. That summer, he pitched for the Plymouth Pilgrims in the Northeast Collegiate Baseball League.

In 2017, he went 6-3 with a 3.19 ERA, 53 strikeouts and 22 walks 79 innings over 19 appearances (14 in relief).

After the draft, he made one-inning stint with Arizona League Diamondbacks then was sent to the Missoula Osprey of the short-season Pioneer League. He went 1-0 with four saves and a 2.53 ERA, 30 strikeouts and four walks in 32 innings over 21 appearances (all in relief).

“It went pretty well,” says Bartlett of his first pro season. “I put put up some good numbers, got good experience and gained a lot of knowledge.”

One thing he learned is that the tempo of the game is faster in the minors than it is in college — even in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference.

“In college, we played more small ball and bunted runners over,” says Bartlett. “Pro ball is really not like that. Everyone is swinging the majority of the time.”

It also becomes more serious when players begin getting paid to play.

“Everything is on you,” says Bartlett. “if you don’t want to get better that’s on you. You really have to take initiative of your own career.”

Since Bartlett had already logged a substantial amount of innings in the spring, the Diamondbacks restricted his use in the summer. The rule for him and other rookies was one day of rest for each inning thrown.

“I was pretty max effort every time I went out there, especially out of the pen,” says Bartlett. “I would sit 88 to 92 mph. My fastball gets a lot of movement. It’s basically a sinker.”

Hallmark was his pitching coach at Missouri for one season. Former Tigers head coach Tim Jamieson handled the pitchers in Bartlett’s second and third seasons and Matt Hobbs was pitching coach his freshman year.

“(Hobbs) told me, ‘Never turn your back to the hitter. Show them you’re confident,” says Bartlett. “(Jamieson) worked with me on my change-up.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Lloyd Michael was Hagerstown head coach in Bartlett’s freshman campaign before Brad Catey took over the program.

Bartlett remembers that Michael believed in discipline.

“We had to run strong to first base and do everything right,” says Bartlett. “That’s what stuck with me.”

A catcher and shortstop when he was not pitching, Bartlett remembers that Catey liked to play small ball.

Being a pitcher only, he never got a chance to hit at Missouri.

Did he miss it?

“I did,” says Bartlett. “But after seeing guys throw 100, I was OK with not hitting.”

Bartlett played from T-ball through age 12 at Hagerstown Little League then with the Centerville (Ind.) Yard Dogs travel team. He attracted the attention of the Dayton (Ohio) Classics and was asked to try out. He ended up playing for them in the summer the rest of his high school days.

The youngest of Charlie and Rhonda Bartlett’s three children, Cole earned a degree in agribusiness management at Missouri.

“I’ll fall into that once baseball is done,” says the 23-year-old.

Brother Lex, who is four years older than Cole and a former Hagerstown baseball player, earned an agribusiness management degree at Purdue University and now works for Crop Production Services in Williamsburg, Ind., near Hagerstown. The Bartlett boys grew up on a 600-acre farm.

Their sister, Connor Allen, attended Indiana University-Bloomingtoin and IU-East in Richmond is now an elementary teacher in the Shenandoah (Ind.) school system.

Cole is spending the off-season in Longmont, Colo., the hometown of fiancee Sophia Mastronardi (a 2017 Mizzou graduate).

He has been working out and recently began throwing at Extra Innings Longmont as he prepares to report for spring training in Glendale, Ariz.

COLEBARTLETT

Cole Bartlett, a graduate of Hagerstown High School and the University of Missouri, is now a pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. (Missoula Osprey Photo)

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Crown Point’s Plesac in Indians system making up for lost time

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Plesac’s true introduction to professional baseball was delayed.

The Crown Point native spent the spring and summer of 2017 making up for time lost.

Plesac, a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher, was selected out of Ball State University in the 12th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Two months before that life-altering June event, he underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his pitching arm, ending his college mound days and making the rest of the year about rehabilitation rather than facing batters.

At Ball State, Plesac had been splitting his time between pitcher, outfielder and designated hitter as a junior.

Head coach Rich Maloney brought Plesac to Muncie.

“He believed in me,” says Plesac. “I thought I was going to play a position and maybe pitch a little.”

When Plesac set a school single-season record for victories while going 12-2 with a 2.11 earned run average, 67 strikeouts and 33 walks in 85 1/3 innings and 25 appearances (six starts) as a freshman in 2014, his mound profile increased.

In 2015, he went 5-5 with 3.27 ERA, 77 strikeouts and 38 walks in 107 1/3 innings and 16 appearances (all starts). Since he could swing the bat, he was also used as an outfielder, DH and first baseman.

The came his junior season in 2016.

Mostly from the No. 5 hole in the order, he hit .304 with 15 runs batted in. As the Cardinals’ Friday night starter, he pitched in 11 games (eight as a starter) and was 3-2 with a 4.25 ERA and a nine-inning shutout against Miami University of Ohio.

“The next morning, I could not throw a baseball,” says Plesac. “I knew something was wrong.”

His next start came against Central Michigan and Plesac was still not feeling normal. A check of his arm revealed a partial tear.

Now he was faced with the decision of getting the surgery right away or staying in the lineup as a hitter.

“As much as I wanted to play, I didn’t want to be hurt,” says Plesac. “I had to do what was best for my career.”

While he was working his way back post-surgery in Arizona, he began taking online classes. He kept it up all season and has earned a general studies major with three minors (communication, psychology of human development and sociology).

“Now I can go into 2018 season and  focus on playing ball with no nervousness (about school),” says Plesac, who is scheduled to walk in BSU winter commencement ceremonies Dec. 16.

Plesac finally walked up on a pro mound in game action in 2017 extended spring training action against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A witness to the event was Chris Fetter. He had been Ball State’s pitching coach and had become a pitching coordinator for the Dodgers.

“That’s my boy. He’s the man to me. He’s a mentor,” says Plesac of Fetter, who is now pitching coach at the University of Michigan. “He was there on the last pitch of my college career and first pitch of my professional career.”

Plesac was first assigned to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the short-season New York-Penn League. He went 0-1 with a 1.38 ERA for the Niles, Ohio-based club and made eight appearances (seven as a starter), starting with limitation of three innings.

After Mahoning Valley came a stint with six starts for the Low Class-A Midwest League with the Lake County Captains. He went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA for the team in Eastlake, Ohio. By season’s end, he was up to five innings or 60 pitches. He wound up the season with 50 strikeouts and 14 walks in 51 total innings.

“Finding the (strike) zone was a big key for me,” says Plesac. “That’s what I wanted to work on. If I can find the zone, it doesn’t matter how hard I’m throwing. I could be effective.”

Plesac used his fastball most in 2017, followed by his change-up (which became his most-effective pitch), slider and curve. He saw his velocity return and he was regularly hitting the gun at 91 to 94 mph with his fast one.

“I had so much confidence,” says Plesac. “I felt ready. I didn’t feel like I was a year behind.

“I’m coming out max effort. You have to be smart with how you pitch. Max effort doesn’t mean you lose control. I’m so comfortable. I’m just trusting in God.”

The righty is happy to say he goes into 2018 with no innings restrictions.

“I’ve put in the work,” says Plesac. “I’ve got good routine to help me keep moving forward.

“Daily, I’m growing and becoming wiser about the game.”

Plesac views his time since starting in pro ball as a period of personal growth.

In college, he was on a schedule based on practices and what the coaches dictated. As a pro, he has been able to take the reigns of his schedule.

“It’s really fun,” says Plesac. “The people I’ve met have changed my life.”

He is pleased to be going through the journey with the Indians.

“I fell into best organization,” says Plesac. “They know how to treat people. This (delayed start) has been a blessing — to be honest.”

Plesac is in the same organization with Elkhart Central High School graduate and left-handed hurler Tanner Tully. The two were roommates for the 2013 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and both play in the Area Code Games.

Since the 2017 season wrapped, Plesac has been able to spend time in Los Angeles where girlfriend and former BSU diver Quinn Bixler is in graduate school at Loyola Marymount University and working out with Jordan Smolar at NWI Performance in Crown Point.

A a Crown Point High School athlete, Plesac earned three letters in baseball and helped the Steve Strayer-coached Bulldogs to a 27-4 record in his senior season of 2013 and to sectional and regional titles in 2011. He also claimed two letters each in football and basketball.

Strayer made an impact on Plesac then and still does.

“He groomed me into who I am as a baseball player and a man,” says Plesac. “I can remember when I was freshman practicing with the other kids. I was at third base. I made a bad throw to first and I said, ‘it slipped.’ He told me, ‘don’t make excuses ever.’

“Now I don’t make excuses for anything happens. You can’t get caught up in that. I’ve been able to go to Coach Strayer for all types of things. He’s been a good person in my life. He’s always helped me out.”

Plesac who turns 23 Jan. 21, is also taking the time to catch up with family.

Ron and Jeannie Plesac have three children — twins Zach and Ronnie (Zach is 10 minutes older) and Frankie (15).

Ronnie Plesac pitched at Parkland College in Illinois and State College of Florida. Frankie Plesac is a Crown Point sophomore ballplayer.

Uncle Dan Plesac pitched 18 years in the majors and is now an on-air regular with MLB Network.

“He’s there for me whenever I need him,” says Zach of man who in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and won 65 games and saved 158 for the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies.

The pitcher plans to attend a strength camp in January before heading back to Arizona for spring training.

“I’ve caught myself up ability-wise,” says Plesac. “I’m ready to rock.”

ZACHPLEASCINDIANS17

Zach Plesac, a 2013 Crown Point High School graduate, made his pro baseball debut in 2017 with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The right-handed pitcher was drafted in 2016 by the Cleveland Indians and spent the season rehabbing from Tommy John reconstructive surgery. He pitched three seasons at Ball State University (2014-16). (Mahoning Valley Scrappers Photo)

 

Well-traveled Roy returning to Grace staff as chaplain, coach

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tom Roy did not get to play baseball for as long as he wanted.

But he’s OK with that because by using faith as a fastener, the former pitcher has attached himself to the game all over the globe and his base of operations has been northern Indiana.

“It’s a God thing,” says Roy. “It’s not about me.”

Roy, who founded Unlimited Potential, Inc. — an organization that ministers to baseball programs around the world serving Christ through baseball —  in Winona Lake in 1980.

An autobiography — “Released” — tells about how he eventually started UPI after a career-ending injury. He was signed by the San Francisco Giants as a pitcher at 17.

Fast forward decades and Roy can say he has taught and coached baseball in 67 countries.

“I’m the father of baseball in Uganda,” says Roy, who introduced the sport to a nation who had been playing the bat-and-ball sport of cricket. As part of the lessons, there was prayer, Bible study and baseball instruction. That’s still the way some there still do it.

“That is baseball to them,” says Roy. “It’s part of the baseball culture.”

Roy returns to the baseball coaching staff at Grace College (also in Kosciusko town next to Warsaw) as both assistant coach and team chaplain for head coach Cam Screeton’s team in 2017-18. Roy worked as Lancers pitching coach 1970-73 (earning a bachelor’s degree at Grace in 1974), head coach 1980-83 and was an assistant in 2015.

Roy remembers that spring that at almost every stop around the Crossroads League, he was greeted by hugs from opposing coaches.

“Our players wondered why we were hugging the other team,” says Roy. “I was back, coaching against friends.”

He served as head baseball coach and assistant football coach to Charlie Smith when Tippecanoe Valley High School opened it doors in 1974-75 and has the distinction of leading sectional winners — the first in any sport in school history — that first spring in baseball (1975).

The ace of the Vikings pitching staff was left-hander Keith Hardesty. The team also featured Chris Smalley and Doug Miller.

Roy was an associate scout for the Philadelphia Phillies from 1976-79, pitching coach at Huntington College (now Huntington University) 1987-89 and was an associate international scout for the Atlanta Braves from 1993-99 and for the San Diego Padres from 2000-05.

In his connection with the Seattle Mariners, Roy gained a large audience and began working with Harold Reynolds, Dave Valle, Alvin Davis and others. He took Reynolds on a missionary trip to Thailand and the others on similar trips.

Through the game and sharing of faith, trust relationships were developed and he was introduced to many current players.

“One of the biggest issues for these guys is trust,” says Roy of major league players who have people constantly approaching them. “They would ask me, ‘why do you want to be a my friend?’

“The answer: Jesus.”

Through Sam Bender, Roy began to speak to home and visiting teams around the Midwest.

“I got to know hundreds of players because of Baseball Chapel,” says Roy, who worked with current BC president Vince Nauss and former president Dave Swanson. He also received encouragement from Jack King of Athletes In Action.

Roy became chaplain for the Chicago White Sox organization when Jerry Manuel was manager. He stayed in touch with chaplains for all the White Sox affiliates and filed reports.

“I’ve had all these pivotal moments in my life,” says Roy. “It’s fun when you finally let go.”

By building relationships, Roy has been able to build a library of instructional videos for coaches and players at http://www.upi.org featuring MLB pitcher Clayton Kershaw, Ian Kennedy and Luke Hochevar.

While coach at Huntington, Roy helped then-head coach Jim Wilson build Forest Glen Park, helped send hurlers Tim Dell, Jim Lawson, Doug Neuenschwander and Mark Parker into professional baseball and recruited Mike Frame, who is heading into his 34th season as HU’s head coach in 2018.

It was also while at Huntington that Roy got a chance to meet his baseball hero — Hank Aaron. Hammerin’ Hank accepted an invitation to speak at a preseason event and the two got a chance to talk about the game and faith during their drive from the airport.

Roy served 27 years in that role at the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series. Since 1990, the UPI-sponsored Hank Burbridge Award honors the NCCAA’s Outstanding Christian Baseball Player of the Year with potential to Christian service through baseball. The award is named for the long-time baseball coach at Spring Arbor (Mich.) University.

Roy hails from Grafton, Wis. When his playing career to an abrupt halt and he found himself looking for another career, he decided to go into radio. He sent his resumes to other Graftons in the U.S. and wound up at a station in West Virginia — WVVW.

It was also in Wisconsin that he met the woman he would married. Tom and Carin were wed in 1970 and soon found themselves moving to the Hoosier State, where they would welcome two daughters — Amy in 1975 and Lindsay in 1979.

At 6-foot-5, Roy was a strong basketball player and it was through the hardwood that he met a Grace Brethren pastor that suggested he go to Indiana to study and play basketball at Grace.

“It was the spiritual that brought me here,” says Roy. The couple became engaged when Carin visited Tom in West Virginia. They were wed in 1970 and soon found themselves moving to Winona Lake. He became a full-time student with several part-time jobs and she worked full-time.

In his basketball tryout at Grace, he went against Jim Kessler (who is now in his 36th season as Lancers head men’s basketball coach).

Roy was going to be offered a place on the squad when it was learned that he had played some minor league baseball. At the time, NAIA rules did not allow for someone to be a pro in one sport and an amateur in another so he became as assistant coach in basketball and baseball.

Before UPI got off the ground, Tom and Carin welcomed two daughters — Amy in 1975 and Lindsay in 1979.

The only UPI staff member for the first few years, Tom went full-time with the organization in 1983. At first, he made connections in the U.S., and then went international. As a part of the admissions office at Grace, he was in charge of international students and had a stipend for international recruiting.

Besides founder Roy, the UPI team now features former pro players in executive director Mickey Weston (current White Sox chaplain) as well as Brian Hommel (Arizona Diamondbacks chaplain), Tony Graffanino (White Sox spring training and Arizona League affiliate chaplain), Terry Evans (Braves chaplain) and Simon Goehring (missions coordinator based in Germany).

Bryan Hickerson made his MLB debut in 1991 and pitched for Giants, Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies. He began attending UPI Bible studies in 1997 and in 1999 moved to Warsaw and joined the UPI lineup. He was able to forge relationships with both baseball players and military around the world. He moved from there to a minor league pitching coach in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.

Tom Roy and Jerry Price have co-authored  “Beyond Betrayal” as well as three volumes in the Chadwick Bay Series — “Sandusky Bay,” “Ellison Bay” and “Lake of Bays.” The last three are novels on manhood.

“Our model of manhood is Jesus,” says Roy.

TOMROY

Tom Roy, a former minor league pitcher and founder of Unlimited Potential, Inc., has returned to the baseball staff at Grace College in Winona Lake as team chaplain and assistant coach.

 

Lemonis hustles to keep Hoosiers competitive, playing baseball the right way

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the early NCAA Division I National Letter of Intent signing period approaches — it’s Nov. 8-15 — Chris Lemonis is doing the thing that has made him one of the nation’s top college baseball recruiters.

“Hustle,” says Lemonis, who is going into his fourth season as head baseball of Indiana University baseball in 2018. “You’ve got to be willing to hustle. You have to have an eye for it. You also have to have a plan. What pieces are you trying to put together? (A player might be the) right fit for one school and not for the other.”

Lemonis, who is 101-72-2 with two NCAA regional appearance (2015, 2017) while leading the Hoosiers, likes to find as much in-state talent as he can and still remain competitive. “The state of Indiana has great high school players. It is a big base for us. We will reach out at times and fiend pieces.”

The Hoosiers — regularly top 25-ranked program — find most players within a five-hour drive from the Bloomington campus.

“But we don’t rule out anybody,” says Lemonis, who has been spending his share of time on the road, visiting recruits and working camps. “We like to be a physical team and an athletic team.”

Lemonis asks that athletes and their parents research to see what fits their needs.

As drawing cards for the Hoosiers, there is an IU degree plus the ever-growing profile of Big Ten Conference baseball. The 2017 season saw five B1G schools make the 64-team NCAA D-I tournament — conference tournament champion and automatic bid winner Iowa plus at-large invitees Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and Nebraska.

Conference baseball continues to get recognition and revenue through the Big Ten Network.

“We try to keep our kids in this part of the country — Midwest staying at Midwest schools,” says Lemonis. “When I first came to Midwest, all the good players went south. There is now a commitment to baseball in our league.”

As evidence, all of the 13 baseball-playing B1G schools have stadiums that were either built new or renovated in the last few years, many with artificial turf.

Indiana moved to Bart Kaufman Field in 2013. Hoosiers benefactor Bart Kaufman went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017.

Illinois plays at Illinois Field, Iowa at Duane Banks Field, Maryland at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, Michigan at Ray Fisher Stadium, Michigan State at McClane Baseball Stadium at Kobs Field, Minnesota at Siebert Field, Nebraska at Hawks Field at Haymarket Park, Northwestern at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park, Ohio State at Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium, Penn State at Medlar Park at Lubrano Field, Purdue at Alexander Field and Rutgers at Bainton Field. Wisconsin does not have NCAA D-I baseball.

Allowing for the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (IU’s Craig Dedelow was selected int he ninth round in 2017 by the Chicago White Sox and the Hoosiers count former players Micah Johnson, Josh Phegley, Kyle Schwarber, Aaron Slegers and Sam Travis as current big leaguers), Lemonis plans his recruiting on a three-year cycle.

The Big Ten does have a rule that players sign a four-year scholarship and not a series of one-year deals, which is common in other conferences.

Lemonis came to Indiana after serving 20 seasons as an assistant coach — 12 at The Citadel (1995-2006) and eight at the University of Louisville (2006-14).

At Louisville, he worked closely with head coach Dan McDonnell and made three trips to the College World Series (2007, 2013, 2014). They were college roommates, teammates and athletic Hall of Famers at The Citadel — the military college in Charleston, S.C.

“He’s a great leader of men and a great coach,” says Lemonis of McDonnell, who spoke at the 2017 IHSBCA State Coaches Clinic in Indianapolis. “He is very big on the motivation side — not only with the players but the staff. He’s always trying to push the program forward and put it in a better place. He’s one of the best in the business — if not the best.”

Phone calls between Lemonis and McDonnell are exchanged a couple of times a week.

“We bounce ideas off each other,” says Lemonis.

As a left-handed-swinging infielder at The Citadel, Lemonis had two head coaches — American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chal Port and Fred Jordan — before playing minor league baseball (1995-2004) with Triple-A stops in the Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida Marlins and Baltimore Orioles organizations.

“(Port) was a tough old school coach,” says Lemonis. “He was big on fundamentals and playing the game the right way. He put together kids who became a close-knit group.”

Lemonis served 12 seasons on Jordan’s coaching staff.

“I got most of my development from him,” says Lemonis. “He was big into physicality and the speed of the game. We didn’t start (weight) lifting until Coach Jordan got there.”

When Lemonis was playing, most coaches thought baseball players should stay away from weights in order to remain flexible.

Now, strength and conditioning is a major part of the game. With fall baseball concluded, IU players are spending four days a week in the weight room, becoming bigger, stronger and faster.

Since many Hoosiers play spring, summer and fall, they are now giving their arms a rest. Throwing programs will resume in December and hitting will amp up. After Christmas break, the team will be in “spring training” mode as it prepares to open the 2018 schedule with four in South Carolina — Feb. 16 (Oklahoma), Feb. 17 (Kansas State) and Feb. 18 (South Alabama) in Myrtle Beach and Feb. 19 (Coastal Carolina) in Conway.

The home opener is slated for March 7 (Cincinnati).

Lemonis graduated from Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, S.C. A move-in, he played his junior year for Jody Rush and senior season for Rick Hardwick, who had come from The Citadel.

As a product of his playing and coaching stops, Lemonis believes in “playing the right way.”

That is reflected in IU being among the top fielding percentage teams in the B1G and the way the Hoosiers train, show up early, hustle and demonstrate positive body language.

“It’s doing a hard 90 down the baseline,” says Lemonis. “It’s respecting the game.”

The IU coaching staff also features Kyle Bunn (associate head coach/pitching), Kyle Cheesebrough (assistant/recruiting coordinator), Zach Lucas (assistant) and Roger Rodeheaver (director of operations).

Cheesebrough and Lucas both played at Louisville and they help Lemonis with the Hoosiers’ offensive game.

CHRISLEMONIS

Chris Lemonis enters his fourth season as head baseball coach at Indiana University in 2018. It will be his 24th as a coach at the NCAA Division I level. (Indiana University Photo)

 

Pobereyko giving it his all along his winding baseball path

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The baseball career of Matt Pobereyko can’t be draw with a straight line.

The 6-foot-3 pitcher from Munster, Ind., has zigged and zagged his way and pursued opportunities at every turn.

“I’ve never been out in the greatest spots in the world,” says Pobereyko (pronounced Poe-Buh-Reek-Oh). “But I wouldn’t change the path that I’ve taken. It’s all been a learning experience.”

Pobereyko graduated from Hammond Bishop Noll Institute, where he did not crack the varsity lineup for then-Warriors coach Paul Wirtz until his junior season and graduated in 2010.

“P-Dub is awesome,” says Pobereyko of Wirtz. “He gave me a chance to pitch when somebody else went down. We are still friends. He coaches at Merrillville now we stay in touch.”

Pobereyko’s five-year college career started with two seasons for coach Steve Ruzich at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill., and three for coach Todd Lillpop at Kentucky Wesleyan College.

The righty is grateful for Lillpop.

“He was a great guy,” says Pobereyko. “He kept an offer on the table for me. He gave me every opportunity I could get. He gave me his all and I — in return — gave him my all on the field.”

In 2012, the pitcher underwent Tommy John arm surgery. He went 2-2 for KWC in 2013 then tossed just three innings in 2014.

Coming back strong in 2015, Pobereyko went 9-2 with a 1.84 earned run average and 104 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings. He was the Panthers’ team MVP and an All-Great Midwest Athletic Conference first team selection and expected to get selected in that year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

While waiting on the draft, he went to coach with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen.

A starting during the college regular season, it was in the summers of 2013 and 2014 with the Oilmen that Pobereyko was asked to be a late-inning relief pitcher.

He has been strictly a reliever in pro baseball.

Pitching from the stretch ever since his Tommy John surgery, Pobereyko says he’s always been max-effort guy whether he’s been a starter or a back end of the bullpen guy.

“I’m aggressive and that puts me into that role,” says Pobereyko, who is comfortable throwing a fastball, forkball or slider in any count. “(As a reliever), I’m able to put that little extra something on it and use a a little more adrenaline. That gives me a leg up being comfortable with it when not every hitter is comfortable with it.”

When the MLB call never came in 2015, the hurler went to the pay-to-play California Winter League for the first two months of 2016 and dominated, allowing just two earned runs (1.05 ERA) and fanning 17 in 13 1/3 innings. He drew the attention of Dennis Pelfrey, manager of the independent Frontier League’s Florence (Ky.) Freedom.

Pobereyko performed well enough in 20 games for Florence (1.33 ERA, 31 K’s in 20 1/3 innings) to be signed as a free agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

He took the mound at the Rookie, Low-A and High-A levels for a total of 15 games. After going 1-2 with three saves, seven games finished and whiffing 36 in 27 innings, he was released in October 2016.

Hooking on again with Pelfrey and Florence in 2017, Pobereyko showed well enough (1.00 ERA, 38 K’s in 18 innings) for the New York Mets to come calling and signed with that organization on June 22.

In 23 games and 34 1/3 innings with the Columbia Fireflies of the Low Class-A South Atlantic League, Pobereyko went 3-3 with a 3.15 ERA and racked up 53 strikeouts. He finished 11 games and recorded two saves. For less than a week, he was a teammate of Tim Tebow.

“I didn’t see any of the chaos and sold-out stadiums,” says Pobereyko. “He was just a regular guy in the locker room and the dugout.”

Pobereyko now finds himself among the best minor leaguers from each MLB organization in the Arizona Fall League.

So far, he has finished two games for the Scottsdale Scorpions and is 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA and four strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings.

He relishes the challenge of the AFL.

“I’m being put to a little bit of a test,” says Pobereyko. “This forces you to make your pitches a little sharper. It shows me what I need to do to compete at a higher level.

“I’m just very thankful for the opportunity (the Mets) gave me. They’ve really put the ball in my hands for my career to show what I can do.”

When the AFL wraps play in November, he sees himself coming back to northwest Indiana to work, train and give baseball lessons. The past few years, he’s done that at Morris Baseball and Softball Center (owned by Munster graduate and former pro Bobby Morris) and Triple Crown Baseball & Softball Academy (ran by former big leaguer Brent Bowers) — both in Schererville.

But Pobereyko, who turns 26 on Christmas Eve, is not looking too far down the road right now.

“Thinking where I’m going to be in the future is an additional stresser,” says Pobereyko. “I want to be in the now.”

Matt is not the only member of his family firing baseballs the past several seasons.

Younger brother Danny Pobereyko pitched at Noll and finished a four-year mound career at Butler University in 2017, twirling all but six of 60 appearances in relief. The 6-foot-5 right-hander played for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League during the summer of 2015.

A knee injury made Danny decided to end his playing career. He is now teaching and working on his master’s degree at Northern Michigan University. A Creative Writing major at Butler, he is also working on a baseball-themed novel.

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Matt Pobereyko, a 2010 Hammond Noll Institute, delivers a pitch for the Scottsdale Scorpions on the 2017 Arizona Fall League. He is a member of the New York Mets organization. (27 Outs Baseball Photo)

 

Closser heeds call of baseball coaching

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J.D. Closser played professional baseball for 14 seasons.

After two campaigns away from the diamond, the former Indiana Mr. Baseball decided it was time to return to the game that has been so good to him.

“I wanted to give back what I’ve learned and make a career out of it,” says Closser, the bullpen coach for the Trenton Thunder, Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. “(Baseball is) what I’ve done my whole life.”

His goal is to make it back to the majors in some capacity.

Closser was 18 when he began his pro playing career in 1998 after being selected in the fifth round of that year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Alexandria-Monroe High School. The Monte Sprague-coached Tigers won the 1998 IHSAA Class 2A state title.

Closser played for the South Bend Silver Hawks for parts of the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons and made his MLB debut with the Colorado Rockies in 2004 and logged 160 MLB games over three seasons.

He also played in the Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers systems through 2011.

Closser was 34 when he started coaching in 2014 with the High Class-A Tampa Yankees.

The former left-handed-swinging catcher spent two seasons in Tampa (working for managers Al Pedrique and Dave Bialas) and is now 37 and in his second year with Trenton.

Closser, who serves on the staff of 2017 Eastern League Manager of the Year Bobby Mitchell, carries the official title of defensive coach. Mitchell was also Trenton manager in 2016.

Coaching duties for Closser in 2017 include throwing batting practice and hitting fungos during batting practice while concentrating on the team’s catchers before, during and after contests.

“I make sure they get their work in,” says Closser. “I also get advance reports together for coaches and catchers and set up a gameplan for opposing teams. (In the bullpen), I give (relievers) a brief rundown on who is coming into the game.”

Closser says there is more game planning done and in-game adjustments made in Double-A than at lower levels of MLB-affiliated baseball.

“They’re executing pitches and working off their strengths (in A-ball),” says Closser catchers and pitchers. “You begin to spot a hitter’s weaknesses (in Double-A).”

There is also plenty of work on blocking and receiving pitches and talk of Pop times (time elapsed from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the intended fielder receives his throw.).

Like all organizations, the Yankees have a way they like to develop their players. But they do allow their coaches some freedom to use their own experiences to help players.

“You can incorporate our own ideas, things that have worked for you,” says Closser.

A few years ago, he helped one of his catchers by passing on a lesson he had learned about speeding up his throws to second base.

“I wanted him to get the ball in his throwing hand and in the air as fast as possible,” says Closser. “It is a thought process.”

Growing up, Closser’s thoughts were filled with baseball, fueled by men like Sprague and his father, Jeff (who is now head baseball coach at Alex).

Young J.D. gained a foundation based on work ethic.

“It was about going out and practicing,” says Closser. “So much of today’s player is showcasing and playing games. My dad instilled in me that you practice everyday. If you want to be good at something, you have to practice. It’s the Rule of 10,000. If you want to be good at anything, you have to do it 10,000 times.”

J.D. also learned about accountability.

“Your teammates and coaching staff are counting on you to show up and do your game everyday,” says Closser.

What he misses most about his playing days is the unity.

“I remember the clubhouse atmosphere being part of a team,” says Closser. “There was that competing everyday day and learning how to attack hitters.”

At home in Raleigh, N.C., Closser’s home team features wife Holley and daughters Belle (14), Callie (12) and Maebry (1). Belle is a freshmen in high school and Callie a seventh grader. Holley is from the area. She met J.D. when he played in Zebulon for the 2002 Carolina Mudcats.

Closser will have to wait to see what off-season assignments the Yankees might send his way. Trenton was to close out the regular season Monday, Sept. 4, and open the Eastern League playoffs Wednesday, Sept. 6.

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J.D. Closser, a 1998 Alexandria-Monroe High School graduate, is a bullpen coach with the Trenton Thunder in the New York Yankees organization. He played 14 professional baseball seasons and 2017 is his fourth as a coach. (Trenton Thunder Photo)

 

Alum Catey keeps success going at Hagerstown

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Respect for all the little things have led to big things at a little school.

Hagerstown was ranked No. 1 much of the season in IHSAA Class 1A baseball in 2017.

The Tigers lost in the Carroll (Flora) Regional championship game to eventual state runner-up Rossville and finished 28-5 in Brad Catey’s sixth season as Hagerstown head coach.

Hagerstown reigned at the Seton Catholic Sectional.

Catey spent his whole pre-college school career in Hagerstown (K-12) and graduated in 2000 before studying and playing basketball at Indiana University East in Richmond. He played several positions for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Lloyd Michael — shortstop as a freshman, second base as a sophomore, left field as a junior and catcher as a junior.

“I moved wherever Lloyd needed me to move,” says Catey, who was part of 1999 squad that lost to eventual state champion Evansville Mater Dei in the 2A Indianapolis North Central Semistate and also played football and basketball for the Tigers.

Third baseman Cory Childs was a 2A first-team all-state selection for Hagerstown in 1999 while pitcher Jesse Johnson earned that distinction in 2000.

Catey spent four seasons as a Hagerstown assistant before taking over for Michael with the 2012 season.

“He taught me to respect the game,” says Catey of mentor Michael. “We made sure we do the little things right. We always ran on and off the field. We backed up the plate. You give yourself a chance to win.”

Hagerstown has won three sectionals (2013, 2016, 2017) and six crowns in the Tri-Eastern Conference (which also includes Cambridge City Lincoln, Centerville, Knightstown, Northeastern, Tri, Union City, Union County and Winchester) with Catey in charge.

At the same time, the Tigers have produced three first-all-staters — pitcher Cole Bartlett (2A) in 2013, outfielder Owen Golliher (1A) in 2016 and pitcher Drew Pyle (1A) in 2017.

Right-hander Bartlett pitched at the University of Missouri and was taken in the 25th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. He is with the Missoula (Mont.) Osprey.

Hagerstown’s success got Catey a spot on the North coaching staff for the 2017 IHSBCA All-Star Series in Muncie, where he got to coach TEC Player of the Year Trey Kelley one more time before he headed off to Earlham College.

“That was an awesome experience,” says Catey, who served on a South staff led by Plainfield’s Jeff McKeon and also featuring Batesville’s Justin Tucker and Columbus East’s John Major. “I got to coach a lot of (NCAA) Division I talent.”

H-town goes back to 2A for the 2018 season — and likely the Cambridge City Lincoln Sectional field — with plenty of optimism.

The junior varsity squad, coached by Bruce Charles, went 22-0 last spring.

“We don’t like to rebuild; we reload,” says Catey. “It makes my job a little easier.”

Hagerstown graduates Charles, pitching coach Dan Davis Jr. and outfielders coach Jay Hale (outfielders) are all expected to be part of the staff in 2017-18.

Hagerstown Little League has served as a high school feeder program for years. Many current juniors and seniors represented Indiana at the Great Lakes Regional when they were that age.

To help maintain the relationship with HLL, each high school player is required to umpire two games a year.

“That’s one of the reason we keep our numbers so high,” says Catey. who had 38 players on varsity, junior varsity and C-team squads in 2017. “For a 1A school, that’s really good.

“Most our guys have found a good travel team. We encourage our guys to find a little better competition.”

Among those travel organizations are the Hagerstown Heat, Indiana Prospects and Indiana Nitro.

Across Indiana, the 2017 season brought with it the new IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

Hagerstown had a number of quality arms to get through its schedule, including Kelley (Class of ’17) and Pyle (Class of ’18).

“It didn’t seem to effect us that much,” says Catey. “We had a lot of people we could use. Some other teams had to drop JV games because they had to use guys in varsity games.

“The biggest equation is the JV and varsity pitches they can pitch in a week.”

Catey leads students through simple equations as a math teacher at Hagerstown Elementary.

Recently, he has been teaching young girls how to slide. Oldest daughter Lilly (7) is an 8U softball player. Brad and Darcy Catey’s youngest daughter is Peyton (5).

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Hagerstown High School baseball head coach Brad Catey celebrates a 2017 sectional championship with daughters Peyton (left) and Lilly (right).