Tag Archives: Atlantic League

Pyles comes back to Indiana with Liberation Professional Baseball League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the onset of a COVID-19 pandemic, no high school baseball season was contested at historic League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., in the spring.

The Dubois County Bombers did not get to play when the Ohio Valley League canceled its 2020 summer collegiate campaign.

But there is now diamond action at the old ballpark thanks to the independent Liberation Professional Baseball League.

The four-team circuit staged its first game at League Stadium Aug. 7 and the schedule is slated to go through Oct. 18.

In the mix is independent baseball veteran Derrick Pyles. The 37-year-old outfielder is in his 11th season of indy ball. The former Avon, Ind., resident now has experience in 10 different leagues.

Pyles has been acting as a player-manager in the Liberation, which when it gets up to speed will have four full squads — Indiana Barn Owls, Indy Wind Storm, BaseballResume.com Bandits and California Dogecoin.

The league features players with professional experience and those looking to get some. Former major leaguer Johnny Barbato pitched in the first game and is now in the Atlantic League-satellite Constellation Energy League with four teams playing in Sugarland, Texas. The Atlantic — independent pro ball’s top circuit — is not operating in 2020.

The Liberation came to Indiana thanks to owner Brian Williams. He was ready to go in the Pacific Association when that league was shut down because of the coronavirus.

“Brian pounded on doors all over the country,” says Pyles, who is leading players in the new league along with Ray Ortega and Lance Myers

Huntingburg answered the knock.

“It’s better than 90 percent better of the other places we could have went,” says Pyles. “It’s a wonderful place to play.”

It happened very quick. It was less than two weeks ago that Pyles first heard about the league, which is the only pro loop operating in Indiana this year.

“There was zero advertisement,” says Pyles. “It’s literally come out of the woodwork.

“If people give us a shot, I think they’ll enjoy it. This is a legit professional baseball league taking part inside their city.”

There is a plan to meet with the community this week with the hopes of picking up a few more host families. Some players are staying at nearby hotels.

Pyles commutes to his in-laws in Mooresville, Ind.

While it’s too early to say what level the Liberation will equate to in affiliated baseball, Pyles and the rest are hopeful.

“There’s just so much talent,” says Pyles. “Guys are hungry for opportunities.”

Pyles notes that in recent years the Pacific Association was equivalent to Low Class-A with the Frontier League Low-A or High-A, the Can-Am League High-A, American Association High-A to Double-A and Atlantic Double-A to Triple-A.

When the Empire League started in 2015 it was solid at the start and very good in the second half with Triple-A pitchers starting many games.

With Major League Baseball whittling down its minor leagues and no games at the lower levels this year, that’s raised the level in talent pool for independent ball.

But indy ball is not the same as being tied to a major league organization.

“Independent ball can be extremely cut throat,” says Pyles. “It’s way more about winning.

“In affiliated ball you’re getting prepped for the big leagues.”

Pyles, who bats and throws right-handed, has been a player-coach or player-manager the past few seasons. He hopes to get back to a higher league such as the Atlantic (he played for Sugarland and Long Island in 2017) would like to play until he’s 40.

After the 2019 season, he moved from Avon to Goodyear, Ariz., where it’s easier to stay in shape with the warm weather. He still comes back to train players in central Indiana. 

“I love the people in Avon,” says Pyles. “Indiana definitely feels like home to me.”

A hitting instructor, Pyles has worked with Avon Baseball Club and taught players on the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro, Indiana Expos and other travel ball organizations.

He started with Zyon Avery (a Ben Davis High School graduate who is now at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) and Allbry Major (an Indianapolis North Central grad who plays at Xavier University) when they were young.

Matt Moore, an Avon High School graduate, was a hitting Pyles hitting pupil who became a hard-throwing pitcher. The Purdue University left-hander is a MLB draft prospect.

“I love to train players that are very motivated,” says Pyles. “I’m 100 percent confident I can help the top players get better.

“The road has been so hard for me I really had to figure out the best stuff.”

Pyles’ best friend — Lance Zawadzki — is now working as a hitting coach with the Boston Red Sox

In his approach to teaching hitting, Pyles borrows from the old school while embracing the new technology-driven methods.

“There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the old guys who have been there,” says Pyles. “Technology is extremely important, too.

“We need to find a happy medium.”

The Liberation League is employing Blast and Rapsodo analytics through BaseballResume.com.

A native of Temecula, Calif., Pyles played two seasons at Riverside (Calif.) City College and two at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Led by head coach Dennis Rogers (who was also a short-season manager in the Oakland Athletics system), led Riverside to back-to-back state titles during Pyles’ time with the Tigers (2003 and 2004). Rogers was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2020.

Embry-Riddle was ranked No. 1 in the country among NAIA programs in both 2005 and 2006, finishing as national runner-up in Pyles’ junior season and fifth when he was a senior.

Greg Guilliams was the Eagles head coach with Nick Mingione and Todd Guilliams as assistants.

Mingione is now head coach at the University of Kentucky and former Embry-Riddle hitting coach Todd Guilliams is on the UK staff.

Greg Guilliams is now head coach at Valdosta State (Ga.) University. Both Guilliams brothers are both in the Embry-Riddle Athletics Hall of Fame.

Pyles can be reached at nolimitspyles@yahoo.com.

The Liberation Professional Baseball League opened its first season Aug. 7 at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (LPBL Image)
Independent professional baseball veteran Derrick Pyles (left) hangs out with friend and batting practice pitcher Ray Hancock. Former Avon, Ind., resident Pyles is back in Indiana with the Liberation Professional Baseball League at League Stadium in Huntingburg.

Fort Wayne’s DeJesus recalls amateur, professional roots

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Javier DeJesus was born in Puerto Rico, shined on the high school diamonds of Texas and excelled collegiately in Louisiana.

Drafted by the Minnesota Twins, his professional baseball career put DeJesus in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1994.

The former left-handed pitcher has been around the Summit City most of the time since toeing the rubber for the Fort Wayne Wizards (now known as the Fort Wayne TinCaps).

Javi met a local girl (Deborah), fell in love, got married and had three sons (Damon, Jordan and Evan) while staying close to his favorite game.

DeJesus’ day job as a health care administator keeps him busy, but he still has time to teach lessons at The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy, where Manny Lopez is director of baseball operations.

Javi DeJesus helps coach Fort Wayne Diamondbacks travel teams featuring Jordan (14U DeJesus) and Evan (12U). Damon DeJesus, who played at Indiana University South Bend and in the independent Empire League, is the 14U head coach.

DeJesus and former WOWO radio personality Charly Butcher founded the Fort Wayne Cubs, which later became the Diamondbacks.

Born in Ponce, P.R., DeJesus moved to Moss Bluff, La., as a boy then Beaumont, Texas, where he was one of only two sophomores to play varsity baseball at West Brook Senior High School (catcher Jason Smith, who went on to the University of Texas-Arlington and the Colorado Rockies organization, was the other).

It was as a 10th grader that DeJesus caught the attention of University of Southwestern Louisiana assistant coach Emrick Jagneaux.

“He said, ‘once you get this thing figured out with the curveball, I’ll come back and pick you up,’” says DeJesus of Jagneaux. “He was true to his word.”

DeJesus went to USL (now known as the University of Louisiana-Lafayette) and went 23-1 in three seasons (1990-92) for the Mike Boulanger-coached Ragin’ Cajuns. 

One of his signature victories was a complete game at Mississippi State University in 1991. That team was coached by American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Ron Polk and inside rowdy and intimidating Dudy Noble Field.

The lefty was 22-0 as a starter. He came on in relief against Oregon State University and three crucial errors led to his only college setback.

In his three seasons, the Ragin’ Cajuns went 47-18, 49-20 and 38-23 and won two American South Conference titles and a Sun Belt Conference West crown. 

DeJesus won 13 games for Southwest Louisiana in 1992, was an All-American, co-Sun Belt Pitcher of the Year and selected to Team Puerto Rico. An elbow injury suffered during the Olympic Trials kept him from going to the Barcelona Games, where first-time Olympic baseball qualifier Puerto Rico placed fifth.

In the summer of 1990, DeJesus played American Legion Baseball in Louisiana for McNeese State University head coach Tony Robichaux and assistant Todd Butler.

Robichaux was head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette 1995-2019 (he died after the 2019 season) and won more than 1,100 games in his 33-year career.

The Twins selected DeJesus in the 17th round of the 1992 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

He got into just two games in 1992 then went 9-0 at rookie-level Elizabethton, Tenn., in 1993. 

Ray Smith was the Elizabethton manager.

“He’s one of the nicest overall men that has ever graced us with his presence,” says DeJesus of Smith. “His philosophy was very simple: Show us what you can do.”

DeJesus remembers that Smith was very mild-mannered until the morning after an Appalachian League playoff loss at Bluefield, Va., that saw the team get extra-boisterous at the hotel.

Let’s just say the Twins were chewed out before riding back to Tennessee.

Playing at Low Class-A Fort Wayne in 1994, DeJesus encountered manager Jim Dwyer and pitching coach Stew Cliburn.

It was in Fort Wayne that DeJesus, who was in the bullpen at old Memorial Stadium, witnessed the first professional home run for 18-year-old Alex Rodriguez

DeJesus can still see the hanging slider by Shane Bowers, who had a cup of coffee with the 1997 Twins, that A-Rod popped for the Appleton Foxes.

Southpaw DeJesus was 5-2 with two saves, a 0.93 earned run average, 55 strikeouts and 13 walks in 38 2/3 innings at Fort Wayne and was at Double-A Nashville briefly before injury cut his season short.

DeJesus recalls that a Nashville TV station aired a lengthy piece about his injury. Xpress manager Phil Roof and pitching coach Rick Anderson were complimentary, saying how the lefty had the make-up to be a top-flight closer or set-up man. 

“My fastball never came back after surgery,” says DeJesus.

After four games at Double-A New Britain, Conn., in 1995, DeJesus spent parts of that season and all of 1996 in independent pro ball with the Alexandria (La.) Aces and the Rio Grande Valley White Wings in Harlingen, Texas.

DeJesus was with Alexandria again in 1997 and hooked on with the Chicago Cubs system, going 3-1 in eight games in 1997 and 5-5 in 1998 — both for High Class-A Daytona, Fla.

Stan Cliburn, twin brother of Stew and Alexandria manager in 1997, fondly recalls DeJesus.

“Great competitor and a winner when he toed the pitchers mound!,” says Cliburn. “Class act.”

Ricky VanAsselberg, who is now the general manager/field manager of the Acadiana Cane Cutters summer collegiate team in Lafayette, La., was an Alexandria teammate.

“I love Javi,” says VanAsselberg. “What a great guy. Great competitor.

“Warrior on the mound.”

It was Alan Dunn, Daytona pitching coach in 1997, that DeJesus learned the 3-2-1 pitch sequencing method that he employs with his young players to this day.

“He showed me that concept and it’s made a world of difference,” says DeJesus. “It gives you the opportunity to be your own pitching coach.”

The method begins with 12 pitches to various parts of the strike zone — inside and outside — and allows the pitcher to evaluate where is more or less consistent, where he is improving or regressing and where his mechanics can be altered to effect the release point.

DeJesus, who likes to take to Twitter to debunk modern training philosophy, is not a big fan of speed for speed’s sake.

“Look at players’ heart,” says DeJesus. “That can’t be quantified. They don’t play for numbers.

“Velocity is king now. To me that’s not pitching. That’s measurables. You have to integrate velocity and command. 

“If you have no clue where it’s going, what’s the purpose of training.”

When teaching his sons to hit, DeJesus has spent time listening to hitting coaches and it’s also helped him as pitching instructor.

“The more I know about hitting, the more I can help pitchers,” says DeJesus. “We can expose weaknesses.”

Puerto Rico-born Jose Santiago, a former big league pitcher and Daytona’s pitching coach in 1998, tried to get DeJesus to become a coach in the Cubs organization.

“I thought I still had some games to play,” says DeJesus. “I wanted to retire on my own terms and not someone else’s.”

The final three pro seasons for DeJesus were spent in independent ball — Nashua (N.H.) Pride in 1999, Lehigh Valley (Pa.) Black Diamonds in 2000 and Alexandria Aces in 2001.

The 2000 season is memorable because it wound up with the team living in tents when bankruptcy proceedings got them thrown out of area hotels.

New Orleans native Kim Batiste, who played on the Philadelphia Phillies World Series team in 1993, cooked for his teammates.

It was also in the Atlantic League that DeJesus got a valuable baseball lesson thanks to former big league slugger Ruben Sierra.

During a pro career that spanned 1983-2006, Puerto Rican Sierra was with the Atlantic City Surf in 1999 and rapped a few offerings from Nashua’s DeJesus.

Baseball lifer Doc Edwards was the Atlantic City manager. 

“Those are the guys who taught me how to pitch,” says DeJesus, who got a chance to talk baseball with those men deep into the night. “The conversation got me to understand what it is to pitch.

“Today, too many pitchers don’t call their own pitches. They don’t get to think for themselves.”

Javier DeJesus and his sons are involved with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Diamondbacks travel baseball organization.
Javier DeJesus was an All-American baseball player at Southwestern Louisiana University (now known as the University of Louisville-Lafayette).
Javier DeJesus with the Elizabethton (Tenn.) Twins (Classic Best Image).
Javier DeJesus with the Rio Grande Valley White Wings.
Javier DeJesus with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Fleer Image).
Javier DeJesus with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Fleer Image).
Javier DeJesus with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wizards (Fleer Image).
Baseball Hall of Famer Trevor Hoffman (left) meets with Javier DeJesus. The latter played 10 years in pro baseball and lives in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Gregor displaying baseball tools, helping others reach their goals

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Conrad Gregor does his best to use baseball’s five physical tools (speed, arm strength, fielding, hitting for average and hitting for power).

As a third baseman, first baseman and left fielder for the New Jersey Jackals of the independent Can-Am League, the lefty swinger has played in 72 games for the 2019 season (through Aug. 9) and is hitting .324 with nine home runs, 15 doubles, four triples, 49 runs batted in, 68 runs scored, 61 walks, 34 stolen bases and a .459 on-base percentage.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder has amassed 22 multi-hit games with four in a “friendly” against the Cuba National Team and four three-hit games.

Batting No. 3 for manager Brooks Carey, the graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School (2010) and Vanderbilt UniversityVanderbilt University (2016) went 0-of-3 then 1-for-1 with a double, three runs scored two walks and one stolen base Friday as New Jersey (40-32) beat Sussex County 4-0 and 10-1 at Yogi Berra Stadium in Little Falls, N.J., and moved within 5.5 games of the league-leading Miners.

Besides the tools, Gregor also sees the importance of using mental skills, work ethic, mindset, consistency and a desire for excellence.

“It’s what’s between your two ears,” says Gregor of mental skills. “As a pro, you play on a nightly basis. You have to survive the ups and downs of being a hitter in baseball.

“I have to get my body ready to play 140-plus games a year. You have to be a good teammate at all times — even when things aren’t going well for  you individually. Have a ‘team at-bat’ — no matter what that may be.”

Gregor, 27, grew up playing the Carmel Dads’ ClubCarmel Dads’ Club and for the Carmel Pups.

In middle school, he went with the Indiana Prospects. In high school, he joined the Midland Redskins and helped them to an American Amateur Baseball Congress Connie Mack World Series title in 2009. He played a couple of high school falls with the Kanas City Royals Scout Team.

Eric Lentz was Gregor’s head coach at Carmel High School. They have stayed in contact through the years.

“He’s got a great baseball mind,” says Gregor of Lentz. “I learned a lot from him. He’s about bringing it everyday, keeping the blinders on, doing the little things and playing team baseball to win games.”

“I’ve passed it on to the people I teach.”

During the baseball off-season, Gregor runs Anchor Down Sports Performance in downtown Carmel and many of his clients are junior high, high school and college ballplayers.

“I want to help people the best that I can,” says Gregor, who completed his finance and entrepreneurship degree during fall semesters after beginning his pro baseball career in 2013 and is certified in weightlifting and functional movement systems.

Anchor Down — a name that gives a nod to the Vanderbilt Commodores — has a presence on social media, including Facebook and YouTube.

Gregor was selected in the 40th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox, but opted to go to Vanderbilt. He played three seasons for the Commodores (2011-13), hitting .327 with nine homers, 45 doubles, 115 runs batted in, 117 runs scored, 33 stolen bases and a .444 on-base percentage over 186 games.

“It was a great honor to be able to play and learn from one the best-regarded baseball coaches in the sport,” says Gregor of head coach Tim Corbin, who led Vandy to the College World Series championship in 2019 and is to be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2020. “He provided me with a lot of useful lessons.

“He helped me become not only a great baseball player, but a great person.”

Picked in the fourth round of the 2013 draft by the Houston Astros, Gregor signed that June then had an unforgettable family moment in 2014 in Davenport, Iowa.

Conrad slugged his first Midwest League home run and his father — Marty — caught the ball. Marty and Megan Gregor had made their way out to a restaurant near right field and Marty was there to collect the souvenir.

Gregor was in the Astros system into 2017 then played 69 games with New Jersey before being picked up with the Boston Red Sox organization at the end of 2017. He played 12 games in he Red Sox chain along with five for the independent Atlantic League’s Lancaster (Pa.) Barnstormers and 98 with the Can-Am League’s Rockland (N.Y.) Boulders in 2018.

The Can-Am League all-star hopes to help New Jersey to a league title in 2019 (the regular season ends Sept. 2 and the playoffs conclude Sept. 15) then come back to Carmel to re-charge and then head out again.

Gregor is currently shopping around for a chance to play winter ball in Mexico, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic.

“I’m at the stage of my career where it’s ‘what have you done for me lately?’ It’s performance-based,” says Gregor. “I’m looking to continue playing.”

Always a righty thrower and lefty batter, Gregor sees advantages in swinging from that side of the plate.

“Being left-handed gives you a head start running to first base and you’re facing a lot of right-handed pitchers so the off-speed pitch is coming into your barrel.”

When teaching hitters, Gregor likes to point to the great left-handed swings — like the sweet one with the high finish used by Ken Griffey Jr. — and encourage his students to use what works best for them.

CONRADGREGORNEWJERSEY19

Conrad Gregor, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Vanderbilt University, is playing professional baseball in 2019 with independent New Jersey Jackals. (New Jersey Jackals Photo)

CONRADGREGORNEWJERSEYJACKALSMUG19

Conrad Gregor, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Vanderbilt University, is playing professional baseball in 2019 with independent New Jersey Jackals. Gregor has also played in the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox organizations and owns and operates Anchor Down Sports Performance in Carmel.  (New Jersey Jackals Photo)

Anderson’s Earley enjoying his time with independent Southern Illinois Miners

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nolan Earley is in his third season of independent professional baseball.

The Anderson, Ind., native is playing with the Marion, Ill.-based Southern Illinois Miners in the Frontier League.

While the lefty-swinging outfielder is driven to get back into Major League Baseball-affiliated ball, he is enjoying where he is now.

“It’s a great facility and the community is really supportive,” says Earley, 27, “This is a competitive league.”

Earley played at Brooklyn Little League in Anderson until age 12 and travel ball with the Indiana Bulls from 13 to 18. He also competed for Anderson High School and the University of South Alabama and then in the Chicago White Sox organization before joining the Miners in 2016.

Terry Turner was his high school head coach. His older brother Michael also played for the man who went on to win IHSAA Class 1A state titles at Daleville in 2016 and 2018.

“I remember his enthusiasm for baseball,” says Nolan Earley of Turner. “He’s probably one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. All the positive energy spreads throughout the team.

“I really enjoyed playing for him.”

At USA, Earley appeared in 201 games in four seasons with a .318 average, 11 homers, 138 RBIs, 53 doubles and 220 runs.

Steve Kittrell was head coach for the Jaguars when early arrived in Mobile, Ala., and Mark Calvi was and still is the leader of the program when he departed.

“I learned a lot from both of them,” says Earley. “(Kittrell) had an old-school look to the game. He all preached playing hard and control the things you can control.

“(Calvi) talked about being positive about the game. He had that hard-nosed mentality, but wanted you to keep your composure on the field.

“If stay positive and you can go a long way.”

Calvi was an assistant on the University of South Carolina staff when the Gamecocks won the 2010 College World Series. The next season, he became a South Alabama assistant and took over as head coach for the 2012 season.

Earley was selected in the 22nd round of the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox and signed by scout Warren Hughes. The outfielder saw time at Short Season Class-A Bristol, Low-A Kannapolis and High-A Winston-Salem through 2015. In 181 games in the affiliated minors, he hit .283 with five homers, 37 doubles, 76 RBIs and 62 runs.

Nolan was released out of spring training in 2016 and hooked on with the Miners — a team brother Michael hit .325 for in 96 games in 2015 after he was let go by the White Sox at the end of the 2014 season.

Michael Earley, a rigthy-hitting outfielder, graduated from Anderson High in 2006 and played one season at the University of Cincinnati and three at Indiana University before being drafted in the 29th round by the White Sox in 2010. After scout Mike Shirley signed him, Michael logged five seasons in the system, getting up to Triple-A Charlotte for 27 games in 2013.

Both Earley brothers have gotten instruction from and worked for Shirley at his Pro Source Baseball facility — aka “The Barn” — in Lapel, Ind.

Michael gave his endorsement of the Miners to his little brother.

“He definitely has a lot of influence when I make decisions,” says Nolan of Michael. “He told me how well he enjoyed this place. I’ve enjoyed everything about it.”

In 96 games in 2016, Nolan hit .291 with nine homers, 20 doubles, 70 RBIs and 53 runs.

The 2017 season saw him in 95 games and batting .264 with 11 homers, 16 doubles, 45 RBIs and 43 runs.

Through 56 games in 2018, Earley was hitting .264 with seven homers, 16 doubles, 21 runs batted in and 31 runs scored.

Mike Pinto is the longtime Miners manager.

“He’s definitely one of the most competitive field I’ve ever met,” says Earley. “He loves to win and hates to lose.

“If you’re going to play this game, you’ve got to have that feeling.”

Since there’s an age limit in the Frontier League, this season will be Earley’s last. If he is not picked up by an MLB organization, he has his sights on the independent Atlantic League or American Association.

Michael Earley is heading into his third year as an assistant baseball coach at Arizona State University, where Indiana native and former Indiana University head coach Tracy Smith is in charge of the Sun Devils.

Smith has turned over hitting coach duties to Earley.

Nolan gets pointers from Michael on the phone or makes a trek to Arizona to work with him.

“I take as much information as a I can and add it toward my game,” says Nolan, who enjoys learning things and holds a history degree from South Alabama.

Kevin and Tammy Earley are parents to Michael (married with children) and Nolan (single).

NOLANEARLEYVERONICAFRANCISSOUTHERNILLINOISMINERS

Nolan Earley, a 2009 Anderson (Ind.) High School graduate, is now in his third season with the independent Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League. (Veronica Francis Photo)

NOLANEARLEYSIMINERS

Nolan Earley celebrates after scoring a run for the Southern Illinois Miners. Earley is graduated for Anderson (Ind.) High School and the University of South Alabama and played in the Chicago White Sox organization. (Southern Illinois Miners Photo)