BY STEVE KRAH
Andy Samuelson has long had a knack for strikeouts.
Since he began pitching baseballs as a young boy living in LaPorte, Ind., and playing in the KVA youth league, the left-hander has been racking up K’s.
“I’ve missed bats my whole life,” says Samuelson, a 21-year-old who is now in the Atlanta Braves organization. “With my delivery, I hide the ball very well. It stays behind my body.”
Selected in the 12th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by Atlanta out of Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill., Samuelson made eight appearances (all in relief) with the Gulf Coast Braves last summer, going 1-1 with one save and a 6.39 earned run average. In 12 2/3 innings, he struck out 21 and walked six in a season cut short by Hurricane Dorian. That’s a rate of 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
The lefty played two seasons for National Junior College Athletic Association Division I powerhouse Wabash Valley, where Rob Fournier is head coach and Aaron Biddle the pitching coach/associate head coach.
In the spring of 2019, Samuelson was 1-0 with two saves and a 2.93. He got into 16 games (all in relief). In 15 1/3 innings, he fanned 29 and walked 13 for the 55-4 Warriors. That’s 16.6 K’s per nine innings.
As a freshman in 2018, Samuelson made 11 mound appearances (all in relief) and went 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA. He fanned 17 and walked seven in 9 1/3 innings as the WVC Warriors went 45-11-1. His K-per nine rate was 16.3.
Samuelson is a 2017 graduate of LaPorte High School. In his senior season with the Slicers he went 4-4 with one save and a 1.69 ERA. Playing for head coach Scott Upp and pitching coach Jeff DeMass, he whiffed 67 and walked 20 in 45 2/3 innings. That’s 10.2 strikeouts per seven innings.
“I had a lot of fun playing high school baseball for the Slicers,” says Samuelson. “Coach Upp (an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer) is perfect mix of intense and making sure you have fun.
“He’s a really good coach. He knows what he’s doing.”
Samuelson played two years on the junior varsity and two years on varsity. At the start, he resisted developing a compliment to his fastball and curveball.
“When I was younger I refused to throw a change-up,” says Samuelson. “Coach DeMass is the only reason I have any semblance of a change-up at all.”
To this day, Samuelson uses his “circle” change sparingly. His “out” pitch is his curve.
“It got me on the radar of college coaches and pro scouts,” says Samuelson of his bender. “It’s more of a sweeper, moving 10-to-4 or 10-to-5. It’s been my bread-and-butter pitch since I’ve been a pitcher.
“There are games I might have thrown it more than my fastball.”
A four-seam fastball with natural movement comes out of the hand of the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder.
“There are days when my fastball runs arm-side a lot,” says Samuelson. “I don’t know why.”
Samuelson never hit 90 mph on the radar gun his freshmen year at Wabash Valley. But after a year of daily long toss and plenty of weight lifting, he was hitting that mark consistently as a sophomore.
“Playing at Wabash was quite an experience,” says Samuelson. “They’re so focused on getting better and winning games. Everyday we did something. There were no days off. It was an absolute grind.”
Samuelson calls Fournier one of the most intense coaches he’s ever seen.
“He got upset if we didn’t play up to our potential,” says Samuelson. “We were so talented. I’d put us up against a lot of (NCAA) Division I college teams. A lot of players turned down the (MLB) Draft or went to very good Division I programs. The talent level just pushes you to be better.”
Samuelson credits Biddle for tweaking his mechanics, but also instilling confidence.
“He was a big mindset guy,” says Samuelson of Biddle. “It takes a lot of mental fortitude to be a good pitcher.”
Samuelson, who earned an Arts, Media & Science associate degree at Wabash Valley, was headed to Division I baseball after his junior college experience, but opted to go pro instead.
“It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made,” says Samuelson. “I was very close to going to North Carolina State. But I’ve always wanted to play professional baseball.”
Since being drafted, Major League Baseball has been talking about shrinking the minors and cut the draft from 40 to five rounds in 2020.
“Looking back, I’m very glad I did what I did,” says Samuelson.
The summer between his freshmen and sophomore collegiate seasons, the southpaw was with the Ohio Valley League’s Henderson (Ky.) Flash. Adam Hines was the head coach and Brandon Mattingly the pitching coach.
“(Mattingly) helped me a lot with straight mechanical stuff,” says Samuelson. “Like using my lower half and staying on-plane.”
After he spent a summer with the LaPorte Titans, Samuelson’s junior high and high school travel ball seasons were spent with the Scott Ellrich-coached Indiana Breakers.
“I credit him for a lot of the pitching I’ve learned,” says Samuelson, who still regularly converses with Ellrich.
Samuelson was at 2020 Braves spring training less than two weeks when it was shut down because of COVID-19 and he returned to LaPorte.
He had been working out since fall — lifting weights at the LaPorte County Family YMCA and throwing at at facility own by the Land family (LPHS Class of 2023’s Jackson Land was often his catcher).
He also worked as a substitute teacher at LaPorte Middle School.
During and after quarantine, Samuelson stayed in game shape. Recently, he found out there will be no Minor League Baseball season in 2020 and cut back on the intensity.
It was ferocity that helped Samuelson and his teammates to basketball success while playing for Tom Wells at LaPorte High.
“We were never the most athletic kids with the most skills,” says Samuelson. “Basketball was not our first sport. The other four starters were football players.
“(Wells) instill straight toughness. We played grittier and tougher than anybody else, that’s why we won a lot of games.”
Andy is the oldest of Greg and Becky Samuelson’s three children. Greg Samuelson is a seventh grade science teacher at LaPorte Middle School. Becky Samuelson is a sixth grade math teacher at Kesling Intermediate School).
Emily Samuelson, who played softball at LPHS, just finished her freshman year at Purdue University where she is studying nursing. Tommy Samuelson was a LaPorte freshman in 2019-20, playing baseball and baseball.
“He’s already as tall as me,” says Andy of Tommy. “He has a chance to be better than I ever was.”