BY STEVE KRAH
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.