Tag Archives: Bradenton

Indiana native Sweeney has college, pro diamond experiences in Florida

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Sweeney has gained much knowledge on a baseball field in 2019.

The tall teenager experienced his lone collegiate season and his first taste of pro ball.

A 6-foot-7, 240-pound left-handed pitcher, the 2018 Hobart (Ind.) High School graduate competed for Pensacola (Fla.) State College in the spring and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gulf Coast League affiliate in the summer.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself and the game,” says Sweeney, who made his last appearance of the GCL season Aug. 28. “I learned how to pitch, control myself out on the mound and stick to the things I know how to do and not try to out-stretch myself.”

Sweeney pitched in 10 mound games (all starts) and went 2-5 with an 8.13 earned run average, 42 strikeouts and 46 walks in 31 innings at Pensacola State before being selected in the 36th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pirates June 5. His 19th birthday was June 14.

His professional debut came on June 28. While he walked two batters in three of his first five outings, he did strike out three in a 13-pitch performance on July 29. After throwing five of his first 24 pitches for strikes, he wound up at 80-of-146 for the season under the guidance of pitching coach and former big leaguer Fernando Nieve.

Sweeney hurled in 13 games (all in relief), going 0-2 with a 3.45 ERA, 12 strikeouts and 15 walks in 15 2/3 innings. After a brief visit with family a friends in northwest Indiana, Sweeney returns to Bradenton, Fla., on Sept. 8 for three weeks of instructional league.

“We’ll have one thing we need to get better at,” says Sweeney of his mission at instructs. “We’ll stick with it and build off of that.”

Sometime after instructional league, Sweeney says he expects to be back in Pensacola to work out in preparation for 2020.

Does he consider himself a starter or reliever?

“It’s up to (the Pirates) organization,” says Sweeney. “I like starting.

“I’ll do my job and keep moving up in levels.”

In college and the minors, Sweeney got accustomed to spending many hours at the field, between practice, running, weight training and games.

“It was a grind,” says Sweeney. “I had to get used to it.”

At Pensacola, Sweeney played for head coach Brian Lewallyn. His pitching coach was Karsten Whitson (now a volunteer assistant at the University of South Florida).

“(Lewallyn) makes you accountable for everything and gives you real-life advice,” says Sweeney. “He’s always there for us.”

Sweeney says he also formed a quick bond with Whitson, who helped him develop his pitch selection.

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Sweeney uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball and a “circle” change-up that drops off the table with 12-to-6 action.

“(Left-handers) get a lot of sink and run with fastballs,” says Sweeney.

But it’s his slider that has been his strikeout pitch.

“I have a good spin rate on my slider,” says Sweeney. “There’s a downward tilt to it. It’s not a true slider. It’s more of a slurve.”

The son of Tim and Shelly Sweeney and older brother of Hailey Sweeney (now a senior at Wheeler High School), Jake was born in Merrillville, Ind., and grew up in Hobart. His first organized baseball came at Hobart Little League. He later played travel baseball for the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Prospects and Team DeMarini Illinois.

As a multi-sport athlete, Sweeney raced for the Union Township Swim Club from ages 5 to 14 and played basketball through high school. He took the court with A2P in the off-season and spent two prep seasons at Andrean High School and one at Hobart.

“I got a lot of rebounds and was very aggressive on the court,” says Sweeney of basketball, a sport he put to the side to concentrate on baseball.

Sweeney played his first two high school diamond campaigns for the Andrean 59ers and one for the Hobart Brickies, playing for Bob Glover.

“We had a very short time together,” says Sweeney of Glover. “He’s a great guy.”

As a senior, Sweeney pitched in the 2018 Perfect Game Spring League in Iowa on weekends and attended classes at Hobart during the week. After graduation, he headed to Florida to begin the college experience.

And the experiences have just kept coming for the big left-hander.

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Jake Sweeney, who grew up in Hobart, Ind., pitched one season at Pensacola (Fla.) State College in 2019 and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He is a 6-foot-7, 240-pound left-hander. (Pensacola State College Photo)

 

Westfield, Purdue grad Andrzejewski making adjustments as coach in Florida

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brett Andrzejewski learned about making adjustments as a baseball player and he’s doing the same as a coach.

At Westfield (Ind.) High School, the right-handed pitcher changed from a three-quarter overhand to sidearm delivery slot prior to his junior season.

Andrzejewski was a second baseman growing up, but he had an all-stater as a classmate who played that position in Brandon Thomas.

“I was OK defensively, but couldn’t hit to save my life,” says Andrzejewski.

Shamrocks coach Ryan Bunnell told him during the off-season prior his junior year that Brett needed to find his niche.

Off the mound, Brett did not throw very hard. But Andrzejewski found that when he threw a ball after picking it up off the ground that it moved and he thought he just might have something.

In his senior year of 2009 while throwing to classmate and future big league catcher Kevin Plawecki, Andrzejewski was part of Westfield’s IHSAA Class 4A state runner-up finish and went on to pitch four seasons of college baseball — 2010 at Franklin (Ind.) College, 2011 at Tallahassee (Fla.) Community College and 2012 and 2013 at Purdue University. The Boilermakers won a Big Ten Conference championship in 2012.

The righty became kind of a right-handed specialist coming from a low angle. All 84 of his collegiate appearances were out of the bullpen.

“My breaking ball was starting behind them,” says Andrzejewski. “I had a lot of run and not a lot of velocity. I was 76 to 78 mph, usually.

“It bought me time on my playing career so I was appreciative of it.”

The son of Brian and Ann and older brother of Tyler and Chase, Brett Andrzejewski earned a history degree from Purdue in 2013, got his teaching certification from Indiana Wesleyan University and spent one season as pitching coach at Mississinewa High School in Gas City, Ind.

Brett got married and he and wife Michelle went to Florida. He got a job teaching social studies and serving as head baseball coach at Southeast High School, which is located in Bradenton and has about 1,800 students. The 2019 season will be his fourth.

Competing in Florida High School Athletic Association Class 5A (there are currently nine classes for baseball) and with limited resources like he experienced at Mississinewa, Andrzejewski has learned to be smart about his baseball purchases and making the most of what he’s got.

“It forces you as a coach to be creative,” says Andrzejewski, who benefits from Southeast’s agriculture classes working on his field.

To make his players appreciate what they have, he sometimes takes them in the gym for practice even on a sunny day.

“We’re one of the few places in the country that can field ground balls on grass all year,” says Andrzejewski.

Knowing their coach is from Indiana, they ask him if he’s ever played in the snow. That answer is yes.

The baseball timetable in Florida is about several weeks ahead of Indiana.

The FHSAA allows practice to begin Jan. 28 with a first contest date of Feb. 11. Districts, regional and state championships run from May 6-June 1.

Practice for the IHSAA begins March 11 with the first contest March 25 and state tournament series going from May 22-June 18.

Taking from his own experiences, Andrzejewski tells his Southeast Seminoles that they, too, might have to make adjustments to contribute on the diamond.

“Your talent level will take you so far,” says Andrzejewski. “You’ve got to find a way.

“For some guys it might be a sidearm thing or finding a different position or so on and so forth.”

Andrzejewski credits Bunnell for planting a seed.

“Playing for Coach Bunnell inspired me to think about the mental side of the game,” says Andrzejewski. “I had always been interested in it.

“Playing for him is what eventually led me to become a coach.”

At Purdue, Andrzejewski’s head coach was Doug Schreiber.

“Coach Schreib was definitely someone who had that high-intensity approach to coaching,” says Andrzejewski. “That fit my personality. I’m an ultra-competitive guy. He motivated me.”

Andrzejewski also learns from other minds. He attended his first American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis in 2018. He was among the 6,600 coaches at the 2019 event in Dallas.

“I learned so much,” says Andrzejewski. “I was a pitcher so I try to go where my deficiencies are.”

He soaks up as much information on hitting and defense and brings it back to his program.

Not that he uses everything exactly as presented.

“You walk in there with a filter,” says Andrzejewski. “How can my program benefit from this, whether it’s a piece of technology or instruction?

“At Southeast, I’ve had one pitcher who’s thrown over 80 mph since I’ve been there. I’m not going to have guys who will light up the radar gun, so we’ve got to find ways to get those 21 outs.”

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Brett Andrzejewski, graduate of Westfield (Ind.) High School and Purdue University, is going into his fourth season as head baseball coach at Southeast High School in Bradenton, Fla. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Fort Wayne native Reith sharing knowledge as pitching coach in Rays system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Reith played professional baseball for 13 seasons with parts of three in the majors (2001, 2003 and 2004 Cincinnati Reds).

Reith, a 1996 Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School graduate, has plenty to impart to young players as pitching coach for the Low Class-A Midwest League’s Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods.

But it’s not just about what goes on between the white lines.

“This is about more than just baseball for me,” says Reith. “It’s about young men. The game’s going to be over at some point and, hopefully, they can have a sound future somewhere else.”

Reith, 40, encourages players to approach him about anything.

“They can come to about off-the-field stuff and on-the-field stuff,” says Reith. “I try to be stern, but I try to be a friend to them as well.”

With his young pitchers on the mound, he emphasizes something that helped him during his pro playing career.

“What I focus on mostly is fastball command and getting them to understand the four quadrants of the (strike) zone, how effective that can be and how it sets up their other pitches,” says Reith. “By doing this, starters can also help relievers later in the game.”

Reith says it’s a matter of mechanics for some pitchers and — for others — confidence in their fastball.

“Fastball command was extremely important for me,” says Reith, a 6-foot-5 right-hander who graduated from Concordia in 1996 and was selected in the sixth round of that years’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees. “I first learned that in the (High Class-A) Florida State League. In Double-A, I had catchers who forced me to use my fastball. It really opened up a lot of doors for me.”

In the majors, his first manager was former big league catcher Bob Boone. Former MLB pitcher Don Gullett was the pitching coach.

“I had a lot of conversations with Bob Boone about pitch selection and different hitters and what to look for,” says Reith. “(Don Gullett) taught me a lot about work ethic.”

Dave Miley later took over as Reds manager. He ended up as head coach at Franklin County High School in Brockville, Ind.

Reith pitched for the Indianapolis Indians in 2005. Trent Jewett was the manager and Darold Knowles, who won 66 games and save 143 in 765 big league appearances, the pitching coach.

From 2007 to 2009, he played independent ball — first with the Somerset (Mass.) Patriots and then the Camden (N.J.) Riversharks and Joliet (Ill.) Jackhammers.

Sparky Lyle, who pitched in 899 big league games with 99 wins and 238 saves, was the manager and Brett Jodie, who made eight MLB appearances in 2001 with the Yankees and San Diego Padres, the pitching coach his first season in Somerset.

“(Sparky Lyle) stayed back and let us do our thing,” says Reith. “I was pitching pretty well while I was there.

“Brett Jodie helped me out quite a bit. I played with Jodie in the Yankees organization.”

The 2018 season marks Reith’s fourth in the Tampa Bay Rays system. He spent the past three years as pitching coaches with the Short Season Class-A New York-Penn League’s Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades.

There are many former Hudson Valley pitchers on the current Bowling Green staff and Reith sees the value in the continuity.

“It’s always good to have a base and knowledge of how they learn and what they’re working on to start a season off,” says Reith. “It’s definitely helped.”

Reith recalls his time in the Midwest League with Dayton in 2000 and relates those experiences to his Hot Rods.

“It wasn’t that long ago I was in their same shoes,” says Reith. “I try to remember what I was going through and what my mind was like.”

Everyone shares in the grind.

“Travel is pretty brutal for us,” says Reith. “But the guys deal well with it.”

According to Google Maps, the distance between the stadium in Bowling Green and MWL sites are as follows: Beloit (Wis.) Snappers 510; Burlington (Iowa) Bees 494; Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kernels 561; Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings 530; Dayton (Ohio) Dragons 279; Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps 389; Great Lakes Loons (Midland, Mich.) 616; Kane County Cougars (Geneva, Ill.) 479; Lake County Captains (Eastlake, Ohio) 477; Lansing (Mich.) Lugnuts 524; Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs 436; Quad Cities River Bandits (Davenport, Iowa) 512; South Bend (Ind.) Cubs 392; West Michigan Whitecaps (Comstock Park, Mich.) 493; Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Appleton, Wis.) 621.

Toward the end of his playing career, Reith earned on online degree in business management from the University of Phoenix. When he retired as a player, he went to work in the corporate world and landed with Champs Sports in Bradenton, Fla.

At the same time, Reith was coaching 14- to 18-year-olds in Sam Marsonek’s SCORE International program — combination travel baseball organization and ministry.

“I really enjoyed teaching the young kids,” says Reith. “That really sparked my interest in what I could do at a different level.”

When the Rays came calling, he started coaching professionals.

Reith’s early diamond days were spent at Wallen Baseball League in Fort Wayne, where teams played by American Amateur Baseball Congress rules and runners could lead off at a younger age the Little League. The league turned 50 in 2008.

He played travel ball for the Fort Wayne Seminoles and Fort Wayne Warriors and four years as a pitcher and outfielder at Concordia for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Massucci.

“He’s an extremely hard worker and a very knowledgeable guy,” says Reith of Massucci. “I didn’t know too much about situational baseball and he taught me a lot.”

Massucci is well-known around Fort Wayne for his long-time association with the Wildcat Baseball League.

Brian is the son of Steve and Nancy Reith, who live in the Fort Wayne area along with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Brian’s sister, Stacey, resides in Fishers, Ind.

Bowling Green has made two visits to Fort Wayne this season and is due for another July 6-9.

Brian, wife Kellie and their children reside in the Bradenton/Sarasota area in Florida. The family — parents, son Dixon (7) and daughter Kinsie (6) — have been together most of the season in Bowling Green. Recently, Kellie went back to Florida to ready to give birth to a second daughter in about two weeks.

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Brian Reith makes a mound visit as pitching coach for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods. The Fort Wayne native is in his fourth season of coaching in the Tampa Bay Rays system. (Bowling Green Hot Rods Photo)

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Brian Reith signals his approval as pitching coach for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods. He is a 1996 graduate of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Concordia Lutheran High School and played 13 professional baseball seasons, including parts of three in the majors. (Bowling Green Hot Rods Photo)

 

Valparaiso graduate Suiter adds Mexico to list of baseball experiences

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s funny how life and baseball works.

Jerrick Suiter is closing up shop at a GNC store in Fort Worth, Texas, when he gets a call to join the Mexican Pacific League pennant chase.

Two days later, the former Valparaiso High School and Texas Christian University standout is off to new experiences with the Venados de Mazatlan.

Suiter, an outfielder, corner infielder and designated hitter in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, plays his first game South of the Border Dec. 21 and goes 2-for-3 with a run batted in on Christmas Day.

“This is my first time in winter ball and first time in Mexico — ever,” says Suiter. “It’s been quite an experience. I’ve learned a lot of Spanish.

“It’s going to help me with my Latin teammates. I can feel what they were going through their first time in the States. I have a greater appreciation for that now.”

When he’s not at the stadium or heading to the gym, Suiter has found time to soak up the sun. The team has set him up in a condo 50 yards from the beach.

Recent daytime temperatures have been in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s been around 40 in north central Texas and in the single digits or lower in northwest Indiana.

Suiter, who has been used primarily as a DH since he had not been throwing much in the off-season, would like to be a part of a couple of championship before reporting to 2018 spring training at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., where he is due Feb. 19 — two weeks before his 25th birthday on March 4.

Mazatlan opened its season Oct. 11 and is closing in on the end of the regular season with hopes of winning the league and a berth in the Caribbean Series (which will bring champions from Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela to Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico).

In Mexico, Suiter has been reunited with Gerardo Alvarez, who managed the Bradenton Marauders in 2017.

After hurting his thumb at the end of spring camp, Suiter played briefly in the High Class-A Florida State League before joining the Altoona Curve of the Double-A Eastern League, where the right-handed swinger hit .285 with 10 home runs, three triples, 20 doubles and 58 runs batted in over 347 at-bats and 100 games.

Altoona beat Trenton to win EL title. Sutter had an RBI in the final game.

If the Pirates give him a promotion, Suiter would play Triple-A baseball with the Indianapolis Indians.

Suiter, who was selected in the 26th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft after three seasons at TCU, made an adjustment in the batter’s box in 2017.

“I was very wide and kind of low,” says Suiter of his stance. “It was killing any chance I had to put some juice into the ball. Now, I’m pretty tall, kind of (Ken) Griffey-esque with my hands a little lower. I see the ball a little bit longer and use my legs more than the rest of my body to generate some power.”

Suiter, who stands 6-foot-4 and currently weighs around 250 pounds, has been an avid lifter for years, but he is not trying to get too big.

“I don’t need to put on much size,” says Suiter, who usually reports to spring training around 250, drops five pounds by the end of camp and five or 10 more during the season. “Size in baseball doesn’t do you any good. It’s going to make you slow and not very flexible. I know how my body works and that I lose weight very quickly. I’m looking to get stronger while leaning out.”

A football, basketball and baseball standout at Valpo (he was the Northwest Indiana Times Male Athlete of the Year in 2011), Suiter got a chance to spend a lot of time on the gridiron and diamond with coach Dave Coyle.

“He was a big discipline guy,” says Suiter of Coyle. “I loved him as a coach. He wanted to the best for his team and for his players.”

Work ethic was important to Coyle just like it was to Eric Suiter, who coached Jerrick and company as they grew up playing sports.

“My dad was extremely hard on me as well as the rest of the team,” says Jerrick. “It made me into the athlete I am today. I couldn’t thank him more for it.”

Jerrick’s father lives in Valpo and mother Jeanette in Chesterton. His sister Danielle Suiter plays volleyball at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Half-brother Carter just played his first Pop Warner football season in Chesterton. Step-sister Hailey is a student at Purdue University.

Jerrick was working toward a degree in Habilitation of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing before leaving TCU early for pro baseball. He has relatives on his father’s side that are deaf or hard of hearing and knows both basic and American Sign Language.

“I started signs before I was talking,” says Suiter. “I don’t use it every single day like I should, but I know more sign language than I know Spanish, I can tell you that.”

He was planning to go back to school when Bradenton made the playoffs in 2016, which meant he would be too late for the start of the fall semester. Suiter spends his off-seasons in Fort Worth and does some hitting at TCU.

“I love the city,” says Suiter, an Indiana Bulls travel baseball alumnus who was drafted in 2011 by the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school but persuaded to play at TCU by former Horned Frogs recruiting coordinator Tony Vitello (who is now on the staff at the University of Arkansas) and played for head coach Jim Schlossnagle.

“He finds a way to win,” says Suiter of Schlossnagle, who now has Kirk Saarloos as a recruiting coordinator. “He brings the right guys in there. They’ve been to Omaha (for the College World Series) every year since my junior year. Something’s going right there.”

While he long wanted to be a pro baseball player, Suiter has an affinity for the hardwood.

“Basketball has always been my favorite sport,” says Suiter. “I’m not a big NBA guy, but I love watching college basketball.”

During winter break his sophomore year at TCU, he helped coach fifth and sixth grade AAU players. Shooting around on the court was one way he warmed up for his workouts.

But he has stopped doing that.

“The Pirates are writing my paychecks every two weeks,” says Suiter. “I don’t need to be roll a ankle or jeopardize my career in baseball.”

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Jerrick Suiter, the former Valparaiso High School and Texas Christian University standout, takes a cut in 2017 for the Altoona (Pa.) Curve, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Double-A team. (David Hague Photo)