The Shawn Harper-managed Brewers lost this week to the Jackers in the tournament finals and the Grand Park league wrapped last week. Snakes manager Jake Martin and the rest of the team witnessed a home run by righty-swinging Bickel that TrackMan measured at 436 feet with a 103 mph exit velocity.
“I feel like I can do everything well on the baseball field,” says Bickel, a 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and a member of the Palm Beach (Fla.) State College squad. “I hit for power. I have speed. I am smooth in the field with a strong arm.”
“It all comes back to my work ethic and how hard I train.”
Bickel, who is primarily a shortstop but can play second base or third base, got to North Dakota’s capital city after a 14-hour drive from South Bend. He reached out to Bull Moose manager Mitchell Gallagher, sent video and stayed in-touch with the Xavier University assistant.
“He brought me aboard when they had a need for an infielder,” says Bickel, who joins a team that is 6-26 playing in the COVID-19-induced pod system. The North Dakota Region consists of three teams all playing at Bismarck’s Dakota Community Bank & Trust Field — the Bull Moose, Larks and Mandan Flickertails. Players are housed in a hotel two-to-a-room. The season is to continue until Sept. 1.
“Hopefully, I can put up so good numbers here since I won’t get much exposure this fall,” says Bickel, alluding to the fact that junior college baseball canceled its fall season, meaning the loss of more than 20 games at the Palm Beach State Pro Day.
Online classes for the Business Management major begin Aug. 31. The school is closed until January, meaning Bickel will come home to South Bend after his time in North Dakota. Bickel’s 21st birthday is Jan. 21, 2021.
He struggled at the plate with the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Sharks and opted to take off 2019-20 to re-tool his swing. Bickel was offered a scholarship by head coach Kyle Forbes to join the Palm Beach State program. The Panthers are NJCAA D-I members and part of the Florida College System Activities Association.
Jarrett, 20, is the middle child of Joe and Megan Bickel. Joe owns a lawn care service. Tyler Bickel is 23. Xavier Bickel is 17.
It was not an easy decision. Moran considers Anderson head coach Matt Bair a mentor — on and off the field — and has regular contact with him.
“As a man, I’ve developed so much because of his leadership and all the other coaches,” says Moran. “My sophomore year, I was soft. I hadn’t developed that bulldog mentality.
“Coach Bair drew that out of me. He helped me compete and make myself better. He never gave me any guarantees. It helped me. I needed something to work for every single day.
“My faith is really an important part of what I am. It’s a relationship I’ll always be grateful for.”
Moran says he plans to enroll at Taylor soon and pursue a masters degree, likely in Transition-to-Teaching while working with the Trojans baseball staff, including head coach Kyle Gould and pitching coach Justin Barber, who was with the Indiana Chargers prior to his current position.
In the first 48 hours of entering the transfer portal, Moran received 13 to 15 offers.
“It was kind of overwhelming,” says Moran. “I turned down a lot of Division I offers.”
Coming out of high school, his outlook was D-I or bust. But that has changed.
“It’s not about where you play, it’s how good you are as a player,” says Moran. “How are you going to help me develop and get drafted? When I sat down with coaches from Taylor I was legitimately blown away. They had a development plan laid out for me.
“I’m 6-foot and a right-handed pitcher. Nothing sticks out about me. My stuff has to be really good to get to the next level.”
Moran mixes a fastball, change-up, slider and curveball.
This summer, his four-seam fastball has been up to 94.5 mph. He is regularly in the low- to mid-90s.
“It has a little bit of a riding action — into a righty (batter) and away from a lefty,” says Moran.
He is aiming for a high spin rate.
“I want to spin it enough so I can throw it higher in the zone,” says Moran.
It’s a “circle” change and a “gyro” slider than Moran employs.
“It has a late break when it’s on,” says Moran of the slider. “There’s a lot of depth to it when it’s good.
“The curve is 2-to-7 (on the clock face). I spin the curve 2300 to 2400 rpm.”
The curve tends to come in at around 73 mph with the slider around 80.
Moran, a 2016 graduate of Anderson High School, was playing in the summer after high school when he felt tightness in his elbow.
“It took about 14 months until I was able to go live in game,” says Moran. “It was two years after my surgery until I was feeling good again and not worrying about elbow soreness or stiffness.”
Making his collegiate debut in 2018, Moran got into 11 games as a pitcher (nine starts) and went 5-2 with a 3.75 earned run average. In 48 innings, he struck out 49 and walked 26.
As a right-handed hitter in 44 games, Moran amassed a .311 average (46-of-148) with three home runs, 33 runs batted in and 25 runs scored.
In 2019, all 11 of Moran’s AU mound appearance were starts. He went 7-1 with one complete game, a 3.20 ERA, 66 strikeouts and 28 walks in 59 innings.
Offensively, his 2019 produced a .362 average (46-of-127) with five homers, 25 RBIs and 27 runs in 37 games.
The pandemic shorted the 2020 season to four games on the mound (all starts). The righty went 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA, 32 strikeouts and seven walks in 20 innings. He averaged 14.4 K’s per nine innings.
At the bat, Moran blazed at a clip of .563 (18-of-32) with one homer, five RBIs, 10 runs and a .667 on-base percentage in nine contests. He was a designated hitter when not pitching.
While he concentrates on pitching during the summer and knows that is where his future lies, Morgan welcome the opportunity to hit at Taylor.
Born and raised in Anderson by Mike and Stephanie Moran, Joe began playing baseball at 5 at Riverfield Little League. During his 11-year-old summer, his team won a state title and had high hopes of the Little League World Series run the next summer, but the team was dismantled.
One of his teammates was Chayce McDermott. The Ball State University pitcher also plays on the Grand Park league’s Local Legends, coached by Butler University assistants Ben Norton and Jake Ratz.
Mike Moran is a grain farmer who tends about 2,000 acres. Stephanie Moran works in Engagement and Adult Studies at Anderson U. The couple have three children — Bobby (26), Joe (22) and Megan (20). AU graduate Bobby played golf and tennis at Anderson High. AU student Megan played volleyball and softball with the Anderson Indians.
“I love the punch-out,” says the graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is fanning opposing hitters at a rate of 12.81 per nine innings for the 2019 season (102 K’s and 24 walks in 71 2/3 innings) and 12.09 for his collegiate career (240 whiffs and 82 freebies in 178 1/3 innings). “I’ve got pretty good breaking balls. I can expand the zone on them.”
Thompson, who employs a four-seam fastball that he can sometimes get up to 97 mph that he mixes with a cutter, change-up, curveball and slider, says he goes to the mound with two keys in his mind: Get a first-pitch strike and after that win the 1-1 battle.
“There’s such a big difference between 2-1 and 1-2,” says Thompson.
Currently the Saturday starter during weekend series for the Wildcats, the southpaw is 4-1 with a 1.88 earned run a 1.88 earned run average. Opponents are hitting .179 against him in 11 games (11 starts).
Since coming to UK, Thompson is 14-3 with one save, a 2.57 ERA and .188 opponent’s batting mark in 40 appearances (31 as a starter).
“It was just the right fit and has a very blue collar feel,” says Thompson. “My family (which includes father Bill, mother Jan and older brother Nick) can see games. They’re usually down here every weekend. And it’s in the (Southeastern Conference).
“The SEC has the best competition and best environment to improve.”
Thompson describes the atmosphere at conference road games as “incredible.”
He has gotten to stand on the bump on a circuit that includes Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Missouri, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M.
In the summer of 2018, Thompson played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, making three appearances with one start. He was 1.0 with a 0.00 ERA, eight strikeout, five walks and three hits allowed in 8 2/3 innings. Opponents, including Chinese Taipei, Japan and Cuba, hit .107 against the left-hander.
“That was just an awesome experience,” says Thompson. “I was representing my country and playing with the some of the best players and for some of the best coaches.
“I got to see how other people do it.”
Louisiana State University head coach Paul Mainieri was the USA CNT head coach. The pitching coach was University of Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor.
“Coach O is great,” says Thompson of O’Connor. “We worked on things in bullpen that translated to the game really well like his philosophies and pitch calling.”
Mainieri is a former head coach at Notre Dame, where O’Connor was his pitching coach.
Baseball America made the 21-year-old Thompson the No. 1 SEC prospect in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (which is slated for June 3-5). D1 Baseball has him No. 2 on their list. He is also high in prospect rankings for MLBPipeline.com and Perfect Game.
“I try not to worry about it,” says Thompson of the MLB Draft. “It won’t matter if I don’t do my job on the mound.”
Thompson was born in Anderson, Ind., and grew up in Selma near Muncie. Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley at Wapahani.
“Brian was awesome and a great mentor,” says Thompson of Dudley. “He’s a great leader in the community.
“He sets his players up for success in the class room and on the field.”
Thompson was a National Honor Society student that led him to study business management in college. On the diamond, he put up eye-popping numbers.
On the mound, he went 23-2 with a 0.98 ERA and 405 strikeouts for 183 2/3 innings (15.43 per seven innings). As a sophomore, he helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2014 while going 13-0 with a 0.64 ERA over 87 innings as a pitcher and also hit .500 with eight home runs and 36 runs batted in.
High school summers were spent traveling with the Indiana White Sox or Indiana Bulls.
Thompson was selected in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, but opted not to sign and went to Kentucky.
Zack Thompson, a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is a junior left-handed pitcher at the University of Kentucky. (University of Kentucky Photo)
Zack Thompson is among the nation’s top pitching prospects for the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The left-hander is a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., and has been racking up strikeouts in droves as a University of Kentucky junior. (University of Kentucky)
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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)
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)