Tag Archives: Butler University

Schreiber looks for Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons to be in ‘overachieve mode’

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

New Purdue Fort Wayne head baseball Doug Schreiber has been defining the culture for his Mastodons.

With the help of PFW assistants Brent McNeil, Ken Jones and Gordon Cardenas, attitude will be at the forefront.

“We’re going to have to be in overachieve mode somewhat,” says Schreiber, who was hired at PFW in July 2019. “We’re going to be looking at players to play a little bit above their skill level.

“To be able to overachieve, you have to have the intangibles. You have to have the proper attitude and outlook. We’re recruiting attitude and that’s going to be a big focus.

“We want to make sure guys understand that having a positive attitude, a maturity level and a passion to play is the foundation of the program with respect, work ethic and trust being some of the cornerstones of what we’re trying to build.”

Schreiber says he makes few guarantees to his players. He doesn’t promise them he’ll add 10 mph to their fastball, get them drafted or even give them a starting position.

“One of the things I think I can guarantee is that if you don’t have the right attitude and the right mindset, you definitely aren’t going to overachieve and play above your skill set,” says Schreiber. “You are probably going to play below your skill set.”

A head coach for 20 seasons in West Lafayette, Ind., — 18 at Purdue University (1999-2016) and two at McCutcheon High School (20018-19), Schreiber knows that Purdue Fort Wayne may not be the biggest school with the very best facilities.

But the Mastodons are NCAA Division I and expect to be competitive at that level while playing home games at Mastodon Field and training in the strength & fitness area inside the Hilliard Gates Sports Center.

How does Schreiber and company recognize the intangibles during the recruiting process?

Stuff on the mound, bat speed and range in the field are fairly evident. It’s not as obvious with other attributes.

“It’s tough.” says Schreiber. “You do have to spend a little more time. In some of the recruiting opportunities, you just get a quick look.”

Because of NCAAA rules, coaches don’t get spend as an inordinate amount of time with the prospective student-athlete. That’s where they rely on the players’ coaches (high school, travel, junior college).

Schreiber said the vetting process also includes the answers that come from casual conversation.

The Mastodons staff has learned how to read body language. It’s something they pick up on when watching a recruit when they or their teammates are struggling and it’s something they can see in players on the roster.

“We can’t see what’s inside their head, their heart or their gut,” says Schreiber. “The best way you have at least a clue on what’s going on in there is their body language.

“It definitely is a red flag when you see some disrespect and those types of things.”

It’s important because there are only so many roster spots available (up to 35 with 11.7 scholarships at the D-I level) and coaches have to get it right.

“Within their baseball life, we’re going to have compassion for them as individuals with anything that’s going on in their life,” says Schreiber. “But we just don’t have time for them to feel sorry for themselves.

“It’s a tough enough game that if they start to feel sorry for themselves, that’s the beginning of a negative attitude. They’re going to start making excuses, blaming other people or not taking responsibility. We have to have student-athletes that are mature enough and coachable enough to be able to handle adversity and persevere through those types of things.”

Schreiber says human beings have negative thoughts. What are done with those are the key.

“Do you act out on them?,” says Schreiber. “Do you voice your negative opinion? There’s all kinds of things that can get you in trouble.

“We have to teach them how to channel those negative thoughts into some positive action and positive thoughts.”

Schreiber also puts stock in mental development. With that in mind, he will have his players in classroom settings taking part in open discussions on life skills.

Topics will include “a winning mentality vs. a whining mentality” plus leadership, team unity and much more.

Prior to taking over at Purdue, Schreiber served as an assistant at Ball State University (1991-92), Butler University (1993), the University of Notre Dame (1994) and Arizona State University (1995-98).

That’s why he values his experience at McCutcheon. When he went into coaching, he thought he would be at the high school level — something his father — 13-time Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber excelled at for 39 years at LaPorte (Ind.) High School.

“I had the opportunity to keep staying at Division I,” says Schreiber. “It  just kept working out.

“To (coach) at McCutcheon, where (Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer) Jake Burton had built the program up to such a high caliber was a great experience.”

Working with high school student-athletes, Schreiber learned about patience.

“I feel like I became a better coach by coaching younger players,” says Schreiber. “Those are the players we’re going to be recruiting now.

“Getting in-tune with how they communicate amongst each other and with coaches, parents and everything was an important piece of it, too.”

After his coaching tenure at Purdue, Schreiber went into an academic job at the school then got his real estate license, but never got into that field too heavily with his coaching position at McCutcheon.

I knew I wanted to continue to coach,” says McCutcheon. “I looked into few opportunities, but when this one (at Purdue Fort Wayne) came forward it was something I was very, very interested in and was very fortunate I got the opportunity to do it.”

“Staying in Indiana was important to my wife (McCutcheon guidance counselor Sarah) and I. We had visited and done some things in Fort Wayne. I’ve recruited over here.

“Fort Wayne is a great city. It’s got a lot of everything, but it still has the small Midwest town feel.”

The Schreiber have purchased a home in Fort Wayne, meaning the coach does not have the long commute he had when he first was hired.

“Other than that, it’s been smooth and thoroughly enjoyable,” says Schreiber of the transition. “Everything has been quality. I’ve got great support from our athletic director.”

Mastodons AD Kelley Hartley Hutton was head women’s volleyball coach for 15 seasons and 13 years as Senior Woman Administrator PFW. She was a four-year player at the University of Toledo.

“She understands the coach’s perspective,” says Schreiber. “We’re into having the best student-athlete experience possible. She gets it from both ends (coach and athlete).”

Staying in the state also allows Schreiber to keep his well-established network of high school and travel ball coaches. There’s also the junior colleges in the region.

This fall, recruiting has included plenty of looks at junior college players, who tend to be more mature physically and mentally.

“That’s not to say we’re not interested in high talent high school players as well,” says Schreiber. “We’re going to try to stay very strong in Indiana — players that have gone on to junior college and those from high schools.”

Ideally, most players will be on-campus for four or five years, giving time to mature and grow into leadership roles.

“There’s a always a little bit of a learning curve,” says Schreiber. “Ultimately, our base is going to be four-year players with a good mix of junior college players.”

Purdue Fort Wayne also participates in the Midwest Student Exchange Program, where students from several surrounding states get a break on out-of-state tuition. That allows Schreiber and company to take a little wider look while keeping Indiana as the recruiting base.

PFW is currently a member of the Summit League (with North Dakota State, Omaha, Oral Roberts, South Dakota State and Western Illinois). The Mastodons are joining the Horizon League in 2020-21. The league currently features Milwaukee, Northern Kentucky, Oakland, University of Illinois-Chicago, Wright State and Youngstown State.

Schreiber says geography is one factor for the switch.

“Student-athletes are missing a lot of class because of the distance,” says Schreiber. “We do create things with scheduling in the spring that allows them to minimize missed classes.”

That includes moving classes away from late in the day Thursday or altogether Friday and taking more online classes. On the road, there is quiet time for study on the bus and in the hotel. With some long road trips ending on Monday morning, a premium is placed on time and priority management.

“It’s going to benefit them from an academic standpoint,” says Schreiber of the move to the Horizon.

With Schreiber’s hiring, the Slicer quotient doubled for the Mastodons. Doug is a 1982 LaPorte High School graduate. Mastodons senior first baseman Travis Upp, son of current LaPorte head coach Scott Upp, got his diploma at LPHS in 2016.

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Doug Schreiber is the head baseball coach at Purdue University Fort Wayne (Ind.) (Steve Krah Photo)

 

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Hanover’s Bellak simplifies hitting approach

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hitting a round ball with a round bat squarely is not an easy thing to do well.

Grant Bellak, who enters his second season as head baseball coach at NCAA Division III Hanover (Ind.) College in 2019-20, has his Panthers (15-19 during the 2019 season) following a simplified offensive approach that he first began to develop as an assistant at D-III Franklin (Ind.) College.

In 2018, the Grizzlies were national leaders in batting average, OPS (on-base plus slugging), runs per game, home runs and walks.

Bellak presented “Simplifying the Approach for High Output Offenses” during an American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics stop Sept. 8 at Butler University in Indianapolis.

The full presentation can be ordered through the ABCA Barnstormers Clinics Video Library.

“The coaching community has been really, really good to me,” says Bellak, who gave shout-outs to Ryan Brownlee (ABCA Assistant Executive Director of Coaching Outreach and former Western Illinois University head coach), Bill Kurich (Webster University head coach), Adam Smith (Benedictine University head coach) and Lance Marshall (Franklin College head coach).

The Barnstormers appearance was Bellak’s first time as a presenter at an ABCA clinic.

“We look at the approach to hitting as all-encompassing,” says Bellak.

He quoted ABCA Hall of Famer Jerry Weinstein’s 2014 statement that a big league pitcher only hits what he defines as his spot 24 percent of the time.

“For us as hitters, we need to be prepared to hit a lot of ‘mistake’ pitches,” says Bellak. “That’s what you’re going to get.

“To be a high level offense, we need to simplify our approach. At the same time — as (hitting and mental skills guru) Steve Springer says — you won’t hit anything if you’re trying to hit everything.”

Bellak has developed four absolutes for his hitters.

“No. 1, you have to be the best athletic version of yourself,” says Bellak. “It can be two completely different things from our shortstop to our first baseman.

“Secondly, your front foot has to leave the ground at some point.”

Bellak can only think of a few big leaguers — Ian Kinsler and Albert Pujols are two examples — who have had a lot of success keeping their foot on the ground the entire time.

“We teach front foot down on-time,” says Bellak of his third absolute. “We want to work on sequencing from the back side of our body.”

No. 4 involves the player knowing their identity and how they fit into team goals. Hanover’s offensive team goal is an .840 OPS (ideally around .420 on-base average and .420 slugging percentage).

“Our lead-off hitter will try to get to that .840 in a significantly different way than our No. 4 hitter,” says Bellak. “By identifying what category you fit into, you will have a defined set of measurable goals to strive for.

“Being honest with yourself and your abilities will allow you to achieve your goals and help this offense win games.”

Bellak puts offensive players into four categories — Sparks, Hybrid, Hybrid-Plus and Power.

Sparks have a high on-base average, lower slugging percentage and a high number of stolen bases. They generally strike out only once per 15 at-bats and produce less than two home runs, six or more doubles and 10 to 15 stolen bases.

Hybrid players provide a high on-base average and good slugging percentage. They strike out once per 10 at-bats with two or more homers, eight or more doubles and less than six stolen bases.

Hybrid-Plus entails high marks in on-base and slugging averages and the ability to steal bases consistently with one strikeout per 10 at-bats with four or more homers, 12 or more doubles and eight or more stolen bases.

Power hitters are above average in on-base average and excellent in slugging. They will not steal bases often (four or less) and have one strikeout per eight at-bats with five or more homers, 12 or more doubles.

Bellak and his coaching staff are very careful with verbal cues.

“Kids today are very literal,” says Bellak. “You see it all the time. You say, ‘get your front foot down early.’ Then he sits and he can’t sequence properly.

For instance, Hanover coaches will never say “Use your hands” but instead say “Get Turned.”

Instead of “Go oppo,” it’s “Use the backside.”

It’s not “Let it get deep,” but “Use the fat part of the field.”

Rather than “Get on top,” they say “Release the barrel out front.”

Instead of “Use your hands,” it’s “Get turned.”

Following the advice of mental performance expert Brian Cain, words that end with “not” or “‘nt” are not to be used as cues because those negatives stick in the player’s brains.

“We try to change those to ‘you can,’ ‘you will’ vs. ‘won’t,’ ‘don’t,’ ‘can’t.’”

Bellak wants his hitters to “hunt” pitches (aggressive) rather than thinking in terms of a passive word like “wait.”

Hitters ask themselves questions like “Where have I had success?,” “Where do function best?” or “Where am I hitting the ball the hardest and why would I come away from that?”

As a visual tool, Bellak has his players place a large ball (around the size of a basketball) and put it over the plate where they feel they will be most-successful at the plate.

“It’s a pitch they are looking for and they can touch it, see it and feel it,” says Bellak. “We tell them during BP that they’re not going to let any pitches touch their glass ball.”

There is freedom to move the ball around to suit the hitters’ strengths. Power hitters typically want pitches that are “middle-in.”

“Expect them to take more pitches in BP because they’ll say, ‘Coach, that was a little bit off my glass ball,” says Bellak. “But, all of a sudden, they become more refined in their approach and we create height, depth and location.

“It really focuses their approach. It’s simple. It doesn’t take long to explain. You’re getting them free to what they want to do at the plate as hitters.

“With the influx of data, most hitters these days are pretty honest with themselves. I know which pitch I’m going to hammer.”

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Grant Bellak is the head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College. (Hanover College Photo)

 

Indiana Wesleyan’s Benjamin affirms priority of coaching communication

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rich Benjamin has been the head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University since the 2016 season.

His Wildcats have gone 123-105-1 overall and 62-47 in Crossroads League play during Benjamin’s tenure with a CL tournament title in

2016 and a 2018 CL Regular Season Championship leading to two NAIA Opening Round appearances in 2016 and 2018.

A big part of the culture revolving around the IWU program involves improving communication each year.

Benjamin, who was head coach at Judson University in Elgin, Ill., for eight seasons, winning eight championships before taking over in Marion, addressed communication’s impact on coachability at the American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics stop Sept. 8 at Butler University.

The full presentation can be ordered through the ABCA Barnstormers Clinics Video Library.

“Guys come in on Day 1 and they seem very coachable,” says Benjamin.

Benjamin says coaches may notice some players that are a little standoffish or hard to influence while others are coachable throughout the entire experience.

In many cases, players have a personal instructor, adding more voices to the room.

“You’re trying to navigate all those variables,” says Benjamin. “The vision is the allow the player to play competent-unconscious.”

That vision comes with a set of values.

The first is asking open-ended questions (coach to coach, coach to player, player to coach and player to player) and minimizing statements.

Why is this done?

“I’m trying to develop the awareness and self-awareness of the player by asking him an open-ended question.

 “By slowing things down, conversations with players become much more of a dialogue instead of a one-way statement.

“You know a lot more about your players because you’re getting a lot more feedback.”

The player is given a chance to do some self-discovery by answering the open-ended questions.

Benjamin says if a player doesn’t have awareness (knowing what is going on around you) and self-awareness (knowing what you are experiencing), they cannot effectively implement information.

“If anytime they’re stuck  they’re looking for a statement, they will have the inability to self-diagnosis pitch-to-pitch during competition.” says Benjamin.

“It’s Strike 1 and they look down to third base and say, ‘Coach, what now?’ You can’t do that. You’ve got to learn how to talk to yourself.

“Most young players talk to themselves in statements instead of open-ended questions. Most statements are negative and not positive and solution-driven.”

Benjamin has found that as players develop they ask themselves open-ended questions, they find a solution the vast majority of the time.

“The coach is there as a sounding board, a facilitator, a counselor, awareness raiser and available when the player gets ‘stuck’ to offer a suggestion,” says Benjamin, who wants his players to own the process.

“If they own it, the ceiling is them. If I own it, their ceiling is me. If their ceiling is me, they’re never going to hit a curveball because I couldn’t do it.”

The relationship becomes a partnership.

“It’s not a threat and it’s not a power struggle,” says Benjamin.

The additional value of communication helping coachability is the coaching staff being aware of the person before the player. Assistant coaches are vital in this area as the front lines of knowing the room.

“There’s death in the family,” says Benjamin. “Girlfriends, adjusting academically, or something going on in the home.

“Nobody on the coaching staff should ever be surprised about what’s going on in a player’s life; it gives you a clearer picture of all the influences in that person’s life when they enter training.”

As a coaching staff, There are typically two individualized meetings a week in which, as a staff, we go down each name on the roster discussing who has what needs that we may be able to meet through various aspects of the program.”

The Indiana Wesleyan staff has players focus on one objective at a time (approach, plan or skill). By showing restraint, they can avoid information overload.

“It is impossible to play unconscious and knowledgeable if we’re carrying all these different things into our performance time,” says Benjamin. “If you’re trying to balance two or three different things, it becomes impossible to execute one.”

At IWU, that one thing for a player might take the entire fall. They focus on the objective, they achieve it and then they move on.

Benjamin desires the coaching staff to over communicate with each other, to be open and always seeking growth.

Benjamin admits that investing in assistants development was not a strength earlier in his coaching career.

Having operated during the first half of his career with just one volunteer assistant, who worked during the day, Benjamin’s ability to understand the value and importance of investing into his assistants was behind. “The last two years, I’ve grown in the ability to delegate, mentor, and invest daily in our assistant coaches.

By doing so, the atmosphere and the productivity is up.”

Benjamin looks to provide a safe atmosphere for his assistants to ask questions.

“That’s how we get better,” says Benjamin. “We talk about players needing to be coached-up, but so do coaches.”

“As a coaching staff, we have blind spots. But if we ask each other open-ended questions, it’s not a threat. It’s an opportunity to grow.”

Benjamin says, “In coaching, time is maybe the most valuable aspect.”

As a coaching staff preparing for this Fall training season, Benjamin and his staff noticed that the areas in which we failed the most in coaching, was coaching a player inside too tight of a time restraint.

Benjamin says a coaching session must provide clarity by the coach and the player, because that often requires time, coaches needed to decide when the best time was to address a coaching opportunity.

Because it negatively impacts trust, the idea is to avoid “Drive-By coaching.”

IWU coaches witnessed this the most in the side cages during Batting Practice rotations.

Rotations may be 8-15 minutes depending on the day.

If four hitters arrive in the side batting cages with limited time, then we found ourselves making a lot of statements since we did not have the time capacity to create the amount of clarity as you would in a different segment of training, early work, or post work.

Now, if we get a coaching opportunity in the cages, we ask ourselves if the player has the foundational awareness and self-awareness to find a solution in the limited amount of time without transferring ownership of the hitter’s development.

If there is not enough time to effectively coach that player in that session, we will act on the coaching opportunity post practice or early work the next day.

“We want to create opportunities for growth so there’s time to land that plane,” says Benjamin.

Practices for the Wildcats are divided into training zones and performance zones.

Training zones entail many reps and a lot of teaching.

“Nothing’s really being measured,” says Benjamin. “It’s a zone where you can make mistakes and experiment.”

Benjamin notes that baseball players in general are training now more than ever.

“Guys are hitting all the time. They’re training all the time,” says Benjamin. “They become really, really good at training.”

That’s where the performance zone comes in, where there is competition with some kind of award or consequence.

“You have to win,” says Benjamin. “We’re transitioning from the training zone where you’re allowed to think, to the performance zone where you shut this thing (points to head) off, get unconscious and just try to win the moment.

“You just try to go beat the other guy.”

This fall, a typical Wildcats practice has three competitions (performance zones) and one learning moment (training zone), in addition, early work is designed as a training zone.

IWU also emphasizes peer-to-peer competere.

“It’s the Latin word for competition and it means to strive together,”

says Benjamin. The personal best comes out by competing with another person.

It does not happen overnight, but it can be healthy for two players to be vying to be the starting shortstop.

It’s often been found that one wins the job and the other ends up starting, too, perhaps at second base or third base.

“Competition is an opportunity and not a threat,” says Benjamin. “We have to have competition. It’s the only way we’ll find out what our personal best is.”

Benjamin invites players to join the IWU program based on three factors — humility, motor and skill.

“They have the confidence to say ‘I’m really good’ and the humility to say ‘I need to get better.’ That’s vital.

“In psychology, they say your self-confidence shows up before your self-awareness does.”

Motor means the ability to work hard with intention each day.

“Skill can always be developed if the first two exist.” says Benjamin.

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Rich Benjamin is the head baseball coach at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion. His first season leading the Wildcats was 2016. (Indiana Wesleyan University Photo)

 

Meyer uses many tools to assess Butler hitters

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Meyer coaches hitters at Butler University.

The NCAA Division I program trains and plays at Bulldog Park, which is less than eight miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Meyer uses auto racing metaphors when explaining the way he develops Dawgs hitters.

Like racing owners put their money in the car, baseball coaches are invested in the players.

Meyer says goal in player development is to make the athletes the best they can be within the framework of the team. Assessments are done to know the strengths of each player. One player might be known for his power and another his speed.

“We want to know the tools we’re working with,” says Meyer. who shared some developmental concepts at the American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics stop Sept. 8 at Butler. “It’s our responsibility to assesses and know what their strengths and weaknesses are and then to read the dashboard as to what’s going on with them. If it’s a mechanical problem, we go back to their movement screening. Maybe they’re mentally clouded.”

There’s schoolwork. On the baseball side, there’s personal instructors, high school and travel coaches and even family members putting in their two cents worth.

“There are a lot of people in these guys’ heads,” says Meyer. “It’s our job as coaches to de-clutter.

“We want to simplify and get the entire pit crew on the same page. We’re all invested to make these guys better. If it takes a call from me to (a given player’s) coach back home who he worked with all summer to get a better understanding of the things they worked on, that’s fine by me.”

Meyer says it’s important let players’ talents shine through and not try to change everything about them.

“You guys kept guys on your team for a reason,” says Meyer. “It’s OK to let them fail because then they’ll come crawling to us looking for help.

“Everybody is on the same page and there is a trust that is built into that.”

Certified by OnBase University — an educational organization dedicated to the study of how the human body functions in relation to baseball and softball — Meyer puts his hitters through a battery of tests to learn their movement patterns.

These tests determine an individual’s deficiencies and strengths.

“If I know how his body works, I can coach him better,” says Meyer. “I can give him exercises to improves his deficiency or I can coach around it.

Meyer is currently in the process of putting together individualized hitting plans based upon physical abilities and limitations.

Players also have their vision tested by Dr. Joe LaPlaca of Ares Elite Sports Vision.

“We all know how important eyes are to hitting a baseball,” says Meyer. “(A player) may not be able to pick up a breaking ball because his depth perception or convergence isn’t as good as some other guys.”

A test for power that correlates to exit velocity involves the scores from doing vertical jump, seated chest pass and a lying overhead medicine ball throw. Borrowed from golf, Meyer says this kind of testing is just coming to baseball.

Butler uses Blast Motion, Rapsodo and other devices to assess players.

“With technology, it forces us as coaches to think a little bit differently,” says Meyer. “We have to truly understand what each individual player needs.

“But if we don’t understand how their body moves, all this data doesn’t do us any good.”

The Bulldogs also go through a VARK assessment for athletes. This tells how they learn the best — Visual, Aural, Read/White or Kinesthetic.

“It’s important for us to know how these guys learn,” says Meyer. “(Player A) learns differently from (Player B) who learns differently from (Player C).”

Knowing this, gives coaches different avenues to reach players.

“With some guys it may be beneficial for us to just talk one-on-one,” says Meyer. “Some of them have to see a video. Some of them would rather read it.

“The more we can reach our players individually, the better chance they have to develop.”

Individual swing goals involve activating the kinetic chain as considering hip and spin activation as well as core stability, rotation and anti-rotation. The idea is to move efficiently.

Butler hitters go through a series of exercises and drills, including banded load, PVC series, fungo hit, tee work, front toss and live focus.

An example of a focus of the day would be the 3-plate drill (plates set up at varying distances from the mound of pitching machine) for rhythm and timing and a 2-plate off-speed drill for pitch recognition.

The offensive goal at Butler, which plays Illinois at Grand Park in Westfield at 5:05 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14, is to become a team of run producers.

A formula gauge this production is total at-bats over runs scored plus runs batted in minus home runs. In 2019, Butler’s rate was 2.9.

Meyer says there must be selflessness up and down the lineup to help the team win.

Meyer is a volunteer assistant at Butler (the NCAA currently only allows for two paid assistants at the Division I level and will soon be voting on adding a third paid position).

The summer of 2016 is when Meyer joined head coach Dave Schrage’s staff at Butler. Before that Meyer was director of baseball operations for five seasons at Tulane University in New Orleans. He also coached at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and Otterbein (Ohio) College, where he was a three-year starter at second base. He is a native of North Royalton, Ohio.

Brian and Ashley Meyer have a son named Walker.

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Butler University hitting coach Brian Meyer (left) talks with Harrison Freed during the 2019 baseball season. (Butler University Photo)

BRIANMEYER1Brian Meyer is the hitting coach for the Butler University baseball program in Indianapolis. Meyer employs many tools help the Bulldogs. (Butler University Photo)

 

With refined plate approach, Freed takes off at Butler, lands in Giants system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Harrison Freed began making an offensive jump in the summer of 2018 and the baseball continued to jump off his bat during the 2019 season at Butler University.

The righty-swinging outfielder worked with hitting coach Stu Pederson (father of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson) while with the LaCrosse (Wis.) Loggers of the Northwoods League summer collegiate season, hitting .291 with 12 home runs, 15 doubles, 61 runs batted in and 53 runs scored in 63 games.

“I got more confident as a player and a hitter,” says Freed. “I knew my talent could get me where I am today.

“I made a lot of adjustments working with (Stu Pederson). I did a lot of work to build off what I was doing in the summer with (Roundtripper Sports Academy instructor Chris Estep and Butler hitting coach Andy Pascoe, who had played for LaCrosse during his collegiate career at the University of Evansville).

“(Estep) is an interesting guy. He knows a lot about hitting. He gave me a lot of wisdom. He really knows what he’s talking about. He’s one of the best in the business.”

This past spring at Butler, Freed earned first team all-Big East Conference selection, second team Perfect Game/Rawlings College All-American, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association second team All-American and American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings second team all-region honors while posting a .376 average with 17 homers, 10 doubles, 73 RBIs and 44 runs scored to go with a .448 on-base percentage in 52 games (all starts).

Freed says he refined his approach at the plate.

“Instead of going up there and looking for what I want, I’m looking for what I’m going to get,” says Freed. “I’m looking for extra base hits and finding a way to get to second base.

“Launch angle is a word that gets tossed out there. But it has to be natural. Personally, I don’t like launch angle. It creates something before the swing it’s something you can’t always control. If the pitch is down and you try to swing under the ball, it’s not going to work. You have to be able to pick and choose which balls you’re trying to hit in the air.

“I normally drive the ball out of the park when it’s belt-high or above. If it’s down, it has to be something over the plate. If it’s up and away or up and in, I have a better chance.”

His first two seasons with the Bulldogs, Freed’s stat line read .306/2/4/14/8 in 2017 and .240/4/12/37/23 in 2018.

In the summer of 2017, Freed played for the Cal Ripken CollegiateDalto Baseball League’s D.C. Grays with a line of .330/7/9/29/16.

He arrived at Butler at the same time as head coach Dave Schrage.

“He changed the culture,” says Freed of Schrage, who has led the Bulldogs to marks of 31-20, 34-30 and 26-26 in his three seasons in Indianapolis. “He’s a very competitive guy.”

Freed impressed the San Francisco Giants enough that they selected the 2016 Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate in the 13th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He is currently trading off between left field and right field for the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes.

The 21-year-old went into the last day of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League regular season (Sept. 2) hitting .269 with seven homers, 15 two-baggers, 26 runs batted in and 28 runs scored in 47 games.

Salem-Keizer has made the playoffs, which begin Sept. 4. After that, Freed expects to come back to Westfield to work out at Roundtripper with the expectation of going to a winter rookie camp or two in California or Arizona. Another Giants minor leaguer, Dalton Combs, has also trained at Roundtripper.

Focusing on baseball for now, Freed says he plans to finish his finance degree following the 2020 season.

The youngest son of former collegiate golfer and Kokomo business owner Mike and Zionsville chemical engineer Jane Freed and younger brother of Louisville area medical salesman Jackson Freed (who played baseball at Franklin College), Harrison played two years with the Westfield Rocks and then with the Indiana Mustangs from age 11 to 17. As an 18-year-old, he spent the summer before college with the Indiana Blue Jays. He also played for coach Kevin Christman’s San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team for three years.

Ryan Bunnell was Freed’s head coach at Westfield High School.

“He’s a really nice guy,” says Freed of Bunnell. “He knows what he’s doing.”

Among Freed’s Shamrocks teammates were Ryan Pepiot (who went on to Butler and is now pitching the Dodgers system), Milo Beam (who went on to play the outfield at Purdue University) and Max McCool (who went on to pitch at Indiana Wesleyan University).

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Harrison Freed hit .376 average with 17 homers, 10 doubles, 73 RBIs and 44 runs scored to go with a .448 on-base percentage in 52 games (all starts) for Butler Univesity in 2019. (Butler University Photo).

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Harrison Freed, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate, was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now with the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)

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Harrison Freed, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate, was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now with the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes. He is a righty-swinging outfielder. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)

Zionsville grad Hurtubise making mark on, off diamond for Army; many from Indiana play on Cape Cod

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jacob Hurtubise was selected in the 39th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.

Having already invested in three years at Army, the 2016 Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate opted not to sign and resumed his regimented activities at the United States Military Academy while also sharing the field with some of the nation’s top players.

Hurtubise made a visit to West Point in mid-July of 2015. By month’s end, he had committed to Army, fulfilling his dreams of playing NCAA Division I baseball and pursuing a first-rate education and improving himself in the areas of hard work, patience and discipline.

“I’ve absolutely loved my time up here,” says Hurtubise, who is a operations research (applied mathematics) major and a center fielder for the Jim Foster-coached Black Knights. “It’s the relationships you form off the field with guys on the baseball team. You form strong bonds through military training.

“I want to make sure I am as prepared as possible for the future. It’s a degree people don’t look past.”

On the diamond, Hurtubise has gone from hitting .238 with two doubles, nine runs batted in, 32 runs scored, 22 walks and 18 stolen bases while starting 41 times as a freshman in 2017 breaking Army’s single-season steals and walks records with 42 and 50, respectively, in 2018. His 42 swipes led NCAA Division I.

That sophomore season, Hurtubise also set a single-game mark with six stolen bases against Bucknell and was named all-Patriot League first team with two Patriot Player of the Week honors and a place on and all-academic team. He hit .278 with four doubles 22 RBIs, 56 runs in 61 starts (a school record for games played in a season).

In 2019, the lefty-swinging junior batted .375 with four triples, six two-baggers, 26 RBIs, 71 runs, 69 walks and 45 stolen bases (ranked third in NCAA D-I). His on-base percentage was .541.

The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder was Patriot League tournament MVP for the defending league champions, the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year and PL first-teamer and was also a part of the ABCA/Rawlings NCAA Division I Second Team All-American and Google Cloud Academic All-District teams.

After the Black Knights’ 35-26 season, Hurtubise and other juniors went through three weeks of culminating summer training.

“We went through missions, ambushes and raids,” says Hurtubise. “It was the first opportunity to lead a platoon through those different missions.”

Many Army athletes are mixed during summer training.

“Everybody knows everybody in a sense,” says Hurtubise. “You may not know them, but you went through training with them. It makes caring for each other a lot cooler.”

After summer training, he headed to the elite Cape Cod Baseball League — already in progress. Hurtubise first landed with the Harwich Mariners. But an overabundance of outfielders saw him switch to the Orleans Firebirds.

In 21 games, Hurtubise hit .313 (20-of-64) with one triple, three doubles, two RBIs, 12 walks and six stolen bases. His on-base percentage was .429.

“I got more exposure and more consistent at-bats,” says Hurtubise of Orleans. “I faced some of the country’s best pitchers day in and day out.”

Hurtubise worked out each day on the Cape, but also found some time to go to the beach and hang out with his family, who he had not seen since January.

Jacob, 21, is the youngest son of Francois and Lisa Hurtubise. His older brother, Alec, is 24.

Many other players with ties to Indiana competed on the Cape this summer.

Right-handed pitcher Kyle Nicolas (who completed his sophomore season for Ball State University in 2019) helped the Cotuit Kettleers to the title, saving two games in the playoffs. During the regular season, the Massillon, Ohio, resident went 1-2 with four saves, a 6.28 ERA, 31 strikeouts and 21 walks in 24 1/3 innings.

Right-hander Bo Hofstra and left-hander Matt Moore also pitched for Cotuit. Hofstra wrapped his sophomore year and Moore his redshirt sophomore season at Purdue University in 2019.

Illiana Christian High School product Hofstra went 4-1 with one save, a 6.31 ERA, 20 K’s, 11 walks and 15 2/3 innings during the regular season.

Avon (Ind.) High School graduate Moore went 1-0 with an 0.67 ERA, 11 K’s and five walks in 13 1/3 innings. He also pitched in the CCBL All-Star Game.

Two University of Notre Dame players — infielder Niko Kavadas and lefty pitcher Joe Boyle — performed for Harwich. Both were CCBL all-stars coming off their second seasons for the Fighting Irish.

Lefty swinger and Penn High School graduate Kavadas hit .252 with nine homers, six doubles and 30 RBIs during the regular season.

Boyle went 1-2 with, two saves a 1.92 ERA, 28 K’s and 12 walks in 14 regular-season frames. The 6-foot-7 hurler from Goshen, Ky., also saved one game in the playoffs.

Third baseman Riley Tirotta was also with Harwich. Coming off his sophomore season at the University of Dayton, the South Bend St. Joseph graduate hit .222 from the right side with 0 homers, two doubles and one RBI during the regular season.

Two players from the University of Louisville — second baseman/right-handed pitcher Jared Poland and catcher/outfielder Zach Britton — also competed on the Cape.

Righty swinger Poland hit .271 with 0 homers, four doubles and seven RBIs and also went 3-1 with a 3.37 ERA, 18 K’s and four walks in 10 2/3 regular-season innings for the Bourne Braves. He was 1-0 during the playoffs.

Lefty batter Britton hit .286 with five homers, six doubles and 19 RBIs during the regular season for the Orleans Firebirds.

Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate Poland and Batesville (Ind.) High School graduate Britton are both coming off their sophomore campaigns at Louisville.

Lefty-swinging all-star first baseman/catcher T.J. Collett (a Terre Haute North Vigo High School graduate coming off his junior season at the University of KentuckyUniversity of Kentucky) hit .281 with nine homers, six doubles and 32 RBIs during the regular season for the Brewster Whitecaps.

After finishing at West Point and completing officer training school, Hurtubise must serve two years as active military. It’s possible that if he goes into professional baseball that he can do it through the world-class athlete program and be a promotional tool while he is paid ballplayer.

Hurtubise played his first organized baseball at age 7. His first two seasons were spent at Eagle Creek Little League in Indianapolis. His family then moved when he was a third graders and he participated at Zionsville Little League.

From the fifth through eighth grade, he played travel ball for coaches Terry Bohl and Ken Elsbury and the Zionsville Longhorns (which became the Zionsville Baseball Club).

In high school, Hurtubise played two summers for the Indiana Nitro and one for USAthletic.

Ten days after Zionsville lost to Roncalli in the 2016 IHSAA Class 4A state championship game2016 IHSAA Class 4A state championship game, Eagles lead-off man and L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award recipient Hurtubise was off to West Point for six weeks of basic training.

Then as now, Jered Moore led the ZHS program.

“He was an awesome coach,” says Hurtubise of Moore. “That team we had my senior year was one of the best not only in the state, but in the country.

“They made it to semistate the next year. That shows what a good program Zionsville has and a bright future moving forward.”

While visiting daughter Macy Moore, a Purdue manager and an intern with Brewster this summer, Jered Moore saw Hurtubise play two CCBL games with Harwich and later two playoff games with Orleans.

He was a leader,” says Moore of Hurtubise’s time at Zionsville. “He’s one of my favorites I’ve ever coached. He got it started for us. He immediately put the defense on their toes.

“He was a threat to run any time he was on-base.”

The Zionsville Class of 2016 produced six D-I players — Hurtubise, Jordan Cox (Dayton), James Meyer (Valparaiso), Jack Pilcher (Butler), Nick Prather (Florida Atlantic) and R.J. Wagner (Dayton). Prather has since transferred to Lynn University.

All but two of the Zionsville players who got into the state championship game in 2016 went on to play college baseball. Besides those already mentioned there were seniors Drew Bertram (Purdue) and Jacob Hurd (Taylor) and sophomores Riley Bertram (Michigan), Sam Egdell (Otterbein) and Nick Nelson (DePauw).

Moore says Chad Garisek, a Zionsville junior in 2016, is hoping to play at Indiana University-Kokomo. Senior Nolan Elsbury went on to be a student at Purdue. Senior Stephen Damm is a student at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis and a member of Moore’s Zionsville coaching staff.

Hurtubise is now back at West Point going through organization week. The first day of class is Monday, Aug. 19. He will also be preparing for his final baseball season with the Black Knights.

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Army left-handed hitter and center fielder Jacob Hurtubise was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 2019, but opted to go back to the United States Military Academy for his final  year. He is a graduate of Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School. (Army West Point Athletics Photo)

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Through three seasons (2017-19), Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate has 101 stolen bases for the Army Black Knights. He paced NCAA Division I with 42 in 2018 and was third with 45 in 2019. (Army West Point Athletics Photo)

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Jacob Hurtubise hit .375 with four triples, six two-baggers, 26 RBIs, 71 runs, 69 walks and 45 stolen bases (ranked third in NCAA D-I) for Army in 2019. The on-base percentage for the graduate of Zionsville (Ind.) Community High school was .541. (Army West Point Athletics Photo)

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With his speed and batting eye, Jacob Hurtubise has been a threat at the top of the order for the Black Knights of Army baseball since 2017. (Army West Point Athletics Photo)

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Jacob Hurtubise, a 2016 Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School graduate, played his third season of NCAA Division I baseball at Army in 2019 and was selected by the Seattle Mariners in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He opted to stay in school and played in the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer. (Army West Point Athletics Photo)

 

Right-hander Pepiot brings competitive spirit to Dodgers system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Pepiot enjoyed visiting Midwest League baseball parks as a kid.

He went to see minor leaguers in South Bend, Fort Wayne and Dayton.

“Now, I’m playing here and it’s pretty cool,” says Pepiot, a first-year pro in the Los Angeles Dodgers system.

A hard-throwing 21-year-old right-handed pitcher, Pepiot is with the Midland, Mich.-based Great Lakes Loons.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder throws from a high three-quarter arm slot and sports a four-seam fastball that ranges from 93 to 96 mph and a “circle” change-up with depth and fade that moves at 83 to 85 mph to go with a sweeping slider and “1 to 7” curveball.

Pepiot (pronounced Pep-E-Oh) was selected in the third round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers out of Butler University in Indianapolis.

LA’s first-rounder — Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate and former Tulane University slugger — Kody Hoese — is now Pepiot’s Great Lakes teammate.

After four appearances and five innings in the Arizona League, 2016 Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate Pepiot was sent back to the Midwest, where the weather is not as hot and he’s closer to family and friends.

The son of Mike and Christine Pepiot and older brother of Kyle Pepiot has hurled a pair of two-inning stints with Great Lakes — the last on July 25 — and sports a 2.00 ERA, combining the AZL and MWL. He’s currently on a limit of about two innings per outing.

Asked about his best qualities as an athlete and Pepiot is quick to answer.

“I’m a great teammate, a big time competitor and very hard-working,” says Pepiot, who played for head coach Ryan Bunnell as a Westfield Shamrock.

“I like Coach Bunnell,” says Pepiot. “He’s really personable. He knows the system and knows the guys. He’s doing a fine job over there in a really tough (Hoosier Crossroads) Conference.”

Pepiot learned much from travel ball coaches Chris Estep and Scott Shirley in a long tenure with the Indiana Mustangs (9U through 17U) and competed for the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays prior to his freshman year at Butler.

Recruited to the Bulldogs by Steve Farley, Pepiot adjusted when Dave Schrage took over the Butler program prior to his arrival on campus.

“I went into it with an open mind,” says Pepiot of the change. “I looked at it as a clean slate and a chance to impress coaches.

“I wanted to make way into the starting rotation and I did that as freshman.”

Pepiot honed his craft in the New England Collegiate League with the Keene (N.H.. Swamp Bats) and in the Cape Cod League with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks in the summers following his freshman and sophomore seasons.

“I checked all the the boxes at Butler,” says Pepiot.

As a freshman in 2017, he led the team in starts with 13 and went 4-4 with a 4.39 earned run average and 79 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings.

He followed that up as a sophomore in 2018, by going 6-0 with a 2.62 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings in 15 games (12 starts).

Pepiot’s junior campaign in 2019 saw him post a 4-4 record, 3.92 ERA and 126 K’s and 78 frames in 14 contests (all starts).

Always an aggressive pitcher, Pepiot says he appreciates how the Dodgers emphasize throwing strikes.

“Some pitchers throw around the zone,” says Pepiot. “The strike zone is our friend.

“We want to win the race to two strikes.”

Great Lakes won the Eastern Division title in the Midwest League’s first half and is guaranteed a playoff berth. The regular season concludes Sept. 2 (Labor Day).

When the season is over, Pepiot is slated for a month back in Arizona for the instructional league. He is not sure yet where he will train during the off-season.

The next steps on the Dodgers organization ladder above Great Lakes are Advanced Class-A Rancho Cucamonga, Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Though he won’t be able to do it it this year, Pepiot does plan to go back to Butler to finish his degree. He is 21 credits shy as a finance/marketing double major.

Mike Pepiot is is in automotive sales. Christine Pepiot is is a special education teacher at the elementary level.

Outfielder/right-handed pitcher Kyle Pepiot was part of the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and is heading into his freshman year at Butler.

The Pepiot brothers were teammates for one season at Westfield. The younger brother has also picked his older brother’s brain about the next level and taken live batting practice against him.

“He’s a quiet kid,” says Ryan of Kyle. “But he is one of the hardest-working kids I know.

“He’s going to do some big things at Butler and really surprise some people.”

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Ryan Pepiot, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate who played at Butler University, is now a pitcher in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)