Tag Archives: Carolina Mudcats

Competitive approach propels former Penn, Southern Illinois pitcher Whitmer into pro baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like the Tom Petty song, Chad Whitmerwon’t back down” on the pitching mound.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-hander showed that growing up in northern Indiana and has kept that approach as a collegian and now a professional.

He was selected in the 10th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees.

Whitmer played for the Gulf Coast League Yankees in 2017 and was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers organization in June. He is now with the Short Season Class-A Helena (Mont.) Brewers, where Nestor Corredor is the manager and Rolando Valles the pitching coach.

Through July 10, Whitmer had made six appearances (all in relief) and was 2-1 with a 0.00 earned run average, eight strikeouts and three walks in 7 2/3 innings.

Throwing from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Whitmer uses two-seam fastball, “circle” change-up, curveball and slider. His fastball is regularly clocked at 88 to 92 mph.

What about the change in pro organizations?

“I like it here a lot,” says Whitmer of landing with the Brewers in Helena. “They’ve made me feel welcome.

“I’ve adjusted pretty well.”

The next stops in the Brewers system are the Low Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Midwest League, High-A Carolina (N.C.) Mudcats, Double-A Biloxi (Miss.) Shuckers and Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

Born in South Bend, Ind., Whitmer played at Mishawaka Southwest Little League until he was 10 then was part of a core of travel baseball players who spent years with the Todd Marazita-coached Michiana Clippers (Marazita now coaches for the Michiana Scrappers).

Whitmer was a three-time all-Northern Indiana Conference selection at Penn High School, playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos.

“(Dikos) instilled a lot of mental toughness with all the hard work we did,” says Whitmer. “That’s all stuck with me. In the off-season, we had really tough morning workouts. He helped me get to the next level by learning how to work.”

As a sophomore in 2011, Whitmer went 6-2 and led the NIC with a 1.50 ERA. As a junior in 2012, he went 5-4 with 1.44 and .386 batting average. As a senior in 2013, he went 7-1 with a 1.94 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings.

Sean Galiher was the Kingsmen’s pitching coach at the start of Whitmer’s prep career then turned the reins over to Tom Stanton.

Whitmer, who turned 23 in May, credits both men with helping him fine-tune his mechanics and become more fluid on the mound.

In four seasons at Southern Illinois University, Whitmer was a two-time all-Missouri Valley Conference selection (2016, 2017) for head coach Ken Henderson and pitching coach P.J. Finigan. He hurled in 64 games (34 as a starter) and was 15-13 with a 3.70 ERA, 247 strikeouts and 41 walks in 282 innings.

Whitmer became the Friday-night starter for the Salukis midway through his junior season and held that spot through his senior campaign.

In 2017, Whitmer struck out 13 Indiana State batters, the most K’s by any SIU player since Finigan fanned 17 against Chicago State in 2005.

“One thing (Henderson and Finigan) preached a lot was being aggressive in the (strike) zone,” says Whitmer. “They made me a pretty competitor as well. Even if you don’t have your best stuff one day, you can still go out there and compete.

“You knew you were going to get a decent start out of me on Fridays and they knew they were going to get that out of me at the next level.”

After his freshman season at SIU, Whitmer played summer collegiate ball with the Richmond RiverRats (now known as the Richmond Jazz).

Whitmer is close to completing a degree in sports administration.

Chad is the son of Doug and Sara Whitmer. His father is a web developer and mother an accountant. Older sister Valerie Whitmer was a track and field athlete at Penn and graduated in 2011.

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Chad Whitmer, a 2013 graduate who pitched four seasons at Southern Illinois University, is now in the Milwaukee Brewers organization with Helena. (Helena Brewers)

 

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Seymour graduate Brown learning to deal with mental side of baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Two tunes followed Zack Brown to the mound during the 2017 baseball season.

When the 2013 Seymour High School graduate toed the rubber on the road, he would be greeted by “Chicken Fried” by the Zac Brown Band.

“It’s pretty funny. It was a common joke spread around,” says Brown, the 22-year-old right-hander selected in the fifth round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers after three seasons at the University of Kentucky. “I do not want anything to do with it at home.”

So what was playing as Brown made his first-inning warm-up tosses at Low Class-A Wisconsin or High Class-A Carolina?

“‘Small Town’ by John Mellencamp,” says Brown. “It has a little meaning to it. That’s why I picked it.”

Brown, who went a combined 7-5 with a 3.11 earned run average and 107 strikeouts and 36 walks in 110 innings, stayed connected to his hometown with regular texts or phone calls with his head coach at Seymour High  — Jeremy Richey.

First acquainted when Brown was attending Seymour baseball camps as a middle schooler, he credits Richey for helping him with the mental side of the game.

“I’m very competitive,” says Brown, the son of Bob and Cathy and younger brother of Tyler. “When I play not to the best of my ability, it’s hard to let that go. I have to just keep working at it. One big thing with pro ball is a hitter can go out there the next night. A (starting pitcher) starter has to wait four days. You have to let go of what happened the days before and get ready for the next start.”

Richey watched most of Brown’s appearances (18 at Wisconsin and four at Carolina) on MiLB.TV and noticed a trend.

“In the games that he pitched, he often gave up all the runs in one inning,” says Richey. Though their correspondence, the coach tried to help the player work through it.

Richey saw Brown face obstacles while at Seymour at Kentucky.

“His junior year, he threw really well for us,” says Richey. “His senior year, he threw to about five different catchers and tried to strike everybody out and do more for himself. He had to battle through that.

“He threw really well as a (UK) sophomore. Then they did not score many runs for him as a junior.”

When those occasions arose, Richey would pose questions.

“What are your thoughts when that happens? Are you trying to do too much?,” says Richey. “It’s about dealing with adversity.”

Richey, who enjoys reading motivational books like Old School Grit: Times May Change, But the Rules for Success Never Do (Sports for the Soul) by Darrin Donnelly, also helps his current players through the ups and downs of the sport.

“Kids want to put themselves in position when they are successful all the time,” says Richey. “When they are not successful, they don’t know how to deal with that.

“(Donnelly says) ‘it’s not wins and losses; it’s wins and lessons.’ To me, that’s baseball.”

In his second professional season, Brown has learned more about what pitches work for him and how to take care of his body to get through the grind of a 140-game season.

“It was pretty good,” says Brown of his 2017 campaign. “I got off to a slow start with an (arm) injury. After the all-star break was probably the best string of outings in my career. I finished the season strong.”

Brown used a four-seam fastball, sinking fastball, curve ball and circle change-up against Midwest League and Carolina League batters. He added the sinker while at UK.

A Friday night starter in the tough Southeastern Conference as a sophomore and junior, Brown played for then-head coach/pitching coach Gary Henderson, who also stressed the mental game.

“He taught me to slow the game down learn how to pitch to people,” says Brown. “The majority of the time, it’s your strengths vs. the opponent’s weaknesses.”

The same has held true in pro ball.

The big difference for Brown is bouncing back quicker.

“It’s being consistent with what you do day in and day out,” says Brown. “You have to be ready to go every five days. That was a huge change for me (compared to pitching once a week in college).”

In the minors, Brown works with the strength coach to maintain what he has built in the off-season and to keep his flexibility.

“You’re getting paid to play so they want you to be healthy and able to go out and perform,” says Brown, who will attend a short instructional league session in Arizona and then come back to Seymour where he will work out and help the community’s younger players.

Brown’s baseball path began with Seymour Youth League and also included travel ball with the Indiana Bats (based in Greensburg), Edgewood Bulldogs and Indiana Redbirds (based in Columbus).

“We went to Batesville in the winter and practiced for the Bats in an old gym on Sunday nights,” says Brown. “Travel ball has taken off even more since then. It’s crazy.”

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Zack Brown, a 2013 Seymour High School graduate, is now a pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. (Carolina Mudcats Photo)

 

Closser heeds call of baseball coaching

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J.D. Closser played professional baseball for 14 seasons.

After two campaigns away from the diamond, the former Indiana Mr. Baseball decided it was time to return to the game that has been so good to him.

“I wanted to give back what I’ve learned and make a career out of it,” says Closser, the bullpen coach for the Trenton Thunder, Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. “(Baseball is) what I’ve done my whole life.”

His goal is to make it back to the majors in some capacity.

Closser was 18 when he began his pro playing career in 1998 after being selected in the fifth round of that year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Alexandria-Monroe High School. The Monte Sprague-coached Tigers won the 1998 IHSAA Class 2A state title.

Closser played for the South Bend Silver Hawks for parts of the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons and made his MLB debut with the Colorado Rockies in 2004 and logged 160 MLB games over three seasons.

He also played in the Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, New York Yankees, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers systems through 2011.

Closser was 34 when he started coaching in 2014 with the High Class-A Tampa Yankees.

The former left-handed-swinging catcher spent two seasons in Tampa (working for managers Al Pedrique and Dave Bialas) and is now 37 and in his second year with Trenton.

Closser, who serves on the staff of 2017 Eastern League Manager of the Year Bobby Mitchell, carries the official title of defensive coach. Mitchell was also Trenton manager in 2016.

Coaching duties for Closser in 2017 include throwing batting practice and hitting fungos during batting practice while concentrating on the team’s catchers before, during and after contests.

“I make sure they get their work in,” says Closser. “I also get advance reports together for coaches and catchers and set up a gameplan for opposing teams. (In the bullpen), I give (relievers) a brief rundown on who is coming into the game.”

Closser says there is more game planning done and in-game adjustments made in Double-A than at lower levels of MLB-affiliated baseball.

“They’re executing pitches and working off their strengths (in A-ball),” says Closser catchers and pitchers. “You begin to spot a hitter’s weaknesses (in Double-A).”

There is also plenty of work on blocking and receiving pitches and talk of Pop times (time elapsed from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the intended fielder receives his throw.).

Like all organizations, the Yankees have a way they like to develop their players. But they do allow their coaches some freedom to use their own experiences to help players.

“You can incorporate our own ideas, things that have worked for you,” says Closser.

A few years ago, he helped one of his catchers by passing on a lesson he had learned about speeding up his throws to second base.

“I wanted him to get the ball in his throwing hand and in the air as fast as possible,” says Closser. “It is a thought process.”

Growing up, Closser’s thoughts were filled with baseball, fueled by men like Sprague and his father, Jeff (who is now head baseball coach at Alex).

Young J.D. gained a foundation based on work ethic.

“It was about going out and practicing,” says Closser. “So much of today’s player is showcasing and playing games. My dad instilled in me that you practice everyday. If you want to be good at something, you have to practice. It’s the Rule of 10,000. If you want to be good at anything, you have to do it 10,000 times.”

J.D. also learned about accountability.

“Your teammates and coaching staff are counting on you to show up and do your game everyday,” says Closser.

What he misses most about his playing days is the unity.

“I remember the clubhouse atmosphere being part of a team,” says Closser. “There was that competing everyday day and learning how to attack hitters.”

At home in Raleigh, N.C., Closser’s home team features wife Holley and daughters Belle (14), Callie (12) and Maebry (1). Belle is a freshmen in high school and Callie a seventh grader. Holley is from the area. She met J.D. when he played in Zebulon for the 2002 Carolina Mudcats.

Closser will have to wait to see what off-season assignments the Yankees might send his way. Trenton was to close out the regular season Monday, Sept. 4, and open the Eastern League playoffs Wednesday, Sept. 6.

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J.D. Closser, a 1998 Alexandria-Monroe High School graduate, is a bullpen coach with the Trenton Thunder in the New York Yankees organization. He played 14 professional baseball seasons and 2017 is his fourth as a coach. (Trenton Thunder Photo)