Tag Archives: College World Series

Lawrence North grad Watson shares lessons learned in first three seasons in Royals system

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nolan Watson has not yet reached his 21st birthday and has already pitched more than 200 professional baseball innings.

Selected in the first round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals straight out of Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, the right-hander has gain wisdom and perspective in his three minor league seasons.

After playing for the rookie-level Burlington (N.C.) Royals in 2015 and Low Class-A Lexington (Ky.) Legends in 2016, Watson split the 2017 season between rookie-level Arizona League Royals, Burlington and Lexington.

“I’ve learned about dealing with failure,” says Watson, a 6-foot-2 right-hander who went 6-1 with a 0.68 earned run average and 81 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings with his 95-mph heat as an LN senior and is 4-26 with a 7.33 ERA, 129 strikeouts and 95 walks in 210 1/3 innings as a pro. “In high school, I was a big fish in a small pond. I had it pretty easy.

“I’ve had to deal with getting knocked around a little bit. You can’t throw everything by everybody (in pro ball). I’m learning to be competitor.”

At Lawrence North, Watson used a two-seam fastball and slider. The Royals replaced those with a four-seam fastball and curve ball and last season, let him re-learn the slider.

“It’s been a adjustment, but nothing to shy away from,” says Watson, who turns 21 Jan. 25 — on few days before leaving for Surprise, Ariz., to prepare for spring training. “It’s more about learning how to pitch and not just throwing as hard as you can. It’s learning how to throw to the corners and staying consistent.”

For Watson, it comes down to focus, preparation and mental strength.

“It’s not letting your surroundings or your last outing get to you,” says Watson. “You focus on the next pitch that’s being called.”

The right-hander has started in all but four of his 57 pro appearances.

The day after a start includes the bulk of his running and is an optional throwing day. The next day, he throws a bullpen and concentrates on things he did not like about his previous outing ie. fastball command. The next two days are about keeping his arm loose and his legs strong. Everyday includes shoulder care.

Watson landed on the disabled list early in the 2017 season and went to Arizona to rehabilitate his shoulder. He went to Instructional League for more shoulder last fall.

This off-season, Watson has been working with Jamey Gordon at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield,

Besides throwing pitches, Watson is going through rehabilitation and pre-habilitation (preventative) shoulder and scapula movements and exercises with bands, medicine balls and weighted balls.

“We make sure I’m not rubbing or stressing the wrong things,” says Watson. “It’s the things that keep you out of the training room and the doctor’s office.”

Most of his development in the Royals system has come under pitching coaches Carlos Martinez and Mitch Stetter (the former big leaguer pitcher is a Southridge High School graduate and Indiana State University teammate of Pro X co-founder and owner Joe Thatcher). They have been getting Watson to concentrate on the direction and follow-through of his delivery.

“They make sure there’s conviction going to the plate and I’m not falling off or flying open,” says Watson. “I could play 20 years in the big league and I still think I could get better at it.”

Watson played travel baseball for the Skiles Test Cobras in Lawrence Township and later for the Todd Bacon-coached Indiana Indians, Eric Dill-coached Indiana Mustangs and Kevin Chrisman-coached San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team.

Making sure he got games and practices and had clean laundry and food to fuel him were parents Perry and Melinda Watson.

“I can never properly thank them for what they did,” says Nolan. “I was always looking up to (older brother Tyler) and he made me what I am today.”

Tyler Watson graduated from Lawrence North in 2009 and played baseball at Anderson University.

Richard Winzenread was Watson’s head coach at Lawrence North.

“He told us about not giving up and competing,” says Watson. “We always had trouble with Cathedral. My senior year, we finally got past Cathedral (in the finals of the 2015 IHSAA Class 4A Roncalli Sectional).

“That was a glorious moment. That was a weight off our shoulders. It was an accumulation of not giving up and having heart. It was a great feeling for all of us.”

Watson had been recruited by Vanderbilt University, which won the College World Series in 2014. But he decided to sign with Royals instead.

“Everybody’s dream is to play professional baseball,” says Watson. “They good amount of money. I didn’t want to pass that up.”

NOLANWATSON

Nolan Watson, a Lawrence North High School graduate and former first-round draft selection of the Kansas City Royals, has pitched in the Royals system since 2015. (Lexington Legends Photo)

 

Advertisements

Baseball talent search makes Yankees scout Gibbons busy man

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Somewhere out there is a power-packing hitter or lights-out pitcher and Mike Gibbons aims to find him and secure his services for his bosses.

Gibbons is an area scout for the New York Yankees and annually spends up to 40,000 ground miles and more in the air, assessing amateur players in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky that might be suitable to don Yankee pinstripes.

Lessons learned as a coach at the University of Notre Dame and Ball State University have helped carry the South Bend native through 23 years of hunting for potential professional baseball talent.

in this profession, it’s a grind.

“It’s everyday,” says Gibbons, 52. “You’ve got to be self-motivated. You’ve got to get up and get your work done and stay on top of it. You either have the passion for it or you don’t.”

Gibbons, who lives in the suburbs of Cincinnati, is often on the go trying to land players for the 27-time world champions.

“Things have changed a lot over 23 years,” says Gibbons, who scouted for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1995-2002 and started with the Yankees in 2003. “There’s not a whole lot of off-season anymore. There are showcases galore. You can find one every weekend if you want. College scout days run deeper into the fall and a lot of home visits with college and high school players. Then it’s Christmas.

“We have (scouting) meetings in January then we’re outside watching colleges scrimmage in early February.”

Early in the season, Gibbons has learned to do more flying and goes to warm weather. Last February, he saw Notre Dame play in San Diego and tends to spend a week to 10 days on the West Coast every year.

“You can go wherever you want to see your teams play,” says Gibbons. “As long you’re getting your work done.”

When college teams return to the Midwest and high schools open their seasons, Gibbons is really hopping.

He might be in northern Indiana checking out a high school pitcher on a Tuesday and then be in Kentucky Wednesday looking at a college hitter.

“You have to juggle your schedule and prioritize,” says Gibbons. “Your car is your office.”

A lot of what he does in the spring is dictated by the elements.

“You get a three- or four-day run in Michigan where the weather is nice, you better get up there,” says Gibbons. “You spend a lot of time watching the Weather Channel and looking at the apps on your phone.”

Gibbons knows there’s only so many days in the spring. That’s why so many schools have opted for artificial turf that helps them lower the number of rainouts.

The 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft comes is scheduled for June 4-6. The Yankees currently have the 23rd pick in the first of 40 rounds. The Detroit Tigers have the No. 1 selection.

“The draft is such a crap shoot,” says Gibbons. “You have to get really lucky to get players in the draft. Some years your area is deep and you don’t get many guys. In other years, your area is not very deep and you end up getting two or three guys.”

Once Gibbons identifies a potential draftee, the national cross-checker and the scouting director take a look and they are comparing these players from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky to those all over the nation.

“It’s a big country,” says Gibbons. “There’s good players everywhere. Your bosses have to see these kids play well.

“(The scouting director and cross-checker) are focusing on the top part of the draft — the top five or 10 rounds,” says Gibbons. “Not somebody we might be able to sign in the 21st round.”

It’s up to Gibbons to have enough visits with the player, his family and agent to know how likely it is that the Yankees can get his name on a contract.

“You’re not going to draft kids in top 10 rounds you are going to have a tough time signing,” says Gibbons. “With the (slotting) rules now, you lose the money if you can’t sign the kid in the first 10 rounds.”

Slotting rules allow so much to be spent in certain rounds and that takes out much of the negotiating of the past.

“It’s pretty clear,” says Gibbons. “Here’s the slot and here’s what it’s paying. Can we get this done or not?”

In the summer and fall, Gibbons has places he likes to go. He sees top college players in the Cape Cod League and elite high school prospects in the East Coast Pro (which moves to in Hoover, Ala., in 2018), Perfect Game World Wood Bat Tournament in Jupiter, Fla., and national teams at USA Baseball headquarters in Cary, N.C.

Gibbons enjoys maintaining relationships with players after become pros.

“Old scouts back in the day would say, ‘sign ‘em and forget ‘em.’ I don’t necessarily agree with that,” says Gibbons. “I will text with (former New Albany High School and University of Louisville left-hander) Josh Rogers after his outings. You can’t help but love these kids and pull for them. You want them to do well.

“I don’t try to blow these kids up too much. But you just get to the big leagues with somebody.”

And he’s grateful to be working for the Yankees.

“I enjoy what I’m doing,” says Gibbons. “It’s an honor to work for arguably the best franchise in the history of sports. It’s an exciting time for us with all the young players coming up. Guys we drafted and developed and are now helping us win.”

Gibbons played at South Bend St. Joseph High School for Chip O’Neil, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015.

“When you’re that age you don’t understand coaching, you don’t understand how good the guy was,” says Gibbons, who graduated St. Joe in 1983. “He was great.”

Gibbons, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, pitched well enough for O’Neil and the Indians to go to Miami Dade South Junior College (now Miami Dade College) in Florida, where he played in 1984 and 1985 and was coached by Charlie Greene.

“He was terrific,” says Gibbons of Greene, who was a pitching coach in the New York Mets system and an author of books on pitching. “I had arm problems in high school. I was fortunate to play for a guy like Charlie.”

In those days, NCAA Division I teams could play an unlimited amount of fall games and Dade South played often against the University of Miami. Gibbons impressed enough for the Hurricanes to offer him a scholarship.

When Gibbons joined Miami for the 1986 season, coach Ron Fraser and the ‘Canes had just won the College World Series.

What was it about Fraser, the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer?

“His personality,” says Gibbons, who played two seasons at Miami. “He didn’t do a ton of coaching. He left that to Brad Kelley and his other assistants. He was figurehead. He was good in the community and with fundraising. They loved him.”

Gibbons went undrafted and landed with the independent Salt Lake City Trappers in the rookie-level Pioneer League. He went 1-3 with eight saves and a 0.82 earned run average in 26 appearances (all in relief) in 1988.

Salt Lake City is where Mike’s father, Jim Gibbons, had played in 1953 with the Philadelphia Phillies’ Class C affiliate.

Jim Gibbons would go on to manage in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization then serve in many capacities at Notre Dame, including assistant baseball and basketball coach. The 1953 ND graduate helped recruit future Baseball Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski to campus as well as future pro baseball and basketball player and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ron Reed and ND president Edward “Monk” Malloy.

Jim Gibbons, who was on the baseball staff of Jake Kline, would be Notre Dame’s Assistant Vice President for Special Events and Protocol for 37 years.

Dan Duquette signed Mike Gibbons for the Montreal Expos and the pitcher was sent to Rockford, Ill., for the 1989 season, where he was 3-2 with two saves and a 1.76 ERA in 40 games against Low Class-A Midwest League competition.

Traded from the Expos to the Chicago White Sox in the Rule 5 Draft. Gibbons was going to be assigned to the Midwest League’s South Bend White Sox in 1990. Rather than repeat levels and pitch in his hometown, he went into coaching and joined the Notre Dame staff of Pat Murphy.

“From Murph and my dad, I learned about work ethic and how much you have to put into coaching,” says Gibbons. “I’m 22 or 23 years old myself and dealing with really intelligent guys at Notre Dame. I jumped in with both feet and was very committed. It was a lot of responsibility. It taught me some of the lessons I carry with me today.”

After his stint under the Golden Dome, Gibbons spent one season and part of another at Ball State. Pat Quinn was then the Cardinals head coach.

One of Gibbons’ roommates at Miami was Greg Vaughn, who had gone on to be a slugger for 15 seasons in the big leagues and about half of those were in Milwaukee. He helped Gibbons get an interview with the Brewers and a start to his scouting career.

Mike is married to Mary Beth. The couple have two children — Tyler and Olivia.

Tyler Gibbons played at NCAA Division III Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and is now with the Cincinnati Reds as video coordinator for amateur scouting. The job will have him traveling the country, capturing players on video and writing reports.

Olivia is a high school senior. She is looking into medical school and possibility of playing college volleyball.

NEWYORKYANKEESLOGO

Right-hander Ruxer doing his baseball homework

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As a finance and accounting double major at the University of Louisville, Jared Ruxer studied figures as they relate to business.

“I’ve always liked numbers,” says Ruxer, a 2011 graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis.

Now that his business is baseball — he is a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization — Ruxer is examining concepts like Spin Rate and Extension that are a part of TrackMan or Statcast technology.

According to MLB.com, a pitcher’s Spin Rate (SR) “represents the rate of spin on a baseball after it is released. It is measured in revolutions per minute. The amount of spin on a pitch changes its trajectory.”

For Extension (EXT), “a pitcher must begin his throwing motion while standing on the pitching rubber — which is 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate. This does not mean pitches are actually thrown from 60 feet, 6 inches away from the plate.

“The point at which a pitcher releases the ball is actually a few feet closer to home plate than the pitching rubber itself. Extension quantifies exactly how much closer a pitcher’s release point is to home plate.”

The higher EXT the better and the less time the hitter has to react to the pitch.

“I’ve been looking at the TrackMan data and getting an understanding of that and how to apply it,” says Ruxer, 25. “I’m getting more into the biomechanics of pitching. I’m also learning to manage the running game better and getting really good at PFP’s (Pitcher Fielding Practice) and things like that.”

Ruxer was chosen in the 29th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and did not sign, opting to go to Louisville. He pitched for the Cardinals 2012-14.

He was named Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association All-America, Big East Conference Rookie of the Year and third-team all-Big East while making 16 mound appearances (14 starts) and going 8-3 with a 3.38 earned run average, 32 strikeouts and 15 walks in 77 1/3 innings.

As a sophomore in 2013, he made 19 appearances (seven starts) with a 0-1 mark and a 5.63 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 21 walks in 38 1/3 innings. Louisville went 51-14 and played in the 2013 College World Series.

Ruxer’s junior campaign in 2014 saw him make 13 starts and go 7-1 with a 2.27 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings before an elbow injury ended his season. He named second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference. The Cardinals (51-15) returned to Omaha for the 2014 College World Series.

Two days before the 2014 MLB draft, Ruxer underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and did not pitch that summer. In the fall, he went back to Louisville and complete his degree.

The righty made his first professional pitch until 2015 with the rookie-level Orem Owlz. That initial season back, he worked 29 2/3 innings over 14 appearances (11 starts) and was 0-3 with a 4.85 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 11 walks.

“That first short season was tough,” says Ruxer. “It definitely took awhile (to bounce back from surgery). I didn’t feel like I was a 100 percent and back to myself until 18 months later. I had to pitch through it.

“I had to learn how to pitch a little more because I didn’t have all my velocity back yet.”

Ruxer split the 2016 season between the Low Class-A Burlington Bees and High Class-A Inland Empire 66ers, combining for a 4-8 record, 3.08 ERA and 29 appearances (19 starts) with 99 strikeouts and 31 walks over 111 innings.

The first full pro season was also when he was introduced to the TrackMan data.

Knowing the Angels were using it as an evaluation tool, Ruxer began doing his homework and studied ways to improve his numbers and performance.

He found that change could be made through grip, arm action and some minor mechanical cues.

“Some days the ball has a little more carry. Some days it has a little more sink on it,” says Ruxer. “You make adjustments based on that.”

On Dec. 1, 2016, the Angels traded Ruxer to the Royals. He spent most of the 2017 season with the High Class-A Wilmington Rocks, going 5-7 with a 3.45 ERA in 24 appearances (17) starts with 84 strikeouts and 29 walks in 109 2/3 innings.

In three games (one start) and six innings with the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals, he was 0-0 with a 16.50 ERA, one strikeout and seven walks.

Ruxer says the differences in the way he was handled by the two organizations is very slight.

“The Angels were very hands-off,” says Ruxer. “It was on me.

“The Royals were a little more proactive.”

While player development staff are there to help, Ruxer has learned that how players progress in pro baseball is largely up to them.

“It’s going on our stat sheet,” says Ruxer.

The Royals sent Ruxer to the 2017 Arizona Fall League to work on a breaking ball and he relieved in nine contests with the Surprise Saguaros. He went 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA. In 12 innings, he had 12 strikeouts and nine walks.

More than three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Ruxer is back to letting it rip on the mound.

“I’m pretty high-effort now,” says Ruxer. “I’m not holding anything back. I get a lot more results when I do that.

“There’s no reason to leave anything in the tank. There’s not too much thinking ahead. You’ve got to get the guy out standing in the box and the rest is secondary.”

Looking to his diamond past, Ruxer played in the Fall Creek Little League, where he was a teammate of current Texas Rangers minor league pitcher David Ledbetter.

Ruxer played travel ball for the Indiana Prospects at age 12 and for the Indiana Bulls at 13 and 17. From 14 to 16, he was with the Indiana Braves, a team father Jim helped organize.

At 18, Ruxer was with the Midland Redskins in Ohio. The summers after his freshmen and sophomore seasons at Louisville, he hurled for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League.

In his three seasons at Louisville, Ruxer learned from head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

“(McDonnell) taught me about managing the running game, PFP’s and was a stickler for bunt defense,” says Ruxer. “(Williams) called all the (pitches). I liked that. We could just go out there and pitch and just worry about our stuff. He did all his homework on the hitters. I trusted him. I didn’t shake off too much.”

While catchers in the minor leagues are allowed to develop their pitch-calling abilities, Ruxer notes that almost all pitches in major college baseball are called by coaches.

“Their job’s on the line. They want to control the game,” says Ruxer. “I get it. They have time to read up on the hitters. You are a student-athlete. There a lot of things going on. We can’t afford to lose games.”

Ruxer played three varsity seasons at Lawrence Central. He went 5-2 as a sophomore, 6-1 as a junior and 6-1 as a senior with a total of 155 strikeouts. His final high school season saw him earned all-state, all-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference and all-Marion County honors.

Dan Roman (who is now head coach at Brownsburg High School) led the program when Ruxer was with the LC Bears.

“That was a blast,” says Ruxer. “Dan was awesome. “When it came to pitching, he showed me how to pitch to certain hitters and about reading the hitters’ swings. I learned how to attract hitters and started learning how to manage the running game.”

After an extended 2017 season, Ruxer managed to get away for some vacation and quality time with family — father Jim in a Certified Public Accountant, mother Lisa is a recently-retired as a physical education teacher at Carmel High School and younger sister Addie is life science recruiter in Chicago after graduating from Indiana University.

Ruxer will spend the rest of the off-season working out in Indianapolis. He has trained at both St. Vincent Sports Performance and the new Pro X Athlete Development. Former MLB pitcher Joe Thatcher is involved with Pro X.

596095

Jared Ruxer, a Lawrence Central High School and University of Louisville graduate, is a right-handed pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization. (Wilmington Blue Rocks Photo)

 

Indiana State’s Hannahs mixes old school with new

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mitch Hannahs has been involved in sports for most of his 50 years and he’s learned from wise men.

The former Ohio schoolboy and All-American second baseman for Indiana State University who became an ISU Athletics Hall of Famer is now heading into his fifth season as the school’s head baseball coach.

His style is a reflection of playing for Hall of Famers — Mark Huffman in high school and Bob Warn in college.

At Skyvue High School (since consolidated with Woodsfield into Monroe Central in southeastern Ohio), he witnessed the patient of Huffman as he ran basketball and baseball teams. Huffman is in the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“A lot of young guys are impatient,” says Hannahs. “(Huffman) had a very calming hand. That really helped me.”

Hannahs says patience “gives you the rope and the time to develop a young player.”

Positive results are not always going to be instant and both coach and player need to realize that.

Hannahs not only played for American Baseball Coaches Association and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Warn, helping ISU to 172 victories and three NCAA Tournament appearances 1986-89, he came back to Terre Haute to be a Sycamores assistant.

“There’s old school. He’s double old school if there’s such a thing,” says Hannahs of Warn, who guided Hannahs and company to the 1986 College World Series. “His camps were tremendously tough. He taught us to be tough between the lines then carry ourselves like a young man should off the field. It’s something that’s carried with me for a lot of years now.”

It’s a transfer that not every athlete can master but Hannahs wants ballplayers who can be hard on the field and soft off it.

“An edge is required,” says Hannahs. “We have to have it and develop it.

“You have to be tough and resilient as you possibly can between the lines. You have to become very comfortable being uncomfortable. That comes with playing athletics at the very highest level. Then you walk out the gate and become the humble contributor to society.”

Another thing that Huffman did with his players was challenge them. He was famous for his overloads in basketball practice, sending five men against seven or eight.

“He was always creating ways to challenge us,” says Hannahs of Huffman. “I was telling my guys the other day about winning a court in the summer. If you didn’t win, you didn’t play. My guys had no clue what I was talking about.”

That being said, Hannahs news himself as a mix of the old and new.

“I like to think that I apply a lot of older tactics into a more modern approach,” says Hannahs. “It’s good to connect and have a rapport with your players.”

Hannahs has produced winning teams and players that have gone on to professional baseball.

In his four seasons to date, the Sycamores have won 127 games, made an NCAA Tournament and had three top-3 finishes in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Hannahs is the sixth coach in program history to record 100 or more wins. ISU rewarded him with a contract extension through 2020.

Following a 29-26 season (12-9 in The Valley which also includes Bradley, Dallas Baptist, Drake, Evansville, Illinois State, Loyola, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois and Valparaiso), four Sycamores were selected in the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — right-handed pitcher Will Kincanon by the Chicago White Sox (ninth round), second baseman Tyler Friis by the Cleveland Indians (21st round), right-hander and Franklin Community High School product Jeremy McKinney by the Washington Nationals (31st round) and righty submariner and former Terre Haute South Vigo standout Damon Olds by the Kansas City Royals (33rd round).

Keeping the talent coming to the ISU campus requires recruiting the right players.

“We want to get the best players we can find,” says Hannahs. “If we can pull them out of your back yard, that’s great.”

But don’t expect Indiana State to get commitments from players who are barely out of junior high — which is a big trend in major college baseball these days.

“When that early commitment stuff began to maintain some integrity, we said we can’t jump in quite so early,” says Hannahs.

The coach notes that North American players can’t be signed until late in their high school careers and yet high-profile college programs are getting verbal commitments from 15-year-olds.

“It’s an arms race so to say,” says Hannahs. “They are getting their (recruiting) classes organized earlier.”

Why is this happening?

“Because they can,” says Hannahs. There is no rule against it. Players can’t sign that early, but they can say they are going to School X at anytime.

“It creates a storm,” says Hannahs.

Plus, signing is one thing and actually making an impact is another.

“No one has researched number of kids who stay and contribute at these schools,” says Hannahs.

The coach notes that the very best players are easy for anyone to identify and project. It’s in the second and third tiers that the waters become murky.

ISU has gotten more involved in recruiting junior college players and has no less than 13 former JUCO athletes on the 2018 online roster.

“It allows us to watch them another year after high school before we make that decision,” says Hannahs.

The world of travel baseball closely relates to recruiting.

“Travel baseball has been very good in terms of exposing young players to potential recruiters,” says Hannahs. “It’s led to early signing and committing for a lot of kids.

“Those two coupled together have negatively impacted high school baseball. Some kids — after they commit — shut down on their high school team. That’s not to knock travel. It’s accomplished what people set our for it to do. I wish we didn’t have the negative impact on the other side.”

The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A player can be loyal to his high school program and participate and thrive in travel baseball.

“We all have priorities whether we put it on a list or not,” says Hannahs. “Travel ball has been placed higher than high school in the minds of many.”

Hannahs says he wants players who are concerned more about helping the team win than their own accomplishments.

“It can be a tough adjustment period for guys who spend their younger years trying to be seen,” says Hannahs. “If you try to produce for your team and are motivated to help them win, colleges are going to beat your door down.”

MITCHHANNAHS

Mitch Hannahs, who played at Indiana State University 1986-89 and is in the ISU Athletics Hall of Fame, is entering his fifth season as Sycamores head  baseball coach in 2018. (Indiana State University Photo)

 

Lemonis hustles to keep Hoosiers competitive, playing baseball the right way

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the early NCAA Division I National Letter of Intent signing period approaches — it’s Nov. 8-15 — Chris Lemonis is doing the thing that has made him one of the nation’s top college baseball recruiters.

“Hustle,” says Lemonis, who is going into his fourth season as head baseball of Indiana University baseball in 2018. “You’ve got to be willing to hustle. You have to have an eye for it. You also have to have a plan. What pieces are you trying to put together? (A player might be the) right fit for one school and not for the other.”

Lemonis, who is 101-72-2 with two NCAA regional appearance (2015, 2017) while leading the Hoosiers, likes to find as much in-state talent as he can and still remain competitive. “The state of Indiana has great high school players. It is a big base for us. We will reach out at times and fiend pieces.”

The Hoosiers — regularly top 25-ranked program — find most players within a five-hour drive from the Bloomington campus.

“But we don’t rule out anybody,” says Lemonis, who has been spending his share of time on the road, visiting recruits and working camps. “We like to be a physical team and an athletic team.”

Lemonis asks that athletes and their parents research to see what fits their needs.

As drawing cards for the Hoosiers, there is an IU degree plus the ever-growing profile of Big Ten Conference baseball. The 2017 season saw five B1G schools make the 64-team NCAA D-I tournament — conference tournament champion and automatic bid winner Iowa plus at-large invitees Indiana, Maryland, Michigan and Nebraska.

Conference baseball continues to get recognition and revenue through the Big Ten Network.

“We try to keep our kids in this part of the country — Midwest staying at Midwest schools,” says Lemonis. “When I first came to Midwest, all the good players went south. There is now a commitment to baseball in our league.”

As evidence, all of the 13 baseball-playing B1G schools have stadiums that were either built new or renovated in the last few years, many with artificial turf.

Indiana moved to Bart Kaufman Field in 2013. Hoosiers benefactor Bart Kaufman went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017.

Illinois plays at Illinois Field, Iowa at Duane Banks Field, Maryland at Bob “Turtle” Smith Stadium, Michigan at Ray Fisher Stadium, Michigan State at McClane Baseball Stadium at Kobs Field, Minnesota at Siebert Field, Nebraska at Hawks Field at Haymarket Park, Northwestern at Rocky and Berenice Miller Park, Ohio State at Nick Swisher Field at Bill Davis Stadium, Penn State at Medlar Park at Lubrano Field, Purdue at Alexander Field and Rutgers at Bainton Field. Wisconsin does not have NCAA D-I baseball.

Allowing for the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (IU’s Craig Dedelow was selected int he ninth round in 2017 by the Chicago White Sox and the Hoosiers count former players Micah Johnson, Josh Phegley, Kyle Schwarber, Aaron Slegers and Sam Travis as current big leaguers), Lemonis plans his recruiting on a three-year cycle.

The Big Ten does have a rule that players sign a four-year scholarship and not a series of one-year deals, which is common in other conferences.

Lemonis came to Indiana after serving 20 seasons as an assistant coach — 12 at The Citadel (1995-2006) and eight at the University of Louisville (2006-14).

At Louisville, he worked closely with head coach Dan McDonnell and made three trips to the College World Series (2007, 2013, 2014). They were college roommates, teammates and athletic Hall of Famers at The Citadel — the military college in Charleston, S.C.

“He’s a great leader of men and a great coach,” says Lemonis of McDonnell, who spoke at the 2017 IHSBCA State Coaches Clinic in Indianapolis. “He is very big on the motivation side — not only with the players but the staff. He’s always trying to push the program forward and put it in a better place. He’s one of the best in the business — if not the best.”

Phone calls between Lemonis and McDonnell are exchanged a couple of times a week.

“We bounce ideas off each other,” says Lemonis.

As a left-handed-swinging infielder at The Citadel, Lemonis had two head coaches — American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Chal Port and Fred Jordan — before playing minor league baseball (1995-2004) with Triple-A stops in the Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Florida Marlins and Baltimore Orioles organizations.

“(Port) was a tough old school coach,” says Lemonis. “He was big on fundamentals and playing the game the right way. He put together kids who became a close-knit group.”

Lemonis served 12 seasons on Jordan’s coaching staff.

“I got most of my development from him,” says Lemonis. “He was big into physicality and the speed of the game. We didn’t start (weight) lifting until Coach Jordan got there.”

When Lemonis was playing, most coaches thought baseball players should stay away from weights in order to remain flexible.

Now, strength and conditioning is a major part of the game. With fall baseball concluded, IU players are spending four days a week in the weight room, becoming bigger, stronger and faster.

Since many Hoosiers play spring, summer and fall, they are now giving their arms a rest. Throwing programs will resume in December and hitting will amp up. After Christmas break, the team will be in “spring training” mode as it prepares to open the 2018 schedule with four in South Carolina — Feb. 16 (Oklahoma), Feb. 17 (Kansas State) and Feb. 18 (South Alabama) in Myrtle Beach and Feb. 19 (Coastal Carolina) in Conway.

The home opener is slated for March 7 (Cincinnati).

Lemonis graduated from Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach, S.C. A move-in, he played his junior year for Jody Rush and senior season for Rick Hardwick, who had come from The Citadel.

As a product of his playing and coaching stops, Lemonis believes in “playing the right way.”

That is reflected in IU being among the top fielding percentage teams in the B1G and the way the Hoosiers train, show up early, hustle and demonstrate positive body language.

“It’s doing a hard 90 down the baseline,” says Lemonis. “It’s respecting the game.”

The IU coaching staff also features Kyle Bunn (associate head coach/pitching), Kyle Cheesebrough (assistant/recruiting coordinator), Zach Lucas (assistant) and Roger Rodeheaver (director of operations).

Cheesebrough and Lucas both played at Louisville and they help Lemonis with the Hoosiers’ offensive game.

CHRISLEMONIS

Chris Lemonis enters his fourth season as head baseball coach at Indiana University in 2018. It will be his 24th as a coach at the NCAA Division I level. (Indiana University Photo)

 

Indiana Land Sharks travel organization enjoys great growth

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Can’t you see them circling … the bases?

The Indiana Land Sharks are coming to a diamond near you.

The travel organization based in northern Indiana and southern Indiana is fielding 26 teams — 22 baseball and four softball — with 290 players in 2017.

Ages are 8U to 17U for baseball and 10U to 16U for softball. The only baseball division that does not have more than one team in 17U. There is one team each for the four softball age groups. Teams are distinguished by the colors blue, gray and black.

The first Land Sharks team was run by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer and South Bend resident Jim Reinebold in 2003 at the invitation of Clint Emberton (father of Chad Emberton), Dr. Karl Schultz (father of Kyle Schultz) and Russ Stines (father of Brenden Stines).

The Land Sharks were a top-10 finisher in a big tournament at Wide World of Sports in Florida.

A later team featured future major leaguer Ryan Strausborger.

The program was re-birthed with one one in 2009 and expanded to five in 2012.

In 2015, a new indoor training facility was added in Niles, Mich., and the Land Sharks began fielding girls softball teams.

A second indoor facility (Niles Sports Warehouse) is managed by the Land Sharks.

“We just grew so quickly,” says Jim Robinson, Land Sharks athletic director and an owner along with Marc Waite, John Baxter and Joel Reinebold. “We’re offering a product people want.”

Based on training space, teams were actually turned away.

All coaches are volunteers and many are associated with high schools.

“We are advocates of the high school game,” says Robinson.

8U players typically play three to six tournaments per season. These families are exploring travel baseball to see if it’s for them.

“We encourage (players on) 8U teams to play rec ball and experience travel ball,” says Robinson. “9U also plays at limited travel schedule.”

By the time they reach 10U, they are usually playing a full travel schedule. From that age until high school, they might play up to 50 games from early April until Aug. 1 (when high school sports practices start).

Needing more pitching, high school teams may carry 14 or 15 players on a roster. The younger ones usually go with 11.

High school players cease off-season training with the Land Sharks once their school teams fill their rosters and they don’t begin their travel season until they are released from their school teams, making for a shorter season of four or five tournaments.

Tryouts are usually held the second weekend of August.

While there is natural attrition as families move or players gravitate to another sport or activity, Robinson says retention is pretty high from season to season, meaning many teams may be only looking to fill a few spots.

“People follow good organization and good coaching,” says Robinson. “The chemistry of the parents is also very important. (Travel ball) is your summer family. Kids travel and room together (on road trips). So many families have multiple kids playing. They depend on people they trust.”

Some teams stay together year after year. Take the current 17U baseball team. This team — coached by Tom Washburn, John Kehoe and Dennis Ryans — has been together since 10U.

This familiarity has been a key to development.

“We’re different from a lot of the teams we play,” says Washburn, who coaches older son Andrew (lead-off hitter on the 2017 IHSAA Class 3A state champion South Bend St. Joseph Indians) on the 17U team and also younger son Joseph on a 10U team. “Each year we can teach these guys a little bit more. Many travel teams don’t have time to practice and it becomes knowledge vs. talent.”

New Prairie High School graduate Washburn played for Tony Robichaux at McNeese State. South Bend Washington graduate Kehoe was in the Toronto Blue Jays system. South Bend LaSalle product Ryans the New York Yankees organization.

Washburn calls the 10U team a hybrid with travel and Chet Waggoner Little League games on its schedule.

In either scenario, it’s all about learning how to play.

“At 10, I’m more concerned with their development than winning a bunch of trophies,” says Washburn. “We learn to run pick-offs at second, the hit-and-run and proper bunt. We learn about running a first and third defense and cut-offs. It’s amazing to me. These 10 year-old kids pick it up quick.”

Washburn, a longtime Jim Reinebold Fall Baseball Camp instructor who took his sons to former Land Shark Strausborger for tips at the South Bend Cubs Performance Center during the winter, says the reason so many people gravitate to travel ball and away from Little League and the like is because it offers more traditional rules at younger ages.

“It’s just different baseball,” says Washburn. “The younger boys learn to lead off, hold runners on as pitchers and catchers learn to give signs.”

Washburn also sees the appeal of summer travel ball tournaments with a concentrated group of talented player to college coaches who are busy coaching their own players during the spring.

Each Land Sharks team typically makes at least one big trip. Robinson had a team in Omaha, Neb., tournament last weekend, where they got to take in College World Series games.

Land Sharks teams play in Baseball Player’s Association, Gameday USA, Bomb Squad, Bullpen, Pastime, United States Specialty Sports Association and National Softball Association events.

Some popular game sites include Grand Park, Newton Park, City-County Athletic Complex in Warsaw, some Michigan City parks and Belleville Softball Complex in South Bend.

step0001

The Indiana Land Sharks travel baseball and softball organization traces its origins back to the 2003 Michiana Land Sharks. In 2017, the outfit has 26 teams — 22 baseball and four softball. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Froedge makes success an expectation at Crawfordsville

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In the heart of Montgomery County is a high school baseball program that’s hard to beat.

John Froedge has been coach at Crawfordsville since age 23 in 1982. His pitching coach and brother-in-law Rhett Welliever is in his 32nd year with the Athenians.

“We have something kind of unique here for a small community,” says Froedge. “Kids who come into the baseball program expect success so they work hard.

“Any of the programs that have had long-standing success have a formula. This is how we do Crawfordsville baseball and these are the expectations.”

The cornerstones of the Athenian way have always been structure, discipline and a love of baseball. With continued success came tradition and expectation.

In the past 26 seasons, Crawfordsville has won 14 IHSAA sectionals, five regionals, two semesters and two Class 3A state championships as well as 20 Sagamore Conference titles.

The Athenians raised the state trophy by besting Mishawaka Marian twice — 5-1 in 2008 and 8-3 in 2011.

C-ville has earned at least 20 victories in 21 of those 26 campaigns. The average record during the span is 24-8.

The 2016 Athenians went 25-5 and won the conference title, but not the sectional. For the first time since 2003-05, Crawfordsville has gone three straight seasons minus a sectional crown.

“We’ve got a bunch of really hungry seniors,” says Froedge of the 2017 squad. “We’ve virtually got the entire team back.”

While proud of the tradition, Froedge deflects from the stress of keeping it going.

“They don’t want to be the first group to go through here and not win something big,” says Froedge. “I tell them ‘Just play the game. There is no pressure. You’re not playing for the legacy. You’re not playing for the past. This is your team.’

“I want them to experience that success at the end of the year. But they’re not going to get it if they’re all uptight about it.”

Froedge, a 1976 Southmont High School graduate, is bearing down on 750 career victories. He is in select company among active Indiana high school coaches. Andrean’s Dave Pishkur is in the 900-win club. Twin Lakes’ Jake Burton has surpassed 800 while Froedge, Chesterton’s Jack Campbell, Indianapolis Scecina’s Dave Gandolph and Jasper’s Terry Gobert have all surpassed 700. All six are in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Froedge’s induction coming 2010.

Early in Froedge’s career, he saw success happening at places like Jasper and LaPorte and said why not Crawfordsville, too? He made it a point to take to LaPorte’s Ken Schreiber when attending the IHSBCA State Clinic each winter.

“When you’re trying to build your program, you find out who try to talk to the best,” says Froedge, who also learned about the game while playing for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Don Brandon at Anderson University.

All but one of Crawfordsville’s IHSBCA North/South All-Star selections — Damon Brown (1978) — have come with Froedge in charge. The others are Matt McCarty (1994), Brett Motz (1995), Adrian Norris (2002), Brandon Moore (2004), Ross Wheeler (2006), Andrew Swart (2008), Brett McKinney (2009), Steven Rice (2010), Cory Rice (2011), Caleb Rasmussen (2012) and Jordan Jackson (2013).

Many Athenians have gone on to play college baseball, but not many at the NCAA Division I level. A couple of exceptions are left-handed pitchers Cameron Hobson and Steven Rice.

When Crawfordsville won the 3A state crown in 2008, Hobson (win) and Rice (save) handled pitching duties in topping Marian.

Hobson went on to pitch for the University Dayton. His professional career took him as far as Triple-A. Rice was a part of Vanderbilt University’s 2014 College World Series champions.

“It sounds cliche, but we’re a team,” says Froedge. “Year in and year out, we’re not the most athletic, the most gifted. We develop strong pitching — and it’s no different this year — but it’s everybody pulling together and working for a common cause.

“We have kids that are super loyal to the program. We have had kids do well by working hard together.”

Kids coming up through feeder programs like Crawfordsville Youth Baseball (CYB-Crawfordsville Youth Baseball on Facebook) and Crawfordsville Middle School dream of one day playing for the Athenian varsity.

There’s also a real family feel. John’s wife Debbie is always around. Son Brandon Froedge, who played for C-ville in the 1990’s, left the baseball staff last year to help assistant his sister Britney Carpenter in her role as Crawfordsville’s head softball coach.

John has been at it long enough that he can now say he has coached several fathers and sons in the royal blue and yellow gold.

Welliever, whom John calls a “baseball junkie” has been pitching daily batting practice for decades.

“One day we counted and he threw 750 pitches,” says Froedge. “He’ll throw to the whole roster multiple times and come back the next day and do it again.”

Tony Bean, Tommy Coy, Daryl Hobson and Connor Smith are also trusted assistants for the Athenians. Justin Dugger is in his 20th season of doing multiple jobs for the team. Bob Taylor has been shooting video of every game for the past 25 years or so.

The current CHS school building opened in 1993-94 and Athenians moved from Miligan Park/Baldwin Field (the program’s home field when it won sectional trophies in 1967, 1970, 1971 and 1974) to the on-campus facility in 1995.

“We’ve got a really beautiful field and the kids do all the work,” says Froedge.

In the Sagamore Conference, Crawfordsville meets Danville, Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont, Tri-West Hendricks and Western Boone. Many non-conference games are against bigger schools and the Athenians go to Tennessee at the beginning of the season seeking the best competition available. The final of the C-ville tournament April 15 pitted 3A No. 1 Crawfordsville against 4A No. 1 Carmel (won 13-5 by the visitors).

JOHNFROEDGE

John Froedge is in his 36th season as head baseball coach at Crawfordsville High School. The Indiana Hugh School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer is bearing down on his 750th career victory. His Athenians won Class 3A state titles in 2008 and 2011.