Tag Archives: Dan McDonnell

Former Delta, Indiana State, Louisville hurler Conway begins pro career in White Sox system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gaining confidence and maturity have gone a long way in helping Austin Conway along his baseball journey, which has taken him into professional baseball as a right-handed pitcher in the Chicago White Sox organization.

Conway played for head coach Terry Summers at Delta High School near Muncie, Ind., where he graduated in 2013.

“He taught you how to carry yourself on the field and have a lot of composure,” says Conway of Summers. “I was very immature as a freshman. I had a lot of growing up to do. Having him around really helped.”

From Delta, where current Cowan High School head coach Ryan Conwell was an assistant, Conway took his talents to Terre Haute to play for Indiana State University. That’s where he got to work with Sycamores head coach Mitch Hannahs and pitching coach Jordan Tiegs.

“I was very raw coming out of high school,” says Conway. “I lacked at knowing the game. (Hannahs) was hard on me. But he wanted to get the most out of me.

“He helped me with the mental side. He made me grow up and become a much better baseball player.

Conway learned that college baseball moves at a faster clip than high school.

“(Hannahs) would take me to the side and slow me down,” says Conway. “He gave me tough love when I needed that, too.”

Conway figured out how to understand and control situations. He would figure out what was working for him that day and what was not.

He found out that sometimes the situation calls for finesse.

“You can’t blow it by everybody,” says Conway, 23.

Tiegs came on board for Conway’s sophomore season.

“He helped me on the confidence side,” says Conway of Tiegs. “The first bullpen he saw, I threw was really good. He was very relatable, easy to trust and get close to.

“He was really big on the health and mechanics side of pitching.”

Tiegs, who pitched at Sauk Valley Community College and the College of Charleston, implemented a weighted ball program/velocity program that helped develop mechanics and velocity.

Conway took to it and saw results.

“I started pounding the zone more,” says Conway, who played four seasons for ISU (2014-17) with the 2016 season shortened to six appearances and 15 2/3 innings because of a shoulder injury. He received a medical redshirt for the year.

The righty came back in 2017 and was named second team all-Missouri Valley Conference after going 2-1 with 12 saves, a 2.97 earned run average, 35 strikeouts and 11 walks over 33 1/3 innings and 28 appearances (all in relief). When he was done at ISU, he ranked No. 2 on the career saves list with 20.

When Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft offers did not meet Conway’s standards, he though he was done with baseball.

But his coach with the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod Baseball League — Harvey Shapiro — made a call to friend Dan McDonnell, head coach at the University of Louisville.

McDonnell extended an invitation to Conway, who was approved for a fifth year of eligibility.

He also enrolled in Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law.

Juggling law school and baseball, Conway posted a 3-1 record with two saves, a 2.21 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 17 walks in 24 innings and 20 appearances (all out of the bullpen) in 2018.

“It was incredible,” says Conway of his U of L experience. “It’s one of the best programs with one of the best head coaches in the country.

“(McDonnell) expects so much from his players and coaches. He’s very demanding.

“But he’ll respect you, if you respect him.”

Louisville pitching coach Roger Williams did not try to change much about the well-established Conway.

“He was more hands off with me as a fifth-year guy,” says Conway. “It was cool to see how he operated with the young guys.

“(With all pitchers,) he made sure the confidence was there.”

Conway was getting his four-seam fastball up to 95 mph with the Cardinals and regularly sat at 91 to 95. In pro ball, he was at 90 to 93. Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, he also employs a “circle” change-up and “spiked” curveball (which looks more like a slurve).

The White Sox selected Conway in the 31st round of the 2018 draft and split his first pro campaign between the Arizona League White Sox and Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers.

Two other Indiana products — Logan Sowers and Michael McCormick — also played for Great Falls in 2018.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder was a combined 8-6 with two saves and a 3.00 ERA. In 46 games (all in relief) and 71 1/3 innings, he struck out 64 and walked 28.

Comparing NCAA Division I to rookie-level pro baseball, Conway saw parallels in talent. Though the minors is sprinkled with raw Latin players with loads of potential.

A double major in criminal justice and political science/legal studies at ISU, Conway completed his first year of law school at the U of L. He says his law studies will be on hold while he is pursuing his baseball career.

Born in Muncie, Conway played his early baseball around Albany, Ind., and Middletown, Ind. He was on the Shenandoah all-star team.

A football player, the only summer he really played travel baseball was with Muncie American League Post 19 Chiefs going into his senior year at Delta.

Austin’s father (Steve Conway) lives in Albany. His mother and stepfather (Brooke and James Runyon) are in Rockford, Ill. He has two stepbrothers (Jeff Dobbs and Josh Dunsmore) a half-brother (Dustin Runyon) and half-sister (Caitlin Runyon).

Using some of the exercises he learned from Tiegs at Indiana State, Austin plans to split time between Illinois and Indiana while working out and getting his arm ready to go to spring training in Arizona in early March.

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Austin Conway pitched at Indiana State University from 2014-17. (Indiana State University Photo)

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Austin Conway pitched at the University of Louisville in 2018. (University of Louisville Photo)

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Juggling law school and baseball, Delta High School graduate Austin Conway posted a 3-1 record with two saves, a 2.21 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 17 walks in 24 innings and 20 appearances (all out of the bullpen) in 2018. (University of Louisville Photo)

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Austin Conway, a graduate of Delta High School near Muncie, Ind., and Indiana State University in Terre Haute, played one season at the University of Louisville and was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2018. (Great Falls Voyagers Photo)

 

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Former Columbus North, Louisville player Mann making his way in the Dodgers system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

At 6-foot-3, first-year professional Devin Mann is not a typical second baseman.

Of the 30 second sackers in the No. 1 slot on the latest Major League Baseball depth charts, just two are listed as taller than 6-3. Colorado’s D.J. LeMahieu and Milwaukee’s Travis Shaw are both 6-4. Eleven current 2B starters are shorter that 6-foot. And that doesn’t count two stars on the disabled list — 5-6 Jose Altuve of Houston and 5-9 Dustin Pedroia of Boston.

Pedroia is Mann’s favorite player.

Why?

“I just like how he plays the game,” says Mann. “He plays the game really hard.

“He goes about his business everyday. That’s what they taught at (the University of) Louisville. I love that about him.”

Mann, 21, was a shortstop during his four seasons at Columbus (Ind.) North High School, which concluded in 2015.

When Mann arrived at the Louisville, he was moved to second base by Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell.

That was the position played by McDonnell at The Citadel and he put Mann through enough reps on that side of the infield that it became his natural defensive spot.

“(McDonnell) helped mold me (at second base) everyday,” says Mann. “Every kid deserves to play for a coach like that — the things he does for you as a baseball player and a person off the field don’t compare to anyone else.”

Mann also learned to flourish with the bat.

The right-handed swinger hit .303 in 39 games with no homers, nine doubles, 17 RBIs and one stolen base in 2016, .268 in 64 games with eight homers, 11 doubles, 44 RBIs and nine stolen bases in 2017 and .303 in 69 games with seven homers, 17 doubles, 52 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 2018. He hit in the No. 3 slot for the Cards this past spring.

Mann earned Atlantic Coast Conference honors in each of his three college seasons — all-freshman in 2016, third team in 2017 and all-tournament in 2018.

During that span, the Cardinals combined to go 148-45 with NCAA tournament appearances each season. U of L went to the College World Series in 2017. Louisville had eight players drafted each year, including first-rounder Brendan McKay and Jeffersonville’s Drew Ellis in 2017 and Batesville’s Bryan Hoeing (who’s announced he’s returning to Louisville for 2018-19) and Mann in 2018.

Mann was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

After two games with Arizona League Dodgers, Mann has logged 38 with the Low Class-A Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons in Midland, Mich., and is hitting .252 with one homer, eight doubles, 14 RBIs and five stolen bases. He consistently hitting from the third or fourth hole in the Great Lakes lineup.

Mann’s first professional long ball — a two-run shot — came July 8 in Midland against Dayton.

John Shoemaker is the Loons manager. The hitting coach is Jair Fernandez.

Mann says he has gained an awareness as a hitter. He recognizes the pitches he can do damage on and aggressively pursues those pitches.

“I’ve trained myself to see pitches early and have an awareness of the strike zone,” says Mann. “It’s paid dividends for me.

“I’ve definitely worked hard at it.”

Watching his power numbers go up at the end of his college career, Mann credits the increase too good mechanics and hitting his preferred pitch more times than not.

“It’s about not missing the pitch you’re getting each at-bat,” says Mann. “The rest might be pitcher’s pitches which are tougher to hit.”

Told the importance of finding a daily routine in pro baseball, where games are played nearly everyday, Mann says he was able to find one early.

Mann more of less re-wrote the offensive record book at Columbus North, finishing his prep career as the Bull Dogs’ career leader in average (.449), runs (118), hits (150), doubles (36), triples (10), home runs (20), RBI (111) and stolen bases (92). The right-handed swinger batted .410 with nine homers and 35 RBIs as a senior, earning all-state honors. He hit .433 average with 14 doubles and 24 RBIs as a junior. He set single-season records for average (.532) and stolen bases (30) as a sophomore.

His head coach was Ben McDaniel.

“He’s similar to Coach McDonnell,” says Mann of McDaniel. “He cares about you as a person off the field and knows the game.

“He demands the most out of you everyday. That’s what a team needs. He treats everybody the same — varsity, JV and freshmen.”

Devin, an only child, calls McDaniel “a second father” and says he and his parents — Bill and Diana Mann — are close friends. Bill owns Moore’s Roofing and Diana works for an asset management company.

Growing up in Columbus, Devin played early travel baseball for the Indiana Blazers. His 12-year-old summer, he was at Bartholomew County Little League as it attempted a run at the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

Mann also played travel ball for the Indiana Nitro and then the Indiana Bulls leading into his junior and senior years at Columbus North.

Dan Held was his head coach with the Bulls.

“He taught us about work ethic and getting the most out of each day,” says Mann of Held, who is now on the baseball staff at Indiana University.

Mann was a sport management major in college and is a semester shy of graduation. He says he plans to finish his degree this year or next.

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Devin Mann, a Columbus, Ind., native is playing with the Great Lakes Loons in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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A shortstop at Columbus (Ind.) North High School, Devin Mann was moved to second base at the University of Louisville and that’s where he plays much of the time in his first professional baseball season. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

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Devin Mann, who played at Columbus (Ind.) North High School and the University of Louisville, smacks a pitch as a member of the Great Lakes Loons of the Midwest League. (Great Lakes Loons)

New Albany graduate Rogers stays in control as pitcher in Yankees organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh Rogers gets paid to throw a baseball now.

But the left-handed pitcher in the New York Yankees system is still following the advice of his head coach at New Albany High School.

Rogers was advised by Chris McIntyre to focus on the mental side of the game and things he can control and not to worry about those he can’t.

“It’s stuck with me,” says Rogers, who counts McIntyre as a good friend. “It’s like wanting to move up the ladder in the Yankees organization. I had been playing well in Tampa for so long.”

But Rogers knows that is the Yankees’ call.

After going 4-3 in eight starts with a 2.22 earned run average, 51 strikeouts and eight walks in 52 2/3 innings with the High Class-A Tampa Yankees (recently renamed the Tarpons), the southpaw starter did get the call in late May of 2017 to advance to the Double-A Trenton Thunder.

Before a bone spur ended his season on June 28, Rogers went 4-2 in seven starts with a 4.62 ERA, 29 K’s and eight walks in 39 innings.

“It’s been a long off-season for me,” says Rogers, who has been working out at the Katy Hearn Gym in New Albany and resumed throwing about three weeks ago in preparation for a Jan. 12 arrival at spring camp in Tampa. “I’m definitely going early. I’m comfortable with the Yankees staff. I hope to get an invite to big league camp this year.”

As a youngster, Rogers played in the New Albany Little League. Prior to his days at New Albany High School, his team came within one win of going to the Little league World Series in Williamsport, Pa., losing in the finals of the 2007 Great Lakes Regional.

For the next three summers, he played for the Indiana Prospects elite travel ball organization.

As a New Albany High Bulldog, he went 24-2 with a 1.07 ERA and 259 strikeouts.

He had already chosen the University of Louisville over Vanderbilt University prior to his senior season, which wound up lasting only a few innings in the first game of the season.

Rogers felt a twinge in his left elbow.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” says Rogers, who wound up having Tommy John reconstructive surgery. He graduated from New Albany June 2 and enrolled in summer school at Louisville the next day. He worked out twice a day and rehabbed his arm.

“It was a real grind,” says Rogers. “But it paid off. I came back sooner than we expected.”

The 6-foot-3 lefty was able to pitch for the Cardinals about a month into the 2014 season. He made 14 mound appearances (nine starts) and went 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA, 47 strikeouts and 12 walks in 52 innings.

Rogers then spent the first of two straight summers with the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod League.

“That’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball,” says Rogers, who was a combined 4-1 in nine starts with a 3.60 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 18 walks in 45 1/3 innings in 2014 and 2015. “The best players in college baseball are all in that league.”

Rogers earned second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors and his second all-Louisville Regional selection in 2015, going 8-1 in 16 starts with a 3.36 ERA, 82 strikeouts and 25 walks in 93 2/3 innings.

At the Louisville, Rogers played for head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

Rogers credits McDonnell for his leadership and getting him ready for the challenge of pro baseball.

“It’s impressive the way he lives his life,” says Rogers of McDonnell. “He takes advantage of every single minute to make people better.

“When you go to the University of Louisville, you know what you’re getting into. It’s not an easy journey. You’ve got to earn that playing time.

“You also learn how to eat right, work out right and sleep right. These are things that have gone a long way into helping me with my career to this point.”

Rogers retired many a high school hitter with his breaking ball. In college, Williams convinced him that was not the way to go at higher levels.

“He’s the No. 1 reason I chose the University of Louisville,” says Rogers of Williams. “Hitters were at such a disadvantage when I threw a curve in high school. I thought that would carry over to college or professional baseball. (Williams taught me) a well-located fastball is the best pitch in baseball. Coach Williams really taught me how to pitch.”

Being draft-eligible after his sophomore season, the lefty was selected in the 11th round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Yankees and signed with area scout Mike Gibbons.

Rogers split the 2015 season with the short-season Staten Island Yankees and Low Class-A Charlestown (S.C.) RiverDogs then 2016 with Charleston and Tampa. In those first two pro seasons, he went 14-6 in 29 appearances (24 starts) with a 2.71 ERA, 131 strikeouts and 25 walks in 139 2/3 innings.

Josh (23) is he oldest child in a family of five. Bobby and Eldora also have Haley (21) and Chase (12). The family was able to watch Josh pitch in-person plenty when he was at Louisville and they have gotten to see him a few times in each of his pro seasons.

Rogers is 38 credits shy of a sport administration degree at Louisville.

“I promised my parents and Coach Mac that I will get my degree,” says Rogers. “I’ll keep chipping away at it.”

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Rogers looks to command his pitch selection of fastball (thrown as a four- or two-seamer or cutter), slider and change-up. When he was moved up to Double-A, he was convinced to throw the fastball even more frequently — maybe 65 percent of the time.

Rogers spent many an hour in the bullpen with Tampa pitching coach Tim Norton learning to develop the change-up and making mechanical delivery tweaks. The two also battled it out on the golf course.

“It’s a pretty cool relationship,” says Rogers. “You don’t call them ‘Coach’ in pro ball, just their name.”

While the Yankees certainly take an interest in the development of a player, he knows the responsibility ultimately lies with that player.

“It’s your career,” says Rogers. “If you’re not ready and slacking, it’s up to you.

“The Yankees do a lot of job of giving people equal opportunity. It just may take longer to someone that is a higher draft pick that they’ve given more money to.

If you control what you can control and focus on helping your team win every time out, the chips will fall where they’re supposed to.”

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Josh Rogers, a 2013 New Albany High School graduate who pitched two seasons at the University of Louisville and was drafted in 2015 by the New York Yankees, delivers a pitch in 2017 for the Double-A Trenton Thunder. (Trenton Thunder Photo)

 

 

Right-hander Ruxer doing his baseball homework

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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.

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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)

 

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

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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.

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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)

 

Batesville’s brand of baseball based on ‘havoc’ thanks to Tucker

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a new baseball tradition at Batesville High School. Call it the Running of the Bulldogs.

Releasing its brand of “havoc,” Batesville has turned up the heat on opponents with its baserunning and bunting.

It’s a style choice made by Justin Tucker (BHS Class of 2007) when he took over as head coach of his alma mater for the 2016 season. He learned it from John Rigney when both were assistants to Scott Holdsworth at Greensburg High School.

Rigney, who took Batesville to a state runner-up finish in 2002, adopted the go-go model as a freshmen coach under Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Gary O’Neal at Madison.

“We are very aggressive,” says Tucker, who watched his 2017 squad swipe 116 bases while going 21-10 and making it to the championship game of the IHSAA Class 3A South Dearborn Sectional. “Our guys will go first-to-third and force balks. It’s just a fun way to play.”

Tucker’s collection of grinders started the 2017 campaign at 10-8 then went on a run.

“When you’re feeling good, the ball just bounces your way,” says Tucker, who watched his club make the dirt fly on the skinned infield at Batesville’s Liberty Park.

In the sectional final against Lawrenceburg, the Bulldogs led 6-5 going in the seventh inning thanks to a three-run home run in the fifth by sophomore Quinn Werner before losing 7-6.

Senior Zach Britton — a University of Louisville commit and a left-handed slugger who had teammates playing outside the fence to protect nearby houses whenever the team looking batting practice at Liberty Park — was on base when the game ended.

Britton has been reunited with former Batesville teammate Bryan Hoeing at the U of L, while playing for Cardinals head coach Dan McDonnell, a speaker at the 2017 IHSBCA State Clinic in Indianapolis.

“They are probably pitching and catching to one another,” says Tucker. “I’m glad our kids are being put in (McDonnell’s) hands.”

As a center fielder in 2017, Werner made 79 putouts (one short of the single-season state record set by Goshen’s Rick Mirer in 1989). Werner had a shot to surpass the career mark of 191 established by John Glenn’s Lonnie Shetler (2007-10).

Batesville had come back to best South Dearborn 17-12 in the 2017 sectional semifinals. The Knights plated 11 runs in the fourth inning while the Bulldogs tallied seven in the top of the seventh. They finished the game with 12 stolen bases.

“The guys have some grit,” says Tucker.

In his first season in charge at Batesville, Tucker had to fill seven starting positions yet the Bulldogs went 10-10 and bowed 7-3 to Greensburg in the 3A Madison Sectional championship game. Batesville knocked off state-ranked Franklin County in the first round.

Tucker was a primarily a center fielder when he played for Ozzie Smith and Gary Jewell at Batesville. He went on to Indiana University Purdue University-Columbus. While there, he spent two seasons as freshmen baseball coach at Greensburg. When he graduated, he became a teacher and junior varsity coach for the Pirates.

Greensburg made it to the championship game of the Jasper Semistate in 2012, losing 10-9 to Brebeuf Jesuit.

As a Batesville sophomore, Tucker had experienced semistate play as the Bulldogs went to the final at Jasper and lost 3-0 to Evansville Memorial.

Batesville won the Connersville Sectional and beat North Harrison in the one-game regional to make it to the semistate.

Years later, Tucker came back to Batesville when an opening for associate principal and head baseball coach opened at the same time.

He enjoys the release that coaching baseball gives him.

“As an assistant principal you deal with a lot of discipline,” says Tucker. “(Coaching is) truly therapeutic. Some people jog. Some people read a book. That’s what I truly enjoy doing.”

Baseball allows him to have a positive impact and build relationships with students.

Tucker had a unique chance to build relationships with top seniors from all over when he was named as a South coach for the 2017 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.

“It was just awesome to be around all those players and coaches,” says Tucker. “I’m following (the careers of) all those guys I coached now.”

Batesville plays in the eight-team Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference (along with Connersville, East Central, Franklin County, Greensburg, Lawrenceburg, Rushville and South Dearborn). Starting with 2018, the EIAC will play a piggyback type of schedule with home-and-home conference games against the same opponent on Mondays and Thursdays.

The 2017 season brought with it the introduction of the IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

Tucker says he favors the rule because it adds strategy and planning elements for he and his coaching staff, which includes Batesville graduates Alex Meer, Eric Feller, Ian Manlove and Jason Meyer and Franklin County alum Brian Roleson.

At tournament time, the rule really came into play, especially when rain forced the Bulldogs to play once Saturday and twice Monday at the sectional.

“I had a senior I would have loved to pitch in the sectional championship,” says Tucker. “How can you make it even better than it is right now is the real question?”

The Bulldogs fielded a varsity, JV and freshmen team in 2017 and had nearly 50 players try out for the program. Feeder programs include Batestville Babe Ruth League and a travel organization called the Batesville Bats.

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Justin Tucker, a 2007 Batesville High School graduate, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater. In 2017, he was on the South coaching staff for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Muncie.

 

Sakosits emphasizes aggressiveness at Earlham

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

They are thinking big at a little school in Richmond.

Head baseball coach Steve Sakosits came to Earlham College (enrollment around 1,200) from the world of NCAA Division I baseball and he looks to bring that experience with his Division III squad.

“We want to be Division I-esque,” says Sakosits, a 2006 Xavier University graduate who is in his seventh season at Earlham. “I’m trying to recruit Division I type guys.”

Taking things he learned from all three of his college head coaches — John Morey, Dan Simonds and Scott Googins — Sakosits has formed his own philosophy while adopting it to D-III where scholarship money is given based on academics and need.

“It’s fit and finance,” says Sakosits, who notes that D-I baseball has to split up 11.7 baseball scholarships and that Earlham recruits can often get more money when all factors are considered. “We want to recruit students first who have the ability to work hard in the classroom and on the baseball field.”

Pushing the pace in 2017, the Quakers (22-12, 17-6) just clinched a third-straight berth in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament and have a chance to be regular-season champions and tournament hosts.

Four HCAC home games remain — one against Mt. St. Joseph today (May 2) then a three-game series against Hanover (one Thursday, May 4 and two Friday, May 5).

“We’re excited about that opportunity,” says Sakosits of a chance to host four-team postseason play on the turf at Randal R. Sadler Stadium. The HCAC tournament winner is an automatic qualifier for NCAA D-III regional play.

Excitement is what the Quakers bring between the white lines.

Earlham lead all of D-III baseball in stolen bases per game with 3.85 per game and 131 total swipes.

Nate Lynch (41) and Brennan Laird (28) holds down the top two individual stolen base spots while Matt Barger (20) was fourth.

“We’re aggressive in everything we do,” says Sakosits. “We want to dictate the game. We don’t let the game come to us.

“(Our pitchers are) going to give up the free base.”

Sakosits, a 6-foot-5 right-hander as a New Jersey high schooler and at XU (where he made 68 mound appearances from 2004-06), insists his hurlers go after hitters and dictate counts  and the Quakers had 198 strikeouts and 98 walks through their first 297 innings.

Sakosits and his assistant coaches — Brandon Coduto, Beau Smith, Brandon Pennington, Garrett York and Kevin McGee — even time EC players getting on and off the field in practice.

The Quakers are expected to go hard in everything they do — academically and athletically.

“Baseball’s the fun part,” says Sakosits. “It’s just about teaching them how we’re going to go hard and what that means.”

When recruiting, Sakosits looks for hard workers. But he understands that those players may have been the “big fish in a small pond” and got by more on their athletic ability than work ethic.

“Hard work beats talent everyday,” says Sakosits.

That mentality becomes a priority once the player is on the Earlham campus.

One of the other D-I head coaches that Sakosits admires in Louisville’s Dan McDonnell and one of his quotes: “If you emphasize it, you’ll be great at it.”

Earlham’s 26-man 2017 roster features 14 who have hometowns in Indiana with eight in Ohio, two in Michigan and two in Kentucky.

Lynch (Wright State) and Laird (Cincinnati) are transfers from D-I schools. Howie Smith came to EC from D-III Marietta (Ohio).

When Sakosits arrived at Earlham he started an alumni club and the school began taking donations from alums.

“They’ve bought into the vision of the program,” says Sakosits.

Randy Sadler’s generosity led to the stadium with its turf, video scoreboard and locker rooms and a move away from sharing Don McBride Stadium (built in 1936) with Richmond and Seton Catholic high schools.

The first season at Sadler (2014) brought at 21-18 record — the program’s first above .500 since 1971. The Quakers went 26-14 in 2015 and 29-14 in 2016, qualifying for the HCAC tournament for the first two times in school history (Earlham moved from the North Coast Athletic Conference to the HCAC in the 2011).

Last spring, Earlham set school records for victories, at-bats, home runs, runs scored, runs batted in, stolen bases, wins, strikeouts, and innings pitched. In addition, the Quakers led the HCAC in home runs, walks, stolen bases, slugging percentage, walks allowed, and earned run average.

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Steve Sakosits is in his seventh season as head coach at Earlham College in Richmond. The Quakers won 21, 26 and a school-record 29 games the past three seasons and were 22-12 going into play May 2. (Earlham Photo)