Tag Archives: Development

Indiana Black Caps enter travel baseball world

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a new travel baseball organization in northern Indiana.

The Indiana Black Caps was officially established July 7, 2019 and expects to field 11U, 12U and 13U teams for the 2020 season.

Jesse Zepeda, who played for coach Steve Stutsman on the 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state champions at Elkhart Central High School then for coach Seth Zartman at Bethel College (now Bethel University), has been with the Indiana Chargers travel organization and wants to bring that kind of focus on development and investment in players.

“We wanted something similar and thus the Black Caps came into motion,” says Zepeda. “We share the same values as the Chargers did and will continue to do so.

“My philosophy is simple: I hope to build a program that is known for tradition and will help develop the kids in to the best version of themselves on and off the field.”

Zepeda considers Chargers founder Joel Mishler and former Chargers assistant coach Wes Bogan among his mentors.

“I’ve only known Joel for about a year and half,” says Zepeda of Mishler. “The man has a great baseball mind and he has taught me a lot about the game in a short period of time of knowing him — things I wish I knew when I was a player.

“I helped him run Charger practices, camps, showcases and tryouts the past year.

“I look to him for advice and tips for coaching. He almost always will have a response to it.”

Zepeda credits Bogan for showing him how to manage the game.

“I learned a lot from him and still continuing to learn,” says Zepeda of Bogan. He has been a big contributor in my young coaching career.”

“I learned so much from the coaches I’ve had throughout the years. One thing that specifically comes to mind was, ‘Don’t think, just have fun’ that one coach told the team.

“This stuck through the hardships and struggles throughout my career.”

Zepeda and Bogan will lead the Black Caps along with Derek Coy and Brant Mast.

The organization plans to do off-season training at Elkhart Sports Center will play and practice around the Elkhart/Goshen area.

Zepeda says the Black Caps will likely play in USSSA (United States Specialty Sports Association), Game Day USA, BPA (Baseball Players Association) and Bullpen tournaments around Indiana. There will be approximately eight tournaments from mid-April to mid-July with built-in development weekends.

“In those weekends, we will solely-focus on the players’ development and play one game or a doubleheader against a team,” says Zepeda. “This gives us time to really focus on what we need to improve on.”

Why the Black Caps?

“Coming up with a name was probably one of the hardest parts for us. We kicked around many different names over the course of a couple weeks and the Black Caps just resonated with us,” says Zepeda. “We wanted to try and come up with something unique and that people would remember.”

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Jesse Zepeda, a graduate of Elkhart Central High School and Bethel College, has helped start a new travel baseball organization — the Indiana Black Caps. (Bethel College Photo)

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Indiana’s Mercer talks about offensive progression

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer spoke at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in Indianapolis for the first time as head coach at Indiana University.

His presentation was “An 8-Week Offensive Progression.”

Mercer, a Franklin (Ind.) Community High School graduate, addressed the group a few times when he was coaching at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

“I was raised by many of the people in this room,” said Mercer. “We are in essence as young people as we grow, we are the product of our environment. We truly are. I’m the product of this environment.”

The coach emphasizes individual development at IU and does not attack anything without a plan.

“I’m a firm believer in systems and processes,” said Mercer. “When we got to Wright State we implemented a system on everything.

“From an offensive standpoint, there has to be an identity in the way we develop and coach our players.”

Mercer was proud to announce that 10 of the 14 everyday position players at Wright State the past three seasons are either in professional baseball or will be at the end of the coming season.

In his system, baseline testing is done at the beginning.

“I let a guy show me what he can do,” said Mercer. “We start start at the most basic concepts. We don’t want to leave guys behind.”

Mercer called The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle the “most important book I’ve ever read.”

One of the concepts in the book: Whatever you’re practicing, chunk it up into the smallest, possible units.

“We’re going chunk it, repeat it and understand what we’re learning,” said Mercer. “We’re going chunk it and repeat it over and over.

“We need to chunk it and blend it and take it into the next phase very slowly.”

In Week 1, Mercer introduces drills for players to feel tempo, pace and sequence of their swing.

“I want to work up from the ground,” said Mercer. “I want the legs to work first, the hands to work second and the lower half to turn the barrel (of the bat).

“I don’t want the hands to pull the barrel across the body. I don’t want that disconnection.”

The base stealing system will be implemented in Week 1.

“We’ll be very uptempo, very aggressive,” says Mercer.

IU volunteer coach Casey Dykes comes from Virginia Military Institute, a program that was among the nation’s leaders in stolen bases (The Keydets swiped 95 in 117 attempts in 2018).

“We will run a lot of bases,” said Mercer. “From the very beginning, we don’t necessarily do conditioning, we do base running.

“If you want to run bases, you’ve got to run bases. If you want to run fast, you’ve got to sprint.”

Mercer wants his hitters to have a feel for the entire strike zone, including depth and width. To do this, they need to have constant feedback. This is done in Week 2 by using numbered plates (going from 1-6).

Movement and flexibility assessments are done.

“If guys are rigid in their hips, it’s going to be difficult for those guys to drive the ball the other way,” said Mercer. “It’s the way God made them. We have to work that into their approaches.”

Mercer said it is important for players to begin seeing fastballs of 90 mph off the machine in Week 2. He doesn’t want the first time they see them be at game time.

“The machine punishes guys who are long and steep,” said Mercer. “I’m not a big believer in abusing guys. I don’t want to hurt their ego. I don’t want to hurt their feelings. I want them to punish the machine unless they’re doing something really wrong and the machine gets them.

“Find a velocity that works for you.”

Week 3 brings the team offense.

“It’s really important how we handle a stolen base during an at-bat if we’re going to be a team that steals bases,” said Mercer. “If you get a good jump and your batter is swinging every time you get a 1-0 count off a breaking ball, you’ve got a problem.

“We’re one offensive unit. We have to work together as such. Are identity has to come together.”

Mercer wants his players to know what to do in given situations and how to adjust if there is a chance in game plan.

Game approaches are emphasized in Week 4.

It’s all about getting an advantage on the man delivering the baseball.

“If Plan B was as good as Plan A, it would be Plan A. Every pitcher has a Plan A, even if it’s no good,” said Mercer. “Our job (as the offense) is to put together an approach and a system as a offensive unit that’s a virus that attacks  that guy and gets him off Plan A and on to Plan B. Nobody has Plan C.”

Mercer said if his team wants to put up a “crooked number” — two our more runs in an inning, it takes five quality at-bats in a row unless there is a two-run home run in the mix.

In Mercer’s system, ways to beat a pitcher include elevating the pitch count and “beat his brains in.”

“We’re going to hunt pitches early and knock him out in the first couple of innings,” said Mercer.

How about timing pitches?

“I always want to be on fastball timing and adjust down to breaking ball,” said Mercer. “Know the height of the pitch you’re going to face. Is it going to be a 12-to-6 curveball? We have to do our scouting reports and do our due diligence.

“If I’m on fastball timing, it has to cross the middle 8 to 10 inches of the plate. It’s a pitch I think I can drive (right on right or left on left). I’m going to chase the inside bottom of the ball with my eyes. I’m not going to change my swing.”

Mercer said repetition is the key in recognizing and hitting breaking balls. This can be done off the machines or live.

Running a program based on development, Mercer has always gone with weeks of individual work first then adds the team element in his time as a head coach.

In the progression, team practice begins in Week 5.

“We’re going to have a defensive emphasis,” said Mercer. “As good as you want to be offensively, it comes and it goes. If we can’t play defensively, we’re going to lose anyway.”

Mercer will begin increasing the degree of difficulty with pitch distances, speeds and locations.

“The hardest part for young hitters is they don’t have a sense of timing,” said Mercer. “They don’t know when to start. They don’t know how to be malleable in that regard.”

Mercer said knowing how to take batting practice is incredibly important. There is drill work followed by four or five rounds in the cage.

“We have to ramp up to be able to compete everyday,” said Mercer. “We structure it everyday so they get the same routine.”

Full-game setting with scouting reports and live scrimmages come in Week 6 of the progression.

Coach-pitch scrimmages help address weaknesses.

“All teams struggle with first and second and less than two outs,” said Mercer. “We’re going to get used to it.”

Wright State (3.12) was the No. 1 offense in the country scoring in the first three innings in 2018. The Raiders did this through buying into an approach based on a scouting report on the starting pitcher.

Tempo/rhythm drills are incorporated in Week 7.

Mercer said hitting needs to go at a quick pace.

“It’s unfair to ask a group of guys to do something they have not been explicitly prepared to do,” said Mercer. “We’re always growing and trying learn (as coaches). At the end of the day, these guys only get one career.”

In Week 8, coaches set game situations to practice weaknesses. Videotaping will reveal these things.

“It’s not about trying to show guys up, it’s about trying to get guys better,” said Mercer. “Our criticisms matter. We have to build them up.”

Mercer wants to be sure he prepares his players. So it goes back to repeating the message.

“I’m going to beat a dead horse,” said Mercer. “I’m going to be super redundant. You’re going to look at me and go, ‘would you please stop talking about that?’ I don’t care.

“My greatest fear as a coach is a guy looks at me from the batter’s box and they give me a look that tells me ‘you didn’t get me ready for this.’ That’s a terrible feeling as a coach.”

Mercer said that if his team is going to be able to consistently put up crooked numbers, hitters have to be able to hit with men on base.

“We have to be able to apply approaches and data and streamline,” said Mercer. “I’m an analytics guy. But only in the way it applies to winning baseball games. If we can’t be builders and confidence growers, we’re missing the boat in my opinion.”

Fall practice at the NCAA D-I level typically takes 12 to 13 weeks. After the eight-week progression, Mercer’s team will chunk it, repeat and learn it.

AN 8-WEEK OFFENSIVE PROGRESSION

Jeff Mercer, Indiana University

Week 1: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Video initial swings, swing measurements.

• Discuss basic movement patterns.

— Feet Crossover drill series, short bat hand load series.

• Base stealing system begins.

Week 2: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Introduce numbered plate.

— Short bat with numbered plate front toss.

• Outline specific drill work for personal swing issues.

• Introduce pitching matches.

— 78-80 mph from 52 feet, use as BP.

• Introduce small ball: bunt technique, hit/run, slash.

Week 3: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Role of team offense – handle stolen base during AB.

• Introduce 3 approaches and 2-strike approach.

• Breaking ball breakdown – off machines.

Week 4: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Game approaches – how they apply to situations and role in team offense.

• Breaking ball variances.

— Begin changing velo and variations.

• Introduce offensive signs.

Week 5: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Team practice begins.

— Early work offensive routines, team practice = defense.

• Increase difficulty as identity takes shape – machines 82-85 from 52 feet.

• How to take BP, rounds etc.

Week 6: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Live game scrimmages begin, still use coach pitch scrimmage to address weaknesses.

— Short scrimmages during week daily, long on weekends.

• Introduce scouting reports and how to use information.

Week 7: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Tempo/rhythm short drills.

— Drills focused on movement feel more than mechanical breakdown.

• Machine work variations.

– 3 plate fastballs, 2 plate breaking balls, off set machines, extended legs etc.

Week 8: Offensive Points of Emphasis

• Set game situations to practice weaknesses.

— Base stealing emphasized; start every inning with runner on base.

• RBI situations are priority; preset situations often and emphasize approach.

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Indiana University head coach Jeff Mercer talks about “An 8-Week Offensive Progression” at the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic in Indianapolis. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Jeff Mercer is entering his first season as head baseball coach at Indiana University in 2019 after achieving success at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. (Indiana University Photo)

 

 

New Indiana pitching coach Parker places premium on development

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Parker has been on the job as Indiana University baseball pitching coach for about three months.

The Fort Wayne, Ind., native, who spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons at the University of Central Florida after five campaigns at alma mater Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, has spent his time in Bloomington learning what makes each of his IU players tick and then creating an individualized program to maximize their potential.

“With (Hoosiers head) coach (Jeff) Mercer and I, it’s very individualistic development,” says Parker, who was a teammate of Mercer’s at Wright State. “It’s very much tailored toward their strengths and weaknesses. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all.”

Parker is taking the time to know his pitchers’ personalities as well as the pitches they throw.

“A lot of this fall has been self-scouting,” says Parker as IU comes near the end of a 12-week fall practice period. “You have to get to know them to be able to put together a plan for each of them.

“As a player, all you want is feel like your coaches are invested in your career. You want to make them feel like they’re leaving each day excited about getting better. Then they’re willing to come to work the next day.”

Relationships are key.

“We want to run a family program,” says Parker. “You build trust that way. That’s the name of the game when it comes to development.

“When you want to base your program off development, you have to gain the trust. You have to get to know them. You have to spend time with them.”

The team was invited after Tuesday’s practice to watch Game 1 of the World Series together.

Parker, Mercer and recruiting coordinator Dan Held have been identifying potential new Indiana players.

But they are also working to give the current ones their best chance at success.

“Recruiting is incredibly important,” says Parker. “We hope to do that at a high level. We’ve already got a great start.

“Development is kind of the second pillar.”

Looking at the fall roster, pitchers who saw the most playing time with the Hoosiers during the 2018 season are Pauly Milto (79 2/3 innings), Cameron Beauchamp (52 1/3), Cal Krueger (44 2/3), Andrew Saalfrank (35 2/3), Tommy Sommer (29 1/3) and Connor Manous (24).

Senior Milto (Roncalli High School graduate), junior Krueger (Jasper) and sophomore Manous (Munster) are right-handers. Juniors Beauchamp (Peru) and Saalfrank (Heritage) and sophomore Sommer (Carmel) are lefties.

Milto and Beauchamp were primarily used as starters last spring while Beauchamp, Saalfrank, Sommer and Manous were mostly relievers. All of Krueger’s 27 came out of the bullpen.

Born in Fort Wayne to Brent and Ranelle Parker and the older brother of eventual big league pitcher Jarrod Parker, Justin played Wildcat Baseball and at Elmhurst Little League as well as for a local travel team.

Parker was with the Indiana Bulls at 17 and 18. Among his teammates were future big league pitchers Lance Lynn, Tommy Hunter and Josh Lindblom.

In four seasons at Wayne High School, Parker was a right-handed pitcher and shortstop for Generals head coach Tim Gaskill.

Parker picked up on Gaskill’s emphasis on work ethic and putting in the reps.

“Baseball is such a game of repetition,” says Parker. “Confidence is hard to come by without success unless you’re willing to prepare.

“(Gaskill) used to talk about getting your confidence from the work you’ve put in. You trust that work is greater than the opponent. If you’re willing to work at that level, you ought to be confident regardless of your success.”

Parker was selected in the 43rd round of the 2005 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins as a right-handed pitcher at Wayne.

He had been an IHSAA Class 3A all-stater, hitting .498 with six home runs and 22 stolen bases as a Wayne senior, but opted to go to college.

Playing at Wright State for Raiders head coach Rob Cooper, Parker was a two-time all-Horizon League honoree (2007 at designated hitter, 2008 at shortstop) and was drafted again in 2008 in the sixth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks as a shortstop.

Parker played at Yakima, Wash., in 2008. He logged 91 games for the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks in 2009 and was with the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2010 and Minnesota Twins system in 2011.

When his playing career was complete, he went back to Wright State to finish his Organizational Leadership degree and was offered a spot on the coaching staff. He worked with head coaches Cooper then Greg Lovelady. Parker followed Lovelady to Central Florida.

“(Lovelady) is one of the most down-to-earth, easy-to-play-for players’ coaches,” says Parker. “Guys just feel comfortable playing for him.

“Baseball is a hard game to play. Sometimes — as coaches — we can forget that. We (as coaches) haven’t played in a long time.

“Coach Lovelady was good at getting guys to play free and easy. There was no tension or pressure from the coaching staff.

“We have to be relatable. We have to be identifiable. We have to have patience. Those are all things I’ve taken from him.”

What are Parker’s strengths as a coach?

“Understanding the game,” says Parker. “I’ve seen it at a high level from both sides. I’m more patient as a pitching coach because I’ve been at a higher level as a position player. I think I can see things in pitchers from the eyes of a hitter.

“I’ll always tell guys the truth. I’ll always hold them accountable. I’m very detailed and very unassuming. I’m very thorough with an individualized program. Those things have helped the guys I’ve worked with have successful careers.”

Parker, 31, has coached 12 MLB draft selections, including five in the first 10 rounds. He sent nine arms to the pro ranks in just two seasons at UCF.

Justin and Angela Parker will celebrate four years of marriage in November.

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Justin Parker is the pitching coach at Indiana University. The 2019 season will be his first with the Hoosiers. (Indiana University Photo)BLOOMINGTON, IN - 2018.08.23 - Headshot

New Indiana University pitching coach Justin Parker shows his players how to do things during a fall practice. (Indiana University Photo)

 

Individual development key as Mercer builds Indiana Hoosiers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer was once in their shoes.

That’s why he takes the approach he does as a head coach in college baseball.

Mercer, who was hired last summer to run the program at Indiana University, wants to give his players their best chance to showcase what they can do.

With that in mind, Mercer and his staff (Dan Held, Justin Parker, Casey Dykes, Scott Rolen and Denton Sagerman) design their fall practice schedule with individual work first before intrasquad and exhibition games.

“Development has always been the core foundational piece of our coaching philosophy,” says Mercer, who came to the Hoosiers after successful two-season run as head coach at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. “You really need to take the time to coach the players. We want to make sure we put guys in position to maximize their strengths.

“You only get to find those strengths through building the relationships and focusing on the individual development of the players.”

Rolen, director of player development, brings his expertise from 17 Major League Baseball seasons and helped the staff lay out the whole 12-week fall plan. Former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and manager Mike Matheny was consulted on coaching and catching. New York Yankees infield coordinator Miguel Cairo was asked for his guidance.

Talking with players, coaches get to see what the goals and the prism through which they view life and baseball.

“It helps a ton to know where they’re coming from when you’re trying to coach them,” says Mercer.

This is not a new concept with Mercer, who played NCAA Division I baseball at the University of Dayton and Wright State before beginning his coaching career.

“We’ve always done individuals first,” says Mercer, 33. “A lot of programs will do the team portion first. That’s their prerogative. I understand that.

“For us, if I look at it from a young man’s perspective. I want to come in and settle in. I want to get in the weight room, get my body right. I want to learn what your expectations of me are as a player.”

The athletes want to know what is expected of them from mechanical, workload and style/brand of baseball standpoints.

“All of those take a lot of time for a player to understand,” says Mercer. “The player will do whatever the expectation is. They always rise to the occasion.

“So if you take five or six weeks and you give them time and structure and coach them like crazy.”

“If I’m a young man, I want to be at my best when I’m competing and showcasing myself in the fall and earning an opportunity to play in the spring.”

By putting the individual work first in the fall, players can figure out where their classes is and make the necessary physical and mechanical adjustments.

Mercer says fear of failure is taken away through this approach.

“Fear of failure is what holds back the most successful people,” says Mercer. “If I remove the fear of failure, I can just go grow and compete.

“All the lessons we’ve been taught can be applied much more readily into the game.

“At the end of the day, these players have one career. It’s our job to help them maximize their opportunity to play this game.”

Mercer says that’s what he wants for his son if he grows up to play college baseball. Jeff and Stephanie Mercer welcome Grady into the world in June.

What brand of baseball will the Hoosiers play in 2019?

“This team is more offensive and can just flat drive the baseball as opposed to a small-ball style,” says Mercer. “Let’s not take a guy who may hit 15 home runs and try to convince him to bunt for 30 hits.

Let’s let him get into good counts. I want to run the bases, but let’s make sure when we have a guy at the plate who can drive the ball, we don’t take the bat out of his hands. We play in a more offensive ballpark (Bart Kaufman Field’s dimensions are 330 feet down the left field line, 400 to center and 340 to right).”

Based on the fall roster, some of the Hoosiers’ top returning hitters  are juniors Matt Gorski (.356 average, 8 home runs, 40 runs batted in for 2018) and Scotty Bradley (.326/7/19) and seniors Ryan Fineman (.309/7/37), Matt Lloyd (.275/9/41) and Logan Kaletha (.261/8/31).

Outfielder Gorski (Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate) catcher Fineman (California) and outfielder Kaletha (Michigan City) swing from the right side while infielder/catcher Bradley (New Jersey) and utility player Lloyd (Alberta, Canada) are lefties.

There’s also might in the relief core and not just in the late innings.

“We’ve got more bullpen arms,” says Mercer. “We need to make sure we really use our bullpen to accentuate our starters.

“We have mid-relief guys who are good so let’s make sure we utilize that strength.”

With Mercer being new at IU, he came in with no preconceived ideas about players.

“I don’t know how successful or unsuccessful we were,” says Mercer. “I purposely did not look at any of the stats or video from last year.

“I came in with a blank slate for everybody.”

Mercer has never appointed captains, but lets leadership reveal itself.

“Those personalities step forward on their own and you try to empower them,” says Mercer.

When he transferred from the Dayton to Wright State as a player, the coaching staff did not tell him he could not be a leader because he was the new kid on the block.

“I was very empowered to lead early in my time at Wright State and I felt comfortable in that role,” says Mercer. “A big part of my success was me getting to be myself.

“I hope the guys here feel the freedom to be whoever they want to be now and moving forward.”

Mental skills was important at Wright State where Mercer brought in Diamyn Hall as the first full-time coach in D-I baseball devoted to that side of the game. At IU, mental skills are talked about on a regular basis and Mercer leads most of the discussions.

Mercer, a Franklin Community High School graduate, grew up around the Indiana program. His father, Jeff Mercer Sr., was an assistant for the Hoosiers in 1988 and 1989 and helped found the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization.

Once the surreal idea of leading a team he cared so much about growing up wore off, Mercer began to focus on the day-to-day task.

“You have an ultimate responsibility to the young men and their families and the coaches that entrusted Indiana University to provide them a great experience,” says Mercer. “It’s an awesome responsibility, but it’s one we don’t ever take lightly.

“You can’t get caught being a fan. You’ve got go to work.”

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Jeff Mercer is the head baseball coach at Indiana University. The 2019 season will be his first with the Hoosiers. (Indiana University Photo)

 

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New Indiana University head baseball coach Jeff Mercer has been spending the time to develop individuals this fall.  (Indiana University Photo)