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Haley talks about importance of developing winners, offensive strategy

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mark Haley worked for decades on the development side of professional baseball.

He was a minor league coach or manager in the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks organizations. His job was to get players ready for the next level. If they continued to develop, they had a chance to land in the major leagues.

He was a manager at Low Class-A South Bend (Ind.) and took the Silver Hawks to the postseason in seven of his 10 seasons (2005-14).

Haley, who now runs the 1st Source Banking Performance Center at Four Winds Field and coaches the South Bend Cubs travel teams, rejects the idea that winning has to be sacrificed for development.

“I’m a firm believer after all my years, I want to develop winners,” said Haley during the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club session Tuesday, Jan. 8. “In the minors, it’s hard because everybody moves. But now, you’re finding that development is great. But develop winners, too.

“They work together.”

What is winning to Haley?

“It’s being able to execute,” said Haley. “It’s being able to get bunts down. That’s going to lead to the ultimate goal of the team because you’re winning at the plate. You’re getting your walks. You’re putting the ball in-play hard.

“We don’t read launch angles. We want bat speed with solid contact.”

Bottom line: Develop winners.

“If you’re in a tournament and you’re in the championship, I’m sorry guys, but the blood’s coming out,” said Haley. “I want to win any way I can. That’s just the way I am.

“It’s fun because we go into another mode. They see that and say, ‘I kind of like this.’”

That leads to the players paying more attention to their skills, maybe taking more cuts or ground balls in practice. They’re understand what it means to be in the right places for the cut-off or running the bases hard.

“But we still have to be socially correct,” said Haley. “There’s a right way to do it. You have to respect your opponent. I’m going to take you out, but I respect the fact that you’re there and competing.

“Watching kids and working with kids, success is so important. We’ve got to figure out ways to make them successful. We teach them they have to earn that and pay the price. Success cannot come too easy. They have to work for it and get rewarded.”

Haley talked about coaching the bases and broke down several situations. He said he spent 45 minutes before each game going over scouting reports and opponent tendencies.

“Nobody talks about it, but coaching third base is a game-winning situation most of the time,” said Haley. “It’s all the little things that a good third base coach does that you don’t even know about.”

It’s important to be able to read the angles on fly balls and realize when you have the advantage and when you don’t.

“The third base coach sets the tone of your offense,” said Haley. “From when he starts from the dugout to third base, I see what kind of team he has by how he handles himself.”

When Haley worked for the White Sox, they insisted that all third base coaches hustle to their position.

“The minute you get to home plate, you run all the way to front of the box,” said Haley. “You’re not going to walk to third base.”

As to location while coaching and giving the sign, Haley said he prefers to be to the right of the pitcher so he is closer to the hitter and can connect with his baserunners.

Body language is also key. Haley doesn’t want to see a third base coach with his arms folded over his chest.

“In the big leagues, they’re the Energizer Bunny. ‘Come on, let’s go!’ They’re always communicating,” said Haley.

After the sign is given, the coach moves the back of the box or beyond to keep from getting smoked by a line drive.

“When giving signs, keep it as simple as possible,” said Haley. “But you do have guys who are masters as picking. I’ll pick up your signs real quick.

“When you do your signs, you have to do at least eight and use both hands and both sides of the body. Do you have to practice in the mirror? Yes.”

Reading where the shortstop and second basemen are with a runner at second base is also the responsibility of the third base coach. He gives verbal signs to the runner to let him know if they can add to their lead or they should be aware of a pick-off throw.

As a third base coach, Haley expects his runner’s to be going all-out and he will tell them when to stop or go. If they don’t go as fast as he expects, they put pressure on him.

With a runner on first base, the responsibility of the first base coach is to tell the runner the number of outs, position of the outfielders, time the pitcher’s delivery to the plate (often with a stop watch).

“Both the third base and first base coaches need to know where the outfielders are,” said Haley. “Because you have to read balls off the bat.”

Haley said a time of 1.2 seconds or faster from the pitcher to the catcher is quick. If it’s 1.5 or slower, it’s a good time to run.

Base coaches can read an outfielder’s throw. If his release is high, it’s likely the throw will go high and miss the cut-off man.

“It’s so important for outfielders — even if they can’t throw — to keep the head high and the ball low because it freezes everybody (on the bases),” said Haley. “You start launching and they’re running.”

And just because the opposing catcher shows a cannon throwing the ball to second base between innings doesn’t mean he can do the same with a batter swinging through the zone interrupting his timing.

“Don’t let the scare you,” said Haley. “Sometimes that’s all show.”

Haley also covered topics like conserving outs, understanding your lineup, scouting your opponent, understanding the opposing manager, controlling an inning and relaying signs.

“You’ve got 27 outs,” said Haley. “Make them count. Don’t give freebies.”

Generally speaking, Haley has to think he has a 75 percent chance of executing to put on a play.

It also helps to read the situation when it comes to bunting.

“If I’ve got a third baseman that struggles, I’m going to wear him out,” says Haley.

Haley really likes to scout the opponent.

“Watch everything that they do,” said Haley. “Watch them play catch and see who has the strong arms out there.”

Opposing managers are creatures of habit.

Haley knew that Ryne Sandberg, when he was managing in the Midwest League, was predictable in many of his moves be it bunt, hit-and-run, pick-off and more.

“Every time he did something and it worked when that situation came around again, he’s going to do it again,” said Haley. “I tell the kids, ‘Watch the game. Didn’t you see it in the second inning, it was the same thing?’ Watch the game. They’ll tip off a lot of things.”

Haley knows his lineup and when he can push things. When he had burner Ender Inciarte with the Silver Hawks in 2010-12, he often batted him in the No. 9 hole and used his speed to put pressure on the opponent.

“I like aggressive teams,” said Haley. “I like to push. You’ll see teams that can’t handle that.”

Controlling the pace of an inning is a Haley speciality.

“The reason they’re having time clocks is because of guys like me,” said Haley. “I can slow the game down unbelievably. ‘How are you 15?’ My bullpen’s not ready yet, so I have to slow this inning down.”

Haley notes that many catchers will drop their fingers when giving signs. If you pick up on that, you can pass that along to your teammates.

“I tell my catcher to change their signs so (the opponent) can’t pick it up,” said Haley.

The South Bend Cubs Foundation is looking to help the needs of the community through baseball. There are various phases: Academy, Cubbies Coaches Club, Prep League (middle-schoolers) and Travel program (high schoolers and possibly college).

“We want to give every kid the opportunity to play even if they may not be able to afford it,” said Haley.

Haley said the ultimate vision of the foundation is to get into all South Bend elementary schools and have two teachers that understand baseball run the program with assistance from volunteers, including area high school and youth coaches .

It’s getting started with Muessel Elementary and Dickinson Fine Arts Academy.

To learn more about the Cubbies Coaches Club, which meets monthly during the winter months, call (574) 404-3636 or email performancecenter@southbendcubs.com.

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Mark Haley managed the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks from 2005-14. Here he hits a fungo before a 2012 game in Lake County. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Mark Haley leads the 1st Source Banking Performance Center and the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs Foundation. He spoke to the Cubbies Coaches Club on winning, development and offensive strategy Jan. 8. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

 

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South Bend’s Wawrzyniak helps ballplayers navigate language, cultural gaps

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Building better communication bonds between foreign professional baseball players and the club’s that employ them.

That’s what Linda Wawrzyniak is doing for the game with her Higher Standards Academy, LLC. When she started her business it was tied to adult education.

It has morphed into a service for teams who have increased their international investments and built baseball academies in Latin American countries but did not have an effective system to integrate players in ways that include more than balls, strikes and outs.

Based in South Bend and traveling extensively in the U.S. and Latin America, the bilingual Wawrzyniak works to help athletes navigate language and culture gaps.

She teaches English classes and so much more.

Wawrzyniak and HSA had a contract with South Bend Community School Corp., when she was approached about a decade ago by the South Bend Silver Hawks, then a Low Class-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. That’s where she met South Bend field manager Mark Haley and D-backs executives. They wanted her to teach a few language classes.

“My son was in baseball at the time,” says Wawrzyniak. “I thought it would be fun. Then I realized that they didn’t have a great system to do this. Guys didn’t have a lot coming in and when they left, I didn’t know what they were going to. There were a lot of holes.”

Immersing herself into the world of baseball and figuring out how to help these young foreigners pursuing their diamond dreams, Wawrzyniak created a necessary niche.

“There’s just a ton of need,” says Wawrzyniak. “The broad brush stroke of English doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s so much that happens behind the scenes when they’re with us. It’s trust. We’re a different kind of coach, really.

“We’re not just teaching English, we’re teaching a few other things. It’s the heart. It’s the cognitive processes of learning. It’s having another person to lean on emotionally.”

Wawrzyniak notes that it takes 500 hours in a classroom setting to learn conversational English.

“We don’t have 500 hours, so we have to do it faster,” says Wawrzyniak. “You develop some systems and methodologies.”

Many contractors work in-season only. Wawrzyniak trains them and oversees their programs.

“We take a lot of time to find good people,” says Wawrzyniak.

Major League Baseball requires all its teams have an integration program in the Dominican Republic. Some hire teachers and others have someone on staff.

By investing much time and energy, Wawrzyniak has learned how to get the conversation started and how to build relationships.

“With what I do, you’ve got to know those kids,” says Wawrzyniak. “You’re not just supplying paper and pencils. You know lives. You’re directly involved with player development. I know those kids and I know the teachers that know those kids.”

Three of the many players that Wawrzyniak has a connection with and has watched blossom in professional baseball are Venezuelans Ender Inciarte and Wilson Contreras and Dominican Eloy Jimenez.

Inciarte, 26, played in South Bend in 2010 and 2011, broke into the big leagues with Arizona in 2014 and is now with the Atlanta Braves. The center fielder was recognized as one of baseball’s best defenders in 2016.

“To see him win the Gold Glove, I cried,” says Wawrzyniak. “I was overjoyed for him. I knew the struggles he went through. He struggled with losing his father. For awhile, it really slowed him down but it didn’t stop him.”

Contreras, 25, played in the Midwest League in 2013 with Kane County and made his MLB debut with the Chicago Cubs in 2016. A versatile player, he has played most of his pro games as a catcher. He played in Game 7 when the team finally snapped its 108-year world championship drought.

“He just learned to temper himself,” says Wawrzyniak. “He’s a neat person. You watch these players figure out who they are. You see them mature. He learned to make the most of who he was.”

Jimenez, 20, is considered the top prospect in the Cubs system by Baseball America. The outfielder played in South Bend in 2016 and is now at High Class-A Myrtle Beach.

“He’s just a naturally joyful person who loves to play,” says Wawrzyniak, who has faced the rising star in ping pong and basketball. “That’s neat. You don’t see that very often.

“He’s paying attention to every aspect of his career.”

When the Cubs started expanding into the Dominican Republic a few years ago, they sought out Wawrzyniak to help them smooth the transition.

“By that time, I was already working in the D.R. and the U.S.,” says Wawrzyniak. “I already had that international experience and understood what that required.”

She understands that culture is an all-encompassing concept.

“Let’s break that down,” says Wawrzyniak. “Culture is defined as societal norms. But because America is a melting pot, we don’t have one culture. Navigating that is one thing. There’s also gender cultures and age cultures.

“Culture’s a lot of things. Until you’ve had to teach it, you don’t really realize how big that is.”

College-age people today have a different verbiage and values from those of 30 years ago.

“It’s basically a difference in generations,” says Wawrzyniak. “Slang in the United States changes every five years. The reason it changes is that it’s driven by pop media.”

A typical baseball clubhouse is full of multiple generations. The references that a staffer in his 50’s makes may not connect with a player of 20.

“You might have coach who grew up with The Terminator and this new generation who has never seen The Terminator, and the coach says “I’ll be back!” and the Latin goes are going “What?” The Korean guys are going “Huh?” It doesn’t carry.

“If you haven’t integrated social media and pop media into what you’re doing, you’re behind the times. You have to be able to help kids understand those things.”

Wawrzyniak, featured recently on MLB.com, did her job well enough to receive a big thank you from the Cubs — a World Series ring.

“The Cubs are an amazing organization — world class,” says Wawrzyniak. “They didn’t have to give me a ring. But they did because I think they saw the value in working with all these Latin players, which is such a huge percentage of their minor league system.

“Huge progress was made. They saw that and acknowledged that.”

In the Cubs organization, South Bend represents the first full-season team for its minor leaguers. They play 140 regular-season contests compared with about half that at Eugene, Ore., in the short-season Northwest League.

“It’s hard,” says Wawrzyniak. “It’s more games than they’re used to playing. There’s a little more traveling than before. It’s a higher level of competition.”

It’s also “not their first rodeo.”

By the time they come to South Bend, they’ve usually already been in the U.S. three or four times. First there’s a month in the fall instructional league. They go home and then come back for spring training or extended spring training. They return home and then come back the next year for another spring training or extended spring training session before heading to Eugene.

While the Cubs have a nutritionist and many meals are provided, players usually are responsible for one meal a day and they crave foods from back home. Many grocery stores carry Latin American brands like Goya and there’s some chains that are attractive.

“They love Chipotle,” says Wawrzyniak. “That’s as close to home as they can get.”

Of course, it all comes down to the game.

“I’ve learned more baseball than I ever thought I would know,” says Wawrzyniak. “I now see the game within the game. I ask questions of coaches all the time. We build that into our programs.

“It’s not like what you learn in the first year of high school Spanish — Donde Esta La Biblioteca? (where’s the library?). They don’t want to know that. We have to give them words that make sense in their environment. We create materials that correspond to that.”

Wawrzyniak has made it a point to know what it feels like to throw a pitch, swing a bat, make a slide. She watches baseball on TV each night and breaks it down. She has devoured history and statistics.

“It’s not something you can do without knowing,” says Wawrzyniak. “I’ve spent a lot of my time just learning. You’ve got to know all of it. If you want to be effective, you have to. Any field you’re in, you have to know it.”

HSA teaches players how to interact with reporters. Normal conversation-starting questions revolve around who, what, when, where, how and why. But many times it comes across as very open-ended and sets the player up for failure.

“Speaking to the media, to me, is one of the hardest things and it’s not because they don’t have the words,” says Wawrzyniak. “It often comes down to how the question is formulated. There are a variety of ways reporters ask questions and they’re not always the same. One is ‘tell me about …’ That’s so vague.

“Most men don’t like opened-ended questions. (It’s the difference between) ‘tell me about what you envision for Mother’s Day vs. ‘what do you think we should do for Mother’s Day?’ Most guys struggle with that, regardless of their nationality. It’s kind of a sneak attack on these guys because they don’t really know what you want.

“It’s better, when you’re dealing with an international player, to be more specific.”

Wawrzyniak’s advice: The reporter should know what they want from the interviewee when they pose the question.

It’s all about communication and making a connection.

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Linda Wawrzyniak is helping the baseball community integrate foreign players with her Higher Standards Academy, LLC. The Chicago Cubs recently said thank you with a World Series ring.