Blake Beemer was hired as head baseball coach at NCAA Division I Butler University in Indianapolis in June 2022. Beemer, a former first baseman at Ball State University (2010-13) and volunteer assistant at Penn State University (2014-15) and assistant coach/recruiting coordinator at both Eastern Illinois University (2016-18) and Ball State (2019-22), brings a style to his players he describes as energetic. “They’ll get energy from me,” says Beemer, 31. “They’ll get dirt honesty. And I think that’s going to help build relationships. “Guys are going to know where they stand. They’re going to know I care about them. They’re going to know who I am as a human being. Really building those relationships in that foundation will allow us to build toughness and accountability. We’ll build it with with energy will build relationships.” As an assistant coach and the recruiting coordinator at Ball State over the past four seasons, Beemer helped the Cardinals to a 123-65 record with a Mid-American Conference regular-season championship and an appearance in the MAC Tournament championship game in 2022. “I learned under one of the best in the business under (Ball State head coach) Rich Maloney,” says Beemer, who earned two degrees from BSU — a bachelor’s degree in 2012 and an Masters of Business Administration in 2014. “I’ve had a chance to see success at a high level through him. “I think I know the state pretty well. I know what it takes to win him in major baseball. And I’ve got the energy to make sure this thing gets going. “It’s a cool opportunity. I can tell you I’m very humbled to have this chance. And it’s a neat opportunity. This place can be a rock show. I mean, Butler has everything from the academic side to the location to facilities we can we can really win. Not to mention it’s a great conference (the Big East which also includes baseball-playing members Connecticut, Creighton, Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall. Villanova and Xavier). It’s a it’s a really cool opportunity.” The Bulldogs went 20-35-1 overall and 4-16-1 in the Big East in 2022. It was the last season for the retiring Dave Schrage. What does it take to win at the mid-major level? “First off you’ve got to you got to do the recruiting right.” says Beemer. “I mean you win with players and you win with people. So in recruiting we’re after land guys that that are tough. I think in college baseball, you win with toughness. “I think it takes execution. And at Ball State what we did there was we tried to get really good on the mound. And I think here we’ve got to get really good on the mound (at Butler). If you have some horses that can carry you along ways and baseball. “And so I think you’ll see an increased emphasis to help us get better on the bump and to get tougher and to execute at a high level. Baseball is the same everywhere, right? Good pitching, defense and timely hitting. If you do those three things, you’ll be alright.” With building toughness in mind, Beemer has his Bulldogs waking up at 5 a.m. for workouts. They’re doing sprint work and some other training to which they have not been exposed. “I think that there is a energy level that you have to be able to get through whether it’s strength training, speed training, conditioning or for our practice,” says Beemer. “I mean we’re having long practices that the energy has been great, but you build toughness that way. “We’re going to have games that are three and a half hours. We have to have great intent, great focus and great energy in the ninth inning the same as we do when we start the game. That day-in and day-out consistency, that’s where you build toughness.” With a national reputation at Butler, thanks in large part to the recent success of the Bulldogs basketball program, Beemer sees a expanded recruiting footprint for the private school. That means getting some players from the New York City or Washington D.C. areas. “It’s a great degree,” says Beemer. “We just came out in U.S. News and World Report as the No. 1 Midwest regional university in the country. It’s an unbelievable education and I think that speaks volumes across the country.” Beemer’s staff includes assistant coach, pitching coach Ross Learnard, assistant coach Bladen Bales and volunteer coach Dan Wilcher. Learnard pitched at Parkland College and Purdue University (he was a two-time All-American) and coached at Illinois State University and Purdue. His duties with the Boilermakers focused on pitching analytics and team operations. “(Coach Learnard) is really, really detailed and connects with our guys at a high level,” says Beemer. “He’s a great pitching mind I keep telling everybody. I think he’ll be in the SEC. He’ll be an elite pitching coach at one of the high-end jobs within the next seven years. just think I think he’s a stud. “He develops arms as well. He knows how to take care of the guys. He sees things that are really advanced level.” Bales was with Beemer at Ball State in 2022. Before that he coached at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, Neb., and managed the Nebraska City American Legion junior team to a state runner-up finish in 2017. He has also coached the Lakeshore Chinooks of the summer collegiate Northwoods League. Bales played at McCook (Neb.) Community College and Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln. “He’s a tireless worker,” says Beemer of Bales. “He has a great eye for talent and recruiting. “I’ve known Dan (Wilcher) for years. We both grew up in Dayton, Ohio. And Dan helps lead our infield play, a lot of our throwing progressions and throwing programs and helps with field maintenance (at Bulldog Park). He’s our Swiss Army knife. He does it all for us.” The first two weeks of fall practice at Butler was for individuals. Team practice began on Labor Day and will go until mid-October with intrasquad games twice a week. After that, there will be a transition back to individuals. “Everybody’s new so it’s a clean slate for everybody is what I’ve been telling our guys,” says Beemer. We get to play outside opponents (Frontier Community College on noon Oct. 1 at home and Ball State Oct. 8 in Muncie). But every day is evaluation, whether it’s an intrasquad, in the weight room or just a BP session, our guys are always being evaluated the same way. “They’re evaluating me. They’re seeing what my coaching style is. They’re seeing how I instruct things. I think that in today’s world, just understand you’re always under a microscope. You’re always being evaluated. Our guys know that. And so every day we’re trying to have competition. We want to get better every day and and move this thing forward day by day.” Since his hire, Beemer has been getting his face in front of the community. Alums are coming back for the induction of the 1998 team (that won a then-school record 33 games) into the Butler Athletic Hall of Fame Sept. 24 and the Oct. 1 exhibition and Oct. 2 golf outing. The coach has been on the phone talking to alums and boosters and spoke on the air during an Indianapolis Indians broadcast. “We’ve got a great opportunity for this place to really take off,” says Beemer. “I’m proud of it really proud of being a Butler Bulldog and I’m very fortunate for it.”
Nick Spence wants to bring pep to the steps of ballplayers in yet another part of Hendricks County, Ind. Spence, who played and coached at nearby Brownsburg (Ind.) High School and coached at neighboring Avon (Ind.) High School, was hired as head baseball coach at Tri-West High School in Lizton, Ind., in August 2021 and set about spreading his enthusiasm from the youth level on up. “I want my kids to be excited to be a part of Tri-West baseball,” says Spence. “It’s easier to get kids to play when they’re excited to come to the ballpark. “I’ve gotten nothing but positive vibes from the community.” The fall IHSAA Limited Contact Period was mostly about getting to know athletes and showing them what he plans to implement. “I’m pretty fiery and I’m energetic,” says Spence. “We want competition to come through with whatever we’re doing. Baseball is an individual game played by a team. “Baseball is a sport of failure and you have to learn from failure. Don’t let it come to your next AB or on the mound with you.” A big believer in situational baseball, Spence prefers to devote his practices to either offense or defense. “I’m not a big station guy,” says Spence, who looks forward to the first official IHSAA practice date of March 14. Spence’s coaching staff includes Bryan Engelbrecht and Adam Montgomery with the varsity, Gordie Lucas and James Miller with the JV and Mike Gongwer as youth coordinator. Engelbrecht is a longtime Tri-West coach. Montgomery and Gongwer were with Spence at Avon. He wants establish his system and spread the excitement at the youngest levels. “In the past, we’ve had a really good community-based program at Tri-West,” says Spence, who remarried on Dec. 20, 2021 and lives with wife Allison in Pittsboro, Ind. (Nick has three children from a previous marriage all attending Brownsburg schools — junior Madyson (who turns 17 next week), eighth grader Easton (14) and fifth grader Maya (10). “I’ve been working with youth directors, trying to get that back.” Younger players will be involved with Tri-West Little League and Bruin Heat. Spence says he can see that morphing into the Tri-West Baseball Club by 2023. That’s when Tri-West High is scheduled to debut a four-field baseball/softball complex. “They’re starting to push dirt,” says Spence of the project that will bring varsity and junior varsity grass fields with stadium seating, netting and more. In addition, coaches offices and a hitting tunnel will be located on the north end of the football field. “It’ll beautiful.” Spence played for Wayne Johnson and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pat O’Neil at Brownsburg High, graduating in 2001, and served as JV coach in 2006 and 2007 then helped current Bulldogs head coach Dan Roman as pitching coach in 2021. Spence counts 2009 Brownsburg graduate Tucker Barnhart as his best friend and was the best man in Barnhart’s wedding. Tucker is now a catcher with the Detroit Tigers. An Indiana Bulls assistant to Troy Drosche during the travel ball season, Spence was the pitching coach on Drosche’s Avon High staff for five years while the Orioles won sectional titles in 2016, 2017 and 2019 and a regional crown in 2019. Spence has also coached with the Bill Sampen-led Indiana Expos travel organization. Spence’s college playing career included one season on the field each pitching for Dennis Conley at Olney (Ill.) Central College, Tim Bunton at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College and Joe Decker at Indiana University Southeast. He went to spring training with the independent Evansville (Ind.) Otters then began focusing on helping others. “I always wanted to coach,” says Spence. “I always wanted to be involved.” Spence has also been an assistant to Bulldogs head coach Mike Silva (now head coach at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La.) at Clarendon (Texas) College, where Adrian Dinkel (now head coach at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.) was an assistant. He landed there after meeting Silva at a tournament in Stillwater, Okla., while working for Tom Davidson and Blake Hibler at Pastime Tournaments. Indiana Tech head coach Kip McWilliams had Spence on his staff for one season. Tri-West (enrollment around 630) is a member of the Sagamore Athletic Conference (with Crawfordsville, Danville Community (coached by Pat O’Neil), Frankfort, Lebanon, North Montgomery, Southmont and Western Boone). In 2021, the Bruins were part of the IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brebeuf Jesuit, Danville Community, Greencastle and Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter. Tri-West has won seven sectional crowns — the last in 2018. Recent Tri-West baseball players Riley Bennett (Trine University) and Kai Ross (DePauw University football) have moved on to college sports.
Ristano uses an assessment with his ND arms he calls MMA — Mechanics, Metrics, Arm.
Ristano’s priorities for mechanics:
Establish an efficient/repeatable delivery.
“If you can repeat in an efficient manner we can, hopefully, keep you healthy and put the baseball where you want it,” says Ristano. “There’s not a lot of starts and stops. Once we start, we go.”
“To me, it lacks pauses and slow deliberate actions. Speeding the delivery up is usually one of the adjustments we make before we talk about arm path, hip and shoulder separation and what we look like at foot strike.”
Ristano uses the analogy of riding a bike to talk about funneling energy to home plate.
“I want the energy to go forward,” says Ristano. “If I ride slow and deliberate, I wobble.
“If I ride that line with some pace and stay in control, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to stay on a straight line.”
• Establish dynamic balance.
• Pitch athletically.
“You don’t want to take the venom out of the snake,” says Ristano. “You’re a good athlete and you need to pitch that way.
“The worst label you can get as an amateur or a high school player is the P.O. (pitcher only). It’s the most disgusting verbiage you can have for a pitching coach.
“The game doesn’t go until (the pitcher) decides it does. You start to label yourself into the P.O. mentality, you limit your athleticism.
“We want guys to behave and move athletically and pitch accordingly.”
• Glove in front of chest at release (proper blocking technique).
“We think about breaking the body in half,” says Ristano. “The front side is the steering wheel. The back side is the accelerator.”
Ristano teaches a “shadow sequence” where the delivery is broken down into six phases:
• Low balance. It’s the beginning of the leg lift.
• Dynamic balance. It comes at the peak.
• Hand separation. When the pitcher starts to come down toward the belt buckle.
• Power position/foot strike. Achieve symmetry with the lead and throwing arms.
• Release. Tension on the back side become energy on the front side.
• Finish. This is where the blocking technique comes in. The back foot comes off the ground and front side is firmed up.
In practice, pitchers of drills were they get to each of the phases to test their strengths and weaknesses and gain a feel for their delivery.
“If you want to find where the inefficiency in the delivery is, do it backward (finish to release to power position/foot strike to hand separation to dynamic balance to low balance),” says Ristano. “It’s a little weird. We call it ‘back shaping.’
“Some of these are monotonous, but they can really help if you do it right.”
Ristano also has his hurlers do three core drills:
• 3-pump balance. The quad is lifted three times before a throw is made. It helps to hit delivery check points. Energy is collected. The front foot comes off the ground. It is done at the pace of the delivery.
• Trace/retrace. There is a toe tap, the ball is brought back to the middle and then the throw is made. A trace is made from balance to power to balance. The energy stays over the back quad at landing. At toe tap, the throwing arm should be at peak height to be one time in the release zone.
• Kershaw’s/Houston’s. Based on social media visuals, including those of Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, pitchers doing this drill get to the lowest point in their delivery and pause before they go forward. After that, the front hip goes and the sequencing toward home plate begins. The cues are: Hip, heel, toe, knee.
There’s also a drill that Ristano has called “El Duque’s” based on the delivery of former big league pitcher Orlando Hernandez.
“We throw from the ground up,” says Ristano. “We use the ground to go forward.
How quickly can I get that lower body going and force my upper body to catch up.”
Additional throwing drills (with purpose):
• One-hop drill (extension, release point and athleticism).
• Softball catch (extension and manipulation of spin).
• Maestro (Scap load, hand speed and opposite/equal).
• Weighted glove (stable front side and back side).
• Figure-8’s (hand speed).
Ristano says he has become a real believer in mechanical development via strength and share some statistics.
Reading an MLB.com article from two years ago, Ristano saw that the average height of an American male was 5-foot-10, yet 14 MLB teams didn’t have a pitcher under 6 feet tall.
The New York Yankees had one pitcher under 6-2 and boast five pitchers at least 6-7. The St. Louis Cardinals had eight pitchers 6-4 or taller. The Kansas City Royals were the only team in baseball with five pitchers 6 feet or under.
Of the top 50 pitchers of the last decade, less than five were 200 pounds or less.
“I know you can’t do much to manipulate your height,” says Ristano. “What’s my actionable data?
“I show this to my guys not because ‘mass equals gas.’ But pitchers today are men.
“As you develop, it’s important what training values you choose.
“(Strength and conditioning) is your new modality to get better. Sometimes when you’re having trouble throwing strikes, the key sometimes is not some wild mechanical adjustment. Sometimes it’s just that you lack the strength to be able to execute the highest angular velocity movements — the pitching delivery — that the world knows 100 times in a game and repeat it and repeat it and repeat it.
“You’ll be shocked once you start to hammer the strength and conditioning component, how well your body begins to align even when you’re not thinking about mechanics.
“It works for us.”
Kyle Jean is the strength and conditioning coach for the Irish.
Ristano says that developing the entire kinetic chain is taught at Notre Dame.
A native of Valley Stream, N.Y., and left-hander who pitched at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., certain workouts were not done when Ristano was in college.
“We didn’t touch the upper body,” says Ristano. “We pulled more than we pushed.
“There’s some validity to that to this day still, but we build guys who are big, tough and capable of withstanding 14, 15 or 16 starts if we’re going to pitch in Omaha (at the College World Series.”
Ristano says the earlier a pitcher can adopt this routine, the easier is will be for them.
ND pitchers use many tools including MediBall medicine balls.
Ristano makes these points regarding the value of metrics:
• Quantify what the eye sees.
• Validation of what we already know.
• Seeing some of what we don’t know.
“I know that not everybody has access to Rapsodo, TrackMan, Edgertronic,” says Ristano. “But it will become part of everybody’s development plan.”
ND’s director of baseball operations, who is now Steven Rosen, gives reports to the coaches after every outing and the data is shared with the players.
“What I look at immediately if I’m evaluating metrics is pitch movements (what are my pitches doing?),” says Ristano. This involves vertical and horizontal break plus spin efficiency rates and velocity. “You don’t just track it in singular entities. You have to track it over time to maximize the effectiveness of it.”
As for the arm, Ristano says conditioning is key and that the kinetic chain can break anywhere.
“If you don’t train your body holistically, you’re not conditioning yourself to be today’s pitcher,” says Ristano, who adds a caution. “When you get the benefit of throwing harder, you absorb the risk that angular velocities increase and you become more susceptible, unfortunately, to injury. How many guys throw 100 (mph) now vs. 10 years ago?
“You’ve got to be willing to adapt your training modalities and condition the entire body if you’re going to accept the gift of throwing harder.”
Ristano says low-intensity throwing can build feel for a pitcher.
The coach likes his hurlers to be able to spin the baseball at a low intensity and distance.
“You want to develop secondary stuff,” says Ristano. “Can I pronate from me to you (when playing catch) and still put the ball in your center of mass?”
Ristano says the bottom line is getting people out. That’s the job function.
“You need to learn how to build feel,” says Ristano. “The feel is the deal.”
There must be a time off from throwing.
“A rest period is worthless if you don’t get four weeks off at a time,” says Ristano, noting that time off from throwing doesn’t mean time off from training.
Most ND pitchers stopped throwing two weeks ago and won’t begin again until the second or third week of December. The Irish open the 2020 season on Feb. 14.
Ristano says the Irish long toss and it looks different depending on whether it’s in-season or out-of-season.
In-season, the pitcher is building to his next outing. Out-of-season, they can let it fly. Some throw 300 feet or more.
It’s a two-part phase in long toss — stretching out (aggressive with the lower half and easy with the arm).
Once at peak distance (which varies from day to day), Ristano says his pitchers spend as much time coming in as they do going out.
“I go from aggressive lower half and easy arm to aggressive lower half and aggressive arm,” says Ristano. “I keep those throws at eye level.
“That’s how you build arm strength with the long toss.”
Ristano talked about the progression of Notre Dame pitchers from preseason to season:
• Arm regeneration phase (late October to early December).
• End-of-semester throwing packet.
• Return to campus ready to hit the mound.
• Separation of roles (build up pitch count and get comfortable pitching in relief roles).
A sample week for an ND’s Friday night starter looks like this:
• Friday (pitch live with postgame flush cardio and recovery bands).
• Satruday (optional throwing with sprints, post game charts and lower body work).
• Sunday (long toss and MediBall circuit).
• Monday (short bullpen, intermediate cardio, postgame video review and total body work).
• Tuesday (drills, sprints and MediBall circuit).
• Wednesday (bullpen and intermediate cardio).
• Thursday (optional throwing).
This past fall, the first new Notre Dame head coach Link Jarrett, pitchers did not go above 50 pitches per outing. Appearances were prioritized over building up pitches and innings.
“What are we building up to?,” says Ristano. “We don’t need a guy to throw six innings in October.”
After the season, Irish pitchers receive the following:
• Full assessment of performance (see season summary).
• Clear directives on what needs to improve.
• Determination of what is best for your summer (continue pitching, rest, strengthening etc.).
Rest the arm is key for collegians and high schoolers alike.
“Be confident enough in who you are to take some time off,” says Ristano. “The bullets you fire at 15, 16, 17 years old, you don’t know the damage it potentially does until that kid’s 20 years old and he’s becoming a man.
“I’m not laying the arm injuries on the high school coaches because we are just as responsible. We bring guys back on short rest. We try to go to the College World Series. Big league baseball has its starters pitching the bullpen.
“When you’re 16, you don’t need to start Friday, pitch in relief Tuesday and start Friday again.”
Notre Dame emphasizes and charts getting ahead in the count and being efficient.
“We want to get the at-bat over in three pitches or less (A3P),” says Ristano. “We’ve tracked this for four years. We know that with a first-pitch strike, 72 percent of the time we get a positive outcome. When we executive an A3P, 75 percent of the time it results in a positive outcome.”
Ristano offers a final “M” — Mentality:
• Identity (what we want to be, how we want to be viewed).
• Culture (how we go about our business).
“How do we handle our business?,” says Ristano. “From the outside looking in, what would you take away from watching the Notre Dame pitching staff.
“We embrace each guy’s individuality. But we have to respect the standards of the group.”
Ristano says there are three parts to pitching the “Notre Dame Way.”
“We want to work fast, pitch offensively and project confidence,” says Ristano. “It’s very simple. It has nothing to do with our velocity.”
“You do not out-think hitters in the ACC,” says Ristano. “You do not out-think hitters in most of college baseball.
“What do you do? You out-execute hitters. At this level, we prioritize pitch execution over selection. You throw the pitch you want to throw. I call pitches and let our guys shake (off the sign). But, at the end of the day, the well-executed pitch that was wrong is better than the poorly-executed pitch that was correct.”
It’s about developing young men who attack their work with ferocity.
“If you’re ready to go, suffocate the opposition,” says Ristano. “Press. Press. Press.
“It keeps the defense engaged. It’s a thing of beauty when you have a guy who’s throwing strikes. It’s disgusting when you have a guy who is not.”
Ristano says he is proud of be part of the state’s baseball community.
“I get that our locker room is populated by kids from 17 different states,” says Ristano. “But, yes, we have to do a really, really good job in the state of Indiana
“(Notre Dame is) a unique place that has unique standards aside from whether or not you can play.”
Ristano encourages coaches to “be a thief.”
“Learn something from everybody,” says Ristano, who still repeats ideas he heard at his first coaches clinic from Oklahoma City University head coach Denney Crabaugh. “Be willing to share and ask questions. Ego is the enemy.
“Be confident in what you do. We’re not all right and we’re not all wrong. What we do works for us.
“If you’re not comfortable teaching it, it makes it really hard to get buy-in from your players.”
Ristano says great pitchers think:
• 9 vs. 1 mentality.
“The deck is stacked in your favor as a pitcher,” says Ristano.
• Focus on what they can control.
• Embrace pressure situations.
• One pitch at a time mentality.
• Focus on solutions over problems.
• Embrace competition and don’t use how they feel/mechanics as a crutch.
These are the conduct standards at Notre Dame:
• Best effort in everything that you do.
• Bring energy. Also be vigilant against those who suck the energy out of us (gravity vs. energy).
“We don’t want the gravity to pull us down, we want the energy to pull us up,” says Ristano. “Are you a fountain or a drain?”
• Expect the best, don’t hope for it.
• Value what you project to the world (body language).
“Have some energy,” says Ristano. “If you don’t have it, fake it. It really matters. Somebody’s always watching.”
• Take advantage of additional development opportunities.
You want to be great? Do stuff that’s pitching-related but doesn’t actually consist of the actual throwing mechanics — MediBall stuff, video review, low-intensity throwing.
• Honest/constructive dialogue between teammates (as well as players and coaches).
“Spoiler alert: Your parents don’t give you honest/construct dialogue,” says Ristano. “At the end of the day, talk your coach. He’s there for a reason.
“What do I need to do to be better. There has to be an element of trust in your circle.”
Chuck Ristano enters his 10th season as pitching coach for the University of Notre Dame baseball team in 2020. (University of Notre Dame Photo)
Chuck Ristano, the baseball pitching coach at the University of Notre Dame, takes an aggressive approach with his staff. He wants them to train and execute with ferocity. (University of Notre Dame Photo)
Chuck Ristano is entering his 10th season as baseball pitching coach at the University of Notre Dame. He is now working with new head coach Link Jarrett. (University of Notre Dame Photo)
The high-energy Sheetinger, who now lives in Greensboro, N.C., where the ABCA is headquartered, and also serves as a associate scout with the Atlanta Braves, covered coach evaluations, parents’ impact and role, contact with coaches, campus visits, resources, differences in collegiate levels, finding the right fit, making a recruiting video, camps and showcases and a timeline for freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors.
Sheetinger, who has given talks on recruiting about 2,000 times and worked baseball camps in 35 different states, says coaches are always evaluating and projecting players.
They use their past experiences and players to judge current players.
“We’ve got to use what we know to be true,” says Sheetinger. “If I see a kid who’s 6-2, 180 with a clean right-handed swing, I will remember a player who went on to be a conference player of the year. If I see 5-7, 135 with a bad swing (and short parents), I know that kid is never going to be 6-2.
“I’m looking at you through the eyes of all the players I ever coached. Mom and dad, it has nothing to do with your opinion of him as a player.”
If catchers take too long to get rid of the baseball with a very slow POP time, but can mash at the plate, they might help a college team as a first baseman.
A player with strong, accurate arm who can run might be a fit in a college outfield. But that throw must be on the money.
“When it’s time to throw something out, you’ve got to throw somebody out,” says “Coach Sheets.”
It’s also possible that movement that hurts a player in the outfielder helps him as a pitcher.
What about that big-bodied kid at shortstop for his high school?
“He can’t play short in college, but he’s got a great arm,” says Sheetinger. “Where can he play for me? Third base.”
The five baseball tools are hit for power, hit for average, defense, arm strength and running speed.
The average high school player has an exit ball velocity of 75 to 84 mph, average arm velo of 70 to 80 mph in the field, 70 to 75 mph at catcher and a 60-yard dash time of 7.0 to 7.2 seconds.
“I’m not telling your how to spend your money,” says Sheetinger. “Hitting lessons are great. Pitching lessons are great. But think about speed lessons and conditioning lessons.
“Think about going to the track at 6 o’clock in the morning and running sprints. You go, Sheets, what are you talking about? I’m not going to the track at 6 a.m. That’s why you run a 7.9. I’ll be your best friend if you just let me.”
Velocity is not the ultimate indicator for pitchers. Pitch control, secondary pitches, composure and maturity, athleticism and handling the running game are more important.
For all players, there are intangibles like attitude, leadership, energy, Baseball I.Q., confidence, clutch and the will to win.
“College coaches are watching everything,” says Sheetinger. “They don’t miss a beat. When you’re in a showcase event or you’re in a game and coaches are present and you hit a ground ball back to the pitcher, I want to see your best 90 time.
“That stuff matters. Run your best time every time.”
Sheetinger says players are evaluated on how they handle adversity and points to the example of a recruiting trip he made while at Saint Joseph’s, looking to offer a 75 percent scholarship to a pitcher.
This kid had stuff. But he also had an attitude, though the man calling balls and strikes was squeezing him and did not hesitate to let everyone in the ballpark know it.
“Bad umpires are multiplying daily,” says Sheetinger. “That ain’t going away. I’m more interested in your body language and presence.”
The pitcher enjoyed two lights-out innings then ran into adversity in the third.
He plunked the first batter, uncorked a wild pitch to send the runner to second and then gave up a duck snort and a double in the gap. A mound visit from his coach was greeted by plenty of walking around, cap removal and lack of eye contact.
“We’ve got maturity issues,” says Sheetinger.
The coach returns to the dugout and it’s duck snort, double and another hit-by-pitch.
When the coach comes back out to take the pitcher out, the youngster heaves the ball toward the sky and the coach catches when it comes down. Before the pitcher crosses the foul line, he fires his glove into the dugout.
Recruiting visit over.
On another recruiting trip, Sheetinger remembers seeing the opposite kind of behavior. A strong No. 3 hitter popped up on the infield in a key situation.
With Sheetinger’s eyes following him the whole way, the player carries his helmet and bat to the dugout, does a 30-second re-set, puts down his equipment and his back on the rail cheering before the No. 4 hitters sees his first pitch.
“That’s a great teammate,” says Sheetinger. “That’s a really good kid. Two weeks later, he gets a Division I offer. He was never going to come to play for me. But I like watching kids like that.
“It doesn’t show up on paper. But things matter.”
Sheetinger says it is easy to measure things like fastball velocity and 60-yard time. But not everything fits on a spreadsheet.
“Some things you can’t coach,” says Sheetinger. “Can you really coach someone to hustle? I can probably put fear into you to hustle. But either you hustle or you don’t.It’s like either your pants are on-fire or they’re not. It’s not up to me to light your pants on-fire. It’s who you are internally.”
These kinds of players won’t get out-worked. They need to be taken seriously.
PARENTS’ IMPACT AND ROLE
Parents can either be a huge positive or negative influence on their son’s recruitment.
What parents do could be the first impression a coach gets about the player.
“Parents, as a college coach and as a scout, I don’t think you’re sweet when you yell at umpires,” says Sheetinger. “That’s the biggest turn-off for me of anything you do.
“Nobody barks at you when you flip burgers, let him do his job. If you want to be a coach so you can bark at umpires, apply for the job. If you need to do that, go to some other team’s game so we can track it back to your kid on the field.
“I assure you I’ve asked over a hundred people in the stands at a showcase ‘who’s dad is that?’
“Please change your ways. It reflects bad on your son.”
The Blame Game is not welcome.
“If you something against your high school coach, ask yourself this question: Does he really have something against my kid or is my kid just not good enough?,” says Sheetinger. “Most coaches will play the best players because most coaches like winning.”
Coaches pick up on how parents and players talk and act toward one another.
Players are expected to be in the forefront of the recruiting process.
Sheetinger encourages players to spend two hours twice a week doing online research on their college choices. If they are decided on their major, they start with that and see how many possible schools offer it. Then the look at the performance of the baseball program through archives, rosters and statistics.
“If a school has gone 10-40 10 years in a row, guess what Year 11 is going to look like?,” says Sheetinger. “If that coach has been there 10 years and they won five his first year, 10 his second, 20 his third year, 25 the next years and the last three years they’ve won the conference championship, that dude’s building something. The coach can’t hide that.
“Do your homework.”
The young athletes should be the ones communicating with coaches through minimal calls and emails.
“Players, take ownership of this process,” says Sheetinger. “I don’t want emails from mom and dad.”
CONTACT WITH COACHES
Email is the best way to reach out/introduce yourself to a college coach.
These emails should come from an appropriate address and be “meat and potatoes” — Subject … Name … Graduation Year … Position(s) … Hometown/High School … Grades … Research … Video link (include this with every correspondence).
Players should expects emails, texts and calls from coaches and be quick to respond to them.
Sheetinger advises players to treat every program as the most important one and to be respectful of the coach’s time and efforts.
Evaluation is still happening and communication is the key. Body language, eye contact, handshakes and paying attention all matter.
How do players talk?
What is important to them?
Sheetinger compares recruiting to dating.
“I like you,” says Sheetinger. “I’m going to try to convince you to like me.”
“I’m going to give you my spiel. We’re going to get to know your son because in a way because coaches step in as pseudo-stepfathers. We need to have a relationship. We need to have a bond. We’ve got to get along. (Parents) won’t be there.”
This gives a player and his family a glance at the coaches, program, campus life and academics.
They will meet with the admissions and financial aid departments and get a campus tour etc.
Coaches will run the first visit.
Sheetinger says players should do 90 percent of the talking and parents 10 percent.
Players may make 10 official visits (spend the night) and unlimited unofficial visits (day visits).
On these visits, players are allowed to work out at D-II, NAIA and junior college schools but not at D-I and D-III.
There is a difference between a Baseball Visit (set up through the baseball staff) and Admissions Visit (no guarantee to see the baseball staff).
College/University websites offer information on admissions and financial aid as well as biographies, archives, statistics and rosters for the baseball program.
NCAA Division I (295 programs) may offer 11.7 max scholarships if fully funded (60 percent). Roster limits are 35 at the end of the fall with 27 on 25-percent scholarship.
Recruiting has ramped up for the majority of D-I teams.
NCAA Division II (254 programs) can give 9.0 max scholarships if fully funded (40 percent). There is no roster limit. That number will be set by the school, athletic department or coaches.
The top program work ahead in recruiting. Most are year-to-year.
NCAA Division III (383 programs) does not offer athletic scholarships. It is all academic- and financial-aid based. Like D-II, rosters are only limited by program choice.
Early decisions and admission dates are important. Most schools are year-to-year with their recruiting.
NAIA (187 program) may offer 12.0 max scholarships with exemptions. Again, there is no association-dictated roster limit. The majority of programs recruit year-to-year.
Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, is one of the best college teams in the country regardless of level. The Warriors have won the NAIA World Series 19 times, including 2015, 2016 and 2017.
NJCAA (410 programs across 3 divisions) gives 24.0 max scholarships in D-I, 24.0 max Tuition scholarships (no room and board) in D-II and zero athletic scholarships in D-III. The association imposes no roster limits. Recruiting is year-to-year at most of these two-year institutions.
Sheetinger says there is great baseball at all levels. The top teams in D-II, D-III, NAIA and NJCAA can win games on the D-I level.
He sums it up by saying that at the upper levels of D-I, most programs are already 90 to 95 percent done getting commitments from current seniors (Class of 2018) with juniors (Class of 2019) 80 percent done, sophomores (Class of 2020) 60 percent complete and freshmen (Class of 2021) 30 to 40 percent already committed.
“That’s how accelerated recruiting has gotten,” says Sheetinger. “It wasn’t that way 10 years ago.
“Coaches don’t like evaluating 13-year-olds,” says Sheetinger. “It’s hard enough to project a 16-year-old. D-II, D-III, NAIA and junior college are hot on this senior class. You’ve got to keep things in perspective.
“There are a lot more opportunities out there.”
Sheetinger says the reason many people recall their college years so fondly is because they are 18 to 22 and away from their parents and figuring out what kind of man, worker, husband and father they’re going to be. They are sorting out their religious and political views.
Take 35 guys spending nine months together on busses and in dorm rooms, weight rooms, locker rooms and cafeterias while figuring this out and you see the beginnings of lifelong bonds.
“It’s the best experience of your life,” says Sheetinger. “If you can go play, you should go play.”
FINDING THE RIGHT FIT
Players must be a fit for a program, taking into consideration that coach’s style and the recruiting class.
Sheetinger likes to use the analogy of the fork with each prong being a priority in the college decision-making process. The fork could have as many as five prongs.
Prongs are sure to include academics and fit. Does a school offer the degree a player wants and how does he fit into the needs of the baseball program?
“You never go to play at a school that doesn’t offer a degree that you in your heart of hearts really want,” says Sheetinger.
Other things to consider are social atmosphere on-campus, location/geography and the cost.
A player might social butterfly and being in clubs or fraternities and going to concerts is important.
How big is the college compared to the player’s high school or hometown?
Is the school close enough for parents to regularly attend games?
How’s the weather?
If you don’t like the cold, maybe a school in upper Michigan is probably not for you.
If players have not asked their parents how much they are willing to pay out-of-pocket, they need to have that conversation.
Sheetinger says it is best to funnel down toward a players’ top choices of schools from 10 to 5 to 3.
Players should be aggressive, working toward and “yes” or “no” answer.
Can I play here or not?
Responses from coaches should be treated as hot leads. Response should be quick and player should try to get more info on the program and work toward campus visits.
MAKING A RECRUITING VIDEO
A professional video is not necessary. A good smartphone video will do the trick.
But a video is key. It gives coaches instant evaluation.
The video should be short. Position players will have five swing views from the side and five from the front or behind. Show a variety of defensive movement and throws (maximum of 8).
If a player has speed, show it with a 60-yard home-to-first video clip.
Pitching videos will show five fastballs, five curves and five change-ups from the wind-up and three each from the stretch.
Game footage must be edited.
Contact info, stats and coach’s info may be included.
CAMPS AND SHOWCASES
Players interested in a particular school are encouraged to go to their camp and be seen by their staff.
They must be mindful of database emails (every email doesn’t mean they are being recruited) and the “Cattle Calls” approach to camp population and marketing.
Campers should ask if other colleges will be attending. The price should be justified with how many possible evaluations they will receive by their attendance.
Sheetinger says it’s important to think of the coach’s perspective.
They notice players who stand out (bright cap and stirrups and name on the back of a jersey is helpful) and ones who exhibit hustle, energy, positivity and confidence.
A handshake and a thank you to every coach at the end of camp will go a long way.
Freshmen are pointed toward strength and speed training, attending camps to get familiar with that environment and focusing on grades etc.
Sophomores continue with strength and speed training and camps and after the high school season begin emailing college coaches with info, videos, summer schedule etc.
Juniors have a very important year and season. They are looking to get their name out there. They do the training and camps and showcases in front of a large number of college coaches. They send emails to college coaches before the summer begins. They begin to funnel their list of schools.
Seniorshave a very active year. They do all the training and attend unsigned senior events. They are aggressive with emails to coaches and ask for campus visits. In the fall, they have campus visits, submit applications and many will commit. In the spring and summer, they will make final visits and commit.
Jeremy Sheetinger is College Division Liaison for the American Baseball Coaches Association. He was in South Bend recently to advise players, parents and coaches about college recruiting. (Cornbelt Sports Photo)