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Notre Dame’s Wallace explains recruiting process

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Wanted: A baseball athlete who projects as a big league candidate who also has the skills to thrive in highly-competitive academic setting.

That’s sums up the wish list of new University of Notre Dame assistant baseball coach Rich Wallace.

Hired by new head coach Link Jarrett on a staff with pitching coach pitching coach Chuck Ristano, volunteer assistant Scott Wingo and director of baseball operations Steven Rosen, Wallace is charged with identifying and landing players that will fit the needs of the Fighting Irish as recruiting coordinator. He will also work with ND hitters and catchers.

Wallace shared his knowledge on recruiting and more at the first monthly meeting of the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club for 2019-20 on Monday, Nov. 18 at Four Winds Field.

“Our goal is to get Notre Dame to the College World Series,” says Wallace, who comes to the Irish from Jacksonville (Fla.) University, where he was Dolphins assistant in 2018 and 2019. “I’ve played against teams who did (go to the CWS). Those teams had (future) big leaguers.

“I’m looking for as many kids who want to be big leaguers as I can — not guys who just want to get drafted.

“It’s my job to find the guys who look like they actually could be big leaguers and mix them with the guys who want to be big leaguers and develop them the best that we can.”

Wallace says it is a necessity playing in a Power 5 league like the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“There’s no way for us to beat Clemson, Florida State, Louisville or Miami with guys that are just OK players,” says Wallace. “Coach (Jarrett) will coach them up. He’ll get them great. But there’s only so much you can do against those guys.”

What is the right kind of player for Notre Dame?

“One with a giant chip on their shoulder who wants to do something that’s really, really hard and they’re excited about that,” says Wallace. “It’s he not, he probably needs to go somewhere else. It’s just not going work.”

Pitchers must be good movers and have fastball command and/or an elite fastball or a premier secondary pitch (both is preferable).

“Give me at least one of the two,” says Wallace. “If you don’t have those in our league, you’ve got no shot.”

Do pitchers have to be big and strong?

“I’d love for the guy to be 6-foot-5 and throw 92 (mph) and have a good breaking ball,” says Wallace, noting that pro ball might snap up that kind of player before Notre Dame ever gets a chance to put them on their roster.

Wallace says that Georgia Tech and North Carolina go after both taller pitchers with heat and shorter hurlers with top-notch breaking balls in case they can’t keep the tall flamethrowers.

“We look for both of those,” says Wallace.

The Irish are after explosive athletes.

Once they are on-campus, it will be up to the staff to make them better.

“You have to trust what you do development-wise,” says Wallace.

As one of the top academic institutions in the country, Notre Dame has admission standards higher than most.

Wallace talked about the basic NCAA Division I requirements.

The floor is a 2.3 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale). All D-I athletes must complete 16 core courses by the end of the their senior year.

Recently, the NCAA has required that 10 of those core courses have to be done before they start their final prep year.

Wallace notes that the top two revenue generators at the NCAA Division I tournament level are men’s basketball and baseball, yet D-I baseball offers 11.7 scholarships (athletic aid) and can carry up to 35 players (no more than 27 athletes on scholarship).

“We’ve got to be really smart about who we are going after,” says Wallace.

Players on athletic aid must receive at least 25 percent.

At Notre Dame, the plan is to carry a maximum of 33 players in the spring (there are 41 on the roster now) on a combination of athletic scholarship and institutional aid.

In addition, NCAA rules no longer allow contact with underclassmen — on or off-campus — until September of their junior year.

There are contact, quiet and dead periods in the recruiting calendar and part of those are at the same time as the season.

Notre Dame tends to play games Friday through Sunday (sometimes traveling on Thursday) with on-campus games Tuesday and/or Wednesday. This means coaches mostly seeing players close to campus on Monday or Thursday (if possible) or missing games or practices to do so.

It’s the high school season — more so than the travel ball season — when Wallace and company want to see players perform.

“We not only want to recruit good players, but winners,” says Wallace. “We want to see them play for their hometown and with their teammates and classmates/

“I’ve got to find guys who really like to compete. That’s hard to do that in a summer setting.”

There’s a one-month recruiting window from mid-September and mid-October and then camps become key to get underclassmen in front of coaches.

Of the nine players who have committed to Notre Dame since Wallace arrived, seven have attend Irish baseball camps. The Irish already have two verbal commitments for the Class of 2023.

“For us, the camps are a huge recruiting tool,” says Wallace. “We’ve got to be smart in the way we use them.”

Wallace notes that campers get a sense of how things are done by ND staff.

“The way we run our program, it’s aggressive. It’s blue collar,” says Wallace. “We present that in camp.

“If the kid is scared off by the way we run things in camp with the intensity and high pace, it might not be the place for him. That’s OK, too.”

Wallace recommends that whatever school a player is considering, it is advisable for them to attend the school’s camp to get a real feel for the program and coaching staff.

“Much of my time is spent on the phone talking to scouts and coaches I trust,” says Wallace. “I build that list so when I do go out I have a plan to go see everybody I need to see.”

Sometimes he likes a player on the other team better than the one he has gone to see.

Such was the case of outfielder Nate Roberts, who went from Northwestern University to Parkland College to High Point (N.C.).

As a High Point recruiter, Wallace got on the phone to head coach Chris Cozart.

“I want the Roberts kid?,” says Wallace of that conversation. “‘He’s playing right field for Parkland. Coach, he’s going to change our program.’

Cozart’s reply: “We need a center fielder. If he’s so good why is he playing right?”

“Wallace: “Because the center fielder is going to play in the big leagues.”

We end up getting the right fielder. He’s a fourth rounder. He led the country in on-base percentage and runs scored. He ended up as a first-team All-American. He pretty much changed the program at High Point.

“The center fielder we couldn’t get was (future big leaguer) Kevin Kiermaier. He turned out to be a pretty good baseball player.”

Notre Dame does not get many junior college transfers since those players must have met requirements to get into ND coming out of high school and have 50 percent of their credits toward Notre Dame degree (the NCAA requires 40 percent) transfer.

The Irish do get graduate transfers.

Wallace says some programs “over-recruit” to prepare for players who sign with pro teams out of high school or might go to another school late in the recruiting process.

“At Notre Dame, we’re not doing that,” says Wallace. “It’s tough to tell a kid to invest in Notre Dame, believe he’s going to get his degree here and before opening day, we chop their legs out (by cutting them from the team).”

When a scout or the player themselves says they are going pro, it’s ways to prepare for that.

“It’s the guy who nobody thinks is going to sign and somebody tries to sneak him in the 29th round for $10,000 and you’re caught,” says Wallace. “I can’t go out in June and find somebody that can get into Notre Dame. It’s not going to happen.”

Being realistic throughout the whole recruiting process is another piece of advice from Wallace.

Can that player really play there?

Does it fit what they want or are able to do academically?

Wallace appreciates the dialogue that he can have with a high school coach who knows the score.

“Some coaches will call and say that guy can play for you,” says Wallace. “I’ll say, ‘have you ever seen us play?’ The answer is no. ‘Have you ever seen us practice?’ The answer is no.”

“Once we get to know you guys as coaches and you’ve seen us play and practice, it’s real easy.”

Another thing that drives Wallace crazy as a recruiter is the campus visit from athletes and parents who are not prepared.

“I’m asking (the athlete) questions and he has no idea what he wants to do,” says Wallace. “Mom is walking around the campus on Facebook. They don’t know any better.”

That’s where coaches can educate them — ask them to do their homework on the school and program, sign up for the NCAA Eligibility Center as soon as they enter high school if they have plans of playing college sports.

“The sooner we can put this in front of kids and their parents the better it is,” says Wallace. “(The Eligibility Center) will give them a free profile.

“If you make your guidance counselor aware, they’ll start sending the stuff in for you.”

It’s also a good idea to send short videos to the top five schools on your wish list.

Wallace says the contacting of coaches should be done by the player and not the parents.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘My son Johnny wants to play for you,’” says Wallace. “Then Johnny probably needs to pick up the computer. I’m sure he’s probably never put his cell phone down. He can send an email.”

Wallace does also not want to see the name of another coach in the league on the subject line.

“They forgot to change the email,” says Wallace. “That one goes right to the trash.”

While taking with coaches on the phone, recruits should let them know what they expect at the end of the rainbow. What are their goals? What degree do they want to pursue?

“At Notre Dame, they have to have some sort of academic goal or it’s just not going to work,” says Wallace.

As a player, Wallace grew up in St. Louis and moved to Orlando for high school. His best college baseball fit was the hometown University of Central Florida, coached by Jay Bergman.

“Pure toughness,” is how Wallace describes Bergman, who won 1,183 games as head coach at Seminole Community College, the University of Florida and UCF. “He still has a giant chip on his shoulder.

“If you didn’t show up everyday ready to work, somebody else will take you job.”

When Wallace arrived at the school and its pro-style atmosphere, there were 62 players on the fall roster. He had to work to find his place with the Knights.

He also saw how much baseball Bergman knew.

“He was magical,” says Wallace. “He would see things a whole other level.”

One time at Clemson, where the Tigers had not lost a non-conference weekend series in about 15 years.

At the end of the game, with UCF down by a run and runners on the corners, Bergman predicts that his first batter will double into the gap to score one run and that the next two batters will safety squeeze to plate two more runs and give his team a two-run lead and that’s just what happens.

Another time against LSU, he asks his No. 2 hitter to bunt a batter to second with one out in the ninth to get scoring position. They did just that and the Knights won.

“He knew how that game was going to play out,” says Wallace of Bergman, who began his coaching career at UCF then served with Cozart at High Point (where he first coached against Link Jarrett), Ed Servais at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and Chris Hayes at Jacksonville.

Wallace graduated from UCF in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies. He and his wife, Alex, have two girls — Easton and Maxx.

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Rich Wallace was an assistant coach at Jacksonville (Fla.) University for the 2018 and 2019 baseball seasons before being hired at the University of Notre Dame. (Jacksonville University Photo)

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Rich Wallace (center) was an assistant baseball coach at Jacksonville (Fla.) University before being hired at the University of Notre Dame. He is a Central Florida University graduate. He coached at UCF, High Point University and Creighton University before landing at JU. (Jacksonville University Photo)

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Rich Wallace is an assistant baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame on the staff of new head coach Link Jarrett. Wallace is the recruiting coordinator for the Irish and will also help with hitters and catchers. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

 

Former Andrean, Georgia Tech hurler Ryan reflects on first pro season

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zac Ryan does not have to be the last pitcher on the mound for his team to act like a closer.

Ryan, a 2013 Andrean High School graduate, learned in his first professional baseball season in 2017 to take a game-ending mentality to him no matter the situation.

“Even in my one start, I was told to act like you’re closing,” says Ryan, who went 2-2 with a 1.95 earned run average while finishing 14 of 21 games at Orem and Burlington.

The 6-foot-1 right-hander was selected in the 23rd round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Angels.

Ryan was a closer at Georgia Tech where he posted a 3-5 record, 3.33 ERA and team-best five saves in 27 appearances (all in relief) as a senior. In four seasons, he was 16-12 with a 4.65 ERA and 14 saves in 89 games (77 as a reliever).

“I was really happy with my season,” says Ryan, 23, of his first pro experience. “I worked with some really good pitching coaches and coordinators. They taught us grips and different pitches and helped us get better. It wasn’t a cookie cutter type of program where they tried to get everybody to do the same thing.”

Jonathan Van Eaton and Mike Burns shared pitching coach duties for the Rookie-level Pioneer League’s Orem Owlz while Jairo Cuevas led hurlers for the Low Class-A Midwest League’s Burlington Bees. Tom Nieto was the Orem manager while Adam Melhuse was the Burlington skipper.

The Angels organization wants its pitchers to attack hitters and — when possible — get outs within the first three pitches.

“They wanted us to go 0-2 (in the count) as much as possible,” says Ryan. This approach was to keep pitch counts down and to give hitters less opportunities to see what the pitcher had to offer.

Ryan found that the big difference between college and pro ball is that minor league batters are more aggressive.

“It was easy to get people to chase pitches (for strikeouts and out pitches) in pro ball,” says Ryan. “You also had a lot more freedom (as a pro). You do what you want to do with your career, but they are going to guide you with it. In college, they give you a role.”

As an Angels farmhand, Ryan says he worked the right side of the plate often with his sinker and slider, looking for ground balls or weak contact. He also mixed in a change-up.

While his velocity sat at between 92 and 94 mph and touched 95 and 96 mph a time or two, Ryan continued to stay away from being a max-effort pitcher.

“That way I can get more movement and place it where I want to,” says Ryan. “I’m serious with mechanics. I’ve never been too jerky-jerky and had a slow wind-up and slow delivery.”

Since he reached his limit during the spring and summer, the Angels opted not to send Ryan to instructional league or winter ball. Instead, he will follow a prescribed program while also working with his personal pitching coach since age 7 — John Coddington of Michiana Sports Medicine.

“He’s like a second dad to me,” says Ryan, who lives in Chesterton and is the son of Henry and Jill Ryan and has an older sister named Kelly.

At Georgia Tech, Ryan played four seasons for head coach Danny Hall and had Jason Howell as his pitching coach the while time.

“He taught me about sequencing and how to use pitches to set up pitches,” says Ryan. “I learned a lot of about who I was as a pitcher. I never threw a slider before college. I also learned the mentality I needed to be a closer. That brought me all the success I’ve had.”

Ryan was a freshman at Andrean with a 3-1 record when the 59ers won the IHSAA Class 3A state title in 2010 for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur. Ryan was in the rotation for the season, but it was senior left-hander Sean Manaea (now with the Oakland Athletics) that took the ball in the semistate and senior right-hander Ken Mahala in the state championship game.

Ryan credits the Pishkurs — Dave and his son Ryan — for teaching him tenacity.

“They taught me how to take a leadership role,” says Ryan. “That gave ave me a lot of confidence, which is something you need on the mound.

“That program is about fighting and never quitting. That’s the biggest takeaway you get from there. And it’s any part of your life. It doesn’t have to be sports. You have to keep on pushing because you never know what’s going to happen.”

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Zac Ryan, a product of Andrean High School, made his professional baseball debut in the Los Angeles Angels organization in 2017. (Burlington Bees Photo)

 

Angola’s Roddy guides team full of three-sport athletes

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In this era of specialization, Angola High School baseball is an outlier.

The 2017 Hornets varsity has just one player that is not a three-sport athlete at the school.

“It’s something we preach,” says third-year head baseball coach Roger Roddy, who plans to tackle a 12th season as an assistant football coach at the school of around 900 students in the fall. “Our athletic director (Mark Ridenour), football coach (Andy Thomas), (boys) basketball coach (Ed Bentley) and myself are firm believers in two things — No. 1,  we’re not big enough to compete in 4A in football and we still need all our athletes on the field (or court for 3A baseball or basketball).

“We can’t have one of our best athletes decide: I’m just a pitcher or just a basketball player.

“No. 2, if they choose not to (participate during a certain season) we all have the same message: You’re still in the weight room.”

Angola has all its athletes — from 275-pound football lineman to girls who weigh below 100 — doing the same core strength program during the school year and in the summer.

Roddy, a 1983 Angola graduate, said its not only made stronger athletes of the Hornets, but it has helped with school spirit.

“Everybody’s in (the weight room) chipping in and helping,” says Roddy. “All sports support the other sports because they have respect for them now. They all went through the same grueling workout.

“It’s special.”

When Roddy, 52, was in high school, baseball players did not lift weights. About half the players in college lifted and that was on their own and not organized by the school.

Now, incoming Angola freshmen know they will be spending the next four years gaining functional strength.

While he knows it won’t happen, Roddy would love it if the Indiana high school baseball was longer.

“Football is three months long and is basketball is three months long, four if you make a long playoff run,” says Roddy. “Baseball is packed it into two months. Not a lot of fall and winter sports people understand what a challenge that can be.”

But Angola wants the multi-sport athlete and to have success in each season so they understand there might not be much time for baseball players to get ready for their season coming out of the winter.

A salesman in his day job, Roddy was a junior varsity baseball coach for two seasons before succeeding Jerry McDermott as head coach for the 2015 season.

The former Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets pitcher (Roddy was a senior co-captain with future big league pitcher Jim Poole in 1988 and played for coaching icon Jim Morris) coached an Angola-based Yellow Jackets travel team for eight seasons, got out of baseball coaching for a short time and then answered the call at the high school.

Roger’s boys — Jake (now a Trine University baseball and football freshman) and Chance (an Angola junior) also played for the traveling Yellow Jackets. The Homan brothers — senior Jake and sophomore Luke — were also on that squad.

Jake Honer is the lone senior on a 2017 varsity team that regularly has six sophomores in the lineup.

“They’re very, very talented and they have lofty goals (in all sports),” says Roddy of the athletes in the Class of 2019. “They’ve all been sponges. They are willing to put in the work.

“We can not challenge them enough. Most sophomores are real tentative. Sometimes they’ve got more courage than they have sense, but the figure it out pretty quick.”

Angola is a member of the 12-team Northeast Corner Conference (along with Central Noble, Churubusco, Eastside, Fairfield, Fremont, Garrett, Hamilton, Lakeland, Prairie Heights, West Noble and Westview). The Hornets are in the 3A New Haven Sectional.

While rainouts have been stacking up the games and cutting into practice time of late, early Angola workouts are pretty intense.

“We work on situations, rundowns, first-and-thirds and we demand they do it right,” says Roddy, whose coaching staff includes Dan Hammel and Oshea Owens at the varsity level and Russ Tingley and Brett Neveraski with the JV team. “Us coaches will turn up the heat so when they’re in the game, they can respond. It’s not the first time they’ve been under pressure.”

Angola does a four-corner defensive drill with fielders at each base and home plate.

“We see how fast they can get the ball around,” says Roddy. A bad throw or one not right on-target is penalized with push-ups on the spot. “We explain everything we’re doing. We’re not yelling and screaming to seem like maniacs. When get a ball at third base, you don’t have all day to throw it to first.”

Roddy looks at the new pitch count rules (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) and insists that his hurlers be more efficient and focused to avoid working so deep into the (ball-strike) count.

“What’s wrong with seven ground balls to the second baseman or the shortstop?,” says Roddy. “We have had three games where Chance (Roddy) or (sophomore Aaron) Chao ended up with 101 pitches and required four days rest. If they had 99 or 100, it would just be three days. Then you look back at the kid that kicked the ball in the third inning.

“But it is what it is. One rule to fit everybody, it’s going to have holes … I’m not worried about what’s going on in your dugout. I’ll worry about my team. It’s a trust factor with the coaches.”

For the first three weeks of the 2017 season, Roddy held his moundsmen to 35 pitches. Not because of any rule, but their arms were not yet eady to go beyond that.

Angola coaches meet each Sunday afternoon during the season to plot out who is going to start or relieve at the varsity and JV levels during the week.

Roddy tries to keep 31 or 32 players in the program with 14 dressing for varsity games.

“We’ll have kids who are starting, one on the manual scoreboard, one on the electric scoreboard, one handling GameChanger, our backup catcher warming up pitchers. Everybody has a job. That works out pretty well for us.

“(Getting all the kids playing time) makes JV coach’s hair turn gray real quick, but I love it.”

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Roger Roddy is in his third season as head baseball coach at Angola High School. He is also a longtime assistant football coach for the Hornets.