By STEVE KRAH
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.
Justin Parker is the pitching coach at Indiana University. The 2019 season will be his first with the Hoosiers. (Indiana University Photo)
New Indiana University pitching coach Justin Parker shows his players how to do things during a fall practice. (Indiana University Photo)