Tag Archives: Indiana Blue Jays

Fireballer Klein anxious to begin professional career

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Will Klein is pumping gas and saving a little gas.

Klein, a right-handed pitcher who was selected in the fifth round of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals out of Eastern Illinois University, has regularly hit 99 mph on radar guns.

Last summer while competing in the Northwoods League All-Star Game, the 2017 graduate of Bloomington (Ind.) High School North hit triple digits. 

In his last appearance of the summer, he pumped in a pitch at 100 mph.

Klein was the EIU Panthers’ Friday starter in 2020 and went 1-2  in four appearances with a 3.33 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and 13 walks in 24 1/3 innings before the season was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While university facilities were off limits, Klein and two of his three roommates stayed in Charleston, Ill., and got ready for the MLB Draft, which was shaved from 40 to five rounds this year. 

Klein played catch in parking lots and open fields, threw PlyoCare Balls against park fences and used kettle bells, benches and dumb bells in the living room.

Kansas City took Klein with the 135th overall pick.

“I talked to every team,” says Klein, 20. “I could tell some were more interested than others.

“The Royals were definitely the team that communicated with me the most.”

With the Minor League Baseball season called off, Klein has been training with PRP Baseball’s Greg Vogt at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind., up to six days a week. 

The pitcher, who has added muscle and now packs 230 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame, saves time and fuel by staying with an aunt and uncle in Fishers.

“The Royals sent a weight lifting, throwing and running schedule,” says Klein. “I blend that with what Greg’s doing.”

Klein first worked out at PRP Baseball last summer and also went there in the winter.

Klein’s natural arm slot has been close to over the top.

From there, he launches a four-seam fastball, “spike” curveball (it moves from 12-to-6 on the clock face), “gyro” slider (it has more downward and less lateral movement than some sliders) and a “circle” change-up.

In three seasons at EIU, Klein’s walks-per-nine innings went from 9.6 in 2018 to 9.9 in 2019 to 4.8 in 2020.

Why the control improvement?

“A lot of repetition and smoothing out the action,” says Klein. “I’ve been able to get a feel for what I was doing and a more efficient movement pattern with my upper and lower halves.

“Throwing more innings helped, too. I didn’t throw a whole lot in high school.”

Playing for head coach Richard Hurt, Klein was primarily a catcher until his senior year. In the second practice of his final prep season, he broke the thumb on his pitching hand and went to the outfield.

The previous summer while playing with the Indiana Bulls, Klein had gotten the attention of Eastern Illinois at Prep Baseball Report showcase held at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

Klein would be an NCAA Division I pitcher. He played at EIU for head coach Jason Anderson and had two pitching coaches — Julio Godinez in 2018 and 2019 and Tim Brown in 2020.

“(Anderson) was very helpful coming from pro ball,” says Klein of the former University of Illinois right-hander who pitched in the big leagues with the New York Yankees and New York Mets. “He knew what it took mentally and physically and took me from a thrower to a pitcher.”

Former catcher Godinez brought energy and also helped Klein learn about pitch sequences.

Brown was given full reign of the Panthers staff by Anderson this spring.

Klein struggled his freshmen year, starting three of 14 games and going 1-1 with a 6.62 ERA. He was used in various bullpen roles as a sophomore and went 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA. 

He was the closer and Pitcher of the Year with the Lakeshore Chinooks in the summer of 2019 when he hit 100 on the gun and was told he would be a starter when he got back to EIU in the fall.

For his college career, Klein was 2-2 and struck out 62 in 42 1/3 innings.

Born in Maryville, Tenn., Will moved to Bloomington at 3. Both his parents — Bill and Brittany — are Indiana University graduates.

Will played youth baseball at Winslow and with the Unionville Arrows and then with local all-star teams before high school. During those summers, he was with the Mooresville Mafia, which changed its name the next season to Powerhouse Baseball. 

At 17U, Troy Drosche was his head coach with the Indiana Bulls. At 18U, he played for the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays. 

The summer between his freshman and sophomore years at EIU, Klein was with the Prospect League’s Danville (Ill.) Dans.

Will is one semester from earning his degree in Biological Sciences.

“I grew up loving science,” says Will, who has had both parents teach the subject. Bill Klein has taught at Jackson Creek Middle School with Brittany Klein is a Fairview Elementary. Both schools are in Bloomington.

Will is the oldest of their three children. The 6-4 Sam Klein (18) is a freshman baseball player at Ball State University. Molly (13) is an eighth grader who plays volleyball, basketball and softball.

Will Klein pitched at Eastern Illinois University. (D1 Baseball Video)
Will Klein, a 2017 graduate of Bloomington (Ind.) High School South, pitched three baseball seasons at Eastern Illinois University and was selected in the fifth round of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals. (Eastern Illinois University Photo)

Indiana’s Barr showing off skills in Grand Park league

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Attendees at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis July 16 and 23 got a chance to see Cole Barr’s baseball attributes on display.

Playing in the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game, Indiana University’s Barr smacked a three-run triple to help the Red beat the Blue 4-2.

A week later, the Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate lashed a two-run double to aid in the A-Team’s 6-4 triumph against the Snapping Turtles.

How does the righty-swinging third baseman assess his strengths?

“Physically, I can do it all on the field — play defense, run and hit for power,” says Barr. “The average is coming along.

“I have athleticism. I was a middle infielder until last year. I have pretty good range (at third base).”

Barr, a 5-foot-11, 191-pounder, has listened to Hoosiers head coach Jeff Mercer and former assistant Casey Dykes (now a minor league hitting coach in the New York Yankees organization) regarding hitting and done his best to apply it.

“I kist want the ball to spin true,” says Barr. “I don’t want to flare or hook the ball. I look to put myself in a good position to be able to do that. 

“If I can spin the ball, I can adjust and do other things.”

Mercer has been on the job since the summer of 2018 and Barr has benefitted.

“He has a lot of information to offer,” says Barr of his head coach. “We are like-minded. We are not afraid to work hard.

“We’re pretty competitive.”

In three seasons at Indiana, Barr played in 97 games (84 starts) and hit .258 (76-of-295) with 19 home runs, 64 runs batted in, 62 runs scored and a .389 on-base percentage.

Barr broke out in 2019, hitting .255 (55-of-216) with 17 homers, 51 RBIs, 46 runs, .388 OBP and was selected in the 37th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.

He decided not to sign and came back to the Hoosiers.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2020 season, Barr started all 15 games at third base and was the regular No. 3 batter in the IU lineup. He hit .246 (14-of-57) with two homers, nine RBIs, 12 runs and a .366 OBP in 15 games.

The last game for a 9-6 team was March 11 against Cincinnati in Bloomington.

Barr stayed in shape and kept his baseball skills sharp while also keeping up with his studies during the quarantine. The Finance major and 2020 Academic All-Big Ten Conference honoree is now around 20 credits shy of his degree.

He is looking forward to in-person classes, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 24.

“Online classes — I’m not a huge fan of it,” says Barr. “It’s hard to learn business stuff and work through problems online.

“It’s hard to pay attention. I’d prefer to be in class in-person.”

Barr played for the Northwoods League’s Lakeshore Chinooks in Mequon, Wis., in the summer of 2019. The team was led by Travis Akre.

“He was a player’s kind of manager,” says Barr of Akre. “He let you do your own thing and kept you on the right track.”

Barr intended to head back to the Chinooks in 2020 when that team canceled its schedule. He was without a summer spot until May and then the Grand Park league was formed through a partnership between Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development.

“I like playing with a lot of my friends,” says Barr, who has now counted shortstop Cooper Trinkle as a teammate in travel ball, at Indiana and in summer collegiate ball.

Kevin Christman is the A-Team head coach.

“I love being around Kev,” says Barr. “It doesn’t matter where he is, he is trying to win.

“I’ve been able to pick his brain a little bit. He’s been around the game for a long time.”

Barr was born in Muncie, Ind., and grew up in nearby Yorktown. 

He played rec league baseball and started travel ball at age 9. He was coached by Shane Summers and Justin Wittenberg with the Indiana Longhorns and Magic City Orioles.

From 12U to 17U, Barr wore the uniform of the Indiana Prospects with Shane Cox and J.P. Hessier as his head coaches. His 18U summer was spent the Mke Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays.

“He was a good dude,” says Barr of Hitt. “He let us have fun.”

Playing the first three years for Mike Larrabee and the last for P.J. Fauquher, Barr was a four-year varsity player at Yorktown High. 

“He’s a pretty smart guy about the game,” says Barr of Larrabee. “He steered me in the direction I needed to go. The same thing with P.J.”

Barr was chosen for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in 2017

He was honorable mention all-state in 2015 and 2017 and all-Hoosier Heritage Conference 2015-17. Perfect Game rated him as the No. 2 shortstop and No. 14 overall player in Indiana. For his prep career, he hit .333 with nine homers, 45 RBIs and 51 stolen bases.

Barr was a middle infielder and also pitched as a freshman, sophomore and senior.

“I was probably a better pitcher in high school than a hitter,” says Barr. “I had no real thoughts of pitching in college. Most pitchers aren’t 5-10 now.”

Cole was also a safety and wide receiver for the Yorktown Tigers as a freshmen, junior and senior.

Joe and Cherie Barr have four sons — Cole (22), Alex (20), Reid (17) and Drew (15).

Joe Barr is a plant manager at Magna Powertrain. Cherie Barr is a nurse at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital. Alex Barr is heading into his junior year as a Wabash College wrestler. Reid Barr will be a Yorktown High School senior and wrestler Drew Barr a YHS sophomore in the fall. 

Indiana University’s Cole Barr smacks a three-run triple at Victory Field in Indianapolis July 16. (Talking Hoosier Baseball Video)
Indiana University’s Cole Barr raps a two-run double at Victory Field in Indianapolis July 23. (Talking Hoosier Baseball Video)
Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. (Indiana University Photo)
Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. (Indiana University Photo)
Third baseman Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. (Indiana University Photo)
Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. He broke out in 2019, hitting .255 (55-of-216) with 17 homers, 51 RBIs, 46 runs, .388 OBP and was selected in the 37th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners, but did not sign.. (Indiana University Photo)

Cole Barr, a Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate with three baseball seasons logged at Indiana University, is playing with the A-Team in the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park. (Indiana University Photo)

New Palestine grad Watson goes from Cornhusker to Sycamore

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Keegan Watson is back in his home state for college baseball.

After playing at the University of Nebraska in 2018 and 2019, transferring and sitting out the 2020 season, Watson is eager to shine as a two-way player at Indiana State University.

The 2017 graduate of New Palestine (Ind.) High School made five appearances (three starts) as a corner outfielder and pitched in relief in six games in 2018 and took the field as a position player 24 times (17 as a starter) in 2019 while earning two letters for the Cornhuskers

Batting and hurling right-handed, Watson collected 15 runs batted in and logged 5 1/3 innings on the mound and entered the NCAA transfer portal after the 2019 fall semester. 

The 6-foot-3, 198-pounder considered going to an NCAA Division II school so he would not have to sit out, but ended up staying in D-I and was required to miss only a half year while coming back to his state of residence. 

Recruited by Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs while at New Palestine, Watson reached out to the Sycamores for a chance and was given one.

After moving to Indiana State, he was not eligible to play in the spring, but will be able to participate with the Sycamores this fall. Watson has two years of eligibility remaining.

“I work hard and show up in the weight room and at practice,” says Watson of his baseball strengths. “I’m a pretty intense guy when it comes down to it.”

He says his he used to let his emotions get the best of him, but he’s learned to get that under control.

Since entering college Watson has changed his major to Psychology and says he has at least three semesters left toward his degree.

While he did not play last summer, Watson was with the Tim Brown-coached Lake Erie Monarchs of the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League in 2018.

This summer, he is close to home as a member of the Local Legends in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield. Entering play on July 6, the team coached by Ben Norton and Jake Ratz is 5-4-1. 

Watson was tipped off about the 12-team loop by former New Palestine teammate Jason Hall-Manley, who goes to Anderson University and plays for the CSL’s Juice.

“See ball – hit ball,” says Watson of his hitting approach this summer. “I’m just trying to see pitches and get live AB’s.

“For me, cage work is locking in mechanics. In the game, you can only focus on so many things and your swing isn’t one of those. You have to trust muscle memory.”

Watson, 21, was born in Jasper, Ind., and moved to Fountaintown near New Palestine as he was entering seventh grade. Keegan is the son of Dan and Amy and the younger brother of Callee. The family moved when his mother took a job in the Indianapolis area.

He split his freshmen season between the junior varsity and varsity and was up with head coach Shawn Lyons for his final three springs with the Dragons.

“He knows what he’s taking about,” says Watson of Lyons. “He’s intense. He’s good a reading people. He’s not afraid to let you know when he thinks you’re not giving your best effort.”

Prior to high school, Watson played four years of travel baseball for the Indiana D-I Hoosiers, which had players from the Bedford, Ind., area.

His 16U and 17U summers were spent with the Indiana Bulls, where he was coached by Sean Laird. Watson was with the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays (18U) before heading to Nebraska.

Watson is hoping Indiana State can use him out of the bullpen like he did with the Cornhuskers.

“I’m pretty confident in all my stuff,” says Watson. “I could pitch backwards or normal. 

“Whatever got the job done.”

Keegan Watson, a New Palestine (Ind.) High School graduate, played two baseball seasons at the University of Nebraska and has transferred to Indiana State University for 2020-21. He is with the Local Legends in the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield. Ind. (University of Nebraska Photo)

Kansas Jayhawks’ Metcalf wearing Northern Michigan Dune Bears jersey this summer

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nolan Metcalf’s 2020 summer plans had him playing baseball in the Northwoods League with the Kokomo (Ind.) Jackrabbits.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the league was reconfigured and the two-year starting first baseman at the University of Kansas is in Traverse City, Mich., as part of a three-team regional pod.

Metcalf, a 2017 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has been assigned to the new Northern Michigan Dune Bears. That team plays games against established Traverse City Pit Spitters and new Great Lakes Resorters at at Turkey Creek Stadium. Players are being housed in cabins at Interlochen Center for the Arts, located between Duck, Geneva and Long lakes and close to Lake Michigan.

“We play every two days,” says Metcalf, who was the designated hitter during a season-opening victory Thursday, July 2 against the Pit Spitters. Former Jackrabbits hitting coach Alex O’Donnell, who played at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa., and is an assistant at Mercyhurst-North East was made a winner in his managing debut. “I’ve been to the beach a couple of times.”

Before the Kansas season was halted in March, Metcalf appeared in 15 games with 12 starts at first base and hit .244 (10-of-41 with two home runs, two doubles, six walks and 10 runs batted in. He belted his homers against Charleston Southern Feb. 22 and Indiana State March 7.

The Jayhawks, with Ritch Price as head coach and his son Ritchie Price as hitting/infield coach, recruiting coordinator and third base coach, were returning from a series March 10-11 at the University of Iowa when they learned that the Ivy League had canceled its season.

“We practiced the next day and the coaches told us it was not looking good,” says Metcalf. 

Soon after that, the season was canceled and campus was closed. Metcalf finished his spring semester classes via computer back in Granger, Ind.

“I was trying to learn accounting online,” says Metcalf, who is working toward a major in Sport Management with a minor in Business. “I got it done.”

The son of Dave and Leslie Metcalf and brother of Lexie Metcalf quarantined for about a month then began going to the Harris Township fields for daily batting practice with Penn classmate Niko Kavadas, who completed his third season at Notre Dame in 2020. 

Metcalf also resumed lessons with Mike Marks at his Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and began mowing lawns with the Penn-Harris-Madison School Corporation. 

“I wasn’t super-confident about the summer (baseball season),” says Metcalf, who was told June 15 to report to Traverse City, which is about 250 miles due north of Granger. “Now I’m trying to get back into the swing of things.”

Metcalf expects to split his time with the Dune Bears between DH, first base and catcher.

Last summer he played for the Chillicothe (Mo.) Mudcats of the MINK (Missouri-Iowa-Nebraska-Kansas) Collegiate League. He was named to the all-star team and finished second in the home run derby at St. Joseph, Mo., even though he belted 32 total homers in three rounds.

At Kansas in 2019, Metcalf appeared in 44 games (27 starts) and hit .256 (30-of-117) with four homers, seven doubles and 23 RBIs.

The summer of 2018 had him in the Expedition League with the Western Nebraska Pioneers.

As a Jayhawk freshman, Metcalf got into 14 games (one as a starter) and hit .077 (1-for-14) with one RBI.

Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos at Penn, Metcalf was a career .379 hitter while earning all-state and District Player of the Year recognition and being named to the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series as a senior. 

Metcalf was on the High Honor Roll four times. The Kingsmen won four Northern Indiana Conference and IHSAA sectional titles, three regionals, two semistates and a Class 4A state championship (he scored two runs in a 3-2 win against Terre Haute North Vigo in 2015). The 6-foot-3, 245-pounder also played football at Penn.

What’s the difference between high school and college baseball?

“It’s the faster pace,” says Metcalf. “It’s how good every single player is. You have to prepare for every single game like it’s a big game — even the mid-week ones. 

“It’s fun, but hard work.”

Metcalf, a righty swinger, sees his power and his ability to hit to all fields as his strengths as a hitter.

“Hitting veto — guys that throw in the low to mid-90’s — means having quick hands,” says Metcalf. “You need to have a short, steady stroke. (The pitcher) will provide the power.”

From his 7U to 14U summer, Metcalf played travel baseball for the Granger Cubs. Teammates included Kavadas, Trevor Waite, Matt Kominkiewicz and Tony Carmola.

He played for Penn’s summer team after his first two high school campaigns then one summer each with the Eric Osborn-coached Indiana Nitro (17U) and Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays (18U). Prior to his senior year, he played for the Kevin Christman-coached San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team.

Nolan Metcalf, a 2017 graduate of Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has spent three baseball seasons at the University of Kansas. This summer he is with the Northern Michigan Dune Bears of the Northwoods League, playing all his games in Traverse City, Mich. (University of Kansas Image)

Baseball, friendship has Leyva assisting Bair at Anderson U.

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Carlos Leyva’s baseball connection to Matt Bair goes back more than two decades.

Leyva and Bair were Babe Ruth teammates in Anderson, Ind., at 13, 14 and 15. Rudy Mannie was the head coach. Leyva was mostly an outfielder and Bair a middle infielder.

In high school ball, Leyva represented the Phil Nikirk-coached Madison Heights Pirates while Bair was nearby with Terry Turner’s Anderson Indians. Both players graduated in 1995.

Leyva, Bair and Mannie were reunited when Bair became the head coach at Anderson Highland High School with Leyva and Mannie as assistants.

“It was cool to see that come full circle,” says Leyva of he and Bair getting to coach with a boyhood mentor in Mannie. “He was a big influence in both our lives.”

Madison Heights and Highland have since been consolidated into Anderson High.

After serving four seasons (2004-07) as a Scots junior varsity coach on the staff of Highland head coach Jason Stecher (current to Turner at Daleville (Ind.) High School and son of long-time Highland head coach Bob Stecher, who retired with more than 500 victories), Leyva was a varsity assistant for three years with Bair (2008-10).

So it was a natural when Bair took over as head baseball coach at Anderson University that he’d reach out to his friend.

“We really hit it off (at Highland) then he asked me to come with him to AU,” says Leyva. “We were getting the band back together.”

The 2020 Anderson season – though it was shortened to nine games because of the COVID-19 pandemic — was the third on Leyva with the Ravens.

His duties include working with outfielders, base running and assisting Bair with hitters. He also coaches first base when AU is at the plate.

Leyva has keys for his outfielders.

“The most important thing we can do is re-direct the ball back to the infield,” says Leyva. “We can shut down the other team’s offense.

“We focus on three goals at all times — keep the double play in order, limit the offense to one base at a time and with balls in the ground we’re 100 percent (no errors).”

The stolen base is a major part of Ravens baseball.

“We got progressively better as we implemented our system,” says Leyva. “We take pride in our base running.

“In a game where the defense has the ball we can take some control back on offense. We’re constantly studying what the game is giving us to see where we can find an advantage.”

Anderson, a member of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, swiped 105 bases in 45 games in 2018. Once Leyva and Bair had their system in place, the team lost to one of the more prolific teams in NCAA Division III, pilfering 109 in 37 games in 2019 and heisting 42 in nine contests in 2020.

“As a rule of thumb, the entire team has the green light,” says Leyva. “We live on those opportunities we’re creating.”

Bair runs the overall hitting system, including small group work in practice. Leyva spends time on the offensive side the outfielders.

“Our staff at AU is affluent in the game of baseball,” says Leyva of a group that also features Brandon Schnepp, John Becker, Jeff Freeman, Zach Barnes and Nate McKeon. “We dip our toes into each other’s pools at times.

“We have a rather large staff for a college team. That’s a testament to Bair and local guys who love the game and know what’s going on. Opinions and input is always welcome.”

Prior to joining the Ravens, Leyva spent seven seasons as an an assistant at Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School (2011-17) under two Arabians head coaches — two years with Bill Stoudt and five with Travis Keesling. The PHHS program is now headed by Matt Vosburgh.

“That was awesome, spending time in the dugout with a Hall of Famer,” says Leyva of his experience with Indiana High school Baseball Coaches Association enshrinee Stoudt.

Leyva says Keesling’s ability to leverage the abilities of his coaching staff is one of his strengths.

“He had a football mentality with position coaches,” says Leyva. “He let the infield guy be the infield guy (and so on). He took over that managerial role of figuring out how to best put those pieces together.

“You see staffs being put together that way all over the country. He was early to that concept.”

Leyva fondly looks back on his days playing at Madison Heights for Nikirk (who is now secondary school principal at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis).

“He was really big on personal responsibility and accountability and was really fair,” says Leyva. “He gave the guys opportunities.

“Those are qualities I’ve carried forward in my coaching career.”

Leyva has also coached travel baseball. He was co-founder and a head coach of the Indiana Magic in 2011-12 and was an assistant to Ryan Bunnell with Indiana Bulls 16U in 2013, Mike Farrell with the Indiana Outlaws (an organization started by Jay Hundley which is now part of Evoshield Canes Midwest) in 2014 and Mike Hitt with the Indiana Blue Jays 2015-17.

The Magic was comprised of players from Madison and surrounding counties and won 60 games in two summers.

Besides leading a Bulls team, Bunnell is also head coach at Westfield (Ind.) High School.

Farrell, who played at Indiana State University, is a veteran instructor and a scouting supervisor for the Kansas City Royals.

“That may have been as much fun as I’ve had in baseball.” says Leyva of his time coaching the Blue Jays. “We were a single (18U) team. The roster was all guys committed to playing college baseball at a high level and there were no egos.

“We just had a blast playing really good baseball. We were like 60-5 in three years.”

Thomas Hall, Leyva’s nephew, was on each of those travel teams. The Pendleton Heights graduate was selected for the 2015 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Terre Haute and played at Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill.

After graduating from Madison Heights, Leyva attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., for two years then transferred to Indiana University in Bloomington. He majored in Computer Information Systems and is a 2000 graduate of IU’s Kelley School of Business and has worked since 2008 for IBM as a System Storage Enterprise Client Technical Specialist.

Carlos and Julie Leyva have three children — fourth grader Mia (10), second grader Izzy (8) and kindergartener Cruz (7). Julie is on the front lines of the pandemic as a nurse practitioner.

CARLOSLEYVAANDERSONU

Carlos Leyva has been an assistant baseball coach at Anderson (Ind.) University since the 2018 season. (Anderson University Photo)

 

With refined plate approach, Freed takes off at Butler, lands in Giants system

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Harrison Freed began making an offensive jump in the summer of 2018 and the baseball continued to jump off his bat during the 2019 season at Butler University.

The righty-swinging outfielder worked with hitting coach Stu Pederson (father of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson) while with the LaCrosse (Wis.) Loggers of the Northwoods League summer collegiate season, hitting .291 with 12 home runs, 15 doubles, 61 runs batted in and 53 runs scored in 63 games.

“I got more confident as a player and a hitter,” says Freed. “I knew my talent could get me where I am today.

“I made a lot of adjustments working with (Stu Pederson). I did a lot of work to build off what I was doing in the summer with (Roundtripper Sports Academy instructor Chris Estep and Butler hitting coach Andy Pascoe, who had played for LaCrosse during his collegiate career at the University of Evansville).

“(Estep) is an interesting guy. He knows a lot about hitting. He gave me a lot of wisdom. He really knows what he’s talking about. He’s one of the best in the business.”

This past spring at Butler, Freed earned first team all-Big East Conference selection, second team Perfect Game/Rawlings College All-American, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association second team All-American and American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings second team all-region honors while posting a .376 average with 17 homers, 10 doubles, 73 RBIs and 44 runs scored to go with a .448 on-base percentage in 52 games (all starts).

Freed says he refined his approach at the plate.

“Instead of going up there and looking for what I want, I’m looking for what I’m going to get,” says Freed. “I’m looking for extra base hits and finding a way to get to second base.

“Launch angle is a word that gets tossed out there. But it has to be natural. Personally, I don’t like launch angle. It creates something before the swing it’s something you can’t always control. If the pitch is down and you try to swing under the ball, it’s not going to work. You have to be able to pick and choose which balls you’re trying to hit in the air.

“I normally drive the ball out of the park when it’s belt-high or above. If it’s down, it has to be something over the plate. If it’s up and away or up and in, I have a better chance.”

His first two seasons with the Bulldogs, Freed’s stat line read .306/2/4/14/8 in 2017 and .240/4/12/37/23 in 2018.

In the summer of 2017, Freed played for the Cal Ripken CollegiateDalto Baseball League’s D.C. Grays with a line of .330/7/9/29/16.

He arrived at Butler at the same time as head coach Dave Schrage.

“He changed the culture,” says Freed of Schrage, who has led the Bulldogs to marks of 31-20, 34-30 and 26-26 in his three seasons in Indianapolis. “He’s a very competitive guy.”

Freed impressed the San Francisco Giants enough that they selected the 2016 Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate in the 13th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He is currently trading off between left field and right field for the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes.

The 21-year-old went into the last day of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League regular season (Sept. 2) hitting .269 with seven homers, 15 two-baggers, 26 runs batted in and 28 runs scored in 47 games.

Salem-Keizer has made the playoffs, which begin Sept. 4. After that, Freed expects to come back to Westfield to work out at Roundtripper with the expectation of going to a winter rookie camp or two in California or Arizona. Another Giants minor leaguer, Dalton Combs, has also trained at Roundtripper.

Focusing on baseball for now, Freed says he plans to finish his finance degree following the 2020 season.

The youngest son of former collegiate golfer and Kokomo business owner Mike and Zionsville chemical engineer Jane Freed and younger brother of Louisville area medical salesman Jackson Freed (who played baseball at Franklin College), Harrison played two years with the Westfield Rocks and then with the Indiana Mustangs from age 11 to 17. As an 18-year-old, he spent the summer before college with the Indiana Blue Jays. He also played for coach Kevin Christman’s San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team for three years.

Ryan Bunnell was Freed’s head coach at Westfield High School.

“He’s a really nice guy,” says Freed of Bunnell. “He knows what he’s doing.”

Among Freed’s Shamrocks teammates were Ryan Pepiot (who went on to Butler and is now pitching the Dodgers system), Milo Beam (who went on to play the outfield at Purdue University) and Max McCool (who went on to pitch at Indiana Wesleyan University).

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Harrison Freed hit .376 average with 17 homers, 10 doubles, 73 RBIs and 44 runs scored to go with a .448 on-base percentage in 52 games (all starts) for Butler Univesity in 2019. (Butler University Photo).

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Harrison Freed, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate, was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now with the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)

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Harrison Freed, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate, was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now with the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes. He is a righty-swinging outfielder. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)

Right-hander Pepiot brings competitive spirit to Dodgers system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ryan Pepiot enjoyed visiting Midwest League baseball parks as a kid.

He went to see minor leaguers in South Bend, Fort Wayne and Dayton.

“Now, I’m playing here and it’s pretty cool,” says Pepiot, a first-year pro in the Los Angeles Dodgers system.

A hard-throwing 21-year-old right-handed pitcher, Pepiot is with the Midland, Mich.-based Great Lakes Loons.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder throws from a high three-quarter arm slot and sports a four-seam fastball that ranges from 93 to 96 mph and a “circle” change-up with depth and fade that moves at 83 to 85 mph to go with a sweeping slider and “1 to 7” curveball.

Pepiot (pronounced Pep-E-Oh) was selected in the third round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers out of Butler University in Indianapolis.

LA’s first-rounder — Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate and former Tulane University slugger — Kody Hoese — is now Pepiot’s Great Lakes teammate.

After four appearances and five innings in the Arizona League, 2016 Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate Pepiot was sent back to the Midwest, where the weather is not as hot and he’s closer to family and friends.

The son of Mike and Christine Pepiot and older brother of Kyle Pepiot has hurled a pair of two-inning stints with Great Lakes — the last on July 25 — and sports a 2.00 ERA, combining the AZL and MWL. He’s currently on a limit of about two innings per outing.

Asked about his best qualities as an athlete and Pepiot is quick to answer.

“I’m a great teammate, a big time competitor and very hard-working,” says Pepiot, who played for head coach Ryan Bunnell as a Westfield Shamrock.

“I like Coach Bunnell,” says Pepiot. “He’s really personable. He knows the system and knows the guys. He’s doing a fine job over there in a really tough (Hoosier Crossroads) Conference.”

Pepiot learned much from travel ball coaches Chris Estep and Scott Shirley in a long tenure with the Indiana Mustangs (9U through 17U) and competed for the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays prior to his freshman year at Butler.

Recruited to the Bulldogs by Steve Farley, Pepiot adjusted when Dave Schrage took over the Butler program prior to his arrival on campus.

“I went into it with an open mind,” says Pepiot of the change. “I looked at it as a clean slate and a chance to impress coaches.

“I wanted to make way into the starting rotation and I did that as freshman.”

Pepiot honed his craft in the New England Collegiate League with the Keene (N.H.. Swamp Bats) and in the Cape Cod League with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks in the summers following his freshman and sophomore seasons.

“I checked all the the boxes at Butler,” says Pepiot.

As a freshman in 2017, he led the team in starts with 13 and went 4-4 with a 4.39 earned run average and 79 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings.

He followed that up as a sophomore in 2018, by going 6-0 with a 2.62 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 75 2/3 innings in 15 games (12 starts).

Pepiot’s junior campaign in 2019 saw him post a 4-4 record, 3.92 ERA and 126 K’s and 78 frames in 14 contests (all starts).

Always an aggressive pitcher, Pepiot says he appreciates how the Dodgers emphasize throwing strikes.

“Some pitchers throw around the zone,” says Pepiot. “The strike zone is our friend.

“We want to win the race to two strikes.”

Great Lakes won the Eastern Division title in the Midwest League’s first half and is guaranteed a playoff berth. The regular season concludes Sept. 2 (Labor Day).

When the season is over, Pepiot is slated for a month back in Arizona for the instructional league. He is not sure yet where he will train during the off-season.

The next steps on the Dodgers organization ladder above Great Lakes are Advanced Class-A Rancho Cucamonga, Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City.

Though he won’t be able to do it it this year, Pepiot does plan to go back to Butler to finish his degree. He is 21 credits shy as a finance/marketing double major.

Mike Pepiot is is in automotive sales. Christine Pepiot is is a special education teacher at the elementary level.

Outfielder/right-handed pitcher Kyle Pepiot was part of the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and is heading into his freshman year at Butler.

The Pepiot brothers were teammates for one season at Westfield. The younger brother has also picked his older brother’s brain about the next level and taken live batting practice against him.

“He’s a quiet kid,” says Ryan of Kyle. “But he is one of the hardest-working kids I know.

“He’s going to do some big things at Butler and really surprise some people.”

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Ryan Pepiot, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate who played at Butler University, is now a pitcher in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. (Great Lakes Loons Photo)

 

Former Hamilton Southeastern, Ohio State outfielder Gantt a second-year pro in Indians system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As Tre’ Gantt goes to the ballpark each day in his second season as a professional baseball player, he always packs his top tool.

“It’s my speed,” says Gantt, who is in the Cleveland Indians system with the Low Class-A Lake County (Ohio) Captains, where Luke Carlin is the manager and Pete Lauritson the hitting coach. “I can cover ground in the outfield. When I get on base I’m trying to wreak havoc out there.

“I’ll have the pitcher think about me rather than the hitter and leave something over the plate for him.”

After logging 37 games and hitting .197 with the Arizona League Indians in 2017, the 2018 season has seen Gantt move around. He played six games for the High Class-A Lynchburg (Va.) Hillcats, 40 for the Short Season Class-A Mahoning Valley (Ohio) Scrappers, one for the Triple-A Columbus (Ohio) Clippers before making his first appearance in the Lake County lineup Aug. 22.

Going into the Captains’ last three games of the Midwest League schedule, Gantt had played a total of 55 games with a .188 average, one home run, two triples, five doubles, 10 runs batted in, 21 runs scored and five stolen bases.

Gantt, a 5-foot-10, 180-pounder who swings and throws from the left side, was selected in the 29th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft after three seasons at Ohio State University (2015-17).

With the Buckeyes, Gantt played in 139 games (109 as a starter) and hit .294 with two homers, three triples, 22 doubles, 40 RBIs, 80 runs and 26 stolen bases.

In 2017, he made 55 starts and hit .315 with two homers, two triples, 13 doubles, 18 RBIs, 46 runs and 14 stolen bases. He was usually playing left field and batting No. 1 or 2 in the order.

With head coach Greg Beals guiding the team and promoting a spirit of “brotherhood,”, OSU won 35 games in 2015, 44 in 2016 and 22 in 2017.

“We went through a lot of ups and downs at Ohio State,” says Gantt. “My sophomore year was a pretty good year. We won the Big Ten Tournament and went out to (an NCAA) regional.

“Junior year was the opposite of that. It was a down year. We had to stick together, work hard together and feed off each other.”

Gantt has three semesters left toward a Sport Industry degree from Ohio State.

What about the adjustment to pro baseball?

“It’s an everyday thing,” says Gantt, who turned 22 in May. “You’ve got to be ready to play and give your all every single day

“With hitting, you’ve got to be on time for the fastball. That’s the biggest thing.”

Gantt played three seasons at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind. (2012-14). Born in Davenport, Iowa, he moved to Missouri in second grade and then on to central Indiana in 10th grade.

At HSE, his head coach was Scott Henson.

“I got a lot of work ethic from him,” says Gantt of Henson. “He taught us about going about our business, working hard and not taking any days off — a lot of positive stuff.”

Gantt hit .411 with four homers, four triples, 13 doubles, 28 RBIs and 25 runs as a junior in 2013 as he was named honorable mention all-state, all-Hoosier Crossroads Conference and the Hamilton County Player of the Year by two outlets. He was also chosen for the Indianapolis Star Super Team.

In Gantt’s senior year with the Royals, he hit .371 with nine RBIs and 26 runs scored and was an all-region central team selection.

After moving to Hoosier State, Gantt played three summers of travel baseball with the Indiana Prospects and one with the Indiana Blue Jays.

Tre’ is the son of Kelly and Jodi Gantt of Fishers, Ind. He has an older sister named Tori (23).

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Tre’ Gantt, a Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate who played three baseball seasons at Ohio State University, is now in the Cleveland Indians system. The swift outfielder was drafted in 2017. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

With a little help from dad, Sampen pitching in Dodgers organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Caleb Sampen, a right-hander in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, is a second-generation professional baseball pitcher.

His father — Bill Sampen — toed the rubber for pay for 10 seasons and appeared in 182 major league games with the Montreal Expos, Kansas City Royals and California Angels.

Selected in the 20th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate Caleb Sampen had been in three pro games though July 10 — all with the Short Season Class-A Ogden (Utah) Raptors.

Caleb has picked up pointers from his father. But it hasn’t been too much.

When Caleb was getting started in the game, Bill was coaching his two older sons. Isaac and Sam played for the West Side Crusaders.

“I was just around,” says Caleb Sampen. “(My father) didn’t force any mechanics on me. He let me be an athlete.

“It wasn’t like I had a pitching lesson with him everyday.”

The elder Sampen decided when his older boys were reaching their teens that he would stop serving as a coach for their teams and he never coached any of Caleb’s squads.

“It was best for them to learn to play for other people,” says Bill Sampen, “I thought that was part of the process. I think that’s the best route for kids.

“I got to step back and just be a dad and enjoy watching them play.

“I just played coach when they asked me questions.”

In November, Samp’s Hack Shack baseball/softball training facilities will reach the ninth year in Brownsburg (5,200 square feet) and mark one year in Plainfield (7,500 square feet).

The Indiana Expos travel organization are in their second season and have seven teams in 2018. None of them have fathers coaching their own sons.

Bill Sampen says that policy for Expos coaches achieves a couple things.

“It allows us to be completely honest and give honest and objective feedback,” says Bill Sampen. “And they just get to watch their kid play.

“I know I enjoy the value of just sitting back and being a dad. The truth is they’re not going to play very long. Enjoy the journey. Don’t stress so much.”

Bill Sampen coaches the 16U National team, David Brewers the 16U American, Derek Hankins the 15U National, Nick Spence the 15U American, Isaac Sampen the 14U National, Leo Tobasco the 14U American, Tony Meyer the 13U National.

Calling the teams the Expos was not Bill’s call.

“My family decision informed that was what the name was,” says Bill Sampen. “You can see I have no clout.”

Bill coached the Bethesda Christian School baseball team for about a decade before starting his training business.

“It’s a very pure level of coaching I have now,” says Bill Sampen, “I appreciate that.”

During the school year, he has students from 4 p.m. on. But he is involved seven days a week most of the year as either an instructor or travel ball coach.

His 16U team has been in Georgia, competing against some of the best from all over the continent.

“Our upper age groups do more extensive travel,” says Bill Sampen. “We’re helping them get exposure. They get to see kids committed (to colleges) all over the place.

“It’s good for our players to see the skill level and talent that’s out there. We want to play people that the only way we can beat them is if we out-execute them.

“Do things right day in and day out. If you have a plan and do the routine things, you’re going to be in baseball games, no matter who you’re playing.”

Knowing that some players will not go on to college, they are getting to have experiences they may not have without travel baseball.

“We want to hope them grow and develop — not just as baseball players but as people,” says Bill Sampen. “It’s the life skills that carry past baseball.

“If you’re trying to win trophies, I think you’ve got the wrong purpose.”

Caleb Sampen grew up in Brownsburg and played at Brownsburg Little League until seventh grade when he started his travel ball experiences. He donned the uniforms of the Indiana Outlaws, Indiana Prospects and Indiana Bulls and Indiana Blue Jays.

At Brownburg High, where Caleb graduated in 2015, his head coach was Eric Mattingly.

“He always talked about doing the little things right and an attention to detail,” says Caleb Sampen, who played shortstop when not pitching for the Bulldogs. “You take care of every little piece so you’re well-prepared.”

At Wright State, Sampen had Greg Lovelady as his head coach and Justin Parker his pitching coach his freshman year before both went to the University of Central Florida.

“(Parker) always talks about lower half and using your legs,” says Caleb Sampen.

The next two years, Jeff Mercer was head coach and Alex Sogard led the pitching staff.

(Sogard) didn’t try to change me a whole lot on the mound,” says Caleb Sampen. “He was pretty individualized, which I liked a lot.”

Recently, Mercer became head coach at Indiana University and Sogard was promoted to head coach at Wright State.

Sampen also got the chance this past year to learned from Diamyn Hall, NCAA Division I baseball’s first full-time mental skills coach.

“We worked on routines and being ready to go,” says Sampen of Hall. “He gets you in that mindset and having self awareness.”

In Caleb Sampen, Bill sees a cerebral kid.

“He’s got an idea,” says Bill Sampen. “I can’t take any credit for any successes he’s had.”

The father does see some similarities to himself.

Bill Sampen developed his abilities while playing baseball and basketball at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill.

“I see the way he moves and his athleticism,” says Bill Sampen of Caleb. “He has a long, loose arm and does things naturally.”

In two seasons at Wright State (2016 and 2018), Caleb went 14-4 in 26 games (21 as a starter) with a 2.92 earned run average, 90 strikeouts and 37 walks in 141 2/3 innings. He missed the 2017 season after having surgery on the ulnar nerve in his elbow.

On a pitch count because of the college workload in the spring of 2018, Caleb Sampen, 21, began his pro career with two relief appearances and a short starting stint. He was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA, seven strikeouts and one walk in 4 2/3 innings.

Jeremy Rodriguez is the Ogden manager. Dean Stiles is the pitching coach.

The next stops on the Dodgers minor league trail are the Low Class-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes, Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers and Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Caleb says he goes to the bump each time with an aggressiveness mindset.

“You’ve got to go out and attack with your strengths,” says Caleb Sampen, who uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, 12-to-6 curveball and cutter.

What about the change-up?

“It’s own own little mix I’ve perfected over the years,” says Caleb Sampen. “I use an off-set two-seam grip and throw it with my ring finger and middle finger. I keep my index finger off the ball as much as possible.”

Amy Sampen, a former Brownsburg teacher, is now an virtual educator and is the “boss” as co-owner of the Hack Shack, according to Bill.

Isaac Sampen (24) and Sam Sampen (23) both played at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. Sam graduated highs school a semester early and joined his older brother.

Isaac Sampen went on to play at Eastern Illinois University and Sam Sampen at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Besides coaching and helping with the coordination of the Expos, Isaac now helps in many ways at the Shack. Sam has an outside job and also helps out at the training facilities.

In his time around the game, Bill Sampen has seen an increase in research and scientific data related to throwing a baseball.

“It’s validated some things that should have been done all along,” says Bill Sampen. “It can be very valuable in preventing injury.

“It seems that injuries are still there in spite of new data and new science.”

The likely reason?

“It’s the intensity of weight training,” says Bill Sampen. “Velocity is based on arm speed and not body strength.

“There are big, physical guys that can’t throw hard.”

And yet 5-foot-11, 180-pounder Billy Wagner regularly hit 100 mph and won 47 games and saved 422 in the bigs.

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Caleb Sampen, a 2015 Brownsburg High School graduate and former Wright State University pitcher, makes a delivery for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. (Ogden Raptors Photo)