Tag Archives: Indiana Bulls

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)

DePauw’s Callahan juggles baseball, studying for health care career

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kyle Callahan’s future is pointed toward a career in health care.

His father (Mike Callahan) and uncle (Jim Callahan) are doctors. He has cousins who are doctors and dentists.

“That’s what I grew up with,” says Callahan, a Biochemistry major at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., where he has been on the Tiger Pride Honor Roll for his first four semesters and is a member of the Future Medical Professionals club with his sights set on medical, dental or optometry school.

But that’s not all.

Callahan is a baseball player.

During the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, he hit .324 (11-of-34) with two home runs, 18 runs batted in and 10 runs scored in eight games. He started all eight as the Tigers’ designated hitter, batting in the No. 3 hole. After four losses to open the campaign, NCAA Division III DePauw ended with a four-game winning streak.

After sweeping Saturday and Sunday doubleheaders at Manchester University, players were told they could not shake hands with the opposition.

“We were told, ‘you’re not going to do this today.’ We had heard talks about the virus. We knew something was up.”

The team practiced for a few days and then found out the rest of the season was canceled.

“It was definitely a tough pill to swallow,” says Callahan. “Especially for the seniors. They played their last game as a DePauw Tiger.”

Callahan has played two years in the Black and Gold.

In his freshman campaign of 2019, he hit .296 (34-of-115) with four homers and 24 RBIs while scoring 41 runs and learning lessons from Tigers head coach Blake Allen.

“He came from Vanderbilt,” says Callahan of the DePauw graduate who served two stints on the Nashville-based NCAA Division I powerhouse (2004-08, 2015-16). “He definitely knows what he’s talking about.

“He teaches us how be a good player and how to behave off the field. He stresses how important that is after college to be a good person. We have meetings where we talk about that.”

The Tigers also talk about being a good teammate, competitive and displaying mental toughness.

“You’ve got to be mentally tough to play baseball,” says Callahan. “Seven out of 10 times you’re going to fail. You have to focus on your positives.

“You may have one tough day. But there’s always tomorrow. There always’s more AB’s.”

Callahan had a memorable at-bat Tuesday, June 23.

Making a transition from outfield to first base, he’s been playing that position this summer for the Mark Walther-coached Marksmen in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. 

In the first game of a doubleheader against the Woodchucks, righty-swinger Callahan faced DePauw teammate E.J. White and socked a homer that TrackMan Baseball data says traveled 416.96 feet (the CBL’s longest hit in Week 2). 

“It went right down the left field line,” says Callahan. “I pulled it. It kind of hooked around the pole.

“I was afraid the umpire was going to wave the ball foul.”

It’s not a long commute to Grand Park. Callahan is from Zionsvillle, Ind., in nearby Boone County. 

A 2018 graduate of Zionsville Community High School, Callahan was on junior varsity as a freshmen and a roster player when the Eagles were IHSAA Class 4A state runners-up in 2016. He started in the outfield in 2017 and 2018 for head coach Jered Moore.

“He was always a great coach,” says Callahan of Moore. “Coming in as a freshmen, I was intimidated by him. Our relationship evolved and he became a friend. He supported us on the field and taught us how to behave off the field.

“He was a great role model and mentor throughout high school.”

Callahan was born in Indianapolis. His father, who now works at St. Ascension St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis, did a three-year fellowship in Boston and the family landed back in Zionsville when Kyle was 7.

Organized baseball began at Zionsville Little League. Kyle was on the first Zionsville Baseball Club travel teams at 12U and 13U. 

From 14U to 18U, Callahan played for the Indiana Bulls with head coaches Mike Wade, Jeremy Honaker, Dan Held, Troy Drosche and Matt Campbell.

These days, Wade’s son Kyle plays at Purdue University. Former Bulls executive director Held is on the Indiana University coaching staff. Honaker (Martinsville), Drosche (Avon) and Campbell (Lapel) are high school head coaches.

Honaker, Callahan’s 15U Bulls coach, went from Zionsville High assistant to the Artesians and has continued to work with Callahan on his hitting in the summer.

“He’s been an awesome part of my baseball career,” says Callahan.

Last summer when a chance to play for the Chillicothe (Ohio) Paints in the Prospect League fell through, Callahan worked out with long-time friend Nick Nelson. They’ve known each other since middle school and were high school teammates and share the field at DePauw. Nelson was the Tigers’ starting center fielder in 2020.

“He’s short stocky guy,” says Callahan of Nelson. “He’s pretty jacked. He wants to do something in the health field as well, maybe Kinesiology or Physical Therapy school.”

Callahan has to balance the diamond and academics in college.

“It’s tough,” says Callahan. “There’s some hard moments when you feel swamped.

“The important thing is to manage your time wisely. You should really try to stay on top of your work so it doesn’t snowball on you all at once.

“We have great resources at DePauw with teacher assistants and tutoring hours — usually nightly.”

The Tiger Honor Roll was established by director of athletics and recreational sports Stevie Baker-Watson to recognize the top student-athletes. To get on the list, they must have semester grade-point average of 3.40 or higher.

As a D-III program, the Tigers work with coaches in the fall and then — about the end of September — coaches are not allowed to instruct players.

“We have senior- or upperclassmen-led practices,” says Callahan. “It’s important. It weeds out the guys who aren’t fully committed to making baseball a priority.

“It’s definitely a bonding experience.”

When Callahan has rare free time he sometimes works in St. Vincent’s operating rooms as a Patient Care Technician (PCT). He cleans up after a case and gets it ready for the next.

“It’s immersed me into the hospital setting,” says Callahan. “I’ve only worked one day since COVID started and there were no cases when I was there.”

While keeping his baseball skills sharp, Callahan has been studying to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) on Aug. 7. 

He’s glad he lives near a testing site because the exam is slated for 6:30 a.m.

Mike and Mollie Callahan (a former Westfield Elementary teacher) have three children. Kyle (20) has a twin sister named Grace, who is studying Journalism at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Christian (10) is baseball and basketball player heading into fourth grade.

Kyle Callahan, a graduate of Zionsville (Ind.) High School, has played two baseball seasons at DePauw University where he is a Biochemistry major. This summer he is playing for the Marksmen in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

Tirotta stays close to home while gearing up for final season with Dayton Flyers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Riley Tirotta is enjoying baseball and family life this summer.

Coming off an abbreviated junior season at the University of Dayton in Ohio because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tirotta spent the first month of quarantine at home in South Bend, Ind., and about a week in Bryan, Texas, where he participated in the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational.

A 6-foot-3, 210-pound righty swinger who has started 109 games at Dayton (including 97 at third base the past two seasons with starts at designated hitter, right field, first base and second base as a freshmen in 2018), Tirotta did not get selected in the five-round 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Citing unfinished business, he decided not to sign a free agent contact with an MLB organization and he’s planning to come back for his senior season in 2021.

“We had a really good team at Dayton this year,” says Tirotta. “We can do a lot of special things. We have a lot of seniors returning. If I do some things individually and we win some games, I can put myself in an even better position (for professional baseball). 

“We want to finish what we started.”

As a sophomore, Tirotta led Dayton in hits (59), at-bats (227) and stolen bases (18 in 20 attempts) and tied for the team lead in RBIs (41). He enjoyed 16 multi-hit games. 

His freshmen year yielded 27 hits and seven stolen bases while he fielded at a .987 clip.

A past honoree on the dean’s and Atlantic 10 Conference commissioner’s academic lists, Tirotta is on track to earned his Finance degree at Dayton.

At the CSBI, Tirotta played on a team managed by former big league pitcher, Gary, Ind., native and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer LaTroy Hawkins and got to face former high school teammate Nate Thomas and college mate Cole Pletka.

Before joining the Matt Kennedy-coached Snapping Turtles of the College Summer League at Grand Park this week, Tirotta spent about 10 days training at Prospect Performance Academy in Aurora, Ohio — near Cleveland and Akron.

Tirotta has worked for more than a year with agent and PPA founder/owner Ben Simon.

“He’s helping me get ready for pro ball and reaching out to scouts,” says Tirotta of Simon. “We’re pretty good friends.”

The CSL plays its games on Monday and Tuesday (11 a.m. doubleheaders). Tirotta spends the rest of the time in South Bend, where he works out at the O’Brien Fitness Center and the 1st Source Bank Performance Center (home of the South Bend Cubs), where Mark Haley is the director.

Following workouts prescribed by trainers, including those at Dayton, Tirotta hits the gym five or six times a week. He goes through strength and conditioning moves and does sprint training.

“I use my speed as well as my power,” says Tirotta. “Just being at athlete on the baseball field is one of my biggest strengths.

“I like to use my athleticism a lot. I’m making plays and using my arm strength. I take extra bases when I can and get stolen bases. I’m hitting a few home runs here and there. I’m pretty well-rounded. I’m not a power-only guy.”

Dayton played just 14 games before the 2020 season was halted. Tirotta started cold and finished hot. He wound up hitting .228 (13-of-57) with one homer, one double, 15 RBIs, nine runs, four stolen bases.

He batted fourth in the Flyers’ final game on March 9 at Dayton swept a three-game series against Northern Kentucky. 

The previous day, Flyers head coach Jayson King inserted Tirotta in the 3-hole and he went 3-for-6 3-for-6 with a home run, double, three runs batted in and three runs scored.

“I was putting good barrel on the ball and going in a good direction,” says Tirotta. “Then COVID happened.

“(Coach King has) done everything for me. He’s gotten me into the Cape and a lot of good leagues. He gets us where we need to be.”

Tirotta hooked up with the CSL when other collegiate summer leagues were canceled or scaled back for 2020. 

He got into 28 games in the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2019 — 19 with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and nine with the Harwich Mariners. He signed a temporary contract with Y-D and finished with league runner-up Harwich. He supposed to go back to Harwich this summer, but the league canceled its schedule.

He knew he wanted to play summer ball. He was not sure where and then the opportunity came at Grand Park.

“There’s a lot of guys I grew up playing with and against,” says Tirotta, a 2017 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., who played travel ball with the Indiana Bulls his 17U and 18U summers after being with the South Bend Silver Hawks for 15U and 16U and the Michiana Scrappers for 11U through 14U. Coached by his father, he started organized baseball at Southeast Little League in South Bend.

Playing summer ball two times a week in Indiana, Riley also gets to be around parents Mike and Stacy Tirotta and younger brother Jordan (a 2020 Marian graduate who plans to study dentistry at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis). 

Sunday nights are for dinners at grandpa Frank Tirotta’s house. It’s not unusual for 40 or more relatives and friends to gather for these weekly feasts or on holidays.

“I have a very close family,” says Tirotta. When pandemic hit that shut down meals with his grandfather — a widower — and visits were kept at a distance. “He was fed up with it and itching to see everybody again.”

Mike Marks has broken bread with the Tirottas. He runs the Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and has been helping Riley with his swing since Marian coach Joe Turnock and son Josh Turnock recommended him during Tirotta’s freshmen year with the Knights.

“He’s the reason I am a college hitter,” says Tirotta. “I put in a lot of hours with him.

“He’s definitely part of the journey in my baseball career.”

Baseball gears back up again next week. Right now, Tirotta is getting ready to join family for some camping.

Riley Tirotta, a graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has played three baseball seasons at the University of Dayton in Ohio. This summer he is playing in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (University of Dayton Photo)

Competitive juices flow on Fridays at PRP Baseball

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Friday is “Compete Day” for PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball.

After week of training, players get a competitive outlet in a controlled game played inside spacious Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind

PRP Baseball founder Greg Vogt, who talked with IndianaRBI about strength training for overhead athletes in November 2019, explains the culture of working hard each day and athletes pushing athletes.

“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”

During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.

Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.

“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”

Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.

Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.

College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.

Vogt says Friday’s session alone had players representing the following Indiana universities: Anderson, Ball State, Butler, DePauw, Huntington, Indiana, IU Kokomo, Indiana State, Indiana Wesleyan, Purdue, Purdue Fort Wayne, Saint Francis and Taylor. Plus there were those from Akron, College of Charleston, Illinois State, Northern Kentucky and Spalding as well as junior colleges John Wood, Lincoln Trail and South Suburban.

That’s just Friday’s list.

Several players from College Summer League at Grand Park in nearby Westfield, Ind., train with Vogt and company at PRP Baseball.

Dominick Berardi, a right-handed pitcher at Daytona (Fla.) State College was sent to work with PRP Baseball for the summer.

“They’re coming and they’re asking for housing,” says Vogt of his ever-growing client list from outside Indiana.

Vogt notes that three 2020 high school graduates from northwest Indiana — IU commit Tyler Nelson (Andrean), Illinois State commits Gene Kolarik (Crown Point) and Jonathan Sabotnik (Crown Point) — travel together to play in the Grand Park league and train at PRP Baseball.

Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games. 

The American Association is playing with six teams (Chicago Dogs, Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, Milwaukee Milkmen, Sioux Falls Canaries and Winnipeg Goldeyes) rotating between three cities — Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota/Minnesota, Franklin, Wis.,. and Sioux Falls, S.D.

Polley, a 23-year-old left-hander, played at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School and Indiana State University before being drafted by the Rangers in the 16th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.

“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”

Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.

“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”

Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.

Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.

“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.

“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”

Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.

For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.

With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.

“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.

“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”

Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.

“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.

Milto, 23, is a right-hander who played at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and Indiana University before being selected by the White Sox in the 23rd round of the 2019 MLB Draft.

“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working. 

“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”

Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.

“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto. 

While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.

“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible. 

“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”

Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment. 

“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development. 

“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”

Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.

“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.

“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.

“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”

Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.

“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”

Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.

“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”

When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.

“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.

“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”

Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.

Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”

“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.

“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”

Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.

“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”

And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.

“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”

Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.

He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.

“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.

“I’ve been maintaining.”

Vogt says pro pitchers Jacob Cantleberry (Center Grove High School graduate and former University of Missouri left-hander in the Los Angeles Dodgers system), Timmy Herrin (Terre Haute South Vigo High School graduate and former IU left-hander in the Cleveland Indians system) and Will Klein (Bloomington North High School graduate and former Eastern Illinois University right-hander drafted in the fifth round in 2020 by the Kansas City Royals) are expected to be a part of the PRP Baseball culture soon.

Christian Sullivan, a 2014 graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., and four-year right-handed pitcher at Franklin (Ind.) College (2015-18), has joined the PRP Baseball staff as a strength coordinator/jack-of-all-trades.

“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.

“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”

Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). 

“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent. 

“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity. 

“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”

Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.

“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”

Triston Polley, a former Brownsburg (Ind.) High School and Indiana State University player now in the Texas Rangers organization, warms up for PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball “Compete Day” Friday, June 19 at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
One of the mottos of the PRP (Passion Resilience Process) Baseball is “Rent’s Due Every Day.” It promotes a culture of hard work and competition. (PRP Baseball Image)

Batesville, Louisville graduate Britton drafted by Blue Jays

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Britton might have to wait to put on a uniform and stride to the plate in a professional baseball game for the first time.

But he is ready for that to happen.

Britton, a lefty-swinging outfielder/catcher at the University of Louisville, was selected Thursday, June 11 in the fifth round (No. 136 overall) of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.

The 2017 Batesville (Ind.) High School graduate has two years of college eligibility remaining with a extra year being granted by the NCAA when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the 2020 season to be stopped in mid-March.

But he came out of high school with 21 college credits thanks to Advanced Placement classes, took summer classes prior to his first year at Louisville and during two collegiate summer league seasons (2018 with the Newport Gulls in Rhode Island and 2019 with the Orleans Firebirds on Cape Cod) and finished his Sport Administration degree this spring.

“I feel confident that I’m going to sign with the Blue Jays,” says Britton, who has been consulting with area scout Nate Murrie. “I’m excied to start my career with them.

“I’m a winner. I’m a guy who plays the game hard.”

With no live baseball at the moment and the 2020 Minor League Baseball season in doubt, Britton awaits his next move.

“It’s a waiting game,” says Britton, 21. “I’ll see what (the Blue Jays) tell me to do.”

Before the 2020 season was stopped, Britton was hitting .322 with one home runs, 12 runs batted in and an NCAA Division I-leading 12 doubles in 17 games (all starts) for a 13-4 team.

In what turned out to be the final game, left fielder Britton batted No. 3 and went 3-of-5 and plated three runs against Chicago State on March 11.

After the shutdown, Britton spent a few weeks training in Florida then came back to Batesville and has been there ever since.

Always a left-handed hitter since he began organized baseball at 5 or 6, Britton grew up big leaguers with lefty swings like Ken Griffey Jr., switch-hitter Chipper Jones and Chase Utley.

“I definitely watched those guys coming up,” says Britton. “I took pieces of their swing and tried to put it into mine.

“I like to think of myself as a professional hitter with a good approach. I like to use the whole field and hit the ball where it’s pitched. I’m not going for home runs and I’m never swinging out of my shoes. I take what the pitcher gives me and I know the situation.”

Britton played for head coach Dan McDonnell at Louisville.

“He’s a very intelligent baseball mind,” says Britton of McDonnell. “He knows what it takes to win. He knew what I had to do to get into pro ball and one day become a big leaguer. He helped me tremendously along the way.

“He taught us how to be professional on and off the field and to be accountable. He does a good job of running a team and a program.”

Eric Snider is the Cardinals hitting coach.

“We’ve worked together a lot the last few years,” says Britton of Snider. “He’s been a tremendous help to me.

“He’s always a guy I can talk to and learn from in terms of the swing.”

Britton played four varsity baseball season at Batesville — two for head coach Alex Davis and two for current Bulldogs head coach Justin Tucker

A 2017 Rawlings-Perfect Game Honorable Mention All-American and three-time all-conference selection, Britton hit .553 with six homers, 16 doubles, 27 RBIs and 41 runs scored as a Batesville senior.

Chosen as a catcher for the South in the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series, Britton did not play because he was already enrolled in summer school at Louisville.

He’s been mostly an outfielder in college. So where does he play as a pro?

“Wherever they want to develop me, I’ll be happy to do that,” says Britton.

After playing in local leagues, Britton began travel ball at age 10 with the Indiana Prospects. He was with the Indiana Nitro at 11 and 12 and then the Indiana Bulls from 13 until he went to college. Sean Laird and Dave Taylor were among his Bulls head coaches.

Zach is the son of Barry and Debbie Britton and has two older siblings. Half brother James  served in the U.S. Marines and played football at Franklin (Ind.) College. Half sister Devin played volleyball at Anderson (Ind.) University.

Zach Britton, a 2017 graduate of Batesville (Ind.) High School and 2020 graduate of the University of Louisville, was selected in the fifth round of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. (University of Louisville Photo)

Former two-way standout Whisler still passing along diamond wisdom

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Wes Whisler was still playing when he began passing along his baseball knowledge.

During breaks from off-season training as a professional, Whisler provided lessons in the same town where he became Indiana Mr. Baseball at Noblesville (Ind.) High School in 2001 before coming a two-way player at UCLA and pitcher in the Chicago White Sox and Florida Marlins systems.

“I had extra down time,” says Whisler, now 37 and the owner of Wes Whisler Academy at The Strike Zone, 15475 Endeavor Drive, Noblesville (he founded his business in 2014, buying The Strike Zone and re-branding it). “What can i do to keep my mind sharp and give back to the younger generation? 

“At the end of my playing career, I was able to make a smooth transition to coaching and instructing, something I loved to do.”

There are three regular baseball instructors at the academy — Whisler, Travis Reboulet and Brent Miller (also with Pastime Tournaments). 

Jim Reboulet, who helps Travis coach the Indiana Nitro 18U Gold team, has conducted infield schools. 

Academy softball instructors are Kevin Schmidt, Kristen Boros and Alexandria Heygood. Schmidt coaches for the Indiana Dream travel program. Boros and Heygood played softball at Butler University.

After two years as general manager, Whisler is also in his second full year of running USAthletic Baseball Club, a travel organization he took over from long-time friend Rob Barber when the latter began focusing on The BASE Indy urban youth inititative.

USAthletic Baseball Club currently has four teams — 15U, two in 16U and 18U. 

Whisler says he looks to added other levels in the future, but is building with purpose.

With the recent lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, USAthletic players just got back together after about 10 weeks apart.

“Everybody is on a shortened time frame and under the gun,” says Whisler, who will see teams open their seasons June 14. “We’ve got to be ready to go. We pretty much jump into games.”

Whisler is always trying to provide another learning tool for his players and encouraging them to be students of the game.

Problem is the pandemic shut down live baseball in mid-March and Major League Baseball still has not started in 2020 season.

“If you’re going to play, one of the best ways is by watching,” says Whisler. “Wait, there’s no games on (TV).”

Plans call for USAthletic to play in games at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., Victory Field in Indianapolis plus road trips to Louisville and St. Louis.

Whisler has about 125 private instruction clients at his academy — many are two-way players.

A lefty hitter and thrower, the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Whisler was a first baseman/designated hitter as well as a pitcher through his college career and first two pro seasons.

“That’s all I knew my entire life,” says Whisler. “I said let’s see how it plays out. Essentially, they were getting two players for one.”

In three seasons at UCLA (2002-04), Whisler hit .304 with 34 home runs and 129 RBIs and also went 11-14 with a 5.00 earned run average, 172 strikeouts and 105 walks in 259 1/3 innings on the mound.

Selected in the second round of the 2004 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox, Whisler got to swing the bat some when not pitching and went to Chicago in the off-season to work with hitting instructors.

“The decision came down after two seasons that we’re going to make you a left-handed pitcher,” says Whisler. “That’s the way we want it. 

“At the time, the system was loaded with first baseman. (As a pitcher) I could be on the upswing and move up quicker.”

Whisler made three relief appearances with the big-team White Sox in 2009 with Ozzie Guillen as manager and Don Cooper as pitching coach and remained in pro baseball through 2013. He retired having been in Triple-A in six of 10 minor league seasons.

Whisler got his organized baseball start at Skiles Test Little League in Indy’s Lawrence Township. His seventh grade year, his family, including father Mike, mother Kristie and older brother Brandy, moved to Noblesville. 

Wes played for the Indiana Bulls from age 13-18. That last summer before college he also suited up with the Ohio’s Midland Redskins.

At Noblesville High, Whisler’s head coaches were Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dennis Kas for baseball and Dave McCollough for basketball.

“They were very in-line together with their coaching styles,” says Whisler. “They were both hard-nose and expected a lot of you. It was a work ethic they instilled.

“I may not have agreed with everything, but I can look back and say it made me a better player and a better person.”

Ohio native Gary Adams was head coach at UCLA when Whisler was with the Bruins.

“Skip was extremely genuine and a heart-felt guy,” says Whisler. “He was on the shorter side, but when he got fired up he was a pistol.”

Adams retired in 2004 after 30 seasons at UCLA. At 65, he ran five miles a day.

“He always expected and gave us his all,” says Whisler of Adams. “He got you back on track when you needed it.”

Gary Adcock was UCLA’s pitching coach for Whisler’s first two seasons.

“In high school, I was a hard thrower,” says Whisler. “He helped me learn what it was to pitch at that level.

“Facing top hitters night in and night out, it’s easy to get lost if you don’t know what you’re doing

he helped me under that process.”

In 2004, former big league pitcher Tim Leary was the Bruins pitching coach and helped Whisler get ready to make the leap into pro ball.

Vince Beringhele was UCLA’s hitting coach for all three of Whisler’s seasons. He had worked with a long list of distinguished alums, including Chase Utley, Troy Glaus, Eric Karros, Dave Roberts and Eric Valent.

One day, Beringhele called in Glaus to take batting practice with Whisler. Once he got over being starstruck, he got to pick the brain of a big league power hitter.

The summer after his first two collegiate seasons, Whisler went to the Cape Cod Baseball League to play for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox. Future big leaguer Chris Carter was on the team in both 2002 and 2003. Future MLB players Michael Bourn, former Indianapolis Cathedral High School catcher Jake Fox and Jamie Vermilyea played for Y-D in 2002 and Trevor Crowe, Philip Humber, Nick Hundley, Rob Johnson, John Mayberry Jr., John Meloan, Garrett Mock and Curtis Thigpen in 2004.

Whisler looks back fondly on his summers on the Cape. 

“There was camaraderie on that team,” says Whisler. “We were very good.”

Whisler encountered a number of managers (Marc Bombard, Chris Chambliss, Chris Cron, Ken Dominguez, Nick Leyva, Joe McEwing, Max Oliveras, Rafael Santana, Joel Skinner and Julio Vinas) and pitching coaches (Britt Burns, Richard Dotson, J.R. Perdew, Sean Snedeker and Bobby Thigpen) in the White Sox minor league chain.

“They were all instrumental in helping me get to the big leagues,” says Whisler. “They are gave me a piece in helping me become a complete pitcher.”

Whisler credits Perdew for getting his mechanics back on track after a bout with shoulder tendonitis and Dotson cleaned things up even more.

Wes and Warsaw, Ind., native Kara have four children — 5-year-old triplet girls Gwynn, Molly and Vivyan and 3-year-old boy Guy.

The Whisler family (from left): Front row — Guy, Molly, Gwynn and Vivyan; Back row — Wes and Kara. Wes Whisler is the owner of Wes Whisler Academy at The Strike in Noblesville, Ind., and runs USAthletic travel teams. He was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Noblesville High School and played at UCLA and in the Chicago White Sox system, making the majors in 2009.

Kara and Wes Whisler are the parents of Gwynn, Molly, Vivyan and Guy. Wes owns Wes Whisler Academy at The Strike Zone in Noblesville, Ind. He was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Noblesville Noblesville, Ind., and runs USAthletic travel teams. He was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Noblesville High School and played at UCLA and in the Chicago White Sox system, making the majors in 2009.
Wes Whisler, a graduate of Noblesville (Ind.) High School who played at UCLA, made it to the majors with the Chicago White Sox in 2009. In 2014 he established Wes Whisler Academy at The Strike Zone in Noblesville. He also runs the USAthletic travel baseball organization.

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)

 

Former Pendleton Heights catcher Etchison scouting for Cleveland Indians

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Etchison used to play baseball for a coach who was invested in his players as people as ballplayers.

Now Etchison evaluates diamond talent with an eye for more than the obvious skills.

Etchison was a catcher for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt at Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School, graduating in 2007.

“He is one of he best human beings of all-time,” says Etchison of Stoudt. “He was close with his players and his players were close with each other. Everyone who played for him just loves him.

“He was so much more than a baseball coach. He was invested in you. He genuinely cares about people.”

Etchison, 31, makes it a point to look Stoudt up whether it’s in Indiana or Florida.

In his third year as an area scout for the Cleveland Indians, Etchison greatly values character.

“The Indians very progressive in how they go about scouting,” says Etchison. “We collect information and get to know a player. Every player has strengths and weaknesses.

“We emphasize make-up as an organization. The make-up is just so huge.”

Etchison, who played at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., and the University of Maryland after his Pendleton Heights days (which included back-to-back Hoosier Heritage Conference championships in 2006 and 2007 and a senior season in which he hit .392 with five homer runs, seven doubles and 20 runs batted in and a spot on the 2007 IHSBCA North/South All-Star team; former Arabians head coach Travis Keesling assisted Stoudt; The PHHS program is now headed by Matt Vosburgh), wants to know a player’s level of perseverance and his ability to overcome challenges and perform under pressure.

His job is to identify someone who will impact the game at the big league level.

As an area scout living in Dexter, Mich., Etchison is responsible for a territory which includes Indiana and Michigan plus Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, northern Kentucky, South Dakota, western Ohio and Wisconsin.

He goes to games and tournaments in the spring and summer and scout days in the fall featuring players from these territories or — especially in this time of no live baseball because of the COVID-19 pandemic — analyzes video to do player assessments and projections.

“I don’t know what we would have done without Synergy (Sports Technology) video,” says Etchison. “We can see mechanical things on tape — things that weren’t possible 10 years ago — and go through it with a fine-tooth comb.”

That’s one piece of the scouting puzzle.

“We’ll never not value going to the ballpark,” says Etchison. “There are a lot of things you can’t see on tape.”

Among those are pregame routines and what the player does during warm-ups or batting practice and how he interacts with his coaches and teammates. Body language won’t always show up on a video that is cut up by pitch and swing.

It is said that there are five tools in baseball (hitting for average, hitting for power, base running, throwing and fielding).

“Old school scouting relies so heavily on tools,” says Etchison. “In the majors, a lot of players have one or two.

“The hit tool, that’s the one that matters (for non-pitchers).”

Etchison hears people say that an outfielder can run like a deer and has a cannon for an arm.

But can he effectively swing the bat? Those defensive tools might show up once or twice a week.

“The bat shows up four times every game,” says Etchison. “All (big league) outfielders are offensive positions.”

Etchison, who also played travel baseball with the Indiana Bulls prior to college, redshirted his first season at Ball State (2008) and apparel in 20 games for Greg Beals-coached Mid-American Conference West Division champions in 2009.

Knowing that he would see limited playing time in his third year, Etchison made the choice to transfer to Chipola and joined the that program just weeks before the start of the 2010 season.

“The first time I really took a chance on myself was going down there,” says Etchison. “It was a sink-or-swim situation.”

He could either make it or go back to Indiana and leave his baseball career behind.

Playing for Jeff Johnson on a team loaded with future pro players, Etchison became part of the Chipola Indians brotherhood.

“It’s one of the top junior college programs in the country,” says Etchison. “(Johnson) had a very similar impact on his players as Coach Stoudt. He was a big personality, a great baseball coach and a great mentor.

“(Chipola) opened doors for me.”

Johnson had a relationship with then-Maryland head coach Erik Bakich and it helped Etchison land with the Terrapins as part of Bakich’s first recruiting class. He played in 28 games (25 as a starter) in 2011 and 31 (20 as a starter) in 2012. He threw out 14-of-25 runners attempting to steal during his senior season which opened with a dislocated finger that caused him to miss two weeks. He had already suffered a broken hand and a torn meniscus while at the Big Ten school.

Etchison was a Maryland team captain as a senior, helping the Terps win 32 games.

Meanwhile, Bakich encouraged Etchison to consider coaching when his playing days were over. He graduated from Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in Finance from the Robert H. Smith School of Business in December 2012.

“He thought I’d be good at it,” says Etchison. “I had a few real world job opportunities in the finance industry. My parents (Jeff and Shelly Etchison) encouraged me to get into (coaching). They’ve always wanted me to go out and take chances.”

When Bakich became head coach at the University of Michigan he brought Etchison on in the volunteer role, one he stayed in for five seasons (2013-17) plus part of the fall before going into scouting.

“I fell in love with coaching,” says Etchison. “I really loved being around baseball everyday.”

There was continuity in the Wolverines program and chances to earn money by working camps.

“I was in a great spot,” says Etchison, who briefly got the chance to go on the road and recruit when Sean Kenny left Michigan for the University of Georgia. “Financially, I was able to survive.”

He also got to spend time around a mentor in Bakich.

“He is one of my closest friends,” says Etchison, who got married last summer with Bakich performing the wedding ceremony.

Aaron became the stepfather to two boys — Reid (now 10 and in the fourth grade) and Grant (now 7 and in the first grade). Emily Etchison, who is from Saline, Mich., is due to bring a baby girl into the family at the end of July.

Etchison explains why he became a scout for the Cleveland Indians.

“The organization was extremely impressive,” says Etchison. “It was a great opportunity for growth.”

Another significant person in Etchison’s baseball life is fellow Anderson, Ind., native Mike Shirley, who is now Director of Amateur Scouting for the Chicago White Sox.

Growing up, Etchison was a regular at Shirley’s training facility.

“Like so many players who grew up in the area and are proud to be ‘Barn Guys,’ I would be remiss if I did not give credit to him for being a baseball mentor and friend for over 20 years,” says Etchison.

AARONETCHISON

Aaron Etchison, a Pendleton (Ind.) High School graduate who played baseball at Ball State University, Chipola College and the University of Maryland and coached at the University of Michigan, is an area scout for the Cleveland Indians.

 

Former pro slugger Zapp giving back to baseball as youth coach

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Zapp is like so many baseball coaches. He is anxious to practice with his team.

Hopeful that time will come soon, Zapp gives an indication of how that session might go.

“We like to get into a lot of fundamentals early on — things like PFP (Pitchers Fielding Practice), bunt defense, baserunning and defensive outfield play,” says Zapp. “We run multiple stations during batting practice. We keep (players) busy and avoid a lot of standing around.

“We like to keep practices short and sweet. Get your work done and get out of there.”

Zapp likes practices to take 1:30 to 1:45.

“After that you lose their attention,” says Zapp. “It’s not the number of reps, it’s the quality of reps you want to be taking.

“It requires the right mindset. Kids must come to practice to work.”

A.J. and wife Nikki Zapp reside in Greenwood and have three children — Evan (15), Ellen (13) and Emilie (10).

Evan Zapp (Center Grove High School Class of 2023) plays on the Indiana Bulls 15U Grey travel baseball team with his father as an assistant to head coach Zach Foley.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has teams separated now, there is hope they might be able to play in the latter half of June. Zapp’s team is supposed to play three of four events at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., with out-of-town tournaments in Bloomington, Ind., and the Atlanta and Kansas City areas.

A.J. has coached his son on the diamond since Evan was 6, including some time with the Indiana Astros and Indiana Bulls.

Like his father, Evan throws with his right arm and bats from the left side.

“I encouraged him to be left-handed hitter,” says A.J.

In 2019, A.J. Zapp was Bulls 14U Red head coach. For eight years — seven with the Astros and one with the Bulls — A.J. coached with Phil Milto (uncle of former Roncalli and Indiana University pitcher and current Chicago White Sox farmhand Pauly Milto). Doug Zapp, A.J.’s father, was bench/pitching coach for seven seasons.

A former baseball player at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Ind., Doug Zapp is a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame. Doug and Linda Zapp have an older son named David.

Eighth-grader-to-be Ellen Zapp and sixth-grader-to-be Emilie Zapp play for the Circle City Volleyball Club in Plainfield, Ind.

Zapp, who turned 42 in April, got his organized baseball start at Center Grove Little League (now know as Center Grove Youth Baseball) in Greenwood, Ind. In 1992 and 1993, he was on Center Grove Senior League squads that went to the Senior World Series in Kississimmee, Fla.

Up until high school, A.J. was coached by his father. The younger Zapp was a catcher when he was younger. At 12 or 13, he moved to first base.

With a stacked Center Grove High varsity team, A.J. got just 10 varsity at-bats as a sophomore then began turning heads with the Indiana Bulls in the summer of 1994. He also shined on the CG varsity in the spring of 1995 and with the Bulls that summer.

In the fall of 1995, Zapp signed a letter of intent to play for head coach Paul Mainieri at the University of Notre Dame. As his senior season approached, he was hearing from that he might be taken high in the draft.

“I had a tough decision to make,” says Zapp, who helped his pro ball status with a 1996 season that saw him hit .524 with 16 home runs and be named first-team All-American, first-team all-state and Indiana Mr. Baseball. Center Grove won the Franklin Sectional, Franklin Regional and Richmond Semistate before bowing to eventual state champion Jasper at the IHSAA State Finals.

Zapp did not make an early verbal college commitment.

“It’s a little bit different now,” says Zapp. “We have (high school) freshmen and sophomores committing now.

“It makes it tough on the college recruiters to have to evaluate players at 15 and 16. But it’s the times we live in.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Gandolph was Zapp’s head coach at Center Grove.

“Coach Gandolph ran a great practice,” says Zapp. “He was well-prepared for the games. All the players loved playing for him.

“He’s just a good guy and a great baseball guy.”

Andrew Joseph “A.J.” Zapp was selected in the first round (27th overall) of the 1996 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves.

South Spencer High School right-handed pitcher Josh Garrett (No. 26 by the Boston Red Sox) was also a first-rounder in 1996. He pitched in affiliated baseball through 2001, reaching the Double-A level.

Both Zapp and Garrett signed pro contracts prior to the 1996 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series.

Zapp played 1,046 games in the minors (1996-2006) in the Braves (seven seasons), Seattle Mariners (two), Cincinnati Reds (one) and Los Angeles Dodgers (one) systems with 136 home runs and 542 runs batted in.

He socked 26 homers and drove in 92 at Double-A San Antonio as a Texas League postseason all-star in 2003 and belted 29 homers and plated 101 while hitting .291 at Triple-A Tacoma in 2004. On Aug. 20 of that year, he drove in nine runs and vaulted the Rainiers to victory with a walk-off grand slam.

Zapp is one of the few players to launch a homer over the tall wall in center field at Cheney Stadium – the “Blue Monster.”

Notable Zapp teammates included Mike Hessman (Minor League Baseball home run king with 433), Rafael Furcal, Mark DeRosa, Matt Kemp, Edwin Encarnacion and Marcus Giles.

Brian Snitker, who is now the manager in Atlanta, was Zapp’s manager at Low-A Macon in 1998, High-A Myrtle Beach in 2000 and Double-A Greenville in 2002.

Former Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves manager and current Baltimore Orioles bench coach Fredi Gonzalez was Zapp’s manager at Triple-A Richmond in 2002. After that season, Zapp was granted free agency and signed with the Mariners.

Former major leaguers Paul Runge (Greenville in 2002), Dan Rohn (Tacoma in 2004), Rick Sweet (Louisville in 2005) and John Shoemaker (Jacksonville in 2006) also managed teams that included Zapp.

Some of Zapp’s hitting coaches were Franklin Stubbs, Glenn Hubbard, Tommy Gregg and Sixto Lezcano in the Braves organization, Adrian Garrett with the Reds and Mike Easler with the Dodgers.

Zapp played on pennant winners at Myrtle Beach (Carolina League in 2000) and San Antonio (Texas League in 2003). Jacksonville (Southern League in 2006) lost in the finals.

He also played winter ball in Australia (voted MVP), Puerto Rico and Venezuela.

As baseball goes about streamlining Minor League Baseball, the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft scheduled for June 10-11 will be just five rounds — down from the 40 of the past several years.

“Those days can change a kid’s life,” says Zapp. “Losing out on that many rounds, I’m not a fan of it.

“There will be a lot of free agent signs.”

An unlimited amount of undrafted players can be signed for $20,000 each.

Kris Benson was the No. 1 overall pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Clemson University. Besides Zapp, first-round high school draftees were Texas pitcher John Patterson (No. 5 by the Montreal Expos), Pennsylvania pitcher Matt White (No. 7 by the San Francisco Giants), California third baseman Eric Chavez (No. 10 by the Oakland Athletics), Washington pitcher Adam Eaton (No. 11 by the Philadelphia Phillies), Florida pitcher Bobby Seay (No. 12 by the Chicago White Sox), California outfielder Robert Stratton (No. 13 by the New York Mets), New York outfielder Dermal Brown (No. 14 by the Kansas City Royals), Virginia shortstop Matt Halloran (No. 15 by the San Diego Padres), Louisiana shortstop Joe Lawrence (No. 16 by the Toronto Blue Jays), Louisiana pitcher Todd Noel (No. 17 by the Chicago Cubs), Georgia pitcher Jake Westbrook (No. 21 by the Colorado Rockies), Louisiana pitcher Gil Meche (No. 22 by the Seattle Mariners), Kansas third baseman Damian Rolls (No. 23 by the Los Angeles Dodgers), Florida pitcher Sam Marsonek (No. 24 by the Texas Rangers) and Pennsylvania outfielder John Oliver (No. 25 by the Cincinnati Reds).

Sandwich first-rounders in 1996 included North Carolina outfielder Paul Wilder (No. 29 by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays), California pitcher Nick Bierbrodt (No. 30 by the Arizona Diamondbacks), Florida pitcher Matt McClendon (No. 33 by the Reds), Canadian pitcher Chris Reitsma (No. 34 by the Red Sox) and New York pitcher Jason Marquis (No. 35 by the Braves).

Benson (70 wins in 10 seasons), Patterson (18 victories in six seasons), Chavez (260 home runs in 17 seasons), Eaton (71 wins in 11 seasons), Seay (11 wins in eight seasons), Brown (271 games in eight seasons), Lawrence (55 games in 2002), Westbrook (105 wins in 14 seasons), Meche (84 wins in 10 seasons), Rolls (266 games in five seasons), Marsonek (one appearance in 2004), Bierbrodt (six wins in five seasons), Reitsma (32 wins and 37 saves in seven seasons) and Marquis (124 in 17 seasons) all made it the bigs. Bierbrodt made a stop with the 1997 South Bend Silver Hawks along the way.

Stratton and McClendon made it as high as Triple-A, Halloran Double-A, Noel and Wilder Advanced-A and Oliver Low A.

In 2019, there were 13 high schoolers drafted in the first round — Texas shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (No. 2 by the Royals), Florida outfielder Riley Greene (No. 5 by the Detroit Tigers), Georgia shortstop C.J. Abrams (No. 6 by the Padres), Texas corner infielder Brett Baty (No. 12 by the Mets), California third baseman Keoni Cavaco (No. 13 by the Minnesota Twins), Washington outfielder Corbin Carroll (No. 16 by the Diamondbacks), Illinois pitcher Quinn Priester (No. 18 by the Pirates), Georgia Premier Academy/Panamanian pitcher Daniel Espino (No. 24 by the Cleveland Indians), North Carolina pitcher Blake Walston (No. 26 by the Diamondbacks) and New Jersey shortstop Anthony Volpe (No. 30  by the New York Yankees).

North Carolina high school pitcher Brennan Malone (No. 33 by the Diamondbacks) was a compensation first-round selection.

Competitive balance first-round picks from high school were Texas pitcher J.J. Gross (No. 36 by the Rays) and Pennsylvania outfielder Sammy Siani (No. 37 by the Pirates).

Abrams played for the Fort Wayne TinCaps in 2019.

Indiana’s three 2019 first-rounders came from the college ranks — University of Kentucky pitcher Zack Thompson (No. 19 by the St. Louis Cardinals), Tulane University third baseman Kody Hoese (No. 25 by the Dodgers) and Ball State University pitcher Drey Jameson (No. 34 by the Diamondbacks). Thompson (Wapahani), Hoese (Griffith) and Jameson (Greenfield-Central) are prepped in the Hoosier State.

Generally speaking, there are more right-handed pitchers out there. That means lefty swingers will see pitches breaking into them. Of course, the opposite is true with righty hitters against lefty pitchers.

Zapp sees big leaguers try to combat this trend.

“The two-seamer and cutter very popular in Major League Baseball now,” says Zapp. There’s also been plenty of lefty vs. lefty and righty vs. righty. “Games lasting longer because of the match-ups late in the game. Relievers have wipe-out sliders. Every reliever seems to throw 95 mph-plus with their fastball.”

When Zapp was playing, the gas increased as he went up in levels.

“A lot of those big arms are starters early in their careers and they move to the bullpen,” says Zapp.

Looking at how the youth baseball scene has changed over the years, Zapp says in the impact of social media and entities like Perfect Game USA and Prep Baseball Report give players so much exposure.

“The training, too,” says Zapp. “Kids are training all year-round. There’s a lot of hard workers.

“The competition is getting better. It’s a very competitive sport.”

Zapp, who was head baseball coach at Franklin (Ind.) Community High School in 2007, is around sports during his day job, too. As a sale representative for BSN Sports — the largest Nike and Under Armour team dealer in the country — he talks all day with athletic directors and coaches and sells practice gear, football, uniforms, spirit wear and more.

AJZAPPCARD

A.J. Zapp graduated from Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., and was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 1996. (Best Card Image)

AJZAPPFAMILYNikki and A.J. Zapp are surrounded by their three children (from left): Evan, Emilie and Ellen. A.J. was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Center Grove High School in 1996, played 11 professional seasons and is now a coach with the Indiana Bulls with Evan on the team.

 

French plays to strength as Indiana Bulls director of baseball operations

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott French looks back through the decades and sees all the support his father and mother provided he and sister Jessi when they were growing up near southern Indiana town of Jasonville.

“My parents never said no to anything I wanted to do in athletics,” says French, the director of baseball operations for the Indiana Bulls travel organization since June 2019. “My dad (Steve) was a coal miner and my mom (Pat) a dental assistant. Sports were a priority.

“My dad gave me the opportunity to get better every day.”

Steve French built a batting cage in the back yard of the French home near Shakamak State Park.

“I took a lot of swings in my life,” says Scott. “We didn’t have lessons back then. In that era, we watched more baseball (for French, it was lefty swingers like Don Mattingly, Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs). Kids get more instruction and more games now.

“I didn’t play more games until I got older.”

French did put his batting cage hacks to use at Shakamak Little League and later Shakamak Junior/Senior High School, where he hit .568 as a junior in 1997 and a state-leading .586 as a senior and was MVP of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All Star Series in 1998.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chip Sweet was the head coach when French played for the Lakers.

“He was a very good example to all of us,” says French of Sweet. “He was very consistent. You knew what you were getting every single day. He threw very good batting practice and he threw it every day.”

Shakamak players also saw plenty of fly balls and grounders in practice. French roamed center field.

Jessi French (now Stanton and a math teacher and dean of students at Linton-Stockton High School) also took advantage of the family cage and paced Indiana in runs batted in during one of her final high school softball seasons.

Scott French was introduced to travel baseball by coach Gary Sylvester and the Indiana Hawks, which were based on the south side of Indianapolis.

When French was 17, Sylvester took he and a few others to the Bulls, where Craig Moore was head coach. The Bulls offer the Craig Moore Memorial Scholarship in honor of the man who died in 2004.

“Craig Moore was awesome,” says French, who helped the Bulls win the National Amateur Baseball Federation High School Division World Series in 1997. “I owe a lot to Gary. I owe a lot of Craig.”

In his Bulls position, French answers to a board of directors with 11U Black head coach Quinn Moore as president, Josh Loggins as vice president, Brent Mewhinney as treasurer and Todd Mewhinney as secretary. Quinn Moore and Jared Moore, head coaches of 11U Black and 11U White teams, respectively, are sons of Craig Moore.

French played for Rich Maloney at Ball State University (1999-2002). The .321 career hitter with a school-record 139 walks played mainly in center or left but was used some in relief and at first base and helped the Cardinals to regular-season Mid-American Conference titles in 1999 and 2001.

He was a volunteer assistant at BSU (2003-07) for head coach Greg Beals and a full-time assistant (2013-18) to Maloney. He holds a degree in Heath and Physical Education/Fitness from Ball State.

At the end of his playing career, French felt the pull of player development.

“I think it’s a strength of mine,” says French. “I’ve got to play to my strength.”

Through Ball State teammate Justin Wechsler, French met instructor/scout Mike Shirley and at 23 went to work for Shirley at his Anderson-based training facility.

While working with Shirley, who is now director of amateur scouting for the Chicago White Sox, French got the chance to instruct players from elementary to college.

“It prepared me for what I’m doing now,” says French. “I was well-rounded.

“I like seeing kids that work hard grow and become something. An average athlete can doing something in baseball through hard work and experience.”

French says the Bulls teach the same concepts and talk about movement patterns with the youngest and oldest players. Once it clicks, they can really take off.

“You can effect a 9-, 10-, 11-year old kid,” says French. “They just have more room to grow.

“We always tell parents, you have to be patient with it. It takes a lot more work than people think it does.”

It ties in with the make-up and dedication of the player and his family.

“That’s life,” says French. “Baseball’s a frustrating game. It gets harder as you get older.

“It takes a certain mentality to play for a long time.”

With the current live baseball shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, French says the Bulls are waiting to see what will be allowed by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb as the state begins to gradually re-open.

“We’re waiting for Grand Park (in Westfield) to find out how they can use their space,” says French. “We’re still a lot of figuring out as far as schedules are concerned.

Bullpen Tournaments works hard. They’re planning to have some baseball.”

It may mean playing deeper into August than is typical for the summer season. The current calendar show the Midwest Prospect League from June 16-21 at Grand Park.

In addition to being director of operations, French coaches 15U Black — one of the Bulls 28 teams for 2020.

French says high school teams typically play seven tournaments, taking one weekend a month off.

It’s not uncommon for some younger teams to play in a dozen events spaced out from April to July.

Bulls tryouts are scheduled for Aug. 1-2.

French says there’s a strong possibility that date will get moved to late August.

Bulls head coaches — screened for baseball knowledge, coaching experience and commitment to developing players — are selected by French and approved by the board of directors. Head coaches choose assistant coaches and players.

All coaches, both head coaches and assistants, are required to submit a background check and take online child protection training. The Bulls use ChekCoach to ensure our coaches are informed of their responsibilities to protect all players.

A resident of Noblesville, Ind., French has a 11-year-old daughter and sixth grader-to-be (Lanie) living in Decatur, Ind.

French talked with Sean Laird and Adam Heisler for the LT Brings The Heat podcast episode that dropped May 14.

SCOTTFRENCHBALLSTATE

Scott French is a graduate of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., where he played baseball and spent two stints as an assistant coach. He is now director of baseball operations for the Indiana Bulls travel organization. (Ball State University Photo)