Tag Archives: Indiana Mr. Baseball

New IHSBCA Hall of Famer Rolen reflects on family, baseball career

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Circumstances kept the family of Scott Rolen away as he was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

But the former Jasper (Ind.) High School standout and 17-year major league third baseman had his loved ones on his mind during festivities Friday, Jan. 18, 2019 in Indianapolis.

Scott and Niki Rolen have two children — Raine (14) and Finn (11). Their daughter got sick at basketball practice so they were unable to be at the Sheraton at the Crossing.

Now the director of player development — a volunteer position — on head coach Jeff Mercer’s baseball staff at Indiana University, Rolen is around the lend his expertise.

By rule, he does not coach individuals and can only recruit on-campus. But he can evaluate and provide input to that the Hoosiers can use.

“I can coach the coaches, basically,” says Rolen. “I can talk with them about practice strategies and what each player can work on.

“It’s a great fit. There’s a real good thing going there right now.”

The position allows him freedom for family time.

“The kids are my first priority,” says Rolen. “I bounce in and bounce out.”

Last summer, Scott and Dan Held coached their sons on an Indiana Bulls 10U Grey travel team. Rolen lives in Bloomington and brought six players from his neck of the woods, including son Finn. Held, who lived central Indiana and served as Bulls executive at the time, added six players, including son Boston.

The team played a small schedule and was done by the first part of July.

“Everybody could go on vacation, have fun or play other sports,” says Rolen. “They could swim, throw the frisbee, have a blast.”

He anticipates a similar schedule for an 11U team in 2019. Dan Held is now assistant coach/recruiting director at IU.

Rolen played for the original Bulls team co-founded by Dave Taylor in the early 1990’s. The club featured top talent from around the state and played when the baseball landscape was much different than today.

The travel baseball world has really morphed into something big,” says Rolen. “I’m very careful with my son.

“I love high school sports. I love rec sports. There’s spot for some extra baseball, but I believe in playing year-round everything.

“I believe in the athlete. I don’t believe in the baseball player. I’d like to see a little more well-rounded athlete.”

Rolen, who was Indiana Mr. Baseball and runner-up to Indiana Mr. Basketball as a Jasper senior, also played tennis in high school. He was offered a basketball scholarship to the University of Georgia before being selected in second round of the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.

He was the 1997 National League Rookie of the Year and went on to play for the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays. He finished with .281 average, 2,077 hits, 316 home runs and 1,287 runs batted in and 1,211 runs scored. He was an eight-time Gold Glove winner and recipient of a Silver Slugger Award in 2002. He earned a World Series ring in 2006 with St. Louis. He has had four shoulder surgeries and is scheduled for back surgery next week.

Scott grew up the youngest of Ed and Linda Rolen’s three children behind Todd and Kristie.

Mom and dad were teachers and the Rolen kids were busy with sports. But they found a way to get together at meal time.

“We have a real close tight-knit family,” says Rolen. “My parents never missed a ball game, whether it was mine, Kristie’s or Todd’s. They split up, divided and conquered.

“They really put us in a nice position to succeed in sports and school and gave us a nice solid upbringing.”

Rolen made a major gift of an unspecified amount for the construction of IU’s Bart Kaufman Field in 2013 and the clubhouse is named in honor of his parents.

Scott makes a point of telling his father how much appreciates his father. Ed Rolen, who is now in Florida and unable to travel, can’t understand the fuss.

“Dad’s the kind of guy that when I thank him, he says ‘for what?,’ says Scott. “Well, for being a great dad.

“He was there and he loved us — always.”

Rolen, with brother Todd as executive director, has been showing love to other families through the Enis Furley aka E5 Foundation.

“It’s named after an error at third base,” says Rolen. “You poke a little fun at yourself from time to time.”

Through E5, Indiana Children’s Wish Fund and other organizations, four families with special needs children are identified and all their expenses are paid to come to Camp Emma Lou, a property of about 75 acres on Lake Monroe near Bloomington.

These kids get to experience a petting zoo, baseball field, bond fires, swim in the lake and more.

“It’s just a little something that we can give back,” says Rolen.

The foundation also brings sixth graders in Monroe County — about 1,000 kids — to the camp in spring and fall for leadership field trips and team-building activities.

“We talk to them about things that are going on in their lives,” says Rolen.

Scott (Class of 1993) and Todd (Class of ’91) played baseball together for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Terry Gobert (induction Class of 2007). In Todd’s senior year, the Wildcats rebounded from a tough start to advance to the IHSAA State Finals.

Rolen, who was inducted into the 41st annual Hall of Fame class with Ron McClain, Fred “Cy” Williams, Bob Schellinger and Pat O’Neil, recalls Gobert’s effective methods.

“Coach Gobert was pretty laid-back,” says Rolen. “We were able to practice in shorts. But if we need to slide, we need to slide.

“We had to get our work done. If we don’t do our work, we’re going to wear pants and we’re going run.”

Rolen was nominated for the Hall of Fame by Ryan Berryman, head coach at Western High School and also an Indiana Bulls coach.

Hall of Famer Ray Howard (induction Class of 1990) is executive director of the IHSBCA Hall of Fame, located on the Vincennes University campus in Jasper, and was again behind the mic at Friday’s banquet. The Hall is about to unveil more display space.

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Jasper Hall of Famers (from left): Ray Howard (inducted in 1990), Scott Rolen (2019) and Terry Gobert (2007). Hall of Fame executive director Howard is a former Jasper (Ind.) High School head coach and current assistant. Rolen played for head coach Gobert at Jasper then for 17 years in the majors. (Steve Krah Photo)

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Scott Rolen is director of player development on head coach Jeff Mercer’s baseball squad at Indiana University. (Indiana University Photo)

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Scott Rolen, who was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Jasper High School in 1993, played for the Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds and Toronto Blue Jays. He is now an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. (Cincinnati Reds Photo)

 

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Abrell values life lessons while leading Plainfield Quakers baseball program

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As a coach and educator, Shane Abrell looks for teachable moments.

Abrell and his coaching staff got the opportunity to teach their players about dealing with failure and about momentum during Abrell’s first season in charge of the Plainfield (Ind.) High School baseball program.

“Life lessons are really important in coaching,” says Abrell. “If we’re not teaching them about life, we’re failing them.”

Facing a formidable schedule, the 2018 Quakers got off to a 2-9 start then went on an 8-3 run on the way to 12-16-1. Right-hander Sam Tackett (an Indiana University Kokomo commit for 2019-20) hooked up in a pitchers’ duel with Braydon Tucker (now at Indiana University) as Plainfield bowed to Northview 1-0 in nine innings in the first round of the IHSAA Class 4A Avon Sectional.

“Now they know they can play with those teams,” says Abrell. “It gives us a lot of mental toughness as time goes on.”

Abrell and his assistants spent much time talking about the team.

“We have some really great conversations,” says Abrell, who welcomes back varsity assistants Josh Morris, Noah Lane and Jaylen Cushenberry, junior varsity coach Brian Holsclaw and freshmen coach Mike Harper for 2019. “We demand a lot of time and effort. But hese guys don’t skip a beat. They make my job easy.”

The coaches were honest with their athletes and admitted when they made mistakes in 2018.

The lines of communication are kept open through that sincerity.

“Baseball is so mentally tough on people,” says Abrell. It’s not for everybody.

“Kids are more willing to come to us when they’re struggling. We’re seeing more players are consoling each other.”

Abrell, who teaches computer science at PHS, was a Plainfield assistant to Jeff McKeon (now head coach at South Putnam High School) for one season before taking over the program.

Prior coming to Hendricks County, Abrell was an assistant to Kyle Kraemer at Terre Haute South Vigo High School from 2001-14 and helped coach youth teams around Terre Haute including the Junior Sycamores and with the John Hayes-managed Wayne Newton American Legion Post 346 program.

Abrell played for Kraemer at South Vigo, graduating in 1998.

“Kyle is probably one of the most organized people I’ve come across in coaching,” says Abrell of Kraemer. “He is very meticulous. There was very little down time in practice. You were always moving.”

South Vigo has enjoyed continuity on the coaching staff with assistants like Brian Pickens, T.C. Clary, Todd Miles and Chad Chrisman serving for decades.

“(Kraemer’s) been a great mentor and friend to me,” says Abrell, who will take his Plainfield team to the 2019 Braves Bash at South Vigo. The event also features Munster and New Haven.

Plainfield (enrollment around 1,700) is part of the Mid-State Conference (with Decatur Central, Franklin Community, Greenwood Community, Martinsville, Mooresville, Perry Meridian and Whiteland).

The MSC plays home-and-home series on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to crown its champion.

The Quakers are part of the IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Avon, Brownsburg, Mooresville, Northview, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo. Plainfield has won eight sectional titles — the last in 1997.

While in Terre Haute, Abrell had the opportunity to coach A.J. Reed and become close T.J. Collett and his family while coaching his brother Doug with the Post 346 junior squad and then as North Vigo athletic director.

Both A.J. and T.J. were Indiana Mr. Baseball honorees — Reed at South Vigo in 2011 and Collett at North Vigo in 2016.   

A walk-on at Indiana State University, Abrell’s coach with the Sycamores was Mitch Hannahs.

Abrell graduated from ISU in 2003 with a B.S. degree in Management Information Systems/Computer Science and worked various jobs, including web designer for Clabber Girl and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Reserve Deputy for the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department.

“That was an eye opener,” says Abrell of the issues he saw some students dealing with that have nothing to do with a baseball drill or home work assignment.

He makes a point of getting his players to give back by volunteering in the community at a food pantry or with Riley’s Children’s Hospital.

Gratitude is another life lesson Abrell teaches.

“We talk to the kids about thanking their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents for all the time and money they spend,” Abrell.

He was a football, basketball and baseball coach at South Vigo. North Vigo, coached by Shawn Turner and Fay Spetter and featuring Collett, were 4A state runners-up in 2014 and 2015 with Abrell as AD.

Along the way, he attended Western Kentucky University (Master of Education & Kinesiology) and Indiana Wesleyan University (Education Administration).

Baseball has long been a big deal in the Abrell family.

Shane’s grandfather, the late John Abrell, was a long-time Connie Mack baseball coach and sponsor in Terre Haute.

Rick Abrell, Shane’s father, coached youth baseball at Prairie Creek, Prairieton and Riley and was president of Terre Haute Babe Ruth. He now tends to the baseball fields at both South Vigo and West Vigo.

The Abrells are close with Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famers Bob Warn and Steve DeGroote. Warn was head coach at Indiana State from 1975-2006. DeGroote assisted Warn at ISU and then led the West Vigo program.

Abrell says he took something from all the baseball men in his life.

“To be a good coach, you have to accept you’re not going to create something new in baseball,” says Abrell. “You take what you learn and you mold them all together.”

A love of tending the field was ingrained in Abrell. Kraemer had his team spend 30 minutes after each practice and game wielding shovels and rakes and Abrell does the same with his Quakers.

And there’s lots of time spent mowing and edging in the summer and fall.

“For every two hours practicing, probably another two hours working on the field,” says Abrell. “It’s therapy for me.

“We’re blessed at Plainfield. We have a beautiful complex and support from the administration.”

Principal Melvin Siefert and Assistant Principal of Athletics Torrey Rodkey are both former coaches.

The Quakers feeder system includes Plainfield Pee Wee Association, Plainfield Optimist Baseball League and Plainfield Teenage Baseball League (a Babe Ruth League) as well as a locally-based travel organization — the Plainfield Havoc.

“We’re trying to keep travel ball in the community,” says Abrell. “When they play together their whole life is when you have some of the better teams.”

When Abrell took over the program, he contacted Plainfield graduate Jeremy Kehrt. The right-handed pitcher was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the 47th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched in independent ball in 2017.

“He stops by a lot,” says Abrell of Kehrt. “He works with our pitchers. When he shows up, their eyes get huge.”

Connor Mitchell, a left-hander who pitched in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization in 2018, also visits to work on arm maintenance. His younger brother, Jackson Mitchell, was the Plainfield’s shortstop in 2018 and is now at Earlham College.

“It means a lot to have alumni reaching out,” says Abrell.

Current Plainfield outfielder/first baseman Jacob Sims is drawing interest from college programs.

A wedding is planned for Shane Abrell and Shannon Bormann in the fall of 2019. Shannon is a nurse anesthetist at IU Health Arnett Hospital in Lafayette.

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T.C. Clary (left), Shannon Bormann, A.J. Reed and Shane Abrell meet at the 2018 Triple-A All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio. Clary was a baseball teammate and coached with Abrell at Terre Haute South Vigo High School. Bormann is engaged to Abrell. Reed played at South Vigo and was a Pacific Coast League all-star. Abrell is now head baseball coach at Plainfield (Ind.) High School.

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Shane Abrell is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Plainfield (Ind.) High School. He is also a computer science teacher at PHS.

Turner has Richmond Red Devils focusing on the details

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Shawn Turner wants his Richmond (Ind.) High School Red Devils to sweat the small stuff.

“We focus on the details,” says Turner, a veteran coach who heads into his fourth season of leading the Richmond program in 2019. “We want give it our best effort 100 percent of the time. We pay attention to the defensive side and how we’re pitching.

“Offensively, we look to ‘get on, get over and get in.’ We play at a big facility (Don McBride Stadium). We don’t sit back and wait on the three-run home run.”

Turner looks for his Red Devils to hit balls to the gaps and rack up doubles.

“We teach the concept of using the whole field,” says Turner.

When it comes to launch angle, Turner says it is for the advanced hitter. T.J. Collett, who began working with Turner at a young age, put in the time to make himself into a potent left-handed hitter who named Mr. Baseball by Hoosier Diamond Magazine in 2016 and is now swinging for the University of Kentucky.

“It’s fantastic for kids with elite talent who have great hitting philosophy and the ability to execute it,” says Turner. “I’m more concerned with hitting a solid. Exit velocity is a factor. We do chart that. If you have four at-bats, we try to hit it hard four times and see what happens.”

Contact is key and strikeouts don’t help in moving runners.

“We do try to put pressure on the defense and put the ball in play,” says Turner, who coached his first season in Richmond in 2016 after serving as a Wabash College assistant in 2015.

The 1988 Terre Haute North Vigo High School graduate was head coach at his alma mater 1998-2014 after serving two seasons as a Patriots assistant.

The 2014 North Vigo team was IHSAA Class 4A state runners-up.

He was a McCutcheon assistant in 1994 and 1995, West Vigo assistant  in 1993 and Terre Haute North Vigo assistant in 1990, 1991 and 1992.

Turner played two seasons for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Don Jennings and two for Steve Moore. He later was a part of Moore’s coaching staff.

“(Jennings) was always a very positive influence not only on me but on his coaches and the team as a whole,” says Turner. “In practice, we did a ton of offensive work. If we put runs up we had a chance of competing.

“(Moore) carried on a lot of Coach Jennings’ traits. My first couple of years coaching within were a continuation of what I learned in high school.”

Turner also gained from the teachings of North Vigo assistant Mike Sturm.

“He was more into fundamental skills and defensive work,” says Turner of Sturm. “He broke things into positions and individual parts.”

Turner played one season for head coach Jim Rendel at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology while studying civil and mechanical engineering.

“(Rendel) had the biggest influence on me becoming a coach,” says Turner. “He was an amazing individual that did so much for people through sport.”

Turner decided to change gears and pursue a different life path. He transferred to Indiana State University to major in mathematics and become a teacher and coach.

He did his student teaching at West Vigo and worked with Steve DeGroote then joined the staff of Jake Burton at McCutcheon. Both are IHSBCA Hall of Famers.

“Those two were cut from the same cloth,” says Turner of DeGroote and Burton. “They were Fantastic at setting up indoor practices where you were going from station to station and maximizing your practice time.”

Turner notes that there are areas around the state have embraced the idea of getting better at baseball and that’s where indoor facilities have popped up and produced many players who have succeeded at the lower levels and gone on to college and professional diamonds.

“We’ve got baseball talent in the state of Indiana,” says Turner, who gets indoor work done at Richmond at the spacious Tiernan Center and the school’s auxiliary gym.

While McBride Stadium is run by the city and is off-campus, the Red Devils sometimes take advantage of the turf on the football field for outdoor practice.

Turner gives a few private lessons on the side. Several Richmond players get in work at Cate’s Cages and Hitters Hangout. IHSBCA Hall of Famer John Cate started both facilities. He now teaches at Cate’s Cages along with Jordan Ashbrook, Patrick Flanagan and Mike Morrow. Tyler Lairson is an instructor at Hitters Hangout.

Former Red Devils moving on to college baseball in recent years include right-handed pitcher John Cheatwood (Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and committed to Marshall University in Huntington, W.V.), right-hander Jordan Christian (Earlham College in Richmond) and middle infielder Austin Turner (Indiana Wesleyan University). Austin is Shawn’s oldest son.

Current senior outfielder/right-hander Josiah Sizemore has committed to Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, Ind. Versatile Phillip Hobbs and right-hander/third baseman/shortstop Mikey Vance are also exploring their collegiate options.

When building his Red Devils pitching staff, Turner looks to develop a number of arms to lesson the workload on the top hurlers so they will be fresher for the postseason.

The exception might be Blake Holler, who threw many innings for Terre Haute North Vigo before going on to Stanford University and the Los Angeles Angels system.

But sharing the work has been a philosophy Turner carried in Terre Haute and long before the pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“We focus on longevity,” says Turner. “The season is a marathon and not a sprint. I’ve always make sure our top two or three pitchers are strong at the end of the season. We might go eight-, nine- or 10-deep during the season.”

This approach also helps those pitchers to be ready the following season.

Turner’s 2019 Richmond staff includes Dave Marker, Scott Vance and Ben Fox. Marker is the Red Devils pitching coach and a former Randolph Southern head coach.

Richmond fields two teams — varsity and junior varsity. The most players Turner has had is 33 and he’s never made any cuts.

Contrast that with Terre Haute North Vigo, where he says the fewest number to try out was 80 and he’d keep 50 to 55 for three teams.

Richmond belongs to the North Central Conference (with Richmond, Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Marion and Muncie Central in the East Division and Harrison, Kokomo, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport and McCutcheon in the West Division). Teams play home-and-home series within their divisions then compete in a seeded cross-divisional tournament the two Saturdays in May.

The Red Devils, which are coming off a 14-14 season in 2018, are in an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Anderson, Connersville, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon (Fortville), Muncie Central and Pendleton Heights.

Richmond has won 29 sectional titles — the last coming in 2011.

Shawn is married to Tiffany, who is Chief Nursing Officer at Paris (Ill.) Community Hospital. Their sons are Austin and Nick. Besides playing baseball, Austin Turner is neurology student at Indiana Wesleyan. Nick is a Richmond freshmen and a lefty-swinging catcher.

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The Turners (from left): Nick, Tiffany, Austin and Shawn. The 2016 season was Shawn Turner’s first as head baseball coach at Richmond (Ind.) High School.

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Austin Turner (27) is greeted by Terre Haute North Vigo baseball coaches Mark Sturm (left), Tony Smodilla, Lance Walsh, Steve Bryant, Fay Spetter and Shawn Turner at the IHSAA Class 4A State Finals at Victory Field in Indianapolis. Shawn Turner is now head coach at Richmond (Ind.) High School.

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Terre Haute North Vigo High School head baseball coach Shawn Turner (left) talks with his son, Austin Turner (27), and assistant Fay Spetter during the 2014 IHSAA Class 4A semistate.

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Shawn Turner enters his fourth season as head baseball coach at Richmond (Ind.) High School in 2019.

 

Former McCutcheon, Indiana slugger Sowers displaying power as pro rookie in White Sox system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Logan Sowers has made a habit of clobbering baseballs since his days at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Ind.

As Indiana Mr. Baseball in 2014, the righty-swinging Sowers slugged 11 home runs while hitting .365 with 30 runs batted in and a .514 on-base percentage.

“I consider myself a power hitter,” says Sowers, 22. “I had pretty good power numbers in college and high school.”

That trend has continued in his first professional season with the Chicago White Sox organization.

Sowers was drafted in the 28th round of 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox after playing fours seasons at Indiana University (2015-18) and headed to the Short-Season Class-A Pioneer League to play for the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers.

“I’m really grateful I was drafted by the White Sox,” says Sowers. “They are first class.

“The coaches are really positive and know a lot about the game of baseball. They understand the grind. They know what we’re going through. They’re good about accommodating us in every way possible.”

Tim Esmay is the Great Falls manager. Eric Richardson, who played for the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks in 1994 and 1995, is the Voyagers hitting coach.

Sowers’ first pro homer came in his fourth game on June 20 against Billings.

Playing in the outfield, Sowers helped Great Falls win the PL North Division in the first half of the split season. Through his first 47 games, he was hitting .318 with seven homers, 11 doubles, 26 RBIs with .411 on-base and .518 slugging averages. He started in center field in the Pioneer/Northwest League All-Star Game.

At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Sowers says his power comes from a mixture of size, strength and bat speed.

The dimensions of Centene Stadium in Great Falls is 328 feet down the left field line, 415 to center and 335 down the line in right. Most of his road dingers have been of the opposite-field variety.

“I have long arms and can get great leverage,” says Sowers, who clubbed five of his first seven long balls away from Great Falls. “When I get extended I can hit the ball pretty far.

“Baseball going toward launch angles. But I’m just trying to hit the ball hard.”

Working hard is what was expected by Sowers’ head coach at McCutcheon —  Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

“He taught me work ethic and was a big stickler for showing up on time and behaving yourself outside of baseball,” says Sowers. “Was he old school? You could definitely say that.”

“Playing in high school was when I found my true talent for baseball. I was good growing up. Then I started putting it a lot of time outside of school practices.”

A third baseman on the freshman team in 2011, Sowers was an outfielder on the Mavericks varsity 2012-14.

Logan went to the batting cages with his father, Shawn Sowers, and got regular pointers during his  high school and college years from former Purdue University and minor league player Jordan Comadena (who is now bullpen catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates).

An IHSBCA all-stater who played in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Richmond in 2014, Sowers was selected in the 31st round of that years’s MLB draft by the San Diego Padres. After weighing his options to go pro out of high school or attend college, he decided to attend Indiana University to play for the Hoosiers and study recreational sport management.

Recruited to IU by Tracy Smith, Sowers was given permission to talk with other schools when Smith left Bloomington, Ind., to become head coach at Arizona State University.

A meeting with incoming head coach Chris Lemonis convinced Sowers to stay committed to Indiana and he played there for four seasons (2015-18), hitting .281 with 37 home runs, 50 doubles, 137 RBIs, a .367 on-base and .480 slugging averages.

“(Lemonis) was big on getting your school work done,” says Sowers. “You’re a student before you’re an athlete.”

Lemonis (now head coach at Mississippi State University) worked with IU’s outfielders and also let his Hoosiers know that time in practice is not good enough to get players to the next level. They had to find time between their studies and team activities to do extra work on their own.

In the summers of 2015 and 2016, Sowers played 38 games in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League — first with the Wareham Gatemen and then the Orleans Firebirds.

Sowers completed all his classwork toward his degree and now just needs to complete an internship, which he says he plans to do next baseball off-season.

Great Falls, which takes bus rides of up to four hours for North Division opponents and treks up to 15 hours for South Division clubs, wraps the regular season Sept. 3, followed by the playoffs.

At season’s end, Sowers says he plans to come back to Lafayette for a few days and then head back to Bloomington to train and pursue a part-time job.

Born in Royal Oak, Mich., Logan lived briefly in Indianapolis, but he spent much of his life in Lafayette, where his father is now a project manager in the IT office service management at Purdue University. Shawn and Valerie Sowers have three children — Madison, Logan and Adrienne.

Logan played travel baseball for the Indiana Pony Express, McCutcheon league and Indiana Eagles before one summer with the Indiana Bulls.

Michael McCormick, a pitcher and Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, is also a member of the Great Falls Voyagers.

After Great Falls, the minor league steps on the White Sox ladder are Kannapolis (Low-A), Winston-Salem (High-A), Birmingham (Double-A) and Charlotte (Triple-A).

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Logan Sowers, a former McCutcheon High School and Indiana University slugger, is putting up power numbers in his first professional baseball season. (Great Falls Voyagers Photo)

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Logan Stevens was Indiana Mr. Baseball at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette and put up power numbers in four seasons at Indiana University. He is now with the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers. (Tianna Stevens Photo)

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Logan Sowers was named to the Pioneer/Northwest League All-Star Game as a member of the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers in the Chicago White Sox system. (Tianna Stevens Photo)

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Through 47 games with the 2018 Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers of the Pioneer League, former McCutcheon High School and Indiana University outfielder Logan Sowers was hitting .318 with seven home runs, 11 doubles and 26 runs batted in. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in June. (Tianna Stevens Photo)

 

Power, positivity propel Terre Haute’s Reed in baseball career

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A.J. Reed is known for hitting the baseball very hard and for long distances.

How does the Terre Haute, Ind., native do it?

“I’m always looking for a heater,” says Reed of his approach at the plate. “I don’t want to let any fastballs in the zone go. I feel that’s the pitch I do the most damage on.

“If I can hit the fastball to left-center, I’m able to stay on the off-speed and hit it to right-center.”

Reed, a 6-foot-4, 260-pounder lefty-swinging first baseman, uses his dimensions to challenge the dimensions of ballparks.

“My size plays to my advantage really well,” says Reed, who lost about 15 pounds last off-season. “For other guys it’s bat speed.

“I feel like I can get away with a little bit more missing the barrel because I’ve got more behind the ball.”

Folks are still talking about Reed’s 2017 blast at Southwest University Park in El Paso, Texas.

“It cleared their Jumbotron,” says Reed. “It probably would have cleared these lights (at Huntington Park in Columbus, Ohio).

So Reed has light-tower power?

“On that particular swing, yeah,” says Reed, who was a slugging star at Terre Haute South Vigo High School and the University of Kentucky before being selected in the second round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Houston Astros.

He was in Columbus this week as a representative of the Pacific Coast League’s Fresno Grizzlies in the 2018 Triple-A All-Star Game.

Reed, who swings a 34/32 Victus bat, was hitting .264 with 19 home runs, 11 doubles, three triples, 73 runs batted in and a .903 OPS (on-base plus slugging) average through games of July 12.

Reed, who turned 25 in May, led all of Minor League Baseball in home runs with 34 in both 2015 and 2017, winning the Joe Bauman Home Run Award. Bauman socked 72 for the 1954 Roswell (N.M.) Rockets.

To date, Reed has 114 circuit clouts in the minors plus three in 131 at-bats at the big league level with the Astros (his first one came July 2, 2016, off David Robertson of the Chicago White Sox). He clubbed 40 in three seasons at Kentucky (2012-14) and before that walloped 41 for Terre Haute South. He was named Indiana Mr. Baseball in 2011.

He stacked up honors at UK. In 2014, he was chosen for the Golden Spikes Award, Dick Howser Trophy and John Olerud Two-Way Player Award as well as national college player of the year by Baseball America, Perfect Game USA, ABCA, Collegiate Baseball/Louisville Slugger. He was the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year and Male Athlete of the Year.

“We decided for my junior year that we were going to do something special,” says Reed, who credits former Kentucky hitting coach Brian Green for his offensive approach. “If I could set a good example, everybody was going to follow and that’s what happened. It was a really good year.

“I owe him a lot.”

UK went 36-26 and played in the NCAA tournament in 2014. Green is now head coach at New Mexico State University.

Reed went 26-10 on the mound at Terre Haute South Vigo and was selected in the 25th round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the New York Mets, but opted to play as a two-way player at Kentucky, where Gary Henderson was head coach and also led the pitching staff.

“He’s one of the best pitching guys in the country,” says Reed of Henderson, who went on to be pitching coach then interim head coach at Mississippi State University. “He was a really good coach for me for three years.”

Southpaw Reed made 46 mound appearances (35 starts) for Kentucky and was 19-13 with a 2.83 earned run average, 174 strikeouts and 53 walks in 247 1/3 innings.

Two men that had a big impact on Reed’s development as he grew up in Terre Haute are South Vigo head coach Kyle Kraemer and American Legion Post 346 manager John Hayes.

“Coach Kraemer and I are still very close,” says Reed. “I started working with him well before I was in high school. I guess he saw something in me.

“He spent a lot of time with me working on my swing. That’s where it really started to pay off for me. He’s a very big part of my baseball career.”

Reed played Dixie Bee and Riley baseball then Legion ball with Post 346 and Hayes (who led that highly-successful program from 1985-2015) before turning it over to brother Tim Hayes.

“(John Hayes) is one of the most positive guys I’ve ever been around in the game of baseball,” says Reed. “He cared so much for his players.

“He’s a very influential person in my career.”

The bonds with the Hayes family were strengthened through Reed’s friendship with Jacob Hayes (son of Tim and Gail). A year ahead of A.J. in school, Jacob went on to play baseball at Indiana State University.

Darryl Robinson has been Reed’s hitting coach in three of his four seasons in pro baseball — High-A and last two years in Triple-A.##

“He’s kind of the same way as Kraemer,” says Reed of Robinson. “He’s just a very positive guy. He feeds your head with so much positive energy that you’re up there just knowing you’re going to be successful. That really works for me.”

Upbeat is the way Reed (#AJReed on Instagram) likes to approach baseball.

“I like to have fun,” says Reed. “You can’t play this game without having fun. There’s too much failure.”

Reed has observed plenty of success on his home state’s baseball scene.

“Baseball’s a big deal in Indiana,” says Reed. “They produce a lot of really good players. It’s obviously tough to compete with Florida, California and Texas where they get to play year-round outside. But we produce talent in Indiana for sure.

When Reed was at Terre Haute South, the Braves played in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference.

At the time, the MIC feature both Terre Haute schools — South Vigo and North Vigo — as well as Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Lawrence North, Indianapolis North Central and Warren Central

“You saw a lot of good talent in those Indianapolis schools,” says Reed.

A.J. and wife Shelby Reed have been married for nearly three years and are proud owners of cockapoos Moose and Buck. The Reeds recently bought a house in Terre Haute to be close to her family. A.J.’s mother, Debbie, lives in Florida. He also has two older sisters — Leslie and Carrie.

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A.J. Reed, a former star at Terre Haute (Ind.) South Vigo High School and the University of Kentucky, is now playing in the Houston Astros organization. He has three home runs in 131 at-bats at the big-league level and 114 long balls in the minors since 2014. (Houston Astros Photo)

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Terre Haute’s A.J. Reed signs autographs for fans at the 2018 Triple-A All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio. He played first base and batted No. 4 for the Pacific Coast League while representing the Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies. (Steve Krah Photo)

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A.J. Reed, a Terre Haute, Ind., native, represented the Fresno (Calif.) Grizzlies in the 2018 Triple-A All-Star Game in Columbus, Ohio. Through July 12, he had clubbed 19 home runs and knocked in 73 runs. (Fresno Grizzlies Photo)

Former Indiana Mr. Baseball, MLB first-rounder O’Conner lands with independent St. Paul Saints

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin O’Conner was a highly-touted professional baseball prospect when he wore the uniform of Cowan Junior/Senior High School.

As a sophmore at the Muncie, Ind., school, he helped the Camden Pankhurst-coached Blackhawks earn an IHSAA Class 2A state runners-up finish in 2008.

In 2009, O’Conner put up head-turning numbers as a shortstop and pitcher: .521 average, 19 home runs, 61 runs batted in, 7-0 record, 0.30 earned run average, 101 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings.

That summer, he won the Home Run Derby at the Perfect Game National Showcase at the Metrodome in Minneapolis and was invited to the Perfect Game Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic at PETCO Park in San Diego.

In 2010, he was Indiana’s Mr. Baseball and selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays right out of Cowan.

As a pro, O’Conner became a catcher. He played 48 games with the Gulf Coast Rays in 2010.

In 2011, he played at rookie-level Princeton threw out 16 of 45 base stealers.

He helped Hudson Valley win the New York-Penn League championship in 2012.

O’Conner played at Low Class-A Bowling Green of the Midwest League in 2013.

That winter, he played for the Brisbane Bandits of the Australian Baseball League.

“It was awesome,” says O’Conner of his time Down Under. “It was a chance to go to another country, live there for three months and get to see their culture and also get to play baseball.”

In 2014, O’Conner played at Charlotte and was an MiLB.com Organizational All-Star and Florida State League All-Star, FSL Post-Season and Baseball America High Class-A All-Star.

He played in the Arizona Fall League and was placed on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster in November.

O’Conner spent the entire 2015 season at Double-A Montgomery and led the Southern League in total chances (91) and threw out 29 of 60 base stealers.

“For me, it’s big part of the game,” says O’Conner. “Being able to control the running game can keep runners off of bases in scoring position and keep them from scoring runs. If the pitcher can give me a good time to the plate, mix his looks in.

“It’s really more on the pitcher and the infielder making a good tag along with me making a good throw. It’s just not me, it’s everybody involved.”

In 2016, he began the season in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League because of a back injury. He was promoted to Double-A in August.

It was discovered he had a herniated disk and he had two back surgeries in October and November and and was removed from the 40-man roster in December.

“I’m all good now,” says O’Conner of his procedures. “The back pain really wasn’t the issue, it was the sciatica down my leg. I needed to get it fixed.”

O’Conner started 2017 at Double-A and was promoted to Triple-A Durham in August. The Bulls won the Triple-A National Championship.

After the season, he was granted his free agency and signed a minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants in November 2017. The Giants released him in April 2018 and he inked a deal with the St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association, a circuit which also features the Gary SouthShore RailCats.

The Saints got off to a 5-1 start and O’Conner is coming off a 3-for-3 game with two RBI and two runs scored Wednesday, May 23 at home against the Chicago Dogs.

He belted home runs May 18 at Gary and May 23 in St. Paul.

O’Conner quickly learned the difference between high school and professional baseball while with the Rays and Giants organizations and it holds true with St. Paul.

“It’s a grind,” says O’Conner, 26. “You’re playing baseball, but it’s also a job. You’ve got to come out and try to win everyday.

“You learn that right away. You’re playing every single day. It takes a toll on your body and it’s something you’ve got to get used to.”

O’Conner played for a number of travel baseball organizations growing up then spent two years while in high school with coaches Dan Held and Quinn Moore and the Indiana Bulls.

Justin is the son of Muncie’s Randy and Kim O’Conner and has an older brother and a younger sister.

Jacob O’Conner is in law school in Cincinnati. Kirsten O’Conner, a former Ball State University softball player, is a nutritionist in Illinois.

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Justin O’Conner, who was Indiana’s Mr. Baseball at Cowan Junior/Senior High School and a first-round draft selection of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, is now with the independent St. Paul Saints. Released by the San Francisco Giants organization, the catcher signed with the team shortly before the beginning of the 2018 season. (St. Paul Saints Photo)

Phegley finding his way in baseball with Athletics

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Much was expected from baseball-playing Josh Phegley at an early age.

Sharing the same diamond with older brother John and his classmates, Josh was challenged.

Helping give that extra push was the boys’ father and coach — John.

“My dad was one of my biggest influences,” says Phegley, a Terre Haute native and catcher with the Oakland Athletics. “He wasn’t going to be the coach who just played his son. He was super hard on me and my brother. He expected you to be the leader and cornerstone of the field every time we were on the field.

“That’s what molded my brother and I into really good players.”

Josh’s early diamond path was supported by parents John and Joan and took him from Terre Haute North Little League to Terre Haute Babe Ruth League All-StarsT and travel baseball stints with the Terre Haute Indians (organized by his father) and the Indy Bulldogs.

Following in his brother’s footsteps, he was one of the few freshmen to play varsity baseball for coach Shawn Turner at Terre Haute North Vigo High School. In order to make that happen, Josh had to change positions.

While he had done some catching as a young player, he was a shortstop, center fielder and pitcher as he approached high school.

The Patriots had a need behind the plate and Turner led Josh know that was his ticket to varsity playing time as a frosh.

“It almost suited me perfectly. I stopped growing up and started getting wider,” says Phegley. “I have that build to be a catcher and I just wanted to be a varsity high school player.”

That’s when they went to a friend of the family. Brian Dorsett was a star at Terre Haute North Vigo and Indiana State University who went on to be a catcher in the majors for eight seasons. He still lived in town.

Dorsett had helped a young Josh with hitting lessons and Dorsett’s oldest daughter, Abby, was in Josh’s class. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Famer agreed to help young Phegley with his catching skills.

“We tried to utilize all the resources we could find,” says Phegley. “Having an ex-major leaguer catcher in the same town was pretty beneficial for me.”

That spring he played in a lineup that included nine players who would go on to play NCAA Division I baseball. Besides the Phegley boys — Josh (Indiana) and John (Purdue) —  some of those include Blake Holler (Stanford), Max Hutson (Wichita State), John Cummins (Purdue) and Chris Macke (Ohio State).

Left-hander Holler was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels and pitched two seasons of minor league baseball.

Phegley played four seasons for Turner (who moved on to Richmond) and spent three high school summers with Terre Haute American Legion Post 346, managed by John Hayes.

Post 346 brought together the best players from Terre Haute North Vigo and their three closest rivals — Terre Haute South Vigo, West Vigo and Northview.

“(Hayes) was all about having fun and enjoy the guys around you,” says Phegley. “Playing unselfishly and having fun — that’s how you can become successful. American Legion baseball is the most fun I’ve had in the summertime.”

The summer after high school graduation in 2006, Phegley and Post 346 finished second to Metairie, La., in the American Legion World Series. The young backstop also earned MVP honors at the IHSBCA All-Star Series and was named as Indiana’s Mr. Baseball.

Phegley’s last season at Terre Haute North was the first for Tracy Smith as head baseball coach at Indiana University and Phegley became the first player he signed to play for the Hoosiers.

Smith (who is now head baseball coach at Arizona State University) also liked to have fun, but insisted that his players know about accountability and responsibility.

“College baseball is a different animal,” says Phegley. “There’s a lot of work and you have to take care of things (academically) so you can play. Going to school and a heavy (NCAA) D-I schedule is hard to handle.”

Smith emphasized the importance of doing it all.”

“Being a leader on the team means taking care of everything,” says Phegley. “It’s being organized and put together and being a good example for the other guys. Causing us to run extra sprints after practice because I turned an assignment in late is nothing to be proud of.”

As an IU freshman, Phegley started 42 times as the team’s primary catcher. As a sophomore, the right-handed hitter finished second in the nation with a .438 average and was a second-team All-American and Johnny Bench Award finalist. As a junior, he was named Big Ten Player of the Year by Rivals.com and was a Johnny Bench Award and Golden Spikes Award semifinalist. He was selected as a supplemental pick in the first round of the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox.

That’s when he began to see what a challenge baseball can really present.

“It doesn’t hurt to be drafted kind of high (38th overall) and knowing (the White Sox) were going to take the time and give you opportunities,” says Phegley. “They expect some ups and downs. That’s just baseball. You need to learn how to control the downs as well as the ups. You want to stay even keel and respect the process of the development.”

It’s easier said than done.

“You see a lot of guys getting lost in the minor leagues,” says Phegley. “It takes some years to get through it. I got drafted in 2009 and made my major league debut in 2013. You can get lost and forget what the final goal is

“Baseball is a game surrounded by failure. You can get consumed in day-to-day stats. It’s such a mental grind (especially in the ow minors). It can beat you up pretty good. It seems so far away. There are so many guys in front of you. How do I beat the masses that get drafted every year and get to the big leagues?”

Phegley got a serious surprise in his second pro season. In 2010, he was limited to just 48 games due to Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP), a rare autoimmune disorder that lowers platelet count.

“Out of nowhere my body started killing my own platelets,” says Phegley. “We battled through that 2010 season, doing different treatments to try to get back on the field. They took out my spleen in November 2010 and it totally flipped it back. It’s always in the back of my head. It can come back.”

When Phegley came back, he began to rise through the White Sox system, finishing at Triple-A in 2011, playing the whole 2012 campaign there and then seeing his first MLB action July 5, 2013. He made 65 appearances with Chicago in 2013 and and spent most of 2014 at Triple-A Charlotte.

Two weeks before Christmas in 2014, Phegley was traded along with Chris Bassitt, Marcus Semien and Rangel Ravelo to the Athletics for Jeff Samardzija and Michael Ynoa. Phegley was in 73 games with Oakland in 2015, 25 in 2016 and 57 in 2017.

Phegley hit .256 with a home run and 10 RBI in 2016, a season shortened due to two stints on the disabled list with a strained right knee.

He spent two stints on the disabled list and one one the paternity list in 2017. Josh and Jessica Phegley, who married in 2012, have a daughter and son — Stella (2 1/2) and Calvin (4 months). They have resided in Noblesville since April 2015. The couple met while Josh was living with Smith and training in Bloomington and Jessica was finishing graduate school at IU. She has three degrees (psychology, nursing and a masters in health promotion).

Josh’s older sister, Jennifer, also lives in the Indianapolis area. As a college softball player at St. Mary-of-the-Woods 2003-06, she stole 58 bases (26 her senior season for the Pomeroys).

One of Phegley’s Oakland teammates is Valparaiso-born Sean Manaea.

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Josh Phegley, a 2006 Terre Haute North Vigo High School and former Indiana University standout, is now a catcher with the Oakland Athletics. He made his Major League Baseball debut with the Chicago White Sox in 2013. (Oakland Athletics Photo)