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Lefty Thompson keeps on collecting K’s for Kentucky

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zachary David Thompson goes by Zack.

Perhaps, it’s fitting that the last letter in this standout baseball pitcher’s shortened name is a K.

Zack Thompson, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior left-hander at the University of Kentucky, sure has made short work of opposing hitters by putting up strikeout after strikeout.

“I love the punch-out,” says the graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is fanning opposing hitters at a rate of 12.81 per nine innings for the 2019 season (102 K’s and 24 walks in 71 2/3 innings) and 12.09 for his collegiate career (240 whiffs and 82 freebies in 178 1/3 innings). “I’ve got pretty good breaking balls. I can expand the zone on them.”

Thompson, who employs a four-seam fastball that he can sometimes get up to 97 mph that he mixes with a cutter, change-up, curveball and slider, says he goes to the mound with two keys in his mind: Get a first-pitch strike and after that win the 1-1 battle.

“There’s such a big difference between 2-1 and 1-2,” says Thompson.

Currently the Saturday starter during weekend series for the Wildcats, the southpaw is 4-1 with a 1.88 earned run a 1.88 earned run average. Opponents are hitting .179 against him in 11 games (11 starts).

Since coming to UK, Thompson is 14-3 with one save, a 2.57 ERA and .188 opponent’s batting mark in 40 appearances (31 as a starter).

Thompson is on a team with Nick Mingione as head coach and Jim Belanger as pitching coach.

Why did Thompson choose Kentucky?

“It was just the right fit and has a very blue collar feel,” says Thompson. “My family (which includes father Bill, mother Jan and older brother Nick) can see games. They’re usually down here every weekend. And it’s in the (Southeastern Conference).

“The SEC has the best competition and best environment to improve.”

Thompson describes the atmosphere at conference road games as “incredible.”

He has gotten to stand on the bump on a circuit that includes Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Missouri, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M.

In the summer of 2018, Thompson played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, making three appearances with one start. He was 1.0 with a 0.00 ERA, eight strikeout, five walks and three hits allowed in 8 2/3 innings. Opponents, including Chinese Taipei, Japan and Cuba, hit .107 against the left-hander.

“That was just an awesome experience,” says Thompson. “I was representing my country and playing with the some of the best players and for some of the best coaches.

“I got to see how other people do it.”

Louisiana State University head coach Paul Mainieri was the USA CNT head coach. The pitching coach was University of Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor.

“Coach O is great,” says Thompson of O’Connor. “We worked on things in bullpen that translated to the game really well like his philosophies and pitch calling.”

Mainieri is a former head coach at Notre Dame, where O’Connor was his pitching coach.

Baseball America made the 21-year-old Thompson the No. 1 SEC prospect in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (which is slated for June 3-5). D1 Baseball has him No. 2 on their list. He is also high in prospect rankings for MLBPipeline.com and Perfect Game.

“I try not to worry about it,” says Thompson of the MLB Draft. “It won’t matter if I don’t do my job on the mound.”

Thompson was born in Anderson, Ind., and grew up in Selma near Muncie. Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley at Wapahani.

“Brian was awesome and a great mentor,” says Thompson of Dudley. “He’s a great leader in the community.

“He sets his players up for success in the class room and on the field.”

Thompson was a National Honor Society student that led him to study business management in college. On the diamond, he put up eye-popping numbers.

On the mound, he went 23-2 with a 0.98 ERA and 405 strikeouts for 183 2/3 innings (15.43 per seven innings). As a sophomore, he helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2014 while going 13-0 with a 0.64 ERA over 87 innings as a pitcher and also hit .500 with eight home runs and 36 runs batted in.

High school summers were spent traveling with the Indiana White Sox or Indiana Bulls.

Thompson was selected in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, but opted not to sign and went to Kentucky.

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Zack Thompson, a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is a junior left-handed pitcher at the University of Kentucky. (University of Kentucky Photo)

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Zack Thompson is among the nation’s top pitching prospects for the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The left-hander is a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., and has been racking up strikeouts in droves as a University of Kentucky junior. (University of Kentucky)

 

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Former Jay County, Baylor catcher Ludy lands in River City

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

In baseball, sometimes you find a position and sometimes it finds you.

Josh Ludy recalls the day he became a catcher.

“I was about 10 and looking at these plastic batting helmets,” says Ludy, 28. “I don’t know why, but I put one on backwards and decided I wanted to be a catcher.”

The next thing you know, Josh had talked his parents into getting him a set of gear and he was a backstop from then on.

Even with all the bumps and bruises that come with the job, that’s where Ludy wanted to be.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” says Ludy. “You just get numb to most of it.”

Sure, he pitched and played the infield a little at Jay County High School in Portland, Ind., where he graduated in 2008, but it was as a catcher that he shined.

Ludy was first-team Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 4A All-State as a senior and participated in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series with Jay County head coach Lea Selvey on the North coaching staff.

After spending the rest of the summer with the Indiana Bulls travel organization, Ludy went on to a stellar career at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

“That was one of the best times of my life,” says Ludy of his college baseball days. “We had great guys who wanted to win.”

Among those was Max Muncy, who put up impressive numbers this season for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Steve Smith was then head baseball coach at Baylor.

“Awesome guy,” says Ludy of Smith. “There was never any question about the way he was doing things.”

In four seasons with the Baylor Bears, Ludy played in 170 games and hit .321 with 21 home runs, 35 doubles and 121 runs batted in.

Hitting .362 with 16 homers, 15 doubles and 71 RBIs for a Baylor squad that went 49-17 and enjoyed a 24-game win streak, Ludy was the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year and an All-American catcher while graduating with a psychology degree in 2012.

Ludy was selected in the eighth round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.

He played two seasons in the Phillies system (2012-13) and 17 games with the Oakland Athletics organization in 2014.

Released in July of that year, he caught on with the independent Frontier League’s River City Rascals in O’Fallon, Mo., part of the St. Louis metro area.

That same fall, Josh got married and wife Erin got to really experience the traveling baseball life.

The first two years, the couple moved often.

“She’s been there pretty much the whole time,” says Ludy of the woman he met at Baylor. “She’s been all over the country with me. She’s awesome.

“It’s nice to be the same place for a little while.”

Now living in O’Fallon and co-managing a gun shop in the off-season, Josh is able to come home to see his wife and first children — a 6-month-old daughter named Laurel.

Ludy played for River City in 2015 and was going to retire when the Rascals convinced him to come back in 2016 to serve as a player/hitting coach. He did that again in 2017.

Not active as a player in 2018, Ludy came back as long-time River City manager Steve Brook’s hitting coach.

“My life’s been centered around the game,” says Ludy. “I like being out on the field everyday.”

His duties with the Rascals included getting to the stadium early to do individual work with players. He also threw batting practice, hit fungous and sometimes made mound visits.

Having witnessed both MLB-affiliated and independent pro baseball, Ludy sees the differences.

“The high-end talent is not there (in indy ball),” says Lundy. “But there are a lot of guys who were really good college players. A lot of hitters have been released from affiliated ball or been passed up in the draft.

“There’s less structure as far as your daily stuff (in indy ball).”

Not getting talent from a parent organization means indy teams must find their own and sometime a player’s time with the club doesn’t even allow for a cup of coffee.

“We’ve gotten rid of guys in less than a day,” says Ludy. “Sometimes they only pinch-run and they’re gone.

“It can be pretty cut throat sometimes. There’s only so many roster spots available. It can be a swinging door sometimes.”

Ludy calls Brook’s position a “tough gig.”

“We have our budget lower than most teams in the league,” says Ludy. “It’s hard to find guys who will take less.

“But we’ve had pretty good success doing it.”

The Rascals went 52-44 and lost in a divisional series to eventual Frontier League champion Joliet in 2018. River City went 50-46 in 2017, 49-47 in 2016, 56-40 in 2015 and 61-35 in 2014 — losing in the finals the in ’14 and ’15.

While working and conducting some private lessons, Ludy is sorting out his baseball future. He says he should know soon what 2019 has in-store for him.

Ludy, who was born in Fort Wayne, Ind., grew up just blocks from the youth baseball park in Portland.

At 14, he played travel ball for the Indiana White Sox then spent three summers for USAthletic before the one with the Indiana Bulls.

Josh is the son of Max and Sheri Ludy. His father is a superior court judge in Jay County. His mother is a social worker. A half-brother, Kyle, lives in Indianapolis.

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Josh Ludy, a graduate of Jay County High School in Portland, Ind., and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, hits the baseball for the independent River City Rascals. (River City Rascals Photo)

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Josh Ludy has been with the independent River City Rascals in O’Fallon, Mo., since the middle of the 2014 baseball season, first as a player then a coach. He is a graduate of Jay County High School in Indiana and Baylor University in Texas. (River City Rascals Photo)