Tag Archives: Jake Ratz

Confidence grows for Butler left-hander Graziano

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Graziano has learned lessons in confidence during his baseball career.

The left-handed pitcher built up a sense of determination that took him to weekend starter in his third season at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Years before, a surge of assurance had helped Graziano make the transition from the freshmen team to varsity as sophomore at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind.

Graziano credits Butler head coach Dave Schrage for giving him the courage to advance as a Bulldog.

“He wants to get the best out of you,” says Graziano of Schrage. “He definitely helped me settle in by instilling that confidence in me. 

“I feel like I was ready to throw pretty well.”

As a Butler freshman in 2018, Graziano made 13 mound appearances (four starts) and went 3-0 with a 4.70 earned run average, 17 strikeouts and seven walks in 23 innings.

Primarily a mid-week starter in 2019, the lefty appeared in 15 games (seven starts) and went 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 17 walks in 44 innings.

The Bulldogs were 8-7 and coming off a March 11 victory against Saint Joseph’s (Pa.) in Port Charlotte, Fla., when the team found out the 2020 season had been halted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were sitting at the pool,” says Graziano. “We thought we were coming back in two weeks.

“We were optimistic.”

It soon turned out that the rest of the campaign was canceled and student-athletes were sent home.

Graziano went back to northwest Indiana having gotten into four games (all as a starter) and went 1-1 with a 4.67 ERA, 15 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 1/3 innings. His first start was on a Saturday and the rest came on Sunday.

“I worked all fall to get there,” says Graziano of his role. “I finally got it. I really liked pitching on the weekend.

“Everyone’s locked in and there’s a little bit of pressure.”

When the 2020 shutdown happened, Graziano had already secured an internship and was looking to find a baseball team for the summer.

A double major in Finance and Risk Management, Graziano is doing his internship with Chicago-based Aon and pitching on weekends with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen.

Butler business school requires two internships,” says Graziano. “That’s 240 hours. You also take a class, write a paper and do interviews.

“It’s kind of a lot.”

For his first internship, Joe is on the clock online at his house in Schererville, Ind., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays. He is upstairs while his mother, Roxanna, does her sales job with U.S. Steel, is in the basement. 

When Joe is done with his internship duties, he does his band and weighted ball work and heads across the street to Autumn Creek Park to play catch with younger brother Joshua. 

At 21, Joe is two years older than his brother. Joshua is enrolled at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. Their father, Joseph, is a manager at the BP Whiting Refinery, which is very near where Joe is in his second stint with the Oilmen.

The summer right after he graduated from Lake Central in 2017, Joe appeared in seven Northwest Indiana games (five starts) and went 3-1 with a 1.16 ERA, 39 strikeouts and six walks in 31 innings.

“It was the first time I faced college hitters,” says Graziano. “I was playing with kids out of The Region. We were  finally on a friendly surface and can be teammates.

Manager Adam Enright, a Munster (Ind.) High School and University of Southern Indiana graduate, also worked closely with Oilmen pitchers.

In 2020, he is being used strictly as a reliever.

“I didn’t want to rush back into it,” says Graziano. “I’m pitching 2-3 innings at a time. I want to build my stamina and pitch count back up.”

The 6-foot-2, 185-pound southpaw took off about a week off when the 2020 spring season shut down then began training, lifting weights and throwing while reaching out to the Oilmen.

“I want to keep my spot when I get back to Butler,” says Graziano.

The Oilmen are managed by Chris Cunningham. Graziano spends most of his time with pitching coach Matt Pobereyko.

“I’ve been trying to take in as much information as possible,” says Graziano. “He’s been teaching me this forkball/splitter. I have pretty big hands.

“I like how (Pobereyko) thinks on the mound. You’re better than the hitter. Never lose confidence. I definitely like Po’s mentality.”

In the summer of 2019, Graziano pitched for the Coastal Plain League’s Fayetteville (N.C.) SwampDogs

It was a struggle at first.

“I started doing well toward the end,” says Graziano. “I got a lot better out there. I had a little adversity and I battled through it.”

Fayetteville was managed by David Anderson

Lefty Graziano was with the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators in 2018. There, he enjoyed living with a host family and got to play with Butler teammate Connor Schultz.

“You make a lot of new friends in summer ball,” says Graziano, who played for a Lafayette team managed by Will Arnold. Future Butler assistant Jake Ratz was also on the Aviators coaching staff.

Ben Norton is Butler’s pitching coach. He has taught Graziano a slider and helped instill confidence.

“He’s helped me develop into a great pitcher,” says Graziano of Norton. “He helps everyone

“If you struggle, he’s not going to give up on you.”

At Lake Central, three-year letterman Graziano went 20-7 (with a pair of perfect games), including 8-4 against Duneland Athletic Conference opponents. As a senior, he went 6-3 with a 2.11 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 13 walks in 60 innings and helped the Indians to an IHSAA Class 4A Munster Sectional title

He was all-DAC, all-area (Northwest Indiana Times) and Academic All-State.

Jeff Sandor was LC’s head coach for Graziano’s sophomore and junior seasons. Mike Swartzentruber took over the program in his senior year.

“(Sandor) is the craziest coach I’ve played for and one of the best coaches I’ve played for,” says Graziano. “He was tough on guys. But he had to be be. He demanded that level of play.

“You knew what you had to bring to the table.”

Graziano says Swartzentruber’s strength came in team building.

“Swartz was more calm than Sandor,” says Graziano. “We all knew what we wanted to do. We had a lot of good players. Swartz did a good job of bringing the team together.”

At Lake Central — a school with about 3,300 students — it is not uncommon for close to 100 players to try out for baseball. The high school is fed by three middle schools — Clark, Grimmer and Kahler].

“There’s a lot of competition,” says Graziano, who came through Grimmer. “You feel bad when your friends don’t make the team. The school is so big.”

While the rivalries among the middle schools is fierce, they become one team at LC.

While at Lake Central, southpaw Graziano used a curve ball that was “a little loopy and slow” that fooled many high school hitters.

When he got to Butler, he left the curve for a slider that has a tighter spin and has more horizontal than vertical break.

From his three-quarter overhand arm slot, Graziano also throws a tailing four-seam fastball and a “circle” change-up.

“It’s really good against righties,” says Graziano. “It has depth and tails away.”

Born in Munster, Ind., Graziano spent the early part of his life in nearby Hammond before settling in Schererville.

While playing for the Schererville Shock — coached by Dan Bosold and Dave Lopez — he made close friends. Among those are current Purdue players Ben Nisle and Bo Hofstra as well as Jarrett Lopez (who went to Purdue Northwest).

Grazing played for Apex Baseball in the summers leading into his last two years in high school. Marc Escobedo was the head coach. Brett Summers was his pitching coach/instructor.

“(Summers) always helped me,” says Graziano. “He was always patient.”

Graziano also enjoyed his time on the basketball court. At Lake Central, he played for head coach Dave Milausnic whom he salutes for getting the Indians ready for their demanding schedule.

“Our senior year, we didn’t have a big superstar,” says Graziano. “(Milausnic) had us prepared for every game. 

“I was the point guard as a senior. I was calling the plays and handling the ball a lot.”

Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons for Butler University in Indianapolis (2018-20). The left-hander was a weekend starter during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 campaign. (Butler University Photo)
The summer of 2020 is the second for Joe Graziano on the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Olimen. He played for the Whiting, Ind.-based team in 2017, right after his senior year at Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind. He has pitched three seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. (Northwest Indiana Oilmen Photo)
Joe Graziano, a graduate of Lake Central High School in St. John, Ind., has pitched three baseball seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis. The left-hander was a weekend starter in 2020. (Butler University Photo)

Right-hander Moran sets baseball goals high

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Moran is looking to raise his baseball stock.

Moran, a right-handed pitcher who also swings a potent bat, impressed enough during his time at Anderson (Ind.) University that he became the first player in the NCAA Division III Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference to be invited to play in the prestigious Cape Cod League

He would have suited up with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox this summer. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic caused cancellation on the Cape and Moran wound up with the Local Legends in the newly-formed College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Taking the play-and-train option, he also works out at Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park.

His Business Management degree (focused on organizational management) completed in the spring, Academic All-American Moran decided about a month ago that he would continue his baseball and academic development at NAIA-affiliated Taylor University in Upland, Ind. 

It was not an easy decision. Moran considers Anderson head coach Matt Bair a mentor — on and off the field — and has regular contact with him.

“As a man, I’ve developed so much because of his leadership and all the other coaches,” says Moran. “My sophomore year, I was soft. I hadn’t developed that bulldog mentality. 

“Coach Bair drew that out of me. He helped me compete and make myself better. He never gave me any guarantees. It helped me. I needed something to work for every single day.

“My faith is really an important part of what I am. It’s a relationship I’ll always be grateful for.”

Moran says he plans to enroll at Taylor soon and pursue a masters degree, likely in Transition-to-Teaching while working with the Trojans baseball staff, including head coach Kyle Gould and pitching coach Justin Barber, who was with the Indiana Chargers prior to his current position.

In the first 48 hours of entering the transfer portal, Moran received 13 to 15 offers.

“It was kind of overwhelming,” says Moran. “I turned down a lot of Division I offers.”

Coming out of high school, his outlook was D-I or bust. But that has changed.

“It’s not about where you play, it’s how good you are as a player,” says Moran. “How are you going to help me develop and get drafted? When I sat down with coaches from Taylor I was legitimately blown away. They had a development plan laid out for me.

“I’m 6-foot and a right-handed pitcher. Nothing sticks out about me. My stuff has to be really good to get to the next level.”

Moran mixes a fastball, change-up, slider and curveball.

This summer, his four-seam fastball has been up to 94.5 mph. He is regularly in the low- to mid-90s.

“It has a little bit of a riding action — into a righty (batter) and away from a lefty,” says Moran. 

He is aiming for a high spin rate.

“I want to spin it enough so I can throw it higher in the zone,” says Moran.

It’s a “circle” change and a “gyro” slider than Moran employs.

“It has a late break when it’s on,” says Moran of the slider. “There’s a lot of depth to it when it’s good.

“The curve is 2-to-7 (on the clock face). I spin the curve 2300 to 2400 rpm.”

The curve tends to come in at around 73 mph with the slider around 80.

Moran, a 2016 graduate of Anderson High School, was playing in the summer after high school when he felt tightness in his elbow. 

He went to Dr. Timothy Kremchek, who is also the Cincinnati Reds team doctor, for Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) injections and resumed throwing and playing at Anderson U. in the fall.

Moran wound up having Tommy John reconstructive surgery and was not even on the Ravens roster in 2017. 

“It took about 14 months until I was able to go live in game,” says Moran. “It was two years after my surgery until I was feeling good again and not worrying about elbow soreness or stiffness.”

Making his collegiate debut in 2018, Moran got into 11 games as a pitcher (nine starts) and went 5-2 with a 3.75 earned run average. In 48 innings, he struck out 49 and walked 26.

As a right-handed hitter in 44 games, Moran amassed a .311 average (46-of-148) with three home runs, 33 runs batted in and 25 runs scored.

In 2019, all 11 of Moran’s AU mound appearance were starts. He went 7-1 with one complete game, a 3.20 ERA, 66 strikeouts and 28 walks in 59 innings.

Offensively, his 2019 produced a .362 average (46-of-127) with five homers, 25 RBIs and 27 runs in 37 games.

The pandemic shorted the 2020 season to four games on the mound (all starts). The righty went 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA, 32 strikeouts and seven walks in 20 innings. He averaged 14.4 K’s per nine innings.

At the bat, Moran blazed at a clip of .563 (18-of-32) with one homer, five RBIs, 10 runs and a .667 on-base percentage in nine contests. He was a designated hitter when not pitching. 

While he concentrates on pitching during the summer and knows that is where his future lies, Morgan welcome the opportunity to hit at Taylor.

Born and raised in Anderson by Mike and Stephanie Moran, Joe began playing baseball at 5 at Riverfield Little League. During his 11-year-old summer, his team won a state title and had high hopes of the Little League World Series run the next summer, but the team was dismantled.

One of his teammates was Chayce McDermott. The Ball State University pitcher also plays on the Grand Park league’s Local Legends, coached by Butler University assistants Ben Norton and Jake Ratz.

Moran played travel baseball with the Muncie-based Magic City Orioles then, during high school, the Indiana Prospects. His 18U summer was spent with the Northern Indiana Elite.

At Anderson High, Moran played the first three seasons for Terry Turner and the last for Adrian Heim.

“He’s one of the best men that I know,” says Moran of Turner. “I genuinely mean that. He cared so much about the program and he put his all into it. He loved me from the jump.

“I wish I would’ve had more time with (Heim). He’s knowledgable about the game.”

Moran missed the 2017 summer season because of surgery and spent 2018 grinding it out int he weight room. In 2019, he went to Ontario to play with the Northwoods League’s Thunder Bay Border Cats.

Mike Moran is a grain farmer who tends about 2,000 acres. Stephanie Moran works in Engagement and Adult Studies at Anderson U. The couple have three children — Bobby (26), Joe (22) and Megan (20). AU graduate Bobby played golf and tennis at Anderson High. AU student Megan played volleyball and softball with the Anderson Indians.

Joe Moran shined with the bat at Anderson (Ind.) University. In the COVID-19-shortned 2020 season, he hit .563. (Ali Zoller/Anderson University Photo)
Joe Moran excelled on the mound for the Anderson (Ind.) University Ravens, winning 14 games and striking out 147 batters from 2018-20. (Ali Zoller/Anderson University Photo)
Joe Moran, a graduate of Anderson (Ind.) High School and Anderson (Ind.) University, is playing in the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. He plans to attend graduate school and play at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., in 2020-21. (Anderson University Photo)

New Palestine grad Watson goes from Cornhusker to Sycamore

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Whatever got the job done.”

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