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Lawrence North grad Watson shares lessons learned in first three seasons in Royals system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nolan Watson has not yet reached his 21st birthday and has already pitched more than 200 professional baseball innings.

Selected in the first round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals straight out of Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, the right-hander has gain wisdom and perspective in his three minor league seasons.

After playing for the rookie-level Burlington (N.C.) Royals in 2015 and Low Class-A Lexington (Ky.) Legends in 2016, Watson split the 2017 season between rookie-level Arizona League Royals, Burlington and Lexington.

“I’ve learned about dealing with failure,” says Watson, a 6-foot-2 right-hander who went 6-1 with a 0.68 earned run average and 81 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings with his 95-mph heat as an LN senior and is 4-26 with a 7.33 ERA, 129 strikeouts and 95 walks in 210 1/3 innings as a pro. “In high school, I was a big fish in a small pond. I had it pretty easy.

“I’ve had to deal with getting knocked around a little bit. You can’t throw everything by everybody (in pro ball). I’m learning to be competitor.”

At Lawrence North, Watson used a two-seam fastball and slider. The Royals replaced those with a four-seam fastball and curve ball and last season, let him re-learn the slider.

“It’s been a adjustment, but nothing to shy away from,” says Watson, who turns 21 Jan. 25 — on few days before leaving for Surprise, Ariz., to prepare for spring training. “It’s more about learning how to pitch and not just throwing as hard as you can. It’s learning how to throw to the corners and staying consistent.”

For Watson, it comes down to focus, preparation and mental strength.

“It’s not letting your surroundings or your last outing get to you,” says Watson. “You focus on the next pitch that’s being called.”

The right-hander has started in all but four of his 57 pro appearances.

The day after a start includes the bulk of his running and is an optional throwing day. The next day, he throws a bullpen and concentrates on things he did not like about his previous outing ie. fastball command. The next two days are about keeping his arm loose and his legs strong. Everyday includes shoulder care.

Watson landed on the disabled list early in the 2017 season and went to Arizona to rehabilitate his shoulder. He went to Instructional League for more shoulder last fall.

This off-season, Watson has been working with Jamey Gordon at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield,

Besides throwing pitches, Watson is going through rehabilitation and pre-habilitation (preventative) shoulder and scapula movements and exercises with bands, medicine balls and weighted balls.

“We make sure I’m not rubbing or stressing the wrong things,” says Watson. “It’s the things that keep you out of the training room and the doctor’s office.”

Most of his development in the Royals system has come under pitching coaches Carlos Martinez and Mitch Stetter (the former big leaguer pitcher is a Southridge High School graduate and Indiana State University teammate of Pro X co-founder and owner Joe Thatcher). They have been getting Watson to concentrate on the direction and follow-through of his delivery.

“They make sure there’s conviction going to the plate and I’m not falling off or flying open,” says Watson. “I could play 20 years in the big league and I still think I could get better at it.”

Watson played travel baseball for the Skiles Test Cobras in Lawrence Township and later for the Todd Bacon-coached Indiana Indians, Eric Dill-coached Indiana Mustangs and Kevin Chrisman-coached San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team.

Making sure he got games and practices and had clean laundry and food to fuel him were parents Perry and Melinda Watson.

“I can never properly thank them for what they did,” says Nolan. “I was always looking up to (older brother Tyler) and he made me what I am today.”

Tyler Watson graduated from Lawrence North in 2009 and played baseball at Anderson University.

Richard Winzenread was Watson’s head coach at Lawrence North.

“He told us about not giving up and competing,” says Watson. “We always had trouble with Cathedral. My senior year, we finally got past Cathedral (in the finals of the 2015 IHSAA Class 4A Roncalli Sectional).

“That was a glorious moment. That was a weight off our shoulders. It was an accumulation of not giving up and having heart. It was a great feeling for all of us.”

Watson had been recruited by Vanderbilt University, which won the College World Series in 2014. But he decided to sign with Royals instead.

“Everybody’s dream is to play professional baseball,” says Watson. “They good amount of money. I didn’t want to pass that up.”

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Nolan Watson, a Lawrence North High School graduate and former first-round draft selection of the Kansas City Royals, has pitched in the Royals system since 2015. (Lexington Legends Photo)

 

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Kokomo’s Thatcher on next diamond adventure

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Joe Thatcher didn’t see himself pitching in Major League Baseball.

But he did it.

He didn’t see himself coaching college baseball in his hometown.

But he’s doing it.

Thatcher grew up playing the game in Kokomo. There was UCT Little League and stints with Kokomo American Legion Post 6, Russiaville Cubs and Indiana Bulls in the summer and Kokomo High School in the spring.

Many games were played at Kokomo’s historic Highland Park, which was once home to Kokomo Giants, Kokomo Dodgers and Kokomo Highlanders.

“The short porch in right is what I remember most,” Thatcher said. “It was a cool place to play. There were a lot of stands and so it felt big at the time.”

After graduating from KHS in 2000, Thatcher became a legacy at Indiana State University. His father — Phil — played for the Bob Warn-coached Sycamores and so did Joe.

The Warns were family friends and the Thatchers spent many alumni weekends in Terre Haute. It was an easy decision for Joe to go to ISU and be a teammate of Barry Warn, son of Bob the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

“(Coach Warn) was great,” Thatcher said. “He really cared about his players. You felt you were part of a family.”

A 6-foot-2 left-hander, Joe started as a freshman then served as ISU’s closer as a sophomore and junior. When the Sycamores got off to a tough start in his senior year and there was not much call for someone to get the last few outs, he went back into the starting rotation.

When the 2004 MLB Draft came at the end of final college campaign, Thatcher’s named wasn’t called. Instead, the southpaw played part of two seasons in the independent Frontier League.

Thatcher joined the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2005 and made his MLB debut came with the San Diego Padres in 2007.

By this point, he knew he was exclusively a reliever.

“In organized pro ball, hard-throwing guys are usually projected as closers,” Thatcher said. “I knew I was going to be a left-handed match-up guy (lefty on lefty). That’s what I tried to focus on.”

Sometimes called a LOOGY (Left-handed One-Out Guy charged with getting out the opponent’s big left-handed batters lat in games), Thatcher was also called upon to pitch full innings, worked with his low three-quarter delivery against left-hander and right-handers.

“I always had confidence in myself that I could get anybody out,” Thatcher said. “I ended up having pretty good numbers against righties in my career.

He also kept himself in shape and shared his off-season regiment along with Dr. Jamey Gordon of St. Vincent Sports Performance and USA Baseball at the recent IHSBCA State Clinic.

“I was around some of the best conditioning staffs in the world (in pro baseball),” Thatcher said. “I saw all the innovative stuff.”

Thatcher was with the Padres organization until being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013. He pitched for the D-backs and Los Angeles Angels in 2014 and the Houston Astros in 2015. His 2016 was spent with Triple-A clubs in the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs organizations, but was not on the postseason roster during the World Series run. He decided to retire at the end of the season at age 35.

“I’m most proud of how long I was able to play,” Thatcher said. “It takes a lot to stay there and build up that trust with the coaches and front office people. To go from being un-drafted to someone who spent nine years in the big leagues, I’m pretty proud of that.”

Thatcher had studied insurance and risk management in college and planned to follow his father into that business (Phil works for Regions Bank Insurance) and even got his license and spent some off-seasons as an agent.

“I wasn’t planning on having a big league career,” Thatcher said.

Now, he is staying in baseball as associate head coach for a brand new program at Indiana University Kokomo (the IUK Cougars are scheduled to debut in 2017-18). He has been on the recruiting for about a month.

“We have a lot to offer — an IU degree, good coaching staff (including head coach Matt Howard and assistant coach Zach Hall) and (Kokomo Municipal Stadium) is a huge draw,” Thatcher said. “It gives us a leg up on the competition.

“(The school) wanted to make sure they did it right before they started the program so it wasn’t just thrown together. They do everything top level, first class. The only thing small school about what we’re doing is the actual school size (around 4,100 enrolled students, according to the IUK website).”

IU Kokomo has centrally-located campus and is up to nine sports in its athletic department. The Cougars are an NAIA program and member of the River States Conference.

Thatcher will share his experiences with his student-athletes.

“I played with a lot of good veterans and learned how to be a pro,” Thatcher said. “That meant being disciplined enough to take care of your business without being told to do it.”

And he almost didn’t do it at all.

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Kokomo’s Joe Thatcher as a pitcher with the San Diego Padres.