Tag Archives: Joe Thatcher

LHP Richard re-building himself through Project 2020

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Clayton Richard wasn’t satisfied with the status quo.

The professional left-handed pitcher was not willing to settle.

So when the Lafayette, Ind., native became a free agent after the 2019 Major League Baseball season, he decided a transformation was in order after appearing in 275 MLB games (210 as a starter) since 2008.

The former Indiana Mr. Baseball (he was Indiana Mr. Football, too) sought a way to re-work his mechanics.

“My performance was not matching up with what I desire to be,” says Richard, who went 1-5 with a 5.96 earned run average in 10 starts with the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays and was released Sept. 12 (his 36th birthday). “I decided to make a tangible change to improve production.

“It’s going great. I’m really happy with it.”

A 6-foot-5, 235-pounder, Richard participated with Team USA in the World Baseball Softball Conference Premier 12 — an Olympic qualifier held Nov. 2-17 in Jalisco, Mexico.

He was not in a spring training camp when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live baseball.

The southpaw did travel to Driveline Baseball headquarters in Kent, Wash., to begin his transformation process. He labeled it Project 2020. His journey was explored by David Laurila for Fangraphs in April.

He established a plan of action and came back to Lafayette and started implementing it. He built a barn next to his house and goes out there every morning.

“I’m throwing into a net quite a bit, which isn’t the most fun,” says Richard. “But the net never lies. It shows you exactly where the ball went.

“A good catcher can manipulate pitches.”

The pitcher also wrote down his plan, painstakingly laying out the details.

“Before the baseball world came to a screeching halt, I was frequently asked ‘What are you doing now?’ by friends and family alike,” writes Richard in the introduction to the project. “Although the question was simple enough, I honestly didn’t feel comfortable enough to delve into exactly what I was doing with my time – mostly due to the fact that I didn’t think the majority of people really care where my spin axis was that week.

“Like most unsigned free agent pitchers in professional baseball, it is much easier to state, ‘just throwing every day and waiting for the right opportunity.’

“The reality is I have been up to a lot more than simply throwing a few baseballs everyday. I have used the last few months to make significant changes this off-season. The effectiveness of my pitching repertoire had changed for the worse over the past two seasons.

“Based on that, I could choose to continue down the same path, one with an aim to execute pitches at a higher rate but likely be relegated to a LHP bullpen role, or veer headfirst into changing how my pitches profiled to RHH in an effort to level out the platoon splits for longer outings.

“I honestly debated the choice many times over – my wife likely got sick of my asking her or talking to myself. Ultimately, I came up with a plan to revamp my arsenal to return in time as the starting pitcher, the role I have worked to become since first pitching in my backyard with my dad squatting behind the plate and my mother standing in the box.”

Clayton is the oldest of Barry and Cindy Richard’s three children ahead of daughters Casey (Davenport) and Taylor (Bumgarner). Barry is a retired Lafayette Police offer and has served as sheriff of Tippecanoe County and the executive director of Lyn Trece Boys & Girls Club of Tippecanoe County. Cindy has worked with troubled teenagers.

Most of Richard’s charitable work in baseball has been centered on at-risk youth. He and his wife have worked with the Lyn Trece BGC and and clubs in San Diego.

“We only get to play baseball for so long,” says Richard. “The impact off the field really lasts.”

Richard was the Padres’ nominee for the Heart & Hustle Award (given out annually the the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association to a current player who not only excels not he field, but also “best embodies the values, spirits and traditions of baseball”) and the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award (given annually to a Major League Baseball player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement”).

“To be honored with those types of things is really humbling,” says Richard. “It shows what’s really important in life.”

A 2003 graduate of McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Clayton played football for Mavericks head coach Kevin O’Shea, basketball for Rick Peckinpaugh and baseball for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

What sticks with Richard about Burton?

“His discipline and organization of team activities,” says Richard. “Those two things he did at such a high level.

“He taught so many young men the value of being on time and working hard. We were always busy. There was never time to stand around. There was always something you could be doing.”

Richard related to that. He grew up in a household that stressed discipline.

“It was an attribute that was preached and followed,” says Richard. “We’d make sure we’re on time, saying yes. It was those little details about how you carried yourself that made a big difference.

“Those are things we’re trying to teach our children now.”

Clayton and Ashley Richard have three kids — sons Cashton (7), Cannon (6) and daughter Kile (3).

Recently, the family has been going out to a local field.

“It’s our time to be together and play baseball,” says Richard.

While there might not be organized youth baseball this summer because of the pandemic, Richard expects there to be sports for them in the fall.

“Maybe flag football or soccer?,” says Richard. “We keep sports in their own season so they don’t get burned out. We don’t want them playing one sport all year.”

From his own experience and talking with elite athletes, Richard is a believer in participating in multiple sports for a well-rounded experience.

“There’s the competitive advantage of always being in-person,” says Richard. “There’s the social advantage of having teammates.”

Basketball teaches agility and conditioning. Football gives the opportunity to interact with others and be a leader.

The Richards have been doing eLearning with kids. But it’s something they did before the pandemic quarantine. Homeschooling was done because of inconsistent residence, a byproduct of pro baseball.

Richard says schooling kids at home has its advantages.

“It cuts all of the stagnate time and we get to spend more quality time with them,” says Richard. “The details you instill in their education is taken care of.”

Clayton Richard and Ashley Buckingham met at the University of Michigan, where he was a pro-style football quarterback and baseball pitcher and she was a middle blocker on the volleyball team. She prepped at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind.

When did baseball become Clayton’s primary sport?

“Sept. 12, 2004,” says Richard, who was then a redshirt freshman. “That was the day after Michigan was upset 28-20 against Notre Dame. Sophomore Chad Henne was kept at quarterback for that game and moving forward. “I saw writing on the wall. I knew my football career at Michigan was probably coming to an end.”

Soon after the Rose Bowl, Richard went to the baseball team. He appeared in 21 games and went 0-1 with five saves and a 2.43 ERA. He was selected in the eighth round of the 2005 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox and signed by Anderson, Ind.-based scout Mike Shirley.

Richard made his big league debut with the White Sox in 2008 at 24. He was dealt to the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline in 2009. He elected free agency after the 2013 season.

He underwent Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery in February 2014 and pitched in the minors with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations that year.

Richard was traded to the Chicago Cubs and returned to a big league mound in 2015. He returned to the Padres in August 2016 and remained with them until he designated for assignment in December 2018. That same month Richard was traded to the Blue Jays.

For his career, he is 69-84 with a 4.51 ERA and 824 strikeouts in 1,284 2/3 innings.

Richard has been described as a contact pitcher.

“You never set out to have guys hit the ball,” says Richard. “Weak contact on contact on the ground is a really good thing.

“Guys who typically have a lower spin rate tend to sink the ball. That creates more early contact and more early outs with balls on the ground.”

As he began “Project 2020” in earnest, Richard met with Driveline founder/owner Kyle Boddy and started working with manager of online training Dean Jackson.

More from 2020 Project:

“I need to use my past as a compass to my future. I am too evolved in my career to think what I have done doesn’t matter while looking to improve.

“My Past: I learned how to throw a football first.

“Why that’s important: If I desire to make some fundamental changes to my delivery, I need to be willing to change in complete, as the foundation of my throwing process was built around throwing a football.

“I had to make arm, body, and mechanical compensations mid-career due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. (TOS: the compression of the brachia plexus that is the highway of nerves, arteries and/or veins that controls and supplies to the arm. In myself it manifested as drastic pain in the anterior shoulder).

“Why that’s important: I need to be aware of why I started to do ‘strange’ things throwing a baseball and understand that it’ll be difficult to kick those old habits.

“I made additional compensations in 2018 to get past knee issues.

“Why that’s important: For very much the same reason as the TOS. My body had compensated to cover up inefficiencies, and I had to retrain myself to get back to my old self.

“The combination of these three athletic factors left me with a delivery that was nonathletic and not overly effective, so I tried to throw the old delivery out the window.

“Getting rid of that old delivery has been much like getting water out of a tire. You can see it. You don’t want it there. Yet, you are forced to keep flipping over that tire again and again because only a small portion comes out with every flip.

“The easier part for me was self-evaluating thru identifying pitches and zones that needed improvement from my past. The info was sadly pretty clear to me that not much of my arsenal was effective vs RHH other than my slider. The worst part of the self evaluation was that the slider was largely ineffective last season also due to a whole host of reasons.

“What I also found was that my sinker at the bottom of the zone – my bread and butter that generated ground balls — had turned from a viable option to one that was generating less and less favorable results.

“My change-up as well had blended into a pitch that too closely mirrored the not so great metrics of my sinker. My analytics study showed my ability to cut and spin the ball was also compromised, due to the lower arm slot and release angle that had been an effective and physically necessary approach a couple of seasons prior.

“A few years ago after another brief self evaluation, I moved to the other side of the rubber, spent the offseason trying to manipulate the change up, and reintroduce a cut fastball into my mix.

“To my naked eye, these worked great and I was oozing with confidence. The ball flight suggested they were good, catch partners loved them, and bullpen catchers were on board. Everything was smooth and positive until a RHH got into the box and took swings at the pitches.

“Going into this offseason, I set the goal of raising my arm angle to create a better four seam fastball vs RHH. This adjustment would change my approach angle, movement profile, and velocity. The new angle would also allow me to differentiate my off-speed from the FB more effectively.

“I felt like I had a good idea of what I wanted to accomplish but didn’t want to lose out on the opportunity to consult specialists in this area of pitching.

“Last year, I worked with a longtime pitching coach that requests to be anonymous. This year I had started to follow Driveline (DL) through social media and been reading up on their research. I decided to reach out to Kyle Boddy. He quickly responded and gave me all the information I needed. I made the trip to Washington to check out Driveline.

“Their information surprised me a bit but offered a roadmap of the last few months: my lower body was not creating much force, and my delivery was not syncing up efficiently enough to create optimized velocity into the ball.”

Richard offered a summary of his Driveline Report:

“Key Notes: Arm action is overall clean and efficient, elbow is a bit low at ball release. However, this is not currently having a negative effect on the rest of the arm action.

“The trunk opening early into foot plant is most likely pulling the arm out of efficient positions too early in the throw.

“Trunk opens early into foot plant. Hip/shoulder separation and timing are inefficient with room to improve.”

Biomechanics details: “Richard’s upper body kinematic positions are within normal to above average ranges for the most part. He does a great job creating above average scap retraction into foot plant (47 degs). Low shoulder abduction at ball release (79 degs). Besides that, no other glaring inefficiencies noted.

“He does a good job staying stacked with good forward (-10 degs) and lateral (4 degs) trunk tilt early into foot plant. However, there are some other inefficiencies noted. Richard’s trunk is opening early into foot plant (21 degs). This is limiting Richard’s ability to create hip/shoulder separation (18 degs) and timing from peak pelvis to peak torso angular velocity (0.0111 secs). This is most likely a product of inefficient trunk/pelvis positions at foot plant making it hard to create separation and sequence efficiently. Hip/shoulder separation drills should be emphasized to work on this by holding counter-rotation and staying stacked with the trunk while the pelvis opens into foot plant.

“Below average kinematic velocities noted; COG velocity (2 m/s); torso angular velocity (980 degs/sec).

“Joint kinetics within normal ranges.”

Richard has taken that data and gone to work.

“With those notes, I had all the information I needed to start down my path of change,” writes Richard of his plan. “Here is a sample formula for a delivery that I will refer to a few times moving forward: Just as 10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10=100, Mindset+Focus+Breath+Feet+Legs+Hips+Torso+Arms+Hand+Sights=Delivery or an Executed Pitch.

“This is an oversimplification pitch delivery to try to illustrate my point. Every pitcher will have a unique equation that reaches their own version of 100.

“When a pitcher changes one small thing in his delivery, he will no longer be at his desired 100.

“Example: I moved my throwing foot to be more flush with the rubber (had to exaggerate to feel as if my toes were pointing at the plate to get there).

Changing that ‘10’ in my foot to an ‘8’ left my solution at ‘98’. Then, I had to go step by step through the rest of my delivery to see what else needed adjusted to get back to 100. In this case, it was just my sights.

“The foot adjustment happened quickly, and my sights adjusted without much issue. Some fixes come relatively easily, but other changes require many frustrating training sessions to find out what was changed and what correlated adjustment needs made.

“Here are a few of the most frustrating parts I encounter when setting out to make a significant change:

“Seeing what is wrong and not feeling it.

“Feeling an adjustment made and not seeing it.

“Expectations not lining up with reality.

“Physical restrictions limiting a faster progression (in my case, blisters).

“I have also figured out you have to go through the frustrating parts to make progress. If you are not getting sore in new places, experiencing blisters, throwing balls off the backstop, then you’re likely not making much of a change at all.

“Making a fundamental change takes hundreds, even thousands of reps, and the outcome revealed is often incremental. My mind and body have worked together so long and over so many reps, it takes a while to break up the chemistry they have going.

“I started working from home while staying in contact with Dean Jackson of DL. We decided to start working from the ground up. Working on my lower half was a very frustrating process.

“Before the past couple of years, I had never put any thought into what my lower body was doing when I was pitching.

“The first part of my lower half adjustment was easy enough: moving my throwing foot flush with the rubber.

“I originally moved my heel off of the rubber to even out my delivery equation when I moved from the other side of the rubber to face RHH two years ago.

“I was having trouble with my command and made a quick fix to change the way by body angled to the plate vs changing something else.

“In getting my heel closer to the rubber, it improved my ability to get into my left hip. What felt good was often wrong and what felt foreign was generally right where I needed to be.

“I spent months trying to get more out of my legs to no avail. I was going back and forth with Dean, almost daily, toiling over changes that could make the positive impact we so desired. He did a remarkable job promptly responding and sending video examples when necessary.

“My mind was totally on my legs, but that is exactly where I was going wrong: I was putting too much emphasis on them. If I think back to when things were going well before the knee issues, there was no thought put into what my lower half was doing.

“Thinking about how it moves, I’m essentially locking it up. I stole a cue from Trevor Cahill, who sent me a video of him getting his foot down before an obstacle (keeping his glove foot on the throwing side of the midline to the plate). “That is what clicked with me after countless attempts to get my lower half moving ‘right’. What I had been doing was putting so much focus into my leg movement that the process of the lower half going down the slope was taking too long for my foot get down. It was just the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish.

“The next step was how my torso was moving in space at a couple of different points through my delivery.

“Closing off my upper half relative to my hips; Hip/Shoulder separation. The elite throwers do this very well. Over time, my natural ability to do this had been compromised by the many adjustments made to command the ball.

“One of the first attempts was to try to ‘glove tap’ at leg lift. Rob Hill suggested it, and this helped a little, but I didn’t feel that it made as drastic of a change as I desired.

“One day, I remembered back to learning to pitch for the first time in the back yard with my father. I originally misunderstood what he meant when he was telling me ‘all the way back’.

“We would play out imaginary at-bats and call ‘balls’ and ‘strikes.’ If I were to fall behind, he would exclaim, ‘Come on Clayton. All the way back!

“Six-year-old me understood this as reaching my glove and ball all the way back towards second base as far as I could before I delivered the pitch. I didn’t understand ‘all the way back’ as a saying to get back into the count until embarrassingly late in my baseball days.

“So, I used the input from Rob and my father to start getting a little more counter rotation with my upper half by driving my hands back at leg lift.

“Getting on top of the ball: One of the biggest obstacles to get the ball to act how I want it to is to get more ‘on top’ of it. My spin axis has gotten pretty low since my return from TOS.

“My spin axis was measured around 9:45. This leads to a terrific amount of arm side run, but in the past couple years it was not enough to keep the RHH at bay. I needed to find a healthy way to raise my hand and effectively raise my spin axis. “One thing I have heard from many pitching coaches and baseball minds more advanced than mine, is that you don’t mess with a player’s arm angle.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t always listen to this wisdom, and I battled to change mine at times earlier in my career, which led to some arm issues. That left me with the challenge to get my hand more vertical without raising my arm relative to my body.

“Enter Torso Tilt: I elected to use my torso to ‘lean’ glove side in an effort to raise ‘arm angle’ and get my spin axis to a more desirable slot. This worked initially, but then proved to be very inconsistent in terms of spin axis.

“The ball was coming out of the same slot consistently, but the axis was very inconsistent.

“I couldn’t figure this out for a long time. I was throwing with RHP Parker Dunshee and took note of his arm slot that is relatively low compared to his 1:00 spin axis.

“We talked it over, and I tried changing the positioning of my thumb on the baseball. Boom. Spin axis at or above 10:30 nearly every pitch following adjustment.

“My thumb was on the side of the ball and I moved it under or essentially polar opposite of my power fingers.

“After my four-seam fastball was starting to profile how I envisioned it, it was time to start commanding that pitch and doing so at higher intensity levels.

“One thing that I have found when implementing changes into a delivery is that I can perform them fairly easily in drill work or super low intensity situations. The real challenge lies in creating my new outcome as soon as a higher level of intensity is introduced and there is more focus on the outcome of the pitch.

“The moment in which I envision a hitter in the box or try to execute a pitch, my mind/body has a tendency to revert back to the form in which it performed that action in the past.”

“Outside of family, there is nothing in my life that has had as much of an impact on my actions and mindset as baseball. I had a high school football coach that would routinely acknowledge ‘pain is a good teacher’.

“There is not much more painful than giving up a home run to give up the lead or lose an MLB game. Those game experiences of pitches that I was beat on are burnt into my mind and body. If I try to tell my body to throw that pitch, my mind will override a poor decision to stay away from that uber painful experience it was once put in.

“It also provides a level of comfort with the delivery that has worked, for the most part, over the course of my career.

“Unfortunately, that delivery that I revert back to is not one I want moving forward while facing RHH. So, I have to make a habit out of making the uncomfortable, comfortable.

“This is where slow-motion video and pitch measuring tools such as Rapsodo really provide an advantage.

“It is impossible to find big league level talent to take swings off you every time you take the mound to work things out.

“The combination of Rapsodo and film have been introduced to somewhat fill that void.

“Nothing can fully replace the feedback of a big-league hitter, but the metrics and video provided from these sources has been a big step forward in seeing the necessary changes, and if I was making the changes the way I had envisioned.

“Now, instead of ‘feeling’ like that was a good pitch, I can look up and check to see if the numbers backed it up. Whenever I think of mental cues and how our mind perceives our body to be moving,

“I recall a conversation with former MLB veteran and fellow Hoosier, Joe Thatcher. I faced him his senior year of high school, and he threw ‘normal’.

“He developed into a Big Leaguer as a guy that dropped down and was very difficult on LHH. I asked him, “When did you start throwing like this?” when we were teammates in SD. He replied, ‘I feel like I’m throwing the same as everyone else, completely normal.’

“It goes to show, no matter how good we are or how far we have come, very rarely is the vision of our mind’s eye 20/20.

“All too often, early in the process, what felt like a great pitch only felt great because it was closer to how I used to throw.

“I wanted to feel weird and make the weird feeling my new normal. This process takes thousands of throws. It can take thousands of throws at each level of intensity.

“Playing catch — Flatground, Side Work, Live BP, Simulated Game, MiLB Game, MLB Game. As I have worked at each level, I have found that there are certain obstacles that pop up because of my body/mind recalling how it used to perform.

“Back to the process – Command: At this point, many of the variables in my delivery equation have been manipulated.

“The only thing remaining is throwing until my new sights line up with where the ball is actually going, without regressing towards what I’m comfortable with.

“This remains easier said than done. Thousands of throws, even a few off the glove were made in this process.

“I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many intelligent baseball minds over the course of my career. In these times of introspection, I will find myself recalling the cues Darren Balsley used to help me improve my sinker, or how Jim Benedict helped get my velo back after the TOS. Whether it was sights under the glove or the concept of throwing it easy and pulling down, I still draw from those interactions and now I have the 4S FB that I desire.

“Unfortunately, I do not throw 101 mph and have the luxury of living off of one pitch. I am forced to incorporate my off speed to compete at the highest level.

“Every time I use a different grip, some part of my delivery is driven back in time due to the muscle memory of that grip. Some grips take weeks to figure out what was not adding up, like my slider (turns out I was failing to drive my hands back at the top of my leg lift like I was with my FB).

“Other grips took just a few throws to iron out the kinks, like my CH. The new hand placement has allowed for the reintroduction of my cutter and curveball, which was kind of like learning new pitches all over again due to the lack of action those pitches have seen over the past few years.”

“I still have some work to do in getting the release points of my off-speed to mirror more closely that of my FB.

“However, they have gradually gotten closer over the last couple of weeks, and I just need to flip that tire a few more times.  A couple more flips and the water will likely be out of it – just like I will be back to my ‘new, old self.’”

There is uncertainty about when the Major League Baseball season is going to begin — if at all — and if there will be Minor League Baseball in 2020.

Richard’s agent, John Courtright of ISE Baseball in Chicago, is monitoring the situation.

“The opportunities may be few and far between,” says Richard. “I’m going to be ready to compete.”

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Clayton Richard’s old heel position.

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Clayton Richard’s new heel position.

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Clayton Richard’s old hand position.

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Clayton Richard’s new hand position.

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Clayton Richard delivers the baseball for the San Diego Padres in 2009. (Sean M. Haffey/San Diego Union-Tribune Photo)

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Clayton Richard has pitched in the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres (two different stints), Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays. (MLB Photo)

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Clayton Richard pitched the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019. The former McCutcheon High School and University of Michigan player made his Major League Baseball debut in 2008. (MLB Photo)

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Clayton Richard, of Lafayette, Ind., has been pitching in Major League Baseball since 2008. At 36, he is re-working his delivery to increase his production. (MLB Photo)

 

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)

 

Right-hander Ruxer doing his baseball homework

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As a finance and accounting double major at the University of Louisville, Jared Ruxer studied figures as they relate to business.

“I’ve always liked numbers,” says Ruxer, a 2011 graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis.

Now that his business is baseball — he is a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization — Ruxer is examining concepts like Spin Rate and Extension that are a part of TrackMan or Statcast technology.

According to MLB.com, a pitcher’s Spin Rate (SR) “represents the rate of spin on a baseball after it is released. It is measured in revolutions per minute. The amount of spin on a pitch changes its trajectory.”

For Extension (EXT), “a pitcher must begin his throwing motion while standing on the pitching rubber — which is 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate. This does not mean pitches are actually thrown from 60 feet, 6 inches away from the plate.

“The point at which a pitcher releases the ball is actually a few feet closer to home plate than the pitching rubber itself. Extension quantifies exactly how much closer a pitcher’s release point is to home plate.”

The higher EXT the better and the less time the hitter has to react to the pitch.

“I’ve been looking at the TrackMan data and getting an understanding of that and how to apply it,” says Ruxer, 25. “I’m getting more into the biomechanics of pitching. I’m also learning to manage the running game better and getting really good at PFP’s (Pitcher Fielding Practice) and things like that.”

Ruxer was chosen in the 29th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and did not sign, opting to go to Louisville. He pitched for the Cardinals 2012-14.

He was named Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association All-America, Big East Conference Rookie of the Year and third-team all-Big East while making 16 mound appearances (14 starts) and going 8-3 with a 3.38 earned run average, 32 strikeouts and 15 walks in 77 1/3 innings.

As a sophomore in 2013, he made 19 appearances (seven starts) with a 0-1 mark and a 5.63 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 21 walks in 38 1/3 innings. Louisville went 51-14 and played in the 2013 College World Series.

Ruxer’s junior campaign in 2014 saw him make 13 starts and go 7-1 with a 2.27 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings before an elbow injury ended his season. He named second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference. The Cardinals (51-15) returned to Omaha for the 2014 College World Series.

Two days before the 2014 MLB draft, Ruxer underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and did not pitch that summer. In the fall, he went back to Louisville and complete his degree.

The righty made his first professional pitch until 2015 with the rookie-level Orem Owlz. That initial season back, he worked 29 2/3 innings over 14 appearances (11 starts) and was 0-3 with a 4.85 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 11 walks.

“That first short season was tough,” says Ruxer. “It definitely took awhile (to bounce back from surgery). I didn’t feel like I was a 100 percent and back to myself until 18 months later. I had to pitch through it.

“I had to learn how to pitch a little more because I didn’t have all my velocity back yet.”

Ruxer split the 2016 season between the Low Class-A Burlington Bees and High Class-A Inland Empire 66ers, combining for a 4-8 record, 3.08 ERA and 29 appearances (19 starts) with 99 strikeouts and 31 walks over 111 innings.

The first full pro season was also when he was introduced to the TrackMan data.

Knowing the Angels were using it as an evaluation tool, Ruxer began doing his homework and studied ways to improve his numbers and performance.

He found that change could be made through grip, arm action and some minor mechanical cues.

“Some days the ball has a little more carry. Some days it has a little more sink on it,” says Ruxer. “You make adjustments based on that.”

On Dec. 1, 2016, the Angels traded Ruxer to the Royals. He spent most of the 2017 season with the High Class-A Wilmington Rocks, going 5-7 with a 3.45 ERA in 24 appearances (17) starts with 84 strikeouts and 29 walks in 109 2/3 innings.

In three games (one start) and six innings with the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals, he was 0-0 with a 16.50 ERA, one strikeout and seven walks.

Ruxer says the differences in the way he was handled by the two organizations is very slight.

“The Angels were very hands-off,” says Ruxer. “It was on me.

“The Royals were a little more proactive.”

While player development staff are there to help, Ruxer has learned that how players progress in pro baseball is largely up to them.

“It’s going on our stat sheet,” says Ruxer.

The Royals sent Ruxer to the 2017 Arizona Fall League to work on a breaking ball and he relieved in nine contests with the Surprise Saguaros. He went 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA. In 12 innings, he had 12 strikeouts and nine walks.

More than three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Ruxer is back to letting it rip on the mound.

“I’m pretty high-effort now,” says Ruxer. “I’m not holding anything back. I get a lot more results when I do that.

“There’s no reason to leave anything in the tank. There’s not too much thinking ahead. You’ve got to get the guy out standing in the box and the rest is secondary.”

Looking to his diamond past, Ruxer played in the Fall Creek Little League, where he was a teammate of current Texas Rangers minor league pitcher David Ledbetter.

Ruxer played travel ball for the Indiana Prospects at age 12 and for the Indiana Bulls at 13 and 17. From 14 to 16, he was with the Indiana Braves, a team father Jim helped organize.

At 18, Ruxer was with the Midland Redskins in Ohio. The summers after his freshmen and sophomore seasons at Louisville, he hurled for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League.

In his three seasons at Louisville, Ruxer learned from head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

“(McDonnell) taught me about managing the running game, PFP’s and was a stickler for bunt defense,” says Ruxer. “(Williams) called all the (pitches). I liked that. We could just go out there and pitch and just worry about our stuff. He did all his homework on the hitters. I trusted him. I didn’t shake off too much.”

While catchers in the minor leagues are allowed to develop their pitch-calling abilities, Ruxer notes that almost all pitches in major college baseball are called by coaches.

“Their job’s on the line. They want to control the game,” says Ruxer. “I get it. They have time to read up on the hitters. You are a student-athlete. There a lot of things going on. We can’t afford to lose games.”

Ruxer played three varsity seasons at Lawrence Central. He went 5-2 as a sophomore, 6-1 as a junior and 6-1 as a senior with a total of 155 strikeouts. His final high school season saw him earned all-state, all-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference and all-Marion County honors.

Dan Roman (who is now head coach at Brownsburg High School) led the program when Ruxer was with the LC Bears.

“That was a blast,” says Ruxer. “Dan was awesome. “When it came to pitching, he showed me how to pitch to certain hitters and about reading the hitters’ swings. I learned how to attract hitters and started learning how to manage the running game.”

After an extended 2017 season, Ruxer managed to get away for some vacation and quality time with family — father Jim in a Certified Public Accountant, mother Lisa is a recently-retired as a physical education teacher at Carmel High School and younger sister Addie is life science recruiter in Chicago after graduating from Indiana University.

Ruxer will spend the rest of the off-season working out in Indianapolis. He has trained at both St. Vincent Sports Performance and the new Pro X Athlete Development. Former MLB pitcher Joe Thatcher is involved with Pro X.

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Jared Ruxer, a Lawrence Central High School and University of Louisville graduate, is a right-handed pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization. (Wilmington Blue Rocks Photo)

 

Howard looking for first IU Kokomo baseball team to play the game fast

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Howard hit the ground running when he took over as head coach for the new baseball program at Indiana University Kokomo.

That’s fitting since Howard wants his Cougars to play the game fast and put pressure on opponents.

Since starting in January and hitting the recruiting trail, Howard and his assistants — associate head coach/pitching coach Joe Thatcher (a Kokomo High School graduate who pitched in the big leagues), recruiting coordinator Zach Hall (who played at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.) and infield/assistant hitting coach Jason Leone (who played at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo.) — have built a roster and begun establishing a culture.

“We want to play fast,” says  says Howard, who used his speed as a outfielder to a be an NCAA Division II All-American and Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Player of the Year at Slippery Rock State University and was an assistant at Chestnut Hill College, where the Griffins were consistently among the D-II leaders in stolen bases. “We want guys that understand the game and play the game hard. We want to put pressure on the defense and take advantage of any mistake they make.”

A Philadelphia, Pa., native, Howard served three seasons as manager of the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the summer collegiate Prospect League (2014-16) and was on the baseball staffs at Ball State University, LaSalle University and Chestnut Hill after his collegiate playing career.

Howard and his IU Kokomo staff have a group of 38 for 2017-18 and are now working on the recruiting class of 2018-19.

“We’re just looking for the best student-athlete we can find,” says Howard. IUK has about 3,000 students — many of them of commuters.

What attracted him to the heart of Indiana?

“Kokomo is a special place,” says Howard. “It’s a baseball town. We’re at an institution where we can attract a very strong student-athlete

“Our athletic department is young and looking to add sports strategically and run them in a competitive manner,” says Howard.

By having nearly 40 players, its creates competition within the squad and gives the Cougars some depth as they go through fall ball activities. Practices will wrap in a few weeks and players will hit the weight room. When classes begin again after winter break on Jan. 8, the team will kick it into gear as it prepares for the inaugural season opener Feb. 9 at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn. It’s the first of three straight weekend series in Tennessee. The home opener on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium is Feb. 27 against Indiana Wesleyan.

At 28, Howard is one of the younger head coaches in NAIA baseball. He sees it as a positive.

“It’s an advantage,” says Howard. “I have a lot of energy and passion for what I do. I’m out everyday to prove I’m the guy for the job. I’m able to get my players on the field more.

“Baseball is a beautiful game that teaches a lot of life lessons and about (dealing with) failure. Baseball is a tough game to play. You need to take the positives from the negatives.”

IMG_20190305_174618

MATTHOWARD

Matt Howard, 28, is the head coach of a brand new NAIA baseball program at Indiana University Kokomo. He is a Philadelphia, Pa., native who was an NCAA Division II All-American at Slippery Rock State University. (IU Kokomo Photo)

 

Hoosiers at Lexington Regional; Indiana’s 34 other college teams wrap up 2017 season

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana University found out Monday, May 29 that they will be a part of the NCAA Division I baseball tournament in 2017.

The Hoosiers (33-22-2) have been assigned to the Lexington Regional as the No. 2 seed (along with host and top-seeded Kentucky, No. 3 North Carolina State and No. 4 Ohio University).

The 64-team D-I tournament includes 16 four-team regionals.

For 34 other collegiate baseball programs in Indiana (eight in NCAA Division I, four in NCAA Division II, nine in NCAA Division III, 13 in NAIA and two in NJCAA) have already concluded their seasons.

Due to the closing of the school in Rensselaer, Saint Joseph’s College (NCAA Division II) played its 122nd and final season this spring.

Indiana University Kokomo (NAIA) is gearing up for its first season in 2018.

Here is a wrap-up for 2017 squads:

INDIANA COLLEGE BASEBALL

2017

NCAA Division I

Ball State Cardinals (30-28, 14-10 Mid-American Conference): Rich Maloney, in his 12th overall season in two stints in Muncie, saw Sean Kennedy (first team), Matt Eppers (second team) and Caleb Stayton (second team) make all-MAC. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Butler Bulldogs (31-20, 7-10 Big East Conference): In his first season in Indianapolis, coach Dave Schrage had three all-conference performers in Tyler Houston (first team), Jordan Lucio (second team) and Jeff Schank (second team). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Evansville Purple Aces (18-39, 8-12 Missouri Valley Conference): Ninth-year coach Wes Carroll had Connor Strain (first team), Trey Hair (second team) and Travis Tokarek (second team) make the all- MVC tournament team.

Fort Wayne Mastodons (9-43, 4-26 Summit League): Jackson Boyd was a second-team all-league player for ninth-year coach Bobby Pierce.

Indiana Hoosiers (33-22-2, 14-9-1 Big Ten): Matt Lloyd (second team), Logan Sowers (second team), Craig Dedelow (third team) and Paul Milto (third team) were all-conference honorees during third season at the helm in Bloomington for head coach Chris Lemonis.

Indiana State Sycamores (29-26, 12-9 Missouri Valley Conference): Tony Rosselli (first team), Austin Conway (second team), Dane Giesler (second team) and Will Kincanon (second team) were all-MVC selections in head coach Mitch Hannahs’ fourth season in charge in Terre Haute.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (26-32, 10-20 Atlantic Coast Conference): Seventh-year head coach Mik Aoki had an all-ACC player in Matt Vierling (third team).

Purdue Boilermakers (29-27, 12-12 Big Ten): Gareth Stroh made all-Big Ten in head coach Mark Wasikowski’s first season in West Lafayette. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Valparaiso Crusaders (24-29, 13-15 Horizon League): Before leaving for the Missouri Valley in 2018, James Stea (second team) and Jake Hanson (second team) made the all-Horizon squad for fourth-year head coach Brian Schmack. SEE Indiana RBI story.

NCAA Division II

Indianapolis Greyhounds (27-23, 11-17 Great Lakes Valley Conference): Kyle Orloff (first team), Dylan Stutsman (first team) and Storm Joop (second team) all earned all-conference recognition for 23rd-year head coach Gary Vaught. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Oakland City Oaks (18-29): Head coach T-Ray Fletcher’s team saw its season end with four losses at the National Christian College Athletic Association World Series in Mason, Ohio.

Saint Joseph’s Pumas (35-22, 14-14 Great Lakes Valley Conference): The end of the line came in the Midwest Regional in Midland, Mich. In Rick O’Dette’s 17th season as head coach, he was named GLVC Coach of the Year. All-conference players were Josh Handzik (first team), Riley Benner (second team) and Tasker Strobel (second team). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Southern Indiana Screaming Eagles (32-21, 22-6 Great Lakes Valley Conference): Tracy Archuleta, in his 11th season as head coach in Evansville, also saw his squad qualify for the Midwest Regional in Midland. All-conference performers were Lucas Barnett (first team and GLVC Pitcher of the Year), Jacob Fleming (first team), Drake McNamara (first team), Kyle Griffin (first team), Justin Watts (second team), Sam Griggs (second team) and Logan Brown (second team). SEE Indiana RBI story.

NCAA Division III

Anderson Ravens (14-23, 8-16 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): With Drew Brantley and Mark Calder as co-interim head coaches, Brandon Sanders (second team), Augdan Wilson (honorable mention) and Austin Cain (honorable mention) all received all-conference honors.

DePauw Tigers (33-13, 12-5 North Coast Athletic Conference): First-year head coach Blake Allen saw his squad go 2-2 at the Mideast Regional in Washington, Pa., and put Jack Thompson (first team), Mike Hammel (first team), Ryan Grippo (second team), Tate Stewart (second team), Reid Pittard (second team), Collin Einerston (second team) and Andrew Quinn (honorable mention) on the all-conference squad. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Earlham Quakers (30-14, 21-6 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): It was an historic season in Richmond for seventh-year head coach Steve Sakosits. While the program achieved its first-ever 30-win season, it also won regular-season and conference tournament titles and concluded the year at the Mideast Regional in Washington, Pa. All-Conference players were Nate Lynch (first team and HCAC MVP), Howie Smith (first team and HCAC Most Outstanding Pitcher), Eric Elkus (first team), Matt Barger (first team), Cody Krumlauf (first team), Brennan Laird (first team) and Kyle Gorman (honorable mention). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Franklin Grizzlies (21-17, 13-12 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): All HCAC players for 20th-year head coach Lance Marshall were Jordan Clark (first team), Sam Claycamp (first team), Frank Podkul (second team), Jackson Freed (second team), Nick Wright (second team) and Jacob McMain (honorable mention). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Hanover Panthers (18-20, 9-17 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): Jack Shine (honorable mention) and Tyler Fitch (honorable mention) were recognized as all-conference players in Shayne Stock’s fifth season as head coach.

Manchester Spartans (22-21, 18-9 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): Joe Gallatin (HCAC Freshman of the Year and first team), Chad Schultz (first team), Tyler LaFollette (second team), Eric Knepper (second team), Brandon Eck (second team), Christian Smith (second team) and Cory Ferguson (honorable mention) were HCAC for head coach Rick Espeset during his 19th season lead the way in North Manchester. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Rose-Hulman Fightin’ Engineers (18-24, 16-11 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference): In his 28th season as head coach at the Terre Haute school, Jeff Jenkins saw Zach Trusk (first team), David Burnside (first team), Conner Shipley (first team) and Drew Schnitz (honorable mention) make all-HCAC. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Trine Thunder (19-18, 13-15 Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association): All-MIAA recognition came to Jacob Heller (first team) and Drew Palmer (second team) during head coach Greg Perschke’s 16th season running the show in Angola. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Wabash Little Giants (22-16, 7-10 North Shore Athletic Conference): Former player Jake Martin came back to Crawfordsville for his first season as head coach and put Michael Hermann (first team) and Andrew Roginski (second team) on the all-conference team. SEE Indiana RBI story.

NAIA

Bethel Pilots (22-22, 10-17 Crossroads League): In Seth Zartman’s 14th season leading the program in Mishawaka, his team had all-conference selections in Brandon Diss (gold glove), Austin Branock (honorable mention), Heath Brooksher (honorable mention) and Jared Laurent (honorable mention).

Calumet College of Saint Joseph Crimson Tide (7-44-1, 2-25 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference):  Fifth-year head coach Brian Nowakowski fielded a 2017 team with players from 10 different states as well as the Bahamas and Puerto Rico.

Goshen Maple Leafs (26-30-1, 11-16 Crossroads League): Fifth-year head coach Alex Childers watched Clinton Stroble II (first team), Quinlan Armstrong (gold glove), Blake Collins (gold glove), Brad Stoltzfus (gold glove), Preston Carr (honorable mention) and Michael Walter (honorable mention) all receive a Crossroads salute. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Grace Lancers (15-31-1, 7-20 Crossroads League): At the end of the season, the Winona Lake school took the interim tag off interim head coach Cam Screeton for 2018. This spring, he led all-conference picks Austin Baker (honorable mention), Gavin Bussard (honorable mention) and Xavier Harris (honorable mention).

Huntington Foresters (35-13, 22-5 Crossroads League): Crossroads Coach of the Year Mike Frame’s 33rd season as HU head coach brought a regular-season and conference tournament title and a NAIA Opening Round appearance plus the 800th win of his career. All-league players were Shea Beauchamp (first team), Dalton Combs (first team), D.J. Moore (first team), Adam Roser (first team), Mason Shinabery (first team), Tanner Wyse (first team), Michael Crowley (gold glove and honorable mention), Dylan Henricks (gold glove and honorable mention) and Andy Roser (gold glove and honorable mention). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Indiana Tech Warriors (44-14, 25-6 Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference): After finishing third in the tough WHAC, there was seventh NAIA Opening Round trip for 10th-year head coach Kip McWilliams and his Fort Wayne-based squad. All-WHAC players were Matt Bandor (first team), Cody Kellar (first team), Glen McClain (first team and gold glove), Charlie Sipe (first team), Keith Tatum (first team), Tighe Koehring (second team), Peyton Newsom (second team), David Barksdale (Champions of Character) and Dante Biagini (gold glove). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats (27-30, 12-15 Crossroads League): Head coach Rich Benjamin, in his second season of calling the shots in Marion, had all-conference selections in Brady West (CL Newcomer of the Year and first team), Brandon Shaffer (first team), Andrew Breytenbach (honorable mention), Kyle Hall (honorable mention) and Jon Young (honorable mention).

Indiana University Kokomo Cougars (Coming in 2018): Matt Howard is the head coach in the City of Firsts. Former big leaguer and Kokomo native Joe Thatcher is IUK’s associate head coach. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Indiana University South Bend Titans (24-26, 13-14 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference): Chris Mangus was CCAC Player of the Year. All-conference mention also went to Spencer McCool (second team) and Tanner Wesp (second team). Mike Huling was head coach. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Indiana University Southeast Grenadiers (48-15, 25-7 River States Conference): Ranked No. 21 in the country, ninth-year head coach Ben Reel’s squad fell in the championship of the NAIA Opening Round in Kingsport, Tenn. All-RSC selections were Tanner Leenknecht (first team), Logan Barnes (first team), Richard Rodriguez (first team), Ryne Underwood (second team), Gage Rogers (second team), Hector Marmol (Champions of Character and second team), Julian Flannery (second team) and Cody Maloon (second team). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Marian Knights (30-23, 19-8 Crossroads League): Featuring Crossroads Pitcher of the Year Matt Burleton, fourth-year head coach Todd Bacon’s club went to the NAIA Opening Round in Taladega, Ala. Besides Burleton, all-conference choices at the Indianapolis school were Cody Earl (first team), Jordan Jackson (first team), Leo Lopez (honorable mention), John O’Malley (honorable mention) and Brenden Smith (honorable mention). SEE Indiana RBI story.

Purdue Northwest Pride (30-18, 20-7 Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference): Purdue Calumet and Purdue North Central merged to form PNW, which played its home games at Dowling Park in Hammond. Dave Griffin served as head coach. SEE Indiana RBI story.

Saint Francis Cougars (13-41-1, 6-21 Crossroads League): In his 13th season as head coach at the Fort Wayne school, Greg Roberts directed all-conference players Noah Freimuth (honorable mention), Tanner Gaff (honorable mention) and Kansas Varner (honorable mention).

Taylor Trojans (35-21, 20-7 Crossroads League): Crossroads Player of the Year Jared Adkins helped 13th-year head coach Kyle Gould get his 400th career victory and more. Besides Adkins, all-conference players were TU were Austin Mettica (first team), Matt Patton (first team), Nathan Taggart (first team), Tanner Watson (first team), Sam Wiese (first team), Andrew Kennedy (honorable mention) and Wyatt Whitman (honorable mention).

Junior College

Ancilla Chargers (5-28, 1-21 Michigan Community College Athletic Association): Head coach Joe Yonto’s two-year program in Donaldson featured a 2017 roster with all but one player from Indiana hometowns.

Vincennes Trailblazers (14-32): Ninth-year coach Chris Barney’s team was made up mostly of Indiana players. VU is also a two-year school.

IUHOOSIERSBASEBALL

Kokomo’s Thatcher on next diamond adventure

rbilogosmall

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.

joethatcherpadres

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