Tag Archives: Justin Barber

Saint Francis assistant Lawhead wants his pitches to be relentless

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connor Lawhead was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest.

Thanks to baseball, Fort Wayne, Ind., became his Midwest home in the fall of 2012.

Born in Bellevue, Wash., near Seattle, Lawhead graduated from Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., in 2010 and pitched for two seasons at Walla Walla (Wash.) Community College.

The right-hander played for Warriors head coach Dave Meliah and pitching coach C.J. Biagi and was named a first-team all-East Region relief pitcher and second-team all-Northwest Athletic Conference relief pitcher in 2012 while garnering six saves.

“Coach Meliah taught me a lot of physical and mental toughness and how to prepare at a higher level,” says Lawhead. “I learned how to attack and compete relentlessly and not have any fear.

“I played on two of the grittiest and most-competitive teams I’ve ever been a part of.”

Lawhead describes the juco experience.

“The days are long in junior college, but it helps you develop an appreciation of how much better you can get by working,” says Lawhead. “There’s a natural progression. You can speed up and expedite that process a little bit.”

Through an online recruiting database — FieldLevel — he caught the attention of Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and wound up signing with the Mastodons weeks before his junior year at IPFW. 

“Lucky for me, they needed arms,” says Lawhead. “I wanted to play at the (NCAA) Division I level as well. That’s the reason I went to junior college in the first place.”

The right-handed hurler two seasons (2013 and 2014) for head coach Bobby Pierce and pitching coach Grant Birely and made 41 appearances out of the bullpen with seven wins and nine saves.

“It was a great experience with Coach Pirece and Coach Birely,” says Lawhead. “They helped me see things in detail and that 90 percent of game can be controlled by that pitcher-hitter confrontation.

“They gave us a lot of freedom. There was no micromanaging. We took ownership of our own development.”

Many of Lawhead’s former teammates from the Fort Wayne area have remained very good friends.

“They are my Midwest family if you will,” say Lawhead, 29.

After his playing career, he served as a graduate assistant and then as paid assistant in the Mastodons program from 2015-19. 

Lawhead coached three All-Americans at IPFW — Evan Miller (who was selected in the 22nd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Diego Padres and pitched for the Low Single-A Fort Wayne TinCaps 2016-18 and in Triple-A in 2019) and all-Summit League performers Greg Kaiser and Brandon Soat (who played for the 2017 independent pro Evansville Otters). 

All three are Indiana prep products — Miller from LaPorte, Kaiser from Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger and Soat from Homestead.

Along the way, Lawhead earned undergraduate degrees in General Studies and Public Policy and a masters in Organizational Leadership from IPFW/Purdue Fort Wayne.

In the summers of 2014 and 2015, Lawhead was head coach for 13U and 14U teams for the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization, working alongside founder/general manager Joel Mishler and director of operations Justin Barber.

“Joel was another big influence in my life as a coach,” say Lawhead. “(The Chargers) are  youth organization so devoted to developing players and men.”

Barber is now the pitching coach at Taylor University.

Zac Mishler, Joel’s youngest son, was Lawhead’s teammate at IPFW.

Former Mastodons infielder and assistant coach Kristian Gayday was offered an opportunity to stay in Fort Wayne and join the coaching staff at the University of Saint Francis by Cougars head coach Dustin Butcher

Gayday was later joined at the NAIA and Crossroads League member school by Lawhead, who left IPFW (now known as Purdue Fort Wayne) when Pierce left to take to take an athletic administration job in Arizona.

“Coach Butcher is great to coach under,” says Lawhead. “Before I even got here, he had established a culture with good athletes and good human beings. There’s also that (relentless) mentality I spoke about earlier. It makes my job a lot easier.

“We can focus on the things that can help us win games in the heat of competition. (Butcher) gives his assistant coaches full autonomy. He does not micromanage. We have a really good relationship.”

At IPFW, Lawhead worked primarily with position players on defense and collaborated with Pierce on hitting.

As a Saint Francis assistant, he throws batting practice and helps out with defense whenever he can but Lawhead’s primarily responsibility is with the Cougars pitching staff.

He covers a variety of areas, but a competitive mentality is a key.

“We talked about body language, self talk and all the thing we can control,” says Lawhead. “We want to compete relentlessly with no fear.

“We want to get to that fight or flight response. We like our guys competing at everything they do and doing it to the highest of their abilities.”

Lawhead has his pitchers using their arms often to build up their tolerance. 

“We throw just about everyday, but not as hard as they can,” says Lawhead. “We want to be able to expose hitters’ weaknesses and get them out.”

COVID-19 restrictions did not allow Saint Francis to have any games with other schools during the six weeks of fall practice, but there was plenty of intrasquad action.

“In my opinion we accomplished our goal of pitchers learning their strengths and how they are going to attack hitters,” says Lawhead. “During week, (pitches) prepared to perform on the weekend. We had a plan in place to recover so we can do that again and again.”

Lawhead says its likely that the Cougars will not have mid-week games during the 2021 season with four-game weekend series in the conference (7- and 9-inning doubleheaders on Fridays and Saturdays).

Saint Francis finished the fall semester before Thanksgiving. Students, including ballplayers, are due back on-campus in January.

While the student-athletes are away, the coaching staff is recruiting and planning for the season.

“We’re working on how we’re going to attack practice as efficiently as possible when the guys get back,” says Lawhead.

Connor and Victoria Lawhead have a daughter who turns 1 on Dec. 31 — Avery. While Victoria is teaching sixth grade English at Woodside Middle School (a Homestead High School feeder), he is at home with the baby then often heads to the office.

Connor Lawhead, who played two collegiate baseball seasons at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne and holds three degrees from the school, is now an assistant coach at Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. (IPFW Photo)

South Bend Clay graduate Parkhurst enjoys baseball culture at Gardner-Webb

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Gardner-Webb University head baseball coach Jim Chester likes his Runnin’ Bulldogs players to check these boxes.

Selfless.

Relentless.

Blue Collar.

Talented.

Keiji Pankhurst, a 2016 graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Clay High School and a redshirt senior entering his second year at GWU after three years and two playing seasons at Daytona State College in Daytona Beach Fla., appreciates the culture of the NCAA Division I program based in Boiling Springs, N.C.

“Any junior college kid — in my mind — has an aspect to their game that is blue collar,” says Parkhurst, 22. “I don’t know if gritty’s the word. We have a lot of junior college transfers this year with the mentality of going to work everyday.

“We have a strong, strong senior class. We’re such a tight-knit group. Once the core guys decided to come back we knew some special could happen here. We have a bunch of good character guys who play hard.

“It makes going to practice fun. It makes the weight room fun. The intensity that’s brought everyday is second to none.”

In-person classes began Aug. 19, baseball conditioning started Aug. 24 and fall practice got underway Sept. 1 for a Gardner-Webb squad that could wind up with as many as 16 seniors thanks to the NCAA allowing an extra year of eligibility to players who had their 2020 seasons cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re doing individual group things,” says Pankhurst. “We getting back in the swing of things. It’s been since March since many guys have seen (live) pitching or been on a field.

“Coach Chester is very detail-oriented, which I like. You know exactly what you’re getting into when you sign up. 

“Practice is his time. In games, you go play.”

GWU’s last contest was March 10 at the University of North Carolina.

On March 4 at GWU’s Bill Masters Field at John Henry Moss Stadium, Pankhurst was a single shy of a single with three RBIs, three runs and a sacrifice fly in a 4-3 win against Ball State University.

On a full count in the seventh inning, Parkhurst smacked the ball to right center and it bounded off the brick scoreboard and plated a run.

One pitch was delivered in the bottom of the ninth inning and Parkhurst launched it over the center field wall for a walk-off homer.

Parkhurst, who started all 16 games last spring at first base with 117 total chances, one error, nine assists, 12 double plays and a .991 fielding percentage plus a .220 average (11-of-50) with two home runs, 11 runs batted in and 10 runs scored as a righty batter, counts among his teammates outfielders Cam Pearcey and Mitch McLendon and infielder Eric Jones

Pearcey played four seasons at Coastal Carolina University (including for the 2016 College World Series champions) and in 2020 for Gardner-Webb. McLendon has already logged four seasons with the Bulldogs. Jones has been with the program since 2016, having taken 2017 as a medical redshirt.

Chester, the latest guest on the Dugout Chatter Podcast Powered by Stick & Ball TV hosted by former Saint Joseph’s College (Rensselaer, Ind.) assistant and current Georgia Gwinett College head coach Jeremy Sheetinger, asked players to read a book over the summer and participate in Monday Zoom meetings.

Suggested by former Indiana Chargers travel coach Justin Barber, Parkhurst had already read “Chop Wood Carry Water: How to Fall in Love with the Process of Becoming Great” by Joshua Metcalf.

“(The book) says you build your own house,” says Pankhurst. “Everyday’s an opportunity to improve yourself.

“It was a good reminder of when we get back to campus that everyday is an opportunity. Keep working and you’ll see the product come to fruition.”

During the quarantine, Parkhurst came home to Granger, Ind., to work and to hone his baseball skills. He also took an online class and is one pace to graduate with a Business Administration degree in the spring.

Parkhurst, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, landed at Gardner-Webb after playing in a junior college all-star game in Lakeland, Fla. He was recruited by former Bulldogs assistant Ross Steedley and agreed to join a program led by Rusty Stroupe. When he arrived in North Carolina, Stroupe had retired and Chester was in charge.

With a grandfather living in Florida, Parkhurst had attended camp at Daytona State and was offered a chance to make the Falcons team. He redshirted as a true freshman behind a returning starting catcher, did much of the team’s receiving as a redshirt freshman and split his time between catcher and first base as a redshirt sophomore.

He hit .305 with four homers and 27 RBIs in 33 games in 2018 and .261 with four homers and 20 RBIs in 38 games in 2019.

“I wouldn’t trade my junior college experience for the world,” says Parkhurst. “Coach (Tim) Touma set me up to be the player and person I am today.”

Parkhurst entered the fall of 2019 at GWU as a catcher then transitioned to first base for the spring of 2020 and expects to be at that position this fall and next spring.

Born in South Bend, Parkhurst and played at South Bend East Side Little League before joining the Barber-coached Chargers around 15.

He played at South Bend St. Joseph High School as a freshman then was a varsity player for three seasons at Clay. Teammates included Aaron Bond, Joey Lange, Trenton Stoner and J.P. Kehoe.

“There were guys you loved to play for,” says Parkhurst. “Everybody played hard for each other.”

Parkhurst played for Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold and assistants Bill Schell and John Kehoe. Reinebold took over at his alma mater and where father and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jim Reinebold had success after the death of Chad Hudnall due to cancer in October 2013.

“His baseball mind and passion for Clay baseball is outstanding,” says Parkhurst of Joel Reinebold. “All the coaches — whatever you needed, they were there for you with personal advice or baseball advice. They’d go to bat for you no matter what.”

Riley Tirotta, who played at Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., and at the University of Dayton, is a friend and sometime workout partner of Parkhurst.

Keiji is the second of RV company vice president Scott Parkhurst and a golf pro Kasi Hornback’s four sons and only one to go by his Japanese middle name. The other boys are Robert Toshio (25), who is in the U.S. Navy, David Morio (14) and Tommy Touji (12). 

Keiji Parkhurst’s first baseball season at Gardner-Webb University was 2020. (Gardner-Webb U. Video)
Keiji Parkhurst, a graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Clay High School, hit a walk-off home run March 4, 2020 to lift Gardner-Webb University to a 4-3 baseball victory against Ball State University. (Gardner-Webb University Photo)
Keiji Parkhurst, a 2016 graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Clay High School, was at Daytona State College for three years and is entering his second with the baseball program at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C. (Gardner-Webb 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)

Taylor’s Gould shares hitting approach

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kyle Gould has enjoyed plenty of diamond success at Taylor University in Upland, Ind.

In 15 seasons as NAIA-affiliated Trojans head baseball coach, Gould has seen his teams go 515-291. The makes him the all-time wins leader in program history. His 2018 team won a school-record 44 games. There have been seven Crossroads League championships on Gould’s watch and several of his players have earned all-conference honors.

Gould spoke about his approach with hitters during the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic at Noblesville as a guest of Greg Vogt.

A three-sport athlete in high school, Gould never had a private hitting or pitching lesson in his life. When he structures practices many of his influences come from the coaches he had in sports other than baseball.

“I’ve never approached the game from an overly-mechanical way,” says Gould. “It’s always been through how we develop these skills externally — things I learned playing football and basketball.

“I have this desire to learn, challenge what I’ve learned and challenge what I’ve been taught and maybe look for a better way to do things.”

Gould, a 2002 Taylor graduate, says what his players do in practice has to be shaped by what they want to do in games.

Outlining game-time expectations, Gould wants Taylor hitter to:

• Get a good pitch to hit.

• Get on time with the fastball.

• Handle the breaking ball.

• Hit the ball hard.

• Be tough with two strikes.

• Be situational.

What does Taylor train this in practice?:

• They are challenged to control the strike zone.

“We’re always praised for taking balls and we always want to have that conversation,” says Gould. “We want that communication (between coaches and players and players and players).

“We want to give them feedback.”

• The speed and angle of the pitches they see is varied.

“Rarely do I throw the ball from 25 feet at 35 mph belt-high, they hit it and we tell them how great they are,” says Gould. In our program — with everything we do — everything and everyone is good and bad not good or bad.

“Because if this, we’ll use a ton of BP variations. I could probably give you 50.”

• Hitters track and/or hit spin everyday.

Taylor pitching coach Justin Barber had his arms tossing breaking pitches while hitters are taking a look.

“We spin a lot of breaking balls off the mound,” says Gould. “I want our hitters in the box, tracking spin and identifying very early ball or strikeout, getting feedback from the catcher. We hit off machines, but we’re identifying breaking balls everyday.

“When I played, we never talked about hitting the breaking ball. If hitting the baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports then hitting the breaking ball is the hardest thing of the hardest thing. We need to be able practice.

“The more you do it, the more it takes the fear out of it. The ball eventually has to pass through the strike zone and it’s learning how to track that.”

• Hitters develop and track exit velocity.

“We get great feedback from HitTrax,” says Gould. “The players love it. It makes them competitive with others. Hopefully, it makes them more competitive with themselves.

• Hitters develop A and B swings and use them daily.

“A B swing is what I used to call two-strike approach,” says Gould. “When I say two-strike approach to our hitters, they took that very passively. They took that to mean don’t strike out. So we changed it to B swing. It gets the point across.

“With B swing there are three things: Choke up on the bat, do not get a hand load and the front toe stays on the ground.”

In 2019, 46 percent of Taylor’s at-bats had two strikes in them.

“If that’s going to happen 46 percent of the time and we’re not practicing that, right?,” says Gould. “Forty to 60 percent of our swings in practice will be B swing approach.

“The most important swings we take are either plus in the count or way behind in the count. I want to make sure that guy’s faced a slider with a B swing.”

• Hitters work on relevant situational hitting.

Gould says the 230-pound 4-hole hitter pounding ground balls to shortstop to him. Neither is the 135-pound 15-year-old trying to drive a runner in with a fly ball.

One drill that the Trojans do in the cage with HitTrax going is for the hitter to face a tough pitch and Gould will ask them to do something with it that they’re good at. Some might be asked to hit-and-run, others to elevate the pitch.

“We just hammer the two or three things we need them to do to be successful and to help us score runs,” says Gould.

What about the training environment?

“It’s what matters the most,” says Gould. “The best thing you can do is surround players with other players who want to develop and compete.

“It’s a common phrase: We’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. For players, most pitchers are the average of the people they play catch with everyday. Most hitters are the average of the guys they go hit with.”

Gould says he believes strongly in progressions not rotations.

“We want to think about going smaller to bigger, slower to faster,” says Gould. “We want to really have a plan on how we progress.”

Ninety percent or more swings are done with an external focus.

“If we’re going to do mechanical work, it’s going to be outside of our drill work. It’s going to be one-on-one. Very rarely, do I pull a guy out.

“I may say go hit five line drives to right-center field and let’s see what happens.”

One thing that Gould is careful about is the less mechanical cues he gives to the players, the more they give to each other.

“They don’t know what they’re doing much less what someone else is doing,” says Gould. “That’s a big thing for us.”

Players at Taylor hit in intentionally selected groups of three.

“I don’t like groups of two. I think it’s too quick,” says Gould. “I don’t like groups of four. You can lose them pretty quick.”

Groups may consist of power hitters, speed guys, older players with younger players or the batting order in thirds.

“It is incredibly intentional,” says Gould. “We’ll tell them if they can not hit with them and not give great effort and attention, I’m going to move you (into another group).”

Gould prefers 1-5 swings per round.

“It is a personal pet peeve of mine,” says Gould. “Guys come in and take 10-12 swings and rotate.

“That is not how the swing is. You don’t have that much time to adjust.”

Something is recorded everyday.

“Development is measured against self,” says Gould. “We only want you comparing your numbers to your numbers.

“Guys are very different. If they start comparing themselves to each other, we’re going to have problems.”

Practices include something competitive everyday.

“If we’re doing those groups right, they’re competing against guys it makes sense to compete with,” says Gould.

In their daily schedule, hitters do up to six things in this order:

MediBalls.

“We’re trying to active the muscles we use to hit,” says Gould. “We’re trying to train good movements.”

• Tee work.

“The only thing that we use it for is contact points,” says Gould. “HitTrax gives us some very good data on where we should be contacting the ball.

“We want them to understand where they hit the ball the hardest. We can sit a tee there and get them comfortable hitting it there.”

• Front toss.

The feeder tosses it flat from 17 feet and is done for things like internal rotation. Plyo balls are often used. This drill is done on most days.

Overhand Batting Practice

Forty to 50 percent of swings come during this part of practice.

• Machine work.

It’s done everyday, including breaking balls.

• Competition.

What Taylor manipulates in practice:

• Bats

Overload, regular and underload are used in different position.

• Balls.

Baseball, plyo balls, tennis balls, wiffle balls, basketballs and more are used.

• Distrance.

A three-plate drill that Gould favors has his hitters changing between various distances from the machine, which can be set to delivery various pitches and velocities.

• Pitches.

Breaking balls and fastballs can be delivered from live arms or machines.

• Person.

Technology used by Taylor:

Hack Attack machines.

• HitTrax.

• Radar gun with display board.

• Overload/Underload bats.

Driveline PlyoCare balls.

• Blast Motion.

KYLEGOULD

Kyle Gould, a 2002 Taylor University graduate, is entering his 16th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater in 2020. He is also the school’s athletic director. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Lanky lefty Roberts displaying ‘will to win’ as Mariners minor leaguer

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Max Roberts wants to be a winner.

He says that’s what drives him as an athlete.

“Competing is the biggest thing. It’s the will to win,” says Max Roberts. “It’s just who I am.”

That drive was instilled by his father — long-time Washington Township Middle/High School head baseball coach and fifth grade teacher Randy Roberts and grandfather Norman Roberts — and has followed Max throughout his diamond life.

“Between the two of us, Max probably acts more like his grandfather than he acts like me,” says Randy Roberts. His father lives in Warsaw, Ind., where Randy grew up. Randy played baseball for Jim Miller (who an Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductee) at Warsaw Community High School, graduating in 1978. From there, he played for Tom Roy at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. “My dad gave me the love for baseball. He was an incredible worker.”

From a very young age, Max showed the ability to throw a ball where he wanted.

“When he was 2 or 3 years old and we would play catch, he had good location and good aim,” says Randy Roberts, who has won eight IHSAA Class 1A sectionals in 22 seasons at Washington Township. “He’s always been pretty good at locating his pitches. He’s never been the hardest thrower on his team. He’s always been the best at getting outs.

“He’s a strike thrower.”

His father also admires Max’s lack of fear with throwing inside to batters.

“Most kids at the lower levels — when they get two strikes — they’re looking to go away,” says Randy. “It’s humiliating to hit a batter with two strikes. He’s always been good at coming inside. He has confidence in doing that.”

Max Roberts, who turns 21 on July 23, graduated from Valparaiso (Ind.) High School in 2016, played one year at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and was selected in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.

The 6-foot-6, 190-pound left-hander made 10 appearances (seven starts) in 2017 and went 1-1 with a 5.18 earned run average, 18 strikeouts and nine walks in 24 1/3 innings the rookie-level Arizona League Mariners.

In 2018, he has pitched in three games (all starts) and is 1-1 with a 4.20 ERA, 17 strikeouts and three walks in 15 innings with the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League.

How has he improved the last year?

“By having a feel for every pitch in any count,” says Max Roberts, who throws a four-seam fastball (consistently thrown at 87 to 89 mph and occasionally touching 91 to 92), curveball and four-seam “circle” change-up from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot.

“I definitely have some arm-side run,” says Roberts, who credits much of what he knows about pitching to his father and a relationship Randy has with Houston Astros pitching coach Brent Strom. “They bounce ideas of each other.”

When Max was still in grade school, Randy attended the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago and invited Strom to extend his trip and spend a few days with Roberts in Valpo. Over the years, Randy and Max have visited Strom when he was nearby, sent video for for his analysis or texted questions. He has always been swift with his replies.

“There’s no better human being in baseball than Brent Strom,” says Randy Roberts.

Roberts was a late recruit at Wabash Valley, committing less than a month before arriving on-campus in the fall. By the third weekend of the spring, Roberts was the Friday starter for head coach Rob Fournier.

“(Fournier) was big on competing,” says Roberts. “He he didn’t care who you were — just go out and throw strikes and win games.”

Roberts went 10-1 with one save for WVC. Under the guidance of Fournier and pitching coach Jeff Bolen, he sported a 1.44 ERA, 98 strikeouts and 28 walks in 94 innings. Of his 17 appearances, 13 came as a starter. His lone loss was in relief.

Todd Evans was Roberts’ head coach at Valparaiso High.

Roberts got his formal baseball start in the Valpo Americans League before playing travel ball with the Boone Grove Wolves and then the Valpo Sting.

In high school, he was with the Indiana Chargers for four summers, working with coaches Joel Mishler, Justin Barber and Ryan Marken.

“I was in an environment with guys who wanted to play baseball,” says Max Roberts of the Chargers experience. “They cared.

“As a former college coach, (Mishler) knew what it took to compete at the next level. The biggest thing there was the winter workouts. That’s when you can see the biggest improvements in your game.”

The lanky Roberts put about 20 pounds last fall at the Mariners’ high performance training camp and has kept it on by consuming 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day.

“In the past, I had a hard time gaining and maintaining weight,” says Roberts. “This this year, it hasn’t been a problem.”

Vancouver hitters had a problem against Roberts in a June 20 game before a capacity crowd of 6,412 at Nat Bailey Stadium in British Columbia. The lefty retired the first 18 Canadians before allowing the first hit in the bottom of the seventh inning.

The next steps on the Mariners’ minor league ladder are the Low Class-A Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings, High Class-A Modesto (Calif.) Nuts, Double-A Arkansas Travelers and Triple-A Tacoma (Wash.) Rainiers.

Max is the oldest of Randy and Anne Roberts’ three children. Sophia just graduated from Indiana University-Bloomington in the spring. Baseball-playing William will enter his senior year at Washington Township in the fall.

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Max Roberts, a Valparaiso (Ind.) High School graduate, played one season at Wabash Valley College and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. He is now a starting pitcher with the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Everett AquaSox)

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Max Roberts delivers a pitch for the 2018 Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)

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Max Roberts, who played at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School and Wabash Valley College in Illinois, looks in for the sign as a pitcher for the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox in the Seattle Mariners system. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)

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Left-hander Max Roberts delivers the ball from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot. He was drafted in 2018 by the Seattle Mariners and assigned to the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)

 

Former big leaguer Stults explains importance of mental game to campers

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

To pitch at high levels — college or pro — the space between the ears becomes even more important than the arm.

That’s one of the big lessons Eric Stults absorbed in his 14 seasons of professional baseball (2002-2015).

“It’s the mental part of the game,” Stults said after leading a pitching camp for youngsters Saturday, Feb. 25 at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy inside Eastlake Athletic Club in Goshen. “A lot of guys can physically throw a baseball and throw it hard and well. But what separates the guys who excel or do so at the next level is their ability to mentally make adjustments and stay focused.

“It’s somebody I probably didn’t learn until college. More than physically, I needed to be mentally sharp. (After learning that,) I was practicing that as much as I was throwing the baseball.

“The earlier some of these players can get that, it’s only going to help them along the way.”

Stults played at Argos High School and Bethel College before being  drafted in 2002. The left-hander’s pro baseball odyssey took him through experiences with five different Major League Baseball clubs (Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves) as well as several minor league teams and in Japan (Hiroshima Toyo Carp).

While working toward the big leagues (he made his debut in 2006), Stults was introduced to the importance of the mental side.

“I got in a rut and was searching for something,” Stults said. “Someone said, ‘have you ever thought of the mental side of the game?’ I said, ’Not really. I just go out there and throw the baseball and hope for the best.’”

Stults started his Indiana Chargers camp remarks by focusing on enjoyment of the game.

“This is a game,” Stults said to 45 pitchers of varying ages and their parents. “We want to have fun.”

Then comes learning how to pitch — not just throw.

Even the hardest throwers can’t rely on velocity alone.

Stults, who resides in Middlebury, enjoyed longevity in the game not from gas but his ability to focus on the game within the game — pitcher vs. hitter. He was able to change speeds and the eye levels of hitters by moving the ball around.

After a Tommy John surgery early in his career — before he really knew the importance of arm care — he stayed relatively healthy.

While campers went from station to station for Crossover Symmetry Band work for rotator cuff and scapular strengthening, throwing and recovery drills with the help of ECBSA’s Joel Mishler, Justin Barber and George Hofsommer, Stults also took time to tell them about concepts like routine.

Stults, who worked with many coaches and sports psychologists throughout his diamond days, said his routine changed throughout his career, but having one helped with the mental side of the game.

One pre-pitch routine that he had was taking a deep breath and letting it go along with all of the tension.

“It can be that simple,” Stults said. “I also had a key word — FOCUS. It let me focus on the catcher’s glove and take the distractions out of my head. That allows you to get back into a good mind frame.”

Learning the mental side also helped Stults to keep from dwelling on the negative things and focus on his next pitch or next outing.

“The mindset is you’ve got to forget about it,” Stults said. “It’s easier said than done. But that comes through practice and mental part of the game. Let’s move forward.”

In discussing mechanics, Stults noted that not everyone delivers the ball in the same way or has the same arm slot.

“As an individual, you have to figure out what works for you,” Stults said. “When I talk about different grips and throwing different pitches, it’s trial and error.

“You have to be willing to try new things and be coachable.”

Stults encouraged players to learn how to “self-coach” and diagnose their own problems and find solutions.

He emphasized always having a purpose even when playing catch (throw to a target) and developing tempo and rhythm while using nice loose grip on the baseball.

As Stults, 37, looks back on his lengthy career, it’s the relationships that stand out.

“What was gratifying was the people I met,” Stults said. “You can sit there and talk about victories and this and that. But it’s the people I met along the way. It’s that clubhouse camaraderie I was able to have in baseball.”

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Former big leaguer Eric Stults demonstrates a grip during a camp at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy inside Eastlake Athletic Club in Goshen. (Photo By John Sadowey)

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Eric Stults throws at a camp at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen. He was helped by ECBSA’s Justin Barber (from left on right side of photo), George Hofsommer and Joel Mishler. (Photo By John Sadowey)

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A pitching camp by former big leaguer and Middlebury resident Eric Stults brought out several youngsters to Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen. (Photo By John Sadowey)

Development is Job 1 for Indiana Chargers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

By exposing players to the latest training methods, the Indiana Chargers are getting them ready for the next level.

Doing indoor work at the Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy inside Eastlake Athletic Club in Goshen, young athletes learn what it’s like at the collegiate level.

Founded by Joel Mishler, George Hofsommer and Ben Bailey in 2008 and now led by general manager Mishler, director of operations Justin Barber and strength and conditioning coach Evan Jurjevic, the Indiana Chargers has sent more than 135 players on to college baseball, several at the NCAA Division I level.

“It’s all about development,” Mishler said. “That’s why we exist.”

A former head coach at Glen Oaks Community College and Westview High School and a longtime professional scout, Mishler wants to give his players a clear picture of what it takes to the play college game through tools as well as physical and mental development.

The acronym C.H.A.R.G.E.R.S. stands for Commitment, Heart, Attitude, Respect, Grateful, Energy, Relentless, Servant Leaders and those core values are expressed at practices.

With the experience of the staff, players are also helped through the college recruiting process, finding the best fit for them based on their needs and talents.

“There’s never any guarantees (of high school playing time or a college scholarship),” Mishler said. “It’s something you have to earn. But we will give them the information of what it takes.

“It’s a culture of getting better and working hard.”

During the off-season (November to March), high school players have been attending optional three-a-day workouts (three hours on Sunday afternoons and up to 2 1/2 hours on Tuesdays and Fridays).

Jurjevic, who excelled on the diamond at LaPorte High School and Carson-Newman University, takes the Chargers through the warm-ups and exercises that get them ready to play the game.

The use of bands and weighted Drive Line plyo balls is prevalent for building up muscles and recovery.

One way to build arm strength is through a program the Chargers adopted two years ago — a pulldown drill which has players take a running start a throw into a net with a radar gun clocking the velocity.

“We call it the ‘run-and-gun,’” Barber said. “It’s like a crow-hop on steroids. You won’t see anything like that during a game, but it allows more momentum and bigger effort level.”

After getting warmed up, players will do the “run-and-gun” once a week to see if they can top their personal best.

On Sunday, Jan. 29, the facility high school record of 99.2 was set by Plymouth High School junior and Valparaiso University verbal commit Jeremy Drudge. The previous mark was held by Marian High School senior/University of Dayton-bound Riley Tirotta. Three dozen have joined the 90/95/100-plus club since November 2014.

There were several BP stations, including one where Jurjevic bounced the ball to the plate. The idea was the stay back with the hands and be ready for a curve or off-speed pitch.

Mishler and his staff are continually consulting with high level college and professional baseball people to stay at the forefront of technology. Mishler has attended 23 of the past 25 American Baseball Coaches Association national conventions (it will be in Indianapolis in 2018) and goes annually to the Pitch-a-Palooza in Nashville.

“We’ve always been of the mindset that we have to get better as coaches,” Mishler said. “These kids are getting a lot of information that they are going to get at the college level.”

Barber was a star left-handed pitcher at Inter-City Baptist High School and Spring Arbor University — both in Michigan. He notes that the Chargers will field nine teams 11U through 18U in 2017 (tryouts were in August 2016). The younger teams will play from late April to early July with high schoolers taking the field in June and July with the possibility of fall ball in September and early October.

While the Chargers do take part in travel events, including those organized by Bullpen Tournaments and Pastime Tournaments — many at Grand Park in Westfield — it’s not always about the games.

“We’re more focused on the developmental side,” Barber said. “We started a league with like-minded travel organizations and play three-game series (on a weekend with a single game one day and a doubleheader on the other) with pregame infield and batting practice. You don’t get that in most travel tournaments.

“It’s just games, games, games.”

Coaches 13U and above have college playing or many years of coaching experience.

“All of them are getting the same information and most recent and best available,” Mishler said.

It’s all about develop and getting better.

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(from left): Justin Barber, Joel Mishler and Evan Jurjevic of the Indiana Chargers.