Tag Archives: Justin Barber

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

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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)

 

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Former big leaguer Stults explains importance of mental game to campers

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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.