Tag Archives: Kane County Cougars

Former Heritage, Indiana lefty Saalfrank now pitching in Diamondbacks system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andrew Saalfrank has the physical tools to pitch a baseball at high levels.

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound left-hander was a standout at Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Monroeville, Ind., where he graduated in 2016 then for three seasons at Indiana University (he was a weekend starter in 2019) and now in his first professional season in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.

After making 15 appearances (12 as a starter) and going 8-1 with a 2.84 earned run average, 98 strikeouts and 26 walks in 73 innings for IU this spring, Big Ten Conference Pitcher of the Year Saalfrank was selected in the sixth round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

So far, the southpaw has pitched three of one-inning stints — one for the rookie-level Arizona League Diamondbacks and two for the short-season Class-A Northwest League’s Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops and is 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA, three strikeouts and one walk. Since he pitched so many innings in the spring, the D-backs are limited his load this summer.

As of now, the next steps up the ladder for the Diamondbacks are at Low-A Kane County (Ill.), Advanced-A Visalia (Calif.), Double-A Jackson (Tenn.) and Triple-A Reno (Nev.).

Delivering from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Saalfrank uses a two-seam fastball, curveball and change-up in games. His fastball has been between 89 and 93 mph. His curve is 83 to 84 and usually has more of a vertical plane. His change-up his been especially sharp this summer. In the bullpen, he has been tinkering with a four-seam fastball and working on a slider.

It’s not just his left arm that has gotten Saalfrank to this point.

“A lot of stuff can go wrong in the game and it doesn’t bother me often,” says Saalfrank. “There’s such a large mental aspect to the game.

“Sometimes you don’t have the greatest physical talent. Playing college ball helps you deal with different situations. You’re good enough. You tell yourself that and deal with the situation that’s thrown at you.”

Saalfrank’s training at Indiana was focused on getting ready for pro ball and now he’s here.

With academic and college time restrictions out of the way, he can put his time into baseball.

“I don’t sleep in too late,” says Saalfrank. “I wake up at 8:30 or 9 everyday.”

That gives him time to relax, grab a meal and head to the stadium, where he will spend up to eight hours for a Hillsboro home game. Stretching begins about three hours before first pitch. On many days, there is weightlifting before or after the game.

“The time commitment is the difference,” says Saalfrank. “It’s fun. I’m getting paid to do what I wanted to do for a living.

“I’m lucky enough to do it.”

Saalfrank was born in Fort Wayne and grew up in Hoagland, Ind. Father Doug Saalfrank is a supervisor at B.F. Goodrich. Mother Heidi Saalfrank is a sales representative for Heritage Food Services. Older sister Abby Saalfrank was also an NCAA Division I athlete, playing volleyball at Eastern Illinois University.

Heidi Saalfrank’s brother and sister — Jason Richman (baseball) and Tiffany (Richman) Bennett (volleyball) — both played at Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne (now Purdue Fort Wayne) and influenced Andrew and Abby.

“We were always spending time with them and playing sports in the back yard,” says Andrew.

His organized baseball days began in the youth leagues in Hoagland and New Haven. He played for a number of travel teams, including the Indiana Outlaws at the end of his high school days.

Saalfrank took pitching instruction from Rich Dunno for about eight years.

“He played a big part,” says Saalfrank of Dunno, the Fort Wayne-based inventor of the King of the Hill ground force trainer.

At Heritage, Saalfrank was an all-stater as a junior and senior and a four-time all-Allen County Athletic Conference selection. His career mark was 26-7 with a 1.67 ERA and school-record 429 strikeouts and 218 1/3 innings. He was 10-1 with a 1.07 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 65 2/3 innings in 2015 and followed that up with a 2.15 ERA and 87 K’s in 45 2/3 innings in 2016.

Dean Lehrman was Patriots head coach. Saalfrank credits Lehrman for his emphasis on the mental and emotional aspects of baseball.

“Respect the game,” says Saalfrank. “Respect your teammates. Play for the school name on your chest.”

Saalfrank was recruited to IU by Chris Lemonis (now at Mississippi State University) and worked with Lemonis and pitching coach Kyle Bunn (now at Middle Tennessee State University) for his first two collegiate seasons.

“(Bunn) pushes you,” says Saalfrank. “He expects a lot out of every player. He gets the most out of you. He uses tough love sometimes.”

In Saalfrank’s junior year, Jeff Mercer became the head coach and Justin Parker the pitching coach for the Hoosiers.

“It was a really smooth transition for everybody,” says Saalfrank. “They have a pro style to development.

“It was on me to figure out what I like best and establish a routine to transition into pro ball.

“I learned about handling adversity and finding the positives out of failure.”

The minor league regular season goes through Labor Day then comes the playoffs. Saalfrank plans to return to Indiana in the fall to train and finish his sports management degree. He is just nine credits shy.

Left-hander Andrew Saalfrank pitches for Indiana University.

Andrew Saalfrank is a product of Heritage Junior/Senior High School in Indiana and worked for years with pitching instructor Rich Dunno.

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Andrew Saalfrank, a former Heritage Junior/Senior High school and Indiana University left-hander, is now pitching in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

 

Former Shelbyville, Indiana State righty Larrison soaks up knowledge in first pro baseball season

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ethan Larrison went to Arizona and became a sponge.

The right-handed pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks system recently attended fall instructional camp at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale and spent his time soaking up as much baseball knowledge as he could.

“I asked as many questions as I could and tried to get better in every aspect,” says Larrison, a 2014 Shelbyville (Ind.) High School graduate who played for four seasons at Indiana State University (2015-18) in Terre Haute and was selected in the 16th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Diamondbacks. “There were a lot of former major leaguers there. I would soak in as much as these guys could tell us and paid attention to everything that was said.

“I’m not set in any aspect of pitching at all. I decided to go in with an open mind.”

He was impressed to see big leaguer Jake Lamb there grinding away in the same place as instructional league invitees.

“He got to the facility before anybody,” says Larrison of the all-star third baseman.

Larrison was an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 4A all-state honorable mention selection and IHSBCA All-Star as a Shelbyville senior, playing for head coach Scott Hughes.

At ISU, Larrison appeared in 84 games (78 in relief) with an 11-13 record, 10 saves, a 4.12 earned run average, 141 strikeouts and 77 walks in 178 1/3 innings. His head coach was Mitch Hannahs and Jordan Tiegs his pitching coach.

In 2018, Larrison pitched in 25 games (all in relief) and went 3-6 with nine saves, a 3.76 ERA, 50 strikeouts and 23 walks in 55 innings for the Sycamores then got into 15 more contests (all out of the bullpen) and went 6-1 with a 3.10 ERA, 16 strikeouts and 10 walks in 20 innings for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops of the rookie-level Northwest League.

Between his last college season and first professional campaign, it was as much baseball as Larrison had ever played in one year.

“That was the biggest challenge. In summer (collegiate) ball, you might get into five or six games,” says Larrison, who played for the Prospect League’s Bobby Segal-managed Terre Haute Rex in 2015, rested his arm in the summer of 2016 and hurled for the Cape Cod Baseball League’s Hyannis Harbor Hawks in 2017. “We were playing everyday of the week for numerous weeks and getting into several games (in the minors).

Making it through that experience has him looking forward to 2019.

“I’m super excited about next year,” says Larrison, 23. “One of the hardest seasons a professional baseball player can have.

“I’ll be a lot more ready for next year. This is my group now.”

The next rungs on the Diamondbacks minor league ladder are Kane County (Low Class-A), Visalia (High Class-A), Jackson (Double-A) and Reno (Triple-A).

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Larrison touched 96 mph and sat at 92 to 94 mph with his four-seam fastball near the end of the college season. Fatigue and minor injuries pulled that down to 90 to 92 with Hillsboro. His pitching repertoire also features a “circle” change-up, slider and curveball.

“I try to make it as close to 12-to-6 as possible,” says Larrison of his curve. “It’s not sweeping, but something in the middle.”

Before reporting back to Arizona for spring training in early March, Larrison will be working out and plans to begin throwing again around the middle of November. He will also be serving an internship with the Indiana State baseball program as part of his sport management/marketing major.

Larrison, who is 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, says he enjoyed his time playing for Hughes at Shelbyville.

“He would push us, but he would also gave us room to develop on our own,” says Larrison, who helped the Golden Bears win over 20 games and a Hoosier Heritage Conference title in 2014. “Our team chemistry was really good. We played together since we were younger.”

Born in Beech Grove, Ind., Larrison was raised in Waldron, Ind., before moving to nearby Shelbyville as a seventh grader. He played in the Shelby County Babe Ruth League until travel baseball took him to the Indy Expos, Indiana Prospects and Midland (Ohio) Redskins.

Ethan is the youngest child of Gary and Amy Larrison. Brandon is the oldest and Caitlyn the second-born. Gary is a saleman and Amy a bank manager. Brandon works in the automotive industry and Caitlyn is on maternity leave as a teacher.

There have been plenty mentors and role models in Ethan’s life, from his father who played catch with him in the front yard and coached some of his teams to his older brother, who was a Shelbyville basketball player.

“I wanted to be as good as him when I was younger,” says Ethan. “It’s important to have quality coaches and I’ve learned a ton from everybody I’ve been with.”

That includes Hannahs and Tiegs at ISU.

“(Hannahs) was very strong on hard work and doing things when nobody’s watching,” says Larrison.

Tiegs helped Larrison and other Sycamore hurlers with a throwing routine that includes weighted balls and helps loosen and strengthen.

“It’s something he used,” says Larrison of Tiegs, who pitched for Sauk Valley Community College and the University of Charleston and with the independent Evansville (Ind.) Otters.

Hillsboro Hops Media Day

Ethan Larrison, a 2014 Shelbyville (Ind.) High School graduate, pitched four seasons at Indiana State University and made his professional baseball debut in 2018 in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

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Ethan Larrison grew up in Indiana and made his pro baseball debut in Oregon in 2018 with the Hillsboro Hops. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

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Former Shelbyville (Ind.) High School and Indiana State University reliever Ethan Larrison pitches out of the stretch for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in 2018. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

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Ethan Larrison pitched in 15 games for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops and was invited to the fall instructional league by the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

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Ethan Larrison throws a pitch for the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in 2018. He played high school baseball in Shelbyville, Ind., and college ball at Indiana State University. (Hillsboro Hops Photo)

 

Fort Wayne native Reith sharing knowledge as pitching coach in Rays system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Reith played professional baseball for 13 seasons with parts of three in the majors (2001, 2003 and 2004 Cincinnati Reds).

Reith, a 1996 Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School graduate, has plenty to impart to young players as pitching coach for the Low Class-A Midwest League’s Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods.

But it’s not just about what goes on between the white lines.

“This is about more than just baseball for me,” says Reith. “It’s about young men. The game’s going to be over at some point and, hopefully, they can have a sound future somewhere else.”

Reith, 40, encourages players to approach him about anything.

“They can come to about off-the-field stuff and on-the-field stuff,” says Reith. “I try to be stern, but I try to be a friend to them as well.”

With his young pitchers on the mound, he emphasizes something that helped him during his pro playing career.

“What I focus on mostly is fastball command and getting them to understand the four quadrants of the (strike) zone, how effective that can be and how it sets up their other pitches,” says Reith. “By doing this, starters can also help relievers later in the game.”

Reith says it’s a matter of mechanics for some pitchers and — for others — confidence in their fastball.

“Fastball command was extremely important for me,” says Reith, a 6-foot-5 right-hander who graduated from Concordia in 1996 and was selected in the sixth round of that years’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees. “I first learned that in the (High Class-A) Florida State League. In Double-A, I had catchers who forced me to use my fastball. It really opened up a lot of doors for me.”

In the majors, his first manager was former big league catcher Bob Boone. Former MLB pitcher Don Gullett was the pitching coach.

“I had a lot of conversations with Bob Boone about pitch selection and different hitters and what to look for,” says Reith. “(Don Gullett) taught me a lot about work ethic.”

Dave Miley later took over as Reds manager. He ended up as head coach at Franklin County High School in Brockville, Ind.

Reith pitched for the Indianapolis Indians in 2005. Trent Jewett was the manager and Darold Knowles, who won 66 games and save 143 in 765 big league appearances, the pitching coach.

From 2007 to 2009, he played independent ball — first with the Somerset (Mass.) Patriots and then the Camden (N.J.) Riversharks and Joliet (Ill.) Jackhammers.

Sparky Lyle, who pitched in 899 big league games with 99 wins and 238 saves, was the manager and Brett Jodie, who made eight MLB appearances in 2001 with the Yankees and San Diego Padres, the pitching coach his first season in Somerset.

“(Sparky Lyle) stayed back and let us do our thing,” says Reith. “I was pitching pretty well while I was there.

“Brett Jodie helped me out quite a bit. I played with Jodie in the Yankees organization.”

The 2018 season marks Reith’s fourth in the Tampa Bay Rays system. He spent the past three years as pitching coaches with the Short Season Class-A New York-Penn League’s Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades.

There are many former Hudson Valley pitchers on the current Bowling Green staff and Reith sees the value in the continuity.

“It’s always good to have a base and knowledge of how they learn and what they’re working on to start a season off,” says Reith. “It’s definitely helped.”

Reith recalls his time in the Midwest League with Dayton in 2000 and relates those experiences to his Hot Rods.

“It wasn’t that long ago I was in their same shoes,” says Reith. “I try to remember what I was going through and what my mind was like.”

Everyone shares in the grind.

“Travel is pretty brutal for us,” says Reith. “But the guys deal well with it.”

According to Google Maps, the distance between the stadium in Bowling Green and MWL sites are as follows: Beloit (Wis.) Snappers 510; Burlington (Iowa) Bees 494; Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kernels 561; Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings 530; Dayton (Ohio) Dragons 279; Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps 389; Great Lakes Loons (Midland, Mich.) 616; Kane County Cougars (Geneva, Ill.) 479; Lake County Captains (Eastlake, Ohio) 477; Lansing (Mich.) Lugnuts 524; Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs 436; Quad Cities River Bandits (Davenport, Iowa) 512; South Bend (Ind.) Cubs 392; West Michigan Whitecaps (Comstock Park, Mich.) 493; Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Appleton, Wis.) 621.

Toward the end of his playing career, Reith earned on online degree in business management from the University of Phoenix. When he retired as a player, he went to work in the corporate world and landed with Champs Sports in Bradenton, Fla.

At the same time, Reith was coaching 14- to 18-year-olds in Sam Marsonek’s SCORE International program — combination travel baseball organization and ministry.

“I really enjoyed teaching the young kids,” says Reith. “That really sparked my interest in what I could do at a different level.”

When the Rays came calling, he started coaching professionals.

Reith’s early diamond days were spent at Wallen Baseball League in Fort Wayne, where teams played by American Amateur Baseball Congress rules and runners could lead off at a younger age the Little League. The league turned 50 in 2008.

He played travel ball for the Fort Wayne Seminoles and Fort Wayne Warriors and four years as a pitcher and outfielder at Concordia for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Massucci.

“He’s an extremely hard worker and a very knowledgeable guy,” says Reith of Massucci. “I didn’t know too much about situational baseball and he taught me a lot.”

Massucci is well-known around Fort Wayne for his long-time association with the Wildcat Baseball League.

Brian is the son of Steve and Nancy Reith, who live in the Fort Wayne area along with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Brian’s sister, Stacey, resides in Fishers, Ind.

Bowling Green has made two visits to Fort Wayne this season and is due for another July 6-9.

Brian, wife Kellie and their children reside in the Bradenton/Sarasota area in Florida. The family — parents, son Dixon (7) and daughter Kinsie (6) — have been together most of the season in Bowling Green. Recently, Kellie went back to Florida to ready to give birth to a second daughter in about two weeks.

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Brian Reith makes a mound visit as pitching coach for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods. The Fort Wayne native is in his fourth season of coaching in the Tampa Bay Rays system. (Bowling Green Hot Rods Photo)

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Brian Reith signals his approval as pitching coach for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods. He is a 1996 graduate of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Concordia Lutheran High School and played 13 professional baseball seasons, including parts of three in the majors. (Bowling Green Hot Rods Photo)