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With Barber as president/CEO, The BASE Indianapolis offers diamond, educational opportunities to urban youth

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A group of concerned community leaders have been making a difference in the urban areas of Boston with The BASE and it is starting to branch out in Indianapolis.

The BASE is a not-for-profit organization that provides free-of-charge baseball and softball training and competition plus mentoring, education and life support to inner-city young men and women.

It helps them overcome the negative stereotypes and barriers that come with single-parent homes, government housing and poverty and to enjoy athletic and academic achievement.

These young people from “at-risk” areas are given a chance to believe in themselves because someone else believes in them.

A video for The BASE puts it this way: “Too many people keep saying what our young folks can’t do and where they’re going to end up … We will strive and achieve.”

Founded in Massachusetts by Robert Lewis Jr., The BASE seeks to change mindsets and perceptions by providing opportunities to these kids.

“Every child deserves to be educated, safe, healthy, warm, fed and un-abused,” says Lewis. (The BASE) is a passion point. You can take an opportunity and find things young folks love to do. It could be baseball, football. It could be arts or technology.

“Our young folks have to participate in the 21st century work force. They have to be educated and skilled to do that.”

With support from many, programming is free to these young people.

“Money isn’t going to be the determining factor to keep them from playing the greatest game in the world,” says Lewis. “Every child can love a great game and also participate at the highest level.”

Lewis and The BASE celebrated the 40th year of the Boston Astros at Fenway Park — home of the Boston Red Sox. The BASE has a facility in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood and a stadium complex with first-class learning facilities is in the works.

The BASE carries this motto: Success Begins Here.

“Excellence is the new minimum and we’re going to keep pushing,” says Lewis. “I got into this to really change the trajectory for black and Latino boys.

“That’s a moral standard. That’s where we start. How do we solve problems?”

Lewis counts former Red Sox and current Chicago Cubs executive Theo Epstein as a friend and financial supporter of The BASE and the organization is now in Chicago with plans to open a clubhouse later this month in Grant Park.

Lewis says The BASE has no bigger fan than famed writer and broadcaster Peter Gammons, who calls the organization the “best urban baseball program in America today.”

Leading the charge to serve urban youth in central Indiana through The BASE is Rob Barber.

“We consider them to be under-served assets,” says Barber of the young people. “Help and love is on the way.”

Barber, a former Indiana University player and long-time member of the baseball community, is the president and chief executive officer of The BASE Indianapolis. He is working to form partnerships with individuals and businesses.

He’s gone inside baseball circles, including Play Ball Indiana, Major League Baseball-backed Indianapolis RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), travel organizations, high school and colleges. He’s also gotten the ears of politicians, civic leaders and more.

A launch team has been formed and board, staff and advisory positions are being filled. Current and former big league ballplayers with central Indiana ties lending their support include Tucker Barnhart, Justin Masterson, Kevin Plawecki and Drew Storen. Barber says more are expected.

Barber has relationships all around the baseball community, including with instructors Chris Estep (Roundtripper Sports Academy) and Jay Lehr (Power Alley Baseball Academy), Indianapolis Indians president and general manager Randy Lewandowski, Warren Central High School head coach Emmitt Carney and Kansas City Royals are scout Mike Farrell.

Plans call for The BASE Indianapolis to build a clubhouse or two around the city where kids can come year-round for assistance — whether that’s with their athletic skills or homework. The group partners with many colleges to provide scholarships.

Last summer, the Indianapolis RBI team played in the Pittsburgh Urban Classic. The GameChangers Baseball Club, based in Canonsburg, Pa., and led by Elkhart (Ind.) Central High School and Bethel College graduate Greg Kloosterman and business partner Kristi Hilbert, has also partnered with The BASE.

(Kloosterman) loves the model that we have,” says Lewis. “You earn your spot. It’s not based on pay-for-play. It’s a loving commitment.

“It’s a culture.”

The Pittsburgh Pirates are also backers of The BASE.

Lewis says The BASE is on-track to have a presence in Indianapolis in 2019.

“We’re building alliances and partnerships,” says Lewis. “We don’t want to come in and crash. We want to be part of the party.”

Barber says he hopes to have a fundraising event in Indianapolis February. He plans to invite Carl Erskine and Chuck Harmon.

Anderson, Ind., native Erskine played with Jackie Robinson on the Brooklyn Dodgers. Harmon, who hails Washington, Ind., was the first black to play for the Cincinnati Reds.

Bill Harmon, Chuck’s brother, was a mentor to Bob Barber (Rob’s father who died in 2010) and a coach to Rob as he grew up in Jennings County, Ind.

Barber played three seasons at Indiana in the late 1980’s for Hoosiers coach Bob Morgan and was a teammate of future big leaguers Mickey Morandini and John Wehner.

Later, Barber worked with Jeff Mercer Sr. (father of current IU head baseball coach Jeff Mercer Jr.) and helped form the Indiana Bulls travel organization.

Barber founded USAthletic and was an assistant coach to Dan Ambrose at Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis the past seven years.

To concentrate on The BASE Indianapolis, he is turning over USAthletic to Wes Whisler and stepping away from his high school coaching duties.

In one visit to The BASE in Boston, Rob and wife Nichole met Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez. The Barbers have two children. Mary is in graduate school in Nashville, Tenn. Alec is an accounting analyst for Roche in Indianapolis.

Rob took Alec to Boston and spent three days with The BASE. That convinced Lewis of the level of the elder Barber’s commitment.

Lewis and his Boston kids showed their appreciation when they came out to support Barber’s team at a tournament in Indianapolis. They were there with hugs and positivity.

“Folks like Rob are shifting the paradigm,” says Lewis. “Baseball is a game for everybody. We want to support him.

“I love Rob like a brother. He doesn’t have to do this at all. The safest thing he could do is keep going.”

“But it’s about family.”

For more information, contact Barber at rbarber@thebaseindy.org or 317-840-6488. Contact Lewis at Rlewisjr@thebase.org.

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Founded in Boston, The BASE serves urban youth through baseball, softball and educational opportunities and is expanding to Indianapolis. (The BASE Graphic)

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State’s baseball talent exposure has multiplied; Just ask Hibler of Bullpen Tournaments, PBR Indiana

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There was a time when college baseball recruiters and pro scouts did not hold the Hoosier State in high regard.

“Indiana has always been talented as a state,” says Blake Hibler. “But from an exposure standout, it was always overlooked.

“Indiana was some place you drove through. People are now stopping. They realize what kind of talent there is.”

Hibler, founder of Prep Baseball Report Indiana who is now kept busy as program director/event manager for Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., has watched the state raise its profile with the help of travel baseball and strong college programs.

“(Big leaguers like) Adam Lind, Scott Rolen and Lance Lynn kind of paved the way for Indiana baseball to become big,” says Hibler. “The explosion came when Purdue was a No. 1 regional seed in the NCAA tournament (in 2012) and (Indiana University) went to Omaha (for the College World Series in 2013).”

At the lower levels, the University of Southern Indiana went NCAA Division II World Series in 2007 and won it all in 2010 and 2014. The University of Indianapolis went to the D-II World Series in 2000 and 2012. Manchester appeared in the D-III World Series in 2004 and 2013.

“This allowed Indiana to become more exposed,” says Hibler. “When we started PBR, college coaches contacted us asking ‘where is that sleeper?’ We don’t have sleepers anymore.

“Colleges are very aware of every player in our state.”

In his role at Grand Park, Hibler oversees 16 straight weekends of travel baseball events in the spring and summer and another six in the fall.

There’s something baseball-related going on — games, tournaments, showcases — at the facility with 26 diamonds from the end of January through October.

There are 12 full-size fields — four with full synthetic turf fields and eight with synthetic infields and grass outfields. Hibler considers eight of those high school or college fields.

Bullpen Tournaments, which counts 90 percent of its business as baseball with some softball, leases the facility from Grand Park. The land is owned by the City of Westfield.

As the sole operator, Bullpen’s 100 employees take care of everything from restrooms to common area mowing to field maintenance to practice scheduling and more.

From the beginning of June to the end of July, there are 230 to 280 teams at Grand Park every weekend. Of those, 115 are high school-age squads.

There are often more than one tournament going on — maybe U9 through U12 games on one side of the complex and high schoolers on the other.

In June and July, Bullpen hosts American Baseball Championships for Youth Baseball, U13, U14, U15, U16, U17 and U18.

An elite event is the PBR Future Games. The eighth annual tournament is slated for Aug. 1-4 with 24 teams and players from more than 40 states.

In 2017, all five collegiate power conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) were represented with more than 80 percent of schools in those leagues in attendance.

“This year won’t be any different,” says Hibler of the 16U event. “It’s the best uncommitted sophomores in the country.

“It’s kind of a culmination of their season and kickoff to their junior year. The recruiting calendar falls in perfect. Sept. 1 is when college coaches can begin calling and have direct  conversations with these recruits.”

The first Future Games was held in 2011 with four teams.

Nolan Watson was MVP in 2015, the year he was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals out of Lawrence North High School.

Technology helps keep track of all Bullpen tournaments.

There is a phone app for that. It can be uploaded from the Google Play Store.

Hibler is the “tech guy” for both Bullpen Tournaments and PBR-Indiana and does a podcast with PBR owner/director Phil Wade. Many of those focus on events at Grand Park or the top high school players and teams in the state.

With all its facilities, there is a large economic impact that comes with the complex.

“The most common question we get is: How do you pay for Grand Park?,” says Hibler. “Ultimately, the mayor (Andy Cook) took a risk. He decided to make youth sports his industry.”

The City of Westfield owns the land and owns and operates the Grand Park Events Center, which will house the Indianapolis Colts Training Camp this year, and the soccer facility.

Hotels and restaurants are on the way. There are also private facilities springing up like Pro X Athlete Development and Pacers Athletic Center.

A graduate of Lawrence Central High School who played for the Indiana Mustangs and Danville Area Community College, Hibler has worked for RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield and Pastime Tournaments as well as an associate MLB scout.

Hibler joined the PBR family in November 2010. At the time, he was in his second stint as the pitching coach for Lawrence Central, where he saw two pitchers get drafted in 2011 — Christian Montgomery (11th round, Mets) and Jared Ruxer (29th round, Indians). He was originally the pitching coach from 2004-2005 before returning for 2007-2011.

He has seen how competitive recruiting is, but it is usually not cut throat.

“Baseball is little more loyal with the verbal commitment than other sports,” says Hibler. “College coaches are buddies. They don’t necessarily go after other kids as aggressively as basketball and football.

“I would be naive to say it doesn’t happen (in baseball).”

A premium is placed on players who play in the middle of the diamond.

“Pitching is the easiest thing to project,” says Hibler. “If you’re 92 (mph) now, you’re going be 92 or better we you reach college. There’s a lot more to dream on with your catchers, shortstops and centerfielders.

“Typically, you’re looking for in that younger age group is athleticism and physicality. You get the combination of athleticism and physicality, those are the kids who typically commit early.”

Hibler notes that outside of the state’s top 10 or so players, most commit in their junior or even senior years.

How is success gauged in the travel baseball world?

“For 14-and-under, success is still defined by wins and losses,” says Hibler. “15-and-up is defined by scholarships and exposure.

“Lost in all of this is competitiveness. In the Future Games, Indiana always plays Illinois on Friday night. That’s still the most-attended game because there’s a rivalry there.”

Hibler says players appreciate playing against equal competition. With so many travel teams out there, mismatches happen.

“The better players relax or shut down during games,” says Hibler. “They don’t play hard during the summer sometimes unless they are in front of college coaches or playing a really good team.”

The ABC tournaments were designed with two tiers — the first to determine which division teams belong in and the second to crown Gold, Silver and Bronze division champions.

“That way it creates competitive baseball,” says Hibler.

Hibler notes that when the Indiana Bulls were started in the early 1990s to give the state’s best the chance to play top competition and receive exposure, they were the only organization out there. There are now many options and the talent is more evenly divided.

There are those who think that team chemistry is easier to build with a high school program than travel baseball, where players are coming from many different directions.

“Travel baseball is figuring that out and trying to combat it,” says Hibler. “They’re starting to put the development piece back into it a little bit.”

There is a misconception on the part of some players (and their parents) about travel ball and high school ball. They are putting more emphasis on travel.

“Some of these kids believe that travel baseball is more important to their future than high school is,” says Hibler. “A lot of college coaches still call the high school coach first after that initial talk with the travel coach.

“High school simulates a little bit of what college life could be — academics, girls, scouting reports, being a student and an athlete.

“A high school coach has to deal with the player and his girl friend got in a fight during seventh period and this kid has to be on the field in 15 minutes to play a game. The summer ball coach doesn’t have to deal with that as much.”

Then there are the trouble makers and malcontents.

“If you’re a bad kid and live in a community, everyone in that community knows you’re a bad kid,” says Hibler. “You can hide that in travel ball and travel sports in general.”

Hibler has seen players go out of there way to make high school coaches mad for no reason.

“They think it works like travel baseball,” says Hibler. “They can do whatever they want and pack up and leave. Some administrations allow that. But there’s a lot of good programs that don’t.”

Outside of loyalty, there is nothing binding that keeps a player with a travel organization. For various reasons, many players have jumped from team to team. Some players have skipped high school and played only travel baseball.

“Kids get handled with such care during the summer because the penalty is you lose them,” says Hibler. “Coaches don’t know if you handle them like they’re supposed to be handled — with discipline and holding them accountable.

“Some (coaches) take that approach. For others, it’s the Wild, Wild West. Do what you want.”

Hibler says players need both travel and high school and they need to respect the differences.

Travel players show up, play and leave. They pitch from pristine mounds. Maintenance at million-dollar fields is handled by someone else.

High schoolers must take on more responsibility. At many schools, they have to pick up trash in the dugout, sweep and rake to make the fields ready for play.

A few years ago, the coach of a team of 8-year-olds asked to change fields because one was too bumpy.

Hibler’s response: “You don’t live in the real world. We practiced in parking lots.”

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Bullpen Tournaments runs baseball and softball events out of Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

 

Twins right-hander Gibson keeps on dodging bats at a high rate

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mixing a power slider, curve and fastball, Minnesota Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson pitched seven shutout innings Tuesday, May 29 in Kansas City.

The 6-foot-6 native of Greenfield, Ind., recorded a no-decision while lowering his 2018 season earned run average to 3.57.

According to Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press, Gibson went to a three-ball count on just three of 27 batters faced with getting a first-pitch strike on 16 of them on his way to eight strikeouts and one walk. He surrendered five hits (three singles).

The former University of Missouri hurler was making his 16th career start against the KC Royals.

He has been one of the best swing-and-miss men in baseball. Some call it the “whiff” factor.

One source says he has Major League Baseball’s No. 1 slider and No. 3 curve.

Harold Gibson, Kyle’s father, made the trek from Greenfield to Kauffman Stadium see his son pitch.

That’s not far from where Harold took a brand-new Indiana Bandits 10U select team back in the mid-90’s.

“Kansas City is kind of where it started,” says Harold Gibson. “We started our first team when Kyle was 8 and his cousin (Austin Gibson) was 7. Little did we know what were were getting into.”

The Bandits went to a tournament at the Mid-America Sports Complex in Shawnee, Kan., essentially a suburb of KC.

Even though they lost every game by the 10-run rule, Harold and Sharon Gibson and the other adults were impressed with how they were treated and the passion for the game and knew they would come back.

They were also were sure they had made the right decision in breaking away from the local youth league.

“What an experience,” says Harold. “Our kids loved it.”

Not that the bold move was easy.

Little League had strict boundaries back then. Select teams were not allowed to use their their players, facilities and or play against any of their teams.

At that time, Gibson and company knew of no select teams in Indiana younger than age 13.

“We were taking a chance,” says Harold, who took the knowledge he learned from former Greenfield-Central High School coach Terry Fox (now athletic director at Indianapolis Cathedral) while serving on his coaching staff in the late ’80s and early ’90s and applied it to younger players, including his son and nephew. “God has a huge hand in all of this, but I also give a lot of credit to Terry. I learned so much about coaching from him. I can’t thank him enough.”

That first year, the Bandits played almost 50 games. The next year, they got into the Southwest Ohio League — the third-biggest select circuit in the country. The Indiana boys traveled to Cincinnati and league teams came to Greenfield.

Along the way, the Bandits went about building a training facility and held mandatory workouts up to five nights a week.

Practice was the priority and not playing games.

“It’s not the kids’ fault, but they’re just not learning,” says Harold. “Kids need to learn to pitch and catch. They need to learn the mental part of the game.

“We (must) have coaches that know how to teach it. Playing it the right way is the most fun for everyone.”

By the time Harold stepped away from the organization a decade ago, there were around 18 teams.

Fast forward to the present day, where Kyle Gibson is 30 and has 138 games of big league experience — all as a starter.

Harold has seen his son continue to hone his craft and gain confidence against major league batters.

“It’s all that maturation process, learning what it takes to set up hitters,” says Harold. “It’s making adjustments in games.

“They’ve told him all along to trust his stuff. I don’t think you know the full meaning of that until you throw it up there and guys miss it.

“Last year, he figured out that his fastball is good enough to get guys out. A player has to figure out if his stuff will play (in the majors).”

Kyle Gibson figured out that if he could command his fastball, it would make his breaking pitches more effective.

The big righty was throwing almost every pitch down in the zone. But has started enjoying success using the upper part and having his slider stay in the zone longer.

“Last year, Kyle had one of the best rates of swinging at balls out of the zone,” says Harold. “Consequently, hitters were going up there and just taking.”

Having Lance Lynn (who is slated to start Saturday, June 2) as a rotation mate has also helped.

The former Brownsburg High School standout throws about four different fastballs with differing speeds.

“Throwing a 93 mph fastball all the time, that’s the wrong thing to do,” says Harold.

After coaching Greenfield-Central’s junior varsity and helping establish off-season pitching workouts and in-season practice planning, Harold decided to step away at the end of the 2018 season.

Harold tries to attend Kyle’s starts when it’s within a drive of 10 or so hours (his son’s next turn is Sunday against Cleveland in Minneapolis and there’s a chance to see Kyle’s wife Elizabeth and daughter Hayden).

But with work and also having grandchildren in Louisville (Kyle’s older sister Holly lives there), it’s not always possible for Harold or his wife to be there in-person.

KYLEANDHAROLDGIBSON

Kyle Gibson (left) and father Harold Gibson meet up in Baltimore early in the 2018 season. Kyle is a pitcher in Minnesota’s staring rotation. Harold traveled from his home in Greenfield, Ind.

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.”

NOLANWATSON

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)

 

Nguyen teaching life, baseball at Lawrence Central

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Consistent message and accountability of ballplayers.

Those are concepts Harrison “Harry” Nguyen had reinforced during his assistant baseball coaching days at Indianapolis Cathedral High School and it helps form his foundation as a coach and educator at Lawrence Central High School.

“Players — teenagers — they need that,” says Nguyen of the benchmarks. “They don’t necessarily see the value in it when they’re going through that. It can really be tough in the day-to-day. It can be uncomfortable. But it’s what students need. It’s what baseball players need.”

It’s what Nguyen gained from spending 15 seasons (2002-16) on the Cathedral staff led by Rich Andriole, who goes into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Jan. 27 and is preparing for his first season as head coach at Guerin Catholic High School in 2018.

“Sometimes (athletes) need to be called out if they are not meeting certain standards,” says Nguyen, who speaks with Andriole on a weekly basis. “Rich is really good at that. We try to instill that in our kids here at Lawrence Central.

“We want to take care of our student-athletes. If we can teach them a little baseball along the way — great — but if we can teach them life, that’s better.”

Nguyen began his coaching career on the staff of Anthony Lowborn at his high school alma mater, Arsenal Tech. Lowhorn went on to coach at Triton Central and sent Luke Stephenson on to college baseball. The right-hander pitched in 2016 and 2017 at Indiana University.

As a youngster, Nguyen played at Lowell Little League in Warren Township and was coaching there when umpire Rick Wagner suggested he look into a coaching opportunity at Cathedral. He met Andriole in the summer of 2001 and began coaching Fighting Irish freshmen and later got to work with standout players like Tommy HunterDillon Peters and Ashe Russell.

“It was a really fun ride,” says Nguyen of his Cathedral tenure. “I coached a lot of good kids and met a lot of good people.

“The X’s and 0s get us into baseball, but what keeps us in it is the people.”

Nguyen, an Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis graduate who got his start in education with schooling at Butler University taught at Indiana Connections Academy, Cathedral and Franklin Central High School before that, is in his second year teaching math in the LC freshman academy. J.R. Shelt is his administrator. Shelt was his junior varsity baseball coach at Arsenal Tech.

After leaving Cathedral, he was not sure where he would land then got contacted by then Lawerence Central athletic director Jeff Irwin, who shared the vision of the school district.

“It all came together really, really fast,” says Nguyen.

The 2017 season was Nguyen’s first as head baseball coach at Lawrence Central. The Bears went 12-16, beating Columbus North and Zionsville and suffering five one-run losses along the way. LC lost to eventual IHSAA Class 4A state champion Cathedral in the semifinals of the Warren Central Sectional.

“We lost some heartbreakers,” says Nguyen. “But we were pretty competitive.”

The junior varsity went 16-4 in 2017 and several players from that squad are looking to make noise at the varsity level in 2018.

“We bring back a lot of seniors,” says Nguyen. “We have had a lot of spirited workouts this off-season.”

The 2017 Bears participated in the I-65 Classic at Purdue University and McCutcheon (along with host McCutcheon, Lake Central and Zionsville). This year, a similar event is planned with Lawrence Central, Brebeuf Jesuit, Hobart and Perry Meridian, perhaps at Grand Park in Westfield.

LC is also waiting to see if it qualifies for the late-season Victory Field Classic, held at the site of the IHSAA State Finals and home of the Indianapolis Indians.

Lawrence Central is a member of the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference (along with corporation partner Lawrence North plus Ben Davis, Carmel, Center Grove, Pike, North Central of Indianapolis and Warren Central).

The Bears were Marion County champions in 2015. LC last won a sectional title in 2004, the same year they took a state title.

Nguyen expects Bryan Peters and Greg White to return to his LC coaching staff in 2018. A year ago, the Bears had three teams — varsity, JV and freshmen. It’s not likely the numbers will be high enough for a freshmen team this spring.

“Though I have no scientific evidence, it seems that 13 is where the numbers are getting lost,” says Nguyen. “That’s when many kids go from 46/60 fields to full-size diamonds. In New Palestine, where my son (Ryan) plays in an 11-12 league, it’s 50/70.

“Travel teams start a lot younger these days. It’s harder to know where your home Little League is. There are so many boundaries and choices for parents. Travel ball has become an arms race.”

Besides travel organizations, talent is fed to the high school through Belzer Middle School, where Orion Ogg, is the coach, as well as Lawrence Township youth leagues — Skiles Test, Fall Creek, Oaklandon and Lawrence Lions.

Lawrence Central plays on-campus at Challis-Pauszek Field. In recent years, the facility has added bleachers stretching from dugout to dugout, put in a new press box and did work on the sod. Plans for the spring include new bullpens.

The LC high school program does quite a bit of fundraising to keep participation prices reasonable (it was $73 in 2017 and much of that is township-mandated transportation).

“We have not had kids who could not play baseball here because of cost,” says Nguyen.

Former Lawrence Central players currently in college baseball include J.J. Montgomery (University of Central Florida), Kenny Ogg (Ohio University) and Matt Burleton (Marian University).

LC graduate Jared Ruxer pitched at the University of Louisville and is now in the Kansas City Royals organization.

Current Bears senior Allan Augustus has committed to play baseball and football at Marian. Others who hope to play on a college diamond include senior catcher Drew Prather, 6-foot-7 pitcher Zach McGee and sophomore outfielder Anthony Steinhart.

Besides Ryan, Harry and wife Heather have three other children. Morgan (17) and Tanner (16) are at Franklin Central High School and Hannah (14) is as Franklin Township Middle School-East.

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Lawrence Central head baseball coach Harry Nguyen (right) talks with Zach Rogers during the 2017 season — Nguyen’s first leading the Bears. (Black Rocket Photography, LLC Photo)

Indiana Prospects provide development, college opportunities

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Developing players and getting them to the next level — college or professional.

That is the mission of the Indiana Prospects travel baseball organization.

Mission accomplished.

President and director of operations Shane Stout says the Prospects have placed more than 400 players in colleges the past seven or eight years.

Dillon Peters, son of Prospects founder Mark Peters, played at Indianapolis Cathedral High School and the University of Texas before before a 10th-round selection in the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Miami Marlins. The left-handed pitcher made his MLB debut for Miami Sept. 1, 2017.

The past year, IP enjoyed a success rate of 50 college commits in one age group of 52 athletes.

“In my opinion that’s what it’s about,” says Stout. “We teach them, keep them healthy and get them into a good institution where they get a good degree.

“We take more pride in being able to network and out-work our competition.

“Look at our track record.”

Stout is looking to put his teams in the best tournaments — win or lose.

“We’re out there to get exposure in front of the college coaches,” says Stout. “I’m not going to go around and hunt trophies.

“If I wanted to go 52-1 in a year, I could.”

The Prospects 17U-Woolwine squad won the 2017 Marucci World Series in Baton Rouge, La.

Also last summer, the Prospects sent a 16U team against the Orlando Scorpions with a player firing 95 mph heat.

“We’re not hiding or ducking from anybody,” says Stout, who coached IP’s first Perfect Game USA national tournament champions at the 15U BCS Finals in Fort Myers, Fla., in 2010. “You throw your best against our best.

“We try not to water things down. We don’t consider our teams A, B and C. Baseball is baseball. Anybody can beat anybody.”

Going to the top-flight tournaments and inviting many colleges to attend scout days, the Prospects are looking to find a fit for everyone.

“We try not to let players slip through the cracks,” says Stout. “Baseball is one of the few sports you can play at any given level. There’s nothing wrong with Division II, Division III, NAIA or junior college.

“If you’re good enough, you’ll still have a chance to get drafted.”

Stout is constantly on the phone, making connections. Before tournaments, he sends out contact sheets for players who are eligible for communication. He includes the game schedule, pitching rotation, academic and high school coach’s contact information.

“I reach out to the colleges,” says Stout. “I try not to leave any rock unturned. That’s why I have the credibility with the college coaches I do.

“It’s who you know.”

Schedules and travel details are knocked out during the winter with the help of IP coaches. Younger teams start in the spring and play as many as 60 games with high schoolers playing around 40 contests and about five to seven tournaments in the summer. They shut down before school starts again in the fall.

Stout does not want to overload the younger players and encourages the older ones to pursue other sports.

“We give kids an opportunity to have something of a summer and it’s not just baseball, baseball, baseball,” says Stout. “For pitchers, fall is the time for them to take a break (and rest their arms). (Playing football, basketball etc.) creates a more well-rounded athlete to mix it up and do other things

“College coaches watch my players play in high school basketball games. They see that quick twitch (muscle) and how they handle themselves on the court.”

Travel baseball goes places that high school teams do not and plays at a time — the summer — when colleges can devote more time to recruiting.

But Stout sees the relationship between travel ball and high school as very important.

“We embrace the high school coaches and try to keep them involved as much as possible,” says Stout, who counts prep coaches on the IP coaching staff. “It’s a process that involves high school baseball, travel baseball and the young man’s work ethic.

“Sometimes there’s a disconnect with how it gets done.”

IP, which typically fields about two dozen teams from U9 to U18 and trains at Fishers Sports Academy, draws the majority of its players from Indiana but they do come from other places.

New Jersey’s Joe Dudek and Joe Gatto played for the Prospects and then the University of North Carolina on the way to minor league baseball — Dudek with the Kansas City Royals and Gatto with the Los Angeles Angels.

Other Jersey product and IP alums Austin Bodrato and Luca Dalatri went to North Carolina and the University of Florida, respectively. Florida’s J.J. Bleday went to Vanderbilt University.

“They come play for us every weekend,” says Stout. “They’re not a hired gun or anything. If you’re going four hours, it doesn’t matter which direction. Everybody knows which tournament they need to be in.”

Why would you play for the Indiana Prospects living in New Jersey?

“You treat people the right way,” says Stout.

Doing things the right way is important to the IP Way.

“You put on an Indiana Prospects uniforms we’re going to shake the umpire’s hand and we’re going to respect the game,” says Stout.

The number of players on each 15U to 18U roster varies depending on the number of pitcher-onlys.

“In larger tournaments, you may play eight games in five days,” says Stout. “We want to bring a kid to college as healthy as he can be. I always try to error on the side of caution.”

New Albany’s Josh Rogers, Bloomington South’s Jake Kelzer, New Castle’s Trey Ball and Andrean’s Zac Ryan are also among Prospects alums who pitched in the minors in 2017.

INDIANAPROSPECTS

The Indiana Prospects travel baseball organization has placed more than 400 players in college programs in the last seven or eight years. The group is founded by Mark Peters, son of Miami Marlins pitcher Dillon Peters. Shane Stout is president and director of operations. (Indiana Prospects Photo)

 

Right-hander Ruxer doing his baseball homework

rbilogosmall

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)