Tag Archives: Kevin Christman

At 24, Taylor U. grad Waddups coaching pitchers for Mount Vernon Nazarene

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tucker Waddups got his first taste of coaching right out of high school. A half decade later, it’s his career.
Waddups, who is now pitching coach at Mount Vernon (Ohio) Nazarene University at the age of 24, graduated from Pioneer Junior/Senior High School in Royal Center, Ind., in 2016 and began giving pitching lessons to youngsters around Cass County.
“I really started to fall in love with it,” says Waddups of sharing his baseball knowledge. “I got work with guys one-on-one, see what made guys tick and do trial-and-error things. I’d what worked and didn’t work.”
A native of Logansport, Ind., Waddups grew up near Cicott Lake, played youth baseball at Rea Park next to Pioneer Elementary from age 4 to 12 followed by Babe Ruth League Baseball in Rochester, Ind., at 13U, the Jay Hundley-coached Indiana Outlaws from 14U to 16U, the Ken Niles-coached Indiana Mustangs at 17U and the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays at 18U. He was with the Mike Farrell-coached Brewers Fall Scout Team at 16U and Kevin Christman-coach Giants Fall Scout Team at 17U. He went to Farrell for pitching lessons from age 12 until the end of the high school career.
A right-handed pitcher-only in travel ball and college, Waddups was also a shortstop and first baseman at Pioneer while playing four years for Panthers head coach Rick Farrer.
“We still stay in-touch,” says Waddups of Farrer. “He’s a great man.”
Wads was a four-team all-Loganland, all-Hoosier North Athletic Conference and team captain at Pioneer, where he set career records for earned run average, strikeouts, wins, home runs and runs batted in. As a senior, he was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-State, an IHSBCA North All-Star and Loganland and HNAC Player of the Year.
With a few exceptions, father Murl Waddups coached Tucker on most of his teams growing up. He got to have his father on his staff with the Nitro.
Waddups spent the fall of 2016 and spring of 2017 with the Anderson (Ind.) University baseball team. Dustin Glant (now pitching coach at Indiana University) was Ravens head coach until the end of the fall semester then Drew Brantley (now head coach at Indiana University Kokomo) took over.
A transfer to Taylor University in Upland, Ind., gave Waddups the opportunity to play for head coach Kyle Gould and pitching coach Justin Barber. With an extra COVID-19 season, he suited up for the Trojans for four seasons (2018-21).
“It was definitely a good experience playing for Coach Gould,” says Waddups. “He knows the game well. He’s won a lot of baseball games.
With Gould and Barber, it’s all about player development and getting guys better every year. They did a really good job of taking care of us and making sure we had everything we needed to be successful. It was four of the best years of my life.”
Waddups majored in Sport Management and minored in Coaching at Taylor.
In the summer of 2019, Joel Mishler gave Waddups the chance to coach at 13U team for the Indiana Chargers travel organization founded and directed by Mishler.
“I absolutely loved it,” says Waddups. “It was a blast.”
One of Waddups’ Chargers players was Kai Aoki, son of then-Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki (now head coach at Morehead State University).
“I got to know Mik real well,” says Waddups. “I still talk with him.”
Chad Newhard had been a Taylor assistant and was affiliated with the Indiana Nitro and that relationship led to Waddups coaching at 15U Nitro team in the summer of 2020.
After wrapping his playing career in the spring of 2021, Waddups served as pitching coach for the college wood bat Northwoods League’s Hayden Carter-managed Kokomo Jackrabbits. Waddups pitched for Kokomo in 2017 and 2018 when Gary McClure was Jackrabbits manager.
“He knows how to win really well,” says Waddups of McClure. “He won a lot of games at Austin Peay (University).”
Waddups is slated to head back to the Northwoods League in the summer of 2022 as the pitching coach for the Travese City (Mich.) Pit Spitters. He got to know Traverse City manager Josh Rebandt through frequent meetings between Kokomo and the Spitters in 2021.
The coaching position at Mount Vernon Nazarene came about when Cougars head coach Keith Veale let friend and fellow Crossroads League head coach Gould know about a need for an assistant to guide pitchers and help with recruiting.
Veale and Waddups spoke during the Crossroads League tournament and Waddups saw an MVNU practice before the NAIA Opening Round and decided to take the job.
“I work every single day with pitchers and do their programming,” says Waddups, who also recruits and runs camps. “It’s definitely something I want to do the rest of my life.”
Home Designs by Waddups (formerly Waddups Improvements) is Murl’s business.
Kim Waddups runs a daycare out of her home.
“She taught me a lot about life,” says Tucker. “We’ve gotten really, really close since I went to college.”
Trey Waddups (Pioneer Class of 2018) is Tucker’s younger brother. He played baseball and basketball in high school and is the Panthers’ all-time scoring leader in basketball. He played one season of baseball and is in his third in basketball at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind.

Tucker Waddups (Kokomo Jackrabbits Photo)
Tucker Waddups (Kokomo Jackrabbits Photo)

Wichman raises interest, expectations for Scottsburg Warriors

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Wichman has helped Scottsburg (Ind.) High School to many baseball successes since taking over the Warriors program.
When he came on board prior to the 2018 season, Scottsburg had not had not posted a record above .500 since 2004 and high school players were not involved in travel ball in the summer.
“We had to get back to the basics and get people interested in ball,” says Wichman. “I’ve tried to really push kids toward travel ball.”
Wichman’s Warriors went 15-13 in 2018, regressed to 9-19 in 2019 with a young squad (there were only two seniors and one junior), missed the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic then sported 19-10 mark in 2021 bolstered by the senior and sophomore classes.
There were 22 players to take on varsity and junior varsity schedules.
Scottsburg (enrollment around 770) is a member of the Mid-Southern Conference (with Austin, Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, North Harrison, Salem and Silver Creek).
In 2021, the Warriors were part of an IHSAA Class 3A sectional grouping with Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Corydon Central, Madison Consolidated, North Harrison, Salem and Silver Creek (the 2021 host). Scottsburg has won six sectional crowns — the last in 1996.
Scottsburg plays on Warrior Field, an on-campus facility that was laser-graded four years ago and has Bermuda grass.
“It looks really good, especially when we get to May,” says Wichman.
Feeder systems include Scott County Youth League (T-ball through 12U) and a middle school team of seventh and eighth graders that play schools in the MSC and Hoosier Hills Conference.
Wichman, who teaches engineering and welding classes and is involved in Project Lead The Way at Scottsburg, has extensive coaching experiences at the high school and travel ball levels.
His first season was as a Columbus (Ind.) East High School assistant in 1995 while he was doing his student teaching. Wichman graduated from Ball State University with an Industrial Technology degree. He played baseball for one season (1991) at Indiana University Southeast before transferring to BSU.
Wichman served as an assistant at North Harrison High School in Ramsey, Ind., in 1996 and 1997 and helped at Columbus (Ind.) North High School in 2007.
From 2004-14, he ran the Indiana Blazers travel organization and coached for the Indiana Prospects in 2015 and 2016.
Brian and wife Cathy have four sons and all played for the Blazers and other travel teams, including the Indiana Prospects, Cincinnati Flames
Evansville Razorbacks and Indiana Bulls, as well as at Columbus East.
Left-handed pitcher Brian “B.T.” Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2013) was at Murray State University, Gulf Coast Community College and the University of Indianapolis. Peyton Gray, a 2014 Columbus East graduate now in the Kansas City Royals organization, was a high school and GCCC teammate.
Defensive back/catcher Christian Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2014) went to Thomas More University in Crestview Hills, Ky., for football and baseball then transferred to play baseball at the University of West Georgia (Carrollton, Ga.).
Defensive back Noah Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2016) played football at Taylor University in Upland, Ind.
Infielder Jonah Wichman (Columbus East Class of 2019) was on the baseball team at Butler University in Indianapolis in 2020 and 2021 and has transferred to St. Charles Community College (Cottleville, Mo.).
The past two summers, Brian Wichman has been an assistant in the College Summer League at Grand Park — in 2020 with head coach Joe Thatcher’s Park Rangers and in 2021 with head coach Kevin Christman’s Moon Shots.
A 1990 graduate of Seymour (Ind.) High School, Wichman played one varsity season for Owls coach Bob Bowman.

Brian Wichman (Eyes Of The Heart Photography)
The Wichman family (from left): Noah. B.T., Cathy, Brian, Christian and Jonah.
The Wichmans (from left): First row — Cathy and Brian; Second row — Noah, B.T., Jonah and Christian.
Cathy and Brian Wichman.
Brian and Cathy Wichman.
Cathy, B.T. and Brian Wichman.
Brian, Jonah and Cathy Wichman.

Mishawaka grad Jablonski gets his college baseball chance at Valpo U.

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Grant Jablonski had assumed that his baseball playing career was coming to an end with his couple of innings on the mound in the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Stars Series in Madison, Ind.
The Mishawaka (Ind.) High School graduate had not gotten any college baseball honors and had already enrolled as a student-only at Purdue University.
“I had given up on baseball,” says Jablonski, who exited Mishawaka in 2019 as the school record holder in career pitching wins (20) and career stolen bases (63) and was part of three sectional championship teams on the diamond (2016, 2018, 2019). “I wanted to play at a bigger school, but I had nowhere to go after I graduated.”
It turns out that two former Valparaiso (Ind.) University assistant coaches were going to help Jablonski turn things around.
Nic Mishler, who was then on the staff at Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College, was scouting at a sectional game and reached out to Jablonski.
“I owe him a lot,” says Jablonski of Westview High School graduate Mishler who is now head coach at DACC.
Ben Wolgamot, a Western Kentucky University who had also been at Valpo, pulled some strings.
It also helped Jablonski that VU head coach Brian Schmack was at the all-star series since his son, Kyle Schmack, was participating — and on his way to MVP.
After a postgame conversation, Jablonski went to visit Coach Schmack on the Valpo campus and soon was starting his NCAA Division I baseball experience.
“It’s crazy,” says Jablonski, who was 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds when he stepped on the campus. “I owe Coach Schmack a lot for giving me a chance.
“I’m still trying to put weight on,” says right-hander Jablonski who is now up to 5-10 and 175.
In two seasons (2020-21), he has appeared in six games (all in relief) and is 0-0 with a 6.24 earned run average with six strikeouts and four walks in 4 1/3 innings.
In his second season in the College Summer League at Grand Park, Jablonski has been working a morning jobs and commuting to Westfield, Ind., on the days he starts. On July 20, the Moon Shots right-hander pitched 5 1/3 no-hit innings with one walk. The reason he came out of the game is that the team only had two pitchers available for a nine-inning game and Michael Brewer needed some mound time.
Jablonski played for the A-Team when the CSL cropped up in 2020 as other summer collegiate leagues were shutting down during COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a really good league,” says Jablonski, noting that University of Louisville catcher Henry Davis (No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft to the Pittsburgh Pirates) and Miami University fireballer and Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate Sam Bachman (No. 9 overall to the Los Angeles Angels) played at Grand Park in 2020.
Former San Francisco Giants scout Kevin Christman has been Jablonski’s head coach in both his CSL seasons.
“He’s a super good coach to have,” says Jablonski of Christman. “He’s a good source of baseball knowledge.”
Throwing from the three-quarter overhand arm slot, Jablonski employs a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball, change-up and slider. His four-seamer sits about 86 to 89 mph. His curve moves end-over-end in a 12-to-6 fashion. His “circle” change has a low spin rate and drops. His slider — with more horizontal break — is somewhere between the fastball and change-up with its spin.
“The fastball and change-up compliment each other well when its coming from the same (release point).”
Jablonski says his fastball has spun at around 2300 rpm with the curve as high as about 2500.
There are flat screens at Grand Park that prominently display spin rates and velocity.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” says Jablonski. “You don’t need to fire 95, 96, 97 to be a good college pitcher.
“You need to threw multiple pitches in multiple counts for strikes and have command.”
Jablonski saw Schmack employ an opener (right-hander Easton Rhodehouse) and followed him with a starter (righty Ryan Mintz) in Valpo’s weekend series and both were able to spot pitches well and pitch to weak contact.
Left-hander Geremy Guerrero had a standout season for Missouri Valley Conference rival Indiana State University.
“He is by no means overpowering,” says Jablonski of Guerrero. “But he throws all pitches for command in all counts.”
One thing Jablonski appreciates about Schmack is the he makes small tweaks and does not overhaul a pitcher’s mechanics if it’s not necessary.
“He doesn’t try to change you too much,” says Jablonski. “It’s smaller changes.
“He knows what he’s talking about for sure.”
Born and raised in Mishawaka, Grant played for the Landsharks and later the Mishawaka Mayhem (2011-13), coached by father Jason Jablonski and Mike Fisher. That was followed by the Mike Lee-coached Indiana Shredders (2014-17), Mike Logan-coached Michiana Scrappers (2017-18) and Jim Shively-coached Indiana Chargers (2018-19).
Jablonski earned nine varsity letters at Mishawaka — four in baseball, three in basketball and two in football. His head coaches were John Huemmer in baseball, Ryan Watson and Ron Heclinski in basketball and Bart Curtis and Keith Kinder in football.
“He’s a great coach,” says Jablonski of Huemmer. “We had such a senior-led team (in 2019). He let us work on our own.”
The pitcher/middle infielder earned IHSBCA Class 4A honorable mention all-state honors in 2019 and was all-Northern Indiana Conference second team in 2017 and 2019.
Jablonski, who turns 21 on Sept. 1, is a Business Analytics major and Supply Chain and Logistics Management minor at Valpo U.
Grant’s parents are Jason and Kelley Jablonski. His siblings — both older — are Sydney Jablonski and Ryan Lewis.
Jason Jablonski is administrative director at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center. Kelley Jablonski works at Beacon Health & Fitness.
Sydney Jablosnki is heading into pharmacy school at Purdue.
Ryan Lewis, who played baseball at Mishawaka High and Ancilla College, is employed by the City of Mishawaka.

WSBT-TV Video on Grant Jablonski
Grant Jablonski (Valparaiso University Photo)
Grant Jablonski (College Summer League at Grand Park Photo)
Grant Jablonski (Valparsaiso University Photo)

Indiana native Estep finds himself while playing in Oklahoma

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dawson Estep counts it a privilege to play baseball.
So even though he considers himself a middle infielder, he’ll go wherever coaches want to use him.
“I don’t write the lineup,” says Estep, a 2019 graduate of University High School in Carmel, Ind., who is preparing to return to Connors State College in Warner, Okla., in mid-August. “I’ll play anywhere as long as I’m on the field having fun.
“I’m just excited to be out on the field playing.”
This summer, the 21-year-old has been primarily been used at second base by Moon Shots head coach Kevin Christman in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
Estep and Christman go way back.
“I’ve know him known since before I was 10,” says Estep. “He’s watched me grow up.
“It’s fun playing for him in the summer.”
Christman, a retired San Francisco Giants scout, has helped Chris and Sue Estep at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield and the Indiana Mustangs travel organization and is very familiar with the Estep children — Tron, Dawson and Jasmine.
RoundTripper/Mustangs founder Chris Estep is a master instructor and University High head coach. He played at the University of Kentucky. Sue Estep was a cheerleader at UK.
Indianapolis Cathedral High School graduate Tron Estep played football at Elon (N.C.) University, where he has earned underrate and masters degrees, and is about to go to U.S. Army National Guard boot camp.
Competitive dancer/cheerleader Jasmine Estep is heading into her senior year at Carmel High School.
“She’s probably the best athlete in the family,” says Dawson of his sister. “She can do 10 straight back flips.”
Cousin Chase Estep, who played with Dawson on the Indiana Mustangs, played his second season at Kentucky in the spring and is with the Northwoods League’s Kenosha (Wis.) Kingfish this summer.
Dawson Estep helps out at RoundTripper when he’s not working out, honing his skills or playing in the CSL.
At 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Estep has added about 15 pounds of muscle since going to Connors State in January.
A catalyst for University’s IHSAA Class 1A state runner-up and state championship teams in 2018 and 2019, Estep went to Rend Lake College in Ina, Ill., and played for the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II Warriors in the spring of 2020, a season shortened to 12 games by the COVID-19.
After the shutdown, Estep took online classes and worked out back in Indiana. When there was a change in the Rend Lake coaching staff and uncertainty about the 2021 season, he began looking for other opportunities.
“We were at the height of COVID and I didn’t know what was going to happen,” says Estep. “I didn’t want to get stuck and not have a place to be.”
Estep posted Twitter videos of himself on offense and defense and Connors State reached out. He visited and ended up going with the Perry Keith-coached Cowboys.
“I’ve found myself as a ballplayer,” says Estep. “It’s the right spot for me.
“I’m in the right environment where I can grow as a player and a person.”
Keith has been at Connors State for more than three decades and amassed more than 1,600 wins. His teams have made five JUCO World Series appearances.
“He’s a legend in the coaching world,” says Estep of Keith. “He’s one of those coaches that makes you go the extra mile. He gets the best of everybody. He’s honest even if you don’t want to hear it.
“He’s the guy you want to go to battle for and he’ll go to battle for you.”
Estep credits Keith for helping him mature and grow.
Estep has embraced the “JUCO Bandit” approach to baseball.
“You’re on your own but you’re not on your own,” says Estep. “You have to grow up fast.
“You use the resources you have and come up with things on the fly. You have a lot of ingenuity and use what you have. When I’m back home I have a lot more things at my disposable. It makes makes me appreciate them.”
Estep says junior college baseball — for those who work at it – provides a chance to play right away and find their niche in the game. In his first season Connors State, he worked out at many infield positions in a utility role.
In 17 games, he hit .324 (11-of-34) with seven runs batted in, 11 runs scored and two stolen bases as the Cowboys went 37-18.
In the fall, JUCO players are often at the field up to 10 hours a day.
“The fall is where the boys become men,” says Estep. “It’s the grind.
“Once they move on to a four-year school they’re prepared for anything.”
Since he was 14 or 15, Estep has been a switch hitter.
“I liked hitting left-handed when I played wiffle ball with my friends,” says Estep. “I started becoming comfortable (in baseball).”
Estep explains the advantage of hitting from both sides of the plate.
“I don’t have issues hitting a breaking ball,” says Estep. “Everything comes into me. I go after the fastball and stay back on the change-up.
“I don’t see lefties a lot. I’ve had maybe 10 at-bats right-handed this summer. So I work even harder on the right side.”
For either side, Estep does plenty of tee work and sets the pitching machine at high velocity to get ready for game speed.
He does drills that concentrate on his lower half.
“I sometimes get antsy with my feet and try to kill the ball,” says Estep. “I try to be a fundamentally-sound as possible.”
He likes to take the same amount of cuts righty and lefty since he does not know who is coming out of the bullpen if the starter should leave.
Dawson was born in Indianapolis and spent his whole life in Carmel.
While he and his father probably talk about baseball everyday, there’s also conversations about school. After he gets his basic classes completed and lands at a four-year school, Dawson sees himself pursuing a degree in sports management or business.
“I want to get into coaching and help younger kids,” says Dawson of his post-playing ambitions. “This game has helped me so much.
“I might as well do that for the rest of my life.”

Dawson Estep (Connors State College Photo)
Moons Shots second baseman Dawson Estep (College Summer League at Grand Park Photo)
Moon Shots infielder Dawson Estep (College Summer League at Grand Park Photo)
Moons Shots second baseman Dawson Estep (College Summer League at Grand Park Photo)
Switch hitter Dawson Estep (College Summer League at Grand Park Photo)

Right-hander Carlson comes back to the game, ready for future

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Cade Carlson quit baseball. He was persuaded to come back with the help a friend.
Now Carlson is looking forward to new diamond adventures in a different place and at the NCAA Division I level.
A right-handed pitcher and 2018 graduate of University High School in Carmel, Ind., where he was the starter in the Trailblazers’ first state championship game appearance as a senior, Carlson went Northwood University in Midland, Mich., on a baseball scholarship.
For reasons Carlson doesn’t go into, he left the school and the game after the fall semester and enrolled at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis and had every intention of transferring to IU-Bloomington as a sophomore.
Lukas Barnes, a Carmel High School graduate who Cade had known most of his life, convinced his buddy to give baseball another try and they became teammates at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio.
“I wasn’t that good of a pitcher, but I kept working and got one of those four starting spots,” says Carlson. “My first outing terrible (lasting less than two innings.”
The righty made three starts for the National Junior College Athletic Association-member and Steve Dintaman-coached Tartan Pride and was a winner in his last one, going 1-3 for the 2020 season, which was shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That summer Carlson pitched in the first season for the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., not far from his Carmel home. He was with the A-Team coached by Kevin Christman.
The CSL gave Carlson the chance to see where he stacked up with good talent.
Due to COVID, Sinclair made the decision to suspend athletics through 2021-22 and Carlson went to Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., and outfielder Barnes landed at Danville (Ill.) Community College.
In 13 mound appearances (11 starts) for head coach Kevin Bowers and pitching coach Andrew Elliott, Carlson went 6-4 with a 2.72 earned run average. In 59 2/3 innings, he struck out 62 and walked 25.
“I thought I had a pretty good year,” says Carlson. “I started out shaky and got on a roll.
“I figured out how to pitch as games went on. I was not pitching to my advantage but the hitters’ disadvantage. That was big for my success this year.”
The NJCAA’s LTC Statesmen went 32-21.
East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tenn., was impressed by Carlson and he agreed to join the NCAA D-I Buccaneers in 2021-22.
“(ETSU was) the first school to offer me in the fall,” says Carlson, 21. “I jumped at the opportunity. It’s a good school in a great area and the baseball is good.
“It’s a win-win.”
With three years of baseball eligibility remaining, Carlson plans to pursue a Sport Management degree.
“I’ll go to school and continue to work hard and baseball at higher levels,” says Carlson.
East Tennessee State is a member of the Southern Conference. With Joe Pennucci as head coach and Jamie Pinzino as pitching coach, the team went 24-25 in 2021.
Carlson throws five pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm angle — four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, slider and curveball.
He credits Lincoln Trail teammate/roommate Joey Perkins (a left-hander who hails from Lebanon, Ohio, and is bound for Virginia Commonwealth University) for teaching him the change-up which can be thrown from multiple grips.
Carlson’s slider (horizontal) and curve (vertical) move on different planes.
After going 2-0 in three outings during a temporary contract period with the State College (Pa.) Spikes of the MLB Draft League, Carlson is back in Carmel with father Tyce, mother Christine, brother Tyler and grandmother Carol Pinkley and plans to spend the summer training at RoundTripper Academy in Westfield to get ready for ETSU.
“I have not taken a break from throwing in about a year now,” says Carlson. “The first month of summer won’t be about throwing. I’ll be lifting to getting stronger and putting good weight on.”
Carlson wants to put about 20 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame.
Born in Speedway, Carlson grew up in Carmel played rec baseball for the Carmel Dads Club. He played travel ball with the Indiana Mustangs for about a decade.
One of Cade’s teammates was Dawson Estep (University Class of 2019), son of Mustangs and RoundTripper founder Chris Estep. After two years at Carmel High School, Carlson transferred to University and played for Estep.
“What can I say about Chris?,” says Carlson. “I’ve known Chris forever. Chris puts the spirit of baseball into his players.
“If you don’t love baseball you wouldn’t play for Chris.”
Tyler Carlson also played baseball for Estep at University, graduating in 2014.

Cade Carlson

Zangrilli’s baseball path takes him back to Carmel Greyhounds

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With lasting influences from two coaches, John Zangrilli decided that education and coaching were for him when he was still a teenager.

It was while learning and playing for Jeff Massey (baseball) and Ken Randle (basketball) that Zangrilli saw his career path. Massey was the head baseball coach for Zangrilli’s last three years at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, following Steve Goeglein. Randle was a freshmen/assistant coach, teacher and mentor. 

Since graduating from Lawrence Central in 1994, Zangrilli has enjoyed many baseball experiences and encounters with successful diamond minds.

Zangrilli — aka Z or Coach Z since his father (Papa Z) and son (Little Z) are also named John — has coached in three central Indiana high school programs (two assistant stints at Carmel and head coaching tenures at Brebeuf Jesuit and Zionsville). 

As a head coach, Coach Z-led teams went 247-81 with six sectional championships (2004, 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2010 at Brebeuf and 2012 at Zionsville), three regional crowns (2005 and 2009 at Brebeuf and 2012 at Zionsville), one Final Four appearance (2012 at Zionsville), two Hoosier Crossroads Conference titles (2011 and 2012 at Zionsville) and one Marion County crown (2010 at Brebeuf in a an extra-inning game against Lawrence Central at Victory Field that Zangrilli calls the best game he’s ever seen).

Six of Zangrill’s players were chosen for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and he was the South head coach for the 2009 games in Evansville. 

He has coached 28 players who went on to college careers and 18 academic all-state honorees

Among Zangrilli’s coach of the year honors include IHSBCA all-district (2009, 2012), all-North (2011) and Marion County (2005, 2009, 2010).

There has been involvement with three travel organizations (Zionsville Baseball Club, Carmel Pups and Indiana Bulls) for Coach Z. He helped start the ZBC and re-tooled the Carmel Pups. He coached with the Pups while his son, John, moved from 8U to 12U. Both will be with the Indiana Bulls 13U Silver team — dad as head coach and son as a player — in 2021.

As a collegiate pitcher, Zangrilli enjoyed three NCAA Division I seasons (1995 for Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan at Indiana University and 1996 and 1997 for Bulldogs head coach Steve Farley at Butler University). 

“Coach Farley and Coach Morgan couldn’t be any more different in terms of their personalities

Intense,” says Zangrilli, describing Morgan as intense and Farley possessing an even-keel temperament. “Coach Morgan was extremely detail-oriented. Every moment of every day was organized. It’s the first time I was introduced to something like that. It was about understanding your role on the team. As a coach, I drew on that a little bit.

“I really enjoyed the way Coach Farley created a calm atmosphere for his athletes to relax and take what they had been taught and then go out and play the game.”

Zangrilli earned an Elementary Education degree with an endorsement in Physical Education and Health from Butler in 1998. He has worked in Carmel schools for 22 years and is now a Wellness Education teacher at Woodbrook Elementary School.

His first high school coaching gig was a three-year stint on the coaching staff of Carmel Greyhounds head coach Tom Linkmeyer in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Carmel lost 1-0 in 11 innings to eventual state runner-up Evansville Harrison in the 2000 State semifinals.

Born in central Pennsylvania, Zangrilli roots for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Penn State University. He came to Indiana early in his elementary school years.

At 14, Zangrilli worked for Jeff Mercer Sr., at Mercer’s Sports Center on the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

One of the first players to log more than one summer with the Indiana Bulls, Z was with the elite organization 1992-94. Mike Stein was head coach that first year. The next two years, Dennis Kas was head coach and was helped by Kevin Stephenson, Brent Mewhinney and Linkmeyer, who was also the Wellness Education teacher at Woodbrook prior to Zangrilli.

“They were imparting all this baseball knowledge on us,” says Zangrilli. “It was eye-opening. It was the intersection of talent and instruction and we took off. We had a great deal of success.

“Dennie Kas was the first guy I played for who instilled an appreciation for preparation,” says Zangrilli. “He had a real knack for reading the pulse of his team.

“He could walk in the dugout and know if they needed to be calm or pick up the energy.”

Zangrilli was head coach at Brebeuf for seven campaigns (2004-10) and Zionsville for three (2011-13). 

“Between my years at Brebeuf and Zionsville it was an embarrassment of riches,” says Coach Z.

Among his assistants at Brebeuf were Andy McClain (former player and assistant under IHSBCA of Famer Bill Tutterow at Martinsville and head coach at LaVille and Arlington who went on to be head coach at Brebeuf, Norwell and Lawrence Central) and Tim Phares (son of IHSBCA Hall of Famer George Phares). 

Standout Braves players included catcher Radley Haddad (Western Carolina University, Butler University, player and coach in New York Yankees system), outfielder Jack Dillon (Butler University), Tres Eberhardt (Xavier University), outfielder Nathan Koontz (Ball State University), catcher Mitch Overley (Ball State University, Wabash College), infielder/outfielder Ty Adams (University of Notre Dame), outfielder Kevin Simms (University of Dayton, Wright State University), outfielder Stevie Eberhardt-Gipson (Northern Kentucky University) and right-handed pitcher/catcher John Krasich (Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology).

Pollard, Tibbs, Jered Moore, Quinn Moore, Jeremy Honaker and Josh Medveseck were among those on Coach Z’s staff at Zionsville. 

Right-hander Parker Dunshee (Wake Forest University, Oakland Athletics organization), infielder/outfielder Max Kuhn (University of Kentucky, Oakland Athletics organization), infielder Troy Kuhn (Ohio State University), third baseman Ben Kocher (Belmont University), outfielder Drew Small (Butler University), left-hander Alex Westrick (Xavier University) and outfielder Nick Barrientos (Wabash Valley College, Northwood University) are part of a long line of Eagles players who went on to college and/or professional baseball.

John and wife Jackie have two children. After the 2013 season, Z turned his focus to teaching as well as coaching Little Z and daughter Olivia (a travel volleyball player).

When former Butler teammate Matt Buczkowski (son of IHBCA Hall of Famer Len Buczkowski) became head coach at he — and all the returning Carmel talent — lured Zangrilli back into high school coaching. 

Coach Z remembers Buczkowski’s request going something like this: “I’ve got a Ferrari of pitching staff. I need to have somebody help me drive it.”

Buczkowski inherited a stable of arms developed by former Carmel pitching coach Jay Lehr.

The 2017 senior class featured left-handers Tommy Sommer (Indiana University), Max Habegger (Lipscomb University), Shawn Roop (Manhattan College) and right-handers Cameron Pferrer (University of Missouri) and Aaron Ernst (University of Dayton, Wright State University) plus outfielders Parker Massman (Miami University of Ohio) and infielder Rhett Wintner (Ball State University). There was also junior infielder Jack Van Remortel (University of Michigan).

“I didn’t plan on coming back to high school coaching,” says Zangrilli. “But I was intrigued. I had a pretty good history with Butch. 

“My wife gave me the thumbs-up.”

The ’17 Greyhounds went 23-3 and won the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference.

The spring of 2021 will be Coach Z’s fifth since returning to the Carmel dugout.

Zangrilli, Buczkowski and former Westfield and Carmel field boss and current hitting coach Eric Lentz represent more than 500 head coaching victories on a Hounds staff. Pitching coach Fred Moses came to Carmel from Lawrence Central with Buczkowski.

“My role is whatever they need as any given day,” says Zangrilli, who has been a pitching coach, first base coach and a camp coordinator. The past five years, he helped oversee the Carmel Pups.

COVID-19 shut down the 2020 high school season days before tryouts (Carmel went 21-8 and finished second in the MIC in 2019) and prevented the 12U Pups from making a trip to play in Cooperstown, N.Y. 

“It’s extremely unfortunate,” says Zangrilli. “It proves it can be taken away from you at any point.”

Fortunately, many Carmel players did get to play last summer. Coach Z helped Kevin Christman coach during the last few weeks of the inaugural College Summer League at Grand Park.

Following health precautions, Zangrilli says the Hounds were able to accomplish as much as they did during last year’s Limited Contact Period fall workouts.

Says Coach Z, “All systems are go.”

John Zangrilli is a teacher and baseball coach in Carmel (Ind.) Clay Schools. (Carmel Clay Schools Photo)
Carmel (Ind.) High School assistant baseball coach John Zangrilli hits fungos to the Greyhounds.
John Zangrilli is a Wellness teacher and baseball coach in Carmel (Ind.) Clay Schools. The 2021 season will be the firth in his second stint with the Greyhounds. The former Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis, Indiana University and Butler University pitcher has also served as head coach at Brebeuf Jesuit High School in Indianapolis and Zionsville (Ind.) Community High School and has coached with the Carmel Pups and Indiana Bulls.

Indiana’s Barr showing off skills in Grand Park league

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Attendees at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis July 16 and 23 got a chance to see Cole Barr’s baseball attributes on display.

Playing in the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game, Indiana University’s Barr smacked a three-run triple to help the Red beat the Blue 4-2.

A week later, the Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate lashed a two-run double to aid in the A-Team’s 6-4 triumph against the Snapping Turtles.

How does the righty-swinging third baseman assess his strengths?

“Physically, I can do it all on the field — play defense, run and hit for power,” says Barr. “The average is coming along.

“I have athleticism. I was a middle infielder until last year. I have pretty good range (at third base).”

Barr, a 5-foot-11, 191-pounder, has listened to Hoosiers head coach Jeff Mercer and former assistant Casey Dykes (now a minor league hitting coach in the New York Yankees organization) regarding hitting and done his best to apply it.

“I kist want the ball to spin true,” says Barr. “I don’t want to flare or hook the ball. I look to put myself in a good position to be able to do that. 

“If I can spin the ball, I can adjust and do other things.”

Mercer has been on the job since the summer of 2018 and Barr has benefitted.

“He has a lot of information to offer,” says Barr of his head coach. “We are like-minded. We are not afraid to work hard.

“We’re pretty competitive.”

In three seasons at Indiana, Barr played in 97 games (84 starts) and hit .258 (76-of-295) with 19 home runs, 64 runs batted in, 62 runs scored and a .389 on-base percentage.

Barr broke out in 2019, hitting .255 (55-of-216) with 17 homers, 51 RBIs, 46 runs, .388 OBP and was selected in the 37th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.

He decided not to sign and came back to the Hoosiers.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2020 season, Barr started all 15 games at third base and was the regular No. 3 batter in the IU lineup. He hit .246 (14-of-57) with two homers, nine RBIs, 12 runs and a .366 OBP in 15 games.

The last game for a 9-6 team was March 11 against Cincinnati in Bloomington.

Barr stayed in shape and kept his baseball skills sharp while also keeping up with his studies during the quarantine. The Finance major and 2020 Academic All-Big Ten Conference honoree is now around 20 credits shy of his degree.

He is looking forward to in-person classes, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 24.

“Online classes — I’m not a huge fan of it,” says Barr. “It’s hard to learn business stuff and work through problems online.

“It’s hard to pay attention. I’d prefer to be in class in-person.”

Barr played for the Northwoods League’s Lakeshore Chinooks in Mequon, Wis., in the summer of 2019. The team was led by Travis Akre.

“He was a player’s kind of manager,” says Barr of Akre. “He let you do your own thing and kept you on the right track.”

Barr intended to head back to the Chinooks in 2020 when that team canceled its schedule. He was without a summer spot until May and then the Grand Park league was formed through a partnership between Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development.

“I like playing with a lot of my friends,” says Barr, who has now counted shortstop Cooper Trinkle as a teammate in travel ball, at Indiana and in summer collegiate ball.

Kevin Christman is the A-Team head coach.

“I love being around Kev,” says Barr. “It doesn’t matter where he is, he is trying to win.

“I’ve been able to pick his brain a little bit. He’s been around the game for a long time.”

Barr was born in Muncie, Ind., and grew up in nearby Yorktown. 

He played rec league baseball and started travel ball at age 9. He was coached by Shane Summers and Justin Wittenberg with the Indiana Longhorns and Magic City Orioles.

From 12U to 17U, Barr wore the uniform of the Indiana Prospects with Shane Cox and J.P. Hessier as his head coaches. His 18U summer was spent the Mke Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays.

“He was a good dude,” says Barr of Hitt. “He let us have fun.”

Playing the first three years for Mike Larrabee and the last for P.J. Fauquher, Barr was a four-year varsity player at Yorktown High. 

“He’s a pretty smart guy about the game,” says Barr of Larrabee. “He steered me in the direction I needed to go. The same thing with P.J.”

Barr was chosen for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in 2017

He was honorable mention all-state in 2015 and 2017 and all-Hoosier Heritage Conference 2015-17. Perfect Game rated him as the No. 2 shortstop and No. 14 overall player in Indiana. For his prep career, he hit .333 with nine homers, 45 RBIs and 51 stolen bases.

Barr was a middle infielder and also pitched as a freshman, sophomore and senior.

“I was probably a better pitcher in high school than a hitter,” says Barr. “I had no real thoughts of pitching in college. Most pitchers aren’t 5-10 now.”

Cole was also a safety and wide receiver for the Yorktown Tigers as a freshmen, junior and senior.

Joe and Cherie Barr have four sons — Cole (22), Alex (20), Reid (17) and Drew (15).

Joe Barr is a plant manager at Magna Powertrain. Cherie Barr is a nurse at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital. Alex Barr is heading into his junior year as a Wabash College wrestler. Reid Barr will be a Yorktown High School senior and wrestler Drew Barr a YHS sophomore in the fall. 

Indiana University’s Cole Barr smacks a three-run triple at Victory Field in Indianapolis July 16. (Talking Hoosier Baseball Video)
Indiana University’s Cole Barr raps a two-run double at Victory Field in Indianapolis July 23. (Talking Hoosier Baseball Video)
Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. (Indiana University Photo)
Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. (Indiana University Photo)
Third baseman Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. (Indiana University Photo)
Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. He broke out in 2019, hitting .255 (55-of-216) with 17 homers, 51 RBIs, 46 runs, .388 OBP and was selected in the 37th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners, but did not sign.. (Indiana University Photo)

Cole Barr, a Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate with three baseball seasons logged at Indiana University, is playing with the A-Team in the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park. (Indiana University Photo)

Evansville Razorbacks promote accountability, communication, commitment

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 18U Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have been a force in the travel baseball world with four Pastime Tournaments national championships and a National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series runner-up finish.

The 2017 team went 40-0.

Established in 2002 by Jeremy Johnson, the Razorbacks have had 336 players sign on with college baseball programs and numerous players have been in pro ball.

“This program sets guys up not only in baseball, but their whole life,” says Johnson. “It’s a fraternity. You’re going to be a Razorback the rest of your life.

“It’s bigger than anybody, including me.”

Johnson is a 1993 Mater Dei graduate. He grew up spending Saturday mornings helping his father groom youth diamonds around Evansville. C.J. Johnson is a 2017 inductee into the Greater Evansville Sports Hall of Fame as a baseball administrator.

At 14, Jeremy severely hurt his right arm and learned how throw serviceably with his left. In high school, he was a successful cross country and track runner.

Johnson networks with college coaches and does his best to educate players and parents on the recruiting process and deciding on the best fit for them.

“My job is to help you find out your ‘why,’’ says Johnson. “What is driving you? If you don’t know that, you can get lost. You need to have a really good grasp on that. If you don’t and everything starts to go south, you’ll start panicking.”

And it doesn’t have to be NCAA Division I or bust. Some are best-suited by going the D-II, D-III, NAIA or junior college route.

“I’m completely over the fact that Division I is the best case scenario (for every player),” says Johnson. “You should pick a school where, if you didn’t play baseball any more, you wouldn’t want to transfer.

“It’s very, very personal thing for each kid. Look at schools that fit you personally. Start putting together legitimate ideas on what you know you want instead of what you think you want.

“High school is very status-orientedYou’re not doing it for your teammates. There’s a 50-50 shot you’ll meet your wife there.

“It’s way more than baseball.”

Johnson says he has watched the transfer portal blow up in recent years in part because of so many early commits (freshmen and sophomore are making verbal commitments these days) and players and parents not doing their due diligence on what they want and what a program has to offer.

“They may be good enough to be a tweener with D-I,” says Johnson. “But they could play more at D-II or go to D-III and be an All-American.

“We don’t want them to have regrets or at least minimize them.”

While he has been involved in most of the 336 college signings, Johnson doesn’t take credit. It’s the players with the talent.

“I’m not the reason any of my kid plays in college,” says Johnson. “I’m just a guy who goes to bat for them. My job is to market them. I’m an avenue.

“The kids are the ones that deserve everything. I didn’t throw a ball, catch a ball or hit it. I’m not the reason for the season.”

A junior college advocate, Johnson says those players tend to play with a chip on their shoulder. Six starters on the Razorbacks’ 2018  team went on to JC ball. The 2017 club was made up mostly of D-I commits.

“It saves money and keeps their options open,” says Johnson. “It makes you grind a little bit. You find out if you really love baseball if you go junior college.”

Johnson says the Razorbacks are well-represented in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference (John A. Logan, Kaskaskia, Lake Land, Lincoln Trail, Olney Central, Rend Lake, Shawnee, Southeastern Illinois, Southwestern Illinois, Wabash Valley).

Johnson says parents don’t always receive personal feedback when they take their sons to showcases. They get the numbers, but not an idea of what that coaching staff thinks of the player and how they would fit in their program.

Players can go to showcase after showcase and the money spent can add up to the cost of a scholarship.

“Tell me what you’re interested in doing and let me market you,” says Johnson. He will do his best to have college coaches look at the player and let them know what they think.

“College recruiting always in flux,” says Johnson. “(Recruiters) don’t want to tell you yes or no. There’s a lot of maybes. That’s a frustrating thing. I tell parents to build an idea of where their kid really fits.”

In showcases or with private lessons, many times players are told over and over again how good they are.

“Some are honest about good things and bad things,” says Johnson. “There’s nothing wrong with constructive criticism. You need it.”

Johnson sees his role with the Razorbacks as driven by relationships.

“I get to know the kids,” says Johnson. “I spent a lot of time on the phone with them.”

While many players come from southern Indiana, southern Illinois and Kentucky, there is no real limit and have come from several states away.

“I’m not afraid to ask anybody,” says Johnson. “We have the ability to house a few kids.”

Many players spend two seasons with the Razorbacks, which Johnson says averages 17 to 20 college commits per year. In any given year, a third to half of the squad goes into the summer uncommitted.

Among the 2019 high school graduates from Indiana schools on the ’19 summer team were Evansville North shortststop/second baseman Alex Archuleta (University of Southern Indiana), Austin shortstop/right-handed pitcher/third baseman Drew Buhr (Saint Louis University), Castle left-handed pitcher Blake Ciuffetelli (USI), Castle first baseman Brodey Heaton (Belmont University), Evansville Memorial right-handed pitcher Isaac Housman (USI) and Tecumseh outfielder Steven Molinet (USI).

There’s also shortstop/second baseman Alex Adams (Purdue University), catcher Garret Gray (Butler University), right-handed pitcher Trey Nordmann (Howard College in Texas) and left-handed pitcher/outfielder/first baseman Mark Shallenberger (University of Evansville).

Former Ben Davis High School catcher Zyon Avery (Ohio University), Decatur Central right-hander Bradley Brehmer (Wright State University) and right-hander Garret Simpson (Eastern Kentucky University) are among the recent Razorbacks now playing college baseball.

Razorback alums left-hander Dean Kiekhefer (Oakland Athletics), right-hander Derek Self (Washington Nationals) and outfielder Cole Sturgeon (Boston Red Sox) played at Triple-A in 2019. All three played at the University of Louisville. Kiekhefer appeared in the majors with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016 and with Oakland in 2018.

There’s also former Backs Easton McGee and Stewart Ijames.

Right-hander McGee played for Bowling Green in the Tampa Bay Rays system in 2019.

Outfielder Ijames, a former U of L player and in the Arizona Diamondbacks system, was with the independent Kansas City T-Bones in 2019.

Clint Barmes, a Vincennes Lincoln High School graduate who recently went into the Indiana State University and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame after a major league career, played for the Evansville Black Sox (1993-2001), which were picked up by the Razorbacks in 2002.

Johnson was an outfielder for the Jim Wittman-coached Black Sox in 1993-94. In a Black Sox alumni game, Johnson’s last pitch resulted in a Barmes home run.

“I hadn’t pitched in two years,” says Johnson. “Didn’t matter. Would happened on my best day.”

Former U of L catcher Jeff Arnold was signed by scout Kevin Christman and played in the San Francisco Giants organization.

Right-hander Morgan Coombs went to West Vigo High School and Ball State University then played independent ball.

Outfielder Sean Godfrey played at New Albany High School and Ball State before time in the Atlanta Braves system and indy ball.

First baseman Jon Hedges played at Indiana State.

Third baseman Kevin Hoef went to the University of Iowa and played indy ball.

Catcher Jeremy Lucas played at West Vigo and Indiana State before time in the Cleveland Indians system.

Black Sox right-hander Stephen Obenchain played at Evansville Memorial and the University of Evansville before stints in the Athletics system and independent ball.

First baseman Derek Peterson, who hails from New Jersey, went on to Temple University and played in Baltimore Orioles organization.

Black Sox right-hander Andy Rohleder played at Forest Park High School and the University of Evansville before tenures with the Florida Marlins organization and indy ball.

Right-hander P.J. Thomas, a Jeffersonville High School graduate who played at USI, was twice-drafted by the Red Sox and played indy ball.

Catcher Kolbrin Vitek (Ball State) played in the Red Sox organization.

Former Black Sox, Heritage Hills High School and University of Dayton catcher Mark Wahl was in the Orioles system.

While the Razorbacks run a full program with off-season training, Johnson says he is a realist and he knows that players have commitments to their hometown teams and work with their own hitting and pitching instructors. He doesn’t ask them to drive several hours to Evansville to hit them grounders.

“I’m not that full of myself,” says Johnson. “I have the utmost respect for high school programs.

“I love travel ball. But a large amount of travel ball is B.S. It’s such a money-driven situation. Travel ball — as a whole — is expensive for families with travel, hotels and all of that. We try to keep that cost down as low as we possibly can.”

When the 18U Razorbacks do travel, the team stays together in the same hotel.

Many of the players are getting close to going away to college. They get to experience curfews, team meetings and learn personal accountability. It’s an early look at their freshmen year and that first taste of freedom. They are responsible for their own laundry.

“The team runs the team,” says Johnson. “There’s a lot to be learned off the field until they go to college.”

Parents are encouraged treat the weekend like a getaway. All they have to do is attend the games and watch their sons play.

The organization expanded this off-season to 10 teams — 8U, 9U, 10U, 11U, two 12U squads, 13U, 14U, 16U and 18U. 8U to 14U is high school prep. 15U to 18U is college prep.

According to Johnson, whose 18U assistant coaches are Bob Davis, Ryan Dills and Buddy Hales, the emphasis is on teaching player accountability at an early age, communication with parents, speed and strength conditioning and commitment to helping the person, then the player.”

Top 18U events in 2020 include June 12-14 in Midland, Ohio, June 18-21 in Louisville, Ky., June 26-28 in Midland, Ohio, June 30-July 1 at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, July 5-9 at Perfect Game World Series (invitation only) in Hoover, Ala., and July 15-19 at the 18U Nationals in Indianapolis.

Jeremy and Christi Johnson married in 2013. There are three children — Seth (18), Ava (14) and Conner (13). Conner Johnson, now an eighth grader, was born in 2007, the same year the Razorbacks were NABF World Series runners-up.

“Spending summers with him with me is what ties it all together,” says Jeremy Johnson of time spent with Conner and Backs baseball.

EVANSVILLERAZORBACKSLOGO

The Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks have placed 336 players in college baseball since 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks)

JEREMYJOHNSONEVANSVILLERAZORBACKS1

Jeremy Johnson (center) is the founder of the Evansville (Ind.) Razorbacks travel baseball organization. The Razorbacks’ first season was in 2002. (Evansville Razorbacks Photo)

 

Christman sees baseball through a scout’s eyes

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kevin Christman has been in professional baseball for well over half of his 54 years. He signed his first pro contract as a teenager.

At the end of last summer, Noblesville, Ind., resident Christman concluded a 13-year stint as a scout for the San Francisco Giants and has three World Series rings to show for it. As an area scout, his territory included Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. He also coached at Giants Fall Scout Team that included several players eventually selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including Ryan Campbell, Garrett Christman, Harrison Freed, Cory Malcom, Connor Mitchell, Mitch Roman, Tanner Tully, Nolan Watson.

While he is assessing his next move, Christman is helping out Sue and Chris Estep at Round Tripper Sports Academy.

“I’m giving back to the game,” says Christman, who has served as a general manager, coach and advisor on curriculum, facilities and the baseball industry over the years at the place where sons Garrett and Connor Christman trained and played for the Indiana Mustangs as well as Noblesville High School’s 2014 IHSAA Class 4A state champions, which were recently inducted with the NHS Athletic Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020. “I’m giving back to the program. I’ve always been available for them.”

Christman went to Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif., and was a 6-foot-3 catcher in the Philadelphia Phillies and Giants systems before beginning his scouting career on the West Coast with the Milwaukee Brewers and joined the Giants player evaluation staff in 2006.

Along the way, the Midwest became his territory and he and wife Linda moved their family to central Indiana.

Christman has watched technology grow and become a big part of player development.

“It’s changed strength level opportunities,” says Christman. “We understand nutrition and what’s out there to use.

“There’s still a lot of unproven aspects of the technology. The game’s the game. But you don’t leave any stone unturned. You use all resources.”

Chistman uses technology, but he has long employed his evaluation and personal skills to find prospects and to see what makes them tick.

“My job was to always bet on a heartbeat,” says Christman. “With what we were spending on players, that’s just as important. We can’t lose sight of that.”

Christman studies players. Once they pass the eye test, he goes in-depth.

“What has he learned? What has he not learned?,” says Christman. “I could almost be like an FBI agent.”

Like other scouts, Christman would project a player’s potential to get to the majors.

“It’s all conjecture,” says Christman. “I think he can do this.

“It’s like a lump a clay you can mold.”

Only a small percentage of players who enter the system will ever have a cup of coffee in the big leagues.

“It’s a very difficult process,” says Christman. “Eventually, physical talents become similar.”

Things like make-up often make the difference between those who break into the majors and those that don’t.

That’s why scouts like Christman will work hard to find and sign the best players.

“I’m a winner,” says Christman. “It’s a competitive business.”

The proving grounds in baseball is at the high school and college levels.

Christman says many big leaguers were signed out of high school. But the latest trend is to sign college players.

“(Colleges can) develop them three years longer,” says Christman. “(Professional teams tend to) go with a proven track record. History will prevail. That’s what’s driving the sport now. There will be another adjustment later.”

Of course, not all big leaguers are known on the national level by the time they’re 16 and performing in showcases.

“One of the joys of scouting is finding that one guy who’s not in the mainstream,” says Christman.

That’s the story of Adam Duvall, a graduate of Butler Traditional High School in Louisville who played at Western Kentucky University and the University of Louisville, made his Major League Baseball debut with the Giants and played with the Cincinnati Reds 2015-18 and the Atlanta Braves in 2018-19. He was a corner infielder in college and has been mostly a left fielder in the bigs.

“His signing was not analytically-driven,” says Christman of Duvall. “He made the game look easy. He had better than average makeup.

“He’s a worker. It’s the grass roots story of a champion.”

MLB has been talking about shrinking the minor leagues, possibly a contraction of 25 percent of teams. If that happens, what would it look like?

With rookie leagues decreased or eliminated, Christman says its likely that players with the least amount of experience would remain in an extended spring training setting before going to Class A ball.

“They will keep players in the complex longer and there will be a higher revolving door at the top,” says Christman. “Either they’re big league players or they’re not.

“It’ll be a little more hands-on at a younger level.”

Noting “it’s all about spots,” Christman says it will harder to enter into baseball at the lower level.

As it stands now, minor leaguers train and play with their organizations from March to September and then are essentially on their own until the next spring.

Christman says a streamlined affiliated baseball could see teams conducting mini-camps throughout the year kind of like OTA’s in football.

KEVINCHRISTMANWSTROPHY

Kevin Christman poses with the World Series trophy. The Noblesville, Ind., resident won three World Series rings as a scout with the San Francisco Giants.

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Kevin Christman earned three World Series rings as a scout for the San Francisco Giants. The Noblesville, Ind., resident has been in pro baseball for more than half his life.

 

With refined plate approach, Freed takes off at Butler, lands in Giants system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Harrison Freed began making an offensive jump in the summer of 2018 and the baseball continued to jump off his bat during the 2019 season at Butler University.

The righty-swinging outfielder worked with hitting coach Stu Pederson (father of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson) while with the LaCrosse (Wis.) Loggers of the Northwoods League summer collegiate season, hitting .291 with 12 home runs, 15 doubles, 61 runs batted in and 53 runs scored in 63 games.

“I got more confident as a player and a hitter,” says Freed. “I knew my talent could get me where I am today.

“I made a lot of adjustments working with (Stu Pederson). I did a lot of work to build off what I was doing in the summer with (Roundtripper Sports Academy instructor Chris Estep and Butler hitting coach Andy Pascoe, who had played for LaCrosse during his collegiate career at the University of Evansville).

“(Estep) is an interesting guy. He knows a lot about hitting. He gave me a lot of wisdom. He really knows what he’s talking about. He’s one of the best in the business.”

This past spring at Butler, Freed earned first team all-Big East Conference selection, second team Perfect Game/Rawlings College All-American, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association second team All-American and American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings second team all-region honors while posting a .376 average with 17 homers, 10 doubles, 73 RBIs and 44 runs scored to go with a .448 on-base percentage in 52 games (all starts).

Freed says he refined his approach at the plate.

“Instead of going up there and looking for what I want, I’m looking for what I’m going to get,” says Freed. “I’m looking for extra base hits and finding a way to get to second base.

“Launch angle is a word that gets tossed out there. But it has to be natural. Personally, I don’t like launch angle. It creates something before the swing it’s something you can’t always control. If the pitch is down and you try to swing under the ball, it’s not going to work. You have to be able to pick and choose which balls you’re trying to hit in the air.

“I normally drive the ball out of the park when it’s belt-high or above. If it’s down, it has to be something over the plate. If it’s up and away or up and in, I have a better chance.”

His first two seasons with the Bulldogs, Freed’s stat line read .306/2/4/14/8 in 2017 and .240/4/12/37/23 in 2018.

In the summer of 2017, Freed played for the Cal Ripken CollegiateDalto Baseball League’s D.C. Grays with a line of .330/7/9/29/16.

He arrived at Butler at the same time as head coach Dave Schrage.

“He changed the culture,” says Freed of Schrage, who has led the Bulldogs to marks of 31-20, 34-30 and 26-26 in his three seasons in Indianapolis. “He’s a very competitive guy.”

Freed impressed the San Francisco Giants enough that they selected the 2016 Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate in the 13th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He is currently trading off between left field and right field for the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes.

The 21-year-old went into the last day of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League regular season (Sept. 2) hitting .269 with seven homers, 15 two-baggers, 26 runs batted in and 28 runs scored in 47 games.

Salem-Keizer has made the playoffs, which begin Sept. 4. After that, Freed expects to come back to Westfield to work out at Roundtripper with the expectation of going to a winter rookie camp or two in California or Arizona. Another Giants minor leaguer, Dalton Combs, has also trained at Roundtripper.

Focusing on baseball for now, Freed says he plans to finish his finance degree following the 2020 season.

The youngest son of former collegiate golfer and Kokomo business owner Mike and Zionsville chemical engineer Jane Freed and younger brother of Louisville area medical salesman Jackson Freed (who played baseball at Franklin College), Harrison played two years with the Westfield Rocks and then with the Indiana Mustangs from age 11 to 17. As an 18-year-old, he spent the summer before college with the Indiana Blue Jays. He also played for coach Kevin Christman’s San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team for three years.

Ryan Bunnell was Freed’s head coach at Westfield High School.

“He’s a really nice guy,” says Freed of Bunnell. “He knows what he’s doing.”

Among Freed’s Shamrocks teammates were Ryan Pepiot (who went on to Butler and is now pitching the Dodgers system), Milo Beam (who went on to play the outfield at Purdue University) and Max McCool (who went on to pitch at Indiana Wesleyan University).

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Harrison Freed hit .376 average with 17 homers, 10 doubles, 73 RBIs and 44 runs scored to go with a .448 on-base percentage in 52 games (all starts) for Butler Univesity in 2019. (Butler University Photo).

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Harrison Freed, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate, was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now with the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)

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Harrison Freed, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate, was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now with the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes. He is a righty-swinging outfielder. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)