Tag Archives: Left-hander

Pro pitching career takes Strobel to Canada, Mexico

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

An American shined in Canada and got the chance to play in Mexico.
That’s the story of Tasker Strobel’s 2022 as a professional baseball pitcher.
Strobel, a graduate of Avon (Ind.) High School (2013) and Saint Joseph’s College (2017), spent the spring and summer with the independent/MLB Partner League American Association’s Winnipeg Goldeyes.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound left-hander performances for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats against Winnipeg in 2021 made Goldeyes manager/pitching coach Rick Forney want Strobel in 2022.
The 27-year-old southpaw was given a chance to compete for the closer role, landed it and made 53 appearances (all in relief) and went 2-3 with 21 saves (second in the AA to the 23 for Fargo-Moorhead’s Alex DuBord) and a 3.41 earned run average. Strobel racked up 58 strikeouts with 21 walks in 55 1/3 innings.
“(Forney) was good for my career,” says Strobel. “If you were doing well he let you ride and do your own thing.”
The longtime baseball man maintains connections South of the Border and had former Winnipeg slugger Kyle Martin play for Mayos de Navojoa of the Mexican Pacific League (Liga Mexicana del Pacífico or LMP in Spanish) in 2021-22.
Navojoa — managed by Homar Rojas — reached out saying they needed a closer for 2022-23. Strobel and his agent deemed it a good fit and he signed to compete in the 10-team league that has a 68-game regular season runs from October to December and is followed by a playoff series in January to determine the league champion and a berth in the Caribbean Series.
The way it was explained to Strobel, the winter league is essentially all-star teams from the 18-team Mexican League (which runs from April to August) with a few imports mixed in among native Mexicans.
Mayos teammates include three players from the 2022 American Association season — infielder Grant Kay (Chicago Dogs), pitcher Max Kuhns (Sioux City Explorer) and outfielder Zach Nehrir (Cleburne Railroaders).
Through Mexican Pacific League games of Nov. 1, Strobel had finished seven games and was 0-0 with four saves, 4.26 ERA, four strikeouts and one walk in 6 1/3 innings.
What makes a closer in Strobel’s eyes?
“You’ve got to be a little crazy and have that mindset of getting everyone out,” says Strobel. (The other team is) not going to score a run on you.
“You have to lock it in. You can’t miss a spot with any pitch, especially the American Association.”
Throwing from a low three-quarter arm slot, Strobel employs a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball, slider and change-up.
His four-seamer sits at 90 to 91 mph and has been up to 94. His curve has more of a sweeping action that his slider, which is tighter and faster.
“I have two sliders that vary depending on counts and batters,” says Strobel. “I throw a class ‘circle’ change.”
While in Mexico, Strobel is working to learn the basics of Spanish.
“I took German in high school,” says Strobel, who is expanding his vocabulary with online lessons. He also uses Google Translate extensively.
Tasker was born in Overland Park, Kan., and moved to Indiana at 4. The oldest of Chris and Janelle Strobel’s two sons (2017 Avon graduate Spencer Strobel is a super senior lefty pitcher at Indiana Tech) grew up in Avon and went from rec ball to travel ball as soon as he could with the Hendricks County Hurricanes.
In high school, Tasker played with the Indiana Bulls and Jeff Mercer Sr.
Strobel’s varsity coach at Avon High was Troy Drosche. The Orioles pitching coach then was Bob McPike and Strobel also took lessons from former big leaguer Bill Sampen.
These days, Strobel helps Drosche with his high school and Indiana Bulls teams when he is able.
His two seasons at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. (2014 and 2015) are what Strobel calls “one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
Kevin Bowers was — and still is the Statemen’s head coach. Max Hudson coached pitchers in 2014 and Kyle Medley led them in 2015.
“It was literally baseball and school,” says Strobel. “It was about being a JUCO Bandit and I loved it.”
That diamond chapter was followed up by two campaigns with head coach/pitching coach Rick O’Dette at NCAA Division II Saint Joe.
“I love that guy,” says Strobel of Coach O. “He led me into how I think about pitching now.
“We would sometimes butt heads, but we were a good pairing.”
Strobel was a SJC senior in 2017 — the year the school closed and the Pumas program went with it.
That spring, Strobel made 14 appearances (13 starts) and was 7-3 with three complete games, a 3.17 ERA and 68 strikeouts and 30 walks in 88 innings. As a junior, he hurled in 12 games (nine starts) and went went 4-4 with a 4.53 ERA with 57 strikeouts and 13 walks in 57 2/3 innings.
Business degrees were earned from both Lincoln Trail and Saint Joseph’s.
The lefty began his professional career in 2017 with seven appearances for the Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers.
Strobel had Tommy John surgery on his elbow at the end of 2017 and did not play in 2018. As soon as he was cleared, he began training at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., and still goes there in the off-season to work with Greg Vogt and Anthony Gomez and to coach other pitchers.
Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development — both at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. — also employed Strobel during his time away from playing the game.
With the independent Utica, Mich.-based United Shore Professional Baseball League’s 2020 Westside Woolly Mammoths, the lefty played in 10 games (nine in relief) with no decisions, a 3.97 ERA, 18 strikeouts and four walks in 11 1/3 innings.
Strobel pitched parts of 2019 and 2021 with the Greg Tagert-managed RailCats, getting into 34 games and going 3-5, a 3.84 ERA, 72 strikeouts and 21 walks in 70 1/3 innings.
Strobel, who is contracted to return to Winnipeg in 2023, wasn’t the only Indiana native in the 2022 Goldeyes bullpen.
Right-hander Zac Ryan, an Andrean High School graduate and former Georgia Tech pitcher drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in 2017 and released in 2021, made 32 appearances (all in relief) for Winnipeg in 2022. He was 2-1 with a 3.72 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 16 walks in 29 innings.

Tasker Strobel. (PRP Baseball Photo)
Tasker Strobel. (Mayos de Navojoa Photo)
Tasker Strobel. (Winnipeg Goldeyes Photo)
Tasker Strobel. (Winnipeg Goldeyes Photo)

Lipscomb U. southpaw Dunkelberger earns right to call his own pitches

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

Michael Dunkelberger did something last spring that many college baseball pitchers do not get to do — call their own pitches.
The left-hander at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., says those decisions get made by coaches the overwhelming majority of the time.
Dunkelberger, a 2018 graduate of South Bend (Ind.) Saint Joseph High School who turned 23 in August, was on a team full of older players thanks largely to the extra years of eligibility given because of the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
That extra time led to wisdom which helped lead to the ability make the right decisions under fire.
“It takes time to be able to call your own pitches,” says Dunkelberger, one of a handful on his staff given the chance to call pitches. “You have practice and bullpens and you talk through scouting reports.”
At the beginning of the year, he scored well on an online cognitive test.
“It showed how well you can instinctively learn and figure out what’s working well and what’s not,” says Dunkelberger, who credits Lipscomb pitching coach Matt Myers for helping him progress.
“He was very similar to me in college,” says Dunkelberger of Myers, who was a lefty pitcher at the University of Tennessee. “He taught me about the mental side and how to go deep in games.
“I was learning how to dissect the hitters swings and able to call my own game.”
It was the first time in his college career he got to call pitches. It had been since the end of his days at Saint Joseph when Indians head coach John Gumpf allowed Dunkelberger and catcher/classmate Luke Houin to make those decisions.
As a junior, Dunkelberger pitched a three-hitter as Saint Joseph beat Jasper 4-0 for the IHSAA Class 3A state championship.
The lefty struck out four, walked two and hit two batters in a seven-inning complete game.
“That junior year team was a lot of fun,” says Dunkelberger. “I grew up with those guys. We played together from 7 or 8 (on The Baseball Factory travel team) and went to the same high school.”
Beating John Glenn 9-7 in extra innings in the Griffith Regional was a highlight of the state title run.
“There were a lot of characters on the team,” says Dunkelberger. “(Coach Gumpf) he let us be ourselves and go out and play. We were a very talented team. A lot of guys on that team played college baseball.”
Taking stock of his best athletic qualities, Dunkelberger puts experience and pitchability at the top.
“There are guys that throw a lot harder than me,” says Dunkelberger. “I earned from an early age how to get guys out without having to throw hard.”
Coming from an arm slot that’s close to over-the-top, Dunkelberger throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball, change-up and slider.
His four-seamer tops out at 92 mph. His two-seamer gets up to 90. His curve is of the 12-to-6 variety. His “split” change goes straight down. A new trend on the college scene is a “sweeper” slider and the southpaw throws one of those.
Strength training in college allowed the athlete to come up to 6-foot and 215 pounds.
Dunkelberger, who did not see action at Indiana University in 2019 and pitched at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Valley Community College in 2020 and 2021, made a splash in his first season with Lipscomb in 2022.
He made 15 appearances (13 as a starter) and went 7-3 with 3.45 earned run average, 64 strikeouts and 18 walks in 78 1/3 innings while being named to second-team all-ASUN Conference.
Cody Piechocki was Dunkelberger’s head coach at KVCC and with the summer wood bat Northwoods League’s Kalamazoo Growlers/Mac Daddies from 2019-21 (because of his spring workload Dunkelberger did not play in the summer of 2022).
“He was great,” says Dunkelberger of Piechocki, who is also an associate scout for the Texas Rangers. “He helped me develop on the pitching side with command and velocity.
“He reminded me of Gumpf, letting me be me. Through my failures, he stuck by me.”
In nine starts at Kalamazoo Valley, Dunkelberger went 6-1 with a 3.24 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 50 innings and was named a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American.
He was going to transfer to the University of Oregon. But COVID-19 changed his scholarship status and he decided to re-enter the recruiting process and he and KVCC roommate Collin Witzke wound up at Lipscomb.
The Bisons — with Jeff Forehand as head coach — went 35-23 in 2022 after an 18-29 ledger in 2021.
Dunkelberger has two more years of remaining eligibility and is getting ready for 2023 while he is on pace to earn a Business Management in the spring.
Born in Grand Rapids, Mich., Dunkelberger came to northern Indiana around 3 and grew up in Granger. He played youth baseball in Clay Township and was with a Chicago White Sox-sponsored travel team after The Baseball Factory.
Michael is the second-oldest of Scott and Laura Dunkelberger’s four children. Nick Boyd played football at South Bend Riley High School. Victoria Dunkelberger played softball at Penn High School. Penn junior Julianna Dunkelberger played volleyball as a freshman.
Scott Dunkelberger played baseball at Riley and Bethel College (now Bethel University) in Mishawaka, Ind., and is now a pharmaceutical sales representative. Laura Dunkelberger works for the State of Indiana, finding resources for special needs children.

Michael Dunkelberger. (Lipscomb University Photo)
Michael Dunkelberger. (Lipscomb University Photo)

Michael Dunkelberger. (Lipscomb University Photo)
Michael Dunkelberger. (Lipscomb University Photo)
Michael Dunkelberger. (Lipscomb University Photo)

Michael Dunkelberger. (Lipscomb University Photo)

Michael Dunkelberger. (Lipscomb University Photo)

Lefty Lohman competes way to Dodgers organization

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

Competition.
It’s one of the things Carter Lohman likes most about baseball.
As a left-handed pitcher, the 2018 Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate enjoys the challenge of facing hitters.
In four seasons at the University of Louisville (2019-22), he appeared in 38 games (30 in relief) and went 3-4 with a 5.59 earned run average, 62 strikeouts and 52 walks in 58 innings.
The Cardinals went 134-65-1 during Lohman’s time with the program, including 51-18 and a College World Series appearance in 2019.
Each season was preceded by the Omaha Challenge — a series of competitions to get the team ready for the season and focused on the goal of ending the season at the CWS.
For a week or two, the red and black teams took part in swimming, tire flips, 100-meter dashes, lifting and running and more. There was a truck push around the Kentucky State Fairgrounds.
Lohman was in the individual top 10 and on the winning team a couple of times.
In high school, he played four varsity seasons (all but his junior year as a pitcher-only) for then-HSE head coach Scott Henson and the Royals did the Victory Challenge (the IHSAA State Finals are at Victory Field) early in the spring semester.
“It helped make us mentally and physically tougher,” says Lohman. “(Coach Henson) pushed everyone to get the most out of themselves on the field. Our practices were scheduled nicely. There was no lollygagging. That was our time to get better.
“At the same time he knew that baseball is fun so let it be fun.”
He struck out 125 batters during his prep career and was ranked as Indiana’s top left-handed pitcher by Perfect Game. He also earned two football letters at HSE.
Lohman has also enjoyed development at PRP Baseball at Mojo Up Sports Complex in Noblesville, Ind., working with Greg Vogt, Anthony Gomez and others and going against other players on Fridays.
“It’s a good atmosphere for competing and getting better,” says Lohman.
Dan McDonnell is Louisville’s head coach. Lohman worked closely with associate head coach/pitching coach Roger Williams.
“He did not take a cookie-cutter approach (to each pitcher),” says Lohman of Williams, who has been at the U of L for 16 seasons. “The emphasis was on learning the game and becoming a better player.”
Lohman learned about things like bunting scenarios and first-and-third situations.
“I could go for days talking about pitch sequencing,” says Lohman. “You can use your pitches in different ways to get the batters out.”
Lohman’s been good enough at it to get paid for it.
The 22-year-old southpaw was signed Aug. 1 as a minor league free agent by the Los Angeles Dodgers is now at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., throwing regular bullpen sessions and expecting to make his pro debut soon in the Arizona Complex League.
Lohman, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder, throws from a high three-quarter arm slot.
His four-seam fastball has gotten up to 96 mph. His two-seamer has similar velocity with more horizontal movement to the arm side as opposed to the glove side for the four-seamer.
To get more feel for the pitch, Lohman positions his index finger to throw a “spike” curve ball.
Thrown harder than his curve, his slider has more horizontal break.
His uses a “circle” grip for his change-up.
Born in Indianapolis on Christmas Day 1999, Carter is the oldest of Northwestern High School graduates Brian and Andrea Lohman’s four children.
Brian Lohman, a sales engineer, played baseball and football in high school and lettered as a defensive back at Purdue University (1992-95).
Andrea Lohman, an actuary, was a high school cheerleader.
Griffin Lohman, 21, is a right-handed pitcher at Purdue. Ava and Sydney have played volleyball at HSE.
The Lohman brothers were teammates briefly during Carter’s senior year of high school and with the Tropics of the 2021 College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
What was it like growing up with a ball-playing brother?
“The biggest thing was playing catch,” says Carter. “We eventually passed up our dad so we had no one else to throw with.”
Carter played recreation ball in Fishers until 8 then travel ball for the Fisher Cats, Indiana Bulls and Evoshield Canes (now Canes Midwest) at 16U and 17U.
He met Jared Poland around 10 while both were on the Bulls. Right-hander Poland went on to pitch at Indianapolis Cathedral High School and was selected in the sixth round of the 2022 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Miami Marlins.
“We definitely talk about (pitching),” says Lohman of some of his conversations with Poland.
Lohman played briefly with the Indiana Nitro in the summer of 2018 before joining other freshmen on the Louisville campus. He had a short stint in the Cape Cod Baseball League with the Orleans Firebirds in 2019 and was with the CSL’s Snapping Turtles in 2020.
In May, Lohman earned a degree in Exercise Science.
“I’ve always been interested in how the body moves,” says Lohman. “It can help me on the field.”
Away from baseball, the knowledge gives Lohman many options including athletic trainer, strength and conditioning coach and physical therapist.
But now it’s about competing on the pitcher’s mound.

Carter Lohman at the University of Louisville. (Bryan Green Photo)
Brothers Carter and Griffin Lohman with Tropics of 2021 College Summer League at Grand Park.
Carter Lohman signs pro baseball contract. (Los Angeles Dodgers Photo)

Left-hander Knust enjoys late-inning relief role

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

When it comes down to crunch time, that’s when Gavin Knust wants the baseball.
The left-handed pitcher likes to be called on in the latter innings to get out of a jam or nail down a victory.
He’s done it for the past two seasons at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany.
“I enjoy being the guy the team relies on,” says Knust, 20. “I want to help the team in any way possible to win a ball game.”
In 2022, he made 22 relief appearances (16 of them scoreless) and went 4-0 with two saves, a 3.60 earned run average, 35 strikeouts and nine walks in 30 innings.
The Grenadiers finished the season 40-15 overall and 20-4 in the River States Conference. The campaign ended in the NAIA Opening Round.
As a true freshman in 2021, Knust came out of the bullpen 20 times and went 2-0 with a 3.50 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 12 walks in 36 innings.
IUS (50-16, 26-1) earned its first trip to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, in 2021 and Knust appeared in three of four games.
Knust was 18 and pitching on one of college baseball’s biggest stages. And this after missing his senior season at Forest Park Junior/Senior High School in Ferdinand, Ind., because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 6 1/3 innings in Idaho, he yielded four hits and two runs while striking out nine and walking two.
Older guys like Daunte DeCello, Hunter Kloke, Marco Romero, Derek Wagner (a Tri-West Hendricks High School alum) and Clay Woeste (Lawrenceburg) pushed Knust to be his best.
“They were huge role models,” says Knust. “They took me under their wing and took care of me.”
All the while, the Grenadiers fed off the words of head coach Ben Reel.
“Coach Reel is a huge believer in ‘control the controllables’ — that’s all you can worry about. He tells us to play ‘our’ baseball. Don’t try to be anybody else.”
After a 5-10 start, that 2021 team went into the postseason at 40-13.
“We were the hottest team in the nation,” says Knust. “That’s all baseball is about — riding the hot streak.”
Brandon Mattingly was the pitching coach at IU Southeast in 2022.
“He’s a big believer in the mental aspect of baseball and breathing correctly,” says Knust of Mattingly. “He want you doing the same thing every pitch. Baseball is a game of repetition.
“It’s a game where you don’t want to make it more complicated that it really is.”
As a bullpen arm throwing between three-quarter and over-the-top, Knust relies mostly on a four-seam fastball, two-seamer and curveball. His four-seamer got up to 88 mph in the spring.
“(The two-seamer) runs away from the barrel,” says Knust. “The curveball is more like a slurve.”
After spending the summer of 2021 with the Ohio Valley League’s Madisonville (Ky.) Miners, Knust is now relieving for the 2022 Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Battle Jacks.
Through games of July 20, the southpaw had made 15 appearances (10 scoreless) and was 2-1 with a 2.60 ERA, 15 strikeouts and eight walks in 17 1/3 innings.
“It’s more about hitting my pitches, working on my spots and just becoming a better pitcher this summer,” says Knust of his in-game goals.
Caleb Lang, an assistant at Concordia University Nebraska is Battle Creek’s manager. IU Southeast faced Concordia in Lewiston in 2021.
Away from the diamond, there is also bonding and fun on a BC squad made up largely of NAIA players — including Concordia’s Joey Grabanski and Jacob Lycan and Indiana University-Kokomo’s Patrick Mills — with a few D-1’s sprinkled in.
“We’re almost getting to the point where we’re a big family now,” says Knust.
A few times, host families have allowed some of the Battle Jacks to use their boat to chill on the lake followed by cornhole and a cookout at their house.
Knust was born in Jasper, Ind., and grew up in nearby Saint Anthony.
He played T-ball at Pine Ridge Elementary in Birdseye. His only summer of travel ball came during high school with the Louisville-based Ironmen Prime.
At Forest Park, Knust played football for head coach Ross Fuhs and baseball for Jarred Howard.
“(Fuhs) was more of an understanding coach,” says Knust. “You could talk to him about anything in life. He’d always be there for you.
“(Howard) got the most out of every player and he tried to make you a better person.”
Knust, who has two years of playing eligibility left, is a Marketing major with a Professional Sales minor.
“An IU degree in marketing is one of the best you can get,” says Knust. “I enjoy talking and getting to know people.”
Gavin is the youngest of Steve and Melissa Knust’s three sons.
Ethan Knust (27) works for a concrete company. Eli Knust (25), who played baseball at Huntington (Ind.) University and against Gavin in 2021, works at Memorial Hospital in Jasper and assists Ethan with a concrete side business.
Steve Knust is a plumber. Melissa Knust is an oncology nurse at Memorial Hospital.

Gavin Knust (Indiana University Southeast Photo)

Gavin Knust (Indiana University Southeast Photo)

Gavin Knust (Indiana University Southeast Photo)

Gavin Knust (Indiana University Southeast Photo)

Rutgers-bound Besser keeps on buzzing the ball past batters

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

Grant Besser’s habit of dodging bats with his pitches got him noticed during his prep days and it continues at the collegiate level.
At South Adams High School in Berne, Ind., the left-hander and four-time first-team all-Allen County Athletic Conference selection whiffed 451 in 241 innings with a 1.27 earned run average. He also hit .397 with eight home runs and 58 runs batted in.
As a senior, Besser fanned 130 in 54 frame and posted a 0.77 ERA and hit .426 with two homers and 17 RBIs for the Brad Buckingham-coached Starfires. He began working out that winter in Fort Wayne with Pittsburgh Pirates strength trainer Dru Scott.
When not pitching, lefty Besser was the unorthodox choice for South Adams at shortstop his last three seasons.
“I knew it looked silly, but I had been playing shortstop all my life,” says Besser. “I can throw from any arm angle. I had a great time doing it.
“Besides I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do it for long. I knew pitching is what I wanted to do.”
Besser played in the 2019 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in Madison. He was honored as the 2019 Northeast Indiana Baseball Association/Dick Crumback Player of the Year.
The 2021 recipient of the award — Carter Mathison (Homestead/Indiana University) is Besser’s teammate this summer with New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats. Mathison was also the 2021 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Player of the Year.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Besser shined on the mound at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers.
In 36 appearances (10 starts), he went 6-4 with eight saves and a 2.66 earned run average as the National Junior College Athletic Association Division I Buccaneers posted marks of 16-11 in 2020 (COVID-19 shortened), 44-16 in 2021 and 42-15 in 2022. He amassed 125 strikeouts and 42 walks in 94 2/3 innings.
Besser played no summer ball in 2020 and dealt with an injury at the beginning of the 2021. He came back and hurled five innings in the state tournament and did not allow a baserunner.
“I really saw a spike in all of my numbers for the good (in 2022),” says Besser. “I blew every category away from the previous years.”
He was in 20 games in 2022 and went 3-2 with six saves, a 1.28 ERA, 61 K’s and 16 walks in 42 1/3 innings.
Ben Bizier is head coach at Florida SouthWestern State. Derrick Conatser is Bucs pitching coach.
“I like that toughness to he brings to the table,” says Besser of Bizier.
In his exit interview with Bizier Besser was told that 18 Major League Baseball organizations have been following him as they prepare for the 2022 First-Year Player Draft (July 17-19 in Los Angeles).
“He said there’s a really good chance it happens this year,” says Besser, who turns 22 in September. “Out of high school I had zero (college) offers. Coach Buckingham offered me to Florida JUCO’s. I earned a scholarship at FSW in the spring.
“Money has never been the big thing for me. It’s opportunity and getting my foot in the door.”
This is Besser’s second straight summer at Keene and he has had several meaningful chats with Swamp Bats president and general manager Kevin Watterson.
So far, Besser has made four appearances (one start) and is 1-0 with an 0.87 ERA. In 10 1/3 innings, the southpaw has 10 strikeouts and one walk. The NECBL regular season ends July 30.
Throughout his college experience, Besser has been used in multiple pitching roles, including starter, long reliever and a closer.
“It doesn’t matter to me as long as we get a win,” says Besser. “I’m very versatile.”
Besser has excelled with an ability to keep his head when things get tense.
“It’s mental toughness. I preach it,” says Besser. “I can spot when somebody doesn’t have that mental toughness.
“I’m ready for the situation. I’m consistent with all that I do. I work quick and throw strikes. Preparation and a steady mindset is key.”
Throwing from a three-quarter arm slot, Besser uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up and curveball.
“My four-seamer has natural run and a high spin rate,” says Besser. “Up in the zone is where I get the most out of it.
“This summer it’s been sitting 89 to 91 mph (it hit 92 at Florida SouthWestern State).”
Besser’s two-seamer moves in to left-handed hitters and away from righties.
His “circle” change-up break to his arm side and is usually clocked around 83 mph.
“My curveball is more of a slurve,” says Besser of the pitch that’s often delivered at around 78 mph. “I mix and match. Sometimes it’s 12-to-6 and sometimes I sweep it. It depends on the situation.”
Grant is the oldest of Mike and Katina Besser’s two sons. Adam Besser, a right-handed pitcher for Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne, turns 20 in August.
Mike Besser is a salesman for Moser Motor Sales. Katina Besser is chief financial officer at Swiss Village Retirement Community.
The family moved from Geneva and Berne when Grant was in the fifth grade. Beginning at 9U, he played travel ball for the Muncie Longhorns and Indiana Bandits and then Summit City Sluggers founder Mark DeLaGarza reached out to him and he spent two summers with the 17U Sluggers, playing for head coaches Todd Armstrong and Brent Alwine.
“My parents’ sacrifices let me do that,” says Grant. “The Sluggers gave me a lot of knowledge on baseball.”

With two years of eligibility remaining, has committed to NCAA Division I Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. He signed with the Scarlet Knights over the winter.
Why Rutgers?
“What really attracting me was coming home to the Big Ten,” says Besser, who was born in Fort Wayne and grew up in Geneva and Berne. “It’s up-and-coming program and pretty hard-nosed.”
With Steve Owens as head coach and Brendan Monaghan guiding pitchers, the Scarlet Knights posted an overall mark of 44-17 and Big Ten record of 17-7 in 2022. Rutgers played Michigan in the conference tournament championship game.
After earning an Associate of Arts degree in Business Management at Florida SouthWestern State, Besser is considering a Labor and Relations major at Rutgers.

Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)

Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)
Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)
Head coach Ben Bizier (left) and Grant Besser (Florida SouthWestern State College Photo)

City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla.
City of Palms Park in Fort Myers, Fla.
Grant Besser (Keene Swamp Bats Photo)

Schofield embraces toughness on his baseball journey

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

Tenacity has taken Peyton Schofield to where he’s gotten on the diamond and it will continue to be with him as he works toward where he wants to go.
A 6-foot-3, 190-pound left-handed pitcher, Schofield is a 2019 graduate of Indianapolis Cathedral High School who has made two collegiate baseball stops — NCAA Division I Charleston (S.C.) Southern University and National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association Division II Southeastern Community College (Whiteville, N.C.) — and is committed to join NCAA D-I Western Carolina University (Cullowhee, N.C.) in the fall. The Catamounts have a new head coach — Alan Beck.
Schofield credits two Cathedral head coaches — Rich Andriole (who was Irish head coach when was a freshman dressing on varsity) and Ed Freje (who was his head coach for three years) — for helping to develop his fortitude.
“You won’t survive if you’re not the toughest guy out there,” says Schofield of the lessons taught by Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Andriole (who died in 2020) and his former assistant Freje. “They taught us how to win and do it humbly.
“You expect to win but you also have to do all the right things
best team in the world or the worst team in the world, you approach it the same,” says Schofield.
It’s the idea of respecting all opponents but fearing none.
He also counts former Charleston Southern coach George Schaefer as a mentor. Even though he is now a scout, Schaefer and Schofield still have phone conversations.
This summer, Schofield is with the Coastal Plain League’s High Point-Thomasville (N.C.) Hi-Toms. In his first six mound appearances (two starts) covering 16 2/3 innings, he is 0-1 with 18 strikeouts, 15 walks and a 4.86 earned run average.
With an arm angle that comes over the top, Schofield throws six different pitches — four-seam fastball (which has vertical ride and has been up to 91 mph), two-seam fastball (which sinks and moves away from a right-handed hitter and into a lefty), change-up (which drops and fades to the arm side), curveball (with 12-to-6 action), slider (with horizontal movement) and a seldom-used cutter (which gets swings and misses).
“Throwing over the top gets the vertical ride on four seams and more horizontal movement to the arm on two seams,” says Schofield. “The guys that throw three quarters get more sink.”
Schofield, 21, was born in Indianapolis and grew up in Noblesville, Ind. He played Noblesville Youth Baseball then was in travel ball with the Noblesville Heat, Indiana Prospects, Baseball Academics Midwest (BAM) and Indiana Mustangs.
Peyton’s father still lives in Noblesville. Father Mark owns a contracting service. Mother Nicole works as an AT&T account manager. Younger sister Laney (20) is a student at the University of Alabama.
An Economics major, Schofield still has two years to go for his full degree.

Peyton Schofield (Southeastern Community College Photo)
Peyton Schofield (Southeastern Community College Photo)
Peyton Schofield (Southeastern Community College Photo)
Peyton Schofield (Charleston Southern University Photo)

Chicago-born lefty Djuraskovic takes circuitous baseball route

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

Cal Djuraskovic has had short daily commutes.
And one very long one.
Born in Chicago and raised on the city’s southeast side, Cal attended nearby Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond, Ind. — the alma mater of his mother.
Before he could drive, Cal got to school by boarding the South Shore Line at the Hegewisch station. The train trip took a little over 30 minutes each way.
A few years later, Djuraskovic (pronounced Jur-Oss-Coe-Vich) found himself studying and playing baseball at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Not wishing to sign a long-term lease during the uncertainty of COVID-19 pandemic, Cal drove back and forth to school everyday. That’s a roundtrip of about 330 miles or five hours of windshield time.
“I did not want to get stuck,” says Djuraskovic. “I gave pitching lessons after practice to make up the money for gas.”
And that’s when gas could be had for about $2 a gallon.
A left-handed pitcher, Djuraskovic took a circuitous route to Davenport and wound up close to home as a professional ballplayer.
After a stint with the independent American Association’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats, he finished the 2021 season with the Windy City ThunderBolts and is back with that indy Frontier League club in the Chicago suburb of Crestwood, Ill., in 2022.
“My whole life I wanted to be a pro ball player,” says Djuraskovic, 26. “By college I knew I can make it happen.”
Cal played outfield and had a little mound time at Bishop Noll before to his senior season, but it was that spring of 2014 that he blossomed as a pitcher. He threw a perfect game, a no-hitter and was named first-team all-Greater South Shore Conference.
His head coach for his first three seasons with the BNI Warriors was Paul Wirtz.
“He didn’t mess around,” says Djuraskovic of Wirtz. “It was a good thing. If you want to get better you have to take this game seriously.
“If you want to be a Warrior, you’ve got to act like one.”
He played travel ball with the Michigan Jets and competed against teams like Michigan Jets like the Indiana Bulls and Top Tier.
The southpaw of Serbian descent’s first college experience was at NCAA Division II Tiffin (Ohio) University. Deciding that wasn’t the right fit for him, he transferred to D-I Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Going from the D-II to a D-I, he was required to sit out a season as a “grayshirt” for 2016 and retained all his eligibility.
It was at CMU while building strength in the weight room that he broke knee cartilage that led to micro-fracture surgery. Then his scholarship was cut.
Cal landed on his feet with the D-II DU Panthers.
“By the grace of God I had Davenport,” says Djuraskovic, who played four years for head coach Kevin Tidey (Eric Lawrence was the pitching coach at the end of his DU days) and earned his degree in Sport Management with a minor in Business.
Used primarily out of the bullpen, Cal went 6-4 with a 4.04 earned run average at Davenport. It was in 2021 that he enjoyed his best season. He made 25 mound appearances and produced a 2.62 ERA with eight saves. In 44 2/3 innings, he struck out 61 and walked 16 and was named first-team all-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
He spent three summers in the Northwoods League — two stints in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., and one in Traverse City, Mich.
Along the way, Cal picked up a pitching mentor. It was during his time in the National Team Identification Series at USA Baseball headquarters in Cary, N.C., that he met Jim Hall.
Djuraskovic later went to his Hall’s house in Lockport, Ill., and he still occasionally gets pointers from him. Hall stays in-touch with Cal’s family.
“This man has definitely changed my life for the better,” says Djuraskovic of Hall, who is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association and Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association halls of fame.
Cal’s mother is Allison Saberniak. Her father is Albert Saberniak, who turned Cal into a South Side baseball rooter.
“I’m a diehard White Sox fan,” says Djuraskovic. “I get that from my grandfather. We went to a couple of playoff games in ’05 (the year the White Sox won the World Series). We watch Cubs games to see them lose.
“But don’t get me wrong. If the Cubs gave me a contract I’d sign it in a heartbeat.”
Cal pitched in three games with Gary (one as a starter) and five with Windy City (all in relief) in 2021, going a combined 0-2 with two saves, a 1.59 ERA, 11 strikeouts and eight walks in 11 1/3 innings.
As a middle to late reliever for the ’22 ThunderBolts, Djuraskovic has no decisions and a 1.80 ERA in five games. He has eight strikeouts and three walks in five innings.
At 6-foot-4 and 217 pounds — he has trimmed down from 240 — Djuraskovic uses a three-quarter arm slot to deliver a four-seam fastball, slider, splitter and two-seam fastball.
His four-seamer has been clocked at 97 mph and sits at 92 to 94 mph.
Cal’s slider breaks “a little late and sharp.”
In his second full season of throwing it consistently, Djuraskovic learned his splitter from teammates and began doing as former splitter-throwing White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras by using a softball to stretch out the distance between his index and middle fingers.
“It has a mind of its own,” says Djuraskovic of the pitch that serves as a change-up. “Sometimes it gets a little knuckeballish. Sometimes it dives. The best I can do is try to spot it up.”
Lefty Cal’s two-seamer runs in on left-handed hitters.
Windy City, which is managed by Brian Smith, plays at Ozinga Field.
Djuraskovic has also enjoyed some Frontier League trips. He especially liked visits to the Florence (Ky.) Y’alls and Evansville (Ind.) Otters.
“I like the (Florence) area and they have a really nice ballpark,” says Djuraskovic. (Evansville’s Bosse Field) is so historic. You can feel the presence of greatness.”

Cal Djuraskovic (Windy City ThunderBolts Photo)
Cal Djuraskovic (Davenport University Photo)
Cal Djuraskovic (Windy City ThunderBolts Photo)

Cal Djuraskovic (left) embraces with catcher Manny Garcia after Djuraskovic “shut the door” June 15 to close out the game for the victorious Windy City ThunderBolts. (Windy City ThunderBolts Photo)

Southpaw Schweitzer gains strength, confidence with Ball State Cardinals

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

When Tyler Schweitzer stepped onto the Ball State University campus in Muncie, Ind., in the fall of 2019, he joined the baseball team at about 6-foot and 155 pounds.
Flash forward to the spring of 2022 and 21-year-old Schweitzer is 6-1 and 185 and at the front of the Cardinals’ starting rotation. He was to get the ball today (Thursday, May 19) at Miami (Ohio) to begin a four-game series to end the regular season.
Ball State (34-17, 28-7) trails Central Michigan (36-15, 28-6) for first place in the Mid-American Conference. Starting Friday, CMU plays three against visiting Toledo. The top four finishers in the MAC race make the conference tournament with the regular-season champion as host.
Schweitzer, a left-handed pitcher, dedicated himself to strength training.
“Most of it was from the weight room and eating a lot,” says Schweitzer, who credits Ball State baseball strength and conditioning coach Bill Zenisek for helping him with squats, lunges and dead lifts for his legs and rows and dumb bell presses for his upper body. “I’ve felt healthier in this weight range. I feel stronger. It makes me more confident in myself. I’ve gained a lot of the velo.”
Throwing from a three-quarter arm angle, Schweitzer delivers his four-seam fastball at 90 to 93 mph, topping out at 94.
“I try to throw it straight but it usually tails and sometimes it might cut,” says Schweitzer of the four-seamer. “My curve is 11-to-5. I throw a sweeping slider (with more vertical drop than horizontal movement). I have a circle change-up (that sinks).
“I’ve been messing with grips for a couple years now. I’ve found one that I’m comfortable with.”
Schweitzer, who is 9-2 in 13 mound appearances (all starts) with a 2.48 earned run average, 94 strikeouts and 26 walks in 76 1/3 innings, has become comfortable as the No. 1 weekend starter after being used in relief his first two seasons at Ball State.
“The relief role I liked a lot,” says Schweitzer. “Coach (Rich Maloney) would put me in stressful situations. I would have to calm the fire.
“Being a starter, I have a longer leash. I’m capable of getting in a rhythm and doing my thing.”
At the beginning of the season, a pitch count maximum of 70 to 90 was observed. Now it’s about what’s happing in the game.
“You’re on your own until Coach comes out there and takes you out,” says Schweitzer, who has two complete games. “It might be crunch time and the closer can come in and give us the win.
“It becomes very situational at the end.”
Schweitzer is OK turning the ball over to closer Sam Klein.
“When I know he’s coming in, the door is shut for the other team,” says Schweitzer of Klein. “For him to come into the game, I know we’re in a good spot.
Sophomore right-hander Klein (Bloomington North Class of 2020) is 3-2 with nine saves and a 3.51 ERA.
Schweitzer, who has been the MAC Pitcher of the Week three times, enjoys playing for head coach Maloney and pitching coach Larry Scully.
“(Maloney) is a successful coach and winning is fun,” says Schweitzer, who has helped Ball State post win streaks of 10 and 11 this spring. “When we lose we all take it very seriously and try not to do it again.
“(Scully) keeps it very light with all the pitchers. He brings a change of pace when needed.”
Schweitzer is a 2019 graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind. He helped the Royals win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship as a senior. His head coach for the first three years was Scott Henson with Jeremy Sassanella leading HSE in Schweitzer’s final prep season.
“He was the one who got my work ethic the way it is today,” says Schweitzer of Henson. “Coach Sassanella gave me a lot of confidence in my abilities.”
Schweitzer credits Sassanella for building a brotherhood culture that led to the 2019 state crown. The lefty pitcher three key relief innings during that 3-2 win against Columbus East.
Born in Indianapolis, Schweitzer grew up in Fishers.
He played travel for the Indiana Prospects, an unaffiliated team, The Cats (a merger of HSE and Fishers players), USAthletic and then back to the Indiana Prospects leading into his senior high school season.
At the request of then-Ball State pitching coach Dustin Glant (now at Indiana University), Schweitzer took off the summer of 2019 to rest his arm.
The southpaw played for the Matt Kennedy-coached Snapping Turtles of the College Summer League at Grand Park in 2020 and the Northwoods League’s Lakeshore Chinooks (Mequon, Wis.) in 2021. What he does this summer will depend on how many innings he gets with Ball State.
Schweitzer, who is pursuing a double major in Accounting and Economics, is a junior academically and has two years of eligibility remaining because of the COVID-19 pandemic-shortened season of 2020.
Joe Schweitzer, Tyler’s father, is an independent contractor who instills signs. His mother, Susan Binford, owns a furniture company that sells to schools and colleges. Stepmother Lisa Schweitzer is a sale representative for a graphics company. Tyler’s sister Lindsey Schweitzer (22) studies Chemistry at Purdue University.

Tyler Schweitzer (Ball State University Photo)

Tyler Schweitzer (Ball State University Photo)

Tyler Schweitzer (Ball State University Photo)

After overcoming so much, Smeltz continues to shine on mound for Purdue

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

Jackson Smeltz has been through plenty of physical adversity in his athletic career.
The Purdue University left-handed pitcher earned the Brady Comeback Scholarship Award from Methodist Sports Medicine in 2021, recognizing his return from hip surgery in 2020 and Tommy John elbow surgery while at McCutcheon High School (Class of 2018). He was redshirted for the 2019 season.
Also while in high school, Smeltz had a noncancerous tumor removed from his brain. While in junior high, he suffered a severe groin injury.
On Saturday, April 9 at Alexander Field, redshirt junior Smeltz pitched eight one-hit innings and struck out a collegiate career-best 13 batters and walked three over 121 pitches as the Boilermakers topped arch rival Indiana 17-0. It was his eighth start of the season.
“First and foremost I just want to thank God for the opportunity to go out there and pitch still,” said Smeltz after the contest that pushed his 2022 record to 5-0 with a 2.66 earned run average, 64 strikeouts and 20 walks in 44 innings for a 20-6 Purdue team. “All the glory to God.
“He’s put me through a lot, but I can’t thank God enough.”
A four-year letterwinner at McCutcheon, Smeltz played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton as well as Brian Eaton and Purdue alumnus Doug Schreiber with the Mavericks.
After going 3-1 with a 3.26 ERA in 13 appearances (11 in relief) for Purdue in 2021, he played for the College Summer League at Grand Park’s Bomb Squad and was one of eight Boilers named to the CSL All-Star Game.
Smeltz — the No. 1 starter in the Boilers weekend rotation who now has a 9-1 career mound mark with a 3.34 ERA and 95 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings — got into a groove early against Hoosier hitters.
“I was staying aggressive in a quick tempo,” said Smeltz, a 6-foot-3, 210-pounder and agribusiness major. “They were getting a little frustrated with it. That kind of fuels me. That gives me some extra motivation.
“I was able to get ahead (in ball-strike counts) and stay ahead.”
After Smeltz went to the dugout after eight frames, Purdue hitters came out and put up 10 runs.
“Our team is just resilient,” said Smeltz. “We’ve got the hardest workers in the country.
“They just don’t let up. I can’t say enough about those guys.”
Purdue head coach Greg Goff had a similar sentiment on Smeltz’s big day.
“You can’t say enough about Jackson Smeltz. He comes from a great family,” said Goff of the son of Robert and Shannon Smeltz and brother of siblings Zach, Darbie and Jed. “The things he’s had to overcome it makes it that much more special. He went out there and competed against a really good offensive team that hits the ball out of the park a lot.
“He located his fastball on both sides of the plate and was just in total control.”
Goff said Boiler hitters fed off Smeltz.
“Anytime you send a guy out there and he puts up zeroes like he did early that allows the offense to relax a little bit,” said Goff. “Our guys did a great job with that.”
Purdue is now 8-2 on its home diamond in 2022.
The rivalry series was to continue with a 1 p.m. doubleheader on Sunday, April 10.

Jackson Smeltz pitches for Purdue University against arch rival Indiana University. (Purdue University Photo)

Learnard’s transition from player to coach brings him back to Purdue

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

Purdue University’s special 2018 baseball season was heading toward a conclusion when senior closer Ross Learnard began thinking about his future.
The Boilermakers were on their way to a 38-21 record that included 17-6 mark in the Big Ten Conference — second to Minnesota — and an NCAA Regional berth.
Learnard was finishing up his Agricultural Economics degree.
“After each game late down the stretch I’d be in the shower and thinking my last out is going to come here soon,” says Learnard, a 6-foot-2 left-hander went 2-2 with 15 saves, a 3.37 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and eight walks in 34 2/3 innings in 2018. “I just can’t see myself getting a 9-to-5 inside job.
“I decided at that point that I wanted to coach and began to pursue my options.”
Purdue pitching coach Steve Holm went to Illinois State University to become head coach and brought Learnard on as a graduate assistant (he earned a Master of Business Administration degree at ISU) and director of operations in the fall of 2018.
From there Learnard went to Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., where he had pitched in 2015 and 2016, and served as a recruiting coordinator and taught many parts of the game in helping Cobras head coach Jon Goebel.
Greg Goff, who was a Purdue volunteer assistant in 2018 and has been head coach since Mark Wasikowski left for the University of Oregon after the 2019 campaign, recently hired Learnard to handle Pitching Analytics & Team Operations.
High on Learnard’s list of duties is collaborating and communicating with pitching coach Chris Marx as it relates to player development.
“He sets the expectation and culture with the pitching staff and its my job to supplement that and to make it better.”
To do that means making sense of available numbers.
“The game is going towards being data-driven, especially with this generation we’re coaching now,” says Learnard. “(Players are) always on their phones.
“This era of baseball and player that we have is the most read up on the scientific aspect of how you pitcher, where it be biomechanics or ball-flight metrics (like horizontal and vertical break and Revolutions Per Minute aka RPMs).
“It’s insane what analytics can really tell you. ERA, hits allowed and WHIP (walks and hit per innings pitched) can only give you a small portion of the context. You have to pull back the layers and see where you’re getting your swings and misses, where you’re getting your weak contact,
“It’s just untapped potential.”
There are also students on campus who understand data analysis that give feedback to the baseball program.
Just three years removed from being a player, Learnard sees a difference.
“At least in my circle, it was not as data-driven,” says Learnard. “I try to be a lifelong learner as a coach. You can never be satisfied. It’s adapt or die.
I’m trying to read as much as I can about the new-school metrics, analytics and data.
“It’s very important to be well-versed in all things numbers and all the different modalities to train pitchers.”
Purdue uses a Rapsodo machine to read ball-flight metrics and determine things like spin axis, spin direction and spin efficiency.
“You can see the way the ball is moving in space,” says Learnard. “We also use a high-speed camera to see how guys are releasing the ball.
“We can give them mental cues to shape the pitch that we’re going for.”
Learnard, who turns 26 on Oct. 5, went to Catlin (Ill.) High School near Danville and graduated in 2014. A co-op with Jamaica High School (Sidell, Ill.) was called Salt Fork for sports.
The lefty made 21 mound appearances (12 in relief) and went 10-3 with 2.72 ERA, 105 strikeouts and 25 walks in 76 1/3 innings for Parkland in 2015 and 2016.
At Purdue in 2017 and 2018, Learnard got into 56 games (all in relief) and was 8-2 with 19 saves, a 1.78 ERA, 70 stakeouts and 18 walks in 81 innings.
As a senior, he was named a Collegiate Baseball Third Team All-American, Third Team all-Big Ten and was on the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Watch List. He was Big Ten Pitcher of the Week in April and Perfect Game National Pitcher of the Week in May. He was also Academic all-Big Ten.
Purdue’s 45-day window for 2021 fall workouts began Sept. 9 and plans call for it to wrap Oct. 23. Fall ball scrimmages are open to the public Sept. 29, Oct. 1, Oct. 3, Oct. 5, Oct. 8, Oct. 15 and Oct. 28. The Boilers host two 1 p.m. exhibition games with junior colleges — Oct. 9 against Wabash Valley College (Mount Carmel, Ill.) and Oct. 16 against John A. Logan College (Carterville, Ill.). The Black and Gold World Series is slated for Oct. 21-23.
“Right now we’re in full team mode,” says Learnard. “We’re setting the expectations of what we want in the spring. We’re helping these (newcomers) perform at a high level and bring them up to the returner speed.
“We’re always trying to individualize (development). It’s not cookie cutter.”

Ross Learnard (Purdue University Photo)