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Cubs minor leaguer Jordan breaks down principles of infield play

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Levi Jordan, an infielder in the Chicago Cubs organization, holds an economics degree from the University of Washington.

To study economics is to look at efficiency, trends and systems. Jordan sees that transferring to sports and, specifically, baseball.

“There are more efficient ways to play the game,” says Jordan, who played 66 games for the Midwest League champion South Bend Cubs in 2019 and shared aspects of infield play at the monthly South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club session Monday, Dec. 16 at Four Winds Field. “You can master your foot work or perfect mechanics. There are just little things that you can add on to your game that makes you a more efficient player.”

Jordan covered areas such as pre-pitch routine, science and technique, circle of focus, the difference in corner and middle infielders, where and how to practice, communication and infield positioning and shifts.

Pre-pitch routine can go by many names – prep step, set step, de-cleat/re-cleat.

“Essentially, the pre-pitch routine is a way to adapt rhythm and timing,” says Jordan. “We’re trying to optimize range for infielders. We’re trying to give our infielders the best possible chance to make not only the routine play, but expanding their routine play range.”

And it’s another way for players to be on their toes and locked in.

Jordan explained science and technique in four parts:

1. Eyes register an event, message is set to the occipital (visual) lobe in the brain.

2. Message travels from the occipital lobe to the frontal (decision) lobe.

3. Decision is made to take action.

4. Motor cortex sends control signals to the spinal cord and on to the relevant muscles.

“Between .2 and .3 seconds your brain can react to something,” says Jordan. “I’ve been told it’s not humanly possible to react to something visual in less than .2 seconds.”

With the de-cleat/re-cleat, the cleats are literally taken up out of the ground and back into the ground.

“The reason for that is so that .3 seconds of reaction can happen while you’re in the air,” says Jordan. “Many coaches have told me you want to be on the ground at contact. I argue with them all the time. If I’m on the ground at contact, the next thing I have to do is pick my foot up off the ground, which doesn’t make sense.

“If the reaction process happens in air, your decision to move right or left happens before your feet are on the ground. Your feet can move in a way to move in that direction by the time you’re on the way back to the ground.

“That perfect timing is what optimizes our infield range.”

For right-handed throwers, the right foot hovers above the ground, there is a false step and they move to make the play.

Jordan was first introduced to the circle of focus at Washington, where he started as a walk-on out of Puyallup and wound up on the all-Pac 12 team and played for the Huskies in the College World Series before being selected by the Cubs in 29th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The Huskies head coach was Lindsay Meggs, former head coach at Indiana State University.

Mental coaches in the Cubs system explain the focus principle to players.

“As a human being if you really intently focus on something, you can only do it for a certain amount of time,” says Jordan. “We don’t want to always be ready. I know that sounds different, especially for younger kids.

“If your brain focuses for shorter intervals of time, you want to relax your brain when you don’t need to be focused per se.’”

Jordan says the infielders step out of the circle of focus between pitches.

“It’s a time to anticipate the ball being hit to you,” says Jordan. “You’re going over in your head that if the ball is hit to me, I know what to do.”

It’s a time where infielders can communicate the number of outs and “flush” their previous at-bat and focus on the next defensive play.

In between pitches is also a time to present in the moment and be where your feet are, something that the late Dr. Ken Ravizza, one of Jordan’s favorite mental coaches, talked about.

“Once I step into the circle of focus, that’s when the pitcher is in his motion,” says Jordan. “You want to eliminate thoughts at this point. You’re going to have some kind of rhythm with your feet, getting in the ready position and beginning that beginning that process of de-cleating/re-cleating with a clear mind. You’re expecting the ball and ready to make the play.”

Jordan has a lower prep step and will wait until the ball is crossing the contact zone to come off the ground.

To illustrate the difference between corner and middle infielders, Jordan used Oakland Athletics third baseman Matt Chapman and Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies.

As a corner, Chapman has a lower head and eye level, a wide base, the glove is his shin or knee. It is the best position for him to move one or two steps left of right.

“At third base and first base, you have less time to react to the ball,” says Jordan. “You’re closer to the plate compared to a middle infielder. You don’t necessarily have time to get into a sprinting position. The majority of your plays are one, two, maybe three steps to your left or right.”

As a middle, Albies stands with a high, upright posture with his hands at his hips and a narrow base. This allows him to be quick to sprint and is the best position to cover more ground left, right, forward or back.

“We’re trying to cut out nonsense movements — things we don’t necessarily need to do – to be more efficient infielders,” says Jordan. “I don’t know that the timing is different between corner and middle infielders. Everybody should be in he air at contact.”

Jordan says players can get better at pre-step routine etc. during batting practice, drill time and speed/agility/weight room time.

“I can’t emphasize enough how important batting practice is for me to take those mental reps at third base, shortstop, second base,” says Jordan. “Being a utility player, it’s important for me to understand the angles and be comfortable in different positions seeing the ball off the bat.

“You can understand the type of pitch and what time does the bat come off the hitter’s shoulder for him to hit me the ball.”

Jordan notes that defensive shifting is growing in baseball cited a definition of a shift by David Waldstein in the New York Times: “It shows how a batter has the propensity to hit the ball to certain parts of the field. Teams will position their infielders accordingly.”

“I personally like it,” says Jordan. “It can really help your team win with team defense.

“It’s inefficient to put a defender where a batter’s never going to hit the ball, in my opinion.”

The pros of shifting including cutting down the size or something else.

“I see that all the time in Low-A ball,” says Jordan. “Some of my closest friends and teammates were left-handed batters who pulled a lot of ground balls.

“They would step up to the plate and see this giant, gaping hole at third base and try to put or lay a ball down the line for a double. All of a sudden, they are down 0-2 (in the count) because they are doing something they don’t normally do as hitters. That’s an advantage of the shift.”

On the negative side, it can put young infielders in uncomfortable positions. They are at places they don’t take practice reps.

“If not practiced enough, (shifting) can work in a negative way,” says Jordan.

There’s also the idea that many younger batters will mis-hit the ball, making the direction of the batted ball very unpredictable.

“It’s probably not worth putting on a heavy shift unless you are in pro ball or late college ball because hitters don’t really know what they’re doing (at the younger ages) and have a decent amount of bat control,” says Jordan.

Shifting can be done with data or by reading tendencies.

Jordan also sees the importance in communication in the infield.

“I was taught at a young age, if you move and you’re vacating a spot, you need to move somebody with you,” says Jordan.

For example: The shortstop takes a few steps to his left and the third baseman moves accordingly. The shortstop lets the third baseman know he is moving toward the middle or wherever.

The first baseman might let the second baseman know he’s playing on the foul line, moving in for a bunt or might need more time to the get to the bag if he’s shifted to his right. Fielders are talking about coverage.

“Communication is key,” says Jordan. “The success of your team defense and lack of errors depends on how successful you are at communicating with your (teammates).

“You’ve got to be vocal on the infield in order to relay those messages.”

Jordan says the Chicago Cubs use a numbering system for infield positioning (0 for straight, 1 for 1 to 3 steps pull side, 2 for 3 to 5 steps pull side and 3 for heavy shift). These come out of the dugout.

Others might use hand signals. That’s what was done when Jordan was in college.

For the past several off-seasons, Jordan has worked with Billy Boyer (who is now infield and base running coordinator for the Minnesota Twins).

Boyer, who says “Defense is nothing but a glorified game of catch,” is what Jordan calls a true teacher of the game.

“There’s a difference between coaching baseball and teaching baseball,” says Jordan. “A lot of organizations these days are moving toward teaching because they’e seeing the results that it develops players a little better. “Players respond better to somebody teaching them something to do rather than the evaluation part of a coach. A coach will be intimidating to some players because they think they are evaluating.”

Jordan will conduct an infield camp for high school players from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20 at the 1st Source Bank Performance Center. For more information, call 574-404-3636.

LEVIJORDAN

Levi Jordan, who played in the infield for the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs in 2019, shared principles of infield play with the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Former Northview, Indiana State standout Shoemaker displays desire to win with St. Paul Saints

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brady Shoemaker has a competitive fire. The Brazil, Ind., resident wants to come out on top on the baseball diamond.

The 31-year-old is currently feeding those flames in his second season as a first baseman with the St. Paul (Minn.) Saints of the independent American Association.

After being released by the Chicago White Sox organization in 2016, Shoemaker signed with St. Paul in February 2017.

The right-handed stick finished second in the AA in slugging percentage (.603) and on-base percentage (.435), tied for second in extra-base hits (44), tied for third in home runs (21), tied for fifth in walks (55) and eighth in average (.318).

Shoemaker opted to re-sign with the Saints for 2018.

“To me, independent baseball is more about baseball,” says Shoemaker. “It’s not so much about getting guys ready for the game. They want to win in this league. (St. Paul manager) George (Tsamis) is big about putting nine guys not the field who want to win.

“In (affiliated) minor league baseball, you have prospects and guys have to play. It’s not like that here. You’ve got to show up everyday wanting to win. And if you’re not one of those guys, you find yourself sitting on the bench.”

Shoemaker graduated from Northview High School in Brazil in 2005, played two seasons at Olney (Ill.) Central College (2006 and 2007) and two at Indiana State University (2008 and 2009).

He smacked 23 home runs and had 80 in pro ball leading into 2018.

Not that he goes to the plate thinking about hitting the ball over the fence.

“I’ve never, ever went up there trying to hit a home run,” says Shoemaker. “I just try to stay inside the baseball and drive it. If you hit it hard somewhere, good things will happen.”

Shoemaker’s earliest baseball days came in Clay Youth League. From ages 12 to 14, he played for the Wabash Valley Titans travel team

“That’s where I really started to learn a lot about baseball,” says Shoemaker. “We played really good competition. That helped boost me going into high school.”

At Northview High, Gary Witham was his head coach. Witham went 581-274-1 at Brazil and then the consolidated Northview.

“Coach Witham did a lot with us in the off-season,” says Shoemaker. “He was good in organizing off-season practices. He put together a place where some us could go hit.”

After graduation, Shoemaker played two summers for Terre Haute American Legion Post 346 and longtime manager John Hayes.

In 2006, Post 346 was American Legion World Series runners-up. Future major league catcher Josh Phegley was also on that squad.

Dennis Conley was Shoemaker’s head coach at Olney Central, where the player was a two-time National Junior College Athletic Association All-American.

“He was tough on us and made us work hard,” says Shoemaker of Conley. “You learned a lot about the game of baseball if you just listened to him.

“He was very instrumental with helping me further my baseball career.”

What Shoemaker remembers most from his time at Indiana State was how head coach Lindsay Meggs and his staff helped him make the transition to big-time baseball and the brotherhood of the players.

“Going from junior college to Division I baseball is a jump,” says Shoemaker, who was used mostly as a left fielder with the Sycamores. “During my time at Indiana State, we had a really close group of guys. We wanted to win together as a team.”

Shoemaker selected in the 19th round of the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox.

He hit safely in the first 28 games of his pro career in 2009.

“I was a 19th-round guy and a senior sign,” says Shoemaker. “I’ve always had to prove myself and wanted to prove myself. So I wanted to get off to a good start.”

At Bristol, Shoemaker led the Appalachian League in doubles (21), on-base percentage (.426), extra-base hits (30) and ranked second in slugging percentage (.585), third in average (.351) and total bases (120) and fourth in home runs per at-bat with 1 out of every 22.78. He was chosen as a Postseason All-Star in the Appy League in 2009.

In 2010, he spent the entire season at Single-A Kannapolis.

Shoemaker was an MiLB.com Organizational All-Star in 2011 while finishing second in the South Atlantic League in average (.319) and fifth in on-base percentage (.399) and was promoted to High-A Winston-Salem in July.

In 2012, he went 2-for-4 in the Carolina League-Cailfornia League All-Star Game and was Carolina League Postseason All-Star and Orgainzational All-Star.

The right-handed thrower missed all of 2013 after surgery for a torn labrum in his right shoulder and biceps and was claimed by the Miami Marlins in the Rule 5 Draft in December

“It was more of over-usage tear,” says Shoemaker. “It wasn’t something that drastically happened.”

He spent the entire 2014 season with Double-A Jacksonville and was with Triple-A New Orleans all of 2015.

Shoemaker got into major league spring training games with the Marlins in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

After playing a combined 55 games at Double-A and Triple-A in 2016, the Marlins traded Shoemaker back to the White Sox July. He spent few games at Double-A Birmingham and was released by that organization in August 2016.

Some after that, his independent baseball experience began.

Supporting him along the way are the people at home in Clay County.

“I’m real close to my family,” says Brady, the son of Brian and Lorie Shoemaker, brother of Natalie (Shoemaker) Lizanich, husband to Chelsea Shoemaker and father to 9-month-old son Drew Shoemaker. “I always have been.

“My grandparents have been a big part of my baseball career.”

Ed Pearce, his grandfather on his mother’s side, passed away April 20 as Brady was getting ready for the season. Grandmother Janet Pearce survives.

Both grandparents on his father’s side — Don and Nina Shoemaker — are gone. Grandmother Nina did in 2014.

Saint Paul (5-1) opened the season at the Gary SouthShore RailCats. The Saints, which are in the AA’s North Division, are scheduled to come back to Gary July 20-22 and visit the Chicago Dogs in Rosemont, Ill., June 15-17 and Aug. 23-25.

BRADYSHOEMAKERSTPAUL

Brady Shoemaker, a 2005 Northview High School graduate who played at Olney Central College, Indiana State University and in the Chicago White Sox and Miami Marlins organizations, is in his second season with the independent St. Paul Saints in 2018. (Saint Paul Saints Photo)

 

Things continue to look up for Bayes, Austin Eagles

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Bayes played on the team that made the deepest postseason run in school history.

Less than a decade later, he found himself as the head baseball coach of the Austin High School Eagles.

With Jeff Barrett as head coach, Austin (located in southeastern Indiana) earned its second-ever sectional crown in Bayes’ sophomore year (2006).

In his senior season, Bayes was part of the 2008 Austin squad that went 30-3 and won the school’s lone IHSAA Class 2A regional title to date and made its first semistate appearance.

The Eagles’ two regular-season losses came against 4A schools (Floyd Central and Seymour). The run ended with a 9-6 loss in 10 innings against Elwood. Austin was down 6-1 in the seventh inning before forging a tie and forcing extra frames.

“A lot of good memories were made,” says Bayes. “I’m going to get together with that group of guys over the holidays to celebrate 10-year anniversary of that (2008) team.”

A left-handed pitcher, Bayes spent one season at NCAA Division I Indiana State University in Terre Haute before transferring to NCAA Division II Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky.

Austin is located 35 miles north of Louisville.

Lindsay Meggs was the head coach at ISU during Bayes’ stay while he played two seasons for Deron Spink and one for Matt Tyner at Bellarmine.

Meggs (who is now head coach at the University of Washington) helped Bayes see the game at an in-depth level. Bunt defenses and the way of holding runners was more advanced as was the sign systems.

That has come in handy at Austin.

“We like to challenge our guys to have that high baseball I.Q.,” says Bayes, who also picked up more strategy from Spink while also observing his leadership style. “(Spink) was hard-nosed. He recruited the right kind of guys that wanted to play hard for him and for one another.”

Bayes appreciated the intensity that Tyner (now head coach at Townson University) and pitching coach Brandon Tormoehlen (now head coach at alma mater Brownstown Central High School) brought to the Bellarmine Knights.

“They had a lot of fire and passion,” says Bayes of Tyner and Tormoehlen. “For me, I like that side of it.”

Besides those traits, Bayes learned about the use of scouting reports.

Bayes joined the Barrett-led Austin coaching staff in 2012-13 and spent two campaigns as an assistant.

“I was very fortunate to inherit the program,” says Bayes. “(Barrett) laid a very solid foundation for Austin baseball. I can’t say enough of what he did for Austin.”

Since 2002, the Eagles have produced four Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series players — Shawn Barrett (2002), Matt Bayes (2008), Hunter Spencer (2014) and Tanner Craig (2017). At least one Austin player has signed or committed to play college baseball since 2014, including Craig with the University of Evansville.

“That’s pretty good for a 2A school,” says Bayes. “If guys want to play in college we want to help them get there.”

Austin (current enrollment just under 400) is a member of the Mid-South Conference (along with Brownstown Central, Charlestown, Clarksville, Corydon Central, Eastern of Pekin, North Harrison, Salem, Scottsburg and Silver Creek).

Each of the 10 teams in the MSC play one another once with conference games on Mondays and Thursdays.

Bayes says there is a plan when plotting non-conference opponents.

“We’re lucky that our administration is very in-tune with what we want to do from a scheduling standpoint,” says Bayes. “We want to be a challenged, but we want to be competitive, too. We have to consider our pitching.”

The 2017 season marked the first with new IHSAA pitching rules (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“It definitely makes you develop a staff throughout the season,” says Bayes of the rule.

With postseason games coming so close together, Bayes says coaches must make some hard decisions when their pitchers get close to threshold.

On their way to a 2017 Austin Sectional title, right-hander Drew Buhr pitched an eight-inning perfect game in the Eagles’ tournament-opening 1-0 win against North Decatur. In so doing, he went over the 100-pitch mark and was not available the rest of the sectional.

Buhr (17 innings in 2017) is expected back for his junior season in 2018.

“We lost quite a bit from last year,” says Bayes, who had five or six seniors in the starting lineup much of the time last spring. “I like our group of guys this year. I’m confident they can have a good spring.”

Bayes is figuring out who will join him on the coaching staff. Last year was are in that Austin got to play a full junior varsity schedule.

The Eagles play on-campus on a field that includes a brick backstop with netting. A scoreboard was added a few years ago and the program has a indoor building with locker rooms, coach’s office and a concession stand. The efforts of the parents and booster club have made it possible.

“We’re pretty proud of our facility here,” says Bayes. “For a 2A school, we’re blessed with outstanding facilities.

“In our part of the state, a lot of schools have really started making an investment in their baseball facility. A lot of kids are interested in baseball.”

The baseball backers include Bayes’ family — father Gordon, mother Kathy and sister Mandy (who is married to Austin girls basketball coach Jared Petersen).

“My parents are huge supporters of me and Austin baseball,” says Bayes. “I have a vision of what I want to do and my dad makes it happen.”

Matt Bayes teaches computers to sixth, seventh and eighth graders and helps in the athletic department at Austin Junior High.

While not affiliated with the school, one of the feeder systems for Austin Eagles baseball is a program for kids in the junior high grades.

“It’s big for us to get kids playing and allowed us at the high school to see those kids,” says Bayes, who typically gets to help with development through kids camps in the summer and fall.

Junior high-aged players had been playing at Austin High School. Bayer said they may get to move to renovated city park in the spring.

Players are also involved in Scott County Little League or with various travel baseball organizations. There are more of those now than when Bayes was growing up.

He did play for the Hoosier South Eagles (based out of Seymour) and Tri-County Titans (based out of Henryville) before hooking on for two seasons each with the Indiana Bulls and USAthletic (both headquartered in the Indianapolis area) and then the Evansville Razorbacks.

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MATTBAYES

Matt Bayes is the head baseball coach at Austin High School. Bayes was a senior on the Eagles team that went 30-3 and played in the semistate in 2008.