Tag Archives: Mental Skills

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.

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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)

 

Hanover’s Bellak simplifies hitting approach

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hitting a round ball with a round bat squarely is not an easy thing to do well.

Grant Bellak, who enters his second season as head baseball coach at NCAA Division III Hanover (Ind.) College in 2019-20, has his Panthers (15-19 during the 2019 season) following a simplified offensive approach that he first began to develop as an assistant at D-III Franklin (Ind.) College.

In 2018, the Grizzlies were national leaders in batting average, OPS (on-base plus slugging), runs per game, home runs and walks.

Bellak presented “Simplifying the Approach for High Output Offenses” during an American Baseball Coaches Association Barnstormers Clinics stop Sept. 8 at Butler University in Indianapolis.

The full presentation can be ordered through the ABCA Barnstormers Clinics Video Library.

“The coaching community has been really, really good to me,” says Bellak, who gave shout-outs to Ryan Brownlee (ABCA Assistant Executive Director of Coaching Outreach and former Western Illinois University head coach), Bill Kurich (Webster University head coach), Adam Smith (Benedictine University head coach) and Lance Marshall (Franklin College head coach).

The Barnstormers appearance was Bellak’s first time as a presenter at an ABCA clinic.

“We look at the approach to hitting as all-encompassing,” says Bellak.

He quoted ABCA Hall of Famer Jerry Weinstein’s 2014 statement that a big league pitcher only hits what he defines as his spot 24 percent of the time.

“For us as hitters, we need to be prepared to hit a lot of ‘mistake’ pitches,” says Bellak. “That’s what you’re going to get.

“To be a high level offense, we need to simplify our approach. At the same time — as (hitting and mental skills guru) Steve Springer says — you won’t hit anything if you’re trying to hit everything.”

Bellak has developed four absolutes for his hitters.

“No. 1, you have to be the best athletic version of yourself,” says Bellak. “It can be two completely different things from our shortstop to our first baseman.

“Secondly, your front foot has to leave the ground at some point.”

Bellak can only think of a few big leaguers — Ian Kinsler and Albert Pujols are two examples — who have had a lot of success keeping their foot on the ground the entire time.

“We teach front foot down on-time,” says Bellak of his third absolute. “We want to work on sequencing from the back side of our body.”

No. 4 involves the player knowing their identity and how they fit into team goals. Hanover’s offensive team goal is an .840 OPS (ideally around .420 on-base average and .420 slugging percentage).

“Our lead-off hitter will try to get to that .840 in a significantly different way than our No. 4 hitter,” says Bellak. “By identifying what category you fit into, you will have a defined set of measurable goals to strive for.

“Being honest with yourself and your abilities will allow you to achieve your goals and help this offense win games.”

Bellak puts offensive players into four categories — Sparks, Hybrid, Hybrid-Plus and Power.

Sparks have a high on-base average, lower slugging percentage and a high number of stolen bases. They generally strike out only once per 15 at-bats and produce less than two home runs, six or more doubles and 10 to 15 stolen bases.

Hybrid players provide a high on-base average and good slugging percentage. They strike out once per 10 at-bats with two or more homers, eight or more doubles and less than six stolen bases.

Hybrid-Plus entails high marks in on-base and slugging averages and the ability to steal bases consistently with one strikeout per 10 at-bats with four or more homers, 12 or more doubles and eight or more stolen bases.

Power hitters are above average in on-base average and excellent in slugging. They will not steal bases often (four or less) and have one strikeout per eight at-bats with five or more homers, 12 or more doubles.

Bellak and his coaching staff are very careful with verbal cues.

“Kids today are very literal,” says Bellak. “You see it all the time. You say, ‘get your front foot down early.’ Then he sits and he can’t sequence properly.

For instance, Hanover coaches will never say “Use your hands” but instead say “Get Turned.”

Instead of “Go oppo,” it’s “Use the backside.”

It’s not “Let it get deep,” but “Use the fat part of the field.”

Rather than “Get on top,” they say “Release the barrel out front.”

Instead of “Use your hands,” it’s “Get turned.”

Following the advice of mental performance expert Brian Cain, words that end with “not” or “‘nt” are not to be used as cues because those negatives stick in the player’s brains.

“We try to change those to ‘you can,’ ‘you will’ vs. ‘won’t,’ ‘don’t,’ ‘can’t.’”

Bellak wants his hitters to “hunt” pitches (aggressive) rather than thinking in terms of a passive word like “wait.”

Hitters ask themselves questions like “Where have I had success?,” “Where do function best?” or “Where am I hitting the ball the hardest and why would I come away from that?”

As a visual tool, Bellak has his players place a large ball (around the size of a basketball) and put it over the plate where they feel they will be most-successful at the plate.

“It’s a pitch they are looking for and they can touch it, see it and feel it,” says Bellak. “We tell them during BP that they’re not going to let any pitches touch their glass ball.”

There is freedom to move the ball around to suit the hitters’ strengths. Power hitters typically want pitches that are “middle-in.”

“Expect them to take more pitches in BP because they’ll say, ‘Coach, that was a little bit off my glass ball,” says Bellak. “But, all of a sudden, they become more refined in their approach and we create height, depth and location.

“It really focuses their approach. It’s simple. It doesn’t take long to explain. You’re getting them free to what they want to do at the plate as hitters.

“With the influx of data, most hitters these days are pretty honest with themselves. I know which pitch I’m going to hammer.”

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Grant Bellak is the head baseball coach at Hanover (Ind.) College. (Hanover College Photo)

 

Gregor displaying baseball tools, helping others reach their goals

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Conrad Gregor does his best to use baseball’s five physical tools (speed, arm strength, fielding, hitting for average and hitting for power).

As a third baseman, first baseman and left fielder for the New Jersey Jackals of the independent Can-Am League, the lefty swinger has played in 72 games for the 2019 season (through Aug. 9) and is hitting .324 with nine home runs, 15 doubles, four triples, 49 runs batted in, 68 runs scored, 61 walks, 34 stolen bases and a .459 on-base percentage.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder has amassed 22 multi-hit games with four in a “friendly” against the Cuba National Team and four three-hit games.

Batting No. 3 for manager Brooks Carey, the graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School (2010) and Vanderbilt UniversityVanderbilt University (2016) went 0-of-3 then 1-for-1 with a double, three runs scored two walks and one stolen base Friday as New Jersey (40-32) beat Sussex County 4-0 and 10-1 at Yogi Berra Stadium in Little Falls, N.J., and moved within 5.5 games of the league-leading Miners.

Besides the tools, Gregor also sees the importance of using mental skills, work ethic, mindset, consistency and a desire for excellence.

“It’s what’s between your two ears,” says Gregor of mental skills. “As a pro, you play on a nightly basis. You have to survive the ups and downs of being a hitter in baseball.

“I have to get my body ready to play 140-plus games a year. You have to be a good teammate at all times — even when things aren’t going well for  you individually. Have a ‘team at-bat’ — no matter what that may be.”

Gregor, 27, grew up playing the Carmel Dads’ ClubCarmel Dads’ Club and for the Carmel Pups.

In middle school, he went with the Indiana Prospects. In high school, he joined the Midland Redskins and helped them to an American Amateur Baseball Congress Connie Mack World Series title in 2009. He played a couple of high school falls with the Kanas City Royals Scout Team.

Eric Lentz was Gregor’s head coach at Carmel High School. They have stayed in contact through the years.

“He’s got a great baseball mind,” says Gregor of Lentz. “I learned a lot from him. He’s about bringing it everyday, keeping the blinders on, doing the little things and playing team baseball to win games.”

“I’ve passed it on to the people I teach.”

During the baseball off-season, Gregor runs Anchor Down Sports Performance in downtown Carmel and many of his clients are junior high, high school and college ballplayers.

“I want to help people the best that I can,” says Gregor, who completed his finance and entrepreneurship degree during fall semesters after beginning his pro baseball career in 2013 and is certified in weightlifting and functional movement systems.

Anchor Down — a name that gives a nod to the Vanderbilt Commodores — has a presence on social media, including Facebook and YouTube.

Gregor was selected in the 40th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox, but opted to go to Vanderbilt. He played three seasons for the Commodores (2011-13), hitting .327 with nine homers, 45 doubles, 115 runs batted in, 117 runs scored, 33 stolen bases and a .444 on-base percentage over 186 games.

“It was a great honor to be able to play and learn from one the best-regarded baseball coaches in the sport,” says Gregor of head coach Tim Corbin, who led Vandy to the College World Series championship in 2019 and is to be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2020. “He provided me with a lot of useful lessons.

“He helped me become not only a great baseball player, but a great person.”

Picked in the fourth round of the 2013 draft by the Houston Astros, Gregor signed that June then had an unforgettable family moment in 2014 in Davenport, Iowa.

Conrad slugged his first Midwest League home run and his father — Marty — caught the ball. Marty and Megan Gregor had made their way out to a restaurant near right field and Marty was there to collect the souvenir.

Gregor was in the Astros system into 2017 then played 69 games with New Jersey before being picked up with the Boston Red Sox organization at the end of 2017. He played 12 games in he Red Sox chain along with five for the independent Atlantic League’s Lancaster (Pa.) Barnstormers and 98 with the Can-Am League’s Rockland (N.Y.) Boulders in 2018.

The Can-Am League all-star hopes to help New Jersey to a league title in 2019 (the regular season ends Sept. 2 and the playoffs conclude Sept. 15) then come back to Carmel to re-charge and then head out again.

Gregor is currently shopping around for a chance to play winter ball in Mexico, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic.

“I’m at the stage of my career where it’s ‘what have you done for me lately?’ It’s performance-based,” says Gregor. “I’m looking to continue playing.”

Always a righty thrower and lefty batter, Gregor sees advantages in swinging from that side of the plate.

“Being left-handed gives you a head start running to first base and you’re facing a lot of right-handed pitchers so the off-speed pitch is coming into your barrel.”

When teaching hitters, Gregor likes to point to the great left-handed swings — like the sweet one with the high finish used by Ken Griffey Jr. — and encourage his students to use what works best for them.

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Conrad Gregor, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Vanderbilt University, is playing professional baseball in 2019 with independent New Jersey Jackals. (New Jersey Jackals Photo)

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Conrad Gregor, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Vanderbilt University, is playing professional baseball in 2019 with independent New Jersey Jackals. Gregor has also played in the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox organizations and owns and operates Anchor Down Sports Performance in Carmel.  (New Jersey Jackals Photo)

Vogt, PRP Baseball helping players ‘bridge the gap’

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Greg Vogt is doing his best to “bridge the gap” between the player development and mental sides of baseball.

A former pitcher at Carmel (Ind.) High School (2008 graduate) and Anderson (Ind.) University (2012) who has coached at the high school and travel ball levels, Vogt started PRP Baseball in 2018.

The acronym stands for Passion Resilience Process. The mission is to provide “impactful training and mentoring through the process of success on and off the field.”

PRP (@PRPBaseball101 on Twitter and prpbaseball on Instagram) is based inside Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind.

PRP offers training year-round for weight training, throwing, hitting and mental game development for players of all ages. Vogt is also the Director of Player Development with the Indiana Nitro.

Vogt has helped major league pitcher Drew Storen with pitch design with video tools like Rapsodo as Storen worked in the off-season with long-time instructor Jay Lehr.

A camera was zoomed in on Storen’s hand for the purpose of viewing his release and how he creates spin on his pitches.

Minor league arms that train in the winter with Vogt include Parker Dunshee (Oakland Athletics organization), Travis Herrin (Los Angeles Angels system), Michael McCormick (formerly in the Chicago White Sox chain) and Reid Schaller (Washington Nationals organization).

Vogt also spent the off-season working with Clayton Richard (Toronto Blue Jays) and Josh Lindblom (Korean Baseball Organization) on developing movement patterns, pitch design and on-ramping for the season.

Lindblom won the KBO version of the Cy Young Award in 2018.

The oldest son of fitness pros Kevin and Tammy Vogt, Greg excelled in high school and college with his drive and desire to be the best he could be. At 5-foot-10 with an 82 mph fastball, he was always trying to gain a competitive edge.

“The work ethic and training component almost came easy to me,” says Vogt. “I was born into it.

“There’s not a coach or teammate I’ve ever played for or with that wouldn’t say I’m the most competitive person on the field.”

Even seven years after he threw his last collegiate pitch, Vogt will join in workouts with his players and try to strike them out.

“I challenged them as much as I could,” says Vogt. “I’ll tried to get after it. I want them to see that I care and that I believe in it.”

Vogt says his players have to believe in themselves to get to reach their goals — be that making the high school varsity or playing collegiate baseball or moving up in the professional ranks.

“We’re getting kids to throw harder and make better pitches — all that good stuff,” says Vogt. “But if they’re always working behind in the count and not throwing with conviction, you can’t use it.”

Vogt says Dunshee is successful because he’s not self-defeating.

“He’s never had plus stuff,” says Vogt of Dunshee, who pitched at Zionsville High School and Wake Forest University before pro ball. “He just doesn’t lose. He’s the best golfer. He’s the best basketball player. He was an all-state quarterback.

“It doesn’t matter what he does, he’s very competitive and he’s good at it. He doesn’t give up a whole lot because he doesn’t beat himself. If I could have every pitcher that I work with have that mentality there would be a lot of guys having success in high school, college and professional baseball.”

Vogt looks to help his PRP clients become well-rounded by providing them with the resources to get better physically and between the ears.

“I’ve seen several kids who are very talented but don’t have that mental game and are prepared for failure in baseball let alone if something goes on outside of baseball,” says Vogt. “A lot of these guys gave trainers that can make them better physically.

“I’ve worked with some very talented arms. I’ve worked with some very talented athletes. The separator is always the mental side. How hard do they work when no one’s watching?. How well do they do when they’re failing?. How do they transition from having a terrible day to they’re great the next day?.

“The kids that are good at everything may not be an exceptional athlete and have exceptional velocity yet, but they mold into a better college kid.”

Besides the baseball skills and strength/agility training, Vogt has his players read books to help them develop the right mindset. Some of his favorite authors/motivators are Justin Dehmer (1-Pitch Warror), Brian Cain (Mental Performance Mastery), Dr. Alan Goldberg (Competitive Advantage) and Todd Gongwer (Lead … for God’s Sake!).

Vogt asks his players about their take on certain points in the books. Mental sessions also cover in-game strategy.

An example: With a left-handed hitter at the plate and a runner on first base, a pitcher is asked to consider like the likelihood of a sacrifice bunt and pitch selection based on what the hitter did in the previous at-bat and more.

“We challenge their psyche on thinking about the game,” says Vogt. “Coaches are calling pitches. Sometimes (pitchers) are not even thinking about what they should throw. They’re throwing what the catcher puts down.

“It’s the same thing in the batter’s box.  This guy got me out on a slider away last time. He wasn’t afraid to use it. Does that change (this at-bat)?. On defense, there’s positioning and pitch-to-pitch routines.”

Greg was recruited to Anderson by the same man he who coached his father at that school in football. Don Brandon was a football assistant when Kevin Vogt went there and he convinced Greg Vogt to play baseball for him near the end of his Hall of Fame coaching career.

In fact, Vogt was the winning pitcher as a sophomore for Brandon’s 1,100th and final victory.

“Bama, he had a fire still,” says Vogt of Brandon. “He had a completely different approach than a lot of coaches I had. He would get on you, but he’d also let you fail (repeatedly) while you were learning.

“Whenever he talks, everybody listens. As players, we would run through a wall for him. We loved him.”

David Pressley was Anderson’s head coach at the end of Vogt’s playing days.

Vogt began coaching and giving private lessons while he was in college. He worked with the Indiana Pony Express travel organization. He’s also coached high school age players with the Indiana Baseball Academy Storm and then the Indiana Bulls.

He joined Noblesville High School head coach Justin Keever’s staff in the fall of 2013. The Millers won an IHSAA Class 4A state title in 2014.

Keever taught Vogt about managing players, other coaches, a roster and a schedule.

He also came to appreciate how Keever communicated.

“There’s always a fire burning there,” says Vogt of Keever. “But he’s learned to keep that under control and say things that need to be said but not say too much.

“Between him and (hitting coach) Kevin Fitzgerald, you’ve got a lot of personality and a lot of insight on coaching.”

From Noblesville, Vogt went to work with pitchers at Zionsville on a staff led by Jered Moore.

He’s also been assistant director of scouting for Prep Baseball Report Indiana, VIP co-director of Tucker Vogt Training LLC (with Michael Tucker) and a physical education teacher at Zionsville.

His last game as a coach and before he devoted himself to the training business was the 2016 IHSAA Class 4A state championship, which the Eagles lost to Roncalli.

He has long coached younger brother, Zach Vogt. The Carmel senior has signed to play baseball at Spalding University in Louisville, Ky.

Always growing and adapting, Greg Vogt’s training methods have not stayed the same. They are different than when he was with Noblesville and Zionsville.

“We get set in our ways because we did them as players,” says Vogt. “If you do any training program, you’ll get benefits if you commit to it.

“But the best training program in the world won’t help if you’re only doing it one time a week. All the time you’re spending not training, you’re getting worse. Other guys are getting better because they’re working at it everyday.”

That’s not to say that players are with Vogt all week, but they can take the program with them.

Vogt also wants them to come away more than baseball. He wants them to be better people.

“I want the kids to throw 100 mph. I want them to hit bombs in every at-bat. But this game’s cruel. Injuries happen. Some kids aren’t as gifted. Some kids aren’t as willing to work as hard.

“But maybe there is something else they can take from me?.”

Greg and wife Whitney began dating in high school. The couple have two sons — Parker (3) and Griffen (1).

PRP’s “Bridge the Gap” Coaches Conference is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, July 8-9 at Finch Creek Fieldhouse. Attendees will learn more about player development, recruiting, athlete programming and technology from some of the top college coaches in the Midwest.

Speakers scheduled so far include Jeff Mercer (Indiana University head coach), Mark Wasikowski (Purdue University head coach), Dustin Glant (Ball State University pitching coach), Tracy Archuleta (University of Southern Indiana head coach), Jordan Tiegs (Indiana State University pitching coach), Brian Furlong (Xavier University pitching coach), Grant Bellak (Hanover College head coach), Grant Birely (Purdue Fort Wayne pitching coach), Chuck Ristano (University of Notre Dame pitching coach), Ryan Harber (St. Vincent Sports Performance) and Vogt.

 

 

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Greg Vogt, a graduate of Carmel (Ind.) High School and Anderson (Ind.) University, is the founder and operator of PRP Baseball (Passion Resilience Process). (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Mental toughness key for Cubs minor league hurler Thompson

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Intellectual resolve helped Riley Thompson excel at high school and college baseball levels and he is hoping it will propel him as a professional.

Thompson, 21, is a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher who played at Christian Academy of Louisville and the University of Louisville before being selected in the 11th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs.

He is now with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs of the Low Class-A Midwest League.

Thompson was picked in two previous MLB drafts (2015 in the 37th round by the Cincinnati Reds and 2017 in the 25th by the New York Yankees), but opted to stay in school.

After redshirting in 2016, Thompson appeared in 25 games for Louisville in 2017 and 2018. He started seven of 11 games in 2018.

His head coach for the Cardinals was Dan McDonnell.

“Coach Mac really harps on mental toughness and all the qualities that go along with that,” says Thompson. “It really helped me develop as a man and be ready for pro ball.

“He’s a great motivator. He knows what to say.”

Thompson got into nine games (eight as a starter) and went 0-2 with an 2.84 earned run average for the rookie-level Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds in 2018. He struck out 25 and walked nine in 25 innings.

In his short time in the organization, he has come to appreciate the way the Cubs handle their players from the nutrition and strength staffs to the facilities and accommodations they find for them.

“They really do treat us well,” says Thompson. “For that, I’m really grateful.”

There’s also the mental skills training.

“They do a good job of training our minds and getting us ready for the season,” says Thompson. “For me, it’s the ability to slow down the game.”

Thompson has learned to take a deep breath and realize that he may be just one pitch from an out. The training helps simplify things when chaos could be the rule.

Born in Evansville, Ind., in 1996, Thompson moved to Louisville around age 5.

He was a two-time all-state selection in high school and also played first base when not pitching.

At the end of the his high school career, Thompson played two summers of the travel ball with the Ironmen Baseball Club.

He was named to the all-tournament team at the 2014 Perfect Game WWBA 17U National Championship and was the top-ranked player in Kentucky by Perfect Game in 2015.

Outside of the mental toughness, what are his best qualities as an athlete?

“I feel I’m a pretty athletic pitcher,” says Thompson. “I have a good fastball and a good feel for my off-speed.”

The South Bend Cubs were to play a seven-inning exhibition against Notre Dame at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 3 and open the season at 7:05 p.m. Thursday, April 4 against West Michigan. Both games are at Four Winds Field.

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Riley Thompson (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Baseball Academics Midwest emphasizes the six-tool player

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Developing the six-tool player is the focus for Baseball Academics Midwest, an Indianapolis-based travel organization which will field 19 baseball and softball teams in 2019.

“We have the five physical skills of baseball (speed, arm strength, fielding, hitting for average, hitting for power), but the most overlooked part is the mental skill,” says BAM president and co-founder Jake Banwart. “We maximize physical performance through mental training.

“We do classwork as well as visualization. We take what they learn mentally and implement that into physical performance (through drills, done at the Extra Innings Indy South indoor training facility).”

Off-season training is broken into two semesters — positional training (middles, corners, outfielders, pitchers, catchers and base running) and team training.

“We do it in a way that keeps their attention, keeps it interesting and keeps them engaged,” says BAM vice president and co-founder Adam Gouker. “Practice plans are designed to take what we learn in the classroom and immediately take it out in the indoor facility.

“We’re still teaching the physical and making sure they’re getting all the training they need there,” says Banwart. “We’re just adding that sixth element to it to make sure they understand.

“We’re teaching physically how to do it, but also mentally how to approach it.”

BAM players are taught the concepts of baseball philosophy, how to be a good teammate, positive body language and self talk, offensive approach to hitting defensive relays and cut-offs, pitching and pitch calling and base running.

All those areas span six or seven weeks and build on each other throughout that winter.

BAM coaches have been trained so it’s consistent language from the time they’re 8 through 17.

“When we talk hitting approach, I can talk to anyone in our organization with that same language,” says Banwart.

There’s no need to re-start each season.

“We teach each age group one year ahead of where we should be teaching them,” says Banwart. “If our expectations are higher, their expectations for themselves will match that. We teach our 9’s like 10’s and so on.

“We’ve seen good results from that.”

Gouker sees players grasping more about baseball earlier in life.

“They’re learning at a lot younger age there’s a lot going on in the game,” says Gouker. “They’re focused on where they’re supposed to be without the baseball, where they’re supposed to back up, where they go with the ball in certain situations.”

Banwart is a graduate of McHenry High School in the Chicago suburbs. He played baseball through his junior year.

“I had decent (college) offers,” says Banwart. “But I was so fed up with travel ball and coaching, I hated baseball for about five years of my life and I stopped playing.”

Banwart attended Anderson (Ind.) University and played tennis for a few seasons. That’s where he met Gouker, who went to Alexandra-Monroe High School and then played one season of baseball at AU.

The two later found themselves coaching together in travel ball. They eventually decided to start their own organization and do things their way.

After a stint as assistant to Terry Turner at Daleville (Ind.) High School (the Broncos won an IHSAA Class 1A title in 2016) and head coach at Liberty Christian School in Anderson, Ind., Banwart is heading into his second season as head baseball coach at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis in 2019 with a staff of Gouker, Nathan Latimer and Cortez Hague (all of whom are also BAM coaches and utilize BAM concepts with the Falcons).

“It’s a culmination of what we’ve learned from other coaches, research and data collection,” says Gouker, who have talked about mental skills training with Diamyn Hall and hitting with Ryan Fuller among others. “We’re teaching kids a language.

“We’re pushing the academic portion a lot. We feel like we know the physical side as well as anybody.”

The idea is for players to understand the game. This is especially valuable for players who are being recruited by colleges. BAM had its first season in 2015 and has had 23 college commitments in two groups of graduating classes, including 2019.

“Coaches will get your 60 time, exit veto, throwing velocity and all those pieces but the one thing they don’t get to see very often is your baseball smarts or I.Q,” says Banwart. “If they’re there for one game, they might not see you make a play.

“If we’re able to win the 50/50 recruiting by providing opportunities for players to actually show off their mental skills and training, we’re giving those players an opportunity to be more successful or get to the highest level they’re capable of (attaining).”

There’s another piece to the puzzle.

“If you’re in a game and you’re over-prepared mentally then you’re able to transition what you’re doing to subconscious thought versus conscious action,” says Banwart. “We want players to know something well enough to feel like they’re just reacting.

“They’re not having to process and consciously think through those actions. It’s subconscious action that takes over.”

BAM, which operates with the help of several key partners, uses many of the same drills as high-level coaches.

“When we go into those we make sure players are aware of what the intent of that drill is,” says Banwart. “We’re not focused solely on result training. We break it down with intent so the mind can connect to the body.”

Banwart notes that professional athletes seem to rise to the occasion late in a game while some players sink to the level of their training.

“The better trained they are, the better they’re going to perform late in games or in tough situations which will give that visual appearance that they’re rising when, in reality, they’re playing with the same level they were earlier in the game,” says Banwart.

High school level players take into consideration things like the score, inning, number of outs, speed and direction of the ball and speed and position of the runners.

Banwart notes that the average time between pitches in Major League Baseball is 21.5 seconds.

“In those 21 1/2 seconds players are going to be thinking no matter what,” says Banwart. “They’re going to be thinking something. We just want to change their thinking and point it to what they should be thinking about.

“When they step in the (batter’s) box, they’re proactive with a plan instead reactive to a pitcher. We want to give our guys the feeling they’re in control of that at-bat versus they’re at the mercy of what the pitcher does.”

BAM players are encouraged to win the games within the game and things like swing count, average distance in the zone, max hand speed, max barrel speed and more are tracked on single-season and career leaderboards. Hits, stolen bases, saves etc. are also tracked.

BAM coaches are in the process of gathering baseline data and developing a Baseball Academics Rating (BAR) that can be used to show a player’s knowledge.

“It’s not catered to our program,” says Gouker. “It’s things anyone playing baseball or softball anywhere should know if  they want to be as successful as possible.

“We’re finding some pro guys are missing some things they should know.”

They have also developed a metric — WIN (Worth In Numbers) — to valuate players.

WIN takes out everything out of a players control and counts how many runs they create total or average per game. Each base is treated like a quarter of a run.

“Players with a third of a run per game or more are typically high level players,” says Banwart.

By running the numbers for the last three seasons, the MVP winners and Cy Young Award winners in the American League and National League were the ones that should have won based on WIN.

BAM coaches talk about metrics and more on their YouTube Channel.

Latimer, who played at Perry Meridian and one season at the University of Indianapolis and coached with Andy Gossel at Covenant Christian before joining the staff at his alma mater, has totally bought into the BAM way.

“We can’t have academic in our name if we don’t teach it,” says Latimer. “We want you to be baseball smart.

“If you have the sixth tool that makes you a more complete player.”

Banwart and Gouker says BAM teachings have spread across the Indianapolis area and the organization is exploring expansion possibilities.

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Representing Baseball Academic Midwest are (from left): vice president and co-founder Adam Gouker, president and co-founder Jake Banwart and Nathan Latimer. Banwart is also head coach at Perry Meridian High School in Indianapolis and Gouker and Latimer are among his assistants. (Steve Krah Photo)

Individual development key as Mercer builds Indiana Hoosiers baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer was once in their shoes.

That’s why he takes the approach he does as a head coach in college baseball.

Mercer, who was hired last summer to run the program at Indiana University, wants to give his players their best chance to showcase what they can do.

With that in mind, Mercer and his staff (Dan Held, Justin Parker, Casey Dykes, Scott Rolen and Denton Sagerman) design their fall practice schedule with individual work first before intrasquad and exhibition games.

“Development has always been the core foundational piece of our coaching philosophy,” says Mercer, who came to the Hoosiers after successful two-season run as head coach at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. “You really need to take the time to coach the players. We want to make sure we put guys in position to maximize their strengths.

“You only get to find those strengths through building the relationships and focusing on the individual development of the players.”

Rolen, director of player development, brings his expertise from 17 Major League Baseball seasons and helped the staff lay out the whole 12-week fall plan. Former St. Louis Cardinals catcher and manager Mike Matheny was consulted on coaching and catching. New York Yankees infield coordinator Miguel Cairo was asked for his guidance.

Talking with players, coaches get to see what the goals and the prism through which they view life and baseball.

“It helps a ton to know where they’re coming from when you’re trying to coach them,” says Mercer.

This is not a new concept with Mercer, who played NCAA Division I baseball at the University of Dayton and Wright State before beginning his coaching career.

“We’ve always done individuals first,” says Mercer, 33. “A lot of programs will do the team portion first. That’s their prerogative. I understand that.

“For us, if I look at it from a young man’s perspective. I want to come in and settle in. I want to get in the weight room, get my body right. I want to learn what your expectations of me are as a player.”

The athletes want to know what is expected of them from mechanical, workload and style/brand of baseball standpoints.

“All of those take a lot of time for a player to understand,” says Mercer. “The player will do whatever the expectation is. They always rise to the occasion.

“So if you take five or six weeks and you give them time and structure and coach them like crazy.”

“If I’m a young man, I want to be at my best when I’m competing and showcasing myself in the fall and earning an opportunity to play in the spring.”

By putting the individual work first in the fall, players can figure out where their classes is and make the necessary physical and mechanical adjustments.

Mercer says fear of failure is taken away through this approach.

“Fear of failure is what holds back the most successful people,” says Mercer. “If I remove the fear of failure, I can just go grow and compete.

“All the lessons we’ve been taught can be applied much more readily into the game.

“At the end of the day, these players have one career. It’s our job to help them maximize their opportunity to play this game.”

Mercer says that’s what he wants for his son if he grows up to play college baseball. Jeff and Stephanie Mercer welcome Grady into the world in June.

What brand of baseball will the Hoosiers play in 2019?

“This team is more offensive and can just flat drive the baseball as opposed to a small-ball style,” says Mercer. “Let’s not take a guy who may hit 15 home runs and try to convince him to bunt for 30 hits.

Let’s let him get into good counts. I want to run the bases, but let’s make sure when we have a guy at the plate who can drive the ball, we don’t take the bat out of his hands. We play in a more offensive ballpark (Bart Kaufman Field’s dimensions are 330 feet down the left field line, 400 to center and 340 to right).”

Based on the fall roster, some of the Hoosiers’ top returning hitters  are juniors Matt Gorski (.356 average, 8 home runs, 40 runs batted in for 2018) and Scotty Bradley (.326/7/19) and seniors Ryan Fineman (.309/7/37), Matt Lloyd (.275/9/41) and Logan Kaletha (.261/8/31).

Outfielder Gorski (Hamilton Southeastern High School graduate) catcher Fineman (California) and outfielder Kaletha (Michigan City) swing from the right side while infielder/catcher Bradley (New Jersey) and utility player Lloyd (Alberta, Canada) are lefties.

There’s also might in the relief core and not just in the late innings.

“We’ve got more bullpen arms,” says Mercer. “We need to make sure we really use our bullpen to accentuate our starters.

“We have mid-relief guys who are good so let’s make sure we utilize that strength.”

With Mercer being new at IU, he came in with no preconceived ideas about players.

“I don’t know how successful or unsuccessful we were,” says Mercer. “I purposely did not look at any of the stats or video from last year.

“I came in with a blank slate for everybody.”

Mercer has never appointed captains, but lets leadership reveal itself.

“Those personalities step forward on their own and you try to empower them,” says Mercer.

When he transferred from the Dayton to Wright State as a player, the coaching staff did not tell him he could not be a leader because he was the new kid on the block.

“I was very empowered to lead early in my time at Wright State and I felt comfortable in that role,” says Mercer. “A big part of my success was me getting to be myself.

“I hope the guys here feel the freedom to be whoever they want to be now and moving forward.”

Mental skills was important at Wright State where Mercer brought in Diamyn Hall as the first full-time coach in D-I baseball devoted to that side of the game. At IU, mental skills are talked about on a regular basis and Mercer leads most of the discussions.

Mercer, a Franklin Community High School graduate, grew up around the Indiana program. His father, Jeff Mercer Sr., was an assistant for the Hoosiers in 1988 and 1989 and helped found the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization.

Once the surreal idea of leading a team he cared so much about growing up wore off, Mercer began to focus on the day-to-day task.

“You have an ultimate responsibility to the young men and their families and the coaches that entrusted Indiana University to provide them a great experience,” says Mercer. “It’s an awesome responsibility, but it’s one we don’t ever take lightly.

“You can’t get caught being a fan. You’ve got go to work.”

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Jeff Mercer is the head baseball coach at Indiana University. The 2019 season will be his first with the Hoosiers. (Indiana University Photo)

 

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New Indiana University head baseball coach Jeff Mercer has been spending the time to develop individuals this fall.  (Indiana University Photo)

 

With a little help from dad, Sampen pitching in Dodgers organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Caleb Sampen, a right-hander in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, is a second-generation professional baseball pitcher.

His father — Bill Sampen — toed the rubber for pay for 10 seasons and appeared in 182 major league games with the Montreal Expos, Kansas City Royals and California Angels.

Selected in the 20th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate Caleb Sampen had been in three pro games though July 10 — all with the Short Season Class-A Ogden (Utah) Raptors.

Caleb has picked up pointers from his father. But it hasn’t been too much.

When Caleb was getting started in the game, Bill was coaching his two older sons. Isaac and Sam played for the West Side Crusaders.

“I was just around,” says Caleb Sampen. “(My father) didn’t force any mechanics on me. He let me be an athlete.

“It wasn’t like I had a pitching lesson with him everyday.”

The elder Sampen decided when his older boys were reaching their teens that he would stop serving as a coach for their teams and he never coached any of Caleb’s squads.

“It was best for them to learn to play for other people,” says Bill Sampen, “I thought that was part of the process. I think that’s the best route for kids.

“I got to step back and just be a dad and enjoy watching them play.

“I just played coach when they asked me questions.”

In November, Samp’s Hack Shack baseball/softball training facilities will reach the ninth year in Brownsburg (5,200 square feet) and mark one year in Plainfield (7,500 square feet).

The Indiana Expos travel organization are in their second season and have seven teams in 2018. None of them have fathers coaching their own sons.

Bill Sampen says that policy for Expos coaches achieves a couple things.

“It allows us to be completely honest and give honest and objective feedback,” says Bill Sampen. “And they just get to watch their kid play.

“I know I enjoy the value of just sitting back and being a dad. The truth is they’re not going to play very long. Enjoy the journey. Don’t stress so much.”

Bill Sampen coaches the 16U National team, David Brewers the 16U American, Derek Hankins the 15U National, Nick Spence the 15U American, Isaac Sampen the 14U National, Leo Tobasco the 14U American, Tony Meyer the 13U National.

Calling the teams the Expos was not Bill’s call.

“My family decision informed that was what the name was,” says Bill Sampen. “You can see I have no clout.”

Bill coached the Bethesda Christian School baseball team for about a decade before starting his training business.

“It’s a very pure level of coaching I have now,” says Bill Sampen, “I appreciate that.”

During the school year, he has students from 4 p.m. on. But he is involved seven days a week most of the year as either an instructor or travel ball coach.

His 16U team has been in Georgia, competing against some of the best from all over the continent.

“Our upper age groups do more extensive travel,” says Bill Sampen. “We’re helping them get exposure. They get to see kids committed (to colleges) all over the place.

“It’s good for our players to see the skill level and talent that’s out there. We want to play people that the only way we can beat them is if we out-execute them.

“Do things right day in and day out. If you have a plan and do the routine things, you’re going to be in baseball games, no matter who you’re playing.”

Knowing that some players will not go on to college, they are getting to have experiences they may not have without travel baseball.

“We want to hope them grow and develop — not just as baseball players but as people,” says Bill Sampen. “It’s the life skills that carry past baseball.

“If you’re trying to win trophies, I think you’ve got the wrong purpose.”

Caleb Sampen grew up in Brownsburg and played at Brownsburg Little League until seventh grade when he started his travel ball experiences. He donned the uniforms of the Indiana Outlaws, Indiana Prospects and Indiana Bulls and Indiana Blue Jays.

At Brownburg High, where Caleb graduated in 2015, his head coach was Eric Mattingly.

“He always talked about doing the little things right and an attention to detail,” says Caleb Sampen, who played shortstop when not pitching for the Bulldogs. “You take care of every little piece so you’re well-prepared.”

At Wright State, Sampen had Greg Lovelady as his head coach and Justin Parker his pitching coach his freshman year before both went to the University of Central Florida.

“(Parker) always talks about lower half and using your legs,” says Caleb Sampen.

The next two years, Jeff Mercer was head coach and Alex Sogard led the pitching staff.

(Sogard) didn’t try to change me a whole lot on the mound,” says Caleb Sampen. “He was pretty individualized, which I liked a lot.”

Recently, Mercer became head coach at Indiana University and Sogard was promoted to head coach at Wright State.

Sampen also got the chance this past year to learned from Diamyn Hall, NCAA Division I baseball’s first full-time mental skills coach.

“We worked on routines and being ready to go,” says Sampen of Hall. “He gets you in that mindset and having self awareness.”

In Caleb Sampen, Bill sees a cerebral kid.

“He’s got an idea,” says Bill Sampen. “I can’t take any credit for any successes he’s had.”

The father does see some similarities to himself.

Bill Sampen developed his abilities while playing baseball and basketball at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill.

“I see the way he moves and his athleticism,” says Bill Sampen of Caleb. “He has a long, loose arm and does things naturally.”

In two seasons at Wright State (2016 and 2018), Caleb went 14-4 in 26 games (21 as a starter) with a 2.92 earned run average, 90 strikeouts and 37 walks in 141 2/3 innings. He missed the 2017 season after having surgery on the ulnar nerve in his elbow.

On a pitch count because of the college workload in the spring of 2018, Caleb Sampen, 21, began his pro career with two relief appearances and a short starting stint. He was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA, seven strikeouts and one walk in 4 2/3 innings.

Jeremy Rodriguez is the Ogden manager. Dean Stiles is the pitching coach.

The next stops on the Dodgers minor league trail are the Low Class-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes, Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers and Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Caleb says he goes to the bump each time with an aggressiveness mindset.

“You’ve got to go out and attack with your strengths,” says Caleb Sampen, who uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, 12-to-6 curveball and cutter.

What about the change-up?

“It’s own own little mix I’ve perfected over the years,” says Caleb Sampen. “I use an off-set two-seam grip and throw it with my ring finger and middle finger. I keep my index finger off the ball as much as possible.”

Amy Sampen, a former Brownsburg teacher, is now an virtual educator and is the “boss” as co-owner of the Hack Shack, according to Bill.

Isaac Sampen (24) and Sam Sampen (23) both played at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. Sam graduated highs school a semester early and joined his older brother.

Isaac Sampen went on to play at Eastern Illinois University and Sam Sampen at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Besides coaching and helping with the coordination of the Expos, Isaac now helps in many ways at the Shack. Sam has an outside job and also helps out at the training facilities.

In his time around the game, Bill Sampen has seen an increase in research and scientific data related to throwing a baseball.

“It’s validated some things that should have been done all along,” says Bill Sampen. “It can be very valuable in preventing injury.

“It seems that injuries are still there in spite of new data and new science.”

The likely reason?

“It’s the intensity of weight training,” says Bill Sampen. “Velocity is based on arm speed and not body strength.

“There are big, physical guys that can’t throw hard.”

And yet 5-foot-11, 180-pounder Billy Wagner regularly hit 100 mph and won 47 games and saved 422 in the bigs.

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Caleb Sampen, a 2015 Brownsburg High School graduate and former Wright State University pitcher, makes a delivery for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. (Ogden Raptors Photo)

 

Mercer moves to Indiana; Hall speaks highly for their time together at Wright State

 

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jeff Mercer has been hired as the new head baseball coach at Indiana University after enjoying success at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

Mercer’s 2017-18 WSU season included NCAA Division I baseball’s first-ever full-time mental skills coach in Diamyn Hall.

Hall, 24, is grateful for his chance to serve with Mercer.

“It was an incredible opportunity to work with him because I learned a lot of things about business and player development from our conversations throughout the course of the season,” says Hall. “He’s a mastermind when it comes to understanding how to bring on staff members with multiple strengths in specific areas.

“He provided me with the freedom to incorporate the mental game in many new and innovative ways throughout the course of the year. I appreciated it greatly because I like to incorporate the mental game in a unique fashion, different from most traditional ways.”

Mercer gave Hall responsibility and let him use his creativity.

“I’ll never forget his message to me when I came on staff in the fall: I’m going to give you the freedom to apply whatever you feel necessary. But, at the end of the day, I expect you to get it done in the best way possible,” says Hall. “I’m very excited for him, his wife and his newborn. He will be a great father because he embodies the definition of working hard, toughness and doing the right things in order to achieve success and dream goals.

“Anybody that knows his story and has gotten to know him understands that not only has he earned this, but he deserves it. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be one of the best head coaches in the country very soon. I’m extremely confident he will take Indiana University to an even higher level.”

Mercer, an Indiana native, spoke highly about Hall to IndianaRBI as the Raiders were making a push toward the Horizon League title and a berth in the NCAA Stanford Regional.

Looking at the numbers, Wright State improved in many categories from 2017 to 2018 with the addition of the focus on the mental game.

In batting, the 2017 Raiders (38-21 overall, 23-5 in the Horizon League) hit .260 as a team with 519 hits, 37 home runs, 26 triples, 106 doubles, 339 runs scored,  228 walks, 431 strikeouts, a .349 on-base percentage and went 130-of-161 in stolen base attempts. In pitching, WSU had a staff earned run average of 3.70 with 16 saves, 423 strikeouts and 192 walks.

Compare the 2018 offensive stats and Wright State (39-18, 22-6) was better in batting average (.294), hits (574), home runs (42), doubles (120), runs scored (435), walks (268), strikeouts (325), on-base percentage (.394). While the Raiders stole fewer bases, they had a higher success rate at 110-of-128 (85.9 percent) than 2017 (80.7 percent).

Crediting the mental game, Horizon League Player of the Year Gabe Snyder went from hitting .289 with 13 home runs, 17 doubles, 49 runs batted in and .570 slugging percentage in 2017 to .359 with 15 homers, 20 doubles, 73 RBIs and slugged .668 in 2018 — his fourth season at Wright State. The 6-foot-5 lefty-swinging first baseman was selected in the 21st round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins.

What will Hall do moving forward now that Mercer is gone to IU?

“I will go back to my individual improvement process and re-evaluate last year and find the areas that need to be improved on with the mental game for the 2018-19 season. In order for our players to continue developing their mental game, I must hold myself accountable for continuing to improve and develop my coaching strategies, teachings and processes.

“I learned a lot this past year and I’m very excited to get back to work.”

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Wright State University head coach Jeff Mercer (left) brought in Diamyn Hall (right) as NCAA Division I baseball’s first full-time mental skills coach in 2017-18. Mercer recently took the head coaching post at Indiana University. (Wright State University Photo)

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Jeff Mercer is introduced as the new head baseball coach at Indiana University. He came from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. (Indiana University Photo)

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Diamyn Hall, the full-time mental skills coach for Wright State University baseball, shares his knowledge with a Raiders player in 2017-18. Hall is working now to improve on his methods and teachings for 2018-19. (Wright State University Photo)

It’s been a groundbreaking year for the mental game at Wright State, but Raiders are not done yet

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The 2018 NCAA Division I baseball season has been groundbreaking for the field of mental skills.

For the first time ever, a D-I baseball program — Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio — has brought on a full-time mental skills coordinator.

WSU head coach Jeff Mercer (a graduate of Franklin Community High School in Indiana) brought Diamyn Hall in to help his players with this sometimes-overlooked aspect of athletics.

Hall spoke to IndianaRBI.com about the subject at the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in January.

“My goal is to continue to push the field of mental conditioning to a point where every college baseball program eventually has a mental skills coach, a mental skills coordinator or something along those lines,” says Hall. “Because it is one of the most important facets of the game.

“There has been a lot of success, a lot of growth and a lot of development but we still have a lot to do to reach our ultimate goal of reaching a championship.

“Players are always looking for ways to get better. That comes from the types of players that Mercer recruits.”

Hall, who was born in Dayton and went to Centerville High School, explains why the plan has worked and continues to work.

“We’ve gone about implementing the mental game in a multitude of innovative ways,” says Hall. “We have provided systematic approaches for each individual player to continue to grow and unlock their potential through their minds.

“Our players have taken persistent accountability in improving their mental game and using it to their advantage on and off the field.”

Hall says that having all Wright State coaches — Mercer, Nate Metzger, Matt Talarico, Alex Sogard and volunteer Jacob Burk — on-board truly creates a dynamic learning experience and reinforces the importance of the mental game within the culture of the baseball program.

Mental skills training is extremely valuable whether a player is red-hot or in an 0-for-the-month slump.

“The mental game has the ability to enhance your performance no matter where you are at that point in time,” says Hall. “The preconceived notion that most people have about the mental game is that it’s only needed when you’re struggling. That’s false.

“The goal should be to continuously work your mind as much as you work your body.

“Having intentional focuses on an individual basis with each player who does want to get better at that point in time. That’s the key.”

The roster that Mercer has created calls for every player to be ready to play every single day.

“Our guys who are not playing everyday, we still want them prepared when their name is called,” says Hall. “If you’re a guy who is not playing everyday we still want to have you focusing on a certain set of things that allow you to be ready when you do get your opportunity. One thing I say a lot to these guys is: ‘be prepared before your name is called.’

“Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.”

A big part of the mental game is maintaining laser focus.

“Therefore, all of our players need to be focused every single day,” says Hall.

How do you stay ready?

“You have to make sure you’re taking quality and mindful repetitions in whatever it is you’re working on,” says Hall. “Make sure you’re doing everything on-purpose with purpose.”

Hall notes that the baseball season is long and it’s easy to catch yourself going through the motions.

“It’s a matter of minimizing those times you go through the motions, making sure everything is intentional and with a purpose,” says Hall. “We want the guys who are not playing game-ready every single day.”

Hall breaks down the WSU team into three groups of players: superstars, stars and X-factors. He says most teams have stars, X-factors, role players and guys who have no chance of getting in the game.

“Every guy on our roster has a chance to get in the game,” says Hall. “This is the beauty of our roster. I’ve never seen a roster so stacked from head-to-toe.

“That’s the true definition of depth.

“It’s being focused at all times regardless of the situation. In my opinion, we have two full Division I teams within one team. Any of our guys who are not everyday guys could go to another Division I baseball program and start right now.”

Hall, just a few years ago, was playing against elite level competition such as LSU, Ole Miss, Oregon State, Arkansas and more.

Just three three years ago, he went 5-for-5 on MLB Network with a home run shy of a cycle. It was the day before he tore his ACL.

Hall stepped off the field last spring. In his last three college season, he played two at Grambling State University (2015-16) and one at Georgia Southwestern State University (2017).

Hall sees the merits of having a mental skills coordinator for an entire athletic department, but the numbers are more favorable if they integrated into a particular program.

“If a school has a mental skills person who works with every team they can be successful, but mental skills are so important that they need to be integrated on each staff — in my personal opinion,” says Hall. “It’s a manageable ratio. I can be more impactful with 35 people than I can with 300.

“I can build true relationships with 35 players versus building true relationships with 300 players.”

He has been kept busy being wherever players are working on their baseball skills as much as possible.

Hall also makes himself available to them 24/7. He is just a call or text away.

“These guys are learners so they’re using these opportunities to the best of their abilities,” says Hall.

By building relationships, Hall can know how best to get his message across.

“Every guy learns at a different rate,” says Hall. “Every guy takes in information a different way.

“I have to understand that. How do I deliver this to him to make it impactful?”

Hall is always striving to answer these questions: How can I be the most efficient? How can I be the most effective?

He also doesn’t want to engage in information overload.

“I believe it’s more effective to give a little information at a time while giving them the best information that I know from my experience,” says Hall. “I strive to give them the best information so they will remember it and it will stick.

“It’s about effective information implementation.”

So far, so good in this groundbreaking year.

“But we still have a lot more progress to make in striving to reach the ultimate goal of reaching a championship,” says Hall.

For more of Diamyn’s stories and podcasts, click here.

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Diamyn Hall is the mental skills coordinator for the baseball team at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.