By STEVE KRAH
It used to burn Nick Schnell when his every at-bat didn’t produce a hit.
He expected to catch every fly.
Then the Indianapolis-born Schnell encountered Roncalli High School head baseball coach Aaron Kroll.
“He helped me a ton on the mental side of the game,” says Schnell of Kroll. “Baseball’s a game of failure. He told me, ‘just believe in yourself’ and ‘ don’t get down on yourself because of one bad at-bat.’”
Kroll encouraged Schnell to become one of the Rebels’ vocal leaders and lead by example by always playing hard.
Schnell responded by helping Roncalli to an IHSAA Class 4A state championship as a sophomore in 2016 and solid seasons in 2017 and 2018.
The lefty-swinging center fielder enjoyed a monster senior season, hitting .535 with 15 home runs and 37 runs batted in for a 25-6 club that won Marion County and Ben Davis Sectional titles.
“I knew I had the capability to do that my senior year,” says Schnell. “I got on a roll and felt really good.
“I tried to repeat the same thing I was doing. I was playing with a lot of confidence.”
At one particularly red-hot stretch, Schnell went 12-for-15 at the plate with seven homers.
Schnell’s head-turning 2018 season ended in the first round of the Decatur Central Regional with a show of respect from Indianapolis Cathedral.
Leading 6-2 with two outs in the seventh inning with bases loaded for Roncalli and Schnell coming to the plate, the Irish intentionally walked the slugger and wound up with a 6-3 win.
Schnell earned Mr. Baseball honors from the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and was Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year and the Indianapolis Star Player of the Year.
He had verbally committed to play at the University of Louisville during his sophomore season and signed with the Cardinals as a senior.
But with Roncalli’s season winding down and the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft looming, Nick had a decision to make.
“My parents (Jay and Angie Schnell) and I sat down and talked about it,” says Nick. “The professional route is the best for me to create a good career.”
The Tampa Bay Rays selected Schnell as a compensatory first-round draft pick (No. 32 overall) and sent him to their rookie-level Gulf Coast League team in Florida.
Right away, he saw a contrast in high school and pro baseball.
“The biggest difference was consistent velocity I saw (in the minors),” says Schnell. “I saw guys in the mid-90s, even 100. In high school, they were 80 to 85 and every once in awhile you’d see 90.”
While rookie league pitchers were working to control their stuff, even their sliders and curves would come in at 85 mph.
Schnell says it took him a little over a week to make the adjustment.
“It comes with adapting to the game,” says Schnell. “When you see it everyday it becomes second nature to you. It was a daily thing you knew was coming.”
Playing mostly center fielder and some right, the 18-year-old hit .239 with one homer and four RBIs and was 2-for-6 in stolen base attempts in 19 games. His season was cut short in late July with a small stress fracture in his wrist.
“It was a freak thing,” says Schnell. “It came from overuse.”
Rather than rush him back at the end of the season, the Rays let Schnell heal so he could participate in the fall instructional league.
He spent a month in Florida making up for time lost during the summer.
“My main focus was really developing more as a ballplayer — get some at-bats back and getting better in the outfield and getting a better jump on stolen bases.”
School was planning to study sports psychology at Louisville and he gravitated toward Rays minor league mental skills coordinator James Schwabach, who suggesting reading books like “Grit: A Complete Guide on Being Mentally Tough” by James Clear.
The lanky Schnell (he is 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds) considers versatility to be his strengths.
“I use my athleticism in all three outfield positions,” says Schnell, who was a starter in center for four seasons at Roncalli while hitting .473 with 25 homers and 109 RBIs. “I have all-fields hitting ability. I can hit to the opposite field or pull side.
“I’m not pull heavy. I use the whole field.”
Nick, the youngest of Jay and Amy Schnell’s three children, comes from an athletic family. His mother played volleyball at Kankakee Community College, where she met her future husband.
Oldest child Aaron Schnell (Roncalli Class of 2014) was three-time all-county in high school and played baseball at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Bailey Schnell (Roncalli ’15) played volleyball for the Rebels and then Western Michigan University.
Nick considers his father and brother as his biggest mentors.
“My dad got my brother and I into sports at an early age,” says Nick. “My brother is five years older. I followed him everywhere.”
Nick Schnell, who attended St. Roch Catholic School in Indianapolis Grades K-8, was a three-sport athlete through eighth grade (football, basketball, baseball). He played basketball his first two years in high school before deciding to concentrate on baseball.
Southport Little League on the south side of Indianapolis is where Schnell got his baseball start. He played there until he was 12.
Travel baseball teams included the Scott Schreiber-coached Blue Wave (a group of Roncallli-bound players) his 13U summer, the Dalton Jones-coached Indiana Twins (14U) and Jay Hundley-coached Indiana Outlaws (15U).
Schnell donned the uniform of the Indiana Bulls for two summers, playing for coaches Dan Held (16U) and Sean Laird (17U).
He spent two falls with Team Indiana and participated in an elite tournament in Jupiter, Fla., leading into his sophomore and junior years at Roncalli.
In the summer of 2017, Schnell was selected for the Perfect Game All-Star Classic in San Diego.
Nick Schnell, a 2018 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, bats for the Gulf Coast Rays in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Schnell was selected No. 32 overall in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. (Cliff Welch Photography)