Tag Archives: Midwest League

Seymour graduate Brown learning to deal with mental side of baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Two tunes followed Zack Brown to the mound during the 2017 baseball season.

When the 2013 Seymour High School graduate toed the rubber on the road, he would be greeted by “Chicken Fried” by the Zac Brown Band.

“It’s pretty funny. It was a common joke spread around,” says Brown, the 22-year-old right-hander selected in the fifth round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers after three seasons at the University of Kentucky. “I do not want anything to do with it at home.”

So what was playing as Brown made his first-inning warm-up tosses at Low Class-A Wisconsin or High Class-A Carolina?

“‘Small Town’ by John Mellencamp,” says Brown. “It has a little meaning to it. That’s why I picked it.”

Brown, who went a combined 7-5 with a 3.11 earned run average and 107 strikeouts and 36 walks in 110 innings, stayed connected to his hometown with regular texts or phone calls with his head coach at Seymour High  — Jeremy Richey.

First acquainted when Brown was attending Seymour baseball camps as a middle schooler, he credits Richey for helping him with the mental side of the game.

“I’m very competitive,” says Brown, the son of Bob and Cathy and younger brother of Tyler. “When I play not to the best of my ability, it’s hard to let that go. I have to just keep working at it. One big thing with pro ball is a hitter can go out there the next night. A (starting pitcher) starter has to wait four days. You have to let go of what happened the days before and get ready for the next start.”

Richey watched most of Brown’s appearances (18 at Wisconsin and four at Carolina) on MiLB.TV and noticed a trend.

“In the games that he pitched, he often gave up all the runs in one inning,” says Richey. Though their correspondence, the coach tried to help the player work through it.

Richey saw Brown face obstacles while at Seymour at Kentucky.

“His junior year, he threw really well for us,” says Richey. “His senior year, he threw to about five different catchers and tried to strike everybody out and do more for himself. He had to battle through that.

“He threw really well as a (UK) sophomore. Then they did not score many runs for him as a junior.”

When those occasions arose, Richey would pose questions.

“What are your thoughts when that happens? Are you trying to do too much?,” says Richey. “It’s about dealing with adversity.”

Richey, who enjoys reading motivational books like Old School Grit: Times May Change, But the Rules for Success Never Do (Sports for the Soul) by Darrin Donnelly, also helps his current players through the ups and downs of the sport.

“Kids want to put themselves in position when they are successful all the time,” says Richey. “When they are not successful, they don’t know how to deal with that.

“(Donnelly says) ‘it’s not wins and losses; it’s wins and lessons.’ To me, that’s baseball.”

In his second professional season, Brown has learned more about what pitches work for him and how to take care of his body to get through the grind of a 140-game season.

“It was pretty good,” says Brown of his 2017 campaign. “I got off to a slow start with an (arm) injury. After the all-star break was probably the best string of outings in my career. I finished the season strong.”

Brown used a four-seam fastball, sinking fastball, curve ball and circle change-up against Midwest League and Carolina League batters. He added the sinker while at UK.

A Friday night starter in the tough Southeastern Conference as a sophomore and junior, Brown played for then-head coach/pitching coach Gary Henderson, who also stressed the mental game.

“He taught me to slow the game down learn how to pitch to people,” says Brown. “The majority of the time, it’s your strengths vs. the opponent’s weaknesses.”

The same has held true in pro ball.

The big difference for Brown is bouncing back quicker.

“It’s being consistent with what you do day in and day out,” says Brown. “You have to be ready to go every five days. That was a huge change for me (compared to pitching once a week in college).”

In the minors, Brown works with the strength coach to maintain what he has built in the off-season and to keep his flexibility.

“You’re getting paid to play so they want you to be healthy and able to go out and perform,” says Brown, who will attend a short instructional league session in Arizona and then come back to Seymour where he will work out and help the community’s younger players.

Brown’s baseball path began with Seymour Youth League and also included travel ball with the Indiana Bats (based in Greensburg), Edgewood Bulldogs and Indiana Redbirds (based in Columbus).

“We went to Batesville in the winter and practiced for the Bats in an old gym on Sunday nights,” says Brown. “Travel ball has taken off even more since then. It’s crazy.”

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Zack Brown, a 2013 Seymour High School graduate, is now a pitcher in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. (Carolina Mudcats Photo)

 

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South Bend hurler Hudson uses height to his advantage

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Chicago Cubs have high hopes for a player who stands high on the pitcher’s mound.

Bryan Hudson, a 6-foot-8 left-hander, is honing his craft while sending his deliveries on a downward plane for the Low Class-A South Bend Cubs.

“It definitely plays a part,” says Hudson of his size. “I try to pound the zone and get weak contact.”

Mixing a curve and an inside fastball, Hudson likes to keep the ball on the ground if he can’t get a swing and miss.

“I try to get a lot of tinker ground balls that are turned into double plays or easy outs for us,” says Hudson, who is 8-3 with a 4.17 earned run average, 77 strikeouts, 50 walks in 116 2/3 innings spread over 23 games (all starts) in 2017. “I just try to keep in a good rhythm and a tempo and keep my team kind of locked in with me.”

Selected by the Chicago Cubs in the third round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Hudson began his professional career with five relief appearances that summer with the Arizona Cubs and helped the Eugene Emeralds win the Northwest League title with a 5-4 mark and 5.06 ERA over 13 starts in 2016.

Hudson calls full-season Midwest League, with its 16 teams, tougher than the short-season Northwest League and its eight clubs.

“There’s better hitters and more players with experience,” says Hudson, who is ranked as the No. 28 prospect in the Cubs organization by MLB.com.

He is now in his third season as Cubs property. Growing up, Hudson rooted for the St. Louis Cardinals. He was a standout for the Alton (Ill.) High School Redbirds and committed to play for the University of Missouri before opting to go pro instead.

Alton is a Mississippi River town located about 15 miles north of St. Louis. Southern Illinois is littered with both Cubs and Cards fanatics.

When South Bend visited Peoria in May, there were plenty of Hudson’s family and friends in attendance though he did not pitch in the series.

“I still get a little bit of trash talk when (Cubs and Cardinals are) playing each other,” says Hudson. “But, for the most part, they support, me.”

If South Bend’s schedule is not altered, Hudson’s next start is Thursday, Aug. 31 against West Michigan at Four Winds Field. It will be the next-to-last regular-season home game for the Cubs, who are still in the chase for a MWL wild-card playoff berth.

When the 2017 campaign is over, Hudson plans to head back to Alton to lift weights and get stronger for the 2018 season.

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Bryan Hudson, a 6-foot-8 left-hander, is a starting pitcher for the 2017 South Bend Cubs. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Cubs appreciate what dietitians can do for their performance

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

What athletes put into their bodies can go along way in what they can accomplish.

The field of sports nutrition just keeps growing every year.

The Chicago Cubs have led the way in professional baseball circles, where each team is looking to require dietetic staffers at the big league level.

In 2016, the Cubs fulfilled Dawn Blatner’s goal when they became the first Major League Baseball organization to place these licensed nutrition experts with all of its minor league affiliates. Blatner is assisted in Chicago by Jenny Westerkamp.

Marta Scechura, who is now a Sports Nutrition Associate at the University of Notre Dame, led the dietary needs of the Low Class-A South Bend Cubs the first season. It’s been Emily Kaley in 2017.

Kaley is part of a little community that also includes the two dietitians in Chicago and four at other Cubs minor league stops.

Following the plan set up by Blatner and giving it her own flavor, Kaley keeps South Bend players on a beneficial nutritional path.

“I make sure they have access to well-balanced meals every single day,” says Kaley. “I meal plan for two meals everyday of the season (pregame and postgame).

“Nutrition is important for your performance,” says Kaley. “It can make a big difference.”

With a “plate check” chart on the clubhouse wall, the team has a chance to take in well-balanced portions of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats.

With about 40 mouths to feed and tastes coming from all over the U.S. and Latin America, Kaley works with a local caterer (as well as those at out-of-town destinations in the Midwest League) to mix up the menu.

“I need to make a variety of all different kinds of foods to help them stay interested in eating healthy foods and not get bored with what they’re eating,” says Kaley. “We can’t have chicken every single time.”

Kaley takes requests and provides healthy smoothies packed with nutrient-dense foods. The ingredients depend on the player’s goals — gaining, losing or maintaining weight.

“I’m right in the clubhouse doing it,” says Kaley. “They see it and smell it. Sometimes they want to help. Sometimes they want to taste test.”

If players don’t like what’s being presented to them, peanut butter and jelly is an alternative.

With clubhouse/equipment manager Terry Fellows doing the shopping with a “Costco haul” at the beginning of a homestand, Kaley makes sure her hungry crew can have healthy snacks like fruits, homemade popcorn or banana bread.

There is also access to superfood shots — Matcha for energy, beet for endurance, pickle juice as a cramp stopper, ginger for immunity, collagen for protection and tart cherry for recovery.

She is also there to answer all the nutrition questions thrown her way and troubleshooting.

Kaley went on one road trip and might go on another before the 2017 season closes. When she’s not with the squad, she has strength and conditioning coach Ryan Nordtvedt providing the snacks while she is in South Bend catching up on planning, notes and filing assessments sheets for the Cubs organization.

As a fifth-year veteran of professional baseball, Nordtvedt has also been a resource to show Kaley how things function. He also provides her with player weights so she is able to use food to help them gain, lose or maintain.

“I’m glad the strength and conditioning coach is here and locked into nutrition being an important part of professional baseball,” says Kaley, who also works with athletic trainer Logan Severson in South Bend.

Kaley, who plans to become a board-certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD) this February, has a Masters degree in Sport Nutrition from University of Colorado-Colorado Springs and a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from Simmons College in Boston, where she also played lacrosse.

She grew up in Bangor and Manchester, Maine, and earned her karate black belt and played lacrosse and soccer at Maranacook Community School.

“I was raised in a healthy environment,” says Kaley, the daughter of a dietitian mother (Lori) and diabetic father (Bruce) with sisters (Lindsey and twin Zoie). “I brought lunches to school everyday. I fueled well for soccer practice. I knew how food effected me.”We didn’t got out to eat a lot and in-moderation. We didn’t have soda in the house. We had ice cream once in awhile.”

Kaley went from Simmons into a Morrison Chartwells Distance Dietetic Internship in Charlotte, N.C. While there, she got to work with elite swimmer Ryan Lochte, who was training at Queens University. She was invited to go to Colorado Springs see to the nutrition needs of Team USA Swimming and Team USA Track and Field athletes at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in the year leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“I was in the presence of Michael Phelps and gave him a smoothie one time,” says Kaley.

Those kinds of athletes are very much in-tune with their nutrition and how their bodies respond to food.

At the low levels of pro baseball, it varies from person to person and not all metabolisms are the same.

“It’s super fun to work with the 18- to 24-year-olds,” says Kaley. “They’re just starting to get it.”

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Emily Kaley is the dietitian for the 2017 South Bend Cubs. The Chicago Cubs organization was the first to have registered dietitians for all of its minor league affiliates. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

‘Trust the process’ approach guides South Bend’s Mitchell

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Major League Baseball’s minor leagues are about development.

With a motto of “trust the process,” South Bend Cubs outfielder Kevonte Mitchell continues to learn the game in his fourth professional season.

Mitchell, who celebrated his 22nd birthday Saturday, Aug. 12 at Four Winds Field by going 2-of-5 at the plate with a double, two runs batted in and one run scored, originally committed to play at Southeast Missouri State University.

When the baseball and basketball standout and honor roll student at Kennett (Mo.) High School was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 13th round of the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Mitchell opted not to put off his pro development.

“The Cubs made an offer that I couldn’t refuse,” says Mitchell. “Coming out of high school and learning from professionals right away, I felt I needed that. I wanted to learn.”

Kevonte’s dad did not play baseball. His mom played a little softball.

Growing up in the Bootheel region of Missouri, the son of Kevin and Darlene Mitchell and younger brother of Brianne took to the diamond at an early age.

“I found out I was kind of good at it so I just kept playing it when I was younger and here I am today,” says Mitchell.

He looks back on his days as a newly-minted pro and remembers that as another learning opportunity.

“I had to grow up really quickly, I’ll tell you that,” says Mitchell. “I’ll never forget my first night out in Arizona. I’d never been that far from home.”

An 18-year-old Kevonte gave himself a pep talk.

“There’s no turning back now,” says Mitchell. “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do and play the game that I love.”

After stints with the rookie-level Arizona Cubs in 2014 and 2015 and Single-A short-season Eugene Emeralds in 2015 and 2016, Mitchell has spent the whole 2017 season with South Bend in the Low Class-A Midwest League. The Cubs are 61-56 overall; 22-26 in the second half.

Using his swiftness, Mitchell has played mostly right or left field and been a threat to steal or base or go first-to-third. He was a third baseman and shortstop in high school.

“My speed is a big factor to my game,” says Mitchell. “As an outfielder, I’ve learned about routes and how to get to the ball quicker. I still need help with that.

“I’ll play anywhere (manager Jimmy Gonzalez and the Cubs) need me. I’ll be ready to go out there.”

Where trusting the process comes in the most for the 6-foot-4, 185-pounder is in the right-handed batter’s box.

“I’ve made a lot of adjustments since the start of spring training,” says Mitchell, who came through action Saturday hitting .252 with 11 home runs, 53 RBI, 51 runs scored and 18 stolen bases (.270, 1, 8, 8 and 3 in the last 10 games). “I don’t consider myself a power guy. I have the potential to maybe be a power guy one day.

“I’m just trying to be a better hitter. I’m focusing on going the other way, knowing what the pitcher is doing with runners on base. With two strikes, I try to shorten up (my swing) and see the ball.”

Mitchell saw the basketball go through the net on a regular basis during his time with the Kennett Indians. He poured in 1,585 career points. He was all-state as a senior and holds the school record for rebounds.

“I played whatever the coach needed — 1 through 4,” says Mitchell. “Sometimes I’d bring the ball down (the court). Sometimes I’d be posting up.”

The Cubs don’t want Mitchell getting hurt by playing full-out hoops.

“I’ll shoot a couple shots here and there,” says Mitchell.

But mostly he trusts the process while getting better on the diamond.

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Kevonte Mitchell, a South Bend Cubs outfielder, turned 22 Saturday, Aug. 12. He is in his fourth professional baseball season. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

South Bend’s Pieters proudly representing island of Curacao

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball in Curacao has really taken off since Andruw Jones became a big league star in the late 1990’s.

Jones aka “The Curacao Kid” played 17 Major League Baseball seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees and paved the way for players from the Caribbean island nation of 150,000.

“Baseball has always been big, but since Andruw Jones got to The League it has gotten even bigger,” says Chris Peters, a pitcher-turned-position player who is working on his diamond future with the Low Class-A Midwest League’s South Bend Cubs. “Scouts started coming over even more looking for talent. I think I can pretty much say baseball is the No. 1 sport (in Curacao) right now.”

The Chicago Cubs signed free agent Pieters to a minor league contract in 2011 and he made his professional pitching debut at 17 in the Dominican Summer League in 2012.

After he went 3-5 with a 7.16 earned run average in 29 games on the mound, Pieters was moved to first base for the 2015 and 2016 seasons and has been used primarily in right field in South Bend.

“As a kid, I always liked hitting,” says Pieters, now 22. “I was very happy when (the Cubs) gave me the chance, the opportunity to become a position player. I’m just going for a dream or a goal which is to get to the big leagues.”

Pieters was a mid-season Northwest League All-Star at Eugene in 2016 while hitting .246 with three home runs, 28 runs batted in and 20 stolen bases in 66 games.

“Speed is one of the biggest parts of my game,” says Pieters.

Through his first 55 games in 2017 (he has spent two stints on the 7-day disabled list), Pieters was hitting .240 with four homers, 21 RBI and nine steals, including .342-1-5-2 in his last 10 games.

“I’ve progressed a lot this season,” says Pieters. “I’ve learned a lot from my coaches. I’m really grateful for them.”

South Bend’s staff includes manager Jimmy Gonzalez, hitting coach Jeremy Farrell, pitching coach Brian Lawrence and assistant coach Jonathan Mota.

Pieters, a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder who bats and throws left-handed, explains his approach at the plate: “Look for my pitch and do damage to it. Don’t get myself out. Go up with a plan, look for a certain pitch and attack it.”

Pieters comes from a place where it is often 90 degrees and humid.  The upper Midwest did not offer that kind of climate in the early part of the season, but it’s been more Curacao-like as the summer has heated up and Pieters is enjoying his time in the River City.

“South Bend is pretty chill,” says Pieters. “Since the cold weather went away, it’s been perfect. I can’t complain.”

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Chris Pieters was signed by the Chicago Cubs as a pitcher in 2011. He is an outfielder with the Low Class-A South Bend Cubs in 2017. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

LaPorte’s Miller pitching professionally in ‘second home’ of Fort Wayne

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Evan Miller was born in LaPorte and learned his baseball in the land of the Slicers.

Fort Wayne has become like a “second home” to Miller, who played baseball at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne and is now trying make his way in pro ball as a pitcher with the Fort Wayne TinCaps.

“I love this place,” says Miller, who went 10-10 with two saves a 5.39 earned run average in 31 appearances over two seasons while taking general studies classes at IPFW. “There’s plenty to do.”

The 2014 LaPorte High School graduate and Michiana Scrappers travel player was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 22nd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Miller was the third player ever drafted out of the school and became the first former IPFW Mastodon on the TinCaps roster when he appeared in six games with the Low Class-A Midwest League club in 2016.

A 6-foot-2, 185-pound right-hander, Miller has spent 2017 moving between extended spring training in Arizona, the Tri-City Dust Devils in Washington state and Fort Wayne.

“Everything’s a learning experience,” says Miller. “I started off hot, I hit my rough spot and now I’ve gotten my feet back under me and I’m pitching a little better.

“I just want to pitch well and control what I can control. I don’t worry about moving up or down.”

Besides the numbers, what tells Miller things are going right for him?

“I’m throwing strikes,” says Miller. “I’m getting ahead in the count. I’m being consistent with the off-speed and throwing that for strikes.

“I like my fastball. I throw it early and often. I’m trying to get (batters) to swing in the first three pitches.”

In his most recent outing for the TinCaps — July 22 against Kane County — he came out of the bullpen to pitch two-plus innings.

Throwing 30 pitches (23 fastballs and 21 strikes), Miller faced 10 batters and allowed four hits and two earned runs. He tossed a first-pitch strike to six hitters and got ahead 0-2 on three batters.

Three times, he fired pitches shown as 94 mph on the Parkview Field scoreboard and was at 91 or above 22 times.

“If I’m going to get beat, I’m going to get beat with my best pitch, which I think is my fastball,” says Miller, who likes to mix his fastball — which thrown with a four-seam grip but runs and sinks like a two-seamer — with his slider and change-up.

Parents David and Sheree Miller and grandparents Larry and Bev Miller were in the Fort Wayne crowd. LaPorte is only about 100 miles away. When Evan was in college, playing for head coach Bobby Pierce, his dad and grandfather were known to travel as far away as Fargo, N.D., and Tulsa, Okla., to see their boy pitch.

Of course, Evan was a starter most of the time at LaPorte, where he was an honorable mention all-state selection for head coach Scott Upp in 2014, and at IPFW (where he struck out a school-record 94 batters in 80 innings in 2015 and followed that up with 71 K’s in 72 1/3 innings in 2016) so they knew when he was scheduled to play.  There’s not as much certainty coming out of the bullpen, but there are days when relievers are considered “hot” and ready to be used on a given day.

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Evan Miller, a 2014 LaPorte High School graduate who pitched at Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne in 2015 and 2016, is now with the Fort Wayne TinCaps in the San Diego Padres organization. (Steve Krah Photo)

 

Pitching to contact helps South Bend lefty Rondon earn 10th victory

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Manuel Rondon averages more than seven strikeouts per nine innings and the left-handed pitcher in the Chicago Cubs organization still likes to blow hitters away.

But the 22-year-old Venezuelan is beginning to appreciate what pitching to contact can do for him.

Rondon, a fourth-year professional, went a season-best 6 2/3 innings and pushed his 2017 record to 10-3 Monday, July 17 in helping the South Bend Cubs best the visiting Cedar Rapids Kernels 2-1 in Midwest League play.

His 10 wins are twice as many as any other South Bend pitcher has amassed so far this season.

After issuing a leadoff walk and seeing Cedar Rapids score a first-inning run without a hit, Rondon went on to put up zeroes.

The lefty would yield four hits (two doubles) with three strikeouts and three walks while getting five groundouts and six flyouts. He benefitted from double plays in the second and third innings.

South Bend pitching coach Brian Lawrence chalked up Rondon’s successful outing to “attacking the hitters and not being predictable.”

Lawrence watched the southpaw command his fastball and mix in his other pitches and throwing different pitches and different ball-strike counts to keep the Kernels off-balance.

“He’s done that well for the last couple starts,” said Lawrence of a player who was purchased in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels in 2015 and was named the Northwest League Pitcher of the Year in 2016. “(Early in the season) he had some games where he was missing up in the zone and got hit around a little bit. It just took him a little bit of time to get his rhythm again. Now, it comes down to keeping the ball down and changing speeds.”

Getting ahead of hitters allows Rondon to effectively use his change-up.

Rondon, whose native language is Spanish, spoke through South Bend teammate Alberto Mineo after Monday’s start.

“He said he honestly loves striking out guys, but there are situations where you have to pitch to contact, if you want to go longer in the game and keep your pitch count low,” said Mineo. “Today was his longest game (of the season) and he was pitching to contact.”

Mineo, who singled in both South Bend runs Monday, related that Rondon liked how his curve ball was working. With more experience, he is gaining confidence in his ability to get hitters out.

Rondon also expressed his appreciation for the Cubs coaching staff to cheer up players during good days and bad days and how the South Bend fans support the team.

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Manuel Rondon is a left-handed pitcher with the South Bend Cubs. (South Bend Cubs Photo)