BY STEVE KRAH
Michael Earley works with some of the best college batsmen in the country.
The Anderson, Ind., native is the hitting coach at Arizona State University, where former Indiana University head coach Tracy Smith fields a potent Sun Devils lineup featuring junior outfielder Hunter Bishop (.391 average, 17 home runs, 43 runs batted in), sophomore infielder Spencer Torkelson (.378-11-42), sophomore outfielder Trevor Hauver (.355-9-33), sophomore infielder Alika Williams (.352-3-34), Carter Aldrete (.290-4-32), junior catcher Lyle Lin (.287-4-35) and more.
In Earley’s first season with ASU hitters in 2018, Torkelson slugged a nation-leading 25 homers (the first frosh ever to lead the country in circuit clouts). Aldrete and Lin both raised their averages from the previous season by 20 points and were named to the all-Pac-12 team.
With Earley’s help on offense and defense, outfielder Gage Canning (.369-9-45) had a strong junior season and was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and signed with the Washington Nationals.
Earley, who turned 31 on March 15, helps players get into a productive rhythm.
“We create a routine and stick to that routine when things are going good or when things are going bad,” says Earley. “I know how important that is and to not get caught up in failure or success.
“With the elite guys, I become a psychologist and a mental coach more than a physical coach. I want to keep them even-keeled at all times.”
It’s not a cookie-cutter approach.
“Every guy’s different,” says Earley. “They can be similar hitters, but have opposite personalities.
“You need to connect with them so you know what makes them tick or go.”
Earley (@earleybaseball on Twitter and earleyhitcoach on Instagram) does this by making himself available.
“It’s about putting in the time and always being available for them,” says Earley. “Your work shows them you care. You never turn them down.
“We’ve built a culture of guys hitting all the time. They do it on their own and between classes. Guys are just working. We’ve got some guys who are obsessed with their craft.”
Spending so much time with his players builds a sense of trust.
“If they trust you, that’s the key to having a good relationship as hitting coach and hitter and having success,” says Earley.
After the 2018-19 Christmas break, Sun Devil hitters moved into the $5 million Malone complex, a place where they put in cage work before hitting outdoors.
“It’s the nicest batting facility I’ve ever seen,” says Earley.
Hitters will see pitches off a velocity and breaking ball machines.
“We usually do it every other day,” says Earley. “On a comfortable day, we’ll do regular BP and front toss. On a discomfort day, we’ll take gameday, high-heart rate swings.”
During preseason, Smith raised the competition level by sending his top four hitters against his top two pitchers for three or four innings of intense scrimmage.
ASU has built a culture of competition. It calms down a little during the season. But in the fall and preseason, Earley says it’s tough to beat.
“We have alpha-type athletes competing over and over again,” says Earley. “We have a smaller roster and we’re getting creative and writing things down and it just came to him.
“We had a lot of stressful innings for our pitchers and high-intensity at-bats for our hitters. It was huge for us coming into the year.”
Arizona State, which plays its home games at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, got out of the gate in 2019 at 21-0 and are currently 27-7 overall and 10-5 in the Pac-12.
“We’re big on opposing scouting,” says Earley. “Our guys are really prepared. They’ve seen (opposing pitchers) before on video.
“Some of the analytics things we keep in-house. It does pay a big part in what we do every day.”
Earley is a 2006 graduate of Anderson (Ind.) High School, where he played for head coach Terry Turner. After one season at the University of Cincinnati for head coach Brian Cleary, he went to Indiana to play for Smith.
“I love Coach Turner,” says Earley. “He was mentor figure. He was the first coach that believed in me and helped push me.
“I’m a huge Daleville fan now.”
Turner has coached Daleville (Ind.) High School to IHSAA Class 1A state titles in 2016 and 2018.
Earley calls former Cincinnati coaches Cleary and assistant Brad Meador “great people.” He was just looking for a different experience and a chance to play at IU.
“He never let you let down,” says Earley of playing for Smith. “You always had to compete. He always expected the best out of you. It helped me get to the next level and be the best player you could be.
“It helped me translate into a better player and a better coach.”
In one season with the Bearcats (2007) and three with the Hoosiers (2008-10), righty swinger Smith hit .327 with 23 home runs and 87 RBI’s. In 2010, he was a third-team all-Big Ten selection after hitting .352-13-40 with 15 stolen bases. Mostly an outfielder, he played at least one inning at every position on the field except pitcher.
He was drafted in the 29th round by the Chicago White Sox, signed by scout Mike Shirley and ascending to Triple-A Charlotte in 2013. He played professional baseball through 2015, the last year with the independent Southern Illinois Miners. He was an associate scout with the New York Mets in 2016.
Nolan Earley, a freshman center fielder and lead-off hitter at Anderson when big brother Michael was a senior shortstop and No. 3 hitter (Nolan was the starting QB and Michael a wideout in football). Nolan later played at the University of South Alabama and in the White Sox organization and with the Southern Illinois Miners.
Michael and Lisa Earley were married in 2015. The couple have three children — Marshall (5), Mia (3) and Maddie (1). They were living in Anderson before getting the call to Arizona.
Her husband says Lisa was not hesitant to make the move.
“She was with me in the minor leagues,” says Michael Earley. “She’s a baseball wife. This is her lifestyle.”
Michael Earley, a graduate of Anderson (Ind.) High School who played at Indiana University and in professional baseball, is in his second season as hitting and outfielder coach at Arizona State University. Former IU head coach Tracy Smith is head coach of the Sun Devils. (Arizona State University Photo)