Tag Archives: Mike Shirley

LHP Richard re-building himself through Project 2020

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Clayton Richard wasn’t satisfied with the status quo.

The professional left-handed pitcher was not willing to settle.

So when the Lafayette, Ind., native became a free agent after the 2019 Major League Baseball season, he decided a transformation was in order after appearing in 275 MLB games (210 as a starter) since 2008.

The former Indiana Mr. Baseball (he was Indiana Mr. Football, too) sought a way to re-work his mechanics.

“My performance was not matching up with what I desire to be,” says Richard, who went 1-5 with a 5.96 earned run average in 10 starts with the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays and was released Sept. 12 (his 36th birthday). “I decided to make a tangible change to improve production.

“It’s going great. I’m really happy with it.”

A 6-foot-5, 235-pounder, Richard participated with Team USA in the World Baseball Softball Conference Premier 12 — an Olympic qualifier held Nov. 2-17 in Jalisco, Mexico.

He was not in a spring training camp when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live baseball.

The southpaw did travel to Driveline Baseball headquarters in Kent, Wash., to begin his transformation process. He labeled it Project 2020. His journey was explored by David Laurila for Fangraphs in April.

He established a plan of action and came back to Lafayette and started implementing it. He built a barn next to his house and goes out there every morning.

“I’m throwing into a net quite a bit, which isn’t the most fun,” says Richard. “But the net never lies. It shows you exactly where the ball went.

“A good catcher can manipulate pitches.”

The pitcher also wrote down his plan, painstakingly laying out the details.

“Before the baseball world came to a screeching halt, I was frequently asked ‘What are you doing now?’ by friends and family alike,” writes Richard in the introduction to the project. “Although the question was simple enough, I honestly didn’t feel comfortable enough to delve into exactly what I was doing with my time – mostly due to the fact that I didn’t think the majority of people really care where my spin axis was that week.

“Like most unsigned free agent pitchers in professional baseball, it is much easier to state, ‘just throwing every day and waiting for the right opportunity.’

“The reality is I have been up to a lot more than simply throwing a few baseballs everyday. I have used the last few months to make significant changes this off-season. The effectiveness of my pitching repertoire had changed for the worse over the past two seasons.

“Based on that, I could choose to continue down the same path, one with an aim to execute pitches at a higher rate but likely be relegated to a LHP bullpen role, or veer headfirst into changing how my pitches profiled to RHH in an effort to level out the platoon splits for longer outings.

“I honestly debated the choice many times over – my wife likely got sick of my asking her or talking to myself. Ultimately, I came up with a plan to revamp my arsenal to return in time as the starting pitcher, the role I have worked to become since first pitching in my backyard with my dad squatting behind the plate and my mother standing in the box.”

Clayton is the oldest of Barry and Cindy Richard’s three children ahead of daughters Casey (Davenport) and Taylor (Bumgarner). Barry is a retired Lafayette Police offer and has served as sheriff of Tippecanoe County and the executive director of Lyn Trece Boys & Girls Club of Tippecanoe County. Cindy has worked with troubled teenagers.

Most of Richard’s charitable work in baseball has been centered on at-risk youth. He and his wife have worked with the Lyn Trece BGC and and clubs in San Diego.

“We only get to play baseball for so long,” says Richard. “The impact off the field really lasts.”

Richard was the Padres’ nominee for the Heart & Hustle Award (given out annually the the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association to a current player who not only excels not he field, but also “best embodies the values, spirits and traditions of baseball”) and the Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award (given annually to a Major League Baseball player “whose on-field performance and contributions to his community inspire others to higher levels of achievement”).

“To be honored with those types of things is really humbling,” says Richard. “It shows what’s really important in life.”

A 2003 graduate of McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Clayton played football for Mavericks head coach Kevin O’Shea, basketball for Rick Peckinpaugh and baseball for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

What sticks with Richard about Burton?

“His discipline and organization of team activities,” says Richard. “Those two things he did at such a high level.

“He taught so many young men the value of being on time and working hard. We were always busy. There was never time to stand around. There was always something you could be doing.”

Richard related to that. He grew up in a household that stressed discipline.

“It was an attribute that was preached and followed,” says Richard. “We’d make sure we’re on time, saying yes. It was those little details about how you carried yourself that made a big difference.

“Those are things we’re trying to teach our children now.”

Clayton and Ashley Richard have three kids — sons Cashton (7), Cannon (6) and daughter Kile (3).

Recently, the family has been going out to a local field.

“It’s our time to be together and play baseball,” says Richard.

While there might not be organized youth baseball this summer because of the pandemic, Richard expects there to be sports for them in the fall.

“Maybe flag football or soccer?,” says Richard. “We keep sports in their own season so they don’t get burned out. We don’t want them playing one sport all year.”

From his own experience and talking with elite athletes, Richard is a believer in participating in multiple sports for a well-rounded experience.

“There’s the competitive advantage of always being in-person,” says Richard. “There’s the social advantage of having teammates.”

Basketball teaches agility and conditioning. Football gives the opportunity to interact with others and be a leader.

The Richards have been doing eLearning with kids. But it’s something they did before the pandemic quarantine. Homeschooling was done because of inconsistent residence, a byproduct of pro baseball.

Richard says schooling kids at home has its advantages.

“It cuts all of the stagnate time and we get to spend more quality time with them,” says Richard. “The details you instill in their education is taken care of.”

Clayton Richard and Ashley Buckingham met at the University of Michigan, where he was a pro-style football quarterback and baseball pitcher and she was a middle blocker on the volleyball team. She prepped at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind.

When did baseball become Clayton’s primary sport?

“Sept. 12, 2004,” says Richard, who was then a redshirt freshman. “That was the day after Michigan was upset 28-20 against Notre Dame. Sophomore Chad Henne was kept at quarterback for that game and moving forward. “I saw writing on the wall. I knew my football career at Michigan was probably coming to an end.”

Soon after the Rose Bowl, Richard went to the baseball team. He appeared in 21 games and went 0-1 with five saves and a 2.43 ERA. He was selected in the eighth round of the 2005 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox and signed by Anderson, Ind.-based scout Mike Shirley.

Richard made his big league debut with the White Sox in 2008 at 24. He was dealt to the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline in 2009. He elected free agency after the 2013 season.

He underwent Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery in February 2014 and pitched in the minors with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations that year.

Richard was traded to the Chicago Cubs and returned to a big league mound in 2015. He returned to the Padres in August 2016 and remained with them until he designated for assignment in December 2018. That same month Richard was traded to the Blue Jays.

For his career, he is 69-84 with a 4.51 ERA and 824 strikeouts in 1,284 2/3 innings.

Richard has been described as a contact pitcher.

“You never set out to have guys hit the ball,” says Richard. “Weak contact on contact on the ground is a really good thing.

“Guys who typically have a lower spin rate tend to sink the ball. That creates more early contact and more early outs with balls on the ground.”

As he began “Project 2020” in earnest, Richard met with Driveline founder/owner Kyle Boddy and started working with manager of online training Dean Jackson.

More from 2020 Project:

“I need to use my past as a compass to my future. I am too evolved in my career to think what I have done doesn’t matter while looking to improve.

“My Past: I learned how to throw a football first.

“Why that’s important: If I desire to make some fundamental changes to my delivery, I need to be willing to change in complete, as the foundation of my throwing process was built around throwing a football.

“I had to make arm, body, and mechanical compensations mid-career due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. (TOS: the compression of the brachia plexus that is the highway of nerves, arteries and/or veins that controls and supplies to the arm. In myself it manifested as drastic pain in the anterior shoulder).

“Why that’s important: I need to be aware of why I started to do ‘strange’ things throwing a baseball and understand that it’ll be difficult to kick those old habits.

“I made additional compensations in 2018 to get past knee issues.

“Why that’s important: For very much the same reason as the TOS. My body had compensated to cover up inefficiencies, and I had to retrain myself to get back to my old self.

“The combination of these three athletic factors left me with a delivery that was nonathletic and not overly effective, so I tried to throw the old delivery out the window.

“Getting rid of that old delivery has been much like getting water out of a tire. You can see it. You don’t want it there. Yet, you are forced to keep flipping over that tire again and again because only a small portion comes out with every flip.

“The easier part for me was self-evaluating thru identifying pitches and zones that needed improvement from my past. The info was sadly pretty clear to me that not much of my arsenal was effective vs RHH other than my slider. The worst part of the self evaluation was that the slider was largely ineffective last season also due to a whole host of reasons.

“What I also found was that my sinker at the bottom of the zone – my bread and butter that generated ground balls — had turned from a viable option to one that was generating less and less favorable results.

“My change-up as well had blended into a pitch that too closely mirrored the not so great metrics of my sinker. My analytics study showed my ability to cut and spin the ball was also compromised, due to the lower arm slot and release angle that had been an effective and physically necessary approach a couple of seasons prior.

“A few years ago after another brief self evaluation, I moved to the other side of the rubber, spent the offseason trying to manipulate the change up, and reintroduce a cut fastball into my mix.

“To my naked eye, these worked great and I was oozing with confidence. The ball flight suggested they were good, catch partners loved them, and bullpen catchers were on board. Everything was smooth and positive until a RHH got into the box and took swings at the pitches.

“Going into this offseason, I set the goal of raising my arm angle to create a better four seam fastball vs RHH. This adjustment would change my approach angle, movement profile, and velocity. The new angle would also allow me to differentiate my off-speed from the FB more effectively.

“I felt like I had a good idea of what I wanted to accomplish but didn’t want to lose out on the opportunity to consult specialists in this area of pitching.

“Last year, I worked with a longtime pitching coach that requests to be anonymous. This year I had started to follow Driveline (DL) through social media and been reading up on their research. I decided to reach out to Kyle Boddy. He quickly responded and gave me all the information I needed. I made the trip to Washington to check out Driveline.

“Their information surprised me a bit but offered a roadmap of the last few months: my lower body was not creating much force, and my delivery was not syncing up efficiently enough to create optimized velocity into the ball.”

Richard offered a summary of his Driveline Report:

“Key Notes: Arm action is overall clean and efficient, elbow is a bit low at ball release. However, this is not currently having a negative effect on the rest of the arm action.

“The trunk opening early into foot plant is most likely pulling the arm out of efficient positions too early in the throw.

“Trunk opens early into foot plant. Hip/shoulder separation and timing are inefficient with room to improve.”

Biomechanics details: “Richard’s upper body kinematic positions are within normal to above average ranges for the most part. He does a great job creating above average scap retraction into foot plant (47 degs). Low shoulder abduction at ball release (79 degs). Besides that, no other glaring inefficiencies noted.

“He does a good job staying stacked with good forward (-10 degs) and lateral (4 degs) trunk tilt early into foot plant. However, there are some other inefficiencies noted. Richard’s trunk is opening early into foot plant (21 degs). This is limiting Richard’s ability to create hip/shoulder separation (18 degs) and timing from peak pelvis to peak torso angular velocity (0.0111 secs). This is most likely a product of inefficient trunk/pelvis positions at foot plant making it hard to create separation and sequence efficiently. Hip/shoulder separation drills should be emphasized to work on this by holding counter-rotation and staying stacked with the trunk while the pelvis opens into foot plant.

“Below average kinematic velocities noted; COG velocity (2 m/s); torso angular velocity (980 degs/sec).

“Joint kinetics within normal ranges.”

Richard has taken that data and gone to work.

“With those notes, I had all the information I needed to start down my path of change,” writes Richard of his plan. “Here is a sample formula for a delivery that I will refer to a few times moving forward: Just as 10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10+10=100, Mindset+Focus+Breath+Feet+Legs+Hips+Torso+Arms+Hand+Sights=Delivery or an Executed Pitch.

“This is an oversimplification pitch delivery to try to illustrate my point. Every pitcher will have a unique equation that reaches their own version of 100.

“When a pitcher changes one small thing in his delivery, he will no longer be at his desired 100.

“Example: I moved my throwing foot to be more flush with the rubber (had to exaggerate to feel as if my toes were pointing at the plate to get there).

Changing that ‘10’ in my foot to an ‘8’ left my solution at ‘98’. Then, I had to go step by step through the rest of my delivery to see what else needed adjusted to get back to 100. In this case, it was just my sights.

“The foot adjustment happened quickly, and my sights adjusted without much issue. Some fixes come relatively easily, but other changes require many frustrating training sessions to find out what was changed and what correlated adjustment needs made.

“Here are a few of the most frustrating parts I encounter when setting out to make a significant change:

“Seeing what is wrong and not feeling it.

“Feeling an adjustment made and not seeing it.

“Expectations not lining up with reality.

“Physical restrictions limiting a faster progression (in my case, blisters).

“I have also figured out you have to go through the frustrating parts to make progress. If you are not getting sore in new places, experiencing blisters, throwing balls off the backstop, then you’re likely not making much of a change at all.

“Making a fundamental change takes hundreds, even thousands of reps, and the outcome revealed is often incremental. My mind and body have worked together so long and over so many reps, it takes a while to break up the chemistry they have going.

“I started working from home while staying in contact with Dean Jackson of DL. We decided to start working from the ground up. Working on my lower half was a very frustrating process.

“Before the past couple of years, I had never put any thought into what my lower body was doing when I was pitching.

“The first part of my lower half adjustment was easy enough: moving my throwing foot flush with the rubber.

“I originally moved my heel off of the rubber to even out my delivery equation when I moved from the other side of the rubber to face RHH two years ago.

“I was having trouble with my command and made a quick fix to change the way by body angled to the plate vs changing something else.

“In getting my heel closer to the rubber, it improved my ability to get into my left hip. What felt good was often wrong and what felt foreign was generally right where I needed to be.

“I spent months trying to get more out of my legs to no avail. I was going back and forth with Dean, almost daily, toiling over changes that could make the positive impact we so desired. He did a remarkable job promptly responding and sending video examples when necessary.

“My mind was totally on my legs, but that is exactly where I was going wrong: I was putting too much emphasis on them. If I think back to when things were going well before the knee issues, there was no thought put into what my lower half was doing.

“Thinking about how it moves, I’m essentially locking it up. I stole a cue from Trevor Cahill, who sent me a video of him getting his foot down before an obstacle (keeping his glove foot on the throwing side of the midline to the plate). “That is what clicked with me after countless attempts to get my lower half moving ‘right’. What I had been doing was putting so much focus into my leg movement that the process of the lower half going down the slope was taking too long for my foot get down. It was just the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish.

“The next step was how my torso was moving in space at a couple of different points through my delivery.

“Closing off my upper half relative to my hips; Hip/Shoulder separation. The elite throwers do this very well. Over time, my natural ability to do this had been compromised by the many adjustments made to command the ball.

“One of the first attempts was to try to ‘glove tap’ at leg lift. Rob Hill suggested it, and this helped a little, but I didn’t feel that it made as drastic of a change as I desired.

“One day, I remembered back to learning to pitch for the first time in the back yard with my father. I originally misunderstood what he meant when he was telling me ‘all the way back’.

“We would play out imaginary at-bats and call ‘balls’ and ‘strikes.’ If I were to fall behind, he would exclaim, ‘Come on Clayton. All the way back!

“Six-year-old me understood this as reaching my glove and ball all the way back towards second base as far as I could before I delivered the pitch. I didn’t understand ‘all the way back’ as a saying to get back into the count until embarrassingly late in my baseball days.

“So, I used the input from Rob and my father to start getting a little more counter rotation with my upper half by driving my hands back at leg lift.

“Getting on top of the ball: One of the biggest obstacles to get the ball to act how I want it to is to get more ‘on top’ of it. My spin axis has gotten pretty low since my return from TOS.

“My spin axis was measured around 9:45. This leads to a terrific amount of arm side run, but in the past couple years it was not enough to keep the RHH at bay. I needed to find a healthy way to raise my hand and effectively raise my spin axis. “One thing I have heard from many pitching coaches and baseball minds more advanced than mine, is that you don’t mess with a player’s arm angle.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t always listen to this wisdom, and I battled to change mine at times earlier in my career, which led to some arm issues. That left me with the challenge to get my hand more vertical without raising my arm relative to my body.

“Enter Torso Tilt: I elected to use my torso to ‘lean’ glove side in an effort to raise ‘arm angle’ and get my spin axis to a more desirable slot. This worked initially, but then proved to be very inconsistent in terms of spin axis.

“The ball was coming out of the same slot consistently, but the axis was very inconsistent.

“I couldn’t figure this out for a long time. I was throwing with RHP Parker Dunshee and took note of his arm slot that is relatively low compared to his 1:00 spin axis.

“We talked it over, and I tried changing the positioning of my thumb on the baseball. Boom. Spin axis at or above 10:30 nearly every pitch following adjustment.

“My thumb was on the side of the ball and I moved it under or essentially polar opposite of my power fingers.

“After my four-seam fastball was starting to profile how I envisioned it, it was time to start commanding that pitch and doing so at higher intensity levels.

“One thing that I have found when implementing changes into a delivery is that I can perform them fairly easily in drill work or super low intensity situations. The real challenge lies in creating my new outcome as soon as a higher level of intensity is introduced and there is more focus on the outcome of the pitch.

“The moment in which I envision a hitter in the box or try to execute a pitch, my mind/body has a tendency to revert back to the form in which it performed that action in the past.”

“Outside of family, there is nothing in my life that has had as much of an impact on my actions and mindset as baseball. I had a high school football coach that would routinely acknowledge ‘pain is a good teacher’.

“There is not much more painful than giving up a home run to give up the lead or lose an MLB game. Those game experiences of pitches that I was beat on are burnt into my mind and body. If I try to tell my body to throw that pitch, my mind will override a poor decision to stay away from that uber painful experience it was once put in.

“It also provides a level of comfort with the delivery that has worked, for the most part, over the course of my career.

“Unfortunately, that delivery that I revert back to is not one I want moving forward while facing RHH. So, I have to make a habit out of making the uncomfortable, comfortable.

“This is where slow-motion video and pitch measuring tools such as Rapsodo really provide an advantage.

“It is impossible to find big league level talent to take swings off you every time you take the mound to work things out.

“The combination of Rapsodo and film have been introduced to somewhat fill that void.

“Nothing can fully replace the feedback of a big-league hitter, but the metrics and video provided from these sources has been a big step forward in seeing the necessary changes, and if I was making the changes the way I had envisioned.

“Now, instead of ‘feeling’ like that was a good pitch, I can look up and check to see if the numbers backed it up. Whenever I think of mental cues and how our mind perceives our body to be moving,

“I recall a conversation with former MLB veteran and fellow Hoosier, Joe Thatcher. I faced him his senior year of high school, and he threw ‘normal’.

“He developed into a Big Leaguer as a guy that dropped down and was very difficult on LHH. I asked him, “When did you start throwing like this?” when we were teammates in SD. He replied, ‘I feel like I’m throwing the same as everyone else, completely normal.’

“It goes to show, no matter how good we are or how far we have come, very rarely is the vision of our mind’s eye 20/20.

“All too often, early in the process, what felt like a great pitch only felt great because it was closer to how I used to throw.

“I wanted to feel weird and make the weird feeling my new normal. This process takes thousands of throws. It can take thousands of throws at each level of intensity.

“Playing catch — Flatground, Side Work, Live BP, Simulated Game, MiLB Game, MLB Game. As I have worked at each level, I have found that there are certain obstacles that pop up because of my body/mind recalling how it used to perform.

“Back to the process – Command: At this point, many of the variables in my delivery equation have been manipulated.

“The only thing remaining is throwing until my new sights line up with where the ball is actually going, without regressing towards what I’m comfortable with.

“This remains easier said than done. Thousands of throws, even a few off the glove were made in this process.

“I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many intelligent baseball minds over the course of my career. In these times of introspection, I will find myself recalling the cues Darren Balsley used to help me improve my sinker, or how Jim Benedict helped get my velo back after the TOS. Whether it was sights under the glove or the concept of throwing it easy and pulling down, I still draw from those interactions and now I have the 4S FB that I desire.

“Unfortunately, I do not throw 101 mph and have the luxury of living off of one pitch. I am forced to incorporate my off speed to compete at the highest level.

“Every time I use a different grip, some part of my delivery is driven back in time due to the muscle memory of that grip. Some grips take weeks to figure out what was not adding up, like my slider (turns out I was failing to drive my hands back at the top of my leg lift like I was with my FB).

“Other grips took just a few throws to iron out the kinks, like my CH. The new hand placement has allowed for the reintroduction of my cutter and curveball, which was kind of like learning new pitches all over again due to the lack of action those pitches have seen over the past few years.”

“I still have some work to do in getting the release points of my off-speed to mirror more closely that of my FB.

“However, they have gradually gotten closer over the last couple of weeks, and I just need to flip that tire a few more times.  A couple more flips and the water will likely be out of it – just like I will be back to my ‘new, old self.’”

There is uncertainty about when the Major League Baseball season is going to begin — if at all — and if there will be Minor League Baseball in 2020.

Richard’s agent, John Courtright of ISE Baseball in Chicago, is monitoring the situation.

“The opportunities may be few and far between,” says Richard. “I’m going to be ready to compete.”

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Clayton Richard’s old heel position.

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Clayton Richard’s new heel position.

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Clayton Richard’s old hand position.

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Clayton Richard’s new hand position.

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Clayton Richard delivers the baseball for the San Diego Padres in 2009. (Sean M. Haffey/San Diego Union-Tribune Photo)

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Clayton Richard has pitched in the big leagues with the Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres (two different stints), Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays. (MLB Photo)

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Clayton Richard pitched the Toronto Blue Jays in 2019. The former McCutcheon High School and University of Michigan player made his Major League Baseball debut in 2008. (MLB Photo)

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Clayton Richard, of Lafayette, Ind., has been pitching in Major League Baseball since 2008. At 36, he is re-working his delivery to increase his production. (MLB Photo)

 

Former Pendleton Heights catcher Etchison scouting for Cleveland Indians

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Etchison used to play baseball for a coach who was invested in his players as people as ballplayers.

Now Etchison evaluates diamond talent with an eye for more than the obvious skills.

Etchison was a catcher for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bill Stoudt at Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School, graduating in 2007.

“He is one of he best human beings of all-time,” says Etchison of Stoudt. “He was close with his players and his players were close with each other. Everyone who played for him just loves him.

“He was so much more than a baseball coach. He was invested in you. He genuinely cares about people.”

Etchison, 31, makes it a point to look Stoudt up whether it’s in Indiana or Florida.

In his third year as an area scout for the Cleveland Indians, Etchison greatly values character.

“The Indians very progressive in how they go about scouting,” says Etchison. “We collect information and get to know a player. Every player has strengths and weaknesses.

“We emphasize make-up as an organization. The make-up is just so huge.”

Etchison, who played at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., Chipola College in Marianna, Fla., and the University of Maryland after his Pendleton Heights days (which included back-to-back Hoosier Heritage Conference championships in 2006 and 2007 and a senior season in which he hit .392 with five homer runs, seven doubles and 20 runs batted in and a spot on the 2007 IHSBCA North/South All-Star team; former Arabians head coach Travis Keesling assisted Stoudt; The PHHS program is now headed by Matt Vosburgh), wants to know a player’s level of perseverance and his ability to overcome challenges and perform under pressure.

His job is to identify someone who will impact the game at the big league level.

As an area scout living in Dexter, Mich., Etchison is responsible for a territory which includes Indiana and Michigan plus Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota, northern Kentucky, South Dakota, western Ohio and Wisconsin.

He goes to games and tournaments in the spring and summer and scout days in the fall featuring players from these territories or — especially in this time of no live baseball because of the COVID-19 pandemic — analyzes video to do player assessments and projections.

“I don’t know what we would have done without Synergy (Sports Technology) video,” says Etchison. “We can see mechanical things on tape — things that weren’t possible 10 years ago — and go through it with a fine-tooth comb.”

That’s one piece of the scouting puzzle.

“We’ll never not value going to the ballpark,” says Etchison. “There are a lot of things you can’t see on tape.”

Among those are pregame routines and what the player does during warm-ups or batting practice and how he interacts with his coaches and teammates. Body language won’t always show up on a video that is cut up by pitch and swing.

It is said that there are five tools in baseball (hitting for average, hitting for power, base running, throwing and fielding).

“Old school scouting relies so heavily on tools,” says Etchison. “In the majors, a lot of players have one or two.

“The hit tool, that’s the one that matters (for non-pitchers).”

Etchison hears people say that an outfielder can run like a deer and has a cannon for an arm.

But can he effectively swing the bat? Those defensive tools might show up once or twice a week.

“The bat shows up four times every game,” says Etchison. “All (big league) outfielders are offensive positions.”

Etchison, who also played travel baseball with the Indiana Bulls prior to college, redshirted his first season at Ball State (2008) and apparel in 20 games for Greg Beals-coached Mid-American Conference West Division champions in 2009.

Knowing that he would see limited playing time in his third year, Etchison made the choice to transfer to Chipola and joined the that program just weeks before the start of the 2010 season.

“The first time I really took a chance on myself was going down there,” says Etchison. “It was a sink-or-swim situation.”

He could either make it or go back to Indiana and leave his baseball career behind.

Playing for Jeff Johnson on a team loaded with future pro players, Etchison became part of the Chipola Indians brotherhood.

“It’s one of the top junior college programs in the country,” says Etchison. “(Johnson) had a very similar impact on his players as Coach Stoudt. He was a big personality, a great baseball coach and a great mentor.

“(Chipola) opened doors for me.”

Johnson had a relationship with then-Maryland head coach Erik Bakich and it helped Etchison land with the Terrapins as part of Bakich’s first recruiting class. He played in 28 games (25 as a starter) in 2011 and 31 (20 as a starter) in 2012. He threw out 14-of-25 runners attempting to steal during his senior season which opened with a dislocated finger that caused him to miss two weeks. He had already suffered a broken hand and a torn meniscus while at the Big Ten school.

Etchison was a Maryland team captain as a senior, helping the Terps win 32 games.

Meanwhile, Bakich encouraged Etchison to consider coaching when his playing days were over. He graduated from Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in Finance from the Robert H. Smith School of Business in December 2012.

“He thought I’d be good at it,” says Etchison. “I had a few real world job opportunities in the finance industry. My parents (Jeff and Shelly Etchison) encouraged me to get into (coaching). They’ve always wanted me to go out and take chances.”

When Bakich became head coach at the University of Michigan he brought Etchison on in the volunteer role, one he stayed in for five seasons (2013-17) plus part of the fall before going into scouting.

“I fell in love with coaching,” says Etchison. “I really loved being around baseball everyday.”

There was continuity in the Wolverines program and chances to earn money by working camps.

“I was in a great spot,” says Etchison, who briefly got the chance to go on the road and recruit when Sean Kenny left Michigan for the University of Georgia. “Financially, I was able to survive.”

He also got to spend time around a mentor in Bakich.

“He is one of my closest friends,” says Etchison, who got married last summer with Bakich performing the wedding ceremony.

Aaron became the stepfather to two boys — Reid (now 10 and in the fourth grade) and Grant (now 7 and in the first grade). Emily Etchison, who is from Saline, Mich., is due to bring a baby girl into the family at the end of July.

Etchison explains why he became a scout for the Cleveland Indians.

“The organization was extremely impressive,” says Etchison. “It was a great opportunity for growth.”

Another significant person in Etchison’s baseball life is fellow Anderson, Ind., native Mike Shirley, who is now Director of Amateur Scouting for the Chicago White Sox.

Growing up, Etchison was a regular at Shirley’s training facility.

“Like so many players who grew up in the area and are proud to be ‘Barn Guys,’ I would be remiss if I did not give credit to him for being a baseball mentor and friend for over 20 years,” says Etchison.

AARONETCHISON

Aaron Etchison, a Pendleton (Ind.) High School graduate who played baseball at Ball State University, Chipola College and the University of Maryland and coached at the University of Michigan, is an area scout for the Cleveland Indians.

 

French plays to strength as Indiana Bulls director of baseball operations

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott French looks back through the decades and sees all the support his father and mother provided he and sister Jessi when they were growing up near southern Indiana town of Jasonville.

“My parents never said no to anything I wanted to do in athletics,” says French, the director of baseball operations for the Indiana Bulls travel organization since June 2019. “My dad (Steve) was a coal miner and my mom (Pat) a dental assistant. Sports were a priority.

“My dad gave me the opportunity to get better every day.”

Steve French built a batting cage in the back yard of the French home near Shakamak State Park.

“I took a lot of swings in my life,” says Scott. “We didn’t have lessons back then. In that era, we watched more baseball (for French, it was lefty swingers like Don Mattingly, Tony Gwynn and Wade Boggs). Kids get more instruction and more games now.

“I didn’t play more games until I got older.”

French did put his batting cage hacks to use at Shakamak Little League and later Shakamak Junior/Senior High School, where he hit .568 as a junior in 1997 and a state-leading .586 as a senior and was MVP of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All Star Series in 1998.

IHSBCA Hall of Famer Chip Sweet was the head coach when French played for the Lakers.

“He was a very good example to all of us,” says French of Sweet. “He was very consistent. You knew what you were getting every single day. He threw very good batting practice and he threw it every day.”

Shakamak players also saw plenty of fly balls and grounders in practice. French roamed center field.

Jessi French (now Stanton and a math teacher and dean of students at Linton-Stockton High School) also took advantage of the family cage and paced Indiana in runs batted in during one of her final high school softball seasons.

Scott French was introduced to travel baseball by coach Gary Sylvester and the Indiana Hawks, which were based on the south side of Indianapolis.

When French was 17, Sylvester took he and a few others to the Bulls, where Craig Moore was head coach. The Bulls offer the Craig Moore Memorial Scholarship in honor of the man who died in 2004.

“Craig Moore was awesome,” says French, who helped the Bulls win the National Amateur Baseball Federation High School Division World Series in 1997. “I owe a lot to Gary. I owe a lot of Craig.”

In his Bulls position, French answers to a board of directors with 11U Black head coach Quinn Moore as president, Josh Loggins as vice president, Brent Mewhinney as treasurer and Todd Mewhinney as secretary. Quinn Moore and Jared Moore, head coaches of 11U Black and 11U White teams, respectively, are sons of Craig Moore.

French played for Rich Maloney at Ball State University (1999-2002). The .321 career hitter with a school-record 139 walks played mainly in center or left but was used some in relief and at first base and helped the Cardinals to regular-season Mid-American Conference titles in 1999 and 2001.

He was a volunteer assistant at BSU (2003-07) for head coach Greg Beals and a full-time assistant (2013-18) to Maloney. He holds a degree in Heath and Physical Education/Fitness from Ball State.

At the end of his playing career, French felt the pull of player development.

“I think it’s a strength of mine,” says French. “I’ve got to play to my strength.”

Through Ball State teammate Justin Wechsler, French met instructor/scout Mike Shirley and at 23 went to work for Shirley at his Anderson-based training facility.

While working with Shirley, who is now director of amateur scouting for the Chicago White Sox, French got the chance to instruct players from elementary to college.

“It prepared me for what I’m doing now,” says French. “I was well-rounded.

“I like seeing kids that work hard grow and become something. An average athlete can doing something in baseball through hard work and experience.”

French says the Bulls teach the same concepts and talk about movement patterns with the youngest and oldest players. Once it clicks, they can really take off.

“You can effect a 9-, 10-, 11-year old kid,” says French. “They just have more room to grow.

“We always tell parents, you have to be patient with it. It takes a lot more work than people think it does.”

It ties in with the make-up and dedication of the player and his family.

“That’s life,” says French. “Baseball’s a frustrating game. It gets harder as you get older.

“It takes a certain mentality to play for a long time.”

With the current live baseball shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, French says the Bulls are waiting to see what will be allowed by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb as the state begins to gradually re-open.

“We’re waiting for Grand Park (in Westfield) to find out how they can use their space,” says French. “We’re still a lot of figuring out as far as schedules are concerned.

Bullpen Tournaments works hard. They’re planning to have some baseball.”

It may mean playing deeper into August than is typical for the summer season. The current calendar show the Midwest Prospect League from June 16-21 at Grand Park.

In addition to being director of operations, French coaches 15U Black — one of the Bulls 28 teams for 2020.

French says high school teams typically play seven tournaments, taking one weekend a month off.

It’s not uncommon for some younger teams to play in a dozen events spaced out from April to July.

Bulls tryouts are scheduled for Aug. 1-2.

French says there’s a strong possibility that date will get moved to late August.

Bulls head coaches — screened for baseball knowledge, coaching experience and commitment to developing players — are selected by French and approved by the board of directors. Head coaches choose assistant coaches and players.

All coaches, both head coaches and assistants, are required to submit a background check and take online child protection training. The Bulls use ChekCoach to ensure our coaches are informed of their responsibilities to protect all players.

A resident of Noblesville, Ind., French has a 11-year-old daughter and sixth grader-to-be (Lanie) living in Decatur, Ind.

French talked with Sean Laird and Adam Heisler for the LT Brings The Heat podcast episode that dropped May 14.

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Scott French is a graduate of Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., where he played baseball and spent two stints as an assistant coach. He is now director of baseball operations for the Indiana Bulls travel organization. (Ball State University Photo)

 

Anderson native Shirley fitting puzzle pieces together as White Sox amateur scouting director

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Taking his ability to evaluate baseball talent and manage people, Anderson, Ind., native Mike Shirley is embracing the complexities of his new job as amateur scouting director for the Chicago White Sox.

Shirley, 49, took over his current role in late August. He was named assistant scouting director for the White Sox in November 2018. He began serving the organization as a cross checker in 2010.

As a cross checker, Shirley managed five or six area scouts.

“I was very active with a certain set of people, helping guide their schedule and my own schedule,” says Shirley. “As assistant scouting director, I was helping the director fulfill the entire (Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft) process.”

That meant helping to coordinate the entire amateur department while also acting as a national scout.

As director, Shirley is in charge of everything for the amateur scouting department.

“There’s so much more that goes into being a baseball scout than looking at players,” says Shirley. “There’s management of people, (molding) philosophy, understanding budgets and personnel and keeping everybody on track.”

Shirley notes that more attention is paid to the draft than ever before and there are so many pieces to the puzzle.

“I love the fact that scouting is so difficult some days to put all these pieces in order,” says Shirley. “That’s the most interesting part of the challenge that comes with it.”

With the training now available, players are now reaching the elite level at younger ages.

“Prospects now have currency and value as your organization changes and grows,” says Shirley. “The restructuring at the major league level has changed.

“The rebuild has changed the dynamic of what prospects mean. If your club is in a rebuild and it’s you know it’s not competitive let’s say in 2019, your processes become completely different.”

Clubs take into consideration drafting players that will give them the most currency in the market place.

“There are times now you’re drafting players you know — based on your cycle of talent from top to bottom — may be used as trade chips to get you to the next major league star,” says Shirley. “That’s really changed. There was a time 20 years ago when every team felt like they had a chance to win and every team was running for the title.

“We’re all trying to be competitive, but we also understand where are cycles of talent are (at any given time).”

With the 2020 season and June draft looming, where are the White Sox led by executive vice president Ken Williams and senior vice president/general manager Rick Hahn?

“We’re hugely in a position to be successful for the next five to eight years,” says Shirley. “It’s pretty well-documented we’ve in a rebuild process the last four years. It’s been trying times for everybody, especially for our fans, to stomach the tough days and the losses. I think we’re on the back of that now.

“Everybody is so excited about where we’re headed and what we’re capable of doing in the near future. Our young talent is significant. Our minor leagues is strong.”

Shirley is always taking in information from members of the White Sox amateur scouting department.

“The listening skill has to be sharp everyday,” says Shirley. “You have to be able to comprehend what these guys are doing and listen.

“There’s constant communication.”

During the season, area scouts are filing daily reports and messages are flying back and forth via calls, texts and emails.

A recent three-day recent organizational meeting at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., brought together all the scouting department and part of the player development staff.

“It was designed to get everybody in one room,” says Shirley. “We talked about philosophy, planning and where are evaluations are for the 2020 draft class.

“We listened to player development speak about players we’ve drafted in the past, where those players are at and shared information.”

It’s all about getting better and evaluating performance as scouts and player development folks.

“We did a good job here. We missed here,” says Shirley. “There’s constant evaluation of those two departments. We try to work together to make sure our decisions are tighter. Where are we missing? Where are we strong?

“You’re looking at it with full transparency. You’re not tricking yourself.”

Shirley has began conducting conference calls with his 17 area scouts.

“It’s a little deeper conversation than just what they submitted on the follow list,” says Shirley of a catalog of every player in a scout’s area that is likely to be drafted in 2020. “We want to listen to their voice.”

Scouts have been meeting with high school and college players and will continue to do so. These interactions help the White Sox put the make-up piece together in their draft evaluation.

Shirley says the club wants to know if a player is smart of lackadaisical, engaged or disengaged in the conversation or is a grinder.

“How do they go about their business?,” says Shirley. “What’s their family dynamic like? What’s their mom and dad like? Who influences them the most?”

Those pieces start to be put together via these conference calls.

“We’re always willing to take a risk on players who have elite talent,” says Shirley. “But if you don’t have elite talent and you have bad make-up, obviously there’s a red flag we try to stay away from.”

Scouts have been working on the 2020 draft for two years already. They were on the road again three days after the conclusion of the 2019 draft.

Most of the players who wind up in college, we’ve seen when they are in high school,” says Shirley. “The depth at which we follow these players is significant. The elite players we spend a lot of time on.”

There’s many ways to track players, including seeing them play in-person, video services, TrackMan and Rapsodo data and more.

“There’s so much more to the process than what your eyes tell you any more,” says Shirley. “We have multiple angles and multiple opinions.

“The sharing part among your departments becomes so tremendous. Everybody is in the boat rowing together trying to get to the destination.”

Born in Anderson, Shirley played at Pendleton Heights High School for Bill Stoudt, who was selected to the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006.

Stoudt-coached teams won 654 games with 14 sectional titles and three regional championship and 10 conference championships in 32 years as a head coach through 2012. He sent a number of players into college and professional baseball.

“He was tremendous,” says Shirley of Stoudt. “He built a program of high-end talent.

“He expected you to show up and held you accountable. He pushed you to be you best. He was demanding and his demand forced you to raise your expectations for yourself.”

Shirley graduated from Pendleton Heights in 1988 and played his freshmen collegiate season (1989) at Southwestern Michigan College in Dowagiac, Mich. As a “draft and follow” player, Jonathan Michael Shirley was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 45th round of the 1989 MLB Draft, played his sophomore season at Kishwaukee College in Malta, Ill., then played in the Indians system from 1990-94.

Having an elite arm in right field, Shirley was reluctantly converted to a pitcher. He hurt his arm, underwent Tommy John surgery and was released. He concluded his pro career with the independent Anderson Lawmen in 1995 (Mid-America League) and 1996 (Heartland League) while also completing his degree at Indiana University.

Mike and Kimberly Shirley have been married 22 years and have three baseball-playing sons.

Jaxon Shirley is at Lubbock (Texas) Christian University after starting his college career at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College and transferring to Oklahoma University. He was drafted by the White Sox in the 34th round out of Lapel (Ind.) High School in 2016 as a 6-foot-4, 190-pound second baseman. He is now a 6-5, 220-pound left fielder.

Caden Shirley is a freshman at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Colton Shelton is a Lapel senior.

Various ailments, including stress fractures, caused Caden and Colton to miss long stretches of development as high school players.

“Being a baseball man like I am and watching my own children suffer, it’s been one of the biggest challenges as a father,” says Shirley. “You see how hard they’ve worked through their lifetime and you see them lose almost two years of their careers and it’s very difficult.”

For years, Shirley has operated a training facility in Anderson called “The Barn.”

“There’s so many young, talented players in there that have bright futures,” says Shirley. “That’s why I’ll always stay connected.

“You want to give them the guidance and give your expertise.”

Players from youth through major league come to the facility to train.

Jeremy Hazelbaker, who has played in the big leagues, took swings at “The Barn” during Thanksgiving week.

Minor leaguer Nick Schnell (selected in the first round by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018) got in the cage before heading off to Florida.

Zack Thompson (a first-rounder for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019) and Drey Jameson (a first-rounder for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019) have trained at “The Barn” since they were youngsters.

So has Cole Barr, a Yorktown (Ind.) High School product who slugged 17 home runs at Indiana University in 2019.

“It’s been a really productive situation,” says Shirley. “There are guys in there who are going to be the next Nick Schnell or next Cole Barr.

“It’s a special place. We don’t ever try to be famous. We’re not on Twitter. If you’re a baseball guy, the proof’s in the pudding. Are you making players or not? Are you helping players get to their goals?”

MIKESHIRLEY

Mike Shirley, a native of Anderson, Ind., is the amateur scouting director for the Chicago White Sox. He is a 1988 graduate of Pendleton Heights High School. (Chicago White Sox Photo)

 

Anderson native Earley builds trust with elite hitters at Arizona State

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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.”

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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)

Anderson’s Earley enjoying his time with independent Southern Illinois Miners

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nolan Earley is in his third season of independent professional baseball.

The Anderson, Ind., native is playing with the Marion, Ill.-based Southern Illinois Miners in the Frontier League.

While the lefty-swinging outfielder is driven to get back into Major League Baseball-affiliated ball, he is enjoying where he is now.

“It’s a great facility and the community is really supportive,” says Earley, 27, “This is a competitive league.”

Earley played at Brooklyn Little League in Anderson until age 12 and travel ball with the Indiana Bulls from 13 to 18. He also competed for Anderson High School and the University of South Alabama and then in the Chicago White Sox organization before joining the Miners in 2016.

Terry Turner was his high school head coach. His older brother Michael also played for the man who went on to win IHSAA Class 1A state titles at Daleville in 2016 and 2018.

“I remember his enthusiasm for baseball,” says Nolan Earley of Turner. “He’s probably one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. All the positive energy spreads throughout the team.

“I really enjoyed playing for him.”

At USA, Earley appeared in 201 games in four seasons with a .318 average, 11 homers, 138 RBIs, 53 doubles and 220 runs.

Steve Kittrell was head coach for the Jaguars when early arrived in Mobile, Ala., and Mark Calvi was and still is the leader of the program when he departed.

“I learned a lot from both of them,” says Earley. “(Kittrell) had an old-school look to the game. He all preached playing hard and control the things you can control.

“(Calvi) talked about being positive about the game. He had that hard-nosed mentality, but wanted you to keep your composure on the field.

“If stay positive and you can go a long way.”

Calvi was an assistant on the University of South Carolina staff when the Gamecocks won the 2010 College World Series. The next season, he became a South Alabama assistant and took over as head coach for the 2012 season.

Earley was selected in the 22nd round of the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox and signed by scout Warren Hughes. The outfielder saw time at Short Season Class-A Bristol, Low-A Kannapolis and High-A Winston-Salem through 2015. In 181 games in the affiliated minors, he hit .283 with five homers, 37 doubles, 76 RBIs and 62 runs.

Nolan was released out of spring training in 2016 and hooked on with the Miners — a team brother Michael hit .325 for in 96 games in 2015 after he was let go by the White Sox at the end of the 2014 season.

Michael Earley, a rigthy-hitting outfielder, graduated from Anderson High in 2006 and played one season at the University of Cincinnati and three at Indiana University before being drafted in the 29th round by the White Sox in 2010. After scout Mike Shirley signed him, Michael logged five seasons in the system, getting up to Triple-A Charlotte for 27 games in 2013.

Both Earley brothers have gotten instruction from and worked for Shirley at his Pro Source Baseball facility — aka “The Barn” — in Lapel, Ind.

Michael gave his endorsement of the Miners to his little brother.

“He definitely has a lot of influence when I make decisions,” says Nolan of Michael. “He told me how well he enjoyed this place. I’ve enjoyed everything about it.”

In 96 games in 2016, Nolan hit .291 with nine homers, 20 doubles, 70 RBIs and 53 runs.

The 2017 season saw him in 95 games and batting .264 with 11 homers, 16 doubles, 45 RBIs and 43 runs.

Through 56 games in 2018, Earley was hitting .264 with seven homers, 16 doubles, 21 runs batted in and 31 runs scored.

Mike Pinto is the longtime Miners manager.

“He’s definitely one of the most competitive field I’ve ever met,” says Earley. “He loves to win and hates to lose.

“If you’re going to play this game, you’ve got to have that feeling.”

Since there’s an age limit in the Frontier League, this season will be Earley’s last. If he is not picked up by an MLB organization, he has his sights on the independent Atlantic League or American Association.

Michael Earley is heading into his third year as an assistant baseball coach at Arizona State University, where Indiana native and former Indiana University head coach Tracy Smith is in charge of the Sun Devils.

Smith has turned over hitting coach duties to Earley.

Nolan gets pointers from Michael on the phone or makes a trek to Arizona to work with him.

“I take as much information as a I can and add it toward my game,” says Nolan, who enjoys learning things and holds a history degree from South Alabama.

Kevin and Tammy Earley are parents to Michael (married with children) and Nolan (single).

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Nolan Earley, a 2009 Anderson (Ind.) High School graduate, is now in his third season with the independent Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League. (Veronica Francis Photo)

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Nolan Earley celebrates after scoring a run for the Southern Illinois Miners. Earley is graduated for Anderson (Ind.) High School and the University of South Alabama and played in the Chicago White Sox organization. (Southern Illinois Miners Photo)

 

From first-time fatherhood to Gold Glove, life has been full for Reds catcher Barnhart

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s been an eventful last six months or so for Tucker Barnhart.

In August, the Cincinnati Reds catcher and Indiana native and wife Sierra welcomed first child Tatum into the world. Before you knew it Tucker was buying a tiny catcher’s mitt he found on Amazon.com.

“I was bored one day and I was trying to find a glove,” says Barnhart. “It just so happened there was a (miniature) black and red catcher’s glove. It made a ton of sense to grab it.”

In September, the switch-hitting backstop signed a four-year contract extension that will keep him with the Reds through at least the 2021 season. The deal also includes a club option for 2022.

In October, the 2009 Brownsburg High School graduate rapped his fourth Major League Baseball season with career-high totals for batting average (.270), on-base percentage (.347), slugging percentage (.403) and games played (121).

Reds manager Bryan Price told MLB.com in December that Barnhart will be Cincy’s primary in 2018 with Devin Mesoraco backing up.

“Tucker’s going to get the lion’s share of the playing time now; he’s earned that,” said Price.

“He has stamped himself — without a doubt — as a day-to-day big league catcher,” says Marty Brenneman, the Reds radio play-by-play voice since 1974. “He’s a guy who’s wonderful at handling a pitching staff, a guy who proved he could hit big league pitching before than the Average Joe. And above all that, he won the Gold Glove for defensive excellence in the National League.”

In November, Barnhart became the first Reds catcher since 10-time recipient Johnny Bench in 1977 to be awarded a Rawling Gold Glove in the Senior Circuit.

Brenneman calls Barnhart beating out St. Louis Cardinals receiver Yadier Molina — eight times a Gold Glove winner and NL All-Star — “a big, big deal.”

November was also a time celebrate his second wedding anniversary. Tucker is married to the former Sierra Thompson.

While adapting to fatherhood and recovering from the grind of the long season, the Zionsville resident has found the time to take in Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers games.

“I’m a big-time Pacers fan,” says Barnhart. “Basketball is my favorite sport. It’s in my blood.”

He is childhood friend of Boston Celtics small forward Gordon Hayward and Reds relief pitcher Drew Storen — both Brownsburg graduates.

Barnhart was a freshman and sophomore when he caught during Storen’s junior and senior Brownsburg seasons.

Years later, Barnhart looks into the stands at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati and sees a lot of Bulldogs purple and white.

Barnhart has also consulted this fall and winter with long-time personal hitting instructor Mike Shirley near Lapel and Reds catching coordinator Mike Stefanski in Cincinnati.

“Mike’s a great guy,” Barnhart says of Shirley, a national cross-checker scout for the Chicago White Sox. “I’ve worked with Mike since I was I would say 11 years old. Other than my dad (Kevin Barnhart), Mike has seen my swing more than any other person around. I trust Mike a lot. He’s cutting edge. He looks at all the numbers and all that stuff. I really appreciate the work he’s done for me.

“We look at video of other hitters and things that they do that I can do or things that I do that are similar to what they do. We do a lot more talking than hitting, which is good in my opinion.”

Barnhart said his offense has picked up as he has gotten more familiar with National League pitching.

“It’s facing the same guys over and over again seeing how they pitch you and how to attack them as a hitter,” says Barnhart. “Obviously, I’d like to grow as a hitter. I think I could drive some more balls. I don’t know if that’s going result in more home runs (than the seven he hit in both 2016 and 2017) or more doubles or what have you, but I’m getting more out of my swing.

“I’m getting stronger and more explosive.”

There continues to be an education — in baseball and in life — from his father.

“What haven’t I learned from Kevin Barnhart?,” says Tucker, who turned 27 on Jan. 7. “My dad has been so instrumental in my career.”

Kevin Barnhart is an instructor at Samp’s Hack Shack in Brownsburg, a facility owned by former big league pitcher Bill Sampen.

Tucker also offers a shout-out to mother Pam Barnhart, sister Paige Barnhart and the rest of his relatives.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without (my family),” says Tucker. “I am extremely thankful.

“Being a dad (myself) puts that all into perspective.”

Tucker went on paternity leave Aug. 31-Sept. 3 to be with Sierra and Tatum.

“It’s difficult and it’s the best thing ever,” says Barnhart of fatherhood. “No matter what kind of day I’m having when I see him smile, that’s all that matters.”

Barnhart also found the time to make western swing of the Reds Caravan.

One fan at the Muncie stop gave Barnhart her own nickname, “Johnny Bench Jr.”

“That’s pretty humbling,” says Barnhart, who was selected in the 10th round of the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Reds and won an MiLB Gold Glove in 2011 and the Reds Joe Nuxhall Good Guy Award in voting of the Cincinnati chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in 2016.

Barnhart is slated to address the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization at their player/parent meeting Sunday, Jan. 28 at Westfield High School.

Barnhart played six seasons with the Bulls He made the 13U team at 11, but was not allowed to play for the fear of getting hurt. At 12, he played for the 13U squad then played 13U, 14U, 15,U 16U and 17U.

“It’s going to be a message of hard work, dedication and having fun,” says Barnhart of his remarks to Bulls players and parents. “You have to be able to have fun to get the most out of yourself. To achieve all the things you want to achieve in your life — whether it’s in baseball or in anything.”

The Barnharts plan to leave Thursday, Feb. 1 for spring training camp in Goodyear, Ariz. Pitchers and catchers are to report Feb. 13 (position players Feb. 18).

Cincinnati’s first Cactus League spring game is scheduled for Feb. 23. The season opener is slated for March 29.

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Tucker Barnhart, a Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, goes into spring training 2018 as the primary catcher for the Cincinnati Reds. (MLB Photo)

 

 

Attention to feeder system starting to pay off for Nunley, Deckman, Monroe Central baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

By investing in its feeder system, Monroe Central High School baseball is optimistic about its present and future.

“We’re building the numbers,” says Keith Nunley, who heads into his third season as Randolph County-based Golden Bears head coach in 2018. “We usually have around 20 and hoping to build to 25. The train’s coming a little bit.”

With Nunley (Winchester High School graduate) and best friend and former Ball State University teammate/roommate Matt Deckman (Monroe Central graduate) guiding the varsity squad, MC went 15-11 in 2016 and 14-11 in 2017.

Monroe Central, an IHSAA Class 2A school with an enrollment around 370, sent catcher-outfielder Logan Conklin on the NCAA Division II Kentucky Wesleyan College.

Golden Bears junior shortstop Seth Wilson has verbally committed to Ball State.

A year ago, the Indiana Bears travel organization was established to help train mostly Monroe Central boys (with a few from Winchester).

This spring and summer, the team plans to field five teams — 9U, 10U, 11U, 12U and 15U.

Nunley has two boys (A.J., 12, and Koby, 9) and Deckman three (Bryce, 15, Trey, 10, and Easton, 7). All five are ballplayers. In addition to the Monroe Central Athletic League and all-stars in the spring, they will be involved with the Indiana Bears in the summer. Bryce Deckman is an MC freshman.

“We’re trying to show kids how to play the game the right way,” says Nunley, who was a middle infielder at Ball State 1999-2002 and part of Mid-American Conference regular-season championships in 1999 and 2001 and MAC West titles in 1999, 2000 and 2001. “It’s a transition from recreation league to all-stars to travel.”

The Indiana Bears generally stay within an hour of Parker City to find competition, usually venturing to Hamilton County to play at Grand Park in Westfield at the Noblesville Field of Dreams.

“We try to make it a community event during the summer time with our teams sometimes going to the same place,” says Nunley.

Players also travel to the Lapel area to receive instruction from Mike Shirley and Justin Wechsler. Shirley is a national cross-checker for the Chicago White Sox and former Ball State pitcher Wechsler is a White Sox area scout.

Not only do Nunley and Deckman coach baseball together, they also coach AAU basketball and both are employed by Adrenaline Fundraising.

Players coached by Nunley and Deckman at younger ages are beginning to arrive at the high school level with a foundation of skills and knowledge.

“By the time they get to us, we want to hit the ground running and not have an intro period,” says Nunley. “We want to have them come in ready to go.”

At the smallish school, freshmen are often asked to play a varsity role against a solid schedule.

Monroe Central belongs to the Mid-Eastern Conference (along with Blue River Valley, Cowan, Daleville, Randolph Southern, Union of Modoc, Wapahani and Wes-Del).

The sectional group includes Frankton, Lapel, Muncie Burris, Shenandoah and Wapahani. Since they have lights, Frankton and Lapel have been sectional hosts in recent years.

Daleville was 2A state champions in 2016 while Wapahani was 2A state runners-up in 2017.

At Winchester, Nunley played for Bill Bush.

“Coach Bush is great human being,” says Nunley. “He was a great leader and a role model to us players.”

Nunley was a player during head coach Rich Maloney’s first tenure at Ball State and the two have remained close. Maloney came back to Muncie beginning with the 2013 season.

“He took me under his wing,” says Nunley. “It was real special time in my life for sure.”

Current Ball State assistant and recruiting coordinator Scott French was in the same recruiting class with Nunley.

The closeness in the relationship and distance has allowed Monroe Central to play games at BSU when the Cardinals are on the road. The Bears are slated to play Adams Central there on April 21.

Besides Nunley and Deckman, MC’s coaching staff features Bracken Barga (junior varsity and junior high coach), Sean Richardson (pitching and youth program coach) and volunteer assistants Bob Gilmore (who is in his 80’s) and Ryan Taylor (who serves as youth baseball coordinator).

When Nunley, whose wife Kate is a special education teacher at Monroe Central, was hired two-plus years ago, an overhaul of Monroe Central’s on-campus field began. That includes the playing surface, mound and home plate area.

“We spent a lot of time and effort turning that thing around,” says Nunley. “The players and coaches do a good job with the up-keep.

“It drains very well. We’ve had road games rained out and we were able to practice at home.”

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The sons of Monroe Central High School baseball coaches Keith Nunley and Matt Deckman practice on the Golden Bears’ field (from left): Easton Deckman, A.J. Nunley, Bryce Deckman, Trey Deckman and Koby Nunley.

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A view of the Monroe Central High School baseball field from the press box.

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Monroe Central High School baseball bead coach Keith Nunley and wife Kate attend a Notre Dame football game with sons Koby (left) and A.J.

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Keith Nunley (back, left) and Matt Deckman pose with sons Koby Nunley (left) and Trey Deckman after a 2017 travel tournament for the Indiana Bears.