Tag Archives: MLB Draft

Rebound season cut short for USC lefty Gursky

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Gursky’s bounce-back baseball season was getting rave reviews when the curtain came down much sooner than expected.

A left-handed pitcher at the University of Southern California, the Indiana native started against visiting Xavier University on Wednesday, March 11.

Gursky recalls the unusual atmosphere when he took the mound at Dedeaux Field.

“Only essential personnel were allowed in the stands,” says Gursky. “It was like a travel ball game. Only parents were there.”

Gursky tossed the first two innings, facing eight batters with three strikeouts and yielding one hit as the first of seven USC pitchers.

“The next day I wake up and my phone is blowing up,” says Gursky of what turned out to be a COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. 

Thinking the situation would blow over, he spent about a week at his uncle’s house in Orange County then came home to Granger, Ind.

“I had not been in Indiana in March in years,” says Gursky. “We were having a great start to the year then comes the sad news. We worked so hard in the fall.”

The Trojans were 10-5 when the 2020 slate was halted. Southpaw Gursky was 1-1 in four appearances (three starts) with a 0.00 earned run average. He fanned 12 and walked three in 12 innings. Opponents hit .105 against him. On March 3, he pitched the first six innings against UC Irvine and held the Anteaters hitless with seven strikeouts.

USC coaches talked about placing Gursky in the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer. But that league canceled its season and with all the uncertainty, Gursky opted to take 15 weeks away from throwing and reported to USC this fall fully-refreshed. 

An online accounting class taken this summer will help Gursky on his path to graduating with a Business Administration degree next spring.

Gursky played three seasons for head coach John Gumpf at South Bend St. Joseph High School (2014-16).

“That was a fun time,” says Gursky of his days with the Indians. “I have a lot of great teammates.”

Some of Gursky’s pals were Danny Torres, Tony Carmola, J.R. Haley and Carlos Matovina.

In his senior year (2017), Gursky played for former major leaguer Chris Sabo at a IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Gursky enjoyed a solid inaugral campaign at USC in 2018, but struggled in 2019.

“I had a good freshmen year and a disaster of a sophomore year,” says Gursky. “I was in a bad place.”

Playing for then-Trojans head coach Dan Hubbs, Gursky made 22 appearances (two starts) as a freshman, going 3-1 with a 4.93 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings.

His second college appearance was at Cal State Long Beach’s Blair Field, where played for the Brewers in the 2015 underclass Area Code Games and was named to the upperclass game in 2016 but did not play because of a forearm injury.

As a sophomore, Gursky got into 12 games (five starts) and was 0-1 with a 9.82 ERA. He struck out 18 in 22 innings.

“I thank (Hubbs) so much for getting to come to the school of my choice,” says Gursky.

In the summer of 2019, the lefty played for the Newport (R.I.) Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, where Kevin Winterrowd was the manager and pitching coach.

“I was kind of inconsistent,” says Gursky. “I working on stuff at the same time I was competing and trying to win games.

“But that was a the beginning of the turnaround. It set up a good fall and spring.”

Back in Los Angeles, Gursky had a new head coach (Jason Gill) and pitching coach (Ted Silva) in the fall of 2019.

“(Gill) has continuous energy,” says Gursky. “We all love playing for him. We feed off that energy.

“(Silva) helped me out. He saw something in me. He’s straight forward like Sabo.”

Gursky appreciates the approach of Sabo, the former Cincinnati Reds third baseman and current University of Akron head coach.

“He never sugar coated anything,” says Gursky. “He was a great guy to talk with in general.”

Another ex-big leaguer — Steve Frey — was the IMG Academy pitching coach.

“He was great communicator,” says Gursky of Frey. “We connected very well. 

“We’re both lefties  so we felt the same way.”

Back in northern Indiana, Gursky has gotten pitching pointers from Curt Hasler, who pitched for the 1988 South Bend White Sox and is now the bullpen coach for the Chicago White Sox. Son Drew Hasler has pitched in the White Sox system.

“He’s great with the mental game,” says Gursky of Curt Hasler. “I like that he’s been around guys who’ve pitched at the highest level possible.”

A 6-foot-2, 200-pounder who played basketball through his freshmen year at St. Joseph describes his aggressive athletic mindset.

“I’m an attacker,” says Gursky. “Either I’m attacking the basket or attacking the strike zone.”

Delivering the baseball with a three quarter-plus arm slot, Gursky throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up and curveball.

His four-seamer has a high spin rate and occasionally touched 94 mph in the spring.

His two-seamer sinks and run and was usually 88 to 91 mph.

“My change-up is very slow,” says Gursky of a pitch clocked at 76 to 78 mph. “It’s been my main strikeout pitch the last two years. 

“I grip it petty deep and pretty hard. It’s not in my palm.”

His sweeping curve comes in 79 to 82 mph and breaks left to right — away from left-handed batters and into righties.

Born in Bloomington, Ind., Gursky moved to Granger at 5 and attended Saint Pius X Catholic School. His first baseball experience came at 10 or 11 at Harris Township Cal Ripken.

He played for Rob Coffel with the Michiana Scrappers at 12U and for Ray Torres (father of Danny) with the South Bend Rays at 13U.

After that, Gursky was with a number of travel teams around the country.  Locally, he did a couple stints with the South Bend Cubs and manager Mark Haley (father of J.R.). 

“He knows the bigger picture,” says Gursky of Mark Haley, who played at the University of Nebraska, coached at the University of Tennessee and was a manager in professional baseball for 12 years, including 10 with the South Bend Silver Hawks (2005-14) before becoming general manager of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and executive director of the South Bend Cubs Foundation. “He’s big on development.”

Gursky’s grandfather, Will Perry, was a pitcher at the University of Michigan. A broken leg suffered in a car accident kept him from a starting role with the 1953 national champions. He was later sports information director and assistant athletic director for the Wolverines.

Uncle Steve Perry played baseball at Michigan and was selected in the first round of the 1979 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 6-foot-5 right-hander advanced to Triple-A in 1983 and 1984.

“He taught things when I was younger,” says Gursky. “Now I get what he was saying.

“When you have a growth mentality, you take what other people are saying and apply it to yourself.”

Perry was one of three first-round draft picks for Michigan in 1979. Outfielder/first baseman Rick Leach and left-handed pitcher Steve Howe both went on to play in the majors. 

University of Notre Dame employees Matt and Susan Gursky have three children — Elena (24), Brian (22) and Natalie (18). Westland, Mich., native Matt Gursky is a mathematics professor. Ann Arbor, Mich., native Susan Gursky is a pre-medicine advisor. Elena Gursky played softball at St. Joe. Natalie Gursky is an equestrian.

Brian Gursky pitches for the University of Southern California.
Brian Gursky, an Indiana native who played high school baseball at South Bend (Ind.) St. Joseph High School and IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., has pitched for three seasons at the University of Southern California. (USC Photo)

Peru’s Beauchamp eager to get back to pitching in Phillies system

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Cam Beauchamp was in Clearwater, Fla., last spring, getting ready for what was going to be his first full season of professional baseball.

The left-handed pitcher had been selected in the 36th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies out of Indiana University and pitched in five games. The first — on Aug. 5 — he pitched the eighth inning as five Gulf Coast Phillies East hurlers combined on a no-hitter.

“It was a super good experience,” says Beauchamp. “The players were friendly. 

“They welcomed me with open arms.”

Pitching four more times through Aug. 29, the southpaw went 0-0 with a 1.23 earned run average. In 7 1/3 innings, he struck out five and walked two. He threw 36 of 47 pitches for strikes.

Then came spring training for 2020.

Beauchamp, a 6-foot-2, 221-pounder, was in camp and one day away from the first exhibition game when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and things were shut down.

After close to two weeks, he returned home to Peru, Ind., and found a job while trying to stay sharp for baseball.

When he’s not working at Rock Hollow Golf Club in Peru, Beauchamp finds a partner and plays catch at Peru High School, where he graduated in 2016 and Chuck Brimbury is in his second stint as head coach. Or he will throw his weight PlyoCare Balls into a concrete wall at home.

A four-time all-Three Rivers Conference selection at Peru, Beauchamp went 16-6 on the mound with 244 strikeouts in 159 1/3 innings during his Tigers career. He was 5-1 with 95 strikeouts and 13 walks in 44 1/3 innings as a senior. As a hitter, his career mark was .389 with 21 home runs and 94 RBIs.

Beauchamp pitched three seasons at Indiana (2017-19) — two for former Hoosiers head coach Chris Lemonis and former IU pitching coach Kyle Bunn and one for current head coach Jeff Mercer and current pitching coach Justin Parker.

In 41 mound appearances (27 in relief), Beauchamp went 5-3 with a 3.88 earned run average. In 88 2/3 innings, he struck out 70 and walked 57. 

Beauchamp pitched in nine games (five starts) in 2019 with a 3.00 ERA. In 15 innings, he fanned 14 and walked 14.

Beauchamp took a liking to Lemonis for the way he talked to him and his parents — Jody and Robin.

“He’s a real great guy,” says Beauchamp of Lemonis. “I could talk baseball with him all day.”

Beauchamp was impressed by Bunn’s knowledge of the game and then found out he was also a fisherman and hunter like himself.

“That seals the deal even more,” says Beauchamp, who took his first deer last year in southern Indiana and has landed a largemouth bass around six pounds in a local pond and a 45-pound baby Tarpon on a charter boat in Florida.

Beauchamp got a chance to see how Mercer and Parker operate and sees that they are using even more technology in assessing players than when he was with the program.

“They’re definitely the new wave of coaching that’s going across the United States,” says Beauchamp of Mercer and Parker. “They definitely know baseball.”

One year from a Sports Marketing & Management degree, Beauchamp went into pro baseball.

During his time away from the Phillies, the organization has been sending him workouts through a phone app and every two weeks he gets an email about throwing program recommendations.

Beauchamp, who turned 22 in March, was throwing his four-seam fastball at 91 to 93 mph and occasionally touching 94. 

“I feel I can get up to that 96/97 range,” says Beauchamp, who has also mixed in a two-seamer, 12-to-6 curveball and “circle” change-up. Recently, he’s been tinkering with a cutter.

“It typically has the same amount of break as the two-seam and goes the opposite way,” says Beauchamp, who lets his two-seamer run in on a left-handed batter and away from a righty. This is all done from a high three-quarter arm slot.

It’s an old saying that left-handers always have movement with their pitches.

Beauchamp buys into that theory.

“I can’t put my hat on straight,” says Beauchamp. “I can’t put my belt on straight.

“I can’t throw a ball straight. It always moves.”

Beauchamp was born and raised in Peru. He played in what is now known as the Peru Cal Ripken League until he was 12. First there was the Marlins in T-ball. Later, the Indians in Junior Farm (coach pitch) and the Rockies in Major League.

“Those were the sweetest jerseys ever,” says Beauchamp, who then played for Cam Brannock and Justin Brannock with the Summit City Sluggers travel ball organization through 17U.

Cam comes from a baseball-loving family. Uncle Chris Beauchamp is a Slugger board member and former Wabash (Ind.) High School assistant coach. Cousin Shea Beauchamp, son of Chris, played at Huntington (Ind.) University and is now a Foresters assistant coach.

Jody Beauchamp works as a quality checker at Haynes International in Kokomo.

Robin Beauchamp is a director of nursing consultant for Golden Living Centers. 

Cam is an only child. What’s that like?

“That’s a loaded question,” says Beauchamp.

Cam Beauchamp, a Peru (Ind.) High School graduate, pitched three baseball seasons at Indiana University (2017-19) and was drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2019. He is a left-hander. (Indiana University Photo)

Fireballer Klein anxious to begin professional career

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Will Klein is pumping gas and saving a little gas.

Klein, a right-handed pitcher who was selected in the fifth round of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals out of Eastern Illinois University, has regularly hit 99 mph on radar guns.

Last summer while competing in the Northwoods League All-Star Game, the 2017 graduate of Bloomington (Ind.) High School North hit triple digits. 

In his last appearance of the summer, he pumped in a pitch at 100 mph.

Klein was the EIU Panthers’ Friday starter in 2020 and went 1-2  in four appearances with a 3.33 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and 13 walks in 24 1/3 innings before the season was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While university facilities were off limits, Klein and two of his three roommates stayed in Charleston, Ill., and got ready for the MLB Draft, which was shaved from 40 to five rounds this year. 

Klein played catch in parking lots and open fields, threw PlyoCare Balls against park fences and used kettle bells, benches and dumb bells in the living room.

Kansas City took Klein with the 135th overall pick.

“I talked to every team,” says Klein, 20. “I could tell some were more interested than others.

“The Royals were definitely the team that communicated with me the most.”

With the Minor League Baseball season called off, Klein has been training with PRP Baseball’s Greg Vogt at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind., up to six days a week. 

The pitcher, who has added muscle and now packs 230 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame, saves time and fuel by staying with an aunt and uncle in Fishers.

“The Royals sent a weight lifting, throwing and running schedule,” says Klein. “I blend that with what Greg’s doing.”

Klein first worked out at PRP Baseball last summer and also went there in the winter.

Klein’s natural arm slot has been close to over the top.

From there, he launches a four-seam fastball, “spike” curveball (it moves from 12-to-6 on the clock face), “gyro” slider (it has more downward and less lateral movement than some sliders) and a “circle” change-up.

In three seasons at EIU, Klein’s walks-per-nine innings went from 9.6 in 2018 to 9.9 in 2019 to 4.8 in 2020.

Why the control improvement?

“A lot of repetition and smoothing out the action,” says Klein. “I’ve been able to get a feel for what I was doing and a more efficient movement pattern with my upper and lower halves.

“Throwing more innings helped, too. I didn’t throw a whole lot in high school.”

Playing for head coach Richard Hurt, Klein was primarily a catcher until his senior year. In the second practice of his final prep season, he broke the thumb on his pitching hand and went to the outfield.

The previous summer while playing with the Indiana Bulls, Klein had gotten the attention of Eastern Illinois at Prep Baseball Report showcase held at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

Klein would be an NCAA Division I pitcher. He played at EIU for head coach Jason Anderson and had two pitching coaches — Julio Godinez in 2018 and 2019 and Tim Brown in 2020.

“(Anderson) was very helpful coming from pro ball,” says Klein of the former University of Illinois right-hander who pitched in the big leagues with the New York Yankees and New York Mets. “He knew what it took mentally and physically and took me from a thrower to a pitcher.”

Former catcher Godinez brought energy and also helped Klein learn about pitch sequences.

Brown was given full reign of the Panthers staff by Anderson this spring.

Klein struggled his freshmen year, starting three of 14 games and going 1-1 with a 6.62 ERA. He was used in various bullpen roles as a sophomore and went 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA. 

He was the closer and Pitcher of the Year with the Lakeshore Chinooks in the summer of 2019 when he hit 100 on the gun and was told he would be a starter when he got back to EIU in the fall.

For his college career, Klein was 2-2 and struck out 62 in 42 1/3 innings.

Born in Maryville, Tenn., Will moved to Bloomington at 3. Both his parents — Bill and Brittany — are Indiana University graduates.

Will played youth baseball at Winslow and with the Unionville Arrows and then with local all-star teams before high school. During those summers, he was with the Mooresville Mafia, which changed its name the next season to Powerhouse Baseball. 

At 17U, Troy Drosche was his head coach with the Indiana Bulls. At 18U, he played for the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays. 

The summer between his freshman and sophomore years at EIU, Klein was with the Prospect League’s Danville (Ill.) Dans.

Will is one semester from earning his degree in Biological Sciences.

“I grew up loving science,” says Will, who has had both parents teach the subject. Bill Klein has taught at Jackson Creek Middle School with Brittany Klein is a Fairview Elementary. Both schools are in Bloomington.

Will is the oldest of their three children. The 6-4 Sam Klein (18) is a freshman baseball player at Ball State University. Molly (13) is an eighth grader who plays volleyball, basketball and softball.

Will Klein pitched at Eastern Illinois University. (D1 Baseball Video)
Will Klein, a 2017 graduate of Bloomington (Ind.) High School South, pitched three baseball seasons at Eastern Illinois University and was selected in the fifth round of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals. (Eastern Illinois University Photo)

Even without minor league season, Roncalli, Louisville grad McAvene keeps on pitching

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Michael McAvene is doing his best to keep the momentum rolling in his baseball career.

The right-handed pitcher had to push the pause button during his high school and college days because of injury and now he’s at a standstill period as a professional because of the COVID-19 pandemic that shut down Minor League Baseball in 2020.

McAvene is a 2016 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, playing for three head coaches. He made a few varsity appearances as a freshman for Keith Hatfield in 2013, even more as a sophomore for Daron Spink in 2014, missed his junior season with the Rebels with elbow issues in 2015 and was part of an IHSAA Class 4A state championship team as a senior for Aaron Kroll in 2016.

As a University of Louisville freshman in the spring of 2017, McAvene was hurt in an April relief stint and soon found himself on the operating table. His next pitch in a collegiate game came April 2018.

After getting into seven games (five as a starter) and going 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA, 26 strikeouts and 15 walks in 17 1/3 innings as a U of L freshman, McAvene went to the bullpen when he came back from his surgery.

The righty made 34 appearances out of the bullpen his last two collegiate seasons, going 2-1 with nine saves, a 3.32 earned run average, 65 strikeouts and 18 walks in 43 1/3 innings. He was named second team all-Atlantic Coast Conference in 2019.

The Cardinals qualified for the NCAA Tournament 2017-19 and went to the College World Series in 2017 and 2019

U of L was ranked No. 1 in the nation during part of that stretch and McAvene was labeled as the team’s closer during the end of that run.

“I loved it,” says McAvene. “You have to have a certain mentality for (that role).

“It came easy for me to get the last out of the game, which in my opinion is the last out to get.”

It was while going for that last out that McAvene received an automative four-game suspension following his ejection for disputing an umpire’s decision in NCAA regional victory over Indiana University.

He counts it as part of his experience. 

“I definitely didn’t want to talk about it (immediately after the game),” says McAvene. “But you’ve got to be professional and not let emotions get in the way.”

McAvene cherished the atmosphere created at Louisville by head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

“(McDonnell) gets you to the point where you’d run through a wall for him and your teammates,” says McAvene. “That’s the culture.

“It’s a testament to the players and the type of people he brings in.”

Williams pushed his pitchers.

“He taught me what it takes to be successful at this level,” says McAvene of Williams. “He’s a very challenging guy. He expects us to be on top of our games at all times. He won’t accept less. He made us accountable.

“When it’s your time, you’re all that’s out there. You have to execute and do all you can to get your team to win.”

McAvene says Williams is one of the best game callers in the country and his scouting reports are second to none.

“(McDonnell and Williams are) two of the most legendary coaches in the history of college baseball and they’re just starting,” says McAvene, who was selected in the third round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs

Appearing in six games with the 2019 Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, he went 0-0 with a 1.42 ERA, 20 strikeouts and four walks in 12 2/3 innings. Of 199 pitches, 126 were thrown for strikes.

The way the organization is currently formed, the next step on the ladder would be with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs.

McAvene faced some hitters before spring training and he’s since had some competitive bullpen sessions while following the program laid out by the Cubs. He just hasn’t delivered a pitch in a game since Aug. 31, 2019.

“I have a pretty good player plan sent out by the Cubs,” says McAvene. “I just can’t replicate in-game reps.”

While some of his former Louisville teammates have been involved in the four-team Battle of the Bourbon Trail independent league in Florence and Lexington, McAvene has stayed in central Indiana to train.

The McAvenes family — Rob, Jennifer, Michael and Bradley — lived for years near Camby, near Mooresville, and now reside in Danville.

It’s about a 10-minute trip to Plainfield to work out at the home of his former Ben Davis Little League and Indiana Outlaws travel coach, Jay Hundley, along with pros Jacson McGowan (who played at Brownsburg High School and Purdue University and is now in the Tampa Bay Rays system) and Nick Schnell (who was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Roncalli in 2018 and is also with the Rays), Indiana University left-hander Zach Behrmann (Indianapolis North Central graduate) and others. 

McAvene was able to retire most high school hitters with a fastball and a breaking ball. 

While starting at Louisville, he began to get a feel for a change-up. When he went to the back of the Cards’ pen, he used a fastball, slider and curveball and, essentially, shelved the change-up on the shelf.

Given a chance to return to starting with the Cubs, McAvene again began working to get comfortable with throwing a “circle” change — a grip taught to him by a friend while he was with the Bourne Braves of the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer of 2018.

“I knew my curveball and my slider were only going to get me so far,” says McAvene. “The change-up sets apart good players from great players.”

Throwing from a low three-quarter arm angle, McAvene throws more two-seam fastballs than four-seamers.

“It has a sinker action,” says McAvene of the two-seamer that registers as a sinker on Cubs’ analytic equipment like Rapsodo and TrackMan. “My arm slot allows for a lot of downward action on it.

“I wanted to make sure I’ve got some lateral movement on it. The sink is an added bonus.”

McAvene’s curve has morphed. He used to throw the pitch in the traditional manner with a sweeping motion. 

“I switched the grip to a knuckle curve to get more depth,” says McAvene. “It pairs well with my fastball and slider.”

As for the slider, McAvene was throwing it at Eugene at 86 to 90 mph.

“It has a very hard and tight break,” says McAvene of the slider. “The movement is late and right at the very end.”

After the 2019 season, McAvene finished his Sports Administration degree, graduating magna cum laude in December.

McAvene, who turned 23 on Aug. 24, says he was hopeful that there might be fall instructional league with the Cubs this year. But since it’s already September and Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball are still figuring out the terms of their agreement, that looks improbable.

Born in the same Indianapolis hospital where his mother has spent 30 years as an ICU nurse (IU Health University), McAvene grew up in the Mooresville area. He was an Mooresville Little League all-star from 9 to 11 — the last two with his father as coach (Rob McAvene is now an independent distributor for Pepperidge Farms) — before his one year at Ben Davis Little League. 

Before attending Roncalli, Michael spent Grades K-6 at North Madison Elementary in Camby and middle school at Saint Mark Catholic School on the south side of Indianapolis.

Bradley McAvene (18) is a 2020 graduate of Indiana Connections Academy.

Michael McAvene pitched for the University of Louisville. (Prospects Live Video)
Michael McAvene is a 2016 graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, where he helped the Rebels win an IHSAA Class 4A state championship as a senior.
Michael McAvene pitched at the University of Louisville 2017-19. He was the Cardinals closer at the end of that stretch. Louisville went to the College World Series in 2017 and 2019. (University of Louisville Photo)
Michael McAvene, a graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and the University of Louisville, was drafted by the Chicago Cubs and pitched for the Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds in 2019. (Photo by Aussiedi Photography)

Pyles comes back to Indiana with Liberation Professional Baseball League

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With the onset of a COVID-19 pandemic, no high school baseball season was contested at historic League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind., in the spring.

The Dubois County Bombers did not get to play when the Ohio Valley League canceled its 2020 summer collegiate campaign.

But there is now diamond action at the old ballpark thanks to the independent Liberation Professional Baseball League.

The four-team circuit staged its first game at League Stadium Aug. 7 and the schedule is slated to go through Oct. 18.

In the mix is independent baseball veteran Derrick Pyles. The 37-year-old outfielder is in his 11th season of indy ball. The former Avon, Ind., resident now has experience in 10 different leagues.

Pyles has been acting as a player-manager in the Liberation, which when it gets up to speed will have four full squads — Indiana Barn Owls, Indy Wind Storm, BaseballResume.com Bandits and California Dogecoin.

The league features players with professional experience and those looking to get some. Former major leaguer Johnny Barbato pitched in the first game and is now in the Atlantic League-satellite Constellation Energy League with four teams playing in Sugarland, Texas. The Atlantic — independent pro ball’s top circuit — is not operating in 2020.

The Liberation came to Indiana thanks to owner Brian Williams. He was ready to go in the Pacific Association when that league was shut down because of the coronavirus.

“Brian pounded on doors all over the country,” says Pyles, who is leading players in the new league along with Ray Ortega and Lance Myers

Huntingburg answered the knock.

“It’s better than 90 percent better of the other places we could have went,” says Pyles. “It’s a wonderful place to play.”

It happened very quick. It was less than two weeks ago that Pyles first heard about the league, which is the only pro loop operating in Indiana this year.

“There was zero advertisement,” says Pyles. “It’s literally come out of the woodwork.

“If people give us a shot, I think they’ll enjoy it. This is a legit professional baseball league taking part inside their city.”

There is a plan to meet with the community this week with the hopes of picking up a few more host families. Some players are staying at nearby hotels.

Pyles commutes to his in-laws in Mooresville, Ind.

While it’s too early to say what level the Liberation will equate to in affiliated baseball, Pyles and the rest are hopeful.

“There’s just so much talent,” says Pyles. “Guys are hungry for opportunities.”

Pyles notes that in recent years the Pacific Association was equivalent to Low Class-A with the Frontier League Low-A or High-A, the Can-Am League High-A, American Association High-A to Double-A and Atlantic Double-A to Triple-A.

When the Empire League started in 2015 it was solid at the start and very good in the second half with Triple-A pitchers starting many games.

With Major League Baseball whittling down its minor leagues and no games at the lower levels this year, that’s raised the level in talent pool for independent ball.

But indy ball is not the same as being tied to a major league organization.

“Independent ball can be extremely cut throat,” says Pyles. “It’s way more about winning.

“In affiliated ball you’re getting prepped for the big leagues.”

Pyles, who bats and throws right-handed, has been a player-coach or player-manager the past few seasons. He hopes to get back to a higher league such as the Atlantic (he played for Sugarland and Long Island in 2017) would like to play until he’s 40.

After the 2019 season, he moved from Avon to Goodyear, Ariz., where it’s easier to stay in shape with the warm weather. He still comes back to train players in central Indiana. 

“I love the people in Avon,” says Pyles. “Indiana definitely feels like home to me.”

A hitting instructor, Pyles has worked with Avon Baseball Club and taught players on the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro, Indiana Expos and other travel ball organizations.

He started with Zyon Avery (a Ben Davis High School graduate who is now at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill.) and Allbry Major (an Indianapolis North Central grad who plays at Xavier University) when they were young.

Matt Moore, an Avon High School graduate, was a hitting Pyles hitting pupil who became a hard-throwing pitcher. The Purdue University left-hander is a MLB draft prospect.

“I love to train players that are very motivated,” says Pyles. “I’m 100 percent confident I can help the top players get better.

“The road has been so hard for me I really had to figure out the best stuff.”

Pyles’ best friend — Lance Zawadzki — is now working as a hitting coach with the Boston Red Sox

In his approach to teaching hitting, Pyles borrows from the old school while embracing the new technology-driven methods.

“There’s a lot of wisdom to be gained from the old guys who have been there,” says Pyles. “Technology is extremely important, too.

“We need to find a happy medium.”

The Liberation League is employing Blast and Rapsodo analytics through BaseballResume.com.

A native of Temecula, Calif., Pyles played two seasons at Riverside (Calif.) City College and two at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Led by head coach Dennis Rogers (who was also a short-season manager in the Oakland Athletics system), led Riverside to back-to-back state titles during Pyles’ time with the Tigers (2003 and 2004). Rogers was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2020.

Embry-Riddle was ranked No. 1 in the country among NAIA programs in both 2005 and 2006, finishing as national runner-up in Pyles’ junior season and fifth when he was a senior.

Greg Guilliams was the Eagles head coach with Nick Mingione and Todd Guilliams as assistants.

Mingione is now head coach at the University of Kentucky and former Embry-Riddle hitting coach Todd Guilliams is on the UK staff.

Greg Guilliams is now head coach at Valdosta State (Ga.) University. Both Guilliams brothers are both in the Embry-Riddle Athletics Hall of Fame.

Pyles can be reached at nolimitspyles@yahoo.com.

The Liberation Professional Baseball League opened its first season Aug. 7 at League Stadium in Huntingburg, Ind. (LPBL Image)
Independent professional baseball veteran Derrick Pyles (left) hangs out with friend and batting practice pitcher Ray Hancock. Former Avon, Ind., resident Pyles is back in Indiana with the Liberation Professional Baseball League at League Stadium in Huntingburg.

Indiana’s Barr showing off skills in Grand Park league

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Attendees at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis July 16 and 23 got a chance to see Cole Barr’s baseball attributes on display.

Playing in the College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star Game, Indiana University’s Barr smacked a three-run triple to help the Red beat the Blue 4-2.

A week later, the Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate lashed a two-run double to aid in the A-Team’s 6-4 triumph against the Snapping Turtles.

How does the righty-swinging third baseman assess his strengths?

“Physically, I can do it all on the field — play defense, run and hit for power,” says Barr. “The average is coming along.

“I have athleticism. I was a middle infielder until last year. I have pretty good range (at third base).”

Barr, a 5-foot-11, 191-pounder, has listened to Hoosiers head coach Jeff Mercer and former assistant Casey Dykes (now a minor league hitting coach in the New York Yankees organization) regarding hitting and done his best to apply it.

“I kist want the ball to spin true,” says Barr. “I don’t want to flare or hook the ball. I look to put myself in a good position to be able to do that. 

“If I can spin the ball, I can adjust and do other things.”

Mercer has been on the job since the summer of 2018 and Barr has benefitted.

“He has a lot of information to offer,” says Barr of his head coach. “We are like-minded. We are not afraid to work hard.

“We’re pretty competitive.”

In three seasons at Indiana, Barr played in 97 games (84 starts) and hit .258 (76-of-295) with 19 home runs, 64 runs batted in, 62 runs scored and a .389 on-base percentage.

Barr broke out in 2019, hitting .255 (55-of-216) with 17 homers, 51 RBIs, 46 runs, .388 OBP and was selected in the 37th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.

He decided not to sign and came back to the Hoosiers.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic halted the 2020 season, Barr started all 15 games at third base and was the regular No. 3 batter in the IU lineup. He hit .246 (14-of-57) with two homers, nine RBIs, 12 runs and a .366 OBP in 15 games.

The last game for a 9-6 team was March 11 against Cincinnati in Bloomington.

Barr stayed in shape and kept his baseball skills sharp while also keeping up with his studies during the quarantine. The Finance major and 2020 Academic All-Big Ten Conference honoree is now around 20 credits shy of his degree.

He is looking forward to in-person classes, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 24.

“Online classes — I’m not a huge fan of it,” says Barr. “It’s hard to learn business stuff and work through problems online.

“It’s hard to pay attention. I’d prefer to be in class in-person.”

Barr played for the Northwoods League’s Lakeshore Chinooks in Mequon, Wis., in the summer of 2019. The team was led by Travis Akre.

“He was a player’s kind of manager,” says Barr of Akre. “He let you do your own thing and kept you on the right track.”

Barr intended to head back to the Chinooks in 2020 when that team canceled its schedule. He was without a summer spot until May and then the Grand Park league was formed through a partnership between Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development.

“I like playing with a lot of my friends,” says Barr, who has now counted shortstop Cooper Trinkle as a teammate in travel ball, at Indiana and in summer collegiate ball.

Kevin Christman is the A-Team head coach.

“I love being around Kev,” says Barr. “It doesn’t matter where he is, he is trying to win.

“I’ve been able to pick his brain a little bit. He’s been around the game for a long time.”

Barr was born in Muncie, Ind., and grew up in nearby Yorktown. 

He played rec league baseball and started travel ball at age 9. He was coached by Shane Summers and Justin Wittenberg with the Indiana Longhorns and Magic City Orioles.

From 12U to 17U, Barr wore the uniform of the Indiana Prospects with Shane Cox and J.P. Hessier as his head coaches. His 18U summer was spent the Mke Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays.

“He was a good dude,” says Barr of Hitt. “He let us have fun.”

Playing the first three years for Mike Larrabee and the last for P.J. Fauquher, Barr was a four-year varsity player at Yorktown High. 

“He’s a pretty smart guy about the game,” says Barr of Larrabee. “He steered me in the direction I needed to go. The same thing with P.J.”

Barr was chosen for the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in 2017

He was honorable mention all-state in 2015 and 2017 and all-Hoosier Heritage Conference 2015-17. Perfect Game rated him as the No. 2 shortstop and No. 14 overall player in Indiana. For his prep career, he hit .333 with nine homers, 45 RBIs and 51 stolen bases.

Barr was a middle infielder and also pitched as a freshman, sophomore and senior.

“I was probably a better pitcher in high school than a hitter,” says Barr. “I had no real thoughts of pitching in college. Most pitchers aren’t 5-10 now.”

Cole was also a safety and wide receiver for the Yorktown Tigers as a freshmen, junior and senior.

Joe and Cherie Barr have four sons — Cole (22), Alex (20), Reid (17) and Drew (15).

Joe Barr is a plant manager at Magna Powertrain. Cherie Barr is a nurse at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital. Alex Barr is heading into his junior year as a Wabash College wrestler. Reid Barr will be a Yorktown High School senior and wrestler Drew Barr a YHS sophomore in the fall. 

Indiana University’s Cole Barr smacks a three-run triple at Victory Field in Indianapolis July 16. (Talking Hoosier Baseball Video)
Indiana University’s Cole Barr raps a two-run double at Victory Field in Indianapolis July 23. (Talking Hoosier Baseball Video)
Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. (Indiana University Photo)
Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. (Indiana University Photo)
Third baseman Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. (Indiana University Photo)
Cole Barr has played three baseball seasons at Indiana University. He is a 2017 Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate. He broke out in 2019, hitting .255 (55-of-216) with 17 homers, 51 RBIs, 46 runs, .388 OBP and was selected in the 37th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners, but did not sign.. (Indiana University Photo)

Cole Barr, a Yorktown (Ind.) High School graduate with three baseball seasons logged at Indiana University, is playing with the A-Team in the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park. (Indiana University Photo)

Lefty Wynja getting ready for South Florida Bulls

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hayden Wynja hasn’t had far to go to prepare for his next diamond destination.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound left-handed pitcher who graduated from Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis in 2017 has been getting ready to join the mound staff at the University of South Florida by taking part in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

On Thursday, July 16, Wynja (pronounced Win-Yuh) relieved during the CSL All-Star Game at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

“It felt like baseball again,” says Wynja, who is with the A-Team in the 12-team circuit. “We were on grass and dirt and in front of people.

“It was awesome.”

The CSL came together when other summer leagues were shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most games are played on Mondays and Tuesdays with the option of training at Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park Wednesday through Friday.

“It’s not like any summer ball I’ve ever played,” says Wynja. “I like the structure of it, too and that it’s close to home.”

At Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Wynja and the Statesmen were coming off a win against No. 1-ranked Logan A. Logan on March 7 when they learned that the 2020 spring season was over.

A similar storyline has been echoed across college baseball.

“This is our season and people are treating it like that,” says Wynja of the Grand Park league. “Players are extremely motivated. They want to play ball. The level of competition is really, really high.”

It was while training during the quarantine that Wynja heard about the opportunity put together by Pro X and Bullpen Tournaments from ball-playing friends.

“It’s crazy how quickly word traveled,” says Wynja.

Besides working on his pitches, including a four-seam running fastball that is clocked in the low 90’s, a hard-biting slider and four-seam change-up generally coming into at 81 to 83 mph thrown from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Wynja has been carrying a full online college course load. 

He’s taking two through Lincoln Trail and two through USF, which is located in Tampa, Fla.

“Art History is kicking my butt,” says Wynja of one South Florida class. He intends to major in Communication at his new school.

Wynja helped Heritage Christian to IHSAA Class 2A sectional titles in 2015 at Park Tudor, 2016 at Heritage Christian and 2017 at Triton Central. He began pitching as a junior and impressed enough to be selected in the 30th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves, but did not sign.

“It didn’t make sense,” says Wynja. “I needed more confidence.

“When I get into pro ball, I want to stay there. I want to make baseball a career. It’s about when I’m ready.

“Hopefully my name is called next year (in the MLB Draft) and I can get started in pro ball.”

Thanks to the pandemic, the southpaw still has three years of NCAA eligibility (one added in 2020).

South Florida’s head coach is Billy Mohl. Karsten Whitson is the Bulls’ pitching coach.

Wynja went to Purdue University in the fall of 2017 as a Selling and Sales Management major. He broke his back and was redshirted for the 2018 season.

The lanky lefty helped the Vic Evans-coached Owensboro (Ky.) RiverDawgs to an Ohio Valley League championship that summer. Aaron Biddle was the pitching coach.

Pitching for Purdue in 2019, Wynja got into eight games (all in relief) and went 0-0 with 12 strikeouts and nine walks in 11 2/3 innings.

Mark Wasikowski was then the Boilermakers head coach. Wynja worked closely with then-pitching coach Elliott Cribby.

“I loved Cribby,” says Wynja. “He’s one of the best pitching coaches I’ve ever had. You could talk to him. He was relatable.

“He pushed us really hard, but he was always there. You knew he had your back. That’s important in coaching.”

In the summer of 2019, Wynja wore the jersey of the Washington-based D.C. Grays of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. He relieved in five of eight appearances, going 1-2 with 28 strikeouts and 21 walks in 21 innings.

Michael Barbera is the Grays’ founder, president and chairman.

Deciding to go the junior college route, Wynja selected Lincoln Trail. But he did not commit before Statesman head coach Kevin Bowers had secured a pitching coach. 

That turned out to be Andrew Elliott, who pitched at Wright State University and played two years in the Baltimore Orioles organization and two in independent pro ball.

“We clicked right away,” says Wynja of Elliott. “He was similar to Coach Cribby. He was always motivating you. 

“He played pro ball, so he knew what he was talking about.”

Wynja made five mound appearances (four in relief) for Lincoln Trail in 2020, going 1-2 with 17 strikeouts and 18 walks in 13 1/3 innings.

Most of the K’s came courtesy of the slider.

“It’s nasty,” says Wynja of a delivery that is more horizontal than vertical. “That’s my pitch. I love that thing.

“It bites and it bites hard.”

Wynja saw Bowers as a father figure.

“He’s the closest thing to a parent you can have away from home,” says Wynja. “My cousin (Blake Wynja, who is one year older than Hayden) passed away during the season. He told me to go home and spend time with my family.

“It was family, academics then baseball. He always makes sure we’re handling our academics. That’s something I really appreciated. He was always in your corner.”

Hayden is part of a large blended family. There’s mother Kristi, father Brad and siblings Grace Wynja, Bella Wynja, Max Lock, Hunter Drook, Harper Drook and Logan Wynja.

Mom is in pharmaceutical sales. Dad is an accountant. Grace is a 2020 Heritage Christian graduate bound for Purdue. Bella is a 5-foot-11 HC sophomore-to-be on the HC volleyball team. Max is entering eighth grade. Twins Hunter (a boy) and Harper (a girl) are going into sixth grade. Logan is 5.

When Hayden Wynja closes the books on Lincoln Trail, he will have two associate degrees (Sport Management and Science) and a load of baseball knowledge.

“It’s best decision I ever made regarding baseball,” says Wynja of deciding LTC would be his junior college home. “It was amazing. There was great competition.

“Everyone has the same mentality — get better. Everyone wants to be the best versions of themselves.”

Wynja says a big college town can offer many distractions. Not so in tiny Robinson.

“It was baseball and school strictly,” says Wynja. “There’s nothing else.

“Junior college is not for everyone. It’s for people who love baseball and being around the game. 

“That’s what made it more enjoyable for me.”

Wynja was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and moved to central Indiana at 2.

He played T-ball then at Billericay Park in Fishers. His first travel ball teams were the Cats and HSE Royals.

During his high school summers, he was coached by Ken Granger with USAthletic and then the Pony Express.

Wynja attended Heritage Christian from kindergarten through eighth grade then transferred to Indianapolis Cathedral High School, where he was cut from the baseball and basketball teams as a 5-foot-10, 110-pound freshman. He went back to Heritage Christian.

It was after he hit a walk-off grand slam in travel ball in the seventh grade that Eagles baseball coach Dan Ambrose sent Wynja a congratulatory letter and he later had him on his team.

“(Ambrose) made baseball fun,” says Wynja. “He was one of my teachers, too.”

Wynja split time between varsity and junior varsity as a sophomore in baseball and basketball then played varsity after that.

Heritage Christian, coached by Corey Jackson, made a run all the way to the 2A southern semistate in basketball with Wynja among the five seniors.

“That’s the favorite team I’ve ever been a part of without a doubt,” says Wynja. “We had great chemistry.

“We broke countless school records and were super, super close.”

HC’s annual senior trip to New York came during regional week and the players opted to miss it for practice. During that week, they got to go on a helicopter ride, go-karting and sat curtsied at an Indiana Pacers game among memorable events.

After winning the Speedway Sectional, the Eagles reigned at the Greenfield-Central Regional before being stopped by eventual state runner-up Crawford County in the Richmond Semistate.

Hayden Wynja pitches for the D.C. Grays of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League in 2019. He pitched for Lincoln Trail College in 2020 and is bound for the University of South Florida. He is a graduate of Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis. He played at Purdue University in 2018. He was the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star for the A-Team. (D.C. Grays Photo)
Hayden Wynja, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound left-handed pitcher, spent his 2020 baseball season at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. He is a 2017 graduate of Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis. After a redshirt season, he played at Purdue University in 2019. He has three years of NCAA eligibility remaining as he transfers to the University of South Florida. (Lincoln Trail College Photo)

Southpaw Samuelson keeps racking up K’s as Braves minor leaguer

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Andy Samuelson has long had a knack for strikeouts.

Since he began pitching baseballs as a young boy living in LaPorte, Ind., and playing in the KVA youth league, the left-hander has been racking up K’s.

“I’ve missed bats my whole life,” says Samuelson, a 21-year-old who is now in the Atlanta Braves organization. “With my delivery, I hide the ball very well. It stays behind my body.”

Selected in the 12th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by Atlanta out of Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill., Samuelson made eight appearances (all in relief) with the Gulf Coast Braves last summer, going 1-1 with one save and a 6.39 earned run average. In 12 2/3 innings, he struck out 21 and walked six in a season cut short by Hurricane Dorian. That’s a rate of 14.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

The lefty played two seasons for National Junior College Athletic Association Division I powerhouse Wabash Valley, where Rob Fournier is head coach and Aaron Biddle the pitching coach/associate head coach.

In the spring of 2019, Samuelson was 1-0 with two saves and a 2.93. He got into 16 games (all in relief). In 15 1/3 innings, he fanned 29 and walked 13 for the 55-4 Warriors. That’s 16.6 K’s per nine innings.

As a freshman in 2018, Samuelson made 11 mound appearances (all in relief) and went 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA. He fanned 17 and walked seven in 9 1/3 innings as the WVC Warriors went 45-11-1. His K-per nine rate was 16.3.

Samuelson is a 2017 graduate of LaPorte High School. In his senior season with the Slicers he went 4-4 with one save and a 1.69 ERA. Playing for head coach Scott Upp and pitching coach Jeff DeMass, he whiffed 67 and walked 20 in 45 2/3 innings. That’s 10.2 strikeouts per seven innings.

“I had a lot of fun playing high school baseball for the Slicers,” says Samuelson. “Coach Upp (an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer) is perfect mix of intense and making sure you have fun.

“He’s a really good coach. He knows what he’s doing.”

Samuelson played two years on the junior varsity and two years on varsity. At the start, he resisted developing a compliment to his fastball and curveball.

“When I was younger I refused to throw a change-up,” says Samuelson. “Coach DeMass is the only reason I have any semblance of a change-up at all.”

To this day, Samuelson uses his “circle” change sparingly. His “out” pitch is his curve. 

“It got me on the radar of college coaches and pro scouts,” says Samuelson of his bender. “It’s more of a sweeper, moving 10-to-4 or 10-to-5. It’s been my bread-and-butter pitch since I’ve been a pitcher. 

“There are games I might have thrown it more than my fastball.”

A four-seam fastball with natural movement comes out of the hand of the 6-foot-4, 200-pounder.

“There are days when my fastball runs arm-side a lot,” says Samuelson. “I don’t know why.”

Samuelson never hit 90 mph on the radar gun his freshmen year at Wabash Valley. But after a year of daily long toss and plenty of weight lifting, he was hitting that mark consistently as a sophomore.

“Playing at Wabash was quite an experience,” says Samuelson. “They’re so focused on getting better and winning games. Everyday we did something. There were no days off. It was an absolute grind.”

Samuelson calls Fournier one of the most intense coaches he’s ever seen.

“He got upset if we didn’t play up to our potential,” says Samuelson. “We were so talented. I’d put us up against a lot of (NCAA) Division I college teams. A lot of players turned down the (MLB) Draft or went to very good Division I programs. The talent level just pushes you to be better.”

Samuelson credits Biddle for tweaking his mechanics, but also instilling confidence.

“He was a big mindset guy,” says Samuelson of Biddle. “It takes a lot of mental fortitude to be a good pitcher.”

Samuelson, who earned an Arts, Media & Science associate degree at Wabash Valley, was headed to Division I baseball after his junior college experience, but opted to go pro instead.

“It’s one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made,” says Samuelson. “I was very close to going to North Carolina State. But I’ve always wanted to play professional baseball.”

Since being drafted, Major League Baseball has been talking about shrinking the minors and cut the draft from 40 to five rounds in 2020.

“Looking back, I’m very glad I did what I did,” says Samuelson.

The summer between his freshmen and sophomore collegiate seasons, the southpaw was with the Ohio Valley League’s Henderson (Ky.) Flash. Adam Hines was the head coach and Brandon Mattingly the pitching coach.

“(Mattingly) helped me a lot with straight mechanical stuff,” says Samuelson. “Like using my lower half and staying on-plane.”

After he spent a summer with the LaPorte Titans, Samuelson’s junior high and high school travel ball seasons were spent with the Scott Ellrich-coached Indiana Breakers.

“I credit him for a lot of the pitching I’ve learned,” says Samuelson, who still regularly converses with Ellrich.

Samuelson was at 2020 Braves spring training less than two weeks when it was shut down because of COVID-19 and he returned to LaPorte.

He had been working out since fall — lifting weights at the LaPorte County Family YMCA and throwing at at facility own by the Land family (LPHS Class of 2023’s Jackson Land was often his catcher).

He also worked as a substitute teacher at LaPorte Middle School.

During and after quarantine, Samuelson stayed in game shape. Recently, he found out there will be no Minor League Baseball season in 2020 and cut back on the intensity.

It was ferocity that helped Samuelson and his teammates to basketball success while playing for Tom Wells at LaPorte High.

“We were never the most athletic kids with the most skills,” says Samuelson. “Basketball was not our first sport. The other four starters were football players.

“(Wells) instill straight toughness. We played grittier and tougher than anybody else, that’s why we won a lot of games.”

Andy is the oldest of Greg and Becky Samuelson’s three children. Greg Samuelson is a seventh grade science teacher at LaPorte Middle School. Becky Samuelson is a sixth grade math teacher at Kesling Intermediate School). 

Emily Samuelson, who played softball at LPHS, just finished her freshman year at Purdue University where she is studying nursing. Tommy Samuelson was a LaPorte freshman in 2019-20, playing baseball and baseball.

“He’s already as tall as me,” says Andy of Tommy. “He has a chance to be better than I ever was.”

Andy Samuelson, a graduate of LaPorte (Ind.) High School and Wabash Valley College in Mt. Carmel, Ill., signs with the Atlanta Braves in 2019. He played with the Gulf Coast Braves in his first professional baseball season. The 2020 Minor League Baseball campaign was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fouts, Purdue baseball adjusting to new recruiting norms

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A buzzword during the COVID-19 pandemic is “new normal.”

For Purdue University baseball recruiting coordinator Cooper Fouts and the rest of the Boilermaker coaching staff, scouting and evaluating talent has changed during a time when recruits missed out on a 2020 high school season, others had their college campaigns cut short and traveling is discouraged.

“It’s taken a different turn,” says Fouts. “We’re really putting a emphasis on relationships.”

The NCAA recruiting calendar was changed and keeps changing.

“At first, it was we can’t recruit until April 15 and then get back on the road like normal,” says Fouts, 37. “But they kept pushing it back. That just didn’t happen.

“This is our normal right now.”

Fouts, who works for Boilers head coach Greg Goff after spending the 2019 season with Mark Wasikowski (now head coach at the University of Oregon), has been gathering as much information about players as possible.

“We look at video and honest video with some failures,” says Fouts, who also serves on a staff that includes Chris Marx, volunteer Harry Shipley, director of player development John Madia and supervisor of operations Tim Sarhage. “On our level, there’s more failure than they’e used to. They have to learn and make adjustments. Expectations are even higher.”

In many ways, coaches glean more from failure than success.

“We like to see what their body language looks like,” says Fouts. “When they’re struggling, you see a lot more truth.

“We’re cross-checking more and making more calls since we can’t see for (ourselves). We don’t get to see interactions. And we want to see the whole package. This makes you trust your gut more.”

Ninety minutes of Fouts’ morning in July 8 when spent in a FaceTime call with a player in Texas, talking about and showing them the facilities at Purdue.

There are plenty of conversations with high school and travel coaches, including the opponents of the player.

NCAA rules dictate that players do coaches and not the other way around.

“There’s a large amount of emphasis on how they communicate on the phone,” says Fouts. “I’ve never offered a kid we haven’t seen in-person. That’s a huge change.

“That virtual tour allows (recruits) to make the right decision. We do it multiple times every week.”

Fouts has been coaching since right after college graduation and has done his best to serve the interests of the man in charge. At Purdue, that’s been Wasikowski and Goff.

“It’s the preference of what those head coaches like and how they want to build a team,” says Fouts. “I’m a follower of their desires.”

With Goff, Fouts has a little more freedom with hitters and their day-to-day instruction and planning. 

Fouts has not seen players already on the Purdue roster in-person since March. The hope is that they will be reunited Aug. 24. That’s when the 2020-21 school year is scheduled to begin at Purdue.

The Boilers have players in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., Midwest Collegiate League and had hopes of placing some in the Coastal Plain League.

Prior to coming to West Lafayette, Ind., Fouts spent the second of two stints at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. He was on the Waves staff 2011 and 2012 with head coach Steve Rodriguez (now head coach at Baylor University in Waco, Texas) and 2016-18 with Rick Hirtensteiner at the helm.

“He’s my biggest mentor,” says Fouts of Rodriguez. “he was so good at giving guys the freedom to play. 

“He wasn’t a micro-manager. Players were not paralyzed by a thought process. That allowed them to be successful. He does the same thing at Baylor. He knows what his players can and can’t do. They absolutely play loose.”

Hirtensteiner was an assistant to Rodriguez during Fouts’ first tenure at Pepperdine. 

“He’s an absolute great man of faith,” says Fouts of Hirtensteiner. “He treats his player so well. He gave me a ton of freedom on the coaching and recruiting side.

“He’s just a thoughtful individual. He’s not emotional. He was never overwhelmed by a situation.”

In between his seasons at Pepperdine, Fouts was on the staff of Eric Madsen at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah (2013-15). Madsen taught him much about the mechanics of hitting and more.

“He’s a really good offensive coach and a great human being,” says Fouts of Madsen. “He allowed me to make a lot of mistakes.”

In 2010, Fouts was an assistant at the College of Southern Nevada in North Las Vegas, where Tim Chambers was the head coach and Bryce Harper earned the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s best amateur baseball player. 

Harper graduated high school early so he could attend College of Southern Nevada and was selected No. 1 overall in the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Washington Nationals.

Fouts was 11 when he first met Chambers, a man who also coached him his first two years at Bishop Gorman High School in Summerlin, Nev., and for one year at CSN.

“(Chambers) was awesome,” says Fouts. “He’s one of the better managers of people I’ve ever been around.

“He let guys play aggressive and make mistakes.”

Fouts played his final two varsity seasons at Bishop Gorman for head coach Kenny White.

Originally committed to Auburn (Ala.) University, the righty-swinging catcher played three seasons Texas Tech University in Lubbock (2003-05), playing alongside older brother Nathan Fouts. Cooper appeared in 156 games, hitting .265 (114-of-431) with two home runs, 77 runs batted in and 76 runs for Red Raiders head coach Larry Hays.

Fouts remembers that Hays was pretty hands-off as a coach and led assistants tend to day-to-day details.

“He was a great mentor as a Christian man,” says Fouts of Hays, who concluded his Tech run in 2008. “Larry was beloved in that Lubbock community.”

Besides his brother, Fouts got to be teammates with Big 12 Conference Triple Crown winner Josh Brady, who also played at the College of Southern Nevada, and future big league pitcher Dallas Braden.

“(Braden) was one of the two best competitors I’ve ever been around in my life

(the other is Harper),” says Fouts, who still has occasional contact with the two players.

Fouts was drafted twice — the first time in the 26th round by the Oakland Athletics in 2001 — but decided a pro baseball playing career was not for him.

He picked up his diploma on a Saturday and began coaching on Brandon Gilliland’s staff at Lubbock Christian School two days later in 2006.

Fouts was born in Kokomo, Ind., in 1983. At 7, he moved with his family to Indianapolis, where he attended St. Thomas Aquinas School. 

After Cooper turned 11 in 1994, the Fouts family moved to Las Vegas and lived there through his high school days with the exception of a one-year stay in Memphis, Tenn.

Cooper and Bri Fouts are to celebrate 10 years of marriage July 24. The couple have three children — daughter Harper (who turns 8 July 29) and sons Emmit (who turns 6 on July 10), and Nash (who turns 4 on Aug. 18).

Cooper Fouts has been a Purdue University baseball assistant coach since the 2019 season. He is a native of Kokomo, Ind., and played high school and junior college baseball in Nevada and NCAA Division I baseball in Texas. (Purdue University Photo)

Tirotta stays close to home while gearing up for final season with Dayton Flyers

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Riley Tirotta is enjoying baseball and family life this summer.

Coming off an abbreviated junior season at the University of Dayton in Ohio because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tirotta spent the first month of quarantine at home in South Bend, Ind., and about a week in Bryan, Texas, where he participated in the Collegiate Summer Baseball Invitational.

A 6-foot-3, 210-pound righty swinger who has started 109 games at Dayton (including 97 at third base the past two seasons with starts at designated hitter, right field, first base and second base as a freshmen in 2018), Tirotta did not get selected in the five-round 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Citing unfinished business, he decided not to sign a free agent contact with an MLB organization and he’s planning to come back for his senior season in 2021.

“We had a really good team at Dayton this year,” says Tirotta. “We can do a lot of special things. We have a lot of seniors returning. If I do some things individually and we win some games, I can put myself in an even better position (for professional baseball). 

“We want to finish what we started.”

As a sophomore, Tirotta led Dayton in hits (59), at-bats (227) and stolen bases (18 in 20 attempts) and tied for the team lead in RBIs (41). He enjoyed 16 multi-hit games. 

His freshmen year yielded 27 hits and seven stolen bases while he fielded at a .987 clip.

A past honoree on the dean’s and Atlantic 10 Conference commissioner’s academic lists, Tirotta is on track to earned his Finance degree at Dayton.

At the CSBI, Tirotta played on a team managed by former big league pitcher, Gary, Ind., native and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer LaTroy Hawkins and got to face former high school teammate Nate Thomas and college mate Cole Pletka.

Before joining the Matt Kennedy-coached Snapping Turtles of the College Summer League at Grand Park this week, Tirotta spent about 10 days training at Prospect Performance Academy in Aurora, Ohio — near Cleveland and Akron.

Tirotta has worked for more than a year with agent and PPA founder/owner Ben Simon.

“He’s helping me get ready for pro ball and reaching out to scouts,” says Tirotta of Simon. “We’re pretty good friends.”

The CSL plays its games on Monday and Tuesday (11 a.m. doubleheaders). Tirotta spends the rest of the time in South Bend, where he works out at the O’Brien Fitness Center and the 1st Source Bank Performance Center (home of the South Bend Cubs), where Mark Haley is the director.

Following workouts prescribed by trainers, including those at Dayton, Tirotta hits the gym five or six times a week. He goes through strength and conditioning moves and does sprint training.

“I use my speed as well as my power,” says Tirotta. “Just being at athlete on the baseball field is one of my biggest strengths.

“I like to use my athleticism a lot. I’m making plays and using my arm strength. I take extra bases when I can and get stolen bases. I’m hitting a few home runs here and there. I’m pretty well-rounded. I’m not a power-only guy.”

Dayton played just 14 games before the 2020 season was halted. Tirotta started cold and finished hot. He wound up hitting .228 (13-of-57) with one homer, one double, 15 RBIs, nine runs, four stolen bases.

He batted fourth in the Flyers’ final game on March 9 at Dayton swept a three-game series against Northern Kentucky. 

The previous day, Flyers head coach Jayson King inserted Tirotta in the 3-hole and he went 3-for-6 3-for-6 with a home run, double, three runs batted in and three runs scored.

“I was putting good barrel on the ball and going in a good direction,” says Tirotta. “Then COVID happened.

“(Coach King has) done everything for me. He’s gotten me into the Cape and a lot of good leagues. He gets us where we need to be.”

Tirotta hooked up with the CSL when other collegiate summer leagues were canceled or scaled back for 2020. 

He got into 28 games in the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2019 — 19 with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and nine with the Harwich Mariners. He signed a temporary contract with Y-D and finished with league runner-up Harwich. He supposed to go back to Harwich this summer, but the league canceled its schedule.

He knew he wanted to play summer ball. He was not sure where and then the opportunity came at Grand Park.

“There’s a lot of guys I grew up playing with and against,” says Tirotta, a 2017 graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., who played travel ball with the Indiana Bulls his 17U and 18U summers after being with the South Bend Silver Hawks for 15U and 16U and the Michiana Scrappers for 11U through 14U. Coached by his father, he started organized baseball at Southeast Little League in South Bend.

Playing summer ball two times a week in Indiana, Riley also gets to be around parents Mike and Stacy Tirotta and younger brother Jordan (a 2020 Marian graduate who plans to study dentistry at Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis). 

Sunday nights are for dinners at grandpa Frank Tirotta’s house. It’s not unusual for 40 or more relatives and friends to gather for these weekly feasts or on holidays.

“I have a very close family,” says Tirotta. When pandemic hit that shut down meals with his grandfather — a widower — and visits were kept at a distance. “He was fed up with it and itching to see everybody again.”

Mike Marks has broken bread with the Tirottas. He runs the Hitters Edge training facility in Sturgis, Mich., and has been helping Riley with his swing since Marian coach Joe Turnock and son Josh Turnock recommended him during Tirotta’s freshmen year with the Knights.

“He’s the reason I am a college hitter,” says Tirotta. “I put in a lot of hours with him.

“He’s definitely part of the journey in my baseball career.”

Baseball gears back up again next week. Right now, Tirotta is getting ready to join family for some camping.

Riley Tirotta, a graduate of Marian High School in Mishawaka, Ind., has played three baseball seasons at the University of Dayton in Ohio. This summer he is playing in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (University of Dayton Photo)