Tag Archives: National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association

Peterson in Guardians system after special run with UConn

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

University of Connecticut baseball enjoyed one of the best seasons in the program’s 126-year history in 2022 and a player from northwest Indiana played a major part.
Austin Peterson, a right-handed pitcher and 2018 Chesterton (Ind.) High School graduate, was a dominant force in the Huskies starting rotation as UConn won a New England record 50 games and went to the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year and eighth time on head coach Jim Penders’ watch.
Peterson, a 6-foot-6, 234-pounder, made 18 mound appearances (17 starts) and went 11-3 with a 3.83 earned run average, 147 strikeouts and 25 walks over 110 1/3 innings.
Before he was taken in the ninth round of the 2022 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Cleveland Guardians, many accolades came Peterson’s way.
He was chosen as an All-American by National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (first team), Collegiate Baseball (second team), American Baseball Coaches Association (third team) and D1Baseball.com (third team).
Peterson was also New England Pitcher of the Year, NCBWA District 2 co-Pitcher of the Year, East Coast Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Year as well as all-Big East Conference (first team), all-New England (first team) and all-Big East tournament.
The tall righty also set a UConn single-season record for strikeouts and tied for second in single-season wins. He went six or more innings in 14 of 17 starts.
Peterson was a team captain for a UConn team that finished 50-16 and bowed out in the NCAA Super Regional at Stanford.
“It meant a lot, especially going to a historic baseball program like UConn” says Peterson of the leadership role voted upon by his teammates. “Being a leader of that culture is something I’ll never forget. I was a guy from the Midwest and was welcomed with open arms.
“I gained a lot of respect out there.”
Since 2004 — Penders’ first season as head coach — 65 Huskies have signed pro contracts with MLB teams and Peterson is part of that group.
Joshua McDonald is Huskies pitching coach.
“Coach Mac teaches you the mental side of baseball a little bit better than a lot of guys,” says Peterson. “He helps you find something you’re good at and make the most out of that.
“I had to get my slider back. We worked together to figure what was going on. It came back this year and the strikeout numbers took a jump.”
In 2021, Peterson was all-Big East (second team) and in 15 games (14 starts) went 7-1 with a 2.58 ERA, 82 strikeouts and 21 walks over 80 1/3 innings.
Throwing from a three-quarter arm slot, Peterson uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, slider and curve.
This past spring, the four-seamer sat at 90 to 93 mph and touched 94.
The two-seamer “has a little big of late life to it,” says Peterson. “I like to throw it toward a lefty’s front hit and it runs back inside for a strike. It runs and sinks more than it cuts.”
The change-up is of the “circle” variety. The curve has a sweeping motion and is like 1-to-7 on the clock face.
Peterson landed in Storrs, Conn., after playing at Wabash Valley College (a junior college in Mount Carmel, Ill.) in 2020 at Purdue University in 2019.
He went the JUCO route because he would immediately become eligible for the MLB Draft and at the time transferring from one NCAA D-I school to another meant sitting out for a year.
“I just wanted to compete,” says Peterson.
The COVID-19 pandemic helped cut the 2020 season short and the draft was cut to five rounds and Peterson was not selected.
At Wabash Valley, Rob Fournier was then the Warriors head coach. Peterson worked closely with then-pitching coach Aaron Biddle (who is now WVC head coach).
“Both were fiery guys,” says Peterson of Fournier (now an assistant/recruiting coordinator at Western Kentucky University) and Biddle. Coach Fournier hated losing more than anybody I’ve ever seen in my life.
“The competitiveness they brought to the table helped me in my competitiveness.”
Peterson got into 25 games (25 in relief) as a Purdue freshman and went 1-5 with one save, a 4.50 ERA, 49 strikeouts and 11 walks in 2019.
At Wabash Valley, he got into five games (three starts) and went 2-0 with a 3.05 ERA, 29 strikeouts and seven walks in 20 2/3 innings.
Born in Valparaiso, Ind., Peterson grew up in Chesterton. He got his organized baseball start at State Park Little League. His first travel team was the Duneland Flyers at 13U. Then came one season with Chicago’s Coyote Select then three (15U to 17U) with the Indiana Prospects. The 2017 Ed Woolwine-coached 17U Prospects won the Marucci World Series with the help of Peterson.
Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Campbell led Peterson and his Chesterton Trojans teammates for Peterson’s last three prep seasons.
“Coach Campbell and I had a great relationship,” says Peterson. “We didn’t have the most talented group, but we played together our whole lives. Coach Campbell realized that and let us take it on our own.”
With Peterson on the team, Chesterton won sectional titles in 2016 and 2018, a Duneland Athletic Conference crown in 2017 and a regional championship in 2018.
Peterson was a two-time DAC Pitcher of the Year and three-time all-DAC, all-area and team MVP. He struck out 277 and posted an 0.80 ERA during his high school mound career.
He was named Region Player of the Year in 2016 and Chesterton Male Athlete of the Year in 2018.
On the basketball court, power forward/center Peterson was a two-time all-conference, all-area and team MVP honoree as a junior and senior. The Marc Urban-coached Trojans went 16-9 on the hardwood in 2016-17 and 21-4 in 2017-18.
While rehabbing a knee injury, Peterson did not play baseball and attended classes at Purdue during the summer of 2018.
The next two summers, he was with the 2019 New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Martha’s Vineyard Sharks and 2020 Coastal Plain League’s Peninsula Pilots (Virginia Beach, Va.).
Peterson used the 2021 season as developmental time, getting his body right and working with UConn athletic trainer Joel DeMarco.
Peterson earned an Applied and Resource Economics at Connecticut in the spring.
Since signing with the Guardians July 30, Peterson has been in Goodyear, Ariz., building back up after not pitching since mid-June.
He expects to begin pitching in games during instructional league at Goodyear Ballpark in mid-September then come back to Indiana in October and see what the Guardians have in-mind for him for November and December.
Glenn and Audra Peterson have three sons — Glenn (31), Jordan (29) and Austin (22).
The elder Glenn played baseball at Chesterton High and recently retired after three decades as a UPS driver. Audra Peterson is director of career and technical education for Porter County.
The younger Glenn Peterson played baseball at Chesterton and walked on at Purdue before giving in up while pursuing at Civil Engineering degree. He works in that field in Munster.
Jordan Peterson played baseball in high school and a Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., and is now a financial consultant in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Austin Peterson (University of Connecticut Photo)
Austin Peterson (University of Connecticut Photo)
Austin Peterson (University of Connecticut Photo)

Austin Peterson (University of Connecticut Photo)

Austin Peterson (Cleveland Guardians Photo)

Grand Valley State gold glover Nelson a student first, but he still loves being an athlete

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Spencer Nelson enjoyed a comeback baseball season for NCAA Division II Grand Valley State University (Allendale, Mich.) in 2022.
After missing the 2021 campaign while recovering from surgery for a torn left hip labrum, South Bend, Ind., native Nelson started in all 50 of GVSU’s games and .325 (67-of-206) with eight home runs, six triples, 17 doubles, 35 runs batted in and 49 runs scored.
The righty-swinging lead-off hitter posted a .969 OPS (.386 on-base percentage plus .583 slugging average) and was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Midwest all-region second team and all-Great Lakes Interscholastic Athletic Conference second team. He enjoyed four-hit games against Wayne State and Davenport and produced 20 multi-hit contests.
A center fielder, Nelson also collected an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove Award while completing a bachelors degree in Information Systems.
“I’m a student first and an athlete second,” says Nelson. “School and athletics is sometimes hard to balance out.”
He was on a Pre-Med track while also playing baseball then made a switch.
“I knew I wasn’t going to get much sleep on Sundays with a lot of stress and sacrifices,” says Nelson. “I decided to devote myself to developing myself as a player and a teammate.
“I love baseball and I was not not ready to give it up.”
Nelson, 23, plans to pursue a masters in Computer Science while playing for the GVSU Lakers in the spring of 2023.
His role in 2022 was often as center fielder and lead-off hitter.
“You’re in-charge out there (in center field),” says Nelson. “You can roam wherever you want. It’s a fun little area to hang out.”
Playing the outfield, communication becomes key when tracking the ball and making relay throws.
“Everybody in the outfield should be aggressive to catch it,” says Nelson. “This year I had a lot of trust in my guys as I tend to do every year.
“In college, covering the gaps is extremely important. I’m always telling the left fielder and right fielder no to play straight up and eliminate extra bases when possible.”
As for leading off, Nelson also gets to use his speed.
“It’s more about contact than power,” says Nelson. “But I’m I’m very adjustable to wherever I play. I’ve batted in the 3-hole.
“Wherever you put me I will adjust to that role.”
Nelson helped Grand Valley State go 30-22 in 2022.
“We definitely played our hearts out,” says Nelson. “But with talent we have we can definitely do better.”
Jamie Detillion is the Lakers head coach.
“He definitely vouches for his guys,” says Nelson of Detillion. “He’s a very very caring guy and wants to be a winner.
“He’s aways listening to input and adjusts to our liking (as players) while maintaining his role.”
Born and raised in South Bend, Nelson first fell for the game as a T-ball player at South East Side Little League.
He played travel ball for the Michiana Scrappers, South Bend Silver Hawks and Hitters Edge.
He played varsity baseball for four years at John Adams High School in South Bend, where he earned the all-academic award four times and was a three-time team MVP, two-time team captain and first-team all-Northern Indiana Conference as a senior.
Mike Cass was the Eagles head coach when Nelson graduated in 2017.
“(Cass) wanted to win and develop the program,” says Nelson. “He made calls for me to (Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Mich.) and that helped quite a bit.
“It’s about being respectful to those above you so they can show respect back to you.”
Nelson played for the Kellogg Bruins in 2018 and 2019.
“I had two amazing coaches (head coach Eric Laskovy and assistant head coach Jim Miller),” says Nelson. “It was tough love. They taught me a lot on and off the field.”
Now 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Nelson left high school weighing about 170.
“I was pretty scrawny,” says Nelson. “Kellogg is a blue collar athletic program and school. You’re taught to work hard.
“Eating right was the No. 1 thing. I think I worked out for three or four years without missing a day (minus Sundays)
“It helped me become a little bigger and made my body as healthy as it’s been.”
Nelson played in the South Bend men’s league each summer from 2017-21. He was with the Mishawaka Brewers until joining the South Bend Royals in 2021.
In 2022, he played 21 games with the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Muskegon (Mich.) Clippers and hit .293 with four homers and 16 RBIs before coming home to earn some money for college.
Spencer is the youngest of Bill and Sheila Nelson’s five children. Indianapolis-based educational administrator Naomi is the oldest, followed by consultant to medical companies Tiara and IBM employee Madison in California and software engineer Connor in Arizona. Bill Nelson is a retired salesman. Sheila Nelson is a hairdresser.

Spencer Nelson (Grand Valley State University Photo)
Spencer Nelson (Kellogg Community College Photo)
Spencer Nelson (Grand Valley State University Photo)

Learnard’s transition from player to coach brings him back to Purdue

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Purdue University’s special 2018 baseball season was heading toward a conclusion when senior closer Ross Learnard began thinking about his future.
The Boilermakers were on their way to a 38-21 record that included 17-6 mark in the Big Ten Conference — second to Minnesota — and an NCAA Regional berth.
Learnard was finishing up his Agricultural Economics degree.
“After each game late down the stretch I’d be in the shower and thinking my last out is going to come here soon,” says Learnard, a 6-foot-2 left-hander went 2-2 with 15 saves, a 3.37 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and eight walks in 34 2/3 innings in 2018. “I just can’t see myself getting a 9-to-5 inside job.
“I decided at that point that I wanted to coach and began to pursue my options.”
Purdue pitching coach Steve Holm went to Illinois State University to become head coach and brought Learnard on as a graduate assistant (he earned a Master of Business Administration degree at ISU) and director of operations in the fall of 2018.
From there Learnard went to Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., where he had pitched in 2015 and 2016, and served as a recruiting coordinator and taught many parts of the game in helping Cobras head coach Jon Goebel.
Greg Goff, who was a Purdue volunteer assistant in 2018 and has been head coach since Mark Wasikowski left for the University of Oregon after the 2019 campaign, recently hired Learnard to handle Pitching Analytics & Team Operations.
High on Learnard’s list of duties is collaborating and communicating with pitching coach Chris Marx as it relates to player development.
“He sets the expectation and culture with the pitching staff and its my job to supplement that and to make it better.”
To do that means making sense of available numbers.
“The game is going towards being data-driven, especially with this generation we’re coaching now,” says Learnard. “(Players are) always on their phones.
“This era of baseball and player that we have is the most read up on the scientific aspect of how you pitcher, where it be biomechanics or ball-flight metrics (like horizontal and vertical break and Revolutions Per Minute aka RPMs).
“It’s insane what analytics can really tell you. ERA, hits allowed and WHIP (walks and hit per innings pitched) can only give you a small portion of the context. You have to pull back the layers and see where you’re getting your swings and misses, where you’re getting your weak contact,
“It’s just untapped potential.”
There are also students on campus who understand data analysis that give feedback to the baseball program.
Just three years removed from being a player, Learnard sees a difference.
“At least in my circle, it was not as data-driven,” says Learnard. “I try to be a lifelong learner as a coach. You can never be satisfied. It’s adapt or die.
I’m trying to read as much as I can about the new-school metrics, analytics and data.
“It’s very important to be well-versed in all things numbers and all the different modalities to train pitchers.”
Purdue uses a Rapsodo machine to read ball-flight metrics and determine things like spin axis, spin direction and spin efficiency.
“You can see the way the ball is moving in space,” says Learnard. “We also use a high-speed camera to see how guys are releasing the ball.
“We can give them mental cues to shape the pitch that we’re going for.”
Learnard, who turns 26 on Oct. 5, went to Catlin (Ill.) High School near Danville and graduated in 2014. A co-op with Jamaica High School (Sidell, Ill.) was called Salt Fork for sports.
The lefty made 21 mound appearances (12 in relief) and went 10-3 with 2.72 ERA, 105 strikeouts and 25 walks in 76 1/3 innings for Parkland in 2015 and 2016.
At Purdue in 2017 and 2018, Learnard got into 56 games (all in relief) and was 8-2 with 19 saves, a 1.78 ERA, 70 stakeouts and 18 walks in 81 innings.
As a senior, he was named a Collegiate Baseball Third Team All-American, Third Team all-Big Ten and was on the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Watch List. He was Big Ten Pitcher of the Week in April and Perfect Game National Pitcher of the Week in May. He was also Academic all-Big Ten.
Purdue’s 45-day window for 2021 fall workouts began Sept. 9 and plans call for it to wrap Oct. 23. Fall ball scrimmages are open to the public Sept. 29, Oct. 1, Oct. 3, Oct. 5, Oct. 8, Oct. 15 and Oct. 28. The Boilers host two 1 p.m. exhibition games with junior colleges — Oct. 9 against Wabash Valley College (Mount Carmel, Ill.) and Oct. 16 against John A. Logan College (Carterville, Ill.). The Black and Gold World Series is slated for Oct. 21-23.
“Right now we’re in full team mode,” says Learnard. “We’re setting the expectations of what we want in the spring. We’re helping these (newcomers) perform at a high level and bring them up to the returner speed.
“We’re always trying to individualize (development). It’s not cookie cutter.”

Ross Learnard (Purdue University Photo)

Devotion to routine has Jeffersonville’s Ellis excelling in Diamondbacks system

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Drew Ellis has displayed baseball talent from an early age.

With father Derek Ellis as his coach, Drew was part of the Jeff/JRC team that won a Great Lakes Region championship and went to the 2008 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. His team went to make the Final Four of the 2010 Junior League World Series in Taylor, Mich.

Drew — the oldest of three Ellis boys — turned heads at Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School and in travel baseball with the local Indiana Elite and Indiana Bulls. He graduated from Jeff in 2014 after being honorable mention all-state three times in baseball and twice in basketball.

He excelled in two seasons at the University of Louisville. After redshirting in 2015, Ellis hit .309 with three home runs, six doubles and 22 runs batted in over 47 games his first collegiate season of 2016.

Then came 2017.

Ellis, who was born in Louisville, helped the Dan McDonnell-coached Cardinals (53-12) by hitting .355 with 20 homers, 18 doubles and 61 RBIs in 65 games for the 2017 College World Series qualifiers.

American Baseball Coaches Association, Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, D1 Baseball and Perfect Game all named Ellis a First Team All-America. He was on the Baseball America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Second Team All-America squads along with being a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy and Golden Spikes Award. He was also all-Atlantic Coast Conference first team on the diamond and the ACC Baseball Scholar-Athlete of the Year as a sports management major.

The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Ellis in the second round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

After hitting .227 with eight home runs, eight doubles and 23 runs batted in over 48 games for the Short Season Class-A Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops in 2017, Ellis moved up to the High-A Visalia (Calif.) Rawhide in 2018 and is hitting .267  with 10 homers, 26 doubles and 52 RBIs through 73 games.

The links’ in the Diamondbacks minor league chain above Visalia of the California League are the Double-A Jackson (Tenn.) Generals and Triple-A Reno (Nev.) Aces.

In his last 10 games, he’s at .341 with one homer and 10 RBIs through July 4.

MLB Pipeline calls the 6-foot-3, 212-pound righty-swinging third baseman the No. 8 prospect in the D-backs organization. Three of the top seven are pitchers.

In his second minor league season, Ellis compares professional and college baseball.

“Professional baseball is a lot more on your own,” says Drew Ellis, 22. “You’re told what to do in college. In professional baseball, you’re held accountable for what you do. If you don’t do the things you need to do to get ready for each day, you’re not going to have success.

“In college, everybody does the same thing because you’re on a schedule. When you get to professional baseball, you’re on your own and you create your own destiny with that.”

To keep contributing to his team, Ellis has found a way to prepare that suits him.

“I have my own routine,” says Drew Ellis. “You have to figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s all about making adjustments and sometimes you have to make adjustments on the fly.

“But it starts with your routine.”

With 52 homers and 82 doubles since his junior year of high school, many would call Ellis a power hitter.

“I guess you could say that,” says Drew Ellis. “I look at myself as a professional hitter, whether I’m going up and seeing six or seven pitches or barreling up every ball I see. I like to see myself as a really good hitter.

“I’ve stayed with my approach this year and have not strayed away from it. I recognize the pitch and put a good swing on it.”

Derek is not hesitant to agree with Drew’s employer in labeling him a power hitter.

“The Diamondbacks think he’s a power hitter and is going to hit 25 or 30 homers a year as he progresses,” says Derek Ellis. “He’s doing great. I’m not going to bet against him.”

Derek Ellis has been on the Jeffersonville High coaching staff since the 2008 season and the Red Devils head coach since 2013. He watched Drew play shortstop for four seasons at JHS and then move to Louisville, where McDonnell made him an everyday third baseman.

“What a blessing for Drew to play for a guy like that,” says Derek Ellis of McDonnell. “What you see is what you get. He’s genuine. He’s a great motivator. He’s one of the best coaches in the country.

“The U of L program is really regimented. It really helped him make the transition to pro ball.”

In December 2017, Derek opened the Ellis Baseball Academy in Jeffersonville. The training facility takes up half of an 8,000-square foot building and has three batting and one pitching tunnel. Several area travel teams have asked to use the space.

All three of Derek and Jennifer Ellis’ three sons are baseball players.

Ian Ellis (20) is a right-batting third baseman/second baseman/right-handed pitcher who finished his second year at Olney (Ill.) Community College in 2017 and transferred to Kentucky Wesleyan College.

Jack Ellis (17) is heading into his senior season at Jeffersonville and has already committed to play college baseball at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. This summer, the lefty-hitting third baseman is with the Indiana Bulls Black 17U team, which went to the Perfect Game 2018 Grads or 17U World Wood Bat Association National Championship at the LakePoint Sports Complex in Cartersville, Ga.

Derek Ellis played for three Hall of Fame coaches — Don Poole at Jeffersonville, Jerry Blemker at Vincennes University and Bob Warn at Indiana State University.

“Those two are instrumental in who I am,” says Derek Ellis of Poole and Blemker. “(Poole) expected you to show up and play hard and taught me a lot about game strategy.

“(Blemker) taught me how to be a man. I was a boy going into junior college and thought I knew everything.”

JEFFERSONVILLEREDDEVILS

DREWELLISVISALIA2

Drew Ellis shows the batting form that has him hitting .267  with 10 home runs, 26 doubles and 52 RBIs through 73 games for the High Class-A Visalia Rawhide. Ellis is a Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School graduate and former All-America at the University of Louisville. (Visalia Rawhide Photo)

DREWELLISVISALIA1

Drew Ellis, a former Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School and University of Louisville standout, is now enjoying baseball success in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. (Visalia Rawhide Photo)

Right-hander Ruxer doing his baseball homework

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As a finance and accounting double major at the University of Louisville, Jared Ruxer studied figures as they relate to business.

“I’ve always liked numbers,” says Ruxer, a 2011 graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis.

Now that his business is baseball — he is a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization — Ruxer is examining concepts like Spin Rate and Extension that are a part of TrackMan or Statcast technology.

According to MLB.com, a pitcher’s Spin Rate (SR) “represents the rate of spin on a baseball after it is released. It is measured in revolutions per minute. The amount of spin on a pitch changes its trajectory.”

For Extension (EXT), “a pitcher must begin his throwing motion while standing on the pitching rubber — which is 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate. This does not mean pitches are actually thrown from 60 feet, 6 inches away from the plate.

“The point at which a pitcher releases the ball is actually a few feet closer to home plate than the pitching rubber itself. Extension quantifies exactly how much closer a pitcher’s release point is to home plate.”

The higher EXT the better and the less time the hitter has to react to the pitch.

“I’ve been looking at the TrackMan data and getting an understanding of that and how to apply it,” says Ruxer, 25. “I’m getting more into the biomechanics of pitching. I’m also learning to manage the running game better and getting really good at PFP’s (Pitcher Fielding Practice) and things like that.”

Ruxer was chosen in the 29th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and did not sign, opting to go to Louisville. He pitched for the Cardinals 2012-14.

He was named Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association All-America, Big East Conference Rookie of the Year and third-team all-Big East while making 16 mound appearances (14 starts) and going 8-3 with a 3.38 earned run average, 32 strikeouts and 15 walks in 77 1/3 innings.

As a sophomore in 2013, he made 19 appearances (seven starts) with a 0-1 mark and a 5.63 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 21 walks in 38 1/3 innings. Louisville went 51-14 and played in the 2013 College World Series.

Ruxer’s junior campaign in 2014 saw him make 13 starts and go 7-1 with a 2.27 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings before an elbow injury ended his season. He named second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference. The Cardinals (51-15) returned to Omaha for the 2014 College World Series.

Two days before the 2014 MLB draft, Ruxer underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and did not pitch that summer. In the fall, he went back to Louisville and complete his degree.

The righty made his first professional pitch until 2015 with the rookie-level Orem Owlz. That initial season back, he worked 29 2/3 innings over 14 appearances (11 starts) and was 0-3 with a 4.85 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 11 walks.

“That first short season was tough,” says Ruxer. “It definitely took awhile (to bounce back from surgery). I didn’t feel like I was a 100 percent and back to myself until 18 months later. I had to pitch through it.

“I had to learn how to pitch a little more because I didn’t have all my velocity back yet.”

Ruxer split the 2016 season between the Low Class-A Burlington Bees and High Class-A Inland Empire 66ers, combining for a 4-8 record, 3.08 ERA and 29 appearances (19 starts) with 99 strikeouts and 31 walks over 111 innings.

The first full pro season was also when he was introduced to the TrackMan data.

Knowing the Angels were using it as an evaluation tool, Ruxer began doing his homework and studied ways to improve his numbers and performance.

He found that change could be made through grip, arm action and some minor mechanical cues.

“Some days the ball has a little more carry. Some days it has a little more sink on it,” says Ruxer. “You make adjustments based on that.”

On Dec. 1, 2016, the Angels traded Ruxer to the Royals. He spent most of the 2017 season with the High Class-A Wilmington Rocks, going 5-7 with a 3.45 ERA in 24 appearances (17) starts with 84 strikeouts and 29 walks in 109 2/3 innings.

In three games (one start) and six innings with the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals, he was 0-0 with a 16.50 ERA, one strikeout and seven walks.

Ruxer says the differences in the way he was handled by the two organizations is very slight.

“The Angels were very hands-off,” says Ruxer. “It was on me.

“The Royals were a little more proactive.”

While player development staff are there to help, Ruxer has learned that how players progress in pro baseball is largely up to them.

“It’s going on our stat sheet,” says Ruxer.

The Royals sent Ruxer to the 2017 Arizona Fall League to work on a breaking ball and he relieved in nine contests with the Surprise Saguaros. He went 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA. In 12 innings, he had 12 strikeouts and nine walks.

More than three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Ruxer is back to letting it rip on the mound.

“I’m pretty high-effort now,” says Ruxer. “I’m not holding anything back. I get a lot more results when I do that.

“There’s no reason to leave anything in the tank. There’s not too much thinking ahead. You’ve got to get the guy out standing in the box and the rest is secondary.”

Looking to his diamond past, Ruxer played in the Fall Creek Little League, where he was a teammate of current Texas Rangers minor league pitcher David Ledbetter.

Ruxer played travel ball for the Indiana Prospects at age 12 and for the Indiana Bulls at 13 and 17. From 14 to 16, he was with the Indiana Braves, a team father Jim helped organize.

At 18, Ruxer was with the Midland Redskins in Ohio. The summers after his freshmen and sophomore seasons at Louisville, he hurled for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League.

In his three seasons at Louisville, Ruxer learned from head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

“(McDonnell) taught me about managing the running game, PFP’s and was a stickler for bunt defense,” says Ruxer. “(Williams) called all the (pitches). I liked that. We could just go out there and pitch and just worry about our stuff. He did all his homework on the hitters. I trusted him. I didn’t shake off too much.”

While catchers in the minor leagues are allowed to develop their pitch-calling abilities, Ruxer notes that almost all pitches in major college baseball are called by coaches.

“Their job’s on the line. They want to control the game,” says Ruxer. “I get it. They have time to read up on the hitters. You are a student-athlete. There a lot of things going on. We can’t afford to lose games.”

Ruxer played three varsity seasons at Lawrence Central. He went 5-2 as a sophomore, 6-1 as a junior and 6-1 as a senior with a total of 155 strikeouts. His final high school season saw him earned all-state, all-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference and all-Marion County honors.

Dan Roman (who is now head coach at Brownsburg High School) led the program when Ruxer was with the LC Bears.

“That was a blast,” says Ruxer. “Dan was awesome. “When it came to pitching, he showed me how to pitch to certain hitters and about reading the hitters’ swings. I learned how to attract hitters and started learning how to manage the running game.”

After an extended 2017 season, Ruxer managed to get away for some vacation and quality time with family — father Jim in a Certified Public Accountant, mother Lisa is a recently-retired as a physical education teacher at Carmel High School and younger sister Addie is life science recruiter in Chicago after graduating from Indiana University.

Ruxer will spend the rest of the off-season working out in Indianapolis. He has trained at both St. Vincent Sports Performance and the new Pro X Athlete Development. Former MLB pitcher Joe Thatcher is involved with Pro X.

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Jared Ruxer, a Lawrence Central High School and University of Louisville graduate, is a right-handed pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization. (Wilmington Blue Rocks Photo)

 

Return to college swing helps Mets catcher Plawecki

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Six seasons into his professional baseball career, Kevin Plawecki went back to his college days and it helped him finish strong at the plate in 2017.

For the year, the former Purdue University catcher hit .328 in 64 games at Triple-A Las Vegas and .260 in 37 games (.348 in his last 10 appearances) with the big-league New York Mets.

Plawecki wore a Boilermakers uniform for three seasons (2010-12) and credits assistant coach Jeff Duncan (now head coach at Kent State University) for guiding his offensive game.

“(Duncan) got my swing where it needed to be in college,” says Plawecki, a right-hander. “He’s one of the best hitting coaches I’ve ever worked with. “He’s very relatable and very good at explaining what he believes in. He had been hitting to the middle of the field and the right side. He had me staying under my legs (with a wide stance). I drifted quite a bit in college and got away with it (even in the minors) because my hands worked so well.

“In the majors, I got exposed. Over the years, my stance got narrow and my hands were moving a lot.”

So with the help of Mets hitting coach Kevin Long (who moved on after the 2017 season), Plawecki studied films of his Purdue at-bats.

He again spread out his stance and his swing became shorter and more compact.

“It really allowed me to use my whole body, especially my legs,” says Plawecki, who turns 27 Feb. 26. “I had been getting more and more upright and it was causing more movement in my head, legs and hands. I was trying to be too perfect.”

It’s that swing he polished at Purdue that helped the 2009 Westfield High School graduate have a super 2012 campaign. That spring, he hit .359 with 47 runs batted in was second team All-America by Baseball America, Perfect Game USA and College Baseball Insider, finished as a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top collegiate catcher, semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award and Dick Howser Trophy and became the Boilers’ first Big Ten Conference Player of the Year. He was also chosen as Most Outstanding Player in the Big Ten tournament and Purdue’s Male Athlete of the Year.

Plawecki struck out 29 times in 638 career at-bats with the Boilers.

The Mets made Plawecki a compensation pick in the first round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He was the third-highest Purdue player selected in program history. Only right-handed pitcher and Brebeuf Jesuit graduate Sherard Clinkscales (31st in 1992) and outfielder and Anderson Madison Heights graduate Jermaine Allensworth (34th in 1993) were picked earlier.

Plawecki was also Purdue’s highest draftee since 6-foot-6 right-hander and Mishawaka High School graduate Chadd Blasko was picked 36th overall in 2002.

The catcher made his MLB debut on April 21, 2015. He split time between the Mets and Triple-A in 2015, 2016 and 2017, playing a total of 158 games in the big leagues. He was on the Mets postseason roster for the National League Division Series, National League Championship Series and World Series, but did not see any game action.

In 2011 at Purdue, Plawecki hit .341 and drove in 39. He started 55 games — 45 at catcher, six at designated hitter and four at first base. The first-team all-Big Ten selection was a Johnny Bench Award semifinalist. That summer, played for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks of the Cape Cod League

His first collegiate season (2010), Plawecki led the the Boilers in batting average (.343) and established a Purdue freshman record for RBIs (53). He played 54 games and started 52 times, primarily at catcher. He was named a Freshman All-American by both Collegiate Baseball and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. His summer team was the Richmond (Ind.) RiverRats of the Prospect League.

Doug Schreiber was head coach at Purdue during Plawecki’s stay in West Lafayette.

“He was a hard-nosed guy,” says Plawecki of Schreiber (now head coach at McCutcheon High School). “He didn’t take a whole lot of crap from anybody. People respected him. He was always at the morning workouts with us. That goes a long way. He may not have been lifting, but he was up there grinding with us. He fought for us. He had our backs. That’s why we were so successful at Purdue.”

Plawecki grew up a Bolier fan. Several family members, including father Jeff (who was a member of the golf team), mother Lynne and brother Aaron, are Purdue graduates. Aaron is scheduled to complete graduate school at Northwestern University in December.

During Kevin’s freshmen year at Purdue, he met soccer player Tayler Francel and they married in 2015. The Plaweckis are spending their off-season in Arizona, where they are closer to her family in San Diego. He lifts weights four days a week and plans to begin throwing and hitting again in early January before heading to spring training with the Mets in Florida.

Plawecki, who was born in Hinsdale, Ill., and moved to central Indiana about the time he was beginning school, played travel baseball for the Westfield Indians in his early years then the Indiana Bulls and Indiana Dirt Bags before heading to Purdue.

He played many positions growing up, but settled in at catcher as a Westfield sophomore and got pointers from former Purdue backstop Mike Hansen, who is now on the Shamrocks coaching staff led by Ryan Bunnell.

“He helped me with drill work and set the foundation,” says Plawecki, who was part of Westfield’s IHSAA Class 4A state runner-up team in 2009. He was a two-time all-Indy North, all-Hoosiers Crossroads Conference and all-Hamilton County selection and earned four varsity letters in baseball at Westfield and was a team captain as a junior and senior. “I got bored everywhere else. I was not being very good anywhere else and a pretty good catcher. I like the involvement and challenge it brings.”

He gives many propers to his high school head coach.

“Burnell taught me ab out accountability,” says Plawecki. “I was just a young kid at the time, trying to find my way and stay out of trouble. That’s where my work ethic started. It started with those early-morning workouts. We were working hard and letting the results take care of themselves. I learned a lot from him — on and off the field.”

Now, Plawecki not only shares the field but catches some of the best pitchers in baseball. There’s Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo in the starting mix.

“It’s a lot of fun,” says Plawecki of receiving the collection of aces. “It makes my job a lot easier. It also brings high expectations. Last year, we couldn’t stay healthy.”

Why all the injuries?

“It’s pretty crazy,” says Plawecki. I’ve never seen anything like it. If we could pin-point it as players or as trainers, we would have done it. Good thing is it’s just one year. We’ll learn from last year and be ready to go.”

Travis d’Arnaud, who played 112 games and hit .244 for the Mets in 2017, is ahead of Plawecki for the top spot on the The off-season MLB.com depth chart.

Can Plawecki win the starting job?

“I just try to go out and play and have fun,” says Plawecki. “I want to take advantage of the opportunity that given day. Leave that decision up to (the Mets).”

Mickey Calloway, who was pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians in 2017, is now the Mets manager. He has been quoted as saying he is considering letting starters go through the order twice before going to the bullpen. Some say this approach could tax the bullpen.

“He’s in-tune with pitching and what it takes to stay healthy,” says Plawecki. “If he thinks that’s the route to stay healthy then that’s what we’ll do. I don’t know if there is a perfect pitch count or innings limit. Everyone’s body is different.

“The success he had in Cleveland with those pitchers speaks volumes.”

Sabermetrics and analytics have become a big part of baseball. Data is used to decide where teams are going to position their defense against certain hitters.

“We don’t look at (the analytics) as much,” says Plawecki. “We’ve got a lot on our plates learning the weaknesses of the other players.”

Plawecki says the coaches are the ones who move the defenders. As a catcher, he calls the signals in stealing situations. Bunt coverages are called by the third baseman.

KEVINPLAWECKIMETS

Kevin Plawecki, a 2009 Westfield High School graduate and former Purdue University standout, is a catcher with the New York Mets. (New York Mets Photo)