Tag Archives: Northwoods League

With refined plate approach, Freed takes off at Butler, lands in Giants system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Harrison Freed began making an offensive jump in the summer of 2018 and the baseball continued to jump off his bat during the 2019 season at Butler University.

The righty-swinging outfielder worked with hitting coach Stu Pederson (father of Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson) while with the LaCrosse (Wis.) Loggers of the Northwoods League summer collegiate season, hitting .291 with 12 home runs, 15 doubles, 61 runs batted in and 53 runs scored in 63 games.

“I got more confident as a player and a hitter,” says Freed. “I knew my talent could get me where I am today.

“I made a lot of adjustments working with (Stu Pederson). I did a lot of work to build off what I was doing in the summer with (Roundtripper Sports Academy instructor Chris Estep and Butler hitting coach Andy Pascoe, who had played for LaCrosse during his collegiate career at the University of Evansville).

“(Estep) is an interesting guy. He knows a lot about hitting. He gave me a lot of wisdom. He really knows what he’s talking about. He’s one of the best in the business.”

This past spring at Butler, Freed earned first team all-Big East Conference selection, second team Perfect Game/Rawlings College All-American, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association second team All-American and American Baseball Coaches Association/Rawlings second team all-region honors while posting a .376 average with 17 homers, 10 doubles, 73 RBIs and 44 runs scored to go with a .448 on-base percentage in 52 games (all starts).

Freed says he refined his approach at the plate.

“Instead of going up there and looking for what I want, I’m looking for what I’m going to get,” says Freed. “I’m looking for extra base hits and finding a way to get to second base.

“Launch angle is a word that gets tossed out there. But it has to be natural. Personally, I don’t like launch angle. It creates something before the swing it’s something you can’t always control. If the pitch is down and you try to swing under the ball, it’s not going to work. You have to be able to pick and choose which balls you’re trying to hit in the air.

“I normally drive the ball out of the park when it’s belt-high or above. If it’s down, it has to be something over the plate. If it’s up and away or up and in, I have a better chance.”

His first two seasons with the Bulldogs, Freed’s stat line read .306/2/4/14/8 in 2017 and .240/4/12/37/23 in 2018.

In the summer of 2017, Freed played for the Cal Ripken CollegiateDalto Baseball League’s D.C. Grays with a line of .330/7/9/29/16.

He arrived at Butler at the same time as head coach Dave Schrage.

“He changed the culture,” says Freed of Schrage, who has led the Bulldogs to marks of 31-20, 34-30 and 26-26 in his three seasons in Indianapolis. “He’s a very competitive guy.”

Freed impressed the San Francisco Giants enough that they selected the 2016 Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate in the 13th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He is currently trading off between left field and right field for the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes.

The 21-year-old went into the last day of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League regular season (Sept. 2) hitting .269 with seven homers, 15 two-baggers, 26 runs batted in and 28 runs scored in 47 games.

Salem-Keizer has made the playoffs, which begin Sept. 4. After that, Freed expects to come back to Westfield to work out at Roundtripper with the expectation of going to a winter rookie camp or two in California or Arizona. Another Giants minor leaguer, Dalton Combs, has also trained at Roundtripper.

Focusing on baseball for now, Freed says he plans to finish his finance degree following the 2020 season.

The youngest son of former collegiate golfer and Kokomo business owner Mike and Zionsville chemical engineer Jane Freed and younger brother of Louisville area medical salesman Jackson Freed (who played baseball at Franklin College), Harrison played two years with the Westfield Rocks and then with the Indiana Mustangs from age 11 to 17. As an 18-year-old, he spent the summer before college with the Indiana Blue Jays. He also played for coach Kevin Christman’s San Francisco Giants Fall Scout Team for three years.

Ryan Bunnell was Freed’s head coach at Westfield High School.

“He’s a really nice guy,” says Freed of Bunnell. “He knows what he’s doing.”

Among Freed’s Shamrocks teammates were Ryan Pepiot (who went on to Butler and is now pitching the Dodgers system), Milo Beam (who went on to play the outfield at Purdue University) and Max McCool (who went on to pitch at Indiana Wesleyan University).

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Harrison Freed hit .376 average with 17 homers, 10 doubles, 73 RBIs and 44 runs scored to go with a .448 on-base percentage in 52 games (all starts) for Butler Univesity in 2019. (Butler University Photo).

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Harrison Freed, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate, was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now with the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)

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Harrison Freed, a Westfield (Ind.) High School graduate, was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now with the Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Volcanoes. He is a righty-swinging outfielder. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)

Edgewood grad Smith in seventh season leading Ohio U. baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Rob Smith identifies two qualities that he brings to his job as head baseball coach at Ohio University — intensity and consistency.

“There certainly is a lot of fire and passion in myself, yet a consistency in how we train, how we practice and what our expectations are,” says Smith, who was hired to lead the Bobcats program June 11, 2012. “I would like to think that I’m very competitive. I would like to think that resonates with our team and that we value hard work.”

Prior to taking over in Athens, Ohio, Indiana native Smith served two assistant stints at Purdue University on the staff of head coach Doug Schreiber and then at Creighton University for Ed Servais.

“Schreib is a very fiery, passionate coach,” says Smith. “He could really put a charge into a team. Coach Servais had that as well. He was probably the most consistent person I’ve ever been around.

“I’d like to think there’s a combination of a little bit of both (in me).”

Smith was a volunteer assistant at Purdue in 1999 then spent two seasons managing in the summer collegiate Northwoods League with the Wisconsin Woodchucks (winning a championship in 2001) before being hired by Schreiber as the Boilermakers pitching coach.

“Everything that I have been able to do as a coach I owe to that man without question,” says Smith of Schreiber. “He gave me a chance to be a college coach when I really didn’t have the resume to get that position.

“I had five awesome years there.”

Chadd Blasko, who was selected in the first round of the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, was among Smith’s Purdue pitchers.

Smith was associate head coach at Creighton in Omaha, Neb., 2007-12, while gaining wisdom from Servais.

“He’s — without a doubt — one of the 10 best college baseball coaches in the country,” says Smith of Servais. “He’s an outstanding coach, a great teacher of the game.

“A lot of the things I learned about how to run a practice, how to manage a ball club I learned from my time at Creighton with Ed.”

Switch-pitcher Pat Venditte, now with the San Francisco Giants organization, was a part of the Smith-led Bluejays staff.

Smith has built the Ohio Bobcats on a few simple concepts.

“In our program pitching and defense are two very big things that we spend a lot of time talking about,” says Smith. “It’s handling the ball and eliminating free bases.”

Ohio, a member of the Mid-American Conference, won MAC tournament titles and qualified for NCAA regional play in 2015 and 2017. Prior to 2015, the Bobcats had made just two NCAA tournament appearances in the 43 previous seasons.

Smith coached four Bobcats — right-handed pitchers Brett Barber, Tom Colletti and Logan Cozart and outfielder Mitch Longo — that went on to play minor league baseball. Colletti is currently in the San Diego Padres system, Cozart with the Colorado Rockies organization and Longo in the Cleveland Indians chain.

The 2019 team is 17-32 overall and 11-14 in the MAC and fighting for a spot in the six-team conference tournament, which is May 22-26 in Avon, Ohio. The Bobcats split the first two of a three-game series at Western Michigan, coached by Indiana native Billy Gernon, May 16 and 17.

There are three Indiana products on the roster — senior Kenny Ogg and freshmen Zyon Avery and Xavier Haendiges.

Smith grew up in Ellettsville, Ind., and is a 1991 graduate of Edgewood High School, where he played for and later coached under Bob Jones.

After his college playing career ended, Smith was hired to coach the Edgewood freshmen and also started a summer travel team called the Indiana Blue Storm.

Smith played at Vincennes University for National Junior College Athletic Association Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jerry Blemker and Indiana University Southeast for Rick Parr.

“Coach Blemker taught me a lot,” says Smith. “Certainly baseball stuff, but probably more so about discipline, growing up and being a man.

“He’s been very instrumental in my life. He helped me mature. He was very patient with me through some times where I probably not the easiest player to coach.

“His patience and understanding and his toughness helped me in so many ways.”

At IUS, Smith saw right away Parr’s passion and knowledge about hitting.

Smith’s first college coaching gig came in 1998 at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, where Mike Moyzis was head coach and Rick O’Dette (who would coach the the Pumas for years until the school was closed and is now leading the program at Saint Leo University in Florida).

At Ohio U., Smith uses statistics, trends and analysis to make decisions, especially in pitch calling.

“I believe in analytics,” says Smith. “I believe there’s a place for it. It’s very useful if you can get the right information.

“That’s always been the issue at the college level. The information you can get your hands on at times is spotty. It’s getting better and better. There’s the ability to watch film and more games are on TV.  There’s a lot more resources to gather good information to make decisions.”

Smith says the higher the sample size, the more reliable the information.

Rob and RaeAnna are the parents of four teenagers — identical twins Sierra and Serena (19), Tyson (15) and Isabelle (13). The twins just completed their freshmen year at Ohio. Tyson is a high school freshman. Isabelle is in the seventh grade.

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Rob Smith brings combination of intensity and consistency in his seventh season as head baseball coach at Ohio University in 2019. (/Emilee Chinn/Ohio University Photo)

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Rob Smith started as head baseball coach at Ohio University June 11, 2012. He took he Bobcats to the Mid-American Conference tournament titles and NCAA tournament berths in 2015 and 2017. (Maddie Schroeder/Ohio University Photo)

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Rob Smith is the head baseball coach at Ohio University. He grew up in Ellettsville, Ind. He played and coached Edgewood High School, played at Vincennes University and Indiana University Southeast and coached at Purdue University and Creighton University before landing in Athens. (Ohio University Photo)

 

Penn graduate Kavadas carries booming bat for Notre Dame

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Niko Kavadas likes to make noise.

The University of Notre Dame sophomore does it with his baseball bat.

“I’m just trying to make loud contact,” says Kavadas, a 6-foot, 240-pound lefty swinger with a .262 average, 10 home runs, 11 doubles, 35 runs batted in and .869 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) so far in 2019 with the Fighting Irish. “I’m just trying to hit the ball hard. I’m trying to hit the ball 100 mph.”

What are the origins of his power?

“It’s always been there, but I didn’t know how to access it,” says Kavadas. “All through high school, I would show some glimpses of power. But, for the most part, I was just gap-to-gap guy.”

After he produced plenty of run-producing gappers at Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind., that trend continued into his freshman season at Notre Dame.

Then something clicked.

“All of a sudden I just found something in my swing,” says Kavadas, who hit .299 with five homers, five doubles and 20 RBIs in 2018. “The kinetic chain was in sequence and, all of a sudden, the ball started to fly.”

Add muscle and that helps even more.

“Our strength and conditioning programs here are incredible,” says Kavadas. “Coach Kyle (Jean) does an awesome job of getting us ready to play and take our game to the next level.”

In baseball, it’s not always about maxing out and bench pressing 300 pounds.

“We’re trying to stabilize our cores and promoting good, overall health so those fly balls to the warning track found their way over the fence,” says Kavadas.

At ND, Kavadas works on his hitting with both head coach Mik Aoki and assistant Adam Pavkovich.

When he’s going well, Kavadas is typically on his own. But when he struggles and needs to a tweak, he goes to the coaches and taps into their wealth of knowledge.

“Any time I really struggle I go to my dad,” says Niko of Jim Kavadas. “When I was in high school, I went to an instructor up in Sturgis (Mich.) named Mike Marks and he really helped me. My dad went to every single lesson (at Hitters Edge) with me and absorbed all that information. Any time I struggle, he can see something Mike would have said. It’s just like having Mike there.”

On defense, Kavadas has been primarily a third baseman this season. Last summer with the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers of the Northwoods League, he played at first base.

“I’m really comfortable over there as well,” says Kavadas, who has committed to play this summer at first base for the Harwich Mariners of the elite Cap Cod Baseball League.

Kavadas saw that the summer collegiate routine is different from the spring season where he typically plays four games a week (mid-week game and three-game weekend series) with practices plus at least three workouts and, of course, classes and study time (he is enrolled in ND’s Mendoza School of Business).

There are many built-in obligations during the school season and players are on their own during the summer collegiate season.

“It’s a lot of baseball,” says Kavadas of the summer. “We play 70-something games in 70-something days. “You have to be able to manage your time, take care of your body and prepare for each game.

“That was a new experience for me, but I think I came out a lot better.”

Kavadas played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos and his longtime assistant Jim Kominkiewicz at Penn.

“Me and my brother (C.J.) both have had an incredible experience playing at Penn,” says Kavadas. “We’ve had so much fun with our best friends.”

The Kingsmen won an IHSAA Class 4A state championship in Niko’s sophomore year (2015), lost to the semistate his junior year (2016) and finished as state runners-up his senior year (2017).

Kavadas was a an all-state honoree as a junior. He played for Lids Team Indiana during the summers and the San Francisco Giants scout team in the fall.

He started playing organized baseball at Harris Baseball/Softball in Granger, Ind., until 7. Then some fathers, including his own, started a travel team called the Granger Cubs that played 60 games a summer. One of his teammates was Matt Kominkiewicz.

Jim and Robin Kavadas have four children — Abigail, Niko, C.J. and Tess. C.J. Kavadas is a junior on the Penn High School team.

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Niko Kavadas (12) is a sophomore on the Notre Dame baseball team. He is a power-hitting corner infielder. (Notre Dame Photo)

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Niko Kavadas eyes a pitch as a power hitter for the University of the Notre Dame baseball team. The sophomore is a graduate of nearby Penn High School in Mishawaka, Ind. (Notre Dame Photo)

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Niko Kavadas gets set at third base during a 2019 baseball game for the University of Notre Dame. He has mostly at the hot corner for the Fighting Irish. He anticipates he will be at first base this summer with the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod Baseball League. (Notre Dame Photo)

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When Niko Kavadas found something in his swing midway through his freshmen season at the University of Notre Dame, his power increased. The sophomore currently has 10 home runs, 11 doubles and 35 runs batted in for the 2019 Fighting Irish. (Notre Dame Photo)

 

Noblesville, Butler grad Christman gets first taste as pro player in Giants system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the son of a talent evaluator, Garrett Christman has grown up around professional baseball.

“I saw how players interact with each other — on and off the field — and what it takes to be a professional,” says the oldest son of San Francisco Giants area scout and former minor league catcher Kevin Christman. “The work ethic was instilled in me and I knew the athlete I need to be to play baseball at a high level.”

The 22-year-old got his first taste as a pro player this summer.

Christman played for seasons at Butler University in Indianapolis (2015-18) and signed with the Giants as a free agent in late June after graduating in May.

A shortstop and right-handed pitcher at Butler, the Giants used him as a pitcher-only at the rookie-ball level.

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot with a four-seam fastball, sinking fastball, curveball/slider mix and “circle” change-up in his arsenal, Christman made 12 mound appearances (all in relief) for the Arizona League Giants Black squad. He went 1-5 with a 5.68 earned run average. In 12 2/3 innings, he struck out eight and walked two.

“It’s one step up from college,” says Christman in comparing his first pro ball experience to Butler, where he was a second team all-Big East Conference selection in 2018. “Hitters are more aggressive. It’s more individualized. Each player is there competing for a job. It’s our career ultimately.

“But the game is still the same. It’s still three outs per inning.”

Swinging from the left side, he hit .310 with one home run, seven doubles, two triples and 48 runs batted in for the spring — the first Butler Bulldog to record 40 or more RBIs since 2015.

For his college career, Christman hit .276 with two homers, 24 doubles, two triples and 93 RBIs

In his last two years at Butler, he went to the mound 24 times (20 as a starter) and went 7-8 with a 3.09 ERA. In 127 1/3 innings, he struck out 102 and walked 35.

Following his first three seasons at Butler, he honed his skills in summer ball with the New England Collegiate League’s Keene (N.H.) Swamp Bats in 2015 and 2016 and Northwoods League‘s LaCrosse (Wis.) Loggers in 2017.

Dave Schrage has been the Bulldogs head coach the past two seasons.

Christman says Schrage had he and his teammates “acting like a winner.”

“He really instilled having a winning culture and having confidence in ourselves and with each other to get the job done,” says Christman, who helped Butler go 34-20 and qualify for the program’s first Big East Tournament berth. “It was good to set that precedent. Hopefully, teams in the future can follow it.”

Christman was selected by the Giants in the 37th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

After talking it over with his family, he opted to go to Butler to improve his game and pursue a degree in Human Movement and Health Science.

“Coming out of high school, I was not ready to go play pro ball right away,” says Christman.

In college, he became physically stronger and faster. But that’s not all.

“One big thing is that I learned to fail,” says Christman. “Through middle school and high school, I never really dealt with failure. I had always played on teams that had success.”

Noblesville High School won the IHSAA Class 4A state championship in Christman’s senior season of 2014.

“I improved by mental game (in college),” says Christman. “I learned to bounce back from a bad game and to adjust. It made me a better baseball player in general.”

Christman played four seasons at Noblesville for head baseball coach Justin Keever and credits him for setting the standard.

“He was very determined in making sure we were doing the little things on the field,” says Christman of Keever. “By doing the little things, you’ll be rewarded.”

Keever also emphasized being a good teammate.

“You hold each other accountable, but don’t jeopardize your friendship or relationship with each other,” says Christman. “That went to building a winning culture with our team and one that’s a Noblesville currently.”

Christman decided to pursue the major he did because it combines elements of kinesiology, exercise science, sports administration and even coaching.

Working out Wednesday, Sept. 19 at Noblesville, Millers Strength & Conditioning coordinator Brian Clarke invited him to address current NHS baseball players.

“I talked how important it is to stay healthy and use the weight room to their advantage,” says Christman, who also answered players’ questions. “Coach Clarke and I have a good relationship. He is the best in the business. He adds to that winning culture for many of the sports at Noblesville.”

Garrett and younger brother Connor Christman played travel baseball together as well as at Noblesville and Butler.

“It was awesome,” says Garrett of Connor, who was a sophomore third baseman/catcher at Butler in 2018. “We practice and train together.”

Both Christman boys were born in California — Garrett in San Jose and Connor in West Hills. The family — Kevin, wife Linda and their sons — moved to western New York and were closer to their sons’ grandparents while Kevin was a scout for the Milwaukee Brewers.

The travel team in New York was the Lewiston-Porter Lancers. The Christmans moved to the Midwest around the time Garrett was 11 and the boys played and their father was a leader in the Indiana Mustangs Baseball travel organization.

Garrett Christman also played with the famed Midland (Ohio) Redskins.

Just weeks removed from the Arizona League season, Garrett is spending much of his time relaxing and spending time with family and friends. He plans to spend the next few months lifting and running and doing yoga and flexibility exercises. In late December or early January, he will begin throwing and start ramping up for spring training.

Salem-Keizer (Short Season Class-A), Augusta (Low-A), San Jose (High-A), Richmond (Double-A) and Sacramento (Triple-A) are the next steps up the Giants minor league ladder.

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Garrett Christman, a graduate of Noblesville (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, is a pitcher in the San Francisco Giants organization.

 

Former Valpo U. catcher Kapers now receiving in Rangers organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Scott Kapers has a reason to show his choppers and it’s not just because his father is a dentist.

The oldest child of Dr. Scott A. Kapers, DDS, and Melissa Kapers, who both work at Creating Smiles PC in St. John, Ind. (across the Lake Central High School), Scott T. Kapers is enjoying his first taste of professional baseball with the Spokane (Wash.) Indians of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League.

Kapers, right-handed-hitting catcher and Schererville, Ind., native, was selected in the 17th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers after three seasons at Valparaiso University.

After attending Forest Ridge Academy and Grimmer Middle School in Scherville, Kapers crossed the nearby state line and went to Chicago’s Mount Carmel High School.

A middle infielder going into a high school, Kapers converted to catcher to get a chance at playing time on a Caravan team that featured a shortstop (Jerry Houston Jr.) two years ahead of him and a second baseman (Ako Thomas) in his class. Houston went on to the University of Oregon and Thomas to the University of Michigan.

During his sophomore year (2013), Kapers finally cracked the varsity lineup at playoff time and helped coach Brian Hurry’s Caravan to a Illinois High School Athletic Association Class 4A state title (Mount Carmel edged Libertyville 2-1 in Joliet).

Two other Mount Carmel seniors in 2013 — Jason Gasser (Northern Illinois University) and Jeremy Kravetz (University of Kansas) — also went on the NCAA Division I baseball.

Kapers, who played for numerous travel teams over the years (Region Redbirds, Futures Baseball, Northwest Indiana Shockers, Indiana Bulls, Team DeMarini, Grinders Baseball and Cincinnati Reds Fall Scout Team), emailed five college programs a week before being approached by Valpo at a Prep Baseball Report showcase.

He made a verbal commitment in the fall of his junior year and signed his letter of intent with the D-I Crusaders as a Mount Carmel senior.

The Redbirds were a team coached by Scott A. Kapers and other fathers.

John Mallee, who is now the hitting coach for the Philadelphia Phillies and formerly served in that role with the Florida Marlins, Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs, was a Shockers founder and talked to Kapers about attending Mount Carmel.

At VU, Kapers played head coach Brian Schmack and learned about “playing the game the right way” and following routines from him and assistant Ben Wolgamot.

As a catcher, he did much drill work with Nic Mishler. He credits Kory Winter with aiding in improving his physical and mental strength. Kapers played in 45 games as a freshman, 52 as a sophomore and 50 as a junior before being drafted. In 2018, he hit .263 with four home runs, nine doubles and 28 runs batted in.

He also played 92 summer collegiate baseball games for the Wisconsin Rapids Rafters of the Northwoods League in 2016 and 2017.

Through July 6, Kapers had played in seven pro games — two with the Arizona League Rangers and five with Spokane — and was hitting a combined .217 with no homers, two doubles and two RBIs.

Kapers’ approach in the batter’s box revolves around having competitive at-bats.

“It’s about being a smart hitter and not just a swinger,” says Kapers. “Quality at-bats are huge. You string quality at-bats to score runs and that’s how you win games.”

Rangers minor league stops above Spokane, where Kenny Holmberg is the manager, Jared Goedert the hitting coach and Jono Armold the pitching coach, are the Low Class-A Hickory (N.C.) Crawdads, High-A Down East (N.C.) Wood Ducks, Double-A Frisco (Texas) RoughRiders and Triple-A Round Rock (Texas) Express.

Following in his older brothers’ footsteps as a catcher at Mount Carmel and heading into his freshman year at Valpo U. is Jake Kapers (18). Sister Madison Kapers (20) will be a junior at VU. She played softball at Marian Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Ill.

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Scott Kapers gets ready to fire the baseball for the Spokane (Wash.) Indians. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago) High School and Valparaiso University player is now in the Texas Rangers organization. (Spokane Indians Photo)

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Scott Kapers seeks “quality at-bat” for the Spokane (Wash.) Indians. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago) High School and Valparaiso University player is now in the Texas Rangers system. (Spokane Indians Photo)

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Scott Kapers grew up in Northwest Indiana and played baseball in Indiana and Illinois. The former Mount Carmel (Chicago) High School and Valparaiso University player is now in the Pacific Northwest with the Spokane (Wash.) Indians in the Texas Rangers organization. (Spokane Indians Photo)

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Scott T. Kapers, son of Dr. Scott A. Kapers, DDS, is all smiles as he gets set to take the baseball field for the Spokane (Wash.) Indians in the Texas Rangers organization. (Spokane Indians Photo)

Notre Dame baseball’s Podkul keeps producing and keeping Irish loose

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

If 2018 turns out to be the last baseball season at the University of Notre Dame for Nick Podkul, the draft-eligible junior has been treating Fighting Irish followers to a memorable last go-round.

Through Sunday, May 6, the 21-year-old second baseman has started all 48 games for a 24-26 squad and leads the team in batting average (.328), hits (59), runs scored (36), on-base percentage (.446), total bases (95), walks (29) and hit by pitch (12).

Podkul, a right-handed swinger who is among the top Atlantic Coast Conference hitters in all games, is second on the squad in triples (3), stolen bases (9) and multi-hit games (16) and third in home runs (6) and runs batted in (33).

Second baseman Podkul has combined with best friend and junior shortstop Cole Daily to solidify ND’s up-the-middle defense and aid the offense. Podkul has participated in a team-high 33 double plays. Daily is next at 29.

Podkul’s bloop single in the fifth inning Sunday drove in Daily to tie the game.

“He’s been great from start to finish,” says Notre Dame head coach Mik Aoki of Podkul. “Defensively, he’s been unbelievable and really, really good.

“He gets consistent quality at-bats and makes hard contact.”

The young man that Aoki calls a “good old fashion baseball rat” for his willingness to work on his game has learned a valuable lesson that he takes with him in each trip to the plate.

“You have to understand that — no matter what — every at-bat counts,” says Podkul, a 6-foot-1, 198-pounder. “That’s how rallies start — when you don’t give up at-bats and you string two or three together.

“That’s a big improvement I’ve made over the years I’ve been here.”

Aoki has noticed.

“He gives away fewer at-bats,” says Aoki. “Pitchers have to work to get him out.

“He’s got a decent walk-to-strikeout ratio (29:28).

“He has been able to increase his power numbers a little bit each year he’s been here through strength and conditioning and getting a little bit more bat speed and more reps.

“He loves to play baseball. I’m really glad to see him having the type of year that he’s having.”

In his three seasons under the Golden Dome, the Andrean High School (Merrillvile, Ind.) graduate’s stock has continued to rise.

As a freshman in 2016, Podkul played in 40 games — 36 as a starter between third base, first base and designated hitter — and hit .288 with no homers, six doubles, 11 RBI, .413 on-base percentage, .352 slugging percentage and eight multi-hit games.

He followed that up as a sophomore in 2017 by starting all 58 games with .285 with five homers, 15 doubles, 20 RBI, .386 on-base percentage, .439 slugging percentage and 17 multi-hit games.

Podkul played for the Nortwoods League’s Battle Creek Bombers in the summer of 2016 and Coastal Plain League’s Morehead City Marlins in 2017.

The 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is June 4-6.

“I’m certain he’ll be drafted,” says Aoki. “It’ll just be a matter of where.

“He’ll sit down with his family and I’ll sit down with Nick and we’ll figure out what is best for Nick.

“If he gets drafted where I think he deserves to be drafted, it’s probably time for him to go start his professional career.

“If — for some reason — he goes later, we’’l have to see how that goes.”

Nick, the son of Frank Podkul Sr. (who played baseball and football at Wabash College) and Jackie Weiser, is well aware of his pro potential at the end of the season.

“It’s hard not to think about it,” says Nick. “It’s exciting.

“But at this point, I want to do whatever I can to help the team win. We’ve got a really good group of guys.

“We just want to have fun the rest of the season and see if we can make a run with this thing.”

Podkul and Daily, who were paired together up the middle much of the 2017 season and have spent countless hours taking ground balls together, do their best to keep a smile on their teammates’ faces.

“We like to have fun and keep the guys loose,” says Podkul. “We crack a couple jokes when we’re down. We remind them that we’re still playing a kids game. We’re supposed to have fun with it.”

Says Aoki, “He’s a kid that’s done a phenomenal job of leading our team by example.”

While the American Studies major has been busy with his classes and baseball, Nick has had time to keep up with older brother Frank Podkul Jr.’s senior diamond season at Franklin College.

“He’s killing it this year,” says Nick of Frank. “I’m really happy to see his success.

“He’s a real good role model for me.”

Frank Jr., who is 18 months older than Nick, is hitting .340 with 14 homers, 10 doubles, 54 RBI and 49 runs scored while starting in the infield for the NAIA Grizzlies (35-3).

Nick helped Andrean win Indiana state Class 3A state championships in his junior and senior seasons for 2014 and 2015 and Frank was also there for the first title. In the off-season, the Podkul brothers and other 59ers baseball alums spend some time at Andrean working on their swings and helping out Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach Dave Pishkur.

“Andrean was a huge part of my life,” says Nick Podkul. “My basketball and baseball coaches were great. They taught me how to respect the game and how to go about it the right way.

“The teachers put a big emphasis on being a good student and a good person. That really sets you up to do well at Notre Dame.”

Nick spent his younger travel baseball years with the Hammond Chiefs and Indiana Saints.

In his 17U summer — leading into his senior year at Andrean — Podkul played for the Dan Held-coached Indiana Bulls.

“I have to attribute a lot of my success and going to Notre Dame to the Indiana Bulls that summer,” says Podkul. “Coach Held is a really, really good guy. He definitely put me in the right position to succeed and I can’t thank him enough for that.”

With its home schedule wrapped Sunday and final exams this week, Notre Dame visits Northwestern May 15 and Louisville for a three-game ACC series May 17-19.

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Nick Podkul, a University of Notre Dame junior, is leading the Fighting Irish baseball team in categories in 2018. (Fighting Irish Media Photo)

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Nick Podkil, a University of Notre Dame junor and Andrean High School (Merrillville, Ind.) graduate, has raised his stock for the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft with his performance this season. (Fighting Irish Media Photo)

 

Former Adams Central, Huntington U. standout Combs preparing for second season in Giants system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dalton Combs has gotten a kick out of his many baseball experiences.

This fall and winter, the graduate of Adams Central High School and Huntington University has been crafting a little kick in his left-handed swing as he prepares for his second professional baseball season in the San Francisco Giants organization.

“It’s a different timing mechanism to keep my front side back,” says Combs, a Monroe, Ind., native who has been staying in central Indiana and training at RoundTripper Sports Academy in Westfield. “I’m learning how to use my hips and hands together and staying balanced throughout my swing.

“I’ve been in the weight room everyday working on strength and power.”

RoundTripper trainers have also helped him with improving his speed and agility as he gets ready to head to report to spring training in Scottsdale, Ariz., on March 1.

“I want to keep developing as a player,” says Combs, 23.

Primarily an outfielder, Combs led Huntington with a .402 batting average and paced the Crossroads League with a .516 on-base percentage.

The senior rapped out 28 extra-base hits (eight home runs, one triple and 19 doubles) and was second in batting as well as runs scored per game (1.08) and hits per game (1.50) and ranked third in slugging (.654), total bases per game (2.44) and doubles per game (.40).

“I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything else,” says Combs. “I really enjoyed Huntington for four years. I learned advanced baseball techniques there.

“(Coach Mike Frame) was always pushing us to be the best we could.”

Combs cherishes the time he had with teammates and coaches.

“We had a great bond,” says Combs. “Everybody got a long well. That’s what I enjoyed most.”

Home games were played at scenic Forest Glen Park with its taller-than-most right field fence.

“My teammates joked with me that all I had to do was pull the ball for a home run,” says Combs. “But it seems I always hit home runs away (from Huntington).”

Combs, who hit .248, .386 and .355 in his first three seasons as a Forester, was selected in the 35th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Giants and played 23 games for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes of the Class-A Short-Season Northwest League. He hit .208 with one homer, two doubles and 11 runs batted in.

“I had a really good experience,” says Combs of his first season in pro ball. “The biggest thing I could take away is creating myself a routine so I can go and have the most success possible.”

A 2013 Adams Central graduate, Combs played four varsity baseball seasons for coach Dave Neuenschwander and was also coached by him as a football quarterback and defensive back.

“There was a work ethic he instilled in me,” says Combs. “He’d say, ‘you have a lot of talent, you’ve just got to keep working hard and doing your thing.’ He was always pushing me through the good times and the bad

“He taught us things — on and off the field — about being a good man and staying out of trouble. I really respect Coach Neuenschwander. I can call him a friend today. I appreciate what he did for me at Adams Central.”

The Flying Jets won baseball sectional titles in three of his four seasons (2010, 2011 and 2013) with one regional crown (2013).

Dalton, the son of Kurt and Marie Combs and younger brother of Kyleigh, got his baseball start at Monroe Youth League at Don Ray Memorial Park. At 12, his father coached a travel team — Indiana Aquablast — that went to Cooperstown, N.Y.

While in high school, Dalton played travel baseball for Fort Wayne Cubs, Summit Storm and USAthletic.

In the summers at Huntington, he was part of the New York College Baseball League’s Genesee (N.Y.) Rapids in 2014, Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers in 2015 and Northwood League’s Kalamazoo Growlers in 2016.

Combs graduated from Huntington with a sport management degree and can see himself one day running a training facility. He enjoys working with kids and he has helped out at several camps and with Huntington and its trips to Nicaragua.

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Dalton Combs, a graduate of Adams Central High School and Huntington University, is now a left-handed-hitting outfielder in the San Francisco Giants organization. (Salem-Keizer Volcanoes Photo)