Tag Archives: Pendleton

Former pro pitcher Wechsler hunts for gems as White Sox area scout

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

Justin Wechsler grew up playing baseball in Madison County, Ind.
Born in Anderson in 1980 and briefly residing in Texas, he landed in Pendleton and was educated there through high school at Pendleton Heights (Class of 1998.
As a right-handed pitcher, he excelled at Ball State University (1999-2001) in nearby Muncie and then had professional baseball adventures in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and in independent ball.
When his playing career was over in 2006 — the year he turned 26 — Wechsler became a car salesman.
But that wasn’t for him.
“I needed to get back into baseball somehow, some way,” says Wechsler, who spent a short time as a Ball State volunteer assistant before becoming an area scout for the Chicago White Sox.
Most days from February through the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (which was July 17-19 in 2022) see McCordsville, Ind., resident Wechsler on the road evaluating talent in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
After a short break, he goes into summer and fall coverage. He is currently in San Diego for the 2022 Area Code Games.
Wechsler uses a mix of analytics and the eye test when grading players.
“You have to know them both,” says Wechsler. “These metrics just give you another piece of information to dissect a guy. The more information the better.
“I dug in on that stuff when it came out so I could talk intelligently about it. That’s what we do. That’s our job.”
As an area scout, Wechsler does not have the authority to sign players.
“I put numbers on them,” says Wechsler. “At a certain point a cross-checker or a national guy will come in.
“You build the base so you’ve got a target in the spring.”
He wants to find players who can hit, run and throw, but there’s more to it than that.
“It’s not so much the physical tools, it’s how they’re wired,” says Wechsler. “Do they have the right make-up? Professional baseball is hard. It’s a grind. It’s long. It’s just tough. The tools are the easy part.
“Mental toughness is a portion of it. What kind of teammate are they? Are they self-motivated? Do they love the game or just like the game? Are they coachable?”
It’s often creating a portfolio that has a beginning, middle and end.
“You start to build a profile and see how they mature,” says Wechsler. “Can they handle failure? It’s a very humbling experience.
“It helps that I played and was in a clubhouse. I know that life’s like.”
Wechsler played at Pendleton Heights for Bill Stoudt, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2013, the Arabians’ diamond became known as Bill Stoudt Field.
“He was awesome,” says Wechsler of Stoudt, who saw the pitcher chosen for the 1998 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series. “I had breakfast with Stoudty about a week ago.”
Wechsler has been known to stay at Stoudt’s Florida condo for a week at a time while attending spring training.
Wechsler met Anderson native Mike Shirley (who also played for Stoudt at Pendleton Heights) as a high schooler.
“He was one of those guys I met at a younger age when I needed guidance and advice,” says Wechsler. “I know I got lucky.”
Shirley is now Director of Amateur Scouting for the White Sox and operates The Barn training facility in Anderson.
Wechsler has been one of the pitching instructors at the facility and witnessed a long list of talent walk through the door.
“(Wapahani High School alum and St. Louis Cardinals left-hander) Zack Thompson grew up in our building,” says Wechsler.
John Miles was Wechsler’s manager with Anderson George H. Hockett American Legion Post 127.
“We were good,” says Wechsler of that Legion ball team.
At Ball State, the 6-foot, 255-pound righty learned from Cardinals head coach Rich Maloney. Over the years, he has watched him recruit players that went high in the MLB Draft (65 players have been selected 72 times with six first-rounders).
“He likes long athletic bodies,” says Wechsler of Maloney. “I probably didn’t fit his mold.”
Projectability is another key.
“You have to do that at that level,” says Wechsler.
The scout takes some credit for telling Maloney about right-hander Drey Jameson (Greenfield-Central Class of 2017), who came out of high school as a 6-foot, 145-pounder and pitched two seasons at Ball State (2018 and 2019) before being chosen in the first round in 2019 by the Diamondbacks.
“Drey is one of the most competitive human beings I’ve ever met,” says Wechsler. “He has a chip on his shoulder.
“He’s wired different than most guys.”
In 2022, 6-foot southpaw Tyler Schweitzer (Hamilton Southeastern) was drafted in the fifth round out of Ball State by the White Sox.
“He was light-tossing lefty who dove in the weight room and brought up his velocity,” says Wechsler of Schweitzer.
Draft selections who were Wechsler teammates at Ball State include outfielder Larry Bigbie (a Hobart High School graduate who played the majors and Japan), catcher Jon Kessick, right-handers Travis Minix and Christopher Cabaj and left-hander Jason Hickman in 1999, Hickman, lefty Adam Sheefel and infielders Shayne Ridley and Jeremy Ridley in 2000, catcher Doug Boone and right-hander Jason Paul in 2001 and righty Bryan Bullington (a Madison Consolidated alum and the No. 1 overall pick) and lefty Luke Hagerty, righty Paul Henry and Boone in 2002.
Bigbie, Bullington and Shayne Ridley are in the Ball State Athletic Hall of Fame.
Wechsler took the bump 53 times for the BSU Cardinals (40 starts) and went 23-13 with a 4.69 earned run average, 219 strikeouts and 92 walks in 232 1/3 innings.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2001 draft, Wechsler pitched for the rookie-level Missoula (Mont.) Osprey (2001), Low Class-A South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks (2002), High Class-A Lancaster (Calif.) JetHawks (2003 and 2004) and Double-A Tennessee Smokies (2005). He was with the Atlantic League’s Somerset Patriots (Bridgewater, N.J.) in 2006.
His managers were Chip Hale (Missoula), Dick Schofield (South Bend), Mike Aldrete and Wally Backman (Lancaster), Tony Perezchica (Tennessee) and Sparky Lyle (Somerset).
Through Backman, Wechsler came to know Mark Haley (who managed in South Bend 2005-14 and is now 1st Source Performance Center general manager and South Bend Cubs Foundation executive director).
South Bend resident and White Sox bullpen coach Curt Hasler and South Bend Clay High School coach and former Coveleski Stadium groundskeeper Joel Reinebold is counted among Wechsler’s many friends in baseball.
Another Pendleton Heights alum and Ball State player — Aaron Etchison — is now a scout for the Cleveland Guardians.
Brock Huntzinger, who was drafted out of Pendleton Heights in 2007, was named last week by new head coach Tracy Smith as pitching coach at the University of Michigan.
Wechsler started 56 of 161 pro appearances and went 25-29 with a 4.32 ERA, 352 K’s and 169 base on balls in 426 2/3 innings.
Justin met Niles, Mich., native Ryan Davis when he was playing for South Bend and she was an intern with the team. The couple now have three daughters — high schooler Grace and middle school twins Madalyn and Makenzie.
Catcher Scott French, who played at Ball State from 2000-02 and has been an instructor at The Barn and an Indiana Bulls coach/director, was best man at Justin and Ryan’s wedding.

Justin Wechsler

Sidearmer Bates bound for Grambling State

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

As Ethan Bates grew up in East Central Indiana, he played some outfield and stood on the mound.
But it wasn’t until he was leaving Frankton (Ind.) Junior/Senior High School in 2020 and getting ready for college baseball that Bates focused on a different way of pitching.
The left-hander turned himself into a sidearmer/submariner and it’s helped him through two seasons at Jimmy Brenneman coached-Frontier Community College in Fairfield, Ill., and earned him a spot with NCAA Division I Grambling (La.) State University in the fall.
It was while playing in a 2019 fall league in Pendleton, Ind., organized by Mike Shirley that Bates began dropping down with his delivery. He liked the results and kept at it.
“I’ve been learning the past two years and trying to get better,” says Bates, who developed as a Frontier CC Bobcat. In 23 games (all in relief), he went 2-0 with 24 strikeouts and 22 walks in 24 innings.
“The whole JUCO experience made a big impact on me as a player and a human,” says Bates, 20. “I got to grind in the middle of nowhere. You have to work really hard to get what you get in JUCO.
“I embrace what it means to be a JUCO Bandit.”
Twitter highlights posted of Bates posted by Frontier CC. That got the attention of Grambling State and he was contacted by Direct Message. He went for a visit and later signed with the Tigers in the fall of 2021.
Grambling State — where Davin Pierre is the head coach — in located in the north central part of the state about 65 miles from Shreveport.
“There’s lots to do,” says Bates. “I wanted wanted to play Down South where it’s warm.”
The past two summers, Bates has pitched in the midday heat for the Palm Beach Xtreme of the South Florida Collegiate Baseball League (there was also two games for Trenton, N.J., Thunder of the 2021 MLB Draft League). His Florida connection was Miami resident and Frontier CC outfielder Nick Pompile.
In his first 17 appearances for the Xtreme in 2022, he is 3-0 with seven saves, an 0.40 earned run average, 28 strikeouts and eight walks in 22 1/3 innings.
Besides a sinking fastball, Bates uses a sweeping slider that moves in on a right-handed hitter and away from a lefty. His change-up drops.
Born in Anderson, Ind., Bates went to middle school in the Pendleton Heights district then transferred to Frankton for high school, where he also play basketball for four years and football for one.
He played recreation ball at Riverfield in Chesterfield, Ind. His first travel ball team was the Indiana Renegades.
Bates spent several summers with the Indiana Bulls, including with head coach Sean Laird at 17U. One of his Bulls teammates was 2020 Mt. Vernon (Fortville) High School alum Nolan Bowser.
He has also trained with Vanderbilt University commit Max Clark (Franklin Community Class of 2023) and Indiana University recruit Andrew Wiggins (Heritage Christian Class of 2023).
A broken shoulder kept Bates from playing baseball as a Frankton freshman. He was with the varsity most of his sophomore year and all of his year season. The COVID-19 pandemic took away his senior slate.
Brad Douglas was and still is the head coach of the Frankton Eagles.
“He’s hard-nosed and a great competitor (just like Laird),” says Bates. “I love playing for coaches who are great competitors and have my back.”
With an associate degree in Sciences & Arts earned at Frontier CC, Bates plans to major in Sports Management at Grambling State.
Ethan, who turns 21 in November, is the son of Ryan Bates (Cami) and Karen Siek (Dan). His siblings are Lauryn Bates, Katie Shadoan and Seth Siek. Katie is the oldest, followed by Ethan, Lauryn and Seth.

Ethan Bates (Cheyenne Bruce Photography)
Ethan Bates (Cheyenne Bruce Photography)
Ethan Bates (Frontier Community College Photo)

Driven Mills takes advice from many baseball mentors

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

What drives Patrick Mills as a baseball player?
“My passion for the game is definitely No. 1,” says Mills, a 22-year-old outfielder/first baseman for Indiana University-Kokomo. “Every day I get up out of bed the one thing I want to do is go play some baseball.
“That’s the reason I keep playing. I enjoy the game. Everything else will follow. I will do everything I can to get better and keep playing it. It comes down to passion and discipline.”
Mills, a 2018 graduate of Western High School in Russiaville, Ind., spent two years at Olney (Ill.) Central College and the past two years at IUK. He plans to use his extra year of COVID-19 eligibility with the Cougars in 2022-23 while completing his Computer Science degree.
A lefty thrower and batter, Mills hit .374 (65-of-174) in 2022 while helping IUK go 26-22 overall and 16-7 in the NAIA River States Conference. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder belted 15 home runs, four triples and 16 doubles while driving in 44 runs and scoring 51 — all team-leading totals. His on-base percentage was .453.
“I make sure I stay balanced in my body and my mind,” says Mills of his approach at the plate. “I learn what the pitcher is throwing and try to hit the ball hard.
“When you hit the ball hard good things happen.”
Mills has had many mentors besides father Eric.
“It’s not just one person in particular,” says Mills. “It’s a collective of everybody I’ve met in the game.
“It’s little bit of advice here and there. I’ve put it together like a puzzle.”
Jeremy Honaker coached Cougar outfielders and hitters in 2022.
Mills credits him with helping him with the mental side of the game and bringing out his full potential during games.
“There were little snippets for me to think about during (batting practice),” says Mills. “They were more mental notes than actual physical cues.”
A lot was achieved during the fall and winter.
“All that work built up,” says Mills. “By the time the season came around it was second nature.”
Mills has head coaches at IUK with different styles. Matt Howard was intense and Drew Brantley is more laid-back.
“(Howard) lent a level of excitement and discipline,” says Mills of the man who is now a Kokomo police officer. “He wanted us to compete to the best of our abilities every single day. He wanted to make his players as tough as possible and he definitely did.
“(Brantley) has created an environment where we’re not afraid to fail. If we can control what we need to control, the results will follow. Follow the process and try to get better everyday. That philosophy — in my opinion — worked very well. Next spring it will be even better.”
Mills was born in Kokomo and got his formal baseball start at what is now Russiaville Youth Baseball League.
He played travel ball with the Westfield-based Stonecutters then went with the Indiana Eagles for his 14U to 17U summers.
“(Eagles coach) Jamie Roudebush gave us a platform to work on our skills and get better everyday during those years,” says Mills.
At Western, Mills played two years each for Quentin Brown then Ryan Berryman.
“(Brown) was all about passion when playing the game. He once jokingly said to me, ‘you care about this game too much. If you keep your passion like that you’ll go wherever you want to go.”
Mills and the Western Panthers were 2016 IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up.
“Playing for (Berryman) was a different experience from Brown,” says Mills. “He brought the intensity level, but also the technicalities of baseball. He challenged me to become better fundamentally. It was the mechanics and more than just the mental side.”
Mike Shirley, who at the time was a Chicago White Sox area scout and is now that organization’s director of amateur scouting, ran a fall league for high schoolers in Pendleton, Ind., in which Mills participated.
“He gave us a lot of information and where we need to improve,” says Mills of Shirley. “He was challenging us mentally and physically. It was a great experience.”
Mills played for Don Andrews-managed Kokomo American Legion Post 6 the summers before and after his first year of college.
“He was always supported me since I played for him,” says Mills of Andrews. “He was very similar to how Drew Brantley goes about his business. He’s calm and collected.
“Back then I was very intense and wild and wanted to do everything with one swing. He taught me how to handle my emotions. It went over my head then but I eventually learned from his teachings.”
At Olney Central, Mills played for veteran coach Dennis Conley.
“He definitely pushed his players to the limit and got the most out of them,” said Mills of Conley, who has been in charge of the Blue Knights program for 42 years and has a record of 1,530-773. “Junior college tests your love of the game. Do you really love the game or kind of like it?”
Mills was with the Portland (Ind.) Rockets during the COVID summer of 2020. One of his teammates was former Yorktown High School, Lincoln Trail College, Wright State University and independent pro player Zach Tanner.
“He took me under his wing and taught me about the mental game,” says Mills of Tanner.
Last summer he played for the Prospect League’s West Virginia Miners and manager Tim Epling.
The summer of 2022 sees Mills with the Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Battle Jacks. The team is managed by Caleb Long.
In 28 games with Battle Creek, Mills is hitting .360 (41-of-114) with two homers, 27 RBIs and 21 runs.
Eric and Sundai Mills have three children — Jaymee (Mills) Birky (28), Hayley Mills (24) and Patrick.
Jaymee is married and living in Madison, Wis. (where Battle Creek recently played the Madison Mallards), and competition in swimming, softball and track at Western. She also was part of a state championship marching band. Hayley nows teaches elementary school in Raleigh, N.C. She was in volleyball, basketball, swimming and softball during her school days.

Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)
Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (15) (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)
Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)
Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)

Crossroads Baseball Series helps talent connect with next level programs

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connecting baseball players who wish to play at the next level with coaches seeking talent is something that the Crossroads Baseball Series has been doing for more than a decade.

Started in 2008 by former Indiana University and professional infielder Eric Blakeley as an outgrowth of his Diamond Kings training business in northwest Indiana, CBS has grown to include showcases, tournaments and fall leagues in numerous states.

Blakeley ran Diamond Kings — former Griffith (Ind.) High School and Tulane University standout and current Los Angeles Dodgers minor leaguer Kody Hoese was one of his early pupils — for about a decade. 

Crossroads Baseball Series began as a way for “Region” area players to have exposure events without traveling to Indianapolis or Chicago. 

The first CBS event held at Gary’s U.S. Steel Yard include future big league pitcher Sean Manaea. Blakeley notes that 85 of the 87 players involved went on to play college baseball.

At Crossroads Baseball Series showcases, players work out in front of college coaches and play in prospect games against top recommended players.

There are 17 tournaments on the 2021 calendar with events in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. Many of these are for 14U to 18U players.

“We’re on the verge of growing our tournament space,” says Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series. “There’s a high demand for quality tournaments that don’t cost $2,000. We try to stay around $1,000 price point.”

Blakeley says college coaches can get on an RSVP list and attend events and receive information from them.

Rosters are collected and each player fills out an information form. Coaches have full access to this for free.

CBS provides social media coverage for recruiters and players’ families to share.

“We pride ourselves on educating the families,” says Blakeley. “We can get your names out there.

“The players have to do their research and count the schools that match (their choices).”

What Crossroads Baseball Series does, according to Blakeley, makes it easier for players to communicate with college coaches and do their research.

Blakeley emphasizes that college coaches will know if a player has done his homework on his program. 

It is even more important now that the competition for roster spots has become even more fierce with many players staying in college baseball longer thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the smaller MLB Draft.

“It’s become a lot more competitive to get into these schools — academically and athletically,” says Blakeley.

The words of former Indiana University and current Arizona State University head coach Tracy Smith ring true with Blakeley.

“If you want to play college baseball, there’s a place for you,” says Blakeley. “You just need to do your research and go to camps.”

Travis Keesling, former head coach at Pendleton Heights High School, is Vice President of Baseball Operations for CBS after starting out as a coach selecting players for a showcase.

“Travis has a very good baseball background,” says Blakeley. “He knows the game very well.”

Keesling deals with finding on-field personnel, RSVPing college coaches and the overall vision of the company. He and Blakeley talk on a daily basis.

Nelson Gord, a former minor league opponent to Blakeley who resides in Illinois and is Director of Baseball for NCSA (Next College Student Athlete), is also Director of Recruiting Education for Crossroads Baseball Series.

“He’ll come to events and speak to parents about the recruiting process,” says Blakeley of Gord.

NCSA had purchased a platform called Coach Packet and CBS now has its own app that incorporates video, social media and results to the same player profile. College coaches are given access to this information.

The Crossroads Baseball Series staff also features field coordinators include Rob Fay, Craig Cotter and Austin Green.

Blakeley was a four-sport athlete at Greenville (Ohio) Senior High School.

“I was fortunate to have good coaches for high school and summer ball,” says Blakeley. “I got hit by pitch and broke my arm and did not play junior year of high school.”

The righty-swinging infielder wound up at Indiana through a relationship his coach had with Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan.

“He taught you some things about life,” says Blakeley. “There’s nothing easy about getting through a practice with Bob Morgan.

“He taught you accountability and taking care of yourself.”

As much as the process has changed over the year, one things has remained constant.

“It was word-of-mouth then and it’s still that way today,” says Blakeley. Coaches want to hear from coaches who they consider trustworthy and whose opinion they respect. “What has changed is technology. There is accessibility and instant updates now.”

Another change is the age of those being seriously pursued by recruiters.

“Recruiting has gotten a lot earlier,” says Blakeley. “When we started Crossroads in 2008, every single of the players had not made their college choice yet and were juniors going into their senior year. Ten years later, eighth graders were (verbally) committing going into their freshmen year.”

A shortstop for much of his four seasons at IU (1999-02), Blakeley was selected in the 21st round of the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners as a second baseman.

After his first pro season, Blakeley had Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. He was in Class-A ball in 2003 and 2004 and made it up to Triple-A in 2005.

Released by the Mariners in 2005, Blakeley played for the independent Joliet (Ill.)JackHammers and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats before retiring as a player after the 2008 season. 

“I wasn’t trying to go back into affiliated ball,” says Blakeley. “I had my business and had gotten married (to Lake Central High School graduate Laura).”

Gary won the Northern League title in 2007 and were runners-up in 2008.

RailCats manager Greg Tagert invited him back for 2009, but Blakeley decided to focus on his business and having a family. 

Eric and Laura Blakeley now resides in Fishers, Ind., with daughters Isabella (10) and Gianna (8). Eric coaches both girls on the Fishers Cats.

“Sports can teach kids for the future — about adversity and how to overcome it,” says Blakeley. “Don’t think what might happen bad. Think what might happen good. 

“Failure is going to help you where you want to be. They just don’t understand that yet.”

Eric Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series