Tag Archives: Perfect Game

Griffith grad Hoese pacing Tulane, NCAA D-I in home runs

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A northwest Indiana native playing in the Deep South has belted the ball out of the ballpark more than anyone in NCAA Division I baseball so far in 2019.

But Kody Hoese, who has 21 dingers for Tulane University in New Orleans, does not consider himself a home run hitter.

“I’m a gap-to-gap guy,” says Hoese, a righty swinger from Griffith, Ind. “I focus on hitting the ball hard.”

Hoese, who heads into an American Athletic Conference Friday-Saturday-Sunday series against East Carolina in Greenville, N.C., hitting .417 with the 21 homers, 15 doubles, 52 runs batted in and a .881 slugging average in 40 contests, says he worries more about the process than the results.

In 2018, Hoese was usually in the No. 3 or No. 4 slot in head coach Travis Jewett’s Green Wave lineup, and hit .291 with five homers, 13 doubles, 34 RBIs and slugged .435 in 58 games and was selected in the 35th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Kansas City Royals, but opted to go back to Tulane.

He chose the school because of the coaching staff and the warm climate.

“Going down South has benefitted me,” says Hoese, 21. “I can do all the little things outdoors, like seeing live pitching. It’s helped me a lot.”

Jewett is in his third season in charge at Tulane (26-14 overall, 8-3 The American) after assistant stints at Gonzaga, Washington, Washington State, Arizona State and Vanderbilt. He led the hitters at Vandy and he does the same with the Green Wave.

“When it comes to hitting, he’s a pretty open guy,” says Hoese of Jewett. “He let’s us do our own thing and I respect that a lot.

“He let’s us play to your strengths. He let’s hitters figure out their swings and what their abilities are in their swings.”

With a similar build to Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant, the the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Hoese also sees that the big leaguer also uses long leverage swings to create power.

That power once launched a homer that went over the left field scoreboard at Greer Field at Turchin Stadium — a shot estimated at least 460 feet.

He has a three-homer game against Lamar.

Hoese, who finds himself on midseason watch lists for the Golden Spikes Award and Bobby Bragan Collegiate Slugger Award, also credits his weightlifting and nutrition regimens for contributing to his pop.

This spring, he has been in the 2-hole behind Trevor Jensen and in front of Hudson Haskin.

Where he hits in the order is not a big concern to Hoese.

“I don’t change much,” says Hoese. “I stick to my approach. I stick to my plan.”

Many factors go into that approach, including how the pitcher is throwing, the score, the count etc.

As a freshman, Hoese hit .213 with no homers, six doubles, 10 RBIs and a .281 slugging mark while appearing in 44 games with 32 starts (17 at shortstop, 13 at third base and two at designated hitter).

The last two seasons, Hoese has been a regular at third base.

“The major league teams I talk to, I let them know I am versatile,” says Hoese. “I can play short.”

Hoese was a four-year starter at shortstop for head coach Brian Jennings at Griffith High School.

“He’s a great guy,” says Hoese of Jennings. “He’s helped me not just on the field but off.

“He’s a great mentor.”

As a Griffith Panther, Hoese was an all-state honoree as a junior and senior. He was team captain and received MVP honors his sophomore, junior and senior years. He helped Griffith win a regional title as a senior while hitting .400 with four homers, 14 doubles, 30 RBIs and 20 stolen bases and being rated the No. 1 shortstop in Indiana by Prep Baseball Report and Perfect Game.

Hoese was born in Merrillville, Ind., and grew up in Griffith, playing at Griffith Little League and the Region-based Indiana Playmakers before going with the statewide Indiana Bulls in the summers before his junior and senior high school seasons. He reported to Tulane to get acclimated in the summer before his freshmen year.

While much of his time is spent at the park or in the class room (he is a finance major), Hoese has gotten a chance to see the sites and enjoy the hospitality of the Big Easy.

“The people there are terrific,” says Hoese. “A lot of players on the team are from New Orleans.

“It feels like home.”

Back home in Indiana, Hoese took lessons from Dave Griffin at the Dave Griffin Baseball School in Griffith as a youngster and has also received help from former Indiana University and pro player Eric Blakely at the Diamond Kings facility in St. John. He still does some hitting at their places when he’s in the area.

Kody is the son of David and Susan Hoese. His father is an account. His mother is in sales. His older sister, Kristi, is married with two kids.

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Kody Hoese, a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate, has been a regular at third base in 2018 and 2019 for Tulane University. Hoese was a four-year starter at shortstop in high school and has played short for the Green Wave. He was selected in the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, but opted to go back to school for his junior season. (Tulane University Photo)

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Kody Hoese, a Griffith (Ind.) High School graduate and Tulane University junior, goes into the weekend hitting .417 with the 21 home runs, 15 doubles, 52 runs batted in and a .881 slugging average in 40 contests. He leads NCAA Division I baseball in home runs. (Tulane University)

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Mental toughness key for Cubs minor league hurler Thompson

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Intellectual resolve helped Riley Thompson excel at high school and college baseball levels and he is hoping it will propel him as a professional.

Thompson, 21, is a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher who played at Christian Academy of Louisville and the University of Louisville before being selected in the 11th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago Cubs.

He is now with the South Bend (Ind.) Cubs of the Low Class-A Midwest League.

Thompson was picked in two previous MLB drafts (2015 in the 37th round by the Cincinnati Reds and 2017 in the 25th by the New York Yankees), but opted to stay in school.

After redshirting in 2016, Thompson appeared in 25 games for Louisville in 2017 and 2018. He started seven of 11 games in 2018.

His head coach for the Cardinals was Dan McDonnell.

“Coach Mac really harps on mental toughness and all the qualities that go along with that,” says Thompson. “It really helped me develop as a man and be ready for pro ball.

“He’s a great motivator. He knows what to say.”

Thompson got into nine games (eight as a starter) and went 0-2 with an 2.84 earned run average for the rookie-level Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds in 2018. He struck out 25 and walked nine in 25 innings.

In his short time in the organization, he has come to appreciate the way the Cubs handle their players from the nutrition and strength staffs to the facilities and accommodations they find for them.

“They really do treat us well,” says Thompson. “For that, I’m really grateful.”

There’s also the mental skills training.

“They do a good job of training our minds and getting us ready for the season,” says Thompson. “For me, it’s the ability to slow down the game.”

Thompson has learned to take a deep breath and realize that he may be just one pitch from an out. The training helps simplify things when chaos could be the rule.

Born in Evansville, Ind., in 1996, Thompson moved to Louisville around age 5.

He was a two-time all-state selection in high school and also played first base when not pitching.

At the end of the his high school career, Thompson played two summers of the travel ball with the Ironmen Baseball Club.

He was named to the all-tournament team at the 2014 Perfect Game WWBA 17U National Championship and was the top-ranked player in Kentucky by Perfect Game in 2015.

Outside of the mental toughness, what are his best qualities as an athlete?

“I feel I’m a pretty athletic pitcher,” says Thompson. “I have a good fastball and a good feel for my off-speed.”

The South Bend Cubs were to play a seven-inning exhibition against Notre Dame at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 3 and open the season at 7:05 p.m. Thursday, April 4 against West Michigan. Both games are at Four Winds Field.

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Riley Thompson (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Confidence carries Plainfield, Butler grad Mitchell into pro baseball with Dodgers system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Applying advice provided by two of his college coaches, Connor Mitchell earned the right to play professional baseball in 2018.

Mitchell, a left-handed pitcher, finished up a four-year diamond career at Butler University in Indianapolis in 2018.

Dave Schrage has been the Bulldogs head coach and Ben Norton the pitching coach since the 2017 season.

Mitchell credits both men for helping him as a collegian and in getting selected in the 27th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“The biggest thing I took away from Coach Schrage is that everything matters — on the field and off the field,” says Mitchell. “All the little things play a role in whether you have success. If you’re doing every thing right way in the classroom and the weight room, all of it makes a difference.”

Norton helped implant a confident mindset.

“He told me to go after hitters and never be hesitant,” says Mitchell of Norton. “Pick a pitch you have conviction with and just throw it.”

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Mitchell delivered four-team and two-seam fastballs that typically traveled at 88 to 92 mph. He also used an adapted “circle” change-up, slider and cut fastball.

In his final Butler campaign, Mitchell made 14 mound appearances (all stars) and went 3-4 with a 4.85 ERA. In 68 2/3 innings, he racked up 80 strikeouts with 19 walks.

For his college career, the southpaw pitched in 41 games (32 starts) with a 8-10 record and 4.74 earned run average. In 160 innings, Mitchell struck out 149 and walked 66. He was a medical redshirt his sophomore year when he had to have an ulnar nerve transposition procedure.

“I had some discomfort when I threw and tingling in my fingers,” says Mitchell. “There have been no issues since then.”

After being drafted in June, the 6-foot-4, 180-pounder worked in 17 games (all in relief) for the rookie-level Ogden (Utah) Raptors. In 29 2/3 innings, the lefty went 4-0 with a 6.67 earned run average, 20 strikeouts and six walks.

Dodgers minor league stops after Ogden are the Low Class-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes, Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers and Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Mitchell enjoyed his first pro season.

“I liked how efficient and focused everything was,” says Mitchell. “It streamlined. Everybody knew what they needed to do.”

After a week back home in Plainfield, Ind., Mitchell went to Arizona in mid-September and is to spend a month at Camelback Ranch in Glendale for the Dodgers instructional league.

“We’ve been doing a variety of things from pitch design to defense work,” says Mitchell. “It’s been good so far.

“(The Dodgers) give us a lot of freedom, but the expectation for all of us is very high. It feels like a family.”

Support from his actual family comes from father, mother and younger brother — Brooks, Laura and Jackson. His parents own a small drywall sales business in Plainfield. His brother is a freshman baseball player at Earlham College in Richmond, Ind.

Connor Mitchell is a 2014 Plainfield High School graduate. fanned a combined 90 batters in 55 innings during his sophomore and junior seasons for the Quakers, who were then coached by Jeff McKeon.

In the spring of his senior year, Mitchell competed in the Perfect Game Iowa Spring League, where he was named to the Top Prospect Team. He traveled from Indiana to meet his team on days he was scheduled to pitch.

“That league was awesome,” says Mitchell. “There’s a ton of good players in Iowa and the surrounding states.”

Born in Indianapolis, Mitchell spent his early years in Reelsville, Ind., in Putnam County. After moving to central Indiana, he played travel baseball for the Avon Attack, USAthletic and two stints with the Indiana Mustangs, where he formed a friendship with future Butler teammate Garrett Christman.

Mitchell and Christman were roommates throughout college and both graduated in May with degrees in Human Movement and Health Science.

He’s a great player,” says Mitchell of Christman, who was both a shortstop and pitcher at Butler and was drafted by the San Francisco Giants this year. “He does it all.

“He really came on as a pitcher. He eats innings and gets a lot of ground balls. I’m excited to see what he does professionally.”

Mitchell and Christman played for former pro outfielder Chris Estep with the Mustangs.

“He was a big influence on me growing up, developing as me as a player and a person,” says Mitchell of Estep. “He taught me how to handle failure. He’s also fun to be around.”

Brother Jackson also played for the Mustangs.

The Mitchell boys were born four years apart — Connor (23) on Sept. 11 and Jackson (19) on Sept. 10.

Connor was 6 and Jackson 2 on the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“When it happened, I could tell something bad had happened,” says Connor. “It’s definitely a somber day, knowing what that day means to our country.”

Over the years, the brothers and their family have celebrated their birthdays together.

“We enjoy the day and enjoy being together,” says Connor, who plans to enjoy his time back in Indiana this winter by working out and maybe giving back to younger players through private lessons.

Then it’s back to Arizona for spring training to resume his pro baseball career.

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Connor Mitchell made his professional baseball debut in 2018 with the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. He is a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High and Butler University in Indianapolis.

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Garrett Christman (left) and Connor Mitchell both graduated from Butler University in Indianapolis in the spring of 2018. They were travel ball teammates for the Indiana Mustangs then baseball teammates and roommates at Butler. Noblesville High School graduate Christman is now in the San Francisco Giants organization and Mitchell the Los Angeles Dodgers system.

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Butler University baseball teammates Josh Walker (left) and Connor Mitchell were both pitchers for the Bulldogs.

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, stares in for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, lets go for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, winds up for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

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Connor Mitchell, a graduate of Plainfield (Ind.) High School and Butler University in Indianapolis, delivers a pitch in 2018 for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. (Kevin Johnson Photo)

Former Hanover Central, Nebraska catcher Wilkening now catcher in Phillies organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jesse Wilkening remembers well the advice given by Doug Nelson, his head baseball coach at Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, Ind.

“Have some fun,” says Wilkening, a 2015 Hanover Central graduate and first-year professional in the Philadelphia Phillies organization (he was selected in the 14th round the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft). “Let the game just be the game. Don’t let it get too big. Play for your school, the people around you and yourself.

“I love where I’m from. That was pretty easy for me to do.”

Wilkening had plenty of fun and success with the Hanover Central Wildcats, setting the Indiana prep record for career hits with 206.

“It is very cool to have that (record),” says Wilkening, who finished his HC career with a .516 average, 20 home runs and 156 runs batted in. “But they are meant to be broken. Hopefully, one day someone will go out and do it.”

Wilkening was by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 28th round of the 2015 MLB Draft, but decided to accept an offer to play at the University of Nebraska.

From the time he visited the Lincoln, Neb., campus, it just clicked for him.

Continuing his academic performance from high school, he was named to the Scholar-Athlete Honor Roll three times and Academic All-Big Ten twice as a criminal justice major and business minor. Three semesters short of graduating, he plans to keep working toward his degree in the off-season.

During his time with the Darin Erstad-coached Cornhuskers, he was also named to the Tom Osborne Citizenship Team three times for his part in community service.

“It’s very important,” says Wilkening of his helping at charity events, talking to school children and visiting hospitals. “They give so much to us, we have to give something back.”

On the field, the righty-swinging catcher performed well for Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad — particularly in his junior season of 2018.

Playing in 52 games, Wilkening hit .372 with nine home runs, 14 doubles and 56 RBI and was named ABCA/Rawlings First-Team All-Region and Second-Team All-Big Ten.

He was on the Johnny Bench Award Watch List in both 2017 and 2018. The award goes to the top catcher in NCAA Division I baseball.

What makes the 5-foot-10, 200-pounder a good catcher?

“I’m very good with leadership,” says Wilkening. “I’m a pretty personable guy. I work with the pitchers and can be one of them. That’s huge.

“I know their strengths and weaknesses and how to calm them down or pump them up. I know what to say to them in different situations throughout the game.”

In the batter’s box, Wilkening has learned to be disciplined.

“I’m swinging at good pitches and having quality at-bats,” says Wilkening. “I don’t worry about the outcome.

“Hard barrel contact is a win for me no matter where it goes.”

In his short time in pro ball with the Short Season Class-A New York-Penn League‘s Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters, Wilkening sees the biggest differences from college ball are wood bats vs. metal bats, the language barrier (many pro players are from Spanish-speaking countries) and the uncertainty of player movement.

Wilkening got his baseball start at Cedar Lake Little League and played for several travel teams through his high school years, including Playmakers, Region Rippers, The Future, Northwest Indiana Shockers, Indiana Bulls, Prairie Gravel and — for one tournament — Evoshield Seminoles. He played in Perfect Game’s World Wood Bat Association Underclass World Championships for Evoshield in 2013 and the WWBA 17U National Championships in 2014 for Prairie Gravel.

Based in Hinsdale, Ill., about 50 miles from Cedar Lake, Prairie Gravel is owned by Al Oremus. Wilkening’s coaches were Sam Sorce and Mike Casey.

Jesse is the son of Todd and Julie Wilkening. His father has been fire chief in Cedar Lake for about a decade.

What comes next in the Phillies system? The Lakewood (N.J.) BlueClaws, Clearwater (Fla.) Threshers, Reading (Pa.) Fightin Phils and Lehigh Valley (Pa.) IronPigs.

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Jesse Wilkening, a former Hanover Central High School and University of Nebraska player, is now a catcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization with the Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters. (Williamsport Crosscutters Photo)

 

RoundTripper, Indiana Mustangs founder Estep emphasizes work ethic, grades, playing with fire not anger

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Providing instruction and tools for players to get better and helping them get to the next level.

Chris Estep has been doing that for more than two decades. He founded RoundTripper Sports Academy in 1993 in Hamilton County, Ind. In 2001, RoundTripper and the Indiana Mustangs travel organization has been housed in a 40,000-square feet facility in Westfield.

Estep, an Indianapolis native, was an All-American at the University of Kentucky and was selected in the 12th round of the 1988 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

He began has career as an instructor and coach after retiring from minor league baseball in 1992.

When he’s not traveling with a team, Estep is at RoundTripper giving up to 12 lessons a day or conducting classes with players with ties to many different organizations.

“When I’m here, it’s contact teaching,” says Estep. “On the road, it’s constantly marketing the players and working to try to get them signed.”

Estep is proud to see long list of RoundTripper and Indiana Mustangs alumni going on to higher levels of baseball and giving back to the game as coaches, scouts, instructors and tournament directors.

Among those are current or former big leaguers Micah Johnson, Dillon Peters, Kevin Plawecki, Drew Storen, Jeremy Hazelbaker, Tommy Hunter, Lance Lynn and Cory Wade.

Former Mustang and RoundTripper employee Blake Hibler is now program director/event manager for Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield.

“This is a place they grew up and it’s pretty awesome,” says Estep. “You’ve got guys out their teaching and coaching the game the right way.”

The Mustangs field 17 baseball and four softball travel teams in 2018.

Much of Estep’s focus right now revolves around the 17U baseball team. Former pro player and current scout Mike Farrell manages the team, Chase Estep is an assistant coach and Chris Estep does his part to help athletes through the college recruiting process.

“Our biggest thing is making sure we’re getting all the kids signed,” says the elder Estep. “We’ve had up to 20 colleges in every game we played in. They’re evaluating these guys.

“The process moves very quickly when they identify the kid they want. We have kids who are not committed that have interest from 15 to 20 schools. They still have choices.”

Estep, 51, notes that verbal commitments can be made at any time, but players can’t sign a letter of intent until they begin their senior year.

He sees the current trend of early commits and shakes his head.

“Slow down a little bit,” says Estep. “Nobody knows what this kid is going to be in eighth grade or their freshman year. Nobody has any idea.

“You may think he has this trajectory. But he may be what he is in that freshman year. Conversely, you may have a pipsqueak that grows to become this unbelievable dude.”

Estep says it’s too early to knowing what a player at 12, 13 or 14 will be at 16, 17 or 18.

“If anybody can tell you what they’re going to be, they’re lying to you,” says Estep. “You don’t know that until he turns 16.

“You may have a fully-developed kid at 13 and 14. All he’s going to do is get hairier. He’s a big, strong kid. But all he’s got is what he’s got.

“Now it’s going to be up to his work ethic.”

That player may not be getting any bigger, so they need to continue developing their skills, learning how to hit for power and to all fields, getting in the weight room to increase their strength and doing what they can to enhance their speed by a tick or two.

“If the skill sets are good, it all comes down to work ethic,” says Estep. “Every kid that comes (to RoundTripper) for a reason. They want to play at the next level — whatever that level may be. The thing they’ll get from us is how hard they need to work.

“You don’t have to take 25,000 lessons. You take a lesson and you have your marching orders of what I need to work on that week.”

Players are asked to answers a series of questions.

How many swings are you going to take?

How many throws are you going to make?

How balls are you going to block?

How many ground balls are you going to take?

How many fly balls?

Are you going to work on your angles?

“The game is just not hitting or defense, it’s all of those things,” says Estep, who has built a reputation in the baseball world and relationships with college coaches and pro scouts.

“When you’ve been in the business for 25 years, they start to trust that you might know what you’re doing,” says Estep. “So they listen to what you might have to say and what your evaluation is.

“As long as your honest about what the kid can do and how he projects, they’ll watch them play and say ‘you’re dead on.’

“You cannot be used car salesman.”

Shooting straight with players and parents also helps the process.

“When you get to this level, parents have to pretty good idea of what their kids are,” says Estep.

Estep says it all comes down to the 16U and 17U summers.

“That’s where (college recruiters) are putting their real (player) boards together,” says Estep. “They call the 16U year ‘The Arms Race.’ Everybody’s looking at arms. They’re seeing position players. They all want to gobble up catchers, shortstops and center fielders.

“They’re the ones making the big bucks so they should know what they’re doing.”

Many times, college coaching jobs are dependent upon winning and claiming championships.

But priorities can change prior to a player signing on the dotted line.

“(Players) can get a commitment, but come November they can get a phone call (from the college) saying, ‘listen, we went in another direction,’” says Estep. “Now the kids out there flopping in the wind.”

Estep and his staff also emphasize the importance of good grades.

“They must understand what the ACT and SAT can provide for you,” says Estep. “The academic money is a big deal.”

Only 11.7 baseball scholarships are offered yearly at the NCAA Division I level. It’s 9 at NCAA D-II, 0 at NCAA D-III and 12 for the NAIA. For the National Junior College Athletic Association, it’s 24 for Division I and II and 0 for D-III.

In the past week, Estep talked with one school and learned that an 1150 SAT will bring a player $20,000. The Mustangs have a half dozen players who have the baseball skills and SAT scores high enough to get interest from Ivy League schools.

Learning to stay cool when the heat is on is another important lesson taught by Estep.

“Baseball is a massive game of failure,” says Estep. “You have to control your emotions. We tell kids, ‘anger is not your friend.’”

In other words: The sport can’t be played in a blind rage.

“We see them turning corners and getting a little better every year,” says Estep. “It’s fun to watch.

“Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong in playing with fire. There’s a very thin line between playing with fire and playing with anger. Anger sets you up for failure. Playing with fire allows you to succeed.”

Estep has watched Indiana baseball enjoy growth in recent years. He submits the 2018 IHSAA State Finals as one piece of evidence of the high level.  Fishers edged Indianapolis Cathedral 4-3 in Class 4A. Andrean bested Silver Creek 6-1 in 3A. Boone Grove shaded Southridge 5-4 in 2A. Daleville defeated University 4-2 in nine innings in 1A.

“It was phenomenal,” says Estep, who completed his 10th season as University head coach in 2018. Guys played great. Everyone is extremely well-prepared.

“I was so impressed with how the Indianapolis Indians and IHSAA ran things (at Victory Field).”

Then there’s the explosion of travel baseball and player development.

“At facilities like ours, you’re seeing them preparing themselves and honing skill sets,” says Estep. “They’re trying to reach their fullest potential.”

The game has also grown with the help of talent identifiers like Perfect Game and Prep Baseball Report.

“(PBR Indiana owner/director) Phil Wade is doing a phenomenal job,” says Estep.

The 17th annual RoundTripper Showcase is scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 26. Coaches from 50 or more college programs are expected to attend.

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RoundTripper Sports Academy and the Indiana Mustangs travel organization were both founded by Chris Estep in Hamilton County, Ind.

 

Former Indiana Mr. Baseball, MLB first-rounder O’Conner lands with independent St. Paul Saints

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin O’Conner was a highly-touted professional baseball prospect when he wore the uniform of Cowan Junior/Senior High School.

As a sophmore at the Muncie, Ind., school, he helped the Camden Pankhurst-coached Blackhawks earn an IHSAA Class 2A state runners-up finish in 2008.

In 2009, O’Conner put up head-turning numbers as a shortstop and pitcher: .521 average, 19 home runs, 61 runs batted in, 7-0 record, 0.30 earned run average, 101 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings.

That summer, he won the Home Run Derby at the Perfect Game National Showcase at the Metrodome in Minneapolis and was invited to the Perfect Game Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic at PETCO Park in San Diego.

In 2010, he was Indiana’s Mr. Baseball and selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays right out of Cowan.

As a pro, O’Conner became a catcher. He played 48 games with the Gulf Coast Rays in 2010.

In 2011, he played at rookie-level Princeton threw out 16 of 45 base stealers.

He helped Hudson Valley win the New York-Penn League championship in 2012.

O’Conner played at Low Class-A Bowling Green of the Midwest League in 2013.

That winter, he played for the Brisbane Bandits of the Australian Baseball League.

“It was awesome,” says O’Conner of his time Down Under. “It was a chance to go to another country, live there for three months and get to see their culture and also get to play baseball.”

In 2014, O’Conner played at Charlotte and was an MiLB.com Organizational All-Star and Florida State League All-Star, FSL Post-Season and Baseball America High Class-A All-Star.

He played in the Arizona Fall League and was placed on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster in November.

O’Conner spent the entire 2015 season at Double-A Montgomery and led the Southern League in total chances (91) and threw out 29 of 60 base stealers.

“For me, it’s big part of the game,” says O’Conner. “Being able to control the running game can keep runners off of bases in scoring position and keep them from scoring runs. If the pitcher can give me a good time to the plate, mix his looks in.

“It’s really more on the pitcher and the infielder making a good tag along with me making a good throw. It’s just not me, it’s everybody involved.”

In 2016, he began the season in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League because of a back injury. He was promoted to Double-A in August.

It was discovered he had a herniated disk and he had two back surgeries in October and November and and was removed from the 40-man roster in December.

“I’m all good now,” says O’Conner of his procedures. “The back pain really wasn’t the issue, it was the sciatica down my leg. I needed to get it fixed.”

O’Conner started 2017 at Double-A and was promoted to Triple-A Durham in August. The Bulls won the Triple-A National Championship.

After the season, he was granted his free agency and signed a minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants in November 2017. The Giants released him in April 2018 and he inked a deal with the St. Paul Saints of the independent American Association, a circuit which also features the Gary SouthShore RailCats.

The Saints got off to a 5-1 start and O’Conner is coming off a 3-for-3 game with two RBI and two runs scored Wednesday, May 23 at home against the Chicago Dogs.

He belted home runs May 18 at Gary and May 23 in St. Paul.

O’Conner quickly learned the difference between high school and professional baseball while with the Rays and Giants organizations and it holds true with St. Paul.

“It’s a grind,” says O’Conner, 26. “You’re playing baseball, but it’s also a job. You’ve got to come out and try to win everyday.

“You learn that right away. You’re playing every single day. It takes a toll on your body and it’s something you’ve got to get used to.”

O’Conner played for a number of travel baseball organizations growing up then spent two years while in high school with coaches Dan Held and Quinn Moore and the Indiana Bulls.

Justin is the son of Muncie’s Randy and Kim O’Conner and has an older brother and a younger sister.

Jacob O’Conner is in law school in Cincinnati. Kirsten O’Conner, a former Ball State University softball player, is a nutritionist in Illinois.

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Justin O’Conner, who was Indiana’s Mr. Baseball at Cowan Junior/Senior High School and a first-round draft selection of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, is now with the independent St. Paul Saints. Released by the San Francisco Giants organization, the catcher signed with the team shortly before the beginning of the 2018 season. (St. Paul Saints Photo)

Versatile VanMeter seeking opportunties in Reds organization

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Versatility is valued by the Cincinnati Reds.

That’s why they have Josh VanMeter playing multiple positions for the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos.

“I take more than one glove to the park everyday,” says VanMeter, a 2013 Norwell High School graduate who has played third base, left field and first base in his last 10 games and is listed on his MiLB.com profile as a second baseman. “It’s good for my career to play many different spots. I’ve definitely enjoyed it.”

Dick Schofield, a former major league shortstop, is Pensacola’s defensive and third base coach and has helped VanMeter with positioning and attacking the ball.

While guiding Pensacola into a Southern League playoff berth, Blue Wahoos manager Pat Kelly has continued to get at-bats for lefty-swinging VanMeter.

“(Kelly) likes the way I go about my business,” says VanMeter, a 5-foot-11, 165-pounder. “I’m a guy who plays the game the right way. I give you competitive at-bats day in and day out.

“Show up and compete. That’s a big thing in the game of baseball.”

In his first 125 games and 451 at-bats at Double-A, VanMeter was hitting .264 with five home runs, one triple, 29 doubles, 52 runs batted in, 45 runs scored and 15 stolen bases.

With Gookie Dawkins as his hitting coach, VanMeter says he is improving his knowledge of the strike zone.

“You learn to lay off the tough pitches, especially with two strikes,” says VanMeter, 22. “It’s about not missing good pitches to hit.”

VanMeter was traded by the San Diego Padres to the Reds organization Dec. 9, 2016 and was told by agent Joe Speed how that would increase his opportunities. He was selected by San Diego in the fifth round of the 2013 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

He had committed to play at Illinois State University, but decided to go pro and signed with area scout Mark Conner (now director of scouting for the Padres).

“The opportunity to go straight into pro baseball was something I couldn’t pass up,” says VanMeter. “I thought I was mentally ready to play baseball everyday

“I promised my mom after I got drafted I would someday get my degree.”

Josh is the middle child of Greg and Amy VanMeter. Older brother Tyler played high school soccer. Younger sister Carlie was a cheerleader at Norwell and is now on the cheer squad at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne.

After closing his record-setting Norwell career with a Class 3A Indiana state championship, Josh VanMeter played for the Arizona League Padres that summer before spending all of 2014 with the Low Class-A Fort Wayne TinCaps.

In April 2015, VanMeter suffered a leg injury while turning a double play at second base. Playing at Fort Wayne’s Parkview Field, he collided with Lansing Lugnuts runner Rowdy Tellez. The result was a broken left fibula and months of grueling physical rehabilitation.

VanMeter walked on an aqua treadmill with the water level lowered every two days. He underwent painful deep tissue massage stop the build-up scar tissue. He did end up playing 25 games in Fort Wayne in 2015 before moving on to High Class-A Lake Elsinore then Double-A San Antonio as well as the Arizona Fall League in 2016.

He split his time between second base and shortstop in 2013 and 2014, played second base in 2015 and was a third baseman in 2016.

So popular was VanMeter — the first player from northeast Indiana to play for the TinCaps — that president Mike Nutter decided to honor the player with his own bobblehead.

“It was pretty special,” says VanMeter. “Pat Kelly made a big deal about it in spring training. Getting to play in Fort Wayne was special that year and a half.”

VanMeter played travel baseball from 2007-12 with the Fort Wayne-based Summit City Sluggers, playing for father Greg (now Sluggers president) and diamond veteran Mark Delalarza.

“That was a great experience,” says Josh VanMeter. “(Delagarza) had a huge impact on me. He taught me to be a man and made me the player I am today. I wouldn’t trade any of that for the world.”

Josh’s profile in the baseball universe raised with his MVP performance while playing fall ball for the Andy Slack-coached Reds Midwest Scout Team at the Perfect Game Kernels Foundation tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2012.

Playing for coach Andy McClain at Norwell, three-time all-stater VanMeter set school records for career doubles (44) and single-season pitching wins (14) and walks (41) while tying for single-season home runs (9) in 2013 and single-season hits (53) and doubles (20) in 2011. The win record had been held by Jarrod Parker, who went on to pitch in the big leagues.

“(McClain) is always there for me,” says VanMeter. “He’s just a great person. He has held me accountable.”

During the state title run, VanMeter saw how McClain handled a team featuring 10 seniors.

“We knew what we had to do to win a state championship,” says VanMeter, who scored both runs on hits by Jonah Patten in a 2-1 win against Jasper. “He gave us a lot of freedom and that was good for us.”

With VanMeter at point guard, Norwell was a 3A basketball state runner-up in 2012. He went on to become a school record holder for 3-pointers, No. 2 in all-time scoring and third in assists.

“High school with him was a lot of fun,” says Greg VanMeter, who was calling much of action on the internet for www.wellscountyvoice.com. The site covers Knights football, boys basketball, girls basketball and baseball games.

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Josh VanMeter, a 2013 Norwell High School graduate, is in his first season in the Cincinnati Reds organization with the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in 2017. (Barrett McClean/Pensacola Blue Wahoos Photo)