Tag Archives: Perfect Game

Indiana native Sweeney has college, pro diamond experiences in Florida

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jake Sweeney has gained much knowledge on a baseball field in 2019.

The tall teenager experienced his lone collegiate season and his first taste of pro ball.

A 6-foot-7, 240-pound left-handed pitcher, the 2018 Hobart (Ind.) High School graduate competed for Pensacola (Fla.) State College in the spring and the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Gulf Coast League affiliate in the summer.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself and the game,” says Sweeney, who made his last appearance of the GCL season Aug. 28. “I learned how to pitch, control myself out on the mound and stick to the things I know how to do and not try to out-stretch myself.”

Sweeney pitched in 10 mound games (all starts) and went 2-5 with an 8.13 earned run average, 42 strikeouts and 46 walks in 31 innings at Pensacola State before being selected in the 36th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pirates June 5. His 19th birthday was June 14.

His professional debut came on June 28. While he walked two batters in three of his first five outings, he did strike out three in a 13-pitch performance on July 29. After throwing five of his first 24 pitches for strikes, he wound up at 80-of-146 for the season under the guidance of pitching coach and former big leaguer Fernando Nieve.

Sweeney hurled in 13 games (all in relief), going 0-2 with a 3.45 ERA, 12 strikeouts and 15 walks in 15 2/3 innings. After a brief visit with family a friends in northwest Indiana, Sweeney returns to Bradenton, Fla., on Sept. 8 for three weeks of instructional league.

“We’ll have one thing we need to get better at,” says Sweeney of his mission at instructs. “We’ll stick with it and build off of that.”

Sometime after instructional league, Sweeney says he expects to be back in Pensacola to work out in preparation for 2020.

Does he consider himself a starter or reliever?

“It’s up to (the Pirates) organization,” says Sweeney. “I like starting.

“I’ll do my job and keep moving up in levels.”

In college and the minors, Sweeney got accustomed to spending many hours at the field, between practice, running, weight training and games.

“It was a grind,” says Sweeney. “I had to get used to it.”

At Pensacola, Sweeney played for head coach Brian Lewallyn. His pitching coach was Karsten Whitson (now a volunteer assistant at the University of South Florida).

“(Lewallyn) makes you accountable for everything and gives you real-life advice,” says Sweeney. “He’s always there for us.”

Sweeney says he also formed a quick bond with Whitson, who helped him develop his pitch selection.

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Sweeney uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball and a “circle” change-up that drops off the table with 12-to-6 action.

“(Left-handers) get a lot of sink and run with fastballs,” says Sweeney.

But it’s his slider that has been his strikeout pitch.

“I have a good spin rate on my slider,” says Sweeney. “There’s a downward tilt to it. It’s not a true slider. It’s more of a slurve.”

The son of Tim and Shelly Sweeney and older brother of Hailey Sweeney (now a senior at Wheeler High School), Jake was born in Merrillville, Ind., and grew up in Hobart. His first organized baseball came at Hobart Little League. He later played travel baseball for the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Prospects and Team DeMarini Illinois.

As a multi-sport athlete, Sweeney raced for the Union Township Swim Club from ages 5 to 14 and played basketball through high school. He took the court with A2P in the off-season and spent two prep seasons at Andrean High School and one at Hobart.

“I got a lot of rebounds and was very aggressive on the court,” says Sweeney of basketball, a sport he put to the side to concentrate on baseball.

Sweeney played his first two high school diamond campaigns for the Andrean 59ers and one for the Hobart Brickies, playing for Bob Glover.

“We had a very short time together,” says Sweeney of Glover. “He’s a great guy.”

As a senior, Sweeney pitched in the 2018 Perfect Game Spring League in Iowa on weekends and attended classes at Hobart during the week. After graduation, he headed to Florida to begin the college experience.

And the experiences have just kept coming for the big left-hander.

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Jake Sweeney, who grew up in Hobart, Ind., pitched one season at Pensacola (Fla.) State College in 2019 and was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He is a 6-foot-7, 240-pound left-hander. (Pensacola State College Photo)

 

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Mental toughness helps Batesville, Louisville grad Hoeing land in Marlins system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Bryan Hoeing has been pushed as an athlete and a person throughout his life.

And that’s the way he likes it.

Now a 22-year-old right-handed pitcher in the Miami Marlins minor league system, Hoeing grew up as the youngest son of a mother who was a standout athlete in her time then a coach and educator.

Donna (Lamping) Hoeing is in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. She was a standout at Batesville (Ind.) High School and Ball State University and then coached at Batesville.

When Bryan was 3 (brother Mike is two years older), his father John died of a seizure and Donna was left to raise the two youngsters.

“I like to say I got some athletic genes from her,” says Bryan Hoeing of his mother. “She was single parent, raising me and my brother.

“She found time to make us better athletes and people.”

Donna Hoeing retired two years ago after more than 30 years as a math teacher.

Bryan Hoeing’s head baseball coach at Batesville High School was Alex Davis. With the Bulldogs, Bryan was an Under Armour All-American (2014), ranked No. 131 in his class as well as fourth overall and No. 3 as right-handed pitcher in Indiana by Perfect Game (2015).

He was all-state and a Eastern Indiana Athletic Conference MVP as a junior (2014). The 6-foot-6 athlete earned four letters in baseball and basketball, where he was all-state on the court and also academic all-state.

Besides his mother, sibling and high school coaches, Bryan learned from other coaches and teammates, playing youth baseball in Batesville then the Indiana Bulls travel organization during his teens. Some of his Bulls coaches were Rick Stiner, Quinn Moore, Todd Bacon, Dan Held, Jered Moore and Tony Cookerly.

“I met a lot of great coaches,” says Hoeing. “They helped me develop my craft as a baseball player. My teammates pushed me. They made me want to work even harder.

“(The Bulls) gave me exposure to the college world.”

When it came time to choose a place to play college baseball, Hoeing decided to go about two hours down the road at the University of Louisville, where his mother, brother and extended family and friends could see him play, and be led by head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

“(McDonnell) did a very good job of motivating us. He said this program is not for everybody. It’s for the right people. You have to buy into his system and trust the way he coaches. It definitely works out.”

Hoeing was selected three times in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — 2015 by the Arizona Diamondbacks (32nd round), 2018 by the San Francisco Giants (36th round) and 2019 by the Miami Marlins (seventh round).

The lanky righty was a redshirt at Louisville in 2016 and pitched for the Cardinals for three seasons (2017-19). He appeared in 52 games (14 starts) and went 10-4 with a 3.34 earned run average, 130 strikeouts and 50 walks in 139 2/3 innings.

In 2019 at U of L, Hoeing took the mound in 22 games (five starts) and was 3-2 with a 2.66 ERA, 61 strikeouts and 12 walks in 50 2/3 innings.

Throwing from a three-quarter overhand arm angle, Hoeing employs a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cutter, curveball and change-up.

The curveball breaks 1-to-7 on the clock.

“It’s not a true 12-to-6,” says Hoeing. “My change-up dives late. It goes down and in to a righty and down and away to a lefty.”

Hoeing opted to return to Louisville for 2019 to complete his sport administration degree and to reach some teach goals. The Cards (51-18) won the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and made it to the College World Series.

Each fall around Thanksgiving, the Louisville squad is split into two groups and competes in team-building activities known as a the “Omaha Challenge.”

“It’s mentally and physically tough,” says Hoeing. “It’s mind over matter. You push yourself and push your teammates because there are times during the season that you’ll have to do that.

“You have to believe and trust in the process.”

Like McDonnell, Hoeing describes Williams’ approach as business-like.

“He wants you to get your work done and be consistent,” says Hoeing. “Roger was really good with approach. He’s a mastermind with pitch calling and what to do in certain situations. He helps you with the mental side of pitching.

“(McDonnell and Williams) are very advanced for the college level.”

The Marlins assigned Hoeing to the New York-Penn League’s Batavia (N.Y.) Muckdogs. In eight games (all in relief), he is 0-2 with a 4.26 ERA, 14 strikeouts and five walks in 19 innings. Batavia is in the thick of the pennant race. The regular season ends Sept. 2. If the Muckdogs make the playoffs, they could play until mid-September.

Marlins instructional league in Florida is scheduled for Sept. 8-27 and Hoeing has been told to attend. After that, he says he will likely come back to Batesville, seek an off-season job and find a place to work out while getting ready for 2020.

Now that Hoeing is a pro, baseball is his job. Most of his waking hours is devoted to it. He is learning about people from other countries and what it’s like to get one day off a month and to ride on buses for long distances.

“All around, it’s been good,” says Hoeing. “I’m adjusting to it well.”

Hoeing has also been helped along his baseball path by Alex Meyer, a cousin from his father’s side of the family (Alex’s mother Sandy was a sister to John Hoeing).

Meyer, a 6-foot-9 right-hander, went to Greensburg (Ind.) High School, the University of Kentucky pitched for three seasons in the big leagues with the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Angels and retired in June.

“He helped me with the approach to the game, the mindset and how you go about your day,” says Hoeing of Meyer. “You trust your stuff. You don’t ever doubt your ability. You believe in yourself.”

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Bryan Hoeing, a graduate of Batesville (Ind.) High School and the University of Louisville, is now a pitcher in the Miami Marlins system. (Batavia Muckdogs Photo)

 

‘Late bloomer’ Cantleberry pitching in Dodgers system

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jacob Cantleberry was well into his teens before he became serious about baseball.

Now it’s his profession.

Cantleberry was born in Indianapolis and grew up in Greenwood, Ind., and was more into golf and basketball.

Baseball?

“I was a late bloomer,” says Cantleberry, who is now a 6-foot-1, 180-pound left-handed pitcher in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. “I was pretty athletic and thought, ‘maybe I can do this?’ I started out as an outfielder. I got into pitching when I couldn’t hit anything above 86 (mph).”

Cantleberry was a Perfect Game Preseason Underclass All-American in 2015, a two-time Daily Journal Player of the Year under the guidance of head coach Keith Hatfield at Center Grove High School, graduating in 2016.

As a senior, Cantleberry was ranked as Perfect Game’s No. 3 left-handed pitcher and No. 11 recruit as well as a PG Central Regional Preseason All-American. He became an all-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference honoree and the Johnson County Player of the Year. He traveled two summers as a high schooler for the Indiana Bulls.

After high school, two seasons were spent at San Jacinto College in Houston, Texas, where he learned from head coach Tom Arrington and pitching coach Eric Weaver and one at the University of Missouri, where Steve Bieser was head coach and Fred Corral pitching coach.

Cantleberry was surrounded by many future pros at San Jacinto.

“(Arrington and Weaver) taught me how to compete,” says Cantleberry. “They were very good with basic stuff, like how to work hitters.”

As a San Jacinto freshman in 2017, National Junior College Athletic Association All-American Cantleberry made 16 starts and was 11-1 with a 1.73 earned run average, 89 strikeouts in 78 innings. The Gators, which have made 25 NJCAA World Series appearances, were national runners-up.

In 2018, Cantleberry made 16 starts and was 12-3 with a 3.32 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 76 innings.

At Missouri, Cantleberry became a Friday night starter and went against Southeastern Conference batsmen.

“They have studs — 1 through 9 — in every single lineup,” says Cantleberry of the SEC, which had 91 players chosen in the MLB draft in 2019.

“I had a really good time and I learned a ton,” says Cantleberry of his experience at Mizzou. “The SEC is the best amateur baseball conference in the country.

“There was a big learning curve, but (Bieser and Corral) were accommodating.”

Cantleberry says his coaches insisted that their players did the little things right.

“They were very detail-oriented,” says Cantleberry. “That’s going to help me a lot to further my career.”

Every bullpen session at Mizzou, a chart was kept with a point system to track what pitches landed and in what counts.

“It would give you that performance grade afterward,” says Cantleberry. “There was focus and intent on every single pitch I threw — even in practice.”

The southpaw made 16 appearances (12 starts) for the Tigers and was 4-5 with a 4.73 ERA. In 72 1/3 innings, he racked up 97 strikeouts and 31 walks.

After a two-inning stint Aug. 26 in which he got the win for the Pioneer League’s Ogden (Utah) Raptors, Cantleberry has made 15 mound appearances (all in relief) and is 2-1 with a 1.25 ERA between Ogden and the Arizona League Mota Dodgers. In 21 2/3 innings, he has 28 K’s and eight walks.

The regular season ends Sept. 2. Ogden has made the playoffs. At the end of that run, Cantleberry will head to Glendale, Ariz., for fall instructional league. Since has already logged plenty of innings between college and pro in 2019, he will go there to work out.

After spending sometime back in Greenwood, Cantleberry says he will decide where he will spent the off-season getting ready for 2020.

The middle child of Rick and Connie Cantleberry, Jacob has two sisters. Devin is older and Riquel is younger.

Jacob is one year away from finishing a degree in rehabilitative health science. He is focusing on baseball for now.

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Jacob Cantleberry is a left-handed pitcher for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. He is a graduate of Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., and San Jacinto College in Houston, Texas, and pitched one season at the University of Missouri. (Ogden Raptors Photo)

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Jacob Cantleberry shows the left-handed pitching form that got him selected in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. A former Center Grove High School, San Jacinto College and University of Missouri pitcher, he is now with the Ogden (Utah) Raptors. (Ogden Raptors Photo)

 

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)

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.

JESSEWILKENING

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)