Tag Archives: Pittsburgh Pirates

Former McCutcheon, Indiana slugger Sowers displaying power as pro rookie in White Sox system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Logan Sowers has made a habit of clobbering baseballs since his days at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Ind.

As Indiana Mr. Baseball in 2014, the righty-swinging Sowers slugged 11 home runs while hitting .365 with 30 runs batted in and a .514 on-base percentage.

“I consider myself a power hitter,” says Sowers, 22. “I had pretty good power numbers in college and high school.”

That trend has continued in his first professional season with the Chicago White Sox organization.

Sowers was drafted in the 28th round of 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox after playing fours seasons at Indiana University (2015-18) and headed to the Short-Season Class-A Pioneer League to play for the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers.

“I’m really grateful I was drafted by the White Sox,” says Sowers. “They are first class.

“The coaches are really positive and know a lot about the game of baseball. They understand the grind. They know what we’re going through. They’re good about accommodating us in every way possible.”

Tim Esmay is the Great Falls manager. Eric Richardson, who played for the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks in 1994 and 1995, is the Voyagers hitting coach.

Sowers’ first pro homer came in his fourth game on June 20 against Billings.

Playing in the outfield, Sowers helped Great Falls win the PL North Division in the first half of the split season. Through his first 47 games, he was hitting .318 with seven homers, 11 doubles, 26 RBIs with .411 on-base and .518 slugging averages. He started in center field in the Pioneer/Northwest League All-Star Game.

At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Sowers says his power comes from a mixture of size, strength and bat speed.

The dimensions of Centene Stadium in Great Falls is 328 feet down the left field line, 415 to center and 335 down the line in right. Most of his road dingers have been of the opposite-field variety.

“I have long arms and can get great leverage,” says Sowers, who clubbed five of his first seven long balls away from Great Falls. “When I get extended I can hit the ball pretty far.

“Baseball going toward launch angles. But I’m just trying to hit the ball hard.”

Working hard is what was expected by Sowers’ head coach at McCutcheon —  Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

“He taught me work ethic and was a big stickler for showing up on time and behaving yourself outside of baseball,” says Sowers. “Was he old school? You could definitely say that.”

“Playing in high school was when I found my true talent for baseball. I was good growing up. Then I started putting it a lot of time outside of school practices.”

A third baseman on the freshman team in 2011, Sowers was an outfielder on the Mavericks varsity 2012-14.

Logan went to the batting cages with his father, Shawn Sowers, and got regular pointers during his  high school and college years from former Purdue University and minor league player Jordan Comadena (who is now bullpen catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates).

An IHSBCA all-stater who played in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Richmond in 2014, Sowers was selected in the 31st round of that years’s MLB draft by the San Diego Padres. After weighing his options to go pro out of high school or attend college, he decided to attend Indiana University to play for the Hoosiers and study recreational sport management.

Recruited to IU by Tracy Smith, Sowers was given permission to talk with other schools when Smith left Bloomington, Ind., to become head coach at Arizona State University.

A meeting with incoming head coach Chris Lemonis convinced Sowers to stay committed to Indiana and he played there for four seasons (2015-18), hitting .281 with 37 home runs, 50 doubles, 137 RBIs, a .367 on-base and .480 slugging averages.

“(Lemonis) was big on getting your school work done,” says Sowers. “You’re a student before you’re an athlete.”

Lemonis (now head coach at Mississippi State University) worked with IU’s outfielders and also let his Hoosiers know that time in practice is not good enough to get players to the next level. They had to find time between their studies and team activities to do extra work on their own.

In the summers of 2015 and 2016, Sowers played 38 games in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League — first with the Wareham Gatemen and then the Orleans Firebirds.

Sowers completed all his classwork toward his degree and now just needs to complete an internship, which he says he plans to do next baseball off-season.

Great Falls, which takes bus rides of up to four hours for North Division opponents and treks up to 15 hours for South Division clubs, wraps the regular season Sept. 3, followed by the playoffs.

At season’s end, Sowers says he plans to come back to Lafayette for a few days and then head back to Bloomington to train and pursue a part-time job.

Born in Royal Oak, Mich., Logan lived briefly in Indianapolis, but he spent much of his life in Lafayette, where his father is now a project manager in the IT office service management at Purdue University. Shawn and Valerie Sowers have three children — Madison, Logan and Adrienne.

Logan played travel baseball for the Indiana Pony Express, McCutcheon league and Indiana Eagles before one summer with the Indiana Bulls.

Michael McCormick, a pitcher and Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, is also a member of the Great Falls Voyagers.

After Great Falls, the minor league steps on the White Sox ladder are Kannapolis (Low-A), Winston-Salem (High-A), Birmingham (Double-A) and Charlotte (Triple-A).

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Logan Sowers, a former McCutcheon High School and Indiana University slugger, is putting up power numbers in his first professional baseball season. (Great Falls Voyagers Photo)

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Logan Stevens was Indiana Mr. Baseball at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette and put up power numbers in four seasons at Indiana University. He is now with the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers. (Tianna Stevens Photo)

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Logan Sowers was named to the Pioneer/Northwest League All-Star Game as a member of the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers in the Chicago White Sox system. (Tianna Stevens Photo)

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Through 47 games with the 2018 Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers of the Pioneer League, former McCutcheon High School and Indiana University outfielder Logan Sowers was hitting .318 with seven home runs, 11 doubles and 26 runs batted in. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in June. (Tianna Stevens Photo)

 

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Former Mt. Vernon (Fortville), Miami U. lefty now following routine in Pirates organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sticking to his daily routine, Zach Spears is finding out what it means to pitch as a professional.

“It’s executing what you’re trying to do and staying on top of things at all times,” says Spears, who was selected in the eighth round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He is a 2015 graduate of Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville, Ind.

Through games on June 28, the 6-foot-7, 230-pound left-hander had made two appearances (both as a starter) for the West Virginia Black Bears of the Short-Season Class-A New York-Penn League and was 0-0 with a 2.25 earned run average, no strikeouts and two walks in four innings.

“In my routine to prepare for a start, I’m activating the arm,” says Spears. “I get the body moving before I pick up a ball. When I pick up the ball, I don’t want to have any tightness or anything like that. I do band work to get my whole entire body loose.”

Spears throws a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, slider and “circle” changeup from a three-quarter overhand arm slot. His velocity ranges from 89 to 95 mph on his fastball, 76 to 80 mph on his slider and 82 to 85 mph on his change-up.

“My fastballs have a lot of arm-side movement,” says Spears. “It’s real important to change speeds and keep the hitters off-balance.”

In three seasons at Miami, the big southpaw was 8-22 with a 4.92 ERA, 216 strikeouts and 126 walks in 212 innings. This spring, he logged 82 innings for MU.

Danny Hayden was the RedHawks head coach and Matt Davis the pitching coach.

Spears, who turned 21 June 3, remembers their advice.

“You’ve got to go about things the right way to be successful,” says Spears. “You can’t be lazy. You have to be prepared at all times to have success.”

Ryan Carr was the head coach and Brian Downs the pitching coach in Spears’ last season at Mt. Vernon.

“They told me to go out there and have fun,” says Spears. “Approach the game with a positive, hard-working attitude and just trust yourself and compete.

“It’s helped me.”

Spears has one more year of college left. He was a sport management major with a minor in marketing and management at minor.

How does he plan to use that education?

“I’d like to go into some kind of real estate,” says Spears. “It’s got a sales side I enjoy. I like to be hands-on doing things.”

Baseball life for got rolling for Spears at the Mount Vernon Optimists League. He played two years of travel ball in high school with the Pony Express.

Zach is the younger of Pat and Deb Spears’ three children. There is older brother Andy and older sister Elizabeth.

The next steps in the Pirates system are the Low Class-A West Virginia Power, High Class-A Bradenton Marauders, Double-A Altoona Curve and Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. The Black Bears play on the turf at Monongalia County Ballpark in Granville, W.Va.

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Zach Spears, a 6-foot-7 left-hander drafted out of Miami University of Ohio by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018 is now with the West Virginia Black Bears. He is a graduate of Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville, Ind. (West Virginia Black Bears Photo)

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Former Mt. Vernon (Fortville) High School and Miami University of Ohio pitcher Zach Spears (67) is now with the West Virginia Black Bears in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. (West Virginia Black Bears)

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Former Mt. Vernon (Fortville) High School and Miami University of Ohio pitcher Zach Spears (67) is now with the West Virginia Black Bears in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. He was an eighth-round MLB Draft selection in 2018. (West Virginia Black Bears)

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.

 

Aggressive style has Estep, University Trailblazers baseball in 1A semistate

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Chris Estep, his coaching staff and players have built a culture of confidence for the University High School baseball.

“The kids have bought into what we’re trying to do as a program,” says Estep, the head coach that has his Trailblazers (27-6) meetings Tecumseh (20-9) in the IHSAA Class 1A Plainfield Semistate at 1 p.m. EST Saturday, June 9. “When we run out on to the field we can play with anybody.”

What is the root that confidence?

“It’s how we’ve structured practices,” says Estep. “We make practices run faster.”

In practices — and games — University pushes the limits on offensive and defense.

“We want to be very, very aggressive,” says Estep. “The last thing we want to see is a kid afraid to make a mistake. The more aggressive you are, the more chance you’ll have to make aggressive plays.

“You can not expect a kid to make a great play if they don’t practice making great plays.”

University, a private school of just under 300 students located in Carmel which played in its first IHSAA tournament in 2007, won the University Sectional and the Morristown Regional to find itself one win short of going to Victory Field in Indianapolis for the 1A state championship game.

Estep, who is supported by assistants Reid Andrews, Michael Thompson and Steve Nerney and athletic director John Walls, points to the regional to show how his players are prepared deal with misfortune on the diamond.

The Trailblazers were up 2-0 in the semifinals against Indianapolis Lutheran only to find themselves down 4-3 in the next inning. They came back with a 9-4 victory.

The championship game was tied 0-0 going into the seventh inning. Estep saw a pinch-hitter foul off pitches to get to a full count and University went on to score three runs in the top of the frame and then hold Hauser for a 3-0 win and the regional crown.

“If you can’t handle adversity, you can’t be a champion,” says Estep. “We put them into as many adverse situations as we can and ask them to go out and make a play.

“You never know when it’s going to be your time and you better be ready to answer the bell.”

The aim is to play as close to flawless as possible and make up for any mistakes that do happen.

“There’s really no such thing as a perfect game,” says Estep. “But if we try, we will give ourselves the opportunity to win.”

There are 18 players in the program in 2018.

University is a member of the Pioneer Conference (along with baseball-playing schools Anderson Preparatory Academy, Bethesda Christian in Brownsburg, Greenwood Christian, Indianapolis Shortridge, Liberty Christian in Anderson, Muncie Burris and Seton Catholic in Richmond). The Traliblazers went 7-0 this spring to win the conference title.

Top University pitchers include senior right-hander Cade Carlson (committed to Northwood University in Midland, Mich.), junior right-hander Brock Moore and senior right-hander Garrett Hill (Purdue Fort Wayne commit). When not pitching, the three rotate between first base and third base.

Hill, junior shortstop Dawson Estep (the coach’s son), Moore, freshman left fielder and senior center fielder Ryan Williams (committed to Morehouse College in Atlanta) are among the Trailblazers’ leading hitters.

Coach Estep calls No. 9 hitter Williams “a major catalyst” with “speed to burn.”

Estep watched junior catcher Kolton Stevens fight through hot conditions to shine in the regional.

“He caught best two games I’ve ever seen a kid catch,” says Estep. “I can’t tell you how balls he blocked.

“Nobody ever notices that position until there is a mistake.

“He was absolutely phenomenal.”

It’s phenomenal plays or games that earns players the right to wear the “U chain”.

Borrowed from the University of Miami football “turnover chain,” Andrews brought the motivating bling to University baseball in 2017.

“Miami’s ‘The U’ and we’re the ‘The U,’” says Estep. “It’s been (Andrews’) baby. He hangs the ‘U chain’ on the fence before games. He awards it to a kid and pictures are taken. Kids are excited for whoever gets the ‘U chain.’”

Also for the second year, the “U” took a southern trip at the beginning of the season. The Traliblazers played in Tennessee.

The squad got away and spent quality time together at the ballpark and the breakfast table.

“It’s really important for team camaraderie,” says Estep. “We went and played four games then released them to spring break. When they came back, we got back to work.”

Estep, 51, has been working as a baseball instructor for decades. His Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield is coming up in 25 years.

“It found me out more than I found it,” says Estep.

He grew up on the east side of Indianapolis and played wiffleball, basketball and football and, of course, baseball. Organized ball came at Christian Park, where he played for John Gannon.

“He was the greatest youth coach in the history of Little League,” says Estep of Gannon, who is expected to be at Saturday’s semistate. “He’s a legend. “He made sure we all stayed out of trouble. He was an unbelievable mentor to kids.”

A 1985 Carmel High School graduate (he played his first two prep seasons at Indianapolis Cathedral before his family moved), Estep was an outfielder at the University of Kentucky for two seasons and was selected in the 12th round of the 1988 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played at the Double-A level in 1991 and 1992.

While he was still a professional player, he was approached by a parent about giving lessons to one of their sons. They were impressed enough to bring another son to him. Before you knew it, Estep had a long list of students and less and less time to work out himself.

“Even though I didn’t hit very well, I understood the processes for hitting and defense,” says Estep, who now sees to the needs of many baseball and softball players. “The girls are quicker learners and they’ll do whatever they tell them. The boys will fight you on it.”

Roundtripper alums include Jeremy Hazelbaker, Tommy Hunter, Lance Lynn, Dillon Peters, Kevin Plawecki, Micah Johnson, Drew Storen and Chris Ulrey.

Extra-busy giving lessons and running the Indiana Mustangs travel organization, Estep put up a fight when he was approached repeated by a former University administrator a decade ago.

“He would not leave me alone,” says Estep. “He said, ‘If you don’t do it, these kids can’t play.’ That got me. I called my wife and begged for forgiveness that I took on another job.

When we first started I couldn’t have weekend games because of the workload. The school made it work. Now we play every weekend. The program’s worth it. I’m willing to pay a little extra price — my family is, too, though my wife doesn’t like me very well.”

Besides Dawson, Chris and Sue Estep have an older son (Chandler, who plays football at Elon University in North Carolina) and a younger daughter (Jasmine, a talented athlete who is headed into the ninth grade).

For Estep to be close to his business, University began playing its home games at Roundtripper and still does.

His first team was overmatched. The first game was a 32-0 loss.

“They were the the kids that always got chosen last,” says Estep. “But that team set the standard. This is where we built from. This present team has an attitude that they’re going to fight you to the bitter end.

“I love them for that.”

Estep does not love the IHSAA decision to suspend Indianapolis Scecina junior right-hander Mac Ayres (who is also in the Mustangs organization) for the 2A Jasper Semistate. Ayres went over the IHSAA pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days) in the Park Tudor Regional and the violation was self-reported by Scecina coach Dave Gandolph.

“It was a clerical/addition error,” says Estep. “(Scecina coaches) thought they were taking a kid out on 119 pitches for two games.

“There was no malice there. Now the kid is going to be penalized.”

If Estep had his way, pitch counts would be tracked in an official book in the press box and not with the home team. The scorekeeper would let the teams and umpires know how many pitches a player had going into the next game. When they got to 110, the coaches would be alerted.

“It should be a drop-dead (when the limit is reached),” says Estep. “You stop and make a pitching change.”

IHSAA SEMISTATES

Saturday, June 9

North

Kokomo

(Municipal Stadium)

Class 1A: Northfield (16-14) vs. Daleville (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Andrean (29-6) vs. Jay County (20-6), following.

Plymouth

Class 2A: Boone Grove (19-5) vs. Lafayette Central Catholic (26-4), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Chesterton (18-7) vs. Fishers (27-7), following.

South

Plainfield

Class 1A: University (27-6) vs. Tecumseh (20-9), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 4A: Indianapolis Cathedral (21-8-1) vs. Castle (22-8), following.

Jasper

(Ruxer Field)

Class 2A: Indianapolis Scecina (13-15-1) vs. Southridge (24-6), Noon CST/1 p.m. EST.

Class 3A: Indian Creek (24-5) vs. Silver Creek (24-2), following.

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University High School head coach Chris Estep wears the “U chain” and assistant Reid Andrews holds the cake celebrating Estep’s 100th career win with the Trailblazers.

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University High School won the IHSAA Class 1A University Sectional and Morristown Regional and will play Saturday, June 9 in the Plainfield Sectional. Chris Estep is the head coach of the Trailblazers.

 

 

Baseball scout Machemer keeps eyes peeled for talent

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dave Machemer’s eyes have seen a great deal of baseball.

A Benton Harbor (Mich.) High School graduate, Machemer played at Central Michigan University and was selected in the fourth round of the 1972 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the California Angels.

Used mostly as a second baseman, Machemer played in 29 MLB games — 10 with the 1978 Angels and 19 with the 1979 Detroit Tigers.

Machmer’s manager in California was Jim Fregosi. His only career home run came in his first big league at-bat — a lead-off shot against Minnesota Twins left-hander Geoff Zahn on June 21, 1978 at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. That was one week after Sparky Anderson took over as Detroit manager.

Over 11 minor league seasons and stints with the Angels, Tigers, Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins organizations, Machmer batted .277 with 1,078 hits in 1,126 games played. He spent short stints with the Jim Leyland-managed Evansville Triplets in 1979 and 1980.

Leyland went on to manage in the majors with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Florida Marlins, Colorado Rockies and then the Tigers.

Cal Ermer, who won more than 1,900 games in the minors, was Machemer’s manager in Toledo.

Machemer would win nearly 1,700 contests as the main man in the dugout from 1985 to 2013 and also was employed five years as a coordinator.

His managing career began in the Midwest League with the 1985 Beloit Brewers. He went on to manage clubs in Stockton, El Paso and Denver for the Brewers, Delmarva, Rochester, Frederick and Bowie for the Baltimore Orioles, Clinton and Harrisburg for the Montreal Expos and Norwich, Connecticut, Arizona, Augusta and Richmond for the San Francisco Giants.

He took the 1986 Stockton Ports to the California League title, skippered Mexicali to 1989 Mexican Pacific League title and the Caribbean World Series, earned Texas League Manager of the Year with the 1996 El Paso Diablos and guided the 2008 Arizona Giants to the rookie-level Arizona League championship.

Machamer managed a number of future big leaguers, including Gary Sheffield at High Class-A, Double-A and Triple-A, Brian Roberts at High-A and Double-A, Jayson Werth at Low-A and Double-A and B.J. Surhoff at Low-A.

“I loved managing the game and the strategy and competition that I had with other managers,” says Machemer. “I thought I did it well.

“Managing is all about development and winning. Nowadays, the focus is not on winning. It’s about player development.”

Bruce Manno, minor league director when Machemer was with that organization, was liked to win.

“He said, ‘Mac, winning and player development go hand-in-hand because when you win those players get developed,’” says Machemer. “I always believed in that.

“You always had more fun when you won and you developed a winning attitude and a good solid player at the next level to eventual help you win in the major leagues.

“If you don’t win, what’s the game all about?”

The baseball lifer is now in his fifth year as a scout for the Orioles — the first on the amateur side tracking the best high school and college players for the MLB Draft and the past two on the pro side for trades and acquisitions.

In 2017, he traveled from coast to coast and in Latin America and racked up 120 nights at the Marriott while seeing players from Low Class-A to the majors.

“It’s not all bad,” says Machemer. “I get a lot of frequent flyer miles.”

Most of that flying is out of South Bend International Airport.

Machemer, who turns 67 in May, spent a month in Arizona for spring training intently watching players — using those eyes.

“(The Orioles) do a lot of sabermetrics and analysis through computers,” says Machemer. “I don’t. I go with my eyes and my heart and my experience.

“(Executive vice president) Dan Duquette believes in that and we’re still doing it a lot that way and I like it.”

Machemer notes that MLB organizations let 60 scouts go at the end of 2017 that do what he does.

“They’re handing the ball off to a lot of people who sit in the office and go over the numbers and watch a lot of it on television,” says Machemer, who worked with Duquette with the Expos and again with the Brewers. “Dan hasn’t done that yet and I hope he doesn’t.”

When Machemer joined the Orioles scouting staff in 2014 and began taking marching orders from scouting director Gary Rajsich, he was made a national cross checker. He spent three years assessing mostly players who wound up being drafted in the first two rounds.

His role changed last year. He recently returned from spring training where he followed key players on five MLB teams, but was also responsible for everyone he saw on the field. Players might have been out of options or would help the O’s with their Triple-A depth.

Machemer, who got his first taste of scouting in 2007 when the Giants sent him on the road for three months with renowned advance scout Ted Uhlaender, was looking for things like athleticism, arm strength and bat speed and submitting reports.

Since teams do their pre-game work on back fields during the spring, Machemer had to rely on just what he saw in games.

“You have to be very, very astute to be able to evaluate a guy on a couple different plays or couple at-bats,” says Machemer. “It’s not an easy job. It’s hard.”

Machemer would watch teams for five or six games in a row and then move on to the next team.

“I’m hoping to see something in that five or six games that excites me a little bit,” says Machemer. “Maybe I don’t see that this guy’s skills play to the level he should?”

The player in question might be heavy or light on his feet, have a weak or strong arm, slow or quick bat.

“All I can tell them is what I see,” says Machemer. “I pull the trigger and that’s what we all do as scouts. You’ve got to pull the trigger.”

Scouts have to have the ability to project what they think a player is going to be and how they fit into the organization’s plans.

“Every player in this game as they come up is going to have a role,” says Machemer. “As a scout, I put a present role on them and a future role.

“That’s what this game is all about. Can he help us in the big leagues?”

That’s what Machemer’s bosses want to know.

Fernando Tatis Jr., who played for the Fort Wayne TinCaps at 18 in 2017, impressed Machemer in Cactus League play and sees him as a talent that could become an everyday big leaguer.

“When you see guys like a Tatis, you know he’s going to be something in the major leagues,” says Machemer. “It’s for you as a scout to determine what he’s going to be

Machemer was also projecting as a minor league manager.

“Those skilled players I knew were eventually going to start in the big leagues,” says of players like Sheffield, Roberts, Werth and Surhoff. “That was going to be their role.

“Not everyone coming up is going to be an everyday player in the major leagues. I had to zero in on what they needed to get better at and what their role was going to be.”

The player’s idea of their role and the team’s is not always the same.

Such was the case with Machemer as a player. He didn’t always see eye to eye with his managers, including Leyland, about his playing time and his role.

“As a I graduated into managing and player development, I understood it a little more,” says Machemer. “When I got into scouting, I really understood it.”

Machemer learned much for many people over the years. His baseball and football coach at Benton Harbor High was Al Ratcliff.

“He taught me so much about the game and about life,” says Machemer. “That man taught me to the believe in myself and to overcome adversity when the trenches got real deep.”

Ratcliff died March 7 at 93.

Machemer also looks back fondly on his time with his minor league majors Ermer, Jimy Williams, Deron Johnson, Doc Edwards and Joe Morgan. Williams (Toronto Blue Jays, Red Sox, Astros), Edwards (Cleveland Indians) and Morgan (Red Sox) all managed the majors. Johnson was an MLB hitting coach.

“Those guys gave me a piece of them,” says Machemer. “I learned a lot from each and every one of those guys. From them, I kind of developed my own style.

“I’ll never forget those guys. I pay tribute to them for my career. They molded me into who I am.”

While he was managing in the Midwest League, he was approached by South Bend coach Jim Reinebold and the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame took him back to the days that he led his South Bend Clay Colonials against Benton Harbor.

“‘Dave, you played the game as hard as any player I ever saw,’” says Machemer in repeating Reinebold’s comments. “That meant a lot to me. That guy’s a legend and those kind of people are hard to impress. They are cut from a different cloth.”

Does Machemer have his eyes on another managing job?

The only jobs that would pique his interest are managing at the Triple-A or the majors and coaching the bigs.

“I like what I’m doing right now,” says Machemer. “I have a good feel for scouting.”

DAVEMACHEMEREVANSVILLETRIPLETS

Dave Machemer’s long baseball career as a player, manager, coordinator and scout includes two brief stops with the old Evansville Triplets in the Detroit Tigers organization. The Benton Harbor, Mich., resident is now a pro scout for the Baltimore Orioles.

 

Valparaiso graduate Suiter adds Mexico to list of baseball experiences

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s funny how life and baseball works.

Jerrick Suiter is closing up shop at a GNC store in Fort Worth, Texas, when he gets a call to join the Mexican Pacific League pennant chase.

Two days later, the former Valparaiso High School and Texas Christian University standout is off to new experiences with the Venados de Mazatlan.

Suiter, an outfielder, corner infielder and designated hitter in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization, plays his first game South of the Border Dec. 21 and goes 2-for-3 with a run batted in on Christmas Day.

“This is my first time in winter ball and first time in Mexico — ever,” says Suiter. “It’s been quite an experience. I’ve learned a lot of Spanish.

“It’s going to help me with my Latin teammates. I can feel what they were going through their first time in the States. I have a greater appreciation for that now.”

When he’s not at the stadium or heading to the gym, Suiter has found time to soak up the sun. The team has set him up in a condo 50 yards from the beach.

Recent daytime temperatures have been in the 70’s and 80’s. It’s been around 40 in north central Texas and in the single digits or lower in northwest Indiana.

Suiter, who has been used primarily as a DH since he had not been throwing much in the off-season, would like to be a part of a couple of championship before reporting to 2018 spring training at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., where he is due Feb. 19 — two weeks before his 25th birthday on March 4.

Mazatlan opened its season Oct. 11 and is closing in on the end of the regular season with hopes of winning the league and a berth in the Caribbean Series (which will bring champions from Mexico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela to Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico).

In Mexico, Suiter has been reunited with Gerardo Alvarez, who managed the Bradenton Marauders in 2017.

After hurting his thumb at the end of spring camp, Suiter played briefly in the High Class-A Florida State League before joining the Altoona Curve of the Double-A Eastern League, where the right-handed swinger hit .285 with 10 home runs, three triples, 20 doubles and 58 runs batted in over 347 at-bats and 100 games.

Altoona beat Trenton to win EL title. Sutter had an RBI in the final game.

If the Pirates give him a promotion, Suiter would play Triple-A baseball with the Indianapolis Indians.

Suiter, who was selected in the 26th round of the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft after three seasons at TCU, made an adjustment in the batter’s box in 2017.

“I was very wide and kind of low,” says Suiter of his stance. “It was killing any chance I had to put some juice into the ball. Now, I’m pretty tall, kind of (Ken) Griffey-esque with my hands a little lower. I see the ball a little bit longer and use my legs more than the rest of my body to generate some power.”

Suiter, who stands 6-foot-4 and currently weighs around 250 pounds, has been an avid lifter for years, but he is not trying to get too big.

“I don’t need to put on much size,” says Suiter, who usually reports to spring training around 250, drops five pounds by the end of camp and five or 10 more during the season. “Size in baseball doesn’t do you any good. It’s going to make you slow and not very flexible. I know how my body works and that I lose weight very quickly. I’m looking to get stronger while leaning out.”

A football, basketball and baseball standout at Valpo (he was the Northwest Indiana Times Male Athlete of the Year in 2011), Suiter got a chance to spend a lot of time on the gridiron and diamond with coach Dave Coyle.

“He was a big discipline guy,” says Suiter of Coyle. “I loved him as a coach. He wanted to the best for his team and for his players.”

Work ethic was important to Coyle just like it was to Eric Suiter, who coached Jerrick and company as they grew up playing sports.

“My dad was extremely hard on me as well as the rest of the team,” says Jerrick. “It made me into the athlete I am today. I couldn’t thank him more for it.”

Jerrick’s father lives in Valpo and mother Jeanette in Chesterton. His sister Danielle Suiter plays volleyball at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. Half-brother Carter just played his first Pop Warner football season in Chesterton. Step-sister Hailey is a student at Purdue University.

Jerrick was working toward a degree in Habilitation of the Deaf/Hard of Hearing before leaving TCU early for pro baseball. He has relatives on his father’s side that are deaf or hard of hearing and knows both basic and American Sign Language.

“I started signs before I was talking,” says Suiter. “I don’t use it every single day like I should, but I know more sign language than I know Spanish, I can tell you that.”

He was planning to go back to school when Bradenton made the playoffs in 2016, which meant he would be too late for the start of the fall semester. Suiter spends his off-seasons in Fort Worth and does some hitting at TCU.

“I love the city,” says Suiter, an Indiana Bulls travel baseball alumnus who was drafted in 2011 by the Toronto Blue Jays out of high school but persuaded to play at TCU by former Horned Frogs recruiting coordinator Tony Vitello (who is now on the staff at the University of Arkansas) and played for head coach Jim Schlossnagle.

“He finds a way to win,” says Suiter of Schlossnagle, who now has Kirk Saarloos as a recruiting coordinator. “He brings the right guys in there. They’ve been to Omaha (for the College World Series) every year since my junior year. Something’s going right there.”

While he long wanted to be a pro baseball player, Suiter has an affinity for the hardwood.

“Basketball has always been my favorite sport,” says Suiter. “I’m not a big NBA guy, but I love watching college basketball.”

During winter break his sophomore year at TCU, he helped coach fifth and sixth grade AAU players. Shooting around on the court was one way he warmed up for his workouts.

But he has stopped doing that.

“The Pirates are writing my paychecks every two weeks,” says Suiter. “I don’t need to be roll a ankle or jeopardize my career in baseball.”

JERRICKSUITERALTOONA17DAVIDHAGUE

Jerrick Suiter, the former Valparaiso High School and Texas Christian University standout, takes a cut in 2017 for the Altoona (Pa.) Curve, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Double-A team. (David Hague Photo)

 

Baseball talent search makes Yankees scout Gibbons busy man

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Somewhere out there is a power-packing hitter or lights-out pitcher and Mike Gibbons aims to find him and secure his services for his bosses.

Gibbons is an area scout for the New York Yankees and annually spends up to 40,000 ground miles and more in the air, assessing amateur players in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky that might be suitable to don Yankee pinstripes.

Lessons learned as a coach at the University of Notre Dame and Ball State University have helped carry the South Bend native through 23 years of hunting for potential professional baseball talent.

in this profession, it’s a grind.

“It’s everyday,” says Gibbons, 52. “You’ve got to be self-motivated. You’ve got to get up and get your work done and stay on top of it. You either have the passion for it or you don’t.”

Gibbons, who lives in the suburbs of Cincinnati, is often on the go trying to land players for the 27-time world champions.

“Things have changed a lot over 23 years,” says Gibbons, who scouted for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1995-2002 and started with the Yankees in 2003. “There’s not a whole lot of off-season anymore. There are showcases galore. You can find one every weekend if you want. College scout days run deeper into the fall and a lot of home visits with college and high school players. Then it’s Christmas.

“We have (scouting) meetings in January then we’re outside watching colleges scrimmage in early February.”

Early in the season, Gibbons has learned to do more flying and goes to warm weather. Last February, he saw Notre Dame play in San Diego and tends to spend a week to 10 days on the West Coast every year.

“You can go wherever you want to see your teams play,” says Gibbons. “As long you’re getting your work done.”

When college teams return to the Midwest and high schools open their seasons, Gibbons is really hopping.

He might be in northern Indiana checking out a high school pitcher on a Tuesday and then be in Kentucky Wednesday looking at a college hitter.

“You have to juggle your schedule and prioritize,” says Gibbons. “Your car is your office.”

A lot of what he does in the spring is dictated by the elements.

“You get a three- or four-day run in Michigan where the weather is nice, you better get up there,” says Gibbons. “You spend a lot of time watching the Weather Channel and looking at the apps on your phone.”

Gibbons knows there’s only so many days in the spring. That’s why so many schools have opted for artificial turf that helps them lower the number of rainouts.

The 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft comes is scheduled for June 4-6. The Yankees currently have the 23rd pick in the first of 40 rounds. The Detroit Tigers have the No. 1 selection.

“The draft is such a crap shoot,” says Gibbons. “You have to get really lucky to get players in the draft. Some years your area is deep and you don’t get many guys. In other years, your area is not very deep and you end up getting two or three guys.”

Once Gibbons identifies a potential draftee, the national cross-checker and the scouting director take a look and they are comparing these players from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky to those all over the nation.

“It’s a big country,” says Gibbons. “There’s good players everywhere. Your bosses have to see these kids play well.

“(The scouting director and cross-checker) are focusing on the top part of the draft — the top five or 10 rounds,” says Gibbons. “Not somebody we might be able to sign in the 21st round.”

It’s up to Gibbons to have enough visits with the player, his family and agent to know how likely it is that the Yankees can get his name on a contract.

“You’re not going to draft kids in top 10 rounds you are going to have a tough time signing,” says Gibbons. “With the (slotting) rules now, you lose the money if you can’t sign the kid in the first 10 rounds.”

Slotting rules allow so much to be spent in certain rounds and that takes out much of the negotiating of the past.

“It’s pretty clear,” says Gibbons. “Here’s the slot and here’s what it’s paying. Can we get this done or not?”

In the summer and fall, Gibbons has places he likes to go. He sees top college players in the Cape Cod League and elite high school prospects in the East Coast Pro (which moves to in Hoover, Ala., in 2018), Perfect Game World Wood Bat Tournament in Jupiter, Fla., and national teams at USA Baseball headquarters in Cary, N.C.

Gibbons enjoys maintaining relationships with players after become pros.

“Old scouts back in the day would say, ‘sign ‘em and forget ‘em.’ I don’t necessarily agree with that,” says Gibbons. “I will text with (former New Albany High School and University of Louisville left-hander) Josh Rogers after his outings. You can’t help but love these kids and pull for them. You want them to do well.

“I don’t try to blow these kids up too much. But you just get to the big leagues with somebody.”

And he’s grateful to be working for the Yankees.

“I enjoy what I’m doing,” says Gibbons. “It’s an honor to work for arguably the best franchise in the history of sports. It’s an exciting time for us with all the young players coming up. Guys we drafted and developed and are now helping us win.”

Gibbons played at South Bend St. Joseph High School for Chip O’Neil, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015.

“When you’re that age you don’t understand coaching, you don’t understand how good the guy was,” says Gibbons, who graduated St. Joe in 1983. “He was great.”

Gibbons, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, pitched well enough for O’Neil and the Indians to go to Miami Dade South Junior College (now Miami Dade College) in Florida, where he played in 1984 and 1985 and was coached by Charlie Greene.

“He was terrific,” says Gibbons of Greene, who was a pitching coach in the New York Mets system and an author of books on pitching. “I had arm problems in high school. I was fortunate to play for a guy like Charlie.”

In those days, NCAA Division I teams could play an unlimited amount of fall games and Dade South played often against the University of Miami. Gibbons impressed enough for the Hurricanes to offer him a scholarship.

When Gibbons joined Miami for the 1986 season, coach Ron Fraser and the ‘Canes had just won the College World Series.

What was it about Fraser, the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer?

“His personality,” says Gibbons, who played two seasons at Miami. “He didn’t do a ton of coaching. He left that to Brad Kelley and his other assistants. He was figurehead. He was good in the community and with fundraising. They loved him.”

Gibbons went undrafted and landed with the independent Salt Lake City Trappers in the rookie-level Pioneer League. He went 1-3 with eight saves and a 0.82 earned run average in 26 appearances (all in relief) in 1988.

Salt Lake City is where Mike’s father, Jim Gibbons, had played in 1953 with the Philadelphia Phillies’ Class C affiliate.

Jim Gibbons would go on to manage in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization then serve in many capacities at Notre Dame, including assistant baseball and basketball coach. The 1953 ND graduate helped recruit future Baseball Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski to campus as well as future pro baseball and basketball player and IHSBCA Hall of Famer Ron Reed and ND president Edward “Monk” Malloy.

Jim Gibbons, who was on the baseball staff of Jake Kline, would be Notre Dame’s Assistant Vice President for Special Events and Protocol for 37 years.

Dan Duquette signed Mike Gibbons for the Montreal Expos and the pitcher was sent to Rockford, Ill., for the 1989 season, where he was 3-2 with two saves and a 1.76 ERA in 40 games against Low Class-A Midwest League competition.

Traded from the Expos to the Chicago White Sox in the Rule 5 Draft. Gibbons was going to be assigned to the Midwest League’s South Bend White Sox in 1990. Rather than repeat levels and pitch in his hometown, he went into coaching and joined the Notre Dame staff of Pat Murphy.

“From Murph and my dad, I learned about work ethic and how much you have to put into coaching,” says Gibbons. “I’m 22 or 23 years old myself and dealing with really intelligent guys at Notre Dame. I jumped in with both feet and was very committed. It was a lot of responsibility. It taught me some of the lessons I carry with me today.”

After his stint under the Golden Dome, Gibbons spent one season and part of another at Ball State. Pat Quinn was then the Cardinals head coach.

One of Gibbons’ roommates at Miami was Greg Vaughn, who had gone on to be a slugger for 15 seasons in the big leagues and about half of those were in Milwaukee. He helped Gibbons get an interview with the Brewers and a start to his scouting career.

Mike is married to Mary Beth. The couple have two children — Tyler and Olivia.

Tyler Gibbons played at NCAA Division III Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and is now with the Cincinnati Reds as video coordinator for amateur scouting. The job will have him traveling the country, capturing players on video and writing reports.

Olivia is a high school senior. She is looking into medical school and possibility of playing college volleyball.

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