As Ball State University develops baseball pitchers, one approach does not fit all. Each individual is assessed and brought along while keeping in mind what is best for them. “We’re not making a broad stroke,” says Larry Scully, the Cardinals pitching coach since August 2019. “Everyone is different in terms of their needs.” Scully, who began his coaching career in 1992 and has mentored 16 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft selections, uses the example of a freshman arriving on the Muncie, Ind., campus in the fall. That hurler is introduced to Bill Zenisek, Ball State’s baseball strength & conditioning coach. “He gets a measurement of movement for all the players,” says Scully. From this evaluation, which includes a TPI movement screening, specific exercises are prescribed that will help them become an efficient athlete. Players are introduced to proper nutrition and the weight room and learn that terminology. Rapsodo equipment is used during bullpen sessions and the motion-capture data is used for development as is Synergy slow-motion camera feedback. Then there’s the throwing program. “We get to see how the arm moves,” says Scully. As a part of that there is long toss. Some will go long and high and up to 300 feet the day after they throw and others will focus on mechanics and toss on a line for distance. Through it all, a pitcher’s delivery is checked for efficiency. How does he start? How does he drive down the mound? How does he finish? Since Scully is Driveline-certified, the Cardinals will use bands, PlyoCare Balls and mediBalls in training. Bullpen sessions may be geared toward refining a certain pitch or location. A pitcher’s workload — heavy or light in terms of innings or the number or intensity pitches — will also play into training. Fall ball began at Ball State the first week of September and just recently concluded. Pitchers worked alone the first two weeks and were then incorporated into team practices and scrimmages. Then adjustments were made during individual work. Until Dec. 3, pitchers will work eight hours a week, including strength sessions and 45 minutes a day Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays with their pitching coach. “We’ll try to maintain what they do well and get better to help us win,” says Scully. Before coming to Ball State, Scully spent five seasons at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., where he worked with Braves head coach Elvis Dominguez. “We were one of the top academic schools in the Missouri Valley Conference,” says Scully, who also served as Bradley’s recruiting coordinator. the 2019 Braves led the MVC in earned run average (3.37), fewest hits allowed per game (7.21) and WHIP (1.27). What drew Scully to the Cardinals? “Ball State has a rich tradition in winning and developing pitchers,” says Scully. At BSU, Scully joined head coach Rich Maloney, who became the 27th active NCAA Division I coach to earn his 800th career coaching win in 2019. To date, Maloney is 877-581-1 (546-337-1 in his second stint with Ball State) in 26 seasons. He has coached 65 players who were drafted 72 times. He’s coached six first-rounders with only one being drafted out of high school. The most-recent is right-hander Drey Jameson (34th overall pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2019). Maloney paid Scully a compliment during the interview process. “Everywhere you’ve been the pitching staff has gotten a bump,” says Scully of Maloney’s words. The 2021 MLB Draft was very satisfying for Scully. Three pitchers who the coach helped hone his craft were taken in the first seven rounds — Ball State’s Chayce McDermott (fourth round by the Houston Astros) and Bradley’s Brooks Gosswein (fourth round by the Chicago White Sox) and Theron Denlinger (seventh round by the White Sox). When looking at pitching potential, Ball State recruiting coordinator Blake Beemer is often drawn to athletes of a certain build. “They are long and lean with loose arm action,” says Scully. “Others might not be that, but they may be left-handed and can get left-handers out. “Blake does a good job of finding low-lying fruit. Here’s something we can probably fix (about the pitcher’s mechanics or pitch selection). “There’s a lot of moving parts. Everyone sees the final product, but there’s a lot of work that goes into it.” Prior to Bradley, Scully was pitching coach at Murray (Ky.) State University (2014), Lamar (Colo.) Community College (2010-13), assistant at Saint Louis University (2007), head coach at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo. (2000-06) and assistant at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa (1999) and Indiana Hills Community College in Centerville, Iowa (1992-96). Dan Skirka was a Murray State assistant when Scully was there and is now the Racers head coach. Scully was born in Toronto and played at York Memorial Collegiate Institute in 1986. His head coach was Jim Ridley, who was later inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The Ridley twins — Jeremy and Shayne — were teammates who wound up playing at Ball State and were both drafted in 2000 (Jeremy Ridley by the Toronto Blue Jays and Shayne Ridley by the Baltimore Orioles.). “Jim was a tremendous influence on me,” says Scully. “He was a terrific coach and a terrific person. “Some are just very lucky. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some very good baseball people.” A left-handed pitcher, Scully competed in the Junior Olympics at 18U and then played for and coached with Rick Mathews (now in the Colorado Rockies organization) at Indian Hills and played for Joel Murrie (now with the Los Angeles Angels) at Western Kentucky University. Scully earned an English Literature from WKU in 1992 and master’s degree in Sports Administration from the United State Sports Academy in 1994. “It was my intent to be an English teacher and baseball coach,” says Scully. “I learned that’s tough gig. Both require a lot of time. Now I’m helping daughter now with her grammar.” Larry and wife Shari have six children from 30 down to eighth-grader Ava. Shari Scully has taught for nearly 30 years and is employed as a sixth grade Language Arts teacher at Tremont (Ill.) Middle School.
In his last appearance of the summer, he pumped in a pitch at 100 mph.
Klein was the EIU Panthers’ Friday starter in 2020 and went 1-2 in four appearances with a 3.33 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and 13 walks in 24 1/3 innings before the season was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While university facilities were off limits, Klein and two of his three roommates stayed in Charleston, Ill., and got ready for the MLB Draft, which was shaved from 40 to five rounds this year.
Klein played catch in parking lots and open fields, threw PlyoCare Balls against park fences and used kettle bells, benches and dumb bells in the living room.
Kansas City took Klein with the 135th overall pick.
“I talked to every team,” says Klein, 20. “I could tell some were more interested than others.
“The Royals were definitely the team that communicated with me the most.”
The pitcher, who has added muscle and now packs 230 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame, saves time and fuel by staying with an aunt and uncle in Fishers.
“The Royals sent a weight lifting, throwing and running schedule,” says Klein. “I blend that with what Greg’s doing.”
Klein first worked out at PRP Baseball last summer and also went there in the winter.
Klein’s natural arm slot has been close to over the top.
From there, he launches a four-seam fastball, “spike” curveball (it moves from 12-to-6 on the clock face), “gyro” slider (it has more downward and less lateral movement than some sliders) and a “circle” change-up.
In three seasons at EIU, Klein’s walks-per-nine innings went from 9.6 in 2018 to 9.9 in 2019 to 4.8 in 2020.
Why the control improvement?
“A lot of repetition and smoothing out the action,” says Klein. “I’ve been able to get a feel for what I was doing and a more efficient movement pattern with my upper and lower halves.
“Throwing more innings helped, too. I didn’t throw a whole lot in high school.”
Playing for head coach Richard Hurt, Klein was primarily a catcher until his senior year. In the second practice of his final prep season, he broke the thumb on his pitching hand and went to the outfield.
“(Anderson) was very helpful coming from pro ball,” says Klein of the former University of Illinois right-hander who pitched in the big leagues with the New York Yankees and New York Mets. “He knew what it took mentally and physically and took me from a thrower to a pitcher.”
Former catcher Godinez brought energy and also helped Klein learn about pitch sequences.
Brown was given full reign of the Panthers staff by Anderson this spring.
Klein struggled his freshmen year, starting three of 14 games and going 1-1 with a 6.62 ERA. He was used in various bullpen roles as a sophomore and went 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA.
He was the closer and Pitcher of the Year with the Lakeshore Chinooks in the summer of 2019 when he hit 100 on the gun and was told he would be a starter when he got back to EIU in the fall.
For his college career, Klein was 2-2 and struck out 62 in 42 1/3 innings.
Born in Maryville, Tenn., Will moved to Bloomington at 3. Both his parents — Bill and Brittany — are Indiana University graduates.
Will played youth baseball at Winslow and with the Unionville Arrows and then with local all-star teams before high school. During those summers, he was with the Mooresville Mafia, which changed its name the next season to Powerhouse Baseball.
At 17U, Troy Drosche was his head coach with the Indiana Bulls. At 18U, he played for the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays.
The summer between his freshman and sophomore years at EIU, Klein was with the Prospect League’s Danville (Ill.) Dans.
“I grew up loving science,” says Will, who has had both parents teach the subject. Bill Klein has taught at Jackson Creek Middle School with Brittany Klein is a Fairview Elementary. Both schools are in Bloomington.
Will is the oldest of their three children. The 6-4 Sam Klein (18) is a freshman baseball player at Ball State University. Molly (13) is an eighth grader who plays volleyball, basketball and softball.
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
To familiarize himself even more, Antone went to Driveline Baseball headquarters in Kent, Wash. (part of the Seattle-Tacoma metro area) the weekend of Sept. 21 to take a certification course on Foundations of Pitching (Coming soon: Foundations of Hitting, Foundations of Pitch Design and Technology in Baseball).
Attendees at the session were immersed in Driveline’s core philosophies and beliefs, including concepts found in the book, “Hacking The Kinetic Chain” and the use of training aids and technology.
“What I liked most was the programming for athletes to maximize their potential and also stay healthy and prevent injury,” says Antone, noting each area from youth to professional was covered. “It’s all based on needs.”
Antone, who turned 29 on Nov. 7, says a youth player in elementary or middle school can be checked for a base level of strength and coordination and can be introduced to weighted Driveline PlyoCare balls and weighted baseball to help clean up movement quality and base of strength.
“As they get older, add things or make it more intense,” says Antone.
“He was a big, physical kid and could move pretty well,” says Antone. “He could do weighted ball pulldowns, which gives velocity to his throws.
“Then there’s a freshmen who has little time in the weight room. He needs to build a base level in the weight room and get used to (conventional) long toss (before going to things like weighted ball pulldowns and weighted ball long toss).
“You need to understand what each athlete’s lowest hanging fruit is and set up their programming for that.”
Antone says coaches have common objectives, but don’t use the same words.
“In my opinion, everybody is trying to talk about the same thing, but they’re talking in a different language or a different way,” says Antone. “Baseball’s got to get better to have a common language among coaches and players.
“Golf has a common language. Five different (baseball) coaches can look at video of the same hitter and could each say five different things they did well and five things they did not do well and have to work out.
“Technology takes the bias out. It shows what they need to address. We can make changes. We can test to track progress and improvement. It’s just a tool to help us learn and get better and to do it in the fastest, most effective way possible.”
Antone, who attended the John Mallee Major League Hitting Clinic Nov. 23-24 at the University of Illinois-Chicago, says a Rapsodo system costs around $4,000 and a Blast Motion sensor is about $100.
“This stuff is expensive, but do-able,” says Antone. “You prioritize what’s important to you and your program. Eventually you’ll have all the technology you need or want.
“You don’t need all of it. You don’t need to get everything just to have it.”
The way Antone operates, once he gets one piece of technology that is helpful, he wants to add more.
But having tools mean nothing if they can’t be effectively conveyed to players where they will make real changes and adjustments.
“(Coaches) need to study the technology and how you’re going to implement it into your program,” says Antone. “How are you going to communicate to the player in a way they will understand?”
Pat Antone, who was head coach at Boone Grove High School in 2018 when the Wolves won an IHSAA Class 2A state baseball championship, traveled to Driveline Baseball headquarters recently to increase his knowledge of the game.
In 15 seasons as NAIA-affiliated Trojans head baseball coach, Gould has seen his teams go 515-291. The makes him the all-time wins leader in program history. His 2018 team won a school-record 44 games. There have been seven Crossroads League championships on Gould’s watch and several of his players have earned all-conference honors.
A three-sport athlete in high school, Gould never had a private hitting or pitching lesson in his life. When he structures practices many of his influences come from the coaches he had in sports other than baseball.
“I’ve never approached the game from an overly-mechanical way,” says Gould. “It’s always been through how we develop these skills externally — things I learned playing football and basketball.
“I have this desire to learn, challenge what I’ve learned and challenge what I’ve been taught and maybe look for a better way to do things.”
Gould, a 2002 Taylor graduate, says what his players do in practice has to be shaped by what they want to do in games.
Outlining game-time expectations, Gould wants Taylor hitter to:
• Get a good pitch to hit.
• Get on time with the fastball.
• Handle the breaking ball.
• Hit the ball hard.
• Be tough with two strikes.
• Be situational.
What does Taylor train this in practice?:
• They are challenged to control the strike zone.
“We’re always praised for taking balls and we always want to have that conversation,” says Gould. “We want that communication (between coaches and players and players and players).
“We want to give them feedback.”
• The speed and angle of the pitches they see is varied.
“Rarely do I throw the ball from 25 feet at 35 mph belt-high, they hit it and we tell them how great they are,” says Gould. In our program — with everything we do — everything and everyone is good and bad not good or bad.
“Because if this, we’ll use a ton of BP variations. I could probably give you 50.”
• Hitters track and/or hit spin everyday.
Taylor pitching coach Justin Barber had his arms tossing breaking pitches while hitters are taking a look.
“We spin a lot of breaking balls off the mound,” says Gould. “I want our hitters in the box, tracking spin and identifying very early ball or strikeout, getting feedback from the catcher. We hit off machines, but we’re identifying breaking balls everyday.
“When I played, we never talked about hitting the breaking ball. If hitting the baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports then hitting the breaking ball is the hardest thing of the hardest thing. We need to be able practice.
“The more you do it, the more it takes the fear out of it. The ball eventually has to pass through the strike zone and it’s learning how to track that.”
• Hitters develop and track exit velocity.
“We get great feedback from HitTrax,” says Gould. “The players love it. It makes them competitive with others. Hopefully, it makes them more competitive with themselves.
• Hitters develop A and B swings and use them daily.
“A B swing is what I used to call two-strike approach,” says Gould. “When I say two-strike approach to our hitters, they took that very passively. They took that to mean don’t strike out. So we changed it to B swing. It gets the point across.
“With B swing there are three things: Choke up on the bat, do not get a hand load and the front toe stays on the ground.”
In 2019, 46 percent of Taylor’s at-bats had two strikes in them.
“If that’s going to happen 46 percent of the time and we’re not practicing that, right?,” says Gould. “Forty to 60 percent of our swings in practice will be B swing approach.
“The most important swings we take are either plus in the count or way behind in the count. I want to make sure that guy’s faced a slider with a B swing.”
• Hitters work on relevant situational hitting.
Gould says the 230-pound 4-hole hitter pounding ground balls to shortstop to him. Neither is the 135-pound 15-year-old trying to drive a runner in with a fly ball.
One drill that the Trojans do in the cage with HitTrax going is for the hitter to face a tough pitch and Gould will ask them to do something with it that they’re good at. Some might be asked to hit-and-run, others to elevate the pitch.
“We just hammer the two or three things we need them to do to be successful and to help us score runs,” says Gould.
What about the training environment?
“It’s what matters the most,” says Gould. “The best thing you can do is surround players with other players who want to develop and compete.
“It’s a common phrase: We’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. For players, most pitchers are the average of the people they play catch with everyday. Most hitters are the average of the guys they go hit with.”
Gould says he believes strongly in progressions not rotations.
“We want to think about going smaller to bigger, slower to faster,” says Gould. “We want to really have a plan on how we progress.”
Ninety percent or more swings are done with an external focus.
“If we’re going to do mechanical work, it’s going to be outside of our drill work. It’s going to be one-on-one. Very rarely, do I pull a guy out.
“I may say go hit five line drives to right-center field and let’s see what happens.”
One thing that Gould is careful about is the less mechanical cues he gives to the players, the more they give to each other.
“They don’t know what they’re doing much less what someone else is doing,” says Gould. “That’s a big thing for us.”
Players at Taylor hit in intentionally selected groups of three.
“I don’t like groups of two. I think it’s too quick,” says Gould. “I don’t like groups of four. You can lose them pretty quick.”
Groups may consist of power hitters, speed guys, older players with younger players or the batting order in thirds.
“It is incredibly intentional,” says Gould. “We’ll tell them if they can not hit with them and not give great effort and attention, I’m going to move you (into another group).”
Gould prefers 1-5 swings per round.
“It is a personal pet peeve of mine,” says Gould. “Guys come in and take 10-12 swings and rotate.
“That is not how the swing is. You don’t have that much time to adjust.”
Something is recorded everyday.
“Development is measured against self,” says Gould. “We only want you comparing your numbers to your numbers.
“Guys are very different. If they start comparing themselves to each other, we’re going to have problems.”
Practices include something competitive everyday.
“If we’re doing those groups right, they’re competing against guys it makes sense to compete with,” says Gould.
In their daily schedule, hitters do up to six things in this order: