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Lefty Wynja getting ready for South Florida Bulls

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hayden Wynja hasn’t had far to go to prepare for his next diamond destination.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound left-handed pitcher who graduated from Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis in 2017 has been getting ready to join the mound staff at the University of South Florida by taking part in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.

On Thursday, July 16, Wynja (pronounced Win-Yuh) relieved during the CSL All-Star Game at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis.

“It felt like baseball again,” says Wynja, who is with the A-Team in the 12-team circuit. “We were on grass and dirt and in front of people.

“It was awesome.”

The CSL came together when other summer leagues were shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most games are played on Mondays and Tuesdays with the option of training at Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park Wednesday through Friday.

“It’s not like any summer ball I’ve ever played,” says Wynja. “I like the structure of it, too and that it’s close to home.”

At Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., Wynja and the Statesmen were coming off a win against No. 1-ranked Logan A. Logan on March 7 when they learned that the 2020 spring season was over.

A similar storyline has been echoed across college baseball.

“This is our season and people are treating it like that,” says Wynja of the Grand Park league. “Players are extremely motivated. They want to play ball. The level of competition is really, really high.”

It was while training during the quarantine that Wynja heard about the opportunity put together by Pro X and Bullpen Tournaments from ball-playing friends.

“It’s crazy how quickly word traveled,” says Wynja.

Besides working on his pitches, including a four-seam running fastball that is clocked in the low 90’s, a hard-biting slider and four-seam change-up generally coming into at 81 to 83 mph thrown from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Wynja has been carrying a full online college course load. 

He’s taking two through Lincoln Trail and two through USF, which is located in Tampa, Fla.

“Art History is kicking my butt,” says Wynja of one South Florida class. He intends to major in Communication at his new school.

Wynja helped Heritage Christian to IHSAA Class 2A sectional titles in 2015 at Park Tudor, 2016 at Heritage Christian and 2017 at Triton Central. He began pitching as a junior and impressed enough to be selected in the 30th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Atlanta Braves, but did not sign.

“It didn’t make sense,” says Wynja. “I needed more confidence.

“When I get into pro ball, I want to stay there. I want to make baseball a career. It’s about when I’m ready.

“Hopefully my name is called next year (in the MLB Draft) and I can get started in pro ball.”

Thanks to the pandemic, the southpaw still has three years of NCAA eligibility (one added in 2020).

South Florida’s head coach is Billy Mohl. Karsten Whitson is the Bulls’ pitching coach.

Wynja went to Purdue University in the fall of 2017 as a Selling and Sales Management major. He broke his back and was redshirted for the 2018 season.

The lanky lefty helped the Vic Evans-coached Owensboro (Ky.) RiverDawgs to an Ohio Valley League championship that summer. Aaron Biddle was the pitching coach.

Pitching for Purdue in 2019, Wynja got into eight games (all in relief) and went 0-0 with 12 strikeouts and nine walks in 11 2/3 innings.

Mark Wasikowski was then the Boilermakers head coach. Wynja worked closely with then-pitching coach Elliott Cribby.

“I loved Cribby,” says Wynja. “He’s one of the best pitching coaches I’ve ever had. You could talk to him. He was relatable.

“He pushed us really hard, but he was always there. You knew he had your back. That’s important in coaching.”

In the summer of 2019, Wynja wore the jersey of the Washington-based D.C. Grays of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. He relieved in five of eight appearances, going 1-2 with 28 strikeouts and 21 walks in 21 innings.

Michael Barbera is the Grays’ founder, president and chairman.

Deciding to go the junior college route, Wynja selected Lincoln Trail. But he did not commit before Statesman head coach Kevin Bowers had secured a pitching coach. 

That turned out to be Andrew Elliott, who pitched at Wright State University and played two years in the Baltimore Orioles organization and two in independent pro ball.

“We clicked right away,” says Wynja of Elliott. “He was similar to Coach Cribby. He was always motivating you. 

“He played pro ball, so he knew what he was talking about.”

Wynja made five mound appearances (four in relief) for Lincoln Trail in 2020, going 1-2 with 17 strikeouts and 18 walks in 13 1/3 innings.

Most of the K’s came courtesy of the slider.

“It’s nasty,” says Wynja of a delivery that is more horizontal than vertical. “That’s my pitch. I love that thing.

“It bites and it bites hard.”

Wynja saw Bowers as a father figure.

“He’s the closest thing to a parent you can have away from home,” says Wynja. “My cousin (Blake Wynja, who is one year older than Hayden) passed away during the season. He told me to go home and spend time with my family.

“It was family, academics then baseball. He always makes sure we’re handling our academics. That’s something I really appreciated. He was always in your corner.”

Hayden is part of a large blended family. There’s mother Kristi, father Brad and siblings Grace Wynja, Bella Wynja, Max Lock, Hunter Drook, Harper Drook and Logan Wynja.

Mom is in pharmaceutical sales. Dad is an accountant. Grace is a 2020 Heritage Christian graduate bound for Purdue. Bella is a 5-foot-11 HC sophomore-to-be on the HC volleyball team. Max is entering eighth grade. Twins Hunter (a boy) and Harper (a girl) are going into sixth grade. Logan is 5.

When Hayden Wynja closes the books on Lincoln Trail, he will have two associate degrees (Sport Management and Science) and a load of baseball knowledge.

“It’s best decision I ever made regarding baseball,” says Wynja of deciding LTC would be his junior college home. “It was amazing. There was great competition.

“Everyone has the same mentality — get better. Everyone wants to be the best versions of themselves.”

Wynja says a big college town can offer many distractions. Not so in tiny Robinson.

“It was baseball and school strictly,” says Wynja. “There’s nothing else.

“Junior college is not for everyone. It’s for people who love baseball and being around the game. 

“That’s what made it more enjoyable for me.”

Wynja was born in Des Moines, Iowa, and moved to central Indiana at 2.

He played T-ball then at Billericay Park in Fishers. His first travel ball teams were the Cats and HSE Royals.

During his high school summers, he was coached by Ken Granger with USAthletic and then the Pony Express.

Wynja attended Heritage Christian from kindergarten through eighth grade then transferred to Indianapolis Cathedral High School, where he was cut from the baseball and basketball teams as a 5-foot-10, 110-pound freshman. He went back to Heritage Christian.

It was after he hit a walk-off grand slam in travel ball in the seventh grade that Eagles baseball coach Dan Ambrose sent Wynja a congratulatory letter and he later had him on his team.

“(Ambrose) made baseball fun,” says Wynja. “He was one of my teachers, too.”

Wynja split time between varsity and junior varsity as a sophomore in baseball and basketball then played varsity after that.

Heritage Christian, coached by Corey Jackson, made a run all the way to the 2A southern semistate in basketball with Wynja among the five seniors.

“That’s the favorite team I’ve ever been a part of without a doubt,” says Wynja. “We had great chemistry.

“We broke countless school records and were super, super close.”

HC’s annual senior trip to New York came during regional week and the players opted to miss it for practice. During that week, they got to go on a helicopter ride, go-karting and sat curtsied at an Indiana Pacers game among memorable events.

After winning the Speedway Sectional, the Eagles reigned at the Greenfield-Central Regional before being stopped by eventual state runner-up Crawford County in the Richmond Semistate.

Hayden Wynja pitches for the D.C. Grays of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League in 2019. He pitched for Lincoln Trail College in 2020 and is bound for the University of South Florida. He is a graduate of Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis. He played at Purdue University in 2018. He was the 2020 College Summer League at Grand Park All-Star for the A-Team. (D.C. Grays Photo)
Hayden Wynja, a 6-foot-9, 220-pound left-handed pitcher, spent his 2020 baseball season at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. He is a 2017 graduate of Heritage Christian High School in Indianapolis. After a redshirt season, he played at Purdue University in 2019. He has three years of NCAA eligibility remaining as he transfers to the University of South Florida. (Lincoln Trail College Photo)

Milto making hitters miss in senior season at Indiana

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pauly Milto has become the first starter in Indiana University’s weekend pitching rotation.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior right-hander is slated to take the ball when the Hoosiers begin a three-game Big Ten Conference baseball series Friday, April 26 against Minnesota at IU’s Bart Kaufman Field.

So Milto is the man who sets the tone for the staff and the team?

“I don’t think of it that way,” says Milto. “My job is to go out there and prevent runs. ‘Friday guy’ is just a label to me.

“I guess it’s kind of cool to be the first guy to pitch. But it’s the same job no matter when you go into pitch.”

Milto, who hails from Greenwood, Ind., and is a graduate of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, has started 10 games in 2019 and is 6-3 with a 2.29 earned run average.

In 70 2/3 innings, he has 69 strikeouts and nine walks. Opponents are hitting .212 against him. He fanned a season-high 10 batters in an outing against Iowa on March 22.

For his career, Milto is 24-9 with a 2.81 ERA. He has 227 K’s and 65 free passes in 255 innings and 58 appearances (35 as a starter).

While Milto occasionally touches around 92 mph with his fastball, he relies on his ability to mix his four-seamer, two-seamer, wipeout slider and change-up.

“I’m not beating barrels with my velocity,” says Milto. “It’s tunneling pitches and making everything look the same until it gets closer to the hitter.”

Milto has learned to understand his body and make swift adjustments.

“The biggest part in my own personal development is just knowing myself and kind of figuring out that when I mess up, knowing right away instead of taking two or three more pitches to understand to fix an issue,” says Milto.

At Roncalli, Milto did not pitch that much. He played two seasons for Keith Hatfield and one for Deron Spink. He did not get to play for Aaron Kroll, missing his senior campaign with a back injury that required surgery.

“It was a six-month process,” says Milto. “All the rehab was worth it. I feel great right now.

“I’ve had no complications.”

Milto credits former IU pitching coach Kyle Bunn for teaching him how to pitch.

With the arrival of a new coaching staff in Bloomington for 2019, including pitching Justin Parker, Milto has embraced a new way of doing things.

“His philosophy on pitching is a little different than what I’m used to,” says Milto of Parker. “I’ve enjoyed evolving into a different kind of mindse.

“Also, he’s found some mechanical flaws that I had. We’ve been able to correct those pretty quickly.”

Milto’s earliest organized baseball experiences came at Center Grove and Edgewood youth leagues. He began playing travel ball at 9, first with the Edgewood Bulldogs then Indiana Irish and Pony Express.

His collegiate career could be capped off with selection in June’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

But he’s not concerned about that at the moment.

“I’m just focused on the here and now and keeping the season going,” says Milto.

The 22-year-old graduated from IU in three years and is doing some extra schooling now to earn a certificate.

The son of Tony and Angela Milto has two siblings — Anthony and Sophia.

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Indiana University’s Pauly Milto delivers a pitch against Iowa on March 22, 2019 in Bloomington, Ind. The senior right-hander has been at the front of the Hoosiers’ weekend pitching rotation. (Missy Minear/Indiana Athletics Photo)

 

Glant guiding Ball State University pitchers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Getting a pitching staff prepared for an NCAA Division I baseball season takes time.

That’s why Ball State University pitching coach Dustin Glant was more comfortable starting with the Cardinals in the fall and having a full year to help his hurlers develop.

Glant, who had been a volunteer assistant at BSU in 2013, re-joined the staff mid-way through 2016-17 when Chris Fetter (now pitching coach at the University of Michigan) left to take a job with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.

It took Glant some time to gain the trust of his pitchers and to know their strengths and weaknesses.

Even with that late start, Glant saw his arms achieve that first season. They did even more in the second one.

The 2018 Cardinals set a program record for strikeouts (560) and ranked sixth in the national with 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings.

Two BSU pitchers were taken in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft on Glant’s watch — right-hander/designated hitter Colin Brockhouse (Toronto Blue Jays and did not sign) in 2017 and right-hander Evan Marquardt (Cincinnati Reds) in 2018. Left-hander Kevin Marmon (Minnesota Twins) signed as a free agent in 2017.

Right-hander Drey Jameson was named Mid-American Conference Freshman Pitcher of the Year and was selected to Collegiate Baseball’s Freshman All-America team in 2018. Right-hander John Baker was on that honor squad in 2017 and is on watch lists for his junior year in 2019.

Glant, a Fort Wayne native, talked about his staff while attending the 2019 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Dallas.

“In my young coaching career, we’re having success developing velocity,” says Glant, 37. “But in a year and a half, we’re not doing a very good job of throwing strikes. We’ve put a lot of our time in the bucket of how do we get better at commanding the ball and being more attack-focused.”

Do you have to sacrifice speed for control?

“I don’t think we should have to,” says Glant. “We structured some things in the fall with our throwing progression. I’m hoping that translates into more strikes during the season.

“There were some adjustments made in how we play catch, how we throw and our focus level on certain things.”

Glant’s hurlers threw often during the eight-week fall development phase.

Ball State head coach Rich Maloney typically gave Glant and his pitchers 90 minutes on the front side of practice to do their work before joining the full team.

“Not everybody has that luxury,” says Glant. “It’s huge that I have that time from him.

“Then it’s just building volume. We throw a lot. I believe in that. We don’t save our bullets. We want to condition the arm to be able to handle a heavy workload during the season.”

As the fall begins and pitchers begin the “on-ramping” process, Glant takes into consideration how much they’ve thrown during the summer and whether they are a returning arm or a newcomer then he allows so many throws at a certain distance and builds upon that.

After the fall, weight and mobility training becomes a priority and pitchers don’t get on the mound as much.

It really depends on the needs of the athlete.

“We’re really individualized,” says Glant. “Their bodies don’t move the same way. There are different deficiencies that you have to attack a different way.

“You have to learn your guys and know how they work. Then you’re able to hone in on who needs to be doing what.”

As Glant gets his 16 pitchers ready to open the season Feb. 15 against Stanford in Tempe, Ariz., he has them throwing between 25 and 35 minutes before they go into their skill work of flat ground or bullpens.

Glant’s coaching resume also includes managing the 17U Pony Express travel team and acting as assistant pitching coach at Marathon High School in Florida as well as head coach at Mt. Vernon (Fortville) High School, Lapel (Ind.) High School and Anderson (Ind.) University.

From his high school stops, he knows what it’s like to have players who can perform at another position and be used on the mound. Troy Montgomery (who played in the Detroit Tigers system in 2018) was an outfielder who Glant tried as a pitcher at Mt. Vernon because of his athletic talent. He also did the same with Brady Cherry (who is now an infielder at Ohio State University) while at Lapel. He was one of the best prep pitchers in Indiana.

Even if they do not play another position in college, Glant wants them to have the mindset of an athlete.

“In high school, typically your best players can do everything and you need them to do more things,” says Glant. “You get guys in college and their brains are thinking ‘I’m only a pitcher.’ It feels like they lose some of that natural athleticism when they were in high school playing more than one sport, more than one position and moving around more.

“We want to turn it back. Let’s get back to being an athlete and get more athletic in our moves.”

Glant is also concerned with what’s happening between his pitchers’ ears.

“It’s huge,” says Glant of the mental game. “It’s my biggest weakness as a coach and our biggest weakness as a pitching staff.

“I devoted my entire summer to learning this thing, understanding it better and being able to help my guys better mentally. We did some good things in the fall and kept it going right through this training time. I hope it pays off.”

Glant says it’s important to develop routines inside of the game and slow down breathing and heart rate when things get out of control.

There’s also questions to be asked and answered.

“How is our self talk?,” says Glant. “Are we reviewing our outings? Are we reviewing our bullpens?”

Glant says he wish he knew more about the mental side when he was a player.

Dave and Sharon Glant are parents to three children — Jessica, Dustin and Nate. Jessica Glant is a physician assistant in Maine. Nate Glant is an assistant baseball coach at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill.

Dave Glant is a third-generation railroad worker.

Dustin looks back on his boyhood and marvels at how hard his father worked and still had something left in the tank to teach him about baseball.

“He worked manual labor,” says Dustin. “He’d come home from these 12-hour shifts and then he’d have the energy to practice with me for a couple hours.”

Dave Glant showed Dustin about being hard-nosed and disciplined and about body language.

“Your opponent should never know how you’re feeling and how things are going,” says Dustin. “My preference is to be stone-faced and the emotion is positive emotion for your team.

Don’t stare a hole through the shortstop when he makes an error behind you.

“We try to get guys to embrace those situations,” says Glant. “What more fun can than picking up your shortstop? He’s excited because you got him off the hook. You’re excited because you got out of the inning with the team.

“That just builds momentum with you to the dugout.”

His father broke down VHS videos for a 12-year-old Dustin to review and use to improve.

“He was way before his time,” says Dustin. “And he was never a college player. He was a dad that really had a passion for helping me get better.”

Glant played for coach Dave Fireoved at Fort Wayne Wayne High School, graduating in 2000.

“To me, he is a legend and like a second father figure,” says Glant of Fireoved. “He picked right up where dad left off with accountability, discipline, work ethic, how to be a good teammate and how to train.”

That intensity continued at Purdue University. The 6-foot-2 right-hander pitched for three seasons for the Boilermakers (2001-03) for head coach Doug Schreiber and assistant coaches Todd Murphy and Rob Smith (now head coach at Ohio University) and was selected by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the seventh round of the 2003 MLB Draft. He competed six seasons in the Diamondbacks organization (2003-08), reaching Triple-A in his last season.

Glant was with the 2004 South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks of the Low Class-A Midwest League. The team was managed Tony Perezchica with Jeff Pico as pitching coach, Hector De La Cruz as hitting coach and future big leaguers Carlos Gonzalez, Miguel Montero and Emilio Bonifacio on the roster.

“It was a blast for me because I pitched in Fort Wayne at the old Wizards stadium,” says Glant. “That was a fun league.”

He then spent three seasons (2009-11) in independent pro baseball in the U.S. (Schaumburg, Ill., Flyers), Mexico (Mayos de Navjoa), Colombia (Potros de Medellin) and Canada (Winnipeg Goldeyes).

With Maloney, Glant is seeing a different side of coaching.

“I’ve never seen that side of it,” says Glant. “I’m learning how to love your players and how to build relationships.

“You’ve got to be a transformational coach and not a transactional coach. That’s what I’m learning from Rich Maloney.”

Dustin and Ashley Glant have a daughter — Evelyn (16 months). The baby is named for a grandmother on the mother’s side.

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Dustin Glant, a Fort Wayne (Ind.) Wayne High School graduate who pitched at Purdue University and in the pro baseball, became the Ball State University pitching coach prior to the 2017 season. (Ball State University Photo)

 

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)