Tag Archives: Pro X Athlete Development

Pro pitching career takes Strobel to Canada, Mexico

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

An American shined in Canada and got the chance to play in Mexico.
That’s the story of Tasker Strobel’s 2022 as a professional baseball pitcher.
Strobel, a graduate of Avon (Ind.) High School (2013) and Saint Joseph’s College (2017), spent the spring and summer with the independent/MLB Partner League American Association’s Winnipeg Goldeyes.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound left-hander performances for the Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats against Winnipeg in 2021 made Goldeyes manager/pitching coach Rick Forney want Strobel in 2022.
The 27-year-old southpaw was given a chance to compete for the closer role, landed it and made 53 appearances (all in relief) and went 2-3 with 21 saves (second in the AA to the 23 for Fargo-Moorhead’s Alex DuBord) and a 3.41 earned run average. Strobel racked up 58 strikeouts with 21 walks in 55 1/3 innings.
“(Forney) was good for my career,” says Strobel. “If you were doing well he let you ride and do your own thing.”
The longtime baseball man maintains connections South of the Border and had former Winnipeg slugger Kyle Martin play for Mayos de Navojoa of the Mexican Pacific League (Liga Mexicana del Pacífico or LMP in Spanish) in 2021-22.
Navojoa — managed by Homar Rojas — reached out saying they needed a closer for 2022-23. Strobel and his agent deemed it a good fit and he signed to compete in the 10-team league that has a 68-game regular season runs from October to December and is followed by a playoff series in January to determine the league champion and a berth in the Caribbean Series.
The way it was explained to Strobel, the winter league is essentially all-star teams from the 18-team Mexican League (which runs from April to August) with a few imports mixed in among native Mexicans.
Mayos teammates include three players from the 2022 American Association season — infielder Grant Kay (Chicago Dogs), pitcher Max Kuhns (Sioux City Explorer) and outfielder Zach Nehrir (Cleburne Railroaders).
Through Mexican Pacific League games of Nov. 1, Strobel had finished seven games and was 0-0 with four saves, 4.26 ERA, four strikeouts and one walk in 6 1/3 innings.
What makes a closer in Strobel’s eyes?
“You’ve got to be a little crazy and have that mindset of getting everyone out,” says Strobel. (The other team is) not going to score a run on you.
“You have to lock it in. You can’t miss a spot with any pitch, especially the American Association.”
Throwing from a low three-quarter arm slot, Strobel employs a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, curveball, slider and change-up.
His four-seamer sits at 90 to 91 mph and has been up to 94. His curve has more of a sweeping action that his slider, which is tighter and faster.
“I have two sliders that vary depending on counts and batters,” says Strobel. “I throw a class ‘circle’ change.”
While in Mexico, Strobel is working to learn the basics of Spanish.
“I took German in high school,” says Strobel, who is expanding his vocabulary with online lessons. He also uses Google Translate extensively.
Tasker was born in Overland Park, Kan., and moved to Indiana at 4. The oldest of Chris and Janelle Strobel’s two sons (2017 Avon graduate Spencer Strobel is a super senior lefty pitcher at Indiana Tech) grew up in Avon and went from rec ball to travel ball as soon as he could with the Hendricks County Hurricanes.
In high school, Tasker played with the Indiana Bulls and Jeff Mercer Sr.
Strobel’s varsity coach at Avon High was Troy Drosche. The Orioles pitching coach then was Bob McPike and Strobel also took lessons from former big leaguer Bill Sampen.
These days, Strobel helps Drosche with his high school and Indiana Bulls teams when he is able.
His two seasons at Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. (2014 and 2015) are what Strobel calls “one of the greatest experiences of my life.”
Kevin Bowers was — and still is the Statemen’s head coach. Max Hudson coached pitchers in 2014 and Kyle Medley led them in 2015.
“It was literally baseball and school,” says Strobel. “It was about being a JUCO Bandit and I loved it.”
That diamond chapter was followed up by two campaigns with head coach/pitching coach Rick O’Dette at NCAA Division II Saint Joe.
“I love that guy,” says Strobel of Coach O. “He led me into how I think about pitching now.
“We would sometimes butt heads, but we were a good pairing.”
Strobel was a SJC senior in 2017 — the year the school closed and the Pumas program went with it.
That spring, Strobel made 14 appearances (13 starts) and was 7-3 with three complete games, a 3.17 ERA and 68 strikeouts and 30 walks in 88 innings. As a junior, he hurled in 12 games (nine starts) and went went 4-4 with a 4.53 ERA with 57 strikeouts and 13 walks in 57 2/3 innings.
Business degrees were earned from both Lincoln Trail and Saint Joseph’s.
The lefty began his professional career in 2017 with seven appearances for the Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers.
Strobel had Tommy John surgery on his elbow at the end of 2017 and did not play in 2018. As soon as he was cleared, he began training at PRP Baseball in Noblesville, Ind., and still goes there in the off-season to work with Greg Vogt and Anthony Gomez and to coach other pitchers.
Bullpen Tournaments and Pro X Athlete Development — both at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. — also employed Strobel during his time away from playing the game.
With the independent Utica, Mich.-based United Shore Professional Baseball League’s 2020 Westside Woolly Mammoths, the lefty played in 10 games (nine in relief) with no decisions, a 3.97 ERA, 18 strikeouts and four walks in 11 1/3 innings.
Strobel pitched parts of 2019 and 2021 with the Greg Tagert-managed RailCats, getting into 34 games and going 3-5, a 3.84 ERA, 72 strikeouts and 21 walks in 70 1/3 innings.
Strobel, who is contracted to return to Winnipeg in 2023, wasn’t the only Indiana native in the 2022 Goldeyes bullpen.
Right-hander Zac Ryan, an Andrean High School graduate and former Georgia Tech pitcher drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in 2017 and released in 2021, made 32 appearances (all in relief) for Winnipeg in 2022. He was 2-1 with a 3.72 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 16 walks in 29 innings.

Tasker Strobel. (PRP Baseball Photo)
Tasker Strobel. (Mayos de Navojoa Photo)
Tasker Strobel. (Winnipeg Goldeyes Photo)
Tasker Strobel. (Winnipeg Goldeyes Photo)

Mahar continues to learn as coach in Cincinnati Reds system

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A former big leaguer living in southern Indiana is sharing his knowledge with young professionals.
Kevin Mahar, who played at Lincoln Trail College (Robinson, Ill.) for head coach Mitch Hannahs (now head coach at Indiana State University) and at Indiana University for head coach Bob Morgan and briefly as a center fielder with the 2007 Texas Rangers, lives in Jasper, Ind., and has been a coach in the Cincinnati Reds organization since 2013.
The 2022 season saw Mahar roving from level to level, including the big leagues, as outfield/baserunning coordinator and has been told he will be in that position in 2023.
“Baserunning is about being aggressive and smart,” says Mahar. “We look for the ball in the dirt, take an extra 90 feet.
“We put pressure on the pitcher and the defense.”
The message to outfielders is straightforward.
“Catch the ball,” says Mahar, who also teaches about getting in position, anticipation, reaction and game situations.
“A lot of the stuff we do now is detail-oriented,” says Mahar. “We have drills that focus on technique and tempo.”
Mahar has worked with players along with Reds special assistant and former Reds flycatcher Eric Davis.
“He was an exceptional outfielder and was around a lot,” says Mahar of the man who played 17 MLB seasons. “Our goal is to make sure each player in exceptional at who they are. They all have a lot of ability, but each individual is different. We want to make them the best version of themselves and reach their capabilities.
“We are not trying to create robots in the outfield. We allow them to play free out there.”
Mahar was born in Pontiac, Mich., but grew up in Midland, Mich.
“Jasper is very similar,” says Mahar. “Midland is a big, big sports town.”
Among the sports in the town near Saginaw Bay and Michigan’s “thumb” are baseball, hockey and football.
Mahar graduated from Midland High School in 1999 (he helped the Chemics to a Class A state title in 1998) then spent one year with Hannahs at Lincoln Trail and four with Morgan at Indiana (one as a redshirt). He earned second-team all-Big Ten Conference honors in 2004 before signing that year as a free agent with the Rangers.
“He was great,” says Mahar of Hannahs. “We was a baseball guy. He knew how to get the best of (his players).”
With adopted son Malik Chatman a defensive back on the Indiana State football team, Mahar still has occasional contact with Hannahs.
“(Coach Morgan) was very, very detail-oriented,” says Mahar. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at if it wasn’t for him holding me accountable for my actions.”
The 6-foot-5 Mahar was in the Rangers system through 2007, played for both the independent Kansas City T-Bones and in the Philadelphia Phillies organization in 2008 and was with the Phillies through 2010. He was mostly a first baseman his last two seasons.
He assisted Andy McClain at Brebeuf Jesuit School in Indianapolis in 2011 and Jay Lehr at Carmel (Ind.) High School in 2012. McClain is now head coach at Indianapolis North Central and Lehr is a lead pitching instructor with several pro clients at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind.
Kevin and wife Atalie moved from Indianapolis to Dubois County — where she is from — about the time he joined the Reds. Atalie Mahar is employed by Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools and is a Health and Occupational Services teacher. There are three other children in the Mahar household — eighth grader Stella (13), fourth grader Nash (10) and Cecilia (1).
Mahar, who recently got home from instructional league at Arizona, will be spending time with family while also teaching lessons a few days a week and planning for the 2023 season prior to gearing up for spring training after the first of the year.
Mahar was hitting coach at Billings (Mont.) in 2013 and 2014 and hitting coach at Daytona Beach (Fla.) in 2015. After being away from coaching in 2016, he spent the next three seasons (2017-19) as bench coach at Dayton (Ohio) and was at the Reds summer camp then alternate site during the COVID-19 season of 2020. He was bench/gameplanning coach for Louisville (Ky.) in 2021.
With the Bats, he gathered advanced scouting reports with information on opponent’s hot and cold zones and tendencies.
Mahar has soaked up information along the way. He’s picked up things from many. Among them are Davis, Willie Harris, Juan Samuel, Billy Hatcher and Delino DeShields. These five played in more than 7,200 big league games.
“I had some great coaches coming up and I continue to keep learning,” says Mahar. “There are always new techniques and new ways to reach kids. I’ve adapted drills I saw other organizations doing while I was roving.”
Mahar also sees the way his players learn. Preferences include Visual, Aural, Read/write and Kinesthetic (VARK).
“You learn how to reach each kid,” says Mahar. “Once you understand that, it makes our lives as coaches easier.”

Kevin Mahar. (Cincinnati Reds Photo)

Neal drawn to competitive community surrounding Carmel Greyhounds

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Ty Neal is the new head baseball coach at Carmel (Ind.) High School.
While transitioning his wife and three children from southwestern Ohio to central Indiana, Neal embraces the expectations that come with leading the Greyhounds and performing in a community that demands excellence.
“This is the only high school job in the country I would have moved my family for,” says Neal, a former Indiana University assistant and University of Cincinnati head coach who is married to Christine and has sons Silas (14) and Beckett (12) and daughter Paisley (9). “I owe it to myself and my family to surround us with high-level people.
“I’m excited because it’s going to bring out the best in all of us.”
Both Neal boys were born in Bloomington.
“I’ve built so many relationships in Indiana,” says Ty Neal. “This is a great opportunity for my family to get back to the great state of Indiana.”
The competitive environment and lofty standards at his new school district suit Neal.
“The reason people are so critical of Carmel they expect so much out of everyone,” says Neal, who was hired in July. “As a coach that’s all positive.
“I want be held under a microscope and perform at a high level every single day of my life.”
After serving as the Director of Pitching at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., November 2018 to October 2019, Neal led the baseball program at Loveland High School (enrollment around 525) in the Greater Cincinnati area in 2020 and 2021. The Tigers did not play any games in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carmel (enrollment around 5,225) is currently an athletic independent.
The Greyhounds were part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping in 2022 with Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville. Those schools have combined for nine State Finals appearances — two each for Carmel (1997, 2000), Fishers (2018, 2021) and Westfield (1998, 2009) and one apiece for Hamilton Southeastern (2019), Noblesville (2014) and Zionsville (2016) with state titles in 2014, 2018 and 2019.
Carmel has earned 13 sectional championships — the last in 2016.
Neal intends to bring consistency as he builds the culture of his Greyhounds program.
“That starts at the top,” says Neal. “These are 14- to 18-year-old young men that have so many moving parts in their lives.
“I want to be consistent in my demeanor, expectations and standards for them. We show up everyday and there’s no surprises. We’re not going to get in mid-season and change the way we do things. We’re not going to panic.
“There’s a comfort level that comes with consistency where — hopefully — you can bring out the best in everyone.”
Neal, who has targeted potential assistant coaches, conducted a recent player-parent meeting to shake everyone’s hand and is planning to start IHSAA Limited Contact Period workouts on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning Sept. 13.
Carmel plays its home games on Hartman Field.
“I think it’s awesome,” says Neal. “It’s a brand new turf field with lights that I can turn on and off with an app on my phone.”
To serve a community that features the Carmel Dads Club, Carmel Pups travel baseball and teams at Carmel Clay Schools’ three middle schools — Carmel, Clay and Creekside — Neal plans a five-week middle school camp.
“I want to build relationships with the middle school coaches,” says Neal. “We’ll have similar concepts so we’re not starting from scratch freshman year.”
The Greyhounds routinely send players on to college baseball. Three alums — Ryan Campbell, Conrad Gregor and Tommy Sommer — are current or recent pros.
Born in West Elkton, Ohio (Dayton area), former left-handed pitcher Neal is a 1995 graduate of Preble Shawnee Junior/Senior High School in Camden, Ohio.
He earned four letters at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) 1996-99 and was team captain in 1999 and secured a Sport Management degree. Tracy Smith was his head coach.
Neal served as Smith’s pitching coach at Miami in 2000 and 2005 and was an assistant to Dan Callahan for three seasons (2001-03) at Southern Illinois University while getting a Masters of Sport and Fitness Administration/Management. He was pitching coach for the Cape Cod Baseball League‘s Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the summer of 2002.
There was one season as an assistant at Cincinnati (2004) and four as head coach (2014-17).
When Smith became head coach at Indiana, he brought Neal along and he was top assistant and recruiting coordinator for eight seasons (2006-13). He was also pitching coach for six of those campaigns and infield/third base coach for two. The Hoosiers went to the College World Series in 2013.
“He gave me an opportunity to help the team,” says Neal of the coach-player relationship with Smith (who is now head coach at the University of Michigan). “I had to grow up a lot under him.
“I learned from him to be agile and open to new things and learning. You change things when you need to.”
Neal was Smith’s Quality Control Analyst at Arizona State University in 2018.
While in Ohio, he created Serving Baseball Passion as a platform to share his knowledge with younger players.
In addition to coaching, Neal teaches Special Education at Carmel High School.

Beckett (left), Ty and Silas Neal.

Silas (left), Paisley, Christine and Beckett Neal.

Walther lends his experience to Pro X Athlete Development, College Summer League

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mark Walther helps run a business dedicated to the improvement of those who move and compete, particularly those in baseball, softball, football and golf.
He is the Director of Operations at Pro X Athlete Development, which is at Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind.
“I wear a lot of hats here,” says Walther, a former collegiate and professional pitcher. “There isn’t much that I don’t do here.”
Walther, 33, started as a lead instructor and taught velocity programs for pitchers and position players and gave pitching lessons.
As Director of Operations, he is charged with everything from scheduling cages and turf time to making sure machines are in order to the cleanliness of the facility.
He makes sure financials and daily reporting lines up with what’s coming into Pro X.
After coaching at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., and the University of Indianapolis, Walther worked briefly for Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park and still helps with that company while also serving as the commissioner of the College Summer League at Grand Park, which had its third season in 2022.
The CSL came about out of players needing a place to compete and train (at Pro X) with many leagues being shut down in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of athletes had spring seasons that were cut short or didn’t start at all.
“We had a lot of time on our hands,” says Walther. “Both of our businesses were shut down about the time (Indiana) opened up (from the lockdown) is when we were able to open up the league.”
Walther says he was one of six people who created the CSL and other people were brought in to make it a reality.
“To start up a league like that you want high-profile players,” says Walther. “It’s tough to get high-profile players if they’ve never heard of your league before.
“Right way we wanted to be able to compete with the Northwoods, the Prospect and the Coastal Plain. I don’t know if anybody’s ever going to compete with the Cape, but we wanted to be up there.”
Walther says getting the amount of players and talent that the CSL did (in 2020) is the whole reason it still exists.
“We just want to make sure that the product we’re putting out there is good for college players as a whole,” says Walther. “It’s good for their development in games and while they’re training (at Pro X) and getting better.
“We want to meet every ask of a college coach. If they have a redshirt and they need them ready for sophomore year when they return to school then we can get them 30, 40, 50 innings. If they want them to throw 20 innings and two innings a week in relief, we’ll follow that, too.
“That’s really what’s set the College Summer League apart.”
Over the past two years, Walther’s commissioner responsibilities have included finding and getting commitments from coaches, recruiting and placing players and taking care of everything from payments to jersey sizes to host families. He coordinates gameday operations and hires sports information interns for the eight-team league.
Those positions are posted in November and December with interviews coming in January and February.
Walther grew up on a farm on the west side of Kankakee, Ill., and is a 2007 graduate of Herscher (Ill.) High School, where his head coach was Eric Regez.
His junior year, Walther was the last one to make cuts for the Tigers varsity and helped his team as a right-handed reliever. As a senior, he was a starter.
“I played the underdog throughout my entire college career,” says Walther, who worked hard to grow his knowledge base while improving his athletic skill set.
“I was a P.O. (Pitcher Only) before P.O. was even a thing. I think I had seven career varsity at-bats.
“I just kept working at it.”
Mark is the son of Eugene and Beth Walther and is about six years younger than brother Todd Walther.
Eugene Walther died of brain cancer when Mark was 18.
“Going into college that pushed me forward,” says Walther. “It always gave me something to work for: Trying to make him proud.”
Walther showed up at walk-on tryouts at Parkland.
“I wasn’t a preferred walk-on or anything,” says Walther. “I found a way to earn a spot.”
The Cobras coaching staff changed Walther’s arm slot from overhand to sidearm/submarine.
“That gave me a whole new life in college baseball,” says Walther, who was frequently used as a freshman and was on scholarship as a sophomore. The latter team won the 2009 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national championship.
After two years at Parkland playing for Mitch Rosenthal and Matt Kennedy, Walther transferred to NCAA Division II University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. He came out of the bullpen for Tracy Archuleta’s Screaming Eagles (which won an NCAA Division II national crown in 2010).
“I tried to just extend the game and get us to the next guy,” says Walther. “My job was to get us out of jams. There’s not better feeling in the world than coming into the game with the bases loaded and one out and you’re trying to get a ground ball. I lived for those moments.
“Being out there when the adrenaline’s pumping, I’ve yet to find anything to match it.”
After pitching at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., Todd Walther wound up on the baseball operations side with the Texas Rangers.
Mark used the connection to his advantage.
“I was able to bounce ideas off of him when thing weren’t going my way in bullpens or games,” says Walther.
He got to see video of major league pitchers like Cody Bradford, Darren O’Day and Pat Neshek and could study their mechanics, grips and release points.
Walther was on a path to become a Physical Education teacher and high school coach when a curriculum change at USI that would have taken him longer to get his degree caused him to change his major to Sport Management.
“I started learning more about facility management and running a sports business,” says Walther, who took classes on sports marketing and sports law — things that help him in his position at Pro X.
But Walther did pursue coaching out of college.
He was an assistant at Parkland for a year and helped Kennedy with outfielders, operations and recruiting.
He started what turned out to be a four-year stint at the UIndy as a volunteer learning from Greyhounds pitching coach Jordan Tiegs and serving for head coaches Gary Vaught and Al Ready.
When Tiegs left for Indiana State University, Walther took became pitching coach and recruiting coordinator.
Tiegs is now Drector of Pitching Research and Development for the Rangers — Todd Walther’s former job
“I loved college baseball,” says Mark Walther. “I loved coaching it.
“I really loved the recruiting aspect of college. (Players) need to come to us because we’re going to do a better job of developing them as a player.
“I’m very appreciate of Coach Vaught and Coach Ready for everything they did for me.”
Walther then went into tech recruiting for three months and decided he wanted to get back into baseball.
Pro X has just launched into the travel world with its Phoenix softball teams.
While travel baseball organizations, including the Indiana Bulls, Indiana Nitro and Indiana Prospects, partner with Pro X, there is currently no plans to field travel baseball teams under the Pro X banner.
“Travel baseball really wasn’t a thing when I grew up,” says Walther. “I played community baseball until I was 16 years old. Shortly after that it began to grow a little more.”
His first experience came when the Indiana Bulls and others brought teams to play fall exhibition games his first year at Parkland.
Walther notes that he was lucky enough to be on a winning team from age 10 on. But that was not the case in his early community baseball days.
“I got put on a terrible team,” says Walther. “I had to find a way to try to help the team win and to help players develop themselves and rely on our coaches to do the same.
“Depending on where your talent is you can be put on an elite team and rarely ever have to deal with failure, losing or any kind of adversity and learn to overcome that.
“Being on winning teams is also a positive because you learn what it takes to win. Whether you’re on the field or not you can find ways to help the team win.”
Walther says travel ball is all about finding the right fit for you as a player.
“You want to go where you have a chance to play or have a chance to compete for playing time,” says Walther. “You should never shy away from competing and trying to beat someone out to earn playing time.
“In the game of baseball you’re going to have guys on the bench no matter what. It’s what type of bench guys you have. Do you have guys who are going to work and push themselves and the people that are technically in front of them? Or are they going to just roll over and complain until they move on or join another team?”
Players should make sure the team will be doing what they want to do. Will it be mostly local tournaments are really hitting the road? Is the coaching staff going to help develop them as a player?
Among the things coming up at Pro X are “Hard 90” classes with about 30 minutes each of hitting, defense and speed and agility.
In September, the pitching academy and elite training academy for offense and defense cranks up.
Pro X — with its staff of instructors including Jay Lehr, trainers and medical professionals and former big leaguer Joe Thatcher as president — is also an off-season place to train for professionals, including major leaguers Tucker Barnhart, Lance Lynn and Carlos Rodon and minor leaguers Parker Dunshee and Collin Ledbetter.
Rodon came to Pro X while doing rehab from Tommy John surgery.
“He learned a lot about the body and how it moves and how to become efficient on the mound and use his lower half to try to stay as healthy as possible,” says Walther. “We just do whatever we can to service them whether that’s completely help them with their program or stay out of their way and let them use the weight room.”

Mark Walther, Director of Operations at Pro X Athlete Development and commissioner of the College Summer League at Grand Park, both in Westfield, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

Columbus East grad Back enjoys ‘game within the game’ as baseball backstop

BY STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Dalton Back was a coach pitch player when he chose his favorite position on the baseball field — catcher.
“The thing that I love about it most now that older is that it’s like a game within a game — calling pitches and locations, keeping track of baserunners and whatnot,” says Back, 20 and the veteran of two college seasons. “What kept me in it when I was little was just being involved in every pitch. It’s the most active position on the field. That’s what I like most about it.”
Born and raised in Columbus, Ind., to Dwayne and Jennifer Back, Dalton played in was in now Youth Baseball of Bartholomew County and was later part of two district championship and state tournament teams.
When it came time to play travel ball, Back went with the Blazers then the Evoshield Canes.
“They changed the way I saw baseball and how I played it,” says Back of Canes coaches Jay Hundley and Phillip Webb. “They turned me into the man and player I was back then and who I am now.
“They really grew the game for me. I appreciate that a lot.”
Back is a 2020 graduate of Columbus East High School. He earned three letters for Olympians head coach Jon Gratz.
“He’s very open-minded,” says Back of Gratz. “He did a lot of experimental stuff. He was very open and willing to learn. He didn’t see himself as a know-it-all in baseball.”
Columbus East went 25-5 and lost 3-2 to Hamilton Southeastern in the 2019 IHSAA Class 4A state championship.
Back, who batted No. 2 in the order and contributed a triple and two walks in that game, is convinced that Gratz’s inclination of listening to his players was a major contributing factor to the Olympians’ run.
“We would just brainstorm different ideas about what we could do better in certain areas like productivity in practice or how to hold each other accountable,” says Back, who was an all-stater in 2019 and all-Hoosier Hills Conference in 2018 and 2019 and missed his senior season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “(Gratz) allowed the players to lead which is very nice.”
At Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Back played 76 games (65 as a starter) and hit .224 with seven home runs, 16 doubles, 37 runs batted in and 39 runs scored. He homered four times and enjoyed a pair of three-RBI games in 2022.
Back, a 5-foot-10, 200-pounder, is now in the Transfer Portal with two years of eligibility. His next diamond destination is still to be determined.
“I’m trying to stay relaxed and calm about it,” says Back of making a decision of where to play and study next.
He has participated in each of the College Summer League at Grand Park’s three seasons — Local Legends in 2020, Turf Monsters in 2021 and Tropics in 2022.
The league based in Westfield, Ind., is attractive to Back because the schedule is not too rigorous and there are helpful amenities.
“There are not so many games a week where you’re killing your body,” says Back. “I have access to Pro X (Athlete Development on the Grand Park campus) to hit and lift all the time.
“Everything is close around here. It’s easy to manage your time.”
A righty swinger, Back describes his offensive approach.
“The main thing that helps me is to just keep reminding myself to swing 80 percent all the time,” says Back. “A lot of times I swing way too hard and I’m trying to do too much with the baseball.
“If I have a slow heart beat, go 80 percent and I’m nice and smooth with my swing, a lot of times I can let the bat do the work. Most of the time that’s how I have success at the plate.”
As a college student, Back has studied Kinesiology (the science of human movement) and can see himself as a physical therapist after his playing career.
“I’ve always been attracted to human physiology,” says Back. “I got real big into the weight room in high school. I loved it. I was fascinated with how everything works and how the body recovers. With physical therapy I’d be able to stay around athletics and help other athletes.”
Dalton has an older brother — Joey Back (24).

Dalton Back (Miami University Photo)

Dalton Back of the 2022 College Summer League at Grand Park’s Tropics (Steve Krah Photo)

Clark, Nanny, Trinkle launch HitClub Player Development Services

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Three buddies who trained together as they were rising through the ranks of Indiana baseball are now sharing their knowledge as part of a new business.
Plainfield (Ind.) High School graduates Kalib Clark (24) and Daylan Nanny (22) and Columbus (Ind.) North High School alum Cooper Trinkle (23) have formed HitClub Player Development Services.
“I want people to know how passionate we are about the game of baseball and helping out that next level of baseball player in Indiana,” says Trinkle, who played for Ben McDaniel at Columbus North, graduating in 2017 and going on to play infield at the University of Evansville, John A. Logan College, Indiana University and Saint Leo (Fla.) University.
After playing for Jeff McKeon at Plainfield and high school commencement in 2017, lefty-swinging outfielder Nanny took the diamond at Arizona Western College and Western Carolina University. He transferred to Indiana State University for a fifth year of eligibility granted because of the COVID-19 pandemic. An injury in the fall of 2021 caused him to have spinal fusion surgery a little over a month ago.
While Trinkle and Nanny are done as players, Clark is still pursuing a playing career at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kan., where former Bethel University (Mishawaka, Ind.) pitcher and coach Ryan Thompson is Pioneers head coach, former Huntington (Ind.) University pitcher and Taylor University assistant Colton Punches and Rochester (Ind.) High School and Indiana Wesleyan Univdesity graduate and former Grace College head coach Cam Screeton are on the coaching staff, former Bethel player Chad Jenkins in the sports information director and Jake Bisland (Zionsville) and Brycen Sherwood (Elkhart Central) are on the roster.
Right-handed pitcher Clark has also played at Indiana University Kokomo and Post University in Waterbury, Ct., and studied Data Analytics and Applied Mathematics.
At present, Clark is doing research and development for HitClub while Nanny and Trinkle —  who tied for the most career hits in Plainfield High history with 100 — are conducting group lessons. Nanny is working with hitters and Trinkle with infielders. Following three months of lead-up time, the first HitClub training sessions were conducted Jan. 17.
Lessons are for ages 13U and up and generally last 60 to 90 minutes. Training sites are Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. (7 to 10 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays), Hit Factory in Columbus (Thursday nights) and Powerhouse Athletics in Franklin, Ind. (10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays).
“Our goal is to help prepare players for their upcoming high school seasons and show them things they are going to see in college,” says Nanny. “We want to have Indiana hitters be more prepared for the next level.
“We want to close that gap in preparedness time. Young players have to show up more prepared than we did. (College) rosters are more flooded (with talent). That’s what we want to accomplish through our training.”
Nanny and Trinkle began training together while they were in high school and envisioned someday training players in Indiana, where winter weather is a reality.
“Cooper and I both played college baseball in the southern part of the country and saw how many more at-bats and game reps southern players get,” says Nanny. “Northern hitters have to put themselves in more (game-like) scenarios.
“Indiana is a very blue-collar state. People know how to work hard. That’s what we want to add to. It’s important that standard is upheld moving forward.”
Nanny and Trinkle were at the 2022 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic Jan. 14-16.
“The coaches association gave us a great opportunity to come and meet all the coaches,” says Nanny. “We’re very thankful for that opportunity.”
Nanny and Trinkle were both two-time all-stars in the College Summer League at Grand Park and both work for Prep Baseball Report Indiana. They have been invited to be a part of training in CSL in 2022, utilizing Pro X and on-field workouts.
To contact HitClub, email Hitclub2022@gmail.com or call 317-908-8606.

HitClub Player Development Services was started by Kalib Clark, Daylan Nanny and Cooper Trinkle.
Daylan Nanny (left) and Cooper Trinkle in the College Summer League at Grand Park.
Kalib Clark (Norwich Sea Unicorns Photo)

Right-hander Lynn driven to make most of his talents

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Lance Lynn has long been known for his athletic tenacity.
It started while he grew up in Avon and Brownsburg in central Indiana and has continued at the University of Mississippi and during his Major League Baseball stops with the St. Louis Cardinals (2011-17), Minnesota Twins (2018), New York Yankees (2018), Texas Rangers (2019-20) and Chicago White Sox (2021 to the present).
The 6-foot-5, 275-pound right-hander has the drive that has made him go 115-77 in 288 games. His 2.69 earned run average for the White Sox in 2021 would have led the American League, but he was five innings short of the innings requirement.
Where does Lynn’s push come from?
“I have a brother (Keith) that’s 12 years older than me,” says Lynn, 34. “It was him, my dad (Mike) and myself growing up for the most part so I had to learn to be competitive and learn to take care of myself or I’d get left behind.”
Mike Lynn, a Brownsburg High School graduate, played slow pitch softball and Keith Lynn, an Avon High School alum, played many sports and young Lance was there.
“I was always playing with the older kids because I had to and I was bigger,” says Lance. “I had to learn to compete and I enjoyed winning so it just kind of kept going.”
A 2005 Brownsburg graduate, Lance Lynn helped the Pat O’Neil-coached Bulldogs to an IHSAA Class 4A state runner-up finish in 2004 (27-7) and state title in 2005 (35-0).
To this day, Lynn and Indiana Baseball Hall of Famer O’Neil are in regular contact.
“I have great respect for Coach O’Neil,” says Lynn. “He’s someone who’s stayed close in my life even after I left high school. He was there for a lot of us growing up, took care of us and made us grow up as human beings.
“We’re still pretty close.”
Since 12 or 13, Lynn has gone to Jay Lehr for pitching instruction and made the trek over from Marion, Ill., to with him at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind., before attending Monday’s national championship football game in Indianapolis.
“He takes care of all my winter throwing programs, making sure I have everything I need,” says Lynn of Lehr, who saw big leaguers and Indiana residents Tucker Barnhart (Detroit Tigers) and Carlos Rondon (White Sox) at the facility before Lynn’s workout. “Then during the season if I get in a pinch or just to stay on top of things, he’s always there to send me what I can work to keep moving.”
Also present at Pro X was Sean Cochran, Lynn’s strength coach since after the 2018 season.
“I needed someone to bounce stuff off of and was going to be there for the rest of my career,” says Lynn. “Sean and Jay go way back and I actually met Sean as a little kid.
“We’ve had a pretty good run since we started working together.”
Cochran, who was once based in Indianapolis and now calls San Diego home, travels all over to work with athletes and counts World Golf Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson among his clients.
“I’ll pick Sean’s brain and can you ask Phil about this or that and Phil tells me to just worry about pitching,” says Lynn, who is a right-handed amateur golfer.
Lynn appreciates the relationship he’s built with White Sox pitching coach Ethan Katz.
“You’re looking at a guy who’s worked his way up from being a high school pitching coach all the way through the minor leagues and every stop,” says Lynn. “He’s able to show you what you do well using all the technologies.
“He’s able to communicate and show you what you need to see.”
Lynn’s three primary pitches are a four-seam fastball, cutter and sinker.
“You make sure those are good and make sure your stuff can play off of them from there,” says Lynn, who also occasionally uses a curve or change-up (he threw just four change-ups during the 2021 season).
Lynn pitches from a low three-quarter overhand arm slot, which developed as he career progressed.
“When I was younger I was a little more upright and had a little more shoulder lean. Over time I’ve been able to keep my shoulders a little more flat. The arm slot kind of just fell into place.”
The slot has served him well.
“I’ve been able to use it to create a good angle of attacking hitters,” says Lynn. “It’s hard for them to make good contact.
“There’s a lot of deception and hitters don’t love it.”
Lynn made 28 starts for the White Sox in 2021 — one of those was Aug. 12 at the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, Iowa.
“That was pretty cool,” says Lynn. “It was fun. When you look back it we put on a show. Kevin (Costner) was there. We had a good game. There was a walk-off home run (by Tim Anderson). I don’t think you could have scripted it any better than that.
“I threw the first pitch in a major league game in Iowa. It’s something I’ll always remember.”
Major League Baseball is now in the midst of a lockout. Spring training at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., normally has pitchers reporting in early February.
Lynn has 333 MLB plate appearances with 24 hits (five doubles). As an amateur he was quite a slugger and folks still talk about a high school home run in South Bend.
“I hit it on the church out of the stadium,” says Lynn of a clout at what was then called Stanley Coveleski Regional Stadium (now Four Winds Field). “I had power, but it was an aluminum bat.
“I don’t think I’d want to face me now.”

Lance Lynn throws at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. 1-10-22 (Steve Krah Video)
Lance Lynn throws at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. 1-10-22 (Steve Krah Video)
Lance Lynn (Getty Images)
Lance Lynn at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
Lance Lynn at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
Lance Lynn at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
Trainer Sean Cochran (left) and Lance Lynn at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)
Lance Lynn (left), Dr. Jamey Gordon and Jay Lehr at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind. (Steve Krah Photo)

Righty Ledbetter’s route leads to Indiana

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Collin Ledbetter was born and raised in Arizona, but the Midwest has also been pretty good to him as he has pursued higher levels of education and baseball.
In the summer of 2021, the right-handed pitcher experienced his first opportunity to play for pay in the United Shores Professional Baseball League.
The 25-year-old arrived this week back in his adopted hometown of Indianapolis where he will plot his future.
Ledbetter is a 2015 graduate of Northwest Christian School in Phoenix. He arrived at the same time as head baseball coach and former Colorado Rockies minor leaguer Rod Bair and was with the varsity for four years.
“We’re still great friends until this day,” says Ledbetter of Bair. “He had a great impact on me as a player and on my growth as a man as well.”
Starting out his college baseball journey in the Valley of the Sun, Ledbetter joined the Dave Grant-coached Glendale (Ariz.) Community College team and pitched for the Gauchos in the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
“(Glendale) has a great reputation — not only in Arizona — but around the country,” says Ledbetter. “I remember being intimidated going into the program. Coach Grant was a real encourager.
“He always gave guys a chance to prove themselves and was always there for help when you needed it.”
Ledbetter was recruited out of high school by Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Mich. David Mitroff was the Golden Eagles head coach at the time. In Ledbetter’s second year at Glendale, Mitroff moved to Phoenix and became a reference for the pitcher’s next move.
Mitroff connected Ledbetter with coaching friend Rich Benjamin at Indiana Wesleyan University. After visiting the IWU campus in Marion, the player decided that it was the best fit for him and came to the Midwest.
“(Indiana Wesleyan) was an up-and-coming NAIA program looking to add pitching depth,” says Ledbetter. “It was the right place for me. It is Christian and a private school. My faith is very important to me.
“Coach Benjamin focused on creating an atmosphere where Jesus was first before baseball. Obviously, he wanted to win. He wanted us to use our talent to the best of our ability to God’s glory.”
Kris Holtzleiter was the Indiana Wesleyan pitching coach during Ledbetter’s time with the Wildcats.
“He’s one of the best encouragers I know,” says Ledbetter of Holtzleiter. “There’s nobody that doesn’t like him. He focuses on the positives, never the negatives.
“As someone who is hard on myself and expects a lot out of myself, I appreciated that.”
Ledbetter herniated a disc in his back that required surgery and redshirted in 2018 – his junior year — after playing in just six games.
At about the same time, Collin’s parents Paul and Deb and younger siblings Lauren and Carson moved from Arizona to Indianapolis to be closer to extended family.
Collin pitched for IWU — getting into eight games (five in relief) with a 0-2 record, 8.47 earned run average, 17 strikeouts and 10 walks in 17 innings – and received a bachelors degree in Sports Management in 2019.
Wishing to pursue a Masters in Sport Management on an accelerated timeline with cost in mind, Ledbetter opted to transfer to Campbellsville (Ky.) University and used his redshirt senior season with the NAIA Tigers in 2020.
“(Head coach Beauford Sanders and pitching coach Brett Neffendorf) loved to win more than anyone I’ve ever played for,” says Ledbetter, who pitched in three games and 2 2/3 innings with a 0.00 ERA during the truncated 2020 campaign. “That’s a great thing. That was important to me.”
Ledbetter said the coaches were no-nonsense and helped players focus on short-term and long-term goals.
After his time at Campbellsville was there more baseball for Ledbetter?
He sure hoped so.
“The goal was always to play professional baseball and keep playing as long as I can,” says Ledbetter.
But there was plenty of uncertainty. Minor League Baseball canceled its 2020 season and many independent leagues followed suit.
Ledbetter kept himself in shape and began training with Jay Lehr at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind.
“Jay really took me under his wing,” says Ledbetter, who had the chance to play catch with former big league pitcher Drew Storen and central Indiana minor leaguers like Parker Dunshee and Nolan Watson. “I saw a lot of development as a pitcher.
“I started showing signs of improvement and that I had the stuff to play at the next level.”
Ledbetter reached out to teams and leagues, including the four-team, Utica, Mich.-based USPBL (Birmingham Bloomfield Beavers, Eastside Diamond Hoppers, Utica Unicorns and Westside Woolly Mammoths).
It was only a matter of hours when director of operations Jason Orenduff replied to his email and he soon found himself headed to Jimmy John’s Field in Utica, about 25 miles north of Detroit.
Assigned to the Woolly Mammoths, the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder Ledbetter was a relief pitcher for a team co-managed by John Dombrowski and Taylor Grzelakowski.
“They definitely had our best interests in mind at all times,” says Ledbetter. “It was a fun atmosphere at the field every day.”
USPBL games were played Thursday through Sunday. There was no practice on Mondays and it was an optional weight room day. There were practices on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
“We were split into position groups,” says Ledbetter. “Pitchers went through an extensive stretching routine. As a reliever I had to be ready at all times. Tuesday was usually my bullpen days with 20-25 pitches and weights. Wednesdays I’d play catch and work on off-speed grips from 60 feet.”
Ledbetter said gameday routines were based on the individual needs of each player. Some recovered faster than others.
“We would hold each other accountable,” says Ledbetter, who made 21 mound appearances (20 in relief) with a 2-4 mark, three saves, 2.78 ERA, 23 K’s and 22 walks in 27 2/3 innings.
While Ledbetter has received an invitation to return to the USPBL in 2022, the league does have a two-year cap.
“Their goal is to push guys out of their as quickly as they can,” says Ledbetter. “They want everybody to be signed my an affiliated team.
“They saw a lot of growth in me as a player. They want the best for everyone. They’ve encouraged me to look at my other options.”
Taking a break to re-set physically and mentally, Ledbetter does not plan to begin throwing again for three or four weeks.
Meanwhile he will pursue a part-time job and may give private lessons.
He will also take the time to enjoy family. Paul Ledbetter is in the insurance business. Deb Ledbetter is a former flight attendant. Lauren Ledbetter (21) is a radiology technician. Carson Ledbetter (19) is attending trade school to become an electrician.
Collin is not related to twins Ryan and David Ledbetter, but he has formed a relationship with the former pitchers at Heritage Christian High School, Cedarville (Ohio) University and the Texas Rangers organization.
Ryan Ledbetter works for a company that has done business with Paul Ledbetter’s firm. Over time, Collin got to know both Ryan and David.
“We hit it off,” says Collin. “We’ve kept in-touch ever since.”

Collin Ledbetter (USPBL Photo)
Collin Ledbetter (United Shores Professional Baseball League Photo)
Collin Ledbetter (United Shores Professional Baseball League Photo)

Indiana Nitro grows from one team into successful travel ball organization

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana Nitro — a travel baseball organization launched in the central part of the state — has had 164 college commits and five Major League Baseball draft selections since 2014.
Among Nitro alums who went on to pro baseball are Zach Britton (Toronto Blue Jays system), Matt Gorski (Pittsburgh Pirates), Niko Kavadas (Boston Red Sox), Devin Mann (Los Angeles Dodgers), Tommy Sommer (Chicago White Sox) and Zack Thompson (St. Louis Cardinals).
The Nitro fielded more than 20 teams — spring, summer and fall — at the 8U to 17U levels in recent seasons. The group has earned many victories and championships and competed in multiple states.
It all began with a single 11U team that took to the diamond in 2010.
Tim Burns, whose sons Brendan and Brock were playing travel ball, was exploring diamond opportunities for his boys when he was approached by some fathers about coaching a team.
With the idea of being able to control development and practice schedules, the elder Burns agreed and led that first Nitro squad, featuring Brock.
Most of the players were from Hamilton County — one of the exceptions being Batesville’s Britton. Brock Burns is now on the football team at Ball State University as an outside linebacker while Brendan Burns was a right-handed pitcher for BSU baseball; Tim Burns is a graduate of Ball State where his major was Telecommunications.
Both Burns brothers are Hamilton Southeastern High School graduates — Brendan in 2014 and Brock in 2017.
Most games in 2010 were played in central Indiana and the team went 50-5 with five tournament titles. Eleven of the 12 players on that first team went on to play at the collegiate level.
Tammy Burns, Tim’s wife, told him that he did not have the time to head a travel organization. Yet momentum kept on building.
“Kids wanted to play,” says Burns.
Parents and players gathered and voted on a team name — Burns presented around 300 choices found on Google — and team colors. The Nitro wound up donning Athletic Gold and Cardinal Red and uses explosive terms like Bombs and Gas on social media.
In 2011, the Nitro had four teams. The number went to seven in 2012 then 11 in 2013. It jumped to 20 in 2014 (the first year the organization had a high school age team).
“The snowball got big,” says Burns. “It took on a life of its own.”
The mantra of the Nitro is “Advancing players to the next level.” That came to mean grooming them to play high school baseball and then — for those who wished to do so — college baseball.
“It’s a very complex recruiting process that we came up with over the years,” says Burns, a 1982 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., who grew up on the diamonds of Goodland, Ind., and counted Tracy Smith (who went on to coach at Miami University-Middletown, Miami University, Indiana University and Arizona State University) as a teammate. “You dive deep into it and build relationships with college coaches and recruiters.
“Learning how to help these kids get recruited was important to our board (of directors) and and organization.”
Nitro staffers work the phones on behalf of their players and are constantly seeking talent and getting ready for the next thing.
“It’s a year-round job,” says Burns, who is employed in sales for Bally Sports Indiana (the Indiana Pacers TV Network). “There’s so much behind the scenes in the off-season. It keeps the board and volunteers busy.”
Randy Poiry has been on the board since the beginning. Two sons — catcher Rutger Poiry (Lincoln Trail College and Eastern Kentucky University) and right-handed pitcher Carter Poiry (Murray State University and Quinnipiac University) — played for the Nitro.
Directors are Chris Poland (daily operations and high school age teams) and Dan Rodgers (ages 8-14). Jared Poland, son of Chris, is at the University of Louisville. Nathan Rodgers (Carmel High School Class of 2024) played for his father on the Nitro 14U Gold team in 2021.
Burns, who coached the Nitro 16U Gold team to a 26-9-1 mark in 2021 and will move up to coach the 17U Gold squad in 2022, gets players from near and far.
“We don’t care where they come from,” says Burns. “We want good kids from good families who want to put in the work.”
Nitro players train at Pro X Athlete Development on the Grand Park campus in Westfield, Ind. A membership is included with fees.
Burns counts four nephews — South Newton graduates Jarrett Hammel and Jay Hammel and Benton Central High school alums Payton Hall and Conner Hall — among former Nitro players. Former Saint Joseph’s College and Valparaiso right-hander Jarrett Hammel is now head baseball coach at Benton Central. Jay Hammel is a righty pitcher at Quincy (Ill.) University. Payton Hall is an outfielder at Oakland City (Ind.) University after transferring from the University of Southern Indiana. Former middle infielder Connor Hall is an Aviation Management student at Indiana State University.

Indiana University southpaw Sommer goes drafted by Chicago White Sox

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tommy Sommer knows the value of speed and pitch movement.
But the 10th-round selection in the 2021 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox also sees the value in poise under pressure.
Now 22. Sommer has been doing it since he was young.
“I have really good feel for the game and I’ve always been good at managing situations,” says Sommer, who pitched four seasons (2018-21) at Indiana University. “All those things come naturally to me.
“Velocity and off-speed pitches are important, but handling emotions is taken for granted,” says Somer. “All of that stuff is an asset to me.
“My dad is a big inspiration. He was a pro athlete. I’ve been in locker rooms since 3 and 4 years old.”
Tommy was in some high-pressure moments during his travel ball days with the Indiana Bulls and saw his father — former soccer goalkeeper Juergen Sommer — on some big stages.
The elder Juergen, who shined at Culver Military Academy and IU, earned 10 caps on the U.S. National Team, and was he first American goalie to play in the FA Premier League.
Juergen was playing for Major League Soccer’s Columbus (Ohio) Crew when oldest son Tommy was born and the New England Revolution (Boston) when youngest son Noah (now 19 and a Pre-Medical student at Vanderbilt University) came into the world. He has coached keepers for the U.S. Men’s National team and for the Indy Eleven and runs Carmel FC.
Tommy Sommer played soccer while growing up, but fell in love with the diamond.
“Baseball has carved a great path for me,” says Sommer, who has done from playing wiffleball in the back yard in Columbus with mother Susie (who is now a realtor) to T-ball at First Baptist Church after the family moved to Carmel, Ind., to travel ball (Smithville Gators, Indiana Nitro and then the Indiana Bulls in high school — three summers with Dave Taylor as head coach and two with Sean Laird at 16U and 17U).
“(Taylor) let us grow as baseball players and would teach from mistakes,” says Sommer. “(Laird) was more hands-on. He wanted you to put your best foot forward and hold yourself accountable.
“He wanted you to be more aggressive. You’re going after something (a college scholarship or pro contract) and developing a future in the game.”
Sommer graduated in 2017 from Carmel High School, where he played three seasons for Dan Roman and one for Matt Buczkowski. He appreciates the opportunities afforded by both Greyhounds bench bosses.
When it came deciding on college, Sommer was more than familiar with IU with his family’s ties to the school.
“We had family gatherings in Brown County,” says Sommer. “It was almost too comfortable.”
He was enticed by offers from Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference schools, but Sommer saw in Indiana the chance to play right away in the competitive Big Ten Conference. He played one season with Chris Lemonis as head coach and Kyle Bunn as pitching coach and three with Jeff Mercer and Justin Parker in those roles.
Sommer made 45 mound appearances (24 as a starter) with a 13-9 record, two saves and a 3.17 earned run average. In 157 2/3 innings, he struck out 160 and walked 71. He helped the Hoosiers win the Big Ten regular-season title in 2019.
In 2021, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder made 12 starts and went 5-4 with a 4.60 ERA. He fanned 69 and walked 38 in 62 2/3 innings.
He also earned a Finance degree from IU’s Kelley School of Business in May.
Prior to the MLB Draft, Sommer pitched three innings for the Cape Cod League’s Falmouth Commodores. He was on the Cape when the White Sox picked him and is now at a mini-camp in Birmingham, Ala. After that, some will go to Glendale, Ariz., and on to affiliate teams. The top four farm teams in the system are the Low Class-A Kannapolis (N.C.) Cannon Ballers, High Class-A Winston-Salem (N.C.) Dash, Double-A Birmingham Barons and Triple-A Charlotte (N.C.) Knights.
After a shortened 2020 season at IU because of COVID-19, Sommer pitched in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
“It was fun toe play with kids I played with or against for a decade,” says Sommer. “It was a unique experience.”
He also got the chance to work with pitching instructor Jay Lehr at Pro X Athlete Development at Grand Park. In the winter, Sommer had gone to The Barn in Lapel and got pointers from White Sox Director of Amateur Scouting Mike Shirley and White Sox area scout Justin Wechsler, a Pendleton (Ind.) Heights High School graduate who pitched at Ball State University and in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization.
In 2019, Sommer was a substitute arm for the Prospect League’s Terre Haute (Ind.) Rex while also rehabbing from knee surgery and training with Lehr.
The lefty was with the Northwoods League’s Kalamazoo (Mich.) Growlers in the summer of 2018.
Sommer throws a four-seam fastball which sits between 88 to 92 mph.
He also employs a cutter which runs away from left-handed batters and into right-handers.
“I want to induce weak contact,” says Sommer of the cutter. “It’s a good pitch in counts where someone is hunting a fastball.
“You get them off thinking they’re in a dead-red fastball count.”
The change-up is where Sommer gets strikeouts in the bottom of the strike zone.
“It spins sideways and drops off the table,” says Sommer. “There is vertical depth and halo spin. It’s the opposite of a gyro ball.”
Sommer mixes in his curve to let hitters know that’s a part of his arsenal.

Talking Hoosier Baseball Podcast chat with Tommy Sommer
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (left) and head coach Jeff Mercer (Indiana University Photo)
Indiana University —2019 Big Ten Conference baseball champions.
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer with the 2019 Big Ten Conference championship trophy. (Indiana University Photo)
The Hoosiers mug with the 2019 Big Ten Conference baseball championship trophy.
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Image)
Hug and hardware of Tommy Sommer.
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Tommy Sommer (Indiana University Photo)
Susie, Tommy and Juergen Sommer.