Tag Archives: Prospect League

Return to college swing helps Mets catcher Plawecki

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Six seasons into his professional baseball career, Kevin Plawecki went back to his college days and it helped him finish strong at the plate in 2017.

For the year, the former Purdue University catcher hit .328 in 64 games at Triple-A Las Vegas and .260 in 37 games (.348 in his last 10 appearances) with the big-league New York Mets.

Plawecki wore a Boilermakers uniform for three seasons (2010-12) and credits assistant coach Jeff Duncan (now head coach at Kent State University) for guiding his offensive game.

“(Duncan) got my swing where it needed to be in college,” says Plawecki, a right-hander. “He’s one of the best hitting coaches I’ve ever worked with. “He’s very relatable and very good at explaining what he believes in. He had been hitting to the middle of the field and the right side. He had me staying under my legs (with a wide stance). I drifted quite a bit in college and got away with it (even in the minors) because my hands worked so well.

“In the majors, I got exposed. Over the years, my stance got narrow and my hands were moving a lot.”

So with the help of Mets hitting coach Kevin Long (who moved on after the 2017 season), Plawecki studied films of his Purdue at-bats.

He again spread out his stance and his swing became shorter and more compact.

“It really allowed me to use my whole body, especially my legs,” says Plawecki, who turns 27 Feb. 26. “I had been getting more and more upright and it was causing more movement in my head, legs and hands. I was trying to be too perfect.”

It’s that swing he polished at Purdue that helped the 2009 Westfield High School graduate have a super 2012 campaign. That spring, he hit .359 with 47 runs batted in was second team All-America by Baseball America, Perfect Game USA and College Baseball Insider, finished as a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award as the nation’s top collegiate catcher, semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award and Dick Howser Trophy and became the Boilers’ first Big Ten Conference Player of the Year. He was also chosen as Most Outstanding Player in the Big Ten tournament and Purdue’s Male Athlete of the Year.

Plawecki struck out 29 times in 638 career at-bats with the Boilers.

The Mets made Plawecki a compensation pick in the first round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. He was the third-highest Purdue player selected in program history. Only right-handed pitcher and Brebeuf Jesuit graduate Sherard Clinkscales (31st in 1992) and outfielder and Anderson Madison Heights graduate Jermaine Allensworth (34th in 1993) were picked earlier.

Plawecki was also Purdue’s highest draftee since 6-foot-6 right-hander and Mishawaka High School graduate Chadd Blasko was picked 36th overall in 2002.

The catcher made his MLB debut on April 21, 2015. He split time between the Mets and Triple-A in 2015, 2016 and 2017, playing a total of 158 games in the big leagues. He was on the Mets postseason roster for the National League Division Series, National League Championship Series and World Series, but did not see any game action.

In 2011 at Purdue, Plawecki hit .341 and drove in 39. He started 55 games — 45 at catcher, six at designated hitter and four at first base. The first-team all-Big Ten selection was a Johnny Bench Award semifinalist. That summer, played for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks of the Cape Cod League

His first collegiate season (2010), Plawecki led the the Boilers in batting average (.343) and established a Purdue freshman record for RBIs (53). He played 54 games and started 52 times, primarily at catcher. He was named a Freshman All-American by both Collegiate Baseball and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. His summer team was the Richmond (Ind.) RiverRats of the Prospect League.

Doug Schreiber was head coach at Purdue during Plawecki’s stay in West Lafayette.

“He was a hard-nosed guy,” says Plawecki of Schreiber (now head coach at McCutcheon High School). “He didn’t take a whole lot of crap from anybody. People respected him. He was always at the morning workouts with us. That goes a long way. He may not have been lifting, but he was up there grinding with us. He fought for us. He had our backs. That’s why we were so successful at Purdue.”

Plawecki grew up a Bolier fan. Several family members, including father Jeff (who was a member of the golf team), mother Lynne and brother Aaron, are Purdue graduates. Aaron is scheduled to complete graduate school at Northwestern University in December.

During Kevin’s freshmen year at Purdue, he met soccer player Tayler Francel and they married in 2015. The Plaweckis are spending their off-season in Arizona, where they are closer to her family in San Diego. He lifts weights four days a week and plans to begin throwing and hitting again in early January before heading to spring training with the Mets in Florida.

Plawecki, who was born in Hinsdale, Ill., and moved to central Indiana about the time he was beginning school, played travel baseball for the Westfield Indians in his early years then the Indiana Bulls and Indiana Dirt Bags before heading to Purdue.

He played many positions growing up, but settled in at catcher as a Westfield sophomore and got pointers from former Purdue backstop Mike Hansen, who is now on the Shamrocks coaching staff led by Ryan Bunnell.

“He helped me with drill work and set the foundation,” says Plawecki, who was part of Westfield’s IHSAA Class 4A state runner-up team in 2009. He was a two-time all-Indy North, all-Hoosiers Crossroads Conference and all-Hamilton County selection and earned four varsity letters in baseball at Westfield and was a team captain as a junior and senior. “I got bored everywhere else. I was not being very good anywhere else and a pretty good catcher. I like the involvement and challenge it brings.”

He gives many propers to his high school head coach.

“Burnell taught me ab out accountability,” says Plawecki. “I was just a young kid at the time, trying to find my way and stay out of trouble. That’s where my work ethic started. It started with those early-morning workouts. We were working hard and letting the results take care of themselves. I learned a lot from him — on and off the field.”

Now, Plawecki not only shares the field but catches some of the best pitchers in baseball. There’s Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo in the starting mix.

“It’s a lot of fun,” says Plawecki of receiving the collection of aces. “It makes my job a lot easier. It also brings high expectations. Last year, we couldn’t stay healthy.”

Why all the injuries?

“It’s pretty crazy,” says Plawecki. I’ve never seen anything like it. If we could pin-point it as players or as trainers, we would have done it. Good thing is it’s just one year. We’ll learn from last year and be ready to go.”

Travis d’Arnaud, who played 112 games and hit .244 for the Mets in 2017, is ahead of Plawecki for the top spot on the The off-season MLB.com depth chart.

Can Plawecki win the starting job?

“I just try to go out and play and have fun,” says Plawecki. “I want to take advantage of the opportunity that given day. Leave that decision up to (the Mets).”

Mickey Calloway, who was pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians in 2017, is now the Mets manager. He has been quoted as saying he is considering letting starters go through the order twice before going to the bullpen. Some say this approach could tax the bullpen.

“He’s in-tune with pitching and what it takes to stay healthy,” says Plawecki. “If he thinks that’s the route to stay healthy then that’s what we’ll do. I don’t know if there is a perfect pitch count or innings limit. Everyone’s body is different.

“The success he had in Cleveland with those pitchers speaks volumes.”

Sabermetrics and analytics have become a big part of baseball. Data is used to decide where teams are going to position their defense against certain hitters.

“We don’t look at (the analytics) as much,” says Plawecki. “We’ve got a lot on our plates learning the weaknesses of the other players.”

Plawecki says the coaches are the ones who move the defenders. As a catcher, he calls the signals in stealing situations. Bunt coverages are called by the third baseman.

KEVINPLAWECKIMETS

Kevin Plawecki, a 2009 Westfield High School graduate and former Purdue University standout, is a catcher with the New York Mets. (New York Mets Photo)

 

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Manaea continues to make adjustments as part of Oakland rotation

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Succeeding in baseball involves a series of adjustments.

Sean Manaea knows this to be true from experience.

A starting pitcher for the Oakland Athletics, Manaea (pronounced muh-NYE-uh) has made — and will continue to make — the necessary changes to be effective on a Major League Baseball mound.

“It’s been a winding road,” says Manaea, a northwest Indiana native who was selected in the first round of the 2013 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of Indiana State University by the Kansas City Royals and made his big-league debut with Oakland in 2016. “When I first got to pro ball I was trying to strike out the world and go max effort. But I found that I can’t sustain that so I toned it down.

“But I toned it down too much and was getting lit up. I’m still trying to find that happy medium and have some gas left at the end of the game.”

The 6-foot-5 left-hander who played three seasons at South Central (Union Mills) High School and his senior year at Andrean High School (helping the 59ers win the 2010 IHSAA Class 3A state championship) has been known to reach 97 mph on the radar gun, but strives to mix velocity and deception to get hitters out.

“I threw a four-seam fastball about 75 percent of the time (in 2017),” says Manaea, who turns 26 on Feb. 1. “At the end of 2016, I started messing with two-seamer.”

What better — velocity or movement?

“A combination of both is the best,” says Manaea. “You don’t have to throw 97 to 100 mph every pitch to get guys out. The main thing is to be able to throw strikes no matter what kind of movement you have.”

When Manaea’s slider is biting down it provides plenty of swings and misses and groundball outs.

“That’s the pitch I need to get down and throw for a strike,” says Manaea. “That’s one of my main focuses this off-season.”

Taking advantage of the weather and the ability to work out with Athletics trainers at the team’s spring training complex, Manaea spends his winters in Arizona.

“Being physically fit throughout the season is going to help me,” says Manaea. “I played all of 2016 at 255 pounds and felt sluggish and had trouble recovering between starts. Last year, I was at 230 to 235 (after losing appetite while dialing in the proper dose for attention-deficit disorder medication) and I lost muscle and had trouble with recovery. I feel that if I’m at 240 to 245, that’s about right.”

Manaea says his twisting delivery has looked the same most of his life with one exception.

While in the Royals system in 2014, he was asked to pitch more over the top and more direct to the plate.

“It worked out for a little bit,” says Manaea. “But I was thinking about it way to too much. I went back to what was natural to me.

“Everything is a learning process. I feel like I’m on the right track. I’m trying to find it again and be more consistent. I do not want to be not be overly rotational or over the top.”

Making 29 appearances (all starts), the tall southpaw went 12-10 with a 4.37 earned run average. In 158 2/3 innings, he struck out 140 and walked 55. In 2016, all but one of his 25 appearances were starts. He was 7-9 with a 3.86 ERA. He fanned 124 and walked 37 in 144 2/3 innings.

As of this writing, MLB.com lists Manaea No. 1 on the Oakland depth chart among starting pitchers.

“It doesn’t mean anything to me,” says Manaea. “At the end of the day, all I want to do is win b all games and get to the World Series and win that. It doesn’t matter if I’m the No. 5 guy or the No. 1 guy. It’s all the same to me. If we all pull together this is a team that can do something special.”

The 2017 Athletics finished in the basement of the American League West (the same division occupied by the world-champion Houston Astros). It was the sixth full season as Oakland manager for Bob Melvin.

While Manaea has picked up in-game advice from the manager and other pointers from his pitching coach (currently Scott Emerson) or bullpen coaches (currently Philip Pohl and Jeremy Dowdy), the ultimate responsibility for his performance falls on him.

“At big league level, you’ve got to have your own routines,” says Manaea. “The pitching coach is there to have you. But you have to make adjustments on your own. You self-diagnose problems along the way. At the end of the day, you’re the one making those pitches.”

Manaea, who is of American Samoa heritage, was born in Valparaiso to Faaloloi and Opal Manaea and grew up in Wanatah. He played for Kevin Hannon and Ron King at South Central. He took part in the first All-Indiana Crossroads Showcase Series after his junior year before transferring and joining coach Dave Pishkur at Andrean.

Sean draws comparisons from Melvin to Pishkur.

“They are both into stats and doing things the right way,” says Manaea, who was 4-0 with a 1.73 ERA, 36 strikeouts and 16 walks in 24 1/3 innings in 2010. “(Pishkur) is one of the favorite coaches of all-time. He taught us to be on-time and polite to other people. It goes outside of baseball. He was a very much professional coach. He is considered one of the best in Indiana and you can see why.

“He loves the game of baseball and wants to pass it on to the younger generation. He’s definitely a student of the game.”

Pishkur has amassed more than 900 victories at Andrean since 1980. The Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer has led five Class 3A state champions (2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015) and one 3A state runner-up (2004).

“He knows how he wants done in the classroom and on the baseball field,” says Manaea of Pishkur. “He wants things done the best way possible. You must give it your best every single practice and every time you are on the mound.

“Andrean helped me out with my academics. They got on me about being more productive. Baseball definitely came second at the time.”

Manaea played for head coach Rick Heller and assistants Tyler Herbst and Brian Smiley at Indiana State University.

“I definitely wouldn’t be where I’m at today without those coaches,” says Manaea. “PFP’s (pitchers’ fielding practice) was the bane of my existence. I just couldn’t do it. (Heller) just wanted the best for me.”

There was adjusting to be done in college after his stellar high school career.

“The fall of my freshmen year (2010), I was only throwing 82 to 85 mph, but I was getting hitters out,” says Manaea. “Then in the winter, after working out for the first time on a structured program I saw my velocity jump. I hit 90 mph for the first time. It was one of those milestones.

“My freshmen season wasn’t that great (5-5, 4.32 ERA, 82 K’s, 48 walks, 83 1/3 innings), but I was maturing as a pitcher.”

In the summer of 2010, Manaea played for the Dubois County Bombers when that Huntingburg, Indiana-based team was in the Prospect League. He drew the attention of pro scouts at the all-star game with his 93 mph stuff and was named league MVP.

“My sophomore year (at ISU) was a little better (5-3, 3.34 ERA, 115 K’s, 37 walks, 115 innings),” says Manaea. “Then I had a really good summer on Cad Cod (5-1, 1.22 ERA, 85 K’s, seven walks in 51 2/3 innings with the Hyannis Harbor Hawks). That was when I realized I could play professional baseball.”

In his last season with the Sycamores, the lefty went 5-4 with a 1.47 ERA. He whiffed 93 and walked 27 in 73 1/3 innings and was drafted in the first round by the Royals.

He was with the KC organization until being traded to the Athletics in July 2015 with Aaron Brooks for Ben Zobrist.

2017 Oakland Athletics Photo Day

Sean Manaea is a left-handed starting pitcher for the Oakland Athletics. The former South Central (Union Mills) High School, Andrean High School and Indiana State University player made his Major League Baseball debut with Oakland in 2016. (Oakland Athletics Photo)

West Vigo baseball’s DeGroote wants to be role model to his players

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As the son of coach and middle of three athletic brothers, Culley DeGroote soaked in plenty of knowledge on his way to becoming head baseball coach at West Vigo High School. He has led the West Terre Haute-based Vikings since the 2014 season after eight seasons serving under father Steve DeGroote.

The elder DeGroote was an assistant at Indiana State University to American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Bob Warn 1980-85 joined the coaching staff at West Vigo and led the program from 1993-2013. His teams went 441-118 with 11 Western Indiana Conference titles, 10 sectional champions, five regionals, one semistate and one state runner-up finish (2009). In 2017, he was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame.

“Ninety-five percent of what I do I learned from (my father),” says Culley. “I learned how you treat players. Dad was a master motivator. He got them to buy into something bigger than themselves.”

While the rules were the same for all players, Steve DeGroote knew how to relate to each one as an individual, something he picked up from his athletic career and his days as an ISU recruiter.

“They say that coaching is not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Jimmys and Joes and dad got the most out of those Jimmys and Joes,” says Culley. “He was genius at reading talent. He was one of those who could see a kid come in as freshmen and see the finished product. He could see potential in a kid that very few people could see.”

Culley saw his dad attracted to the student and the athlete who was on a straight path.

“He had that ability to read people,” says Culley. “He could pick up on people’s habits and their priority in life. He navigated toward kids who had their priorities straight like him. Dad doesn’t drink, smoke or party. His faith is important to him. He was the (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) director at West Vigo. He lived a clean life and lived by example.

“I’ve tried to role model that with my players. I know you’re not going to be perfect, but you need to be striving for perfection.”

Steve DeGroote’s boys — Cory (West Vigo Class of 1991), Culley (1995) and Casey (1998) — were all three-sport athletes for the Vikings. Cory and Culley are both in the West Vigo Athletic Hall of Fame.

Cory DeGroote went to The Citadel to play basketball and baseball and then transferred to Indiana State, where he played baseball for three seasons. He coached multiple sports at North White High School and then served 12 seasons as head baseball coach at Mattawan (Mich.) High School. He is now president of Peak Performance, a travel sports organization based in Mattawan.

Casey DeGroote was drafted out of high school by the New York Yankees in the 11th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and pitched as a professional until 2004. He served as general manager of the Terre Haute Rex in the summer collegiate wood bat Prospect League and is now a train engineer.

Culley DeGroote earned the McMillan Award as the top male athlete in Vigo County and was an IHSBCA All-Star as a senior. He was a three-year starter in football, basketball and baseball and went on to be a three-year starter on both the hardwood and diamond at Franklin College.

His last baseball season was his junior year (he transferred to Indiana State to finish his degree). It was also the first as head coach for Lance Marshall, who still guides the Grizzlies.

“He cared about us as people,” says Culley. “He wanted to know your story and your background. I told myself that when I become a head coach, I hope my players in some way feel about me the way they felt about Coach Marshall.

“He was quiet and no-nonsense, but a super positive guy. You felt good about yourself after talking to Coach Marshall.”

Culley began his coaching career with a four-year stint on the staff of Scott Spada at Kalamazoo (Mich.) Central High School. Before Spada, Derek Jeter played baseball for the Maroon Giants and went on to be captain of the New York Yankees. Future Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings did play for Spada.

Also the school’s head boys soccer coach, Culley heads in the 2018 baseball season with Zack Kent (varsity) and Kyle Stewart (junior varsity) as assistant coaches.

Steve DeGroote is still helping the Vikings baseball program as middle school director. The feeder program fielded two squads last spring — sixth and seventh graders combined and eighth graders. Playing 15 to 20 five-inning doubleheaders, the middle schoolers are heading into their third season in 2018.

“It’s an awesome thing,” says Culley. “It gives you a lot of flexibility and unity. It’s closed the gap between middle school and high school ball. We teach the same things. Getting coached in a lot of the little things that can win you a championship at a younger level.

“(Middle schoolers) get to play on the high school field and they love that.”

At a cost of more than $10,000, that field was upgraded in the fall of 2016 with more than 100 tons of infield dirt and artificial turf around the mound and home plate areas.

“That was the best idea I ever had,” says Culley. “We were getting in games (in 2017) we never got in before.”

Culley teaches physical education at the middle school and gets a chance to have a relationship with athletes as sixth graders.

West Terre Haute Little League, where Steve Shaffer is president, has three fields and four leagues (T-ball, minor and major).

“They are the lifeline of our program,” says Culley.

All of it has gone to help numbers at the high school. There were 15 freshmen baseball players at West Vigo in 2017 and 19 the year before that.

The varsity Vikings went 17-9 and lost to Edgewood in the semifinals of the IHSAA Class 3A Northview Sectional.

West Vigo is in the West Division of the Western Indiana Conference with Greencastle, North Putnam, Northview, South Putnam and Sullivan. Brown County, Cascade, Cloverdale, Edgewood, Indian Creek and Owen Valley comprise the WIC East Division.

With about 1,023 students, Northview is the biggest school in the 2A/3A league with Cloverdale (370) as the smallest. West Vigo (581) is in-between.

Conference games are played five straight Tuesdays with a crossover game on the sixth Tuesday.

Since 1998, the Vikings have sent eight players on to NCAA Division I baseball and had three players drafted out of high school (Casey DeGroote by the Yankees in 1998, infielder Lenny Leclercq by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 11th round in 2005 and Jeremy Lucas by the Cleveland Indians in the 12th round in 2009).

Right-hander Morgan Coombs, a 2006 graduate, played at Lincoln Trail College and Ball State University and went un-drafted before three seasons with the independent Gary SouthShore RailCats. He was the Australian Baseball League’s Pitcher of the Year in 2015 with the Adelaide Bite.

Middle infielder Tyler Wampler, a 2010 graduate, was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers out of Indiana State in the 17th round in 2014. He was head coach for the Terre Haute Rex in 2016-17.

Three of Culley’s players are currently at the D-I level — pitcher Davie Inman (West Vigo Class of 2015) at Coastal Carolina University, middle infielder Jordan Schafer (2016) at Indiana State and first baseman/pitcher Ty Lautenschlager (2017) at Northern Illinois University.

CULLEYDEGROOTE1

Culley DeGroote, a 1995 West Vigo High School graduate, is entering his fifth season as Vikings head baseball coach in 2018. Before that, he was an assistant to father Steve DeGroote, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer.

Howard looking for first IU Kokomo baseball team to play the game fast

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Matt Howard hit the ground running when he took over as head coach for the new baseball program at Indiana University Kokomo.

That’s fitting since Howard wants his Cougars to play the game fast and put pressure on opponents.

Since starting in January and hitting the recruiting trail, Howard and his assistants — associate head coach/pitching coach Joe Thatcher (a Kokomo High School graduate who pitched in the big leagues), recruiting coordinator Zach Hall (who played at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.) and infield/assistant hitting coach Jason Leone (who played at Avila University in Kansas City, Mo.) — have built a roster and begun establishing a culture.

“We want to play fast,” says  says Howard, who used his speed as a outfielder to a be an NCAA Division II All-American and Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Player of the Year at Slippery Rock State University and was an assistant at Chestnut Hill College, where the Griffins were consistently among the D-II leaders in stolen bases. “We want guys that understand the game and play the game hard. We want to put pressure on the defense and take advantage of any mistake they make.”

A Philadelphia, Pa., native, Howard served three seasons as manager of the Kokomo Jackrabbits of the summer collegiate Prospect League (2014-16) and was on the baseball staffs at Ball State University, LaSalle University and Chestnut Hill after his collegiate playing career.

Howard and his IU Kokomo staff have a group of 38 for 2017-18 and are now working on the recruiting class of 2018-19.

“We’re just looking for the best student-athlete we can find,” says Howard. IUK has about 3,000 students — many of them of commuters.

What attracted him to the heart of Indiana?

“Kokomo is a special place,” says Howard. “It’s a baseball town. We’re at an institution where we can attract a very strong student-athlete

“Our athletic department is young and looking to add sports strategically and run them in a competitive manner,” says Howard.

By having nearly 40 players, its creates competition within the squad and gives the Cougars some depth as they go through fall ball activities. Practices will wrap in a few weeks and players will hit the weight room. When classes begin again after winter break on Jan. 8, the team will kick it into gear as it prepares for the inaugural season opener Feb. 9 at Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn. It’s the first of three straight weekend series in Tennessee. The home opener on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium is Feb. 27 against Indiana Wesleyan.

At 28, Howard is one of the younger head coaches in NAIA baseball. He sees it as a positive.

“It’s an advantage,” says Howard. “I have a lot of energy and passion for what I do. I’m out everyday to prove I’m the guy for the job. I’m able to get my players on the field more.

“Baseball is a beautiful game that teaches a lot of life lessons and about (dealing with) failure. Baseball is a tough game to play. You need to take the positives from the negatives.”

MATTHOWARD

Matt Howard, 28, is the head coach of a brand new NAIA baseball program at Indiana University Kokomo. He is a Philadelphia, Pa., native who was an NCAA Division II All-American at Slippery Rock State University. (IU Kokomo Photo)

 

Terre Haute’s Wampler learning patience with Rex

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tyler Wampler has learned plenty in his two seasons as the head coach of the summer collegiate wood bat baseball Prospect League’s Terre Haute Rex.

At the top of the list is patience.

“I’m pretty young so I’m just out of playing,” says Wampler, 25. “I realize I can’t go out there (on the field). I can’t control anything. I need to patient with the players and understand that mistakes are going to happen and just be the same guy everyday.”

Wampler, who played for Rick Heller and Mitch Hannahs at Indiana State University 2011-14 and in the Los Angeles Dodgers system 2014-15 then spent the spring of 2016 as a volunteer assistant coach at ISU, was given full authority by general manager Bruce Rosselli put together the entire 2017 Rex roster.

Prospect League rules limit rosters to 28 players. Last year, Wampler used around 40 players in 2016 and expects to do the same this summer.

“There’s a lot of turnover,” says Wampler. “It’s not like you’re just releasing guys. It’s usually for injuries or innings limits (on pitchers).”

As is the case all around the baseball world, pitching is a priority in Terre Haute.

“I’m a firm believer that pitching and defense wins champions,” says Wampler. “We want to start off getting the best arms we can and get as many as we can. You will have to shut guys down midway through the season because their arms are getting tired or they reach a certain amount of innings. You have to be real careful with them.”

Scott Lawson is pitching coach for the Rex. Lawson is a 1997 Terre Haute North Vigo High School who played at John A. Logan Community College, the University of Georgia and in independent professional baseball before coaching at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and at Terre Haute North.

Wampler is coaching in his hometown again this summer and giving baseball lessons at The Hitting Zone in the off-season. He is a 2010 graduate of West Vigo High School, where he played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Steve DeGroote.

Wampler helped the Vikings to an IHSAA Class 3A state runner-up finish as a junior in 2009. He started at shortstop and went 2-of-3 in the title game.

Playing for DeGroote, Heller and Hannahs, Wampler experienced three different coaching styles.

“They all worked so I can use all three and mold it into my own way,” says Wampler.

The Prospect League is a 10-team circuit in 2017 with Terre Haute, Danville (Ill.), Lafayette (Ind.), Quincy (Ill.), Springfield (Ill.) in the West Division and Butler (Pa.), Champion City (Springfield, Ohio), Chillicothe (Ohio), Kokomo (Ind.) and West Virginia (Beckley, W.Va.) in the East.

Going into play Aug. 1 and with six regular-season contests remaining, Terre Haute was 29-25 and three games behind West-leading Lafayette. The two-tier playoffs are scheduled to begin Aug. 6.

“This league is headed in the right direction and has a lot of good things going,” says Wampler. “It’s a way for these guys to play 60 games (in the summer after 50 or more games in the spring). It’s close to a minor league schedule. They’re getting great experience. They have to come out and perform every night. They’re expected to play well because they have guys behind them that can take their spot.”

Wampler played three summers in collegiate wood bat leagues — two in the Northwoods League (Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers in Minnestoa and the Eau Claire Express in Wisconsin) and one for the Rex (named for the Clabber Girl brand of coffee).

While some players come from across the country and stay with host families, Wampler notes the uniqueness of the Terre Haute franchise, which plays on ISU’s Bob Warn Field.

“We try to get a lot of local guys,” says Wampler. “We think Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley is a hotbed for baseball.

“We do have guys come from all over, including Florida and the Dominican Republic (outfielder Jalbert Melo was a recent PL Player of the Week). They stay with host families. Our host families are great. We turn people away each year, there are so many families that want to host. That’s a good problem to have.

“I remember when I was a player. Host families are like family to you and they care about what you’re doing. They stay in-touch years later.”

TERREHAUTEREX

Lafayette’s McNeil has Aviators in thick of pennant chase

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

With players coming and going and roles constantly changing during the 2017 summer collegiate wood bat baseball season, Brent McNeil has kept the Lafayette Aviators in the Prospect League playoff hunt.

McNeil, a 2007 Lafayette Jefferson High School graduate and the only head coach the Aviators have had in their two seasons of existence, took his squad into play July 29 and with eight regular-season contests remaining, West-leading Lafayette was 30-22 and two games ahead of Terre Haute.

The Prospect League, which debuted in 2009, includes two divisions in 2017 — Lafayette, Terre Haute, Danville (Ill.), Quincy (Ill.) and Springfield (Ill.) in the West with Butler (Pa.), Champion City (Springfield, Ohio), Chillicothe (Ohio), Kokomo (Ind.), West Virginia (Beckley, W.Va.) in the East.

The 60-game season, wood bats and strong competition gives players a taste for professional baseball. Some thrive and others see that the grind is too much for them.

Prospect League rules limit rosters to 28 (the current Aviators roster features players with hometowns in 13 states and Puerto Rico). Mostly because of injuries, there has been plenty of movement for the Aviators throughout the summer.

“You really have to watch out for warning signs of injuries, take care of them and make sure (pitchers) are not throwing too many pitches in one inning,” says McNeil, who played Eastern Illinois University and recently recently hired as the pitching coach at Quincy (Ill.) University after past two spring seasons on the coaching staff at the University of North Florida and director of baseball operations at Indiana State University prior to that.

There is no disabled list in the PL. Players are either on the roster or they are released. It’s up to the teams to find replacements.

“I can’t count how many times the roster has changed since I started putting it together in the fall,” says McNeil, who enlisted the help of second-year assistant Ryan Dineen in building the Aviators. “Having college contacts is huge. Some players have reached out, but I’ve mostly relied on his own contacts. There are coaches I’ve known over the years and trust.”

The old saying in baseball is you can never have too much pitching and that really rings true in summer collegiate baseball, where injuries and innings limits keep mound staffs continually morphing.

“(Working with) pitchers is tough,” says McNeil. “The top 1, 2 and 3 (starters on college teams) are either shut down for the summer or go to Cape Cod or the Northwoods (leagues). I believe we began the summer with about nine starters (and now have seven).

“We’re still trying to establish roles at this point in the season. At any moment, you could lose that guy. You have to find more guys and figure out where they fit in.”

Caleb Sleeman fit the bill July 23 when the Michigan State University right-hander threw the franchise’s first no-hitter in a 12-0 win against Kokomo.

With so many talented players and so much playing time, McNeil makes it a point to do something constructive with his bench players on a daily basis — maybe extra time in the batting cage.

College baseball players try to put on muscle in the weight room during the summer.

“It’s real hard when you’re playing six days a week,” says McNeil.

Loeb Stadium next to the Columbian Park Zoo is the Aviators’ home field. McNeil played his high school baseball there and was with the Lafayette Lightning in the Colt World Series after coming up through the Pony Baseball Leagues at Lafayette’s Armstrong Park. He was a Prospect League player for the former Slippery Rock (Pa.) franchise.

Dineen, who serves as hitting, infield and third base coach for Lafayette, played at Andrean High School for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur then at Eastern Illinois University for Jim Schmitz. He played two seasons as an infielder in the Houston Astros system and has served on the coaching staff at McKendree University.

Parker Osborne replaced Dan Peterson as an Aviators assistant during the season.

Osborne, a former Southern Illinois University outfielder, has been an assistant at Western Illinois University.

Peterson pitched at Indiana State and went to Iowa to pursue a junior college coaching opportunity.

The Aviators are operated through MKE Sports & Entertainment, the same group that runs the rival Kokomo Jackrabbits.

LAFAYETTEAVIATORS

Baseball in Richmond played to the tune of Jazz

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Richmond, Ind., has long appreciated the crack of the baseball bat.

The Rose City fielded professional teams throughout most of the first half of the 20th century and brought pro ball back with the independent Frontier League’s Richmond Roosters (1995-2005).

Charles Weeghman, the man who built what would become known as Wrigley Field, was born in Richmond in 1874.

These days, the crack comes in the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League with the Richmond Jazz.

Playing at John Cate Field at Don McBride Stadium (which dates back to 1936), the Jazz came into the league in 2016. The Richmond RiverRats played collegiate wood-bat baseball in the Prospect League. That team sold and moved to Lafayette, Ind. The GLSCL approached Richmond about joining and a new baseball brand came to town.

Richmond native Deanna Beaman has been a part of the Roosters, RiverRats and Jazz.

A 1996 Richmond High School graduate with a sports management and marketing degree from Indiana University, Beaman served as an intern with the Roosters and served in several capacities with the club for eight seasons.

When the Roosters sold and moved to Traverse City, Mich., to become the Beach Bums of the Frontier League beginning with the 2006 season, it left a baseball void in Richmond.

The hole was filled with changing from pro to college ball and joining the new Prospect League for the summer of 2009 for what turned out to be a seven-season run.

“The college wood bat model is better in this market,” says Beaman.

Then with expansion, costs began to rise in the collegiate summer league world.

“The Prospect League grew and is became more and more expensive to be in that league,” says Beaman, who estimates the team was spending $40,000 per season on travel, not including hotels. “The Great Lakes League approached us. We found that the business models are different in the two leagues.

“There was an interest to keep baseball in the community. You have to be a 501 (c) 3 (non-profit organization) to be in the (GLSCL).”

Beaman is president and general manager of Hitters Hangout Sports Foundation, which operates as the Richmond Jazz.

Richmond players are charged a participation fee (similar to travel baseball) and the club pays a frranchise fee to the league, which must abide by NCAA regulations.

She identifies the top benefits of Great Lakes membership for Richmond is the short season (the team plays a 42-game regular season) and travel is relatively short with no overnight trips.

Richmond is in the GLSCL’s Southern Division with Ohio teams Cincinnati, Hamilton, Southern Ohio and Xenia.

The Central Division features five Ohio teams — Galion, Grand Lake, Licking County, Lorain County and Lima.

Making up the Northern Division are Grand River, Irish Hills, Lake Erie and Muskegon in Michigan and Saint Clair in Ontario, Canada.

Richmond would not see Northern teams until the playoffs.

There were growing pains with the transition from to the Great Lakes. Richmond got a new mayor and park superintendent and the baseball team got a new lease at McBride Stadium in 2016. On the field, Matt Brankle managed the Jazz to a record of 12-29.

Things were completely revamped on the baseball side for the 2017 season. Floridians Brett “Buster” Schneider (assistant coach at NCAA Division I Florida Atlantic University) and Brian Thomas (coach at Gainesville High School) were recruited to be head coach and pitching coach, respectively, and former RiverRats players Joe Pourier was named as a volunteer assistant.

“We have to get a winning ball club in the community,” says Beaman. “Buster has been a great addition for us — both on and off the field. He’s changed some lives in our community. If you want to play at the D-I level, he can tell you what it takes.”

Schneider came to Richmond through a connection Beaman made with a former player.

Jeremiah Klosterman was a catcher on back-to-back Frontier League championship teams in Richmond in 2001 and 2002. The former Florida State University standout owns Hard Knoxx Baseball Academy in Jacksonville, Fla., and Schneider was one of his instructors.

Schneider is in his first season as a summer collegiate head coach, but he did serve three seasons as an assistant for Green Bay of the Northwoods League.

Hitting the ground running (leaving Florida June 2 and beginning practice June 4), Schneider immediately began working on team chemistry with a roster made up of players with hometowns in eight different states. Some players live close enough to commute for games and workouts while others stay with host families.

“You have to get them to buy into your system and play for a chgampionship,” says Schneider. “You have to have a plan in place and you have to win early (with such a short season).”

Through their connections, Beaman and Schneider helped form a Jazz roster that includes players with hometowns in eight states.

“You reach out and get as many good, quality players as you can,” says Schneider. “I want them to use the summer to get better and go back and be conference players of the year and All-Americans.”

By rule, league members must carry a certain number of Division I players in order to be funded by Major League Baseball for developmental reasons. There are numerous collegiate wood bat leagues across the country.

This summer, Richmond has pitchers James Meyer (Valparaiso), Ben Nelson (Virginia Commonwealth) and R.J. Wagner (Dayton), catchers Chase DeBonis (Bethune-Cookman) and Jordan Stacy (Bethune-Cookman), infielder Jordan Gillerman (St. John’s) and outfielders Jack Holden (Eastern Illinois) and Cole Parks (Bethune-Cookman).

“We can get hitters all day long,” says Beaman. “Pitching is the issue. D-I coaches are protecting their starters (and often shutting them down for the summer).

“Across the league, bullpens are very thin. Sometimes we have to go ‘Mississippi State style 3-3-3’ to finish a game.”

Says Thomas, “We’ve done pretty well with the guys we’ve received … We try to keep their pitch counts down … I try to get to know everyone at a personal level.”

GLSCL rules do not allow for a disabled list and player can’t be released based on talent or performance. That means the roster is pretty steady throughout the season.

RICHMONDJAZZ