Tag Archives: Prospect League

Driven Mills takes advice from many baseball mentors

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

What drives Patrick Mills as a baseball player?
“My passion for the game is definitely No. 1,” says Mills, a 22-year-old outfielder/first baseman for Indiana University-Kokomo. “Every day I get up out of bed the one thing I want to do is go play some baseball.
“That’s the reason I keep playing. I enjoy the game. Everything else will follow. I will do everything I can to get better and keep playing it. It comes down to passion and discipline.”
Mills, a 2018 graduate of Western High School in Russiaville, Ind., spent two years at Olney (Ill.) Central College and the past two years at IUK. He plans to use his extra year of COVID-19 eligibility with the Cougars in 2022-23 while completing his Computer Science degree.
A lefty thrower and batter, Mills hit .374 (65-of-174) in 2022 while helping IUK go 26-22 overall and 16-7 in the NAIA River States Conference. The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder belted 15 home runs, four triples and 16 doubles while driving in 44 runs and scoring 51 — all team-leading totals. His on-base percentage was .453.
“I make sure I stay balanced in my body and my mind,” says Mills of his approach at the plate. “I learn what the pitcher is throwing and try to hit the ball hard.
“When you hit the ball hard good things happen.”
Mills has had many mentors besides father Eric.
“It’s not just one person in particular,” says Mills. “It’s a collective of everybody I’ve met in the game.
“It’s little bit of advice here and there. I’ve put it together like a puzzle.”
Jeremy Honaker coached Cougar outfielders and hitters in 2022.
Mills credits him with helping him with the mental side of the game and bringing out his full potential during games.
“There were little snippets for me to think about during (batting practice),” says Mills. “They were more mental notes than actual physical cues.”
A lot was achieved during the fall and winter.
“All that work built up,” says Mills. “By the time the season came around it was second nature.”
Mills has head coaches at IUK with different styles. Matt Howard was intense and Drew Brantley is more laid-back.
“(Howard) lent a level of excitement and discipline,” says Mills of the man who is now a Kokomo police officer. “He wanted us to compete to the best of our abilities every single day. He wanted to make his players as tough as possible and he definitely did.
“(Brantley) has created an environment where we’re not afraid to fail. If we can control what we need to control, the results will follow. Follow the process and try to get better everyday. That philosophy — in my opinion — worked very well. Next spring it will be even better.”
Mills was born in Kokomo and got his formal baseball start at what is now Russiaville Youth Baseball League.
He played travel ball with the Westfield-based Stonecutters then went with the Indiana Eagles for his 14U to 17U summers.
“(Eagles coach) Jamie Roudebush gave us a platform to work on our skills and get better everyday during those years,” says Mills.
At Western, Mills played two years each for Quentin Brown then Ryan Berryman.
“(Brown) was all about passion when playing the game. He once jokingly said to me, ‘you care about this game too much. If you keep your passion like that you’ll go wherever you want to go.”
Mills and the Western Panthers were 2016 IHSAA Class 3A state runners-up.
“Playing for (Berryman) was a different experience from Brown,” says Mills. “He brought the intensity level, but also the technicalities of baseball. He challenged me to become better fundamentally. It was the mechanics and more than just the mental side.”
Mike Shirley, who at the time was a Chicago White Sox area scout and is now that organization’s director of amateur scouting, ran a fall league for high schoolers in Pendleton, Ind., in which Mills participated.
“He gave us a lot of information and where we need to improve,” says Mills of Shirley. “He was challenging us mentally and physically. It was a great experience.”
Mills played for Don Andrews-managed Kokomo American Legion Post 6 the summers before and after his first year of college.
“He was always supported me since I played for him,” says Mills of Andrews. “He was very similar to how Drew Brantley goes about his business. He’s calm and collected.
“Back then I was very intense and wild and wanted to do everything with one swing. He taught me how to handle my emotions. It went over my head then but I eventually learned from his teachings.”
At Olney Central, Mills played for veteran coach Dennis Conley.
“He definitely pushed his players to the limit and got the most out of them,” said Mills of Conley, who has been in charge of the Blue Knights program for 42 years and has a record of 1,530-773. “Junior college tests your love of the game. Do you really love the game or kind of like it?”
Mills was with the Portland (Ind.) Rockets during the COVID summer of 2020. One of his teammates was former Yorktown High School, Lincoln Trail College, Wright State University and independent pro player Zach Tanner.
“He took me under his wing and taught me about the mental game,” says Mills of Tanner.
Last summer he played for the Prospect League’s West Virginia Miners and manager Tim Epling.
The summer of 2022 sees Mills with the Northwoods League’s Battle Creek (Mich.) Battle Jacks. The team is managed by Caleb Long.
In 28 games with Battle Creek, Mills is hitting .360 (41-of-114) with two homers, 27 RBIs and 21 runs.
Eric and Sundai Mills have three children — Jaymee (Mills) Birky (28), Hayley Mills (24) and Patrick.
Jaymee is married and living in Madison, Wis. (where Battle Creek recently played the Madison Mallards), and competition in swimming, softball and track at Western. She also was part of a state championship marching band. Hayley nows teaches elementary school in Raleigh, N.C. She was in volleyball, basketball, swimming and softball during her school days.

Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)
Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (15) (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)
Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)
Patrick Mills (Indiana University-Kokomo Photo)
Patrick Mills (Battle Creek Battle Jacks Photo)

Schaffer back with Terre Haute Rex while pondering his diamond future

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

Jordan Schaffer has come to the end of his eligibility after a memorable collegiate baseball career.
Now he’s continuing in amateur ball while wondering if he might get to play for pay.
Schaeffer, a 2016 graduate of West Vigo High School in West Terre Haute, Ind., spent six years at nearby Indiana State University. He redshirted in 2017 then was in 147 games (115 starts) for the Sycamores from 2018-22.
The righty-swinging infielder hit .338 (168-of-497) with 11 home runs, four triples, 11 doubles, 69 runs batted in, 118 runs scored and 18 stolen bases. His on-base percentage was .414. He was named first-team all-Missouri Valley Conference in 2021 and 2022.
Mitch Hannahs is Indiana State’s head coach.
“He’s an unbelievable motivator,” says Schaffer of Hannahs. “His knowledge of the game is second to none. He knows how to get the most out of his players.
“He saw something in me. A lot of hard work later, he got more out of me than I expected. You want to get better not only for him but yourself.”
In 2022, Schaffer fielded at a .945 clip and was in on 16 double plays. Liking the way it feels, he wears a standard 11 1/2-inch glove when at shortstop, second base and third base.
“I move around,” says Schaffer. “That comes from Coach (Brian) Smiley. No player in his infield group plays one position. That makes you more versatile when you got to other teams, especially summer ball teams. It gives you more chances to play.”
This is Schaffer’s fifth go-around with a summer wood bat league and second with the Prospect League’s Terre Haute Rex. Tyler Wampler managed Terre Haute to a league championship in 2018.
Schaffer played for the Ohio Valley League’s Henderson (Ky.) Flash in 2017, the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Michigan Monarchs in 2019, trained the summer of 2020 and was with the Northwoods League’s Wisconsin Woodchucks (now the Wausau Woodchucks) in 2021.
After winding up his long stint at ISU, Schaffer signed a 10-day contract in the MLB Draft League with the Williamsport (Pa.) Crosscutters and has played nine games for the Rex, hitting .412 with one homer and six RBIs.
“I’m continuing to play,” says Schaffer, 24. “I may or may not get a chance to play professionally.”
The 2022 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft is July 17-19. Schaffer, a 6-foot, 180-pounder, could be taken in the 20-round selection process, sign with an MLB organization as an undrafted free agent or seek independent ball opportunity.
He notes that the MLB Draft League turns into indy ball post-draft and he could go back there.
Schaffer graduated from Indiana State in the spring with double bachelor degrees in Accounting and Sport Management.
Born in Terre Haute and growing West Terre Haute, Schaffer was in West Terre Haute Little League then a year of Babe Ruth ball.
“I was not able to get on any travel organizations,” says Schaffer.
Since age 5, he attended camps conducted by varsity coach Steve DeGroote, worked out with the high schoolers during his middle school years and was a freshman the last season DeGroote served as head coach.
“I got the privilege from a young age to know fundamentals he instilled in players,” says Schaffer, who earned four baseball letters and helped West Vigo to two sectional and one regional title. “There were some big-time motivational speeches. I’m thankful I got to play one year under him.”
He also played and practiced during the summer with teams organized by DeGroote, who was inducted into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2017.
Culley DeGroote — Steve’s son — took over the West Vigo program and Schaffer played for him his last three prep years.
“Culley did a great job of taking it over,” says Schaffer. “He was assistant to Steve. He kept the same fundamentals.
“It’s the same program and West Vigo is not somebody you want to run into in postseason play.”
Schaffer played for Terre Haute Wayne Newton American Legion Post 346 in the summer of 2016.
Jordan is the oldest of Brad and Amy Schaffer’s two children. Macy is a nursing student at Ivy Tech Community College. Brad Schaffer is a bidder for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 725. Amy Schaffer is a lawyer’s assistant at McGlone Law in Terre Haute.

Jordan Schaffer (Indiana State University Photo)
Jordan Schaffer (Indiana State University Photo)

Jordan Schaffer (Indiana State University Photo)

Jordan Schaffer (1) (Indiana State University Photo)

Valpo U.’s Tucker took it to another level in 2022

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

Nolan Tucker enjoyed a breakout collegiate baseball season at the plate in 2022.
The lefty-swinging Valparaiso (Ind.) University second baseman hit a team-best .365 (46-of-126) with one home run, one triple, 14 doubles 17 runs batted in and 21 runs scored for the NCAA Division I Beacons.
Tucker pinch hit for head coach Brian Schmack’s club in a March 15 game at Notre Dame became an everyday starter March 18 at Murray State. He was at the top of the batting order the last few games of the season.
He went 4-of-5 in the first game of a March 25 doubleheader vs. St. Bonaventure, 4-of-5 April 30 at Southern Illinois April 30, 4-of-4 May 20 at Evansville and was named to the Missouri Valley Conference first team. He was the first Valpo player since 2018 and second since the school joined the MVC to do that.
“This was years in the making,” says Tucker, 21. “I finally had a chance to showcase it.”
Prior to this spring, Tucker had only played in 20 college games. He made 16 appearances in 2020 before that season was shortened because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He was also the president of his dormitory — Brandt Hall.
After playing four games in 2021, he suffered a season-ending injury. He did earn Valparaiso University Presidential Academic Honors and the MVC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award and was on the MVC Honor Roll.
While he rehabilitated, Tucker took a deep dive into what he could do to boost his batting.
“I wanted to figure this hitting thing out and take it to next level,” says Tucker. “I was looking at videos and comparing myself to big leaguers.”
Tucker saw hitting coach Trey Hannam on social media, liked his profile and reached out to him and was soon making the 180-mile trek from Cedar Lake, Ind., to work with him in Milan, Ill.
Current Valpo assistants Kory Winter and Mitchell Boe and former assistant Casey Fletcher also played a part in Tucker’s transformation.
A 2019 graduate of Hanover Central High School in Cedar Lake, where he played for Wildcats head coach Ryan Bridges, Tucker was ranked among Indiana’s best shortstops and was four-year letterwinner and three-time all-conference selection.
With strong shortstops on the squad (including Benton Central High School graduate Alex Thurston), Tucker made the switch to second base at Valpo to get on the field and has come to love the position.
Tucker began wrestling early in elementary school. In high school, his head coaches were Mike Drosias as a freshman and Joshua Rowinski. There were to conference titles and a sectional championship.
He was in the 132-pound class as a sophomore in 2016-17 when he went 35-5 and qualified for the semistate then decided to focus on baseball and getting bigger and stronger and did not wrestle as a junior or senior.
“It’s a tough sport,” says Tucker of wrestling. “It’s physically and mentally demanding.
“The lessons I’ve learned from that sport I’ll carry with me forever.”
Tucker was born in Munster, Ind., and grew up in Cedar Lake. He played town ball and then went into travel baseball. He played for the St. John All-Stars, Playmakers, Chiefs, Top Tier, National Pitching Association and then the Dave Sutkowski-coached Morris Chiefs for his 17U summer.
“He’s made huge impact on me,” says Tucker of Sutkowski. “He’s taught me a lot about the game, but more about life like being punctual, responsible and a leader.
“He was always there to reassure you and make you confident.
“It’s about the man you become.”
Tucker is scheduled to join the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators — managed by Chris Willsey — next Tuesday, May 7. He did not play in 2021 while rehabbing. He was with the Josh Galvan-coached Tropics of gthe College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., in 2020. He also got to play for the Jorge Hernandez-managed Independence in the College Summer Baseball Invitational in Bryan/College Station, Texas, where he met fellow Region native and CSBI Unity manager LaTroy Hawkins.
Nolan had never met the 21-year major leaguer and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer but got connected through cousin and former Kouts (Ind.) Middle/High School and Morris Chiefs coach Jim Tucker.
In 2019, Nolan Tucker played for the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s St. Clair Green Giants in Windsor, Ont.
Tucker is a Business Management major. He is one year away from getting his undergraduate degree and has three more years of playing eligibility.
“I’ll definitely go two more,” says Tucker. “I’m on the bubble about the third year.”
Nolan is the oldest of Keith and Julie Tucker’s two children. Keith Tucker works for Team Industrial Services and Julie for Liveops. Daughter Kylin (18) is a 2022 Hanover Central graduate bound for Ball State University.

Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)

Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)

Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)

Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Nolan Tucker (Valparaiso University Photo)
Northwest Indiana natives LaTroy Hawkins and Nolan Tucker meet in Texas in 2020.

NAIA RBI leader Bass, Taylor University heading into postseason play

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

T.J. Bass came out of the gate producing at the plate in 2022.
The righty swinger in his fourth baseball season at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., knocked in two run in the Trojans’ campaign-opening win against Kansas Wesleyan in Mesa, Ariz.
Heading into the Crossroads League tournament which begins May 7 at Taylor (note the change because of rain), Bass leads all of NAIA in runs batted in with 84.
Besides that, he’s hitting .382 (71-of-186) with 19 home runs, 14 doubles, 51 runs scored and a 1.254 OPS (.491 on-base percentage plus .763 slugging average).
“I need to start by giving credit to the guys batting before me,” says Bass of his big RBI total. “It seems like I come up with two or three guys on every time.”
Bass, who looks to be aggressive and barrel the ball up on the first good pitch he sees per at-bat, has been used by Trojans head coach Kyle Gould primarily in the No. 3 spot in the batting order with a few games in the 2-hole. He’s often found senior Nick Rusche (.337 with 63 hits) and freshman Kaleb Kolpein (.403 with 77 hits) — and for awhile — sophomore Camden Knepp (.282 with 44 hits)— reaching base before him. Rusche prepped at New Palestine (Ind.) High School, Kolpein at Homestead (Fort Wayne) and Knepp at Northridge (Middelbury).
“The back half the lineup has also been pretty good,” says Bass, a 2018 graduate of Greenwood (Ind,) Community.
Of his 19 homers, Bass has clouted three grand slams (vs. Reinhardt in Waleska, Ga., vs. Olivet Nazarene in Athens, Tenn., and vs. Indiana Wesleyan in Upland), four three-run bombs, seven two-run dingers and five solo shots. The enjoyed two-homer games against Reinhardt and Mount Vernon Nazarene.
Bass belted 14 circuit clouts in Crossroads League regular-season play.
Taylor (36-16) is the No. 2 seed in the eight-team Crossroads League tournament. Regular-season champion Mount Vernon Nazarene is No. 1.
The turf at Winterholter Field will also be the site of an NAIA Opening Round May 16-19.
“It’s incredible,” says Bass of playing at the facility located in the heart of the TU campus that was resurfaced after the 2021 season. “Coach Gould takes huge pride in how the field looks and it’s awesome to see so many fans come out.”
Bass has started in all 52 of the Trojans’ games in 2022, mostly in center field or right field. But he’s also been used as a catcher and first baseman. During his college career, he’s played everywhere but the middle infield and on the mound.
“It’s wherever the team needs me most based on who’s healthy if we need an offensive day or a defensive day,” says Bass. “Coach Gould does a good job of looking at Synergy in scouting teams.”
Taylor players watch videos of opposing hitters and pitchers to study their strengths weaknesses.
At 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, Bass has gotten physically stronger and faster since arriving on-campus thanks to off-season programs led by assistant coach Justin Barber as well as Gould.
When Bass arrived at Taylor in 2018-19, Josh Lane and Wyatt Whitman were seniors.
“They they were both huge role models taking a freshman and hour and a half from home under their wings,” says Bass. “They took the strain off.”
Bass was asked how they could help and if they could pray for him.
When Whitman moved on and acted jersey No. 11, Bass took it.
It was also during his first year at Taylor that Bass was undecided on a major. He landed on Elementary Education.
A camp counselor at a community recreation center since his junior year of high school and the son of high school teacher (Andy Bass) and pre-kindergarten teacher (Jenni Bass) with other educators on both sides of the family, T.J. sees that as a natural career path.
“I’ve been around teaching my whole life,” says Bass. “I really love to be able to work with kids and I like getting to know them and finding their interests.
“It didn’t feel like I would do as well with secondary (students). God was calling me to work with elementary.”
Andy Bass teaches Algebra II and Geometry at Greenwood Community, where he has been head baseball coach since 1998. Jenni Bass ran her own daycare for more than a decade and now works at Waverly Elementary School in the Mooresville corporation.
Timothy James Bass, 22, is the oldest of Andy and Jenni’s four kids. Sam Bass is two years younger than T.J. and living and working in Fort Wayne. Mary Bass is a Greenwood Community freshman. Claire Bass is a sixth grader in the Mooresville system.
T.J. was born and raised in Greenwood and played Little League baseball there. Around fifth grade, he played with the traveling Johnson County Jaguars. The summers following his freshman and sophomore years were spent with the Indiana Bulls. The next summer he played for the Indiana Nitro then was with Demand Command right before and right after his freshman year at Taylor.
Bass did not play during the COVID-19 summer of 2020. In 2021, he split his time between the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators and the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind.
With an extra year of eligibility because of the pandemic, Bass plans to come back for a fifth season at Taylor in 2023. He expects to do his student teaching this fall.

T.J. Bass (Taylor University Photo)
T.J. Bass (Taylor University Photo)

T.J. Bass (Taylor University Photo)
T.J. Bass (Taylor University Photo)

Brunson productive in final days as Saint Francis player

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

Alec Brunson is coming to the end of his college baseball career and he’s doing it with a flourish.
Starting in left field and hitting in the No. 2 hole in the batting order, Brunson has been productive for the University of Saint Francis (25-23 overall and 14-18 in the Crossroads League).
Going into a conference series Friday and Saturday, April 29-30 at Bethel, righty swinger Brunson is hitting .341 (57-of-167) with six home runs, two triples, 17 doubles, 36 runs batted in and 38 runs scored.
The CL tournament is scheduled for May 6-10.
He enjoys the 2-hole behind Xavier Nolan and in front of David Miller and Sam Pesa.
“I get more AB’s (hitting second),” says Brunson, 22. “If I get on, more times than not Miller and Pesa will hit me in.”
Lefty stick Miller has plated 55 and righty Pesa 38.
In 2021 — Brunson’s first season with the Cougars after transferring from Purdue Fort Wayne — he hit .272 (56-of-206) with 10 homers, four triples, nine doubles, 38 RBIs and 51 runs for 56 games (53 as a starter) and was selected all-conference honorable mention.
When deciding to change schools, Brunson went where cousin Kristian Gayday is an assistant coach.
“I’ve hit with him since I was 12,” says Brunson. “There was no better option than playing for him and I’ve had two of the better seasons I’ve had in quite some time.”
Brunson is also enjoying his time with Saint Francis head coach Dustin Butcher.
“His personality is amazing,” says Brunson. “He’s a great guy overall. He’ll do anything for any of his players.
“That’s the type of coach I always wanted to play for.”
A 2018 graduate of DeKalb High School in Auburn, Ind., Brunson was then a catcher. He would up catching and playing in the outfield and at first base at PFW. He was used at first base at Saint Francis in 2021 and third base in summer ball. An outfielder last summer with the Terre Haute (Ind.) Rex, he was named a Prospect League all-star.
“I’ll play wherever they need me,” says Brunson. “My strengths are my hitting and arm. Sometimes I don’t make the best reads in the outfield, but my arm makes up for it. Even when my swing is not perfect it’s still good enough to get a base hit.”
Commencement at USF is scheduled for May 7 and Brunson is scheduled to get a degree in Criminal Justice.
He is pondering his future.
“I’m hoping to play independent (pro) ball before I get a big boy job,” says Brunson, who is also considering considering going into law enforcement but is also feeling the tug of coaching.
“I’ve thought about coaching a lot,” says Brunson, who has helped teams at Auburn Little League and in other capacities. “I’ve helped teammates with their swings. I feel like I really understand swing types and what drills can help.
“I can’t get away from the game yet. There’s something about baseball that keeps bringing me back.”
Brunson plans to be a graduate assistant at Saint Francis in 2022-23 to his foot in the coaching door. He says he will pursue either at Masters of Business Administration (MBA) or an Athletic Administration degree.
Born and raised in Auburn, Brunson played in two stints at Auburn Little League and travel ball with the Fort Wayne Cubs (later known as the Fort Wayne Diamondbacks). As a teenager, his D-backs head coach was Javier DeJesus (now pitching coach at Ivy Tech Northeast in Fort Wayne).
At DeKalb, Brunson played for Tim Murdock. The 2017 Barons won 19 games and finished as runner-up in the DeKalb Sectional.
“I loved him as a coach,” says Brunson of Murdock. “He allowed us to do us. He knew we had played with each other since we were 12.”
Brunson played in the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series in South Bend.
Alec is the son of Jason and Jennifer Brunson and older brother of Bella Brunson.
Before selling in 2021, Jason was co-owner of Captain’s Cabin on Crooked Lake. The business was once owned by former major league outfielder “Jungle Jim” Rivera. Jennifer is in pharmaceutical sales with Bristol Myers Squibb. DeKalb senior Bella plans to attend Indiana University.

Alec Brunson (University of Saint Francis Photo)
Alec Brunson (University of Saint Francis Photo)

Bickel making memories in first season at Purdue Fort Wayne

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

Jarrett Bickel had a decision to make after playing junior college baseball for two seasons.
The infielder from South Bend, Ind., with two years of eligibility remaining could take another year at the JUCO level allowed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Head coach Kyle Forbes invited him to stay at Palm Beach State College.
“I was ready to move on to a four-year school and play at the (NCAA) Division I level,” says Bickel, who chose Purdue Fort Wayne over East Tennessee State, New Orleans, Alcorn State and Savannah State.
Why the PFW Mastodons?
“I was sold on Coach (Doug) Schreiber and his history at Purdue University,” says Bickel. “I knew he was coming here to turn the program around.
“He’s awesome. His knowledge for the game is through the roof.”
Bickel appreciates Schreiber not only for what he can do for him on the diamond, but away from it.
“He shows you how to carry yourself off the field and be a man,” says Bickel, 22.
As a player, Bickel has gone from third base to shortstop and settling in as Purdue Fort Wayne’s starting shortstop and lead-off hitter.
His double play partner is redshirt sophomore second baseman Brian Erbe.
“He has a confidence and swagger he brings everyday,” says Bickel of Erbe. “We kind of feed off that energy.”
Going into an April 27 non-conference game at Michigan State, righty swinger Bickel was hitting .259 (38-of-147) with five home runs, 12 doubles, 19 runs batted in, 18 runs scored and a .306 on-base percentage. He collected a season-best four hits April 3 against Wright State and drove in a season-high three runs April 16 at Northern Kentucky.
Bickel even pitched 2/3 of an inning Feb. 27 at Cal Baptist.
Though he was not in the middle of either, two memorable moments for Bickel came with walk-off wins March 20 against Youngstown State and April 22 vs. Northern Kentucky.
Away from the field, Bickel likes to hang out with teammates. He also likes to play golf and go fishing.
“I’m an outdoorsy person,” says Bickel. “I don’t like to be inside that much. I love to fish.”
A St. Joseph River dam near campus gives him a chance to pull in catfish and bass. In the warm climes of Florida, he liked going on the ocean and catching snook.
Bickel grew up a few minutes from Notre Dame and Bickel got to play against the Irish April 20, going 1-for-4 with an RBI.
“I’ve always been a Notre Dame fan since I was little,” says Bickel. “Going back there and playing them was pretty special.”
ND is No. 3 behind Tennessee and Dallas Bapist in the D1Baseball.com RPI.
Bickel assessed the Link Jarrett-coached Irish.
“They’re very well put-together and do all the little things,” says Bickel. “They’re well-coached. They are good at situational hitting and have very good (pitching) arms.”
Currently fifth in the Horizon League, the Mastodons are looking to finish in the top six to earn a berth in the conference tournament May 25-28 with games hosted by the top seed. The last HL series wraps May 14. The regular season is to end May 21.
Enrolled at Purdue Fort Wayne as a General Studies major, he has been taking mostly Business classes.
Bickel plans to spent the summer with the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. Mastodons pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Brent McNeil managed that team a few years ago. Chris Willsey, Bickel’s head coach two years ago in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., is slated to guide the Aviators in 2022.
A 2018 graduate of Marian High School in Mishwawaka, Ind., Bickel played for Joe Turnock. The Knights won an IHSAA Class 3A Jimtown Sectional title in 2016.
In 2019, Bickel played 41 games for Miami Dade College. He did not play in the spring of 2020 — the COVID-19 season.
That summer, Bickel was with the Indiana Collegiate Summer Baseball League’s Mishawaka Brewers as well as the CSL’s Snakes and Northwoods League’s Bismarck (N.D.) Bull Moose, hitting .271 with a .403 OBP in 16 games. He played for the Bismarck Larks in 2021 with a OBP of .321 over 112 at-bats.
Jarrett is the middle son of Joe and Megan Bickel. Tyler Bickel (24) is working toward becoming a fireman. Xavier Bickel (18) is a Marian senior. Cousin Trey Bickel is head baseball coach at Marian University’s Ancilla College — a junior college in Donaldson, Ind.

Jarrett Bickel (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)
Jarrett Bickel (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)
Jarrett Bickel (Purdue Fort Wayne Photo)

Highland graduate Castillo relishes routine, last days of Benedictine U. baseball

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

Damen Castillo likes to maintain a routine.
“I am very superstitious, especially when it comes to baseball,” says Castillo, a 2018 graduate of Highland (Ind.) High School, where he played for John Bogner, and is in his final season at Benedictine University (Lisle, Ill.) in 2022. “I have a Red Bull before every game — no matter what.
“I’ll play catch in the same spot. I’ll go through the same routine for hitting.”
Castillo has also been known to keep his helmet or equipment bag in the same location.
Why?
“I have no idea,” says Castillo, a 6-foot-2, 240-pounder who plays first base and bats clean-up for the Benedictine Eagles.
Going into action Tuesday, April 26 against North Central College, the righty-swinger is hitting .381 (40-of-105) with seven home runs, nine doubles, 37 runs batted in and 25 runs scored for a team that is 21-6 overall and 15-1 atop the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference standings (Benedictine was 29-13 and 15-5 in 2021).
Because of COVID-19, Castillo has another year of eligibility remaining, but is planning to finish his degree in Management and Organizational Behavior with a concentration in Operations Management.
Castillo, who spent the summer of 2021 with the Prospect League’s Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp, says he will entertain professional baseball opportunities if they come his way. Otherwise, he intends to enter the work force, going into construction like members of his family.
“I want to start out as a worker so I can learn things,” says Castillo. “I don’t want to manage something so young like that.”
He has thoroughly enjoyed his college experience.
“The relationships you build with people are for the rest of my life,” says Castillo. “The baseball part of it has been fun.”
As an NCAA Division III program, Benedictine conducted fall workouts and then had “captain’s practice” — where coaches were not allowed instruct — in the winter.
Adam Smith is the Eagles head coach.
“We’ve become really close,” says Castillo. “He’s really good with everybody. He’s easy to talk to as a coach.
“He’ll get on you when you do something wrong but teach you so you can do it right the next time.”
Benedictine practices tend to top out at two hours and there is also weightlifting and extra hitting during a typical week.
“Coach Smith likes to give us free time,” says Castillo. “You’ve got to get away from it a little bit.”
Castillo, who lives in an on-campus apartment with three teammates, likes to relax with video games like Call of Duty and MLB The Show.

Damen Castillo (Benedictine University Photo)

Craig provides punch for Evansville Purple Aces

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

Tanner Craig has provided a productive bat for the University of Evansville baseball team since the 2018 season.
The righty swinger sports a batting average of .294 (128-of-435) with 18 home runs, 28 doubles, 76 runs batted in, 60 runs scored and an .859 OPS (.372 on-base percentage plus 487 slugging average) in 116 games.
In 2021, the 6-foot, 220-pound first baseman played in 54 contests (all starts) and hit .299 (60-of-201) with 12 homers, 14 doubles, 47 RBIs, 31 runs and a .929 OPS (.382/.547).
Thanks to the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility when the COVID-19 pandemic shortened the 2020 season — one in which he was named Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of the Week and Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Week after slugging four homers in a season-openojvng series at Tennessee Tech — Craig is back for a fifth season with the Purple Aces in 2022.
What title best fits Craig as an offensive player?
“I would say I’m a power hitter,” says Craig, 22. “It’s role I’ve played at Evansville and other teams I’ve been on.”
Aces head coach Wes Carroll tabbed Craig as his regular No. 3 hole hitter in 2021.
“I just try to hit the ball hard every time,” says Craig. “I look for a pitch in the part of the (strike) zone I know I can hit it well and swing hard.”
While Craig has seen some exit velocity data, it’s not how he and other UE players often gauge their swings.
“With turf we can get on the field anytime we want,” says Craig of German American Bank Field at Charles H. Braun Stadium. “Ball flight — that tells you a lot about your swing.
“We played one game on (home) turf in the COVID year (then 34 in 2021). We’re very lucky to have it. That’s for sure.”
Craig appreciates Carroll for the way he tailors his approach to each player.
“He really cares for all of us as individuals,” says Craig. “He takes the time to learn how to coach us individually. He knows the best way to get to people.”
Carroll can be firmer with Craig because he knows he can hand it. Another player may need to be cajoled.”
Fall practice began Aug. 30, about a week after the first day of class. Individual work is about to wrap up. That will be followed by team practices and scrimmages. While there has been nothing formal, players have been keeping track of which color teams wins most.
The Aces are also slated to play exhibition games Oct, 9 against Western Kentucky University and Oct. 23 against Wabash Valley College — both at Evansville.
Last spring, Craig earned an Accounting degree and is now working toward a Masters of Leadership. He expects to finish the 18-month course in December 2022.
This summer, Craig played for the Prospect League’s Lafayette (Ind.) Aviators. In 26 games, he hit .386 (34-of-88) with 10 homers, seven doubles, 36 RBIs and 19 runs for a team managed by Michael Keeran. The team went a league-best 41-18 during the regular season and lost to the Cape Catfish in the best-of-three championship series.
“It was a great experience,” says Craig. “It’s a beautiful stadium (the new-look Loeb Stadium).
“It was really fun, my time up there.”
Craig was born in Florence, Ky., and grew up in Scottsburg, Ind., where he played Coach Pitch at what is now Scott County Youth League. He played travel ball for the Smithville (Ind.) Gators, Mark Peters-coached Ironmen (13U to 17U) and Jeremy Johnson-coached Evansville Razorbacks (18U).
He began attending schools in Austin, Ind., in sixth grade and graduate from Austin High School in 2017. Craig was a shortstop, third baseman and pitcher for Eagles coach Matt Bayes.
“He’s just a good coach,” says Craig of Bayes. “He’s really good at teaching a lot of aspects of the game.”
One of Craig’s teammates was right-handed pitcher Drew Buhr (Austin Class of 2019), who went to Saint Louis University then transferred to Bellarmine University.
Tanner, who turns 23 in December, is the youngest of Samtec production supervisor Todd and Morgan Foods senior buyer Jennifer Craig.
“They’ve been a huge support for me since I’ve started,” says Tanner of his parents. “They’ve always found ways to get me whatever I need. I can count on one hand the number of games my dad has missed in my college career.
“It’s always nice to see a familiar face in the stands.”
Morgan Dillard, Tanner’s older sister lives in Indianapolis and is in management with CVS Health. She is married with a daughter.
Quintin Craig, Tanner’s older brother, is a project manager of Crown Castle and lives in Louisville with his wife and daughter.
Peyton Craig, Tanner’s younger brother, is a Scottsburg freshman involved in Future Farmers of America.

Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)
Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)
Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)
Tanner Craig (University of Evansville Photo)

Indiana Tech second baseman Snyder returns for extra college season

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

Mike Snyder has been given the chance to extend his college baseball experience and he’s taking it.
A 2016 graduate of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, where he played football, basketball and baseball, Snyder, who turned 24 on Aug. 4, logged two seasons at what is now Purdue Fort Wayne then moved a few miles south to Indiana Tech, where he redshirted in 2019 and competed for the Warriors in 2020 and 2021 and is coming back for one last collegiate go-round in 2022.
“I want to keep playing as long as I can and see where it takes me,” says Snyder, who was granted an extra year of college eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Snyder appeared on 59 games and started 56 for Indiana Tech in 2021, hitting .308 (64-of-208), 11 home runs, two triples, 13 doubles, 58 runs batted in, 44 runs scored and a .916 OPS (.368 on-base percentage plus .548 slugging average) from the right side of the plate.
The second baseman posted a .923 fielding percentage with 76 putouts, 103 assists and 16 double plays.
During the COVID-19-shortened 2020 slate, Snyder played in 15 games (14 starts) and hit .400 (20-of-50) with 10 homers, two doubles, 26 RBIs, 16 runs and a 1.523 OBP (.483/1.040). He fielded at a .943 clip with 25 putouts and 25 assists.
Snyder says barrel control is his best offensive quality.
“When I’m on and really doing it I can stay on the same plane and stay consistent,” says Snyder. “I’m in no way a contact hitter. I have my strikeouts. I’m more of a power hitter, especially being my size.”
Snyder stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 215 pounds and credits weightlifting for much of his power.
“The gym is a big part of my game,” says Snyder. “I try to lift as heavy as a I can. During season I can’t stay on a consistent week-to-week plan, but I lift whenever I have time.”
The average second baseman is rarely as tall as Snyder, but he knows of one ever lankier. Tech played in the 2021 NAIA Opening Round against Oklahoma Wesleyan University. The Eagles’ regular second sacker was 6-8, 236-pound Ryan Kouba.
“(Being tall) only adds range,” says Snyder.
Tech went 11-5 in 2020 and 35-27 in 2021 — the 13th and 14th campaigns with Kip McWilliams as head coach.
“He’s a winner,” says Snyder of McWilliams. He’ll do anything to win. He works us hard. He keeps us accountable throughout the day.
“He makes sure we stay on our studies so we’re eligible to play.”
Snyder is on pace to earn a Sport Management next spring.
In two seasons at Purdue Fort Wayne, Snyder got into 80 games (56 starts) and hit .252 (56-of-222) with two homers, 14 doubles, 18 RBIs and 31 runs for then-Mastodons head coach Bobby Pierce.
“He was just a really nice guy,” says Snyder of Pierce. “He was really laid-back and relaxed.”
At Northrop, Snyder was on football varsity for three seasons, first for head coach Tim Martone then Jason Doerffler. He was a safety and quarterback prior to switching to wide receiver as a senior. He was a shooting guard in basketball as a freshman and sophomore for Barak Coolman. Football-related injuries took away his junior and senior seasons on the hardwood.
Snyder dressed with the baseball varsity as a freshman then played with the Bruins’ top team for three more springs. His head coach was Matt Brumbaugh.
“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” says Snyder of Brumbaugh. “I like the way he went about the game.
“He went about everything with passion.”
Born in Fort Wayne, Snyder moved with his family to South Carolina then back to the Summit City about the time he was starting school. He played T-ball and travel ball out of what is now Wallen Baseball Softball before traveling with the Midwest Gloves and Royville. During his high school years, he was with the AWP Cubs organized by Cisco Morales and coached by Alex McKinstry (father of Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Zach McKinstry), Fort Wayne Rams and Team Indiana coached by Phil Wade and Blake Hibler.
Snyder played for the Fuquay-Varina (N.C.) Twins for three straight college summers — 2018-20 — and earned Carolina-Virgnina Collegiate League all-star selections each and CVCL MVP honors in 2020. That summer he hit .427 (35-of-82) with nine homers, 27 RBIs, 26 runs and a 1.327 OPS (.510/.817). On defense, he had 25 putouts, 21 assists and eight double plays. He was CVCL Player of the Year in 2018, hitting .404 with eight homers, 41 RBIs, 37 runs and a .702 slugging average.
He played briefly in the summer of the 2021 with the Prospect League’s Lafayette Aviators. In five games, he hit .250 (5-of-20) with one double, one RBI and one run.
Industrial cable salesman Jerry and marketing manager Betsy Snyder have three children — Garrett, Mike and Mackenzie. Factory worker Garrett Snyder (26) played football, basketball and baseball at Northrop and one season of basketball at the the University of Northwestern Ohio. Mackenzie Snyder (21) played volleyball and basketball at Northrop and is now on the women’s basketball team at Wittenberg (Ohio) University.

Mike Snyder (Indiana Tech Photo)
Mike Snyder (Lafayette Aviators Photo)
Mike Snyder (Indiana Tech Photo)
Mike Snyder (Lafayette Aviators Photo)

Ben Davis graduate Avery takes versatility to LSU Shreveport

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

Zyon Avery is known for taking several tools with him to the baseball field.
A self-described “utility” player, the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder from Indianapolis grew up with catcher as his primary position, but he has also been used as a corner infielder/outfielder and more.
“I move very well for my size,” says Avery, 21. “I move my feet and have very fluid hands. It allows me to play a lot of different positions. In travel ball and high school I played all over the place.
“Coaches take advantage of my athletic ability.”
Avery was a varsity starter at third base his first two years at Ben Davis High School and the top catcher his last two. He also saw time at shortstop and on the mound.
The versatile athlete will call a new place his baseball home when he reports this weekend to NAIA member Louisiana State University Shreveport. He landed with the Brad Neffendorf-coached Pilots after spending the 2021 season at National Junior College Athletic Association affiliate Parkland College (Champaign, Ill.).
Making most of his starts at first base, the righty swinger hit .355 (44-of-124) with 13 home runs, one triple, nine doubles, 45 runs batted in, 43 runs scored, four stolen bases and a 1.245 OPS (.487 on-base percentage plus .758 slugging average) for a team that went 36-17 under Cobras head coach Jon Goebel.
Not able to get the credits to transfer to an NCAA Division I school, Avery decided to follow former Parkland teammate Trevor Burkhart to LSU Shreveport.
“It’s the best fit for my family,” says Avery, the son of Dana and Kimberly and older brother of Jahmir (15). The Averys moved to Indy’s west side when Zyon was 6.
Dana Avery is a maintenance, repair and operations buyer for Keihin. Kimberly Avery is a cargo shipment organizer for BDP International. Jahmir Avery is a freshman basketball player at Ben Davis, where Zyon graduated in 2018.
Avery earned four baseball letters and was a three-year captain at Ben Davis. He was an Under Armour Preseason All-American and rated as the No. 2 catcher in the state of Indiana by Prep Baseball Report as a senior. As a junior, he led the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference with 22 doubles and 30 walks, earned All-Marion County and All-State honors and was named a Perfect Game Underclass All-American. As a sophomore, he was chosen as a Perfect Game Underclass All-American.
After playing at Ben Davis — the last three seasons for Giants head coach David Bear — Zyon went to Ohio University where Edgewood High School (Ellettsville, Ind.) graduate Rob Smith was Bobcats head coach.
Appearing in 25 games, Avery hit .192 with a .591 OPS (.283 on-base percentage plus .308 slugging average) as a freshman in 2019 and redshirted in 2020 following shoulder surgery. For a few months he was bound for Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla., but wound up at Parkland.
Avery played for the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Southern Ohio Copperheads (Athens, Ohio) in 2019, spent the summer of 2020 rehabilitating and split 2021 between a temporary contract with the Propsect League’s Danville (Ill.) Dans and the Kernels Collegiate League (Normal, Ill.).
Born in Los Angeles, Zyon began playing at Ben Davis Little League after moving to the Indianapolis area. He played travel ball for Tony Page and the Indiana Mustangs at 10U and 11U, John Keller, Mike Wade and the Indiana Bulls at 12U to 15U, Eric McGaha and the Indiana Outlaws at 16U, Trent Hanna and the Cincinnati Spikes at 17U and Jeremy Johnson and the Evansville Razorbacks at 18U.
Avery, who between redshirting and COVID-19 has three remaining years of college eligibility, was a Physical Activity and Sport Coaching major at Ohio. That degree was not offered at Parkland. He says he will begin at LSUS in General Studies. He turns 22 in October.

Zyon Avery (Parkland College Photo)
Zyon Avery.
Zyon Avery.