Tag Archives: Richmond RiverRats

Competitive approach propels former Penn, Southern Illinois pitcher Whitmer into pro baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like the Tom Petty song, Chad Whitmerwon’t back down” on the pitching mound.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-hander showed that growing up in northern Indiana and has kept that approach as a collegian and now a professional.

He was selected in the 10th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees.

Whitmer played for the Gulf Coast League Yankees in 2017 and was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers organization in June. He is now with the Short Season Class-A Helena (Mont.) Brewers, where Nestor Corredor is the manager and Rolando Valles the pitching coach.

Through July 10, Whitmer had made six appearances (all in relief) and was 2-1 with a 0.00 earned run average, eight strikeouts and three walks in 7 2/3 innings.

Throwing from a three-quarter overhand arm slot, Whitmer uses two-seam fastball, “circle” change-up, curveball and slider. His fastball is regularly clocked at 88 to 92 mph.

What about the change in pro organizations?

“I like it here a lot,” says Whitmer of landing with the Brewers in Helena. “They’ve made me feel welcome.

“I’ve adjusted pretty well.”

The next stops in the Brewers system are the Low Class-A Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Midwest League, High-A Carolina (N.C.) Mudcats, Double-A Biloxi (Miss.) Shuckers and Triple-A Colorado Springs Sky Sox.

Born in South Bend, Ind., Whitmer played at Mishawaka Southwest Little League until he was 10 then was part of a core of travel baseball players who spent years with the Todd Marazita-coached Michiana Clippers (Marazita now coaches for the Michiana Scrappers).

Whitmer was a three-time all-Northern Indiana Conference selection at Penn High School, playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos.

“(Dikos) instilled a lot of mental toughness with all the hard work we did,” says Whitmer. “That’s all stuck with me. In the off-season, we had really tough morning workouts. He helped me get to the next level by learning how to work.”

As a sophomore in 2011, Whitmer went 6-2 and led the NIC with a 1.50 ERA. As a junior in 2012, he went 5-4 with 1.44 and .386 batting average. As a senior in 2013, he went 7-1 with a 1.94 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings.

Sean Galiher was the Kingsmen’s pitching coach at the start of Whitmer’s prep career then turned the reins over to Tom Stanton.

Whitmer, who turned 23 in May, credits both men with helping him fine-tune his mechanics and become more fluid on the mound.

In four seasons at Southern Illinois University, Whitmer was a two-time all-Missouri Valley Conference selection (2016, 2017) for head coach Ken Henderson and pitching coach P.J. Finigan. He hurled in 64 games (34 as a starter) and was 15-13 with a 3.70 ERA, 247 strikeouts and 41 walks in 282 innings.

Whitmer became the Friday-night starter for the Salukis midway through his junior season and held that spot through his senior campaign.

In 2017, Whitmer struck out 13 Indiana State batters, the most K’s by any SIU player since Finigan fanned 17 against Chicago State in 2005.

“One thing (Henderson and Finigan) preached a lot was being aggressive in the (strike) zone,” says Whitmer. “They made me a pretty competitor as well. Even if you don’t have your best stuff one day, you can still go out there and compete.

“You knew you were going to get a decent start out of me on Fridays and they knew they were going to get that out of me at the next level.”

After his freshman season at SIU, Whitmer played summer collegiate ball with the Richmond RiverRats (now known as the Richmond Jazz).

Whitmer is close to completing a degree in sports administration.

Chad is the son of Doug and Sara Whitmer. His father is a web developer and mother an accountant. Older sister Valerie Whitmer was a track and field athlete at Penn and graduated in 2011.

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Chad Whitmer, a 2013 graduate who pitched four seasons at Southern Illinois University, is now in the Milwaukee Brewers organization with Helena. (Helena Brewers)

 

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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.

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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)

 

Baseball in Richmond played to the tune of Jazz

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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.

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