Tag Archives: Rob Cooper

New Indiana pitching coach Parker places premium on development

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Parker has been on the job as Indiana University baseball pitching coach for about three months.

The Fort Wayne, Ind., native, who spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons at the University of Central Florida after five campaigns at alma mater Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, has spent his time in Bloomington learning what makes each of his IU players tick and then creating an individualized program to maximize their potential.

“With (Hoosiers head) coach (Jeff) Mercer and I, it’s very individualistic development,” says Parker, who was a teammate of Mercer’s at Wright State. “It’s very much tailored toward their strengths and weaknesses. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all.”

Parker is taking the time to know his pitchers’ personalities as well as the pitches they throw.

“A lot of this fall has been self-scouting,” says Parker as IU comes near the end of a 12-week fall practice period. “You have to get to know them to be able to put together a plan for each of them.

“As a player, all you want is feel like your coaches are invested in your career. You want to make them feel like they’re leaving each day excited about getting better. Then they’re willing to come to work the next day.”

Relationships are key.

“We want to run a family program,” says Parker. “You build trust that way. That’s the name of the game when it comes to development.

“When you want to base your program off development, you have to gain the trust. You have to get to know them. You have to spend time with them.”

The team was invited after Tuesday’s practice to watch Game 1 of the World Series together.

Parker, Mercer and recruiting coordinator Dan Held have been identifying potential new Indiana players.

But they are also working to give the current ones their best chance at success.

“Recruiting is incredibly important,” says Parker. “We hope to do that at a high level. We’ve already got a great start.

“Development is kind of the second pillar.”

Looking at the fall roster, pitchers who saw the most playing time with the Hoosiers during the 2018 season are Pauly Milto (79 2/3 innings), Cameron Beauchamp (52 1/3), Cal Krueger (44 2/3), Andrew Saalfrank (35 2/3), Tommy Sommer (29 1/3) and Connor Manous (24).

Senior Milto (Roncalli High School graduate), junior Krueger (Jasper) and sophomore Manous (Munster) are right-handers. Juniors Beauchamp (Peru) and Saalfrank (Heritage) and sophomore Sommer (Carmel) are lefties.

Milto and Beauchamp were primarily used as starters last spring while Beauchamp, Saalfrank, Sommer and Manous were mostly relievers. All of Krueger’s 27 came out of the bullpen.

Born in Fort Wayne to Brent and Ranelle Parker and the older brother of eventual big league pitcher Jarrod Parker, Justin played Wildcat Baseball and at Elmhurst Little League as well as for a local travel team.

Parker was with the Indiana Bulls at 17 and 18. Among his teammates were future big league pitchers Lance Lynn, Tommy Hunter and Josh Lindblom.

In four seasons at Wayne High School, Parker was a right-handed pitcher and shortstop for Generals head coach Tim Gaskill.

Parker picked up on Gaskill’s emphasis on work ethic and putting in the reps.

“Baseball is such a game of repetition,” says Parker. “Confidence is hard to come by without success unless you’re willing to prepare.

“(Gaskill) used to talk about getting your confidence from the work you’ve put in. You trust that work is greater than the opponent. If you’re willing to work at that level, you ought to be confident regardless of your success.”

Parker was selected in the 43rd round of the 2005 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins as a right-handed pitcher at Wayne.

He had been an IHSAA Class 3A all-stater, hitting .498 with six home runs and 22 stolen bases as a Wayne senior, but opted to go to college.

Playing at Wright State for Raiders head coach Rob Cooper, Parker was a two-time all-Horizon League honoree (2007 at designated hitter, 2008 at shortstop) and was drafted again in 2008 in the sixth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks as a shortstop.

Parker played at Yakima, Wash., in 2008. He logged 91 games for the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks in 2009 and was with the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2010 and Minnesota Twins system in 2011.

When his playing career was complete, he went back to Wright State to finish his Organizational Leadership degree and was offered a spot on the coaching staff. He worked with head coaches Cooper then Greg Lovelady. Parker followed Lovelady to Central Florida.

“(Lovelady) is one of the most down-to-earth, easy-to-play-for players’ coaches,” says Parker. “Guys just feel comfortable playing for him.

“Baseball is a hard game to play. Sometimes — as coaches — we can forget that. We (as coaches) haven’t played in a long time.

“Coach Lovelady was good at getting guys to play free and easy. There was no tension or pressure from the coaching staff.

“We have to be relatable. We have to be identifiable. We have to have patience. Those are all things I’ve taken from him.”

What are Parker’s strengths as a coach?

“Understanding the game,” says Parker. “I’ve seen it at a high level from both sides. I’m more patient as a pitching coach because I’ve been at a higher level as a position player. I think I can see things in pitchers from the eyes of a hitter.

“I’ll always tell guys the truth. I’ll always hold them accountable. I’m very detailed and very unassuming. I’m very thorough with an individualized program. Those things have helped the guys I’ve worked with have successful careers.”

Parker, 31, has coached 12 MLB draft selections, including five in the first 10 rounds. He sent nine arms to the pro ranks in just two seasons at UCF.

Justin and Angela Parker will celebrate four years of marriage in November.

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Justin Parker is the pitching coach at Indiana University. The 2019 season will be his first with the Hoosiers. (Indiana University Photo)BLOOMINGTON, IN - 2018.08.23 - Headshot

New Indiana University pitching coach Justin Parker shows his players how to do things during a fall practice. (Indiana University Photo)

 

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Mercer makes relationships, mental skills priority for Wright State Baseball

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Embracing the importance of personal relationships and the process, Indiana native Jeff Mercer continues to enjoy baseball accomplishment in Ohio.

Mercer, a 2004 Franklin County High School graduate, is in his second season as head coach at NCAA Division I Wright State University in Dayton.

After leading WSU to a 38-21 mark in 2017, Mercer had the Raiders at 29-13 heading into a May 4-6 Horizon League series against the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Mercer served as an assistant to Rich Maloney at the University of Michigan (2011), Matt Myers at Western Kentucky University (2012-13) and Greg Lovelady at Wright State (2014-16) before taking over the reigns of the RaiderGang when Lovelady took the heading coaching job at the University of Central Florida.

As a power-hitting first baseman, Mercer played two seasons at the University of Dayton (2005, 2007) for head coach Tony Vittorio then two at Wright State (2008-09) for head coach Rob Cooper.

While playing for WSU, Mercer was a two-time all-Horizon League first-team selection at first base. In 2009, he was HL Player of the Year and a Collegiate Baseball Newspaper third-team All-American as he hit .357 with 26 doubles and 74 runs batted in.

As a Franklin Community Grizzly Cub, he learned from three coaches — Mark Pieper, father Jeff Mercer and Brian Luse.

Mercer, 32, credits Pieper for instilling an appreciation for relationships.

“That’s one thing I’ve tried to make a core value and staple of my coaching staff,” says Mercer, who counts Nate Metzger, Matt Talarico, Alex Sogard, mental skills development coordinator Diamyn Hall, director of operations Denton Sagerman and volunteer Jacob Burk among his Wright State assistants. “We have to have personal relationships with our players.

“If you want to bring out the best in them — physically, emotionally, academically and all those things — the core of that is the relationship where you can help them build and grow.”

Mercer, who earned an organizational leadership degree from Wright State in 2009, does not buy into the generation gap excuse.

“I am young — one of the younger (D-I) head coaches in the country,” says Mercer. “I take it a little bit personally when people talk about ‘kids these days.’ You take the time to develop a relationship, the generation of the kid you’re dealing with is no different.

“They need to know that you care. They need to know you’re invested.”

This trust allows Mercer and his staff to drive the Raiders.

“We’re hard on players,” says Mercer. “We push them. We have really high expectation levels.

“But if they knew you have their best interests at heart then they have no problem with that kind of tough love.”

The elder Jeff Mercer, who helped start the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization and is now assistant superintendent of Franklin Community Schools, passed along his affinity for structure and discipline to his son.

“Everything was always very methodical,” says Mercer. “There was always an organizational plan. I took from that the confidence you have in preparation.

“We recruit a very confident kind of kid. First and foremost that comes from him. There’s only so much confidence we can give somebody. The confidence that comes from preparation can only be earned. It can’t be bought. You can’t pay for it.

“It just comes with time. It made me more confident as a player and as a coach knowing how much time and work we put into it.”

Mercer notes that Wright State has enjoyed much success against highly-ranked opponents and in hostile environments.

“Guys are confident because they know they are prepared to play at that level,” says Mercer, whose team earned two 2018 road wins against No. 20 Louisiana and one triumph against vote-getter Sam Houston State. The Raiders play at No. 29 Louisville Tuesday, May 8.

Mercer says Luse blend qualities from Pieper and his father.

“We played loose and free for him,” says Mercer. “But he also had a feel for the structure and discipline of it. Consequently, we had a lot of success. We were a very good team.

“You learn something from everybody you come in contact with and I certainly learned a lot during my high school time.”

Vittorio, who grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from Southport High School in 1984, brought toughness and discipline to his coaching.

“I knew that he cared,” says Mercer, who was a walk-on for the Flyers. “The relationship that I have with him now is really nice. He’s around a lot.”

While Mercer was at Dayton, another coach had a lasting impact on him.

“My relationship with hitting coach Cory Allen really shaped the way I view hitting from a mechanical aspect that I’ve carried forth to this day,” says Mercer. “It was the first time that anyone had discussed biomechanics, centrifugal force and different movements.

“It was an eye-opening experience and it drove me to be a much better player. I wasn’t a very talented player. Understanding a lot of those basics allowed me to have an advantage.”

After transferring to Wright State he formed a personal relationship with Cooper.

“At that point, there was nobody better in my career at making us all feel valued,” says Mercer. “I learned so much about that from him.

“He was the first person that introduced me to the mental game aspect.”

In the years since he played, Mercer has seen the field of mental skills training take off.

“It’s become an industry in and of itself,” says Mercer. “At the time, there was nobody talking about ‘don’t worry about the outcome, it’s the quality of the at-bat. It’s the process over the outcome.’ At the time it was very cutting edge and it was new information for me.

“I was a much better baseball player at Wright State than I was at Dayton

“It was directly attributed to the mental game and understanding that I couldn’t just play with reckless abandon when it came to my emotions. Physically, I could play very hard. But emotionally, there has to be some constraint.”

One of the keys is to know where place the emphasis.

“If I go through the process the right way and I work on things I’m supposed to work on and invest in things I’m supposed to invest in and I have the at-bat I’m supposed to have and putting a good swing on a good pitch, whatever happens from there is completely out of my hands,” says Mercer. “Once I did that I became a much better player.”

Mercer recruits plenty of football and wrestling athletes.

“Their mentality is I can work harder and harder,” says Mercer. “That’s not always effective in baseball.”

In his first season as head coach, he found the mental game to be a bit lacking and he thinks he knows the reason.

“When it comes from the head coach it can become a bit stale because I’m always talking and communicating with players,” says Mercer. “My voice is always heard.

“I like having a big coaching staff and having them deal with each player individually because it keeps things fresh. We need to have multi-faceted relationships.”

Then opportunity knocked.

Hall, who is from nearby Centerville, Ohio, had just ended his collegiate playing career and was looking to find his way in the mental skills field.

The decision was made to bring him on-board as the very first full-time mental skills coordinator in D-I baseball.

“We had a mutual need,” says Mercer of Hall. “He needed a place to begin his career. We needed someone who was a fresh face and had an ability to communicate with young people in an electric way, in an impassioned way. He has a magnetic personality.

“It’s been a beautiful union.”

Hall meets with players as a group and one-on-one, providing his knowledge and helping athletes reach their potential.

“We’re providing the players with the resources to be the best they can,” says Mercer. “It’s really about knowing yourself and what you need to be successful.”

Jeff and is one four boys born to Jeff and Pam Mercer. His mother teaches math at Whiteland Community High School.

Stephanie Mercer, Jeff’s wife, teaches sixth grade at Ankeney Middle School. The former Ohio Northern University athlete is also an assistant boys volleyball coach at Beavercreek (Ohio) High School.

Jeff and Stephanie are expecting their first child — a boy — in the fall.

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Jeff Mercer, a 2004 Franklin Community High School graduate, is in his second season as head baseball coach at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. At 32, he is one of the youngest head coaches in NCAA Division I baseball. (Wright State Photo)