Tag Archives: Sparky Lyle

Former pro pitcher Wechsler hunts for gems as White Sox area scout

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

Justin Wechsler grew up playing baseball in Madison County, Ind.
Born in Anderson in 1980 and briefly residing in Texas, he landed in Pendleton and was educated there through high school at Pendleton Heights (Class of 1998.
As a right-handed pitcher, he excelled at Ball State University (1999-2001) in nearby Muncie and then had professional baseball adventures in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and in independent ball.
When his playing career was over in 2006 — the year he turned 26 — Wechsler became a car salesman.
But that wasn’t for him.
“I needed to get back into baseball somehow, some way,” says Wechsler, who spent a short time as a Ball State volunteer assistant before becoming an area scout for the Chicago White Sox.
Most days from February through the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (which was July 17-19 in 2022) see McCordsville, Ind., resident Wechsler on the road evaluating talent in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
After a short break, he goes into summer and fall coverage. He is currently in San Diego for the 2022 Area Code Games.
Wechsler uses a mix of analytics and the eye test when grading players.
“You have to know them both,” says Wechsler. “These metrics just give you another piece of information to dissect a guy. The more information the better.
“I dug in on that stuff when it came out so I could talk intelligently about it. That’s what we do. That’s our job.”
As an area scout, Wechsler does not have the authority to sign players.
“I put numbers on them,” says Wechsler. “At a certain point a cross-checker or a national guy will come in.
“You build the base so you’ve got a target in the spring.”
He wants to find players who can hit, run and throw, but there’s more to it than that.
“It’s not so much the physical tools, it’s how they’re wired,” says Wechsler. “Do they have the right make-up? Professional baseball is hard. It’s a grind. It’s long. It’s just tough. The tools are the easy part.
“Mental toughness is a portion of it. What kind of teammate are they? Are they self-motivated? Do they love the game or just like the game? Are they coachable?”
It’s often creating a portfolio that has a beginning, middle and end.
“You start to build a profile and see how they mature,” says Wechsler. “Can they handle failure? It’s a very humbling experience.
“It helps that I played and was in a clubhouse. I know that life’s like.”
Wechsler played at Pendleton Heights for Bill Stoudt, who went into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2006. In 2013, the Arabians’ diamond became known as Bill Stoudt Field.
“He was awesome,” says Wechsler of Stoudt, who saw the pitcher chosen for the 1998 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series. “I had breakfast with Stoudty about a week ago.”
Wechsler has been known to stay at Stoudt’s Florida condo for a week at a time while attending spring training.
Wechsler met Anderson native Mike Shirley (who also played for Stoudt at Pendleton Heights) as a high schooler.
“He was one of those guys I met at a younger age when I needed guidance and advice,” says Wechsler. “I know I got lucky.”
Shirley is now Director of Amateur Scouting for the White Sox and operates The Barn training facility in Anderson.
Wechsler has been one of the pitching instructors at the facility and witnessed a long list of talent walk through the door.
“(Wapahani High School alum and St. Louis Cardinals left-hander) Zack Thompson grew up in our building,” says Wechsler.
John Miles was Wechsler’s manager with Anderson George H. Hockett American Legion Post 127.
“We were good,” says Wechsler of that Legion ball team.
At Ball State, the 6-foot, 255-pound righty learned from Cardinals head coach Rich Maloney. Over the years, he has watched him recruit players that went high in the MLB Draft (65 players have been selected 72 times with six first-rounders).
“He likes long athletic bodies,” says Wechsler of Maloney. “I probably didn’t fit his mold.”
Projectability is another key.
“You have to do that at that level,” says Wechsler.
The scout takes some credit for telling Maloney about right-hander Drey Jameson (Greenfield-Central Class of 2017), who came out of high school as a 6-foot, 145-pounder and pitched two seasons at Ball State (2018 and 2019) before being chosen in the first round in 2019 by the Diamondbacks.
“Drey is one of the most competitive human beings I’ve ever met,” says Wechsler. “He has a chip on his shoulder.
“He’s wired different than most guys.”
In 2022, 6-foot southpaw Tyler Schweitzer (Hamilton Southeastern) was drafted in the fifth round out of Ball State by the White Sox.
“He was light-tossing lefty who dove in the weight room and brought up his velocity,” says Wechsler of Schweitzer.
Draft selections who were Wechsler teammates at Ball State include outfielder Larry Bigbie (a Hobart High School graduate who played the majors and Japan), catcher Jon Kessick, right-handers Travis Minix and Christopher Cabaj and left-hander Jason Hickman in 1999, Hickman, lefty Adam Sheefel and infielders Shayne Ridley and Jeremy Ridley in 2000, catcher Doug Boone and right-hander Jason Paul in 2001 and righty Bryan Bullington (a Madison Consolidated alum and the No. 1 overall pick) and lefty Luke Hagerty, righty Paul Henry and Boone in 2002.
Bigbie, Bullington and Shayne Ridley are in the Ball State Athletic Hall of Fame.
Wechsler took the bump 53 times for the BSU Cardinals (40 starts) and went 23-13 with a 4.69 earned run average, 219 strikeouts and 92 walks in 232 1/3 innings.
Selected in the fourth round of the 2001 draft, Wechsler pitched for the rookie-level Missoula (Mont.) Osprey (2001), Low Class-A South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks (2002), High Class-A Lancaster (Calif.) JetHawks (2003 and 2004) and Double-A Tennessee Smokies (2005). He was with the Atlantic League’s Somerset Patriots (Bridgewater, N.J.) in 2006.
His managers were Chip Hale (Missoula), Dick Schofield (South Bend), Mike Aldrete and Wally Backman (Lancaster), Tony Perezchica (Tennessee) and Sparky Lyle (Somerset).
Through Backman, Wechsler came to know Mark Haley (who managed in South Bend 2005-14 and is now 1st Source Performance Center general manager and South Bend Cubs Foundation executive director).
South Bend resident and White Sox bullpen coach Curt Hasler and South Bend Clay High School coach and former Coveleski Stadium groundskeeper Joel Reinebold is counted among Wechsler’s many friends in baseball.
Another Pendleton Heights alum and Ball State player — Aaron Etchison — is now a scout for the Cleveland Guardians.
Brock Huntzinger, who was drafted out of Pendleton Heights in 2007, was named last week by new head coach Tracy Smith as pitching coach at the University of Michigan.
Wechsler started 56 of 161 pro appearances and went 25-29 with a 4.32 ERA, 352 K’s and 169 base on balls in 426 2/3 innings.
Justin met Niles, Mich., native Ryan Davis when he was playing for South Bend and she was an intern with the team. The couple now have three daughters — high schooler Grace and middle school twins Madalyn and Makenzie.
Catcher Scott French, who played at Ball State from 2000-02 and has been an instructor at The Barn and an Indiana Bulls coach/director, was best man at Justin and Ryan’s wedding.

Justin Wechsler

Fort Wayne native Reith sharing knowledge as pitching coach in Rays system

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Reith played professional baseball for 13 seasons with parts of three in the majors (2001, 2003 and 2004 Cincinnati Reds).

Reith, a 1996 Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran High School graduate, has plenty to impart to young players as pitching coach for the Low Class-A Midwest League’s Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods.

But it’s not just about what goes on between the white lines.

“This is about more than just baseball for me,” says Reith. “It’s about young men. The game’s going to be over at some point and, hopefully, they can have a sound future somewhere else.”

Reith, 40, encourages players to approach him about anything.

“They can come to about off-the-field stuff and on-the-field stuff,” says Reith. “I try to be stern, but I try to be a friend to them as well.”

With his young pitchers on the mound, he emphasizes something that helped him during his pro playing career.

“What I focus on mostly is fastball command and getting them to understand the four quadrants of the (strike) zone, how effective that can be and how it sets up their other pitches,” says Reith. “By doing this, starters can also help relievers later in the game.”

Reith says it’s a matter of mechanics for some pitchers and — for others — confidence in their fastball.

“Fastball command was extremely important for me,” says Reith, a 6-foot-5 right-hander who graduated from Concordia in 1996 and was selected in the sixth round of that years’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the New York Yankees. “I first learned that in the (High Class-A) Florida State League. In Double-A, I had catchers who forced me to use my fastball. It really opened up a lot of doors for me.”

In the majors, his first manager was former big league catcher Bob Boone. Former MLB pitcher Don Gullett was the pitching coach.

“I had a lot of conversations with Bob Boone about pitch selection and different hitters and what to look for,” says Reith. “(Don Gullett) taught me a lot about work ethic.”

Dave Miley later took over as Reds manager. He ended up as head coach at Franklin County High School in Brockville, Ind.

Reith pitched for the Indianapolis Indians in 2005. Trent Jewett was the manager and Darold Knowles, who won 66 games and save 143 in 765 big league appearances, the pitching coach.

From 2007 to 2009, he played independent ball — first with the Somerset (Mass.) Patriots and then the Camden (N.J.) Riversharks and Joliet (Ill.) Jackhammers.

Sparky Lyle, who pitched in 899 big league games with 99 wins and 238 saves, was the manager and Brett Jodie, who made eight MLB appearances in 2001 with the Yankees and San Diego Padres, the pitching coach his first season in Somerset.

“(Sparky Lyle) stayed back and let us do our thing,” says Reith. “I was pitching pretty well while I was there.

“Brett Jodie helped me out quite a bit. I played with Jodie in the Yankees organization.”

The 2018 season marks Reith’s fourth in the Tampa Bay Rays system. He spent the past three years as pitching coaches with the Short Season Class-A New York-Penn League’s Hudson Valley (N.Y.) Renegades.

There are many former Hudson Valley pitchers on the current Bowling Green staff and Reith sees the value in the continuity.

“It’s always good to have a base and knowledge of how they learn and what they’re working on to start a season off,” says Reith. “It’s definitely helped.”

Reith recalls his time in the Midwest League with Dayton in 2000 and relates those experiences to his Hot Rods.

“It wasn’t that long ago I was in their same shoes,” says Reith. “I try to remember what I was going through and what my mind was like.”

Everyone shares in the grind.

“Travel is pretty brutal for us,” says Reith. “But the guys deal well with it.”

According to Google Maps, the distance between the stadium in Bowling Green and MWL sites are as follows: Beloit (Wis.) Snappers 510; Burlington (Iowa) Bees 494; Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kernels 561; Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings 530; Dayton (Ohio) Dragons 279; Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps 389; Great Lakes Loons (Midland, Mich.) 616; Kane County Cougars (Geneva, Ill.) 479; Lake County Captains (Eastlake, Ohio) 477; Lansing (Mich.) Lugnuts 524; Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs 436; Quad Cities River Bandits (Davenport, Iowa) 512; South Bend (Ind.) Cubs 392; West Michigan Whitecaps (Comstock Park, Mich.) 493; Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Appleton, Wis.) 621.

Toward the end of his playing career, Reith earned on online degree in business management from the University of Phoenix. When he retired as a player, he went to work in the corporate world and landed with Champs Sports in Bradenton, Fla.

At the same time, Reith was coaching 14- to 18-year-olds in Sam Marsonek’s SCORE International program — combination travel baseball organization and ministry.

“I really enjoyed teaching the young kids,” says Reith. “That really sparked my interest in what I could do at a different level.”

When the Rays came calling, he started coaching professionals.

Reith’s early diamond days were spent at Wallen Baseball League in Fort Wayne, where teams played by American Amateur Baseball Congress rules and runners could lead off at a younger age the Little League. The league turned 50 in 2008.

He played travel ball for the Fort Wayne Seminoles and Fort Wayne Warriors and four years as a pitcher and outfielder at Concordia for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jack Massucci.

“He’s an extremely hard worker and a very knowledgeable guy,” says Reith of Massucci. “I didn’t know too much about situational baseball and he taught me a lot.”

Massucci is well-known around Fort Wayne for his long-time association with the Wildcat Baseball League.

Brian is the son of Steve and Nancy Reith, who live in the Fort Wayne area along with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Brian’s sister, Stacey, resides in Fishers, Ind.

Bowling Green has made two visits to Fort Wayne this season and is due for another July 6-9.

Brian, wife Kellie and their children reside in the Bradenton/Sarasota area in Florida. The family — parents, son Dixon (7) and daughter Kinsie (6) — have been together most of the season in Bowling Green. Recently, Kellie went back to Florida to ready to give birth to a second daughter in about two weeks.

BRIANREITHBGHOTRODS2

Brian Reith makes a mound visit as pitching coach for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods. The Fort Wayne native is in his fourth season of coaching in the Tampa Bay Rays system. (Bowling Green Hot Rods Photo)

BRIANREITHBGHOTRODS1

Brian Reith signals his approval as pitching coach for the Bowling Green (Ky.) Hot Rods. He is a 1996 graduate of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Concordia Lutheran High School and played 13 professional baseball seasons, including parts of three in the majors. (Bowling Green Hot Rods Photo)