Tag Archives: St. Louis Cardinals

From first-time fatherhood to Gold Glove, life has been full for Reds catcher Barnhart

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s been an eventful last six months or so for Tucker Barnhart.

In August, the Cincinnati Reds catcher and Indiana native and wife Sierra welcomed first child Tatum into the world. Before you knew it Tucker was buying a tiny catcher’s mitt he found on Amazon.com.

“I was bored one day and I was trying to find a glove,” says Barnhart. “It just so happened there was a (miniature) black and red catcher’s glove. It made a ton of sense to grab it.”

In September, the switch-hitting backstop signed a four-year contract extension that will keep him with the Reds through at least the 2021 season. The deal also includes a club option for 2022.

In October, the 2009 Brownsburg High School graduate rapped his fourth Major League Baseball season with career-high totals for batting average (.270), on-base percentage (.347), slugging percentage (.403) and games played (121).

Reds manager Bryan Price told MLB.com in December that Barnhart will be Cincy’s primary in 2018 with Devin Mesoraco backing up.

“Tucker’s going to get the lion’s share of the playing time now; he’s earned that,” said Price.

“He has stamped himself — without a doubt — as a day-to-day big league catcher,” says Marty Brenneman, the Reds radio play-by-play voice since 1974. “He’s a guy who’s wonderful at handling a pitching staff, a guy who proved he could hit big league pitching before than the Average Joe. And above all that, he won the Gold Glove for defensive excellence in the National League.”

In November, Barnhart became the first Reds catcher since 10-time recipient Johnny Bench in 1977 to be awarded a Rawling Gold Glove in the Senior Circuit.

Brenneman calls Barnhart beating out St. Louis Cardinals receiver Yadier Molina — eight times a Gold Glove winner and NL All-Star — “a big, big deal.”

November was also a time celebrate his second wedding anniversary. Tucker is married to the former Sierra Thompson.

While adapting to fatherhood and recovering from the grind of the long season, the Zionsville resident has found the time to take in Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers games.

“I’m a big-time Pacers fan,” says Barnhart. “Basketball is my favorite sport. It’s in my blood.”

He is childhood friend of Boston Celtics small forward Gordon Hayward and Reds relief pitcher Drew Storen — both Brownsburg graduates.

Barnhart was a freshman and sophomore when he caught during Storen’s junior and senior Brownsburg seasons.

Years later, Barnhart looks into the stands at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati and sees a lot of Bulldogs purple and white.

Barnhart has also consulted this fall and winter with long-time personal hitting instructor Mike Shirley near Lapel and Reds catching coordinator Mike Stefanski in Cincinnati.

“Mike’s a great guy,” Barnhart says of Shirley, a national cross-checker scout for the Chicago White Sox. “I’ve worked with Mike since I was I would say 11 years old. Other than my dad (Kevin Barnhart), Mike has seen my swing more than any other person around. I trust Mike a lot. He’s cutting edge. He looks at all the numbers and all that stuff. I really appreciate the work he’s done for me.

“We look at video of other hitters and things that they do that I can do or things that I do that are similar to what they do. We do a lot more talking than hitting, which is good in my opinion.”

Barnhart said his offense has picked up as he has gotten more familiar with National League pitching.

“It’s facing the same guys over and over again seeing how they pitch you and how to attack them as a hitter,” says Barnhart. “Obviously, I’d like to grow as a hitter. I think I could drive some more balls. I don’t know if that’s going result in more home runs (than the seven he hit in both 2016 and 2017) or more doubles or what have you, but I’m getting more out of my swing.

“I’m getting stronger and more explosive.”

There continues to be an education — in baseball and in life — from his father.

“What haven’t I learned from Kevin Barnhart?,” says Tucker, who turned 27 on Jan. 7. “My dad has been so instrumental in my career.”

Kevin Barnhart is an instructor at Samp’s Hack Shack in Brownsburg, a facility owned by former big league pitcher Bill Sampen.

Tucker also offers a shout-out to mother Pam Barnhart, sister Paige Barnhart and the rest of his relatives.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without (my family),” says Tucker. “I am extremely thankful.

“Being a dad (myself) puts that all into perspective.”

Tucker went on paternity leave Aug. 31-Sept. 3 to be with Sierra and Tatum.

“It’s difficult and it’s the best thing ever,” says Barnhart of fatherhood. “No matter what kind of day I’m having when I see him smile, that’s all that matters.”

Barnhart also found the time to make western swing of the Reds Caravan.

One fan at the Muncie stop gave Barnhart her own nickname, “Johnny Bench Jr.”

“That’s pretty humbling,” says Barnhart, who was selected in the 10th round of the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Reds and won an MiLB Gold Glove in 2011 and the Reds Joe Nuxhall Good Guy Award in voting of the Cincinnati chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in 2016.

Barnhart is slated to address the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization at their player/parent meeting Sunday, Jan. 28 at Westfield High School.

Barnhart played six seasons with the Bulls He made the 13U team at 11, but was not allowed to play for the fear of getting hurt. At 12, he played for the 13U squad then played 13U, 14U, 15,U 16U and 17U.

“It’s going to be a message of hard work, dedication and having fun,” says Barnhart of his remarks to Bulls players and parents. “You have to be able to have fun to get the most out of yourself. To achieve all the things you want to achieve in your life — whether it’s in baseball or in anything.”

The Barnharts plan to leave Thursday, Feb. 1 for spring training camp in Goodyear, Ariz. Pitchers and catchers are to report Feb. 13 (position players Feb. 18).

Cincinnati’s first Cactus League spring game is scheduled for Feb. 23. The season opener is slated for March 29.

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Tucker Barnhart, a Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, goes into spring training 2018 as the primary catcher for the Cincinnati Reds. (MLB Photo)

 

 

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Indiana Bulls have grown baseball in state nearly three decades

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Developing and showcasing homegrown baseball talent has been the mission of the Indiana Bulls since the travel organization was founded in 1991.

Taking players exclusively from Indiana was how co-founder Dave Taylor wanted it and that’s the way it has remained all these years.

The Bulls have sent countless players on to college baseball and dozens have been drafted by Major League Baseball.

Two players on the first Bulls team — Todd Dunwoody (Harrison High School in West Lafayette) and Scott Rolen (Jasper) — made it to the big leagues.

Rolen is on the latest National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.

Recent Bulls alums to don MLB uniforms include Nevin Ashley (North Knox), Tucker Barnhart (Brownsburg), Tommy Hunter (Indianapolis Cathedral), Micah Johnson (Park Tudor), Adam Lind (Anderson Highland), Josh Lindblom (Harrison of West Lafayette), Lance Lynn (Brownsburg), Alex Meyer (Greensburg), Cameron Perkins (Southport), Clayton Richard (McCutcheon) and Drew Storen (Brownsburg).

“We have pride in that border with Indiana players,” says Bulls executive director Dan Held. “It’s impressive to see all the players that come out of here.”

In 2018, the Bulls have 26 teams from 8U through 18U.

With Held running the show, all will be present at noon Sunday, Jan. 28 at Westfield High School for the annual parent/player organizational meeting.

Barnhart will be the guest speaker and players will receive uniforms and equipment in anticipation of the upcoming season.

The campaign opens first for 8U to 14U. Those squads are expected to play 50 to 60 games apiece during their four-month season.

At this age, the Bulls try not to travel more than three weekends in a row.

“We are not chasing trophies,” says Held.

High school-aged teams — U15 to U18 — get started after the prep season concludes and have eight weekends worth of tournaments and will likely play 30 to 40 games each.

High school baseball is a priority at this age the the Bulls strive to develop relationships with prep coaches (and have several on the coaching staff).

“High school coaches are a fantastic resource,” says Held. “They are with those players for years.

“We are just an additional set of ears and eyes for those coaches.”

The 8U to 14U teams play many games in and around Indiana, but have been known to go to Cooperstown, N.Y., and Omaha, Neb.

Held puts all the schedules together for high school-level teams with an eye on exposure to college scouts.

Some of those showcases include the Music City Classic in Nashville, Tenn., and World Wood Bat Championships in Cartersville, Ga., as well as the Youth Amateur Baseball Championships and Midwest Prospect League run by Bullpen Tournaments at Grand Park in Westfield with its 26 synthetic surface diamonds.

At the end of the season, coaches fill out an evaluation form for each player — noting strengths and weaknesses — and presents it to the player or their parents and Held also gets a copy.

Annually, the Bulls offer three memorial scholarships — in honor of Daniel Mercer, Craig Moore and Lance Moore.

Once the season ends, there are optional fall workouts. There is no training activity in November and December.

Held left his post as a St. Louis Cardinals coach after the 2006 season to direct the Bulls, which are based in the Indianapolis area but draws players from all corners of the state.

With all his connections in the baseball world, Held is the face of the organization.

When he first came aboard with the Bulls, Held conducted player clinics. But with players spread out across Indiana it was difficult to reach all of them.

Held then decided to focus on educating the coaches to relay the message to the players.

He wants a non-threatening atmosphere and screamers and yellers are not welcome.

All coaches are hired by Held. He is looking for those with strong baseball backgrounds. That is more important than them having a standout player for a son.

“We need to have a coach who runs a quality program,” says Held. “We’d love to have all non-dad coaches. But with time restraints, we can’t always do that. (Coaching) does entail a lot of work.”

Head coaches get a stipend to off-set expenses which they share with their assistants. Player fees are waived for sons playing on a team coached by their father.

Last November, a mandatory coaches retreat was taken to Camp Emma Lou near Bloomington. It is the site of Rolen’s E5 Foundation camps for children and families dealing with illness, loss or other special needs.

“It was a big undertaking, but it was just worth it,” says Held. “It really paid off.

“Part of my job is make sure we’re doing things properly and evaluating the coaches. I give my coaches a big leash. Micro-managing them is a mistake.”

There is manual to help coaches conduct a productive practices.

“I don’t want them having home run derbies and just hitting ground balls,” says Held. “Practice is the most important thing. Players need to get something out of it.

“I monitor my coaches. I don’t want them to go rogue.”

Practices tend to be held once a week in the winter and twice a week in the spring for 8U to 14U teams. Games are mostly played on weekends.

Besides team practices in locales around the Indianapolis area, there are some organizational practices on the calendar. That’s one of the various ways the director stays connected with all the teams. Taking a cue from professional baseball, he has each coaching staff report to him after each weekend. If there was an incident or a significant injury, Held will know about it.

If a parent has a concern, Held says they need to go through the proper channels of communication. He prefers that the matter be addressed first with that player’s coach. Then comes a board member assigned to the team and then comes the director.

“I try to keep a close watch on the pulse of our teams,” says Held. “If there are issues, we try to be visible.

“It’s hard to control 300 sets of parents. You may give a message, but they hear what they want to hear. Our parents have been fantastic with going through the proper chain of command.”

The Bulls — an Indiana not-for-profit 501 (c) 3 organization has a board of directors filled with business professionals and a set of by-laws. There are currently 23 board members.

In a presentation at the 2018 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Indianapolis, Taylor told those assembled about how to put together and sustain a successful travel organization like the Bulls.

Taylor says the mission must be clear.

Some are established as high school feeder programs. Others are there to go after national championships. Yet others are there to develop talent.

The Bulls were formed to develop and gain exposure for ballplayers in the state.

“Indiana was Alaska in terms of developing college baseball players,” says Taylor.

It’s key to have business people of the board — bankers, lawyers, insurance agents etc. There expertise will help in securing facilities, making deals, establishing policies, setting budgets and managing social media. Other important things to consider are revenue, player fees, sponsors and fundraising.

Taylor says board members are expected to raise money and/or cut a check of their own. They should be “invested” in the organization.

The Bulls have had a sustaining corporate partnership with cap company Lids.

While keeping tabs on all the teams, Held will also coach 16U Black and join Rolen in coaching 10U Grey and their sons — Boston Held and Finn Rolen.

“We’re excited about that,” says Held. “We get our kids to play together and enjoy the game of baseball.”

Held and Rolen were both selected in the 1993 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies — third baseman Rolen in the second round and catcher Held in the 42nd round. They were minor league teammates.

Rolen played 17 seasons in the big leagues. Held was a pro player for nine years and a coach for five.

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Developing and showcasing homegrown baseball talent has been the mission of the Indiana Bulls since the travel organization was founded in 1991. (Indiana Bulls Image)

 

South Bend’s Bond looking to add muscle prior to second season in Giants organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Bond has watched his baseball career bloom the past couple of years.

Heading into his senior season at South Bend Clay High School in the spring of 2015, the left-handed swinger barely knew the feeling of hitting the ball over the fence.

“My whole life I had like two home runs,” says Bond, who used a combination of strength and bat speed to triple that number that season with encouragement from Colonials head coach Joel Reinebold. “He always pushed me to try to do a little better each time.”

In the fall of 2014, Bond went to Texas with his Prairie Gravel Baseball travel team to play in a tournament that included San Jacinto College North.

Bond came away with a scholarship offer from the elite junior college program in Houston.

After four varsity seasons at Clay, he played the outfield for the San Jac Coyotes in 2016 and 2017.

The first year Bond was selected in the 39th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals and did not sign, opting to go back to San Jacinto for his sophomore season.

Tom Arrington is the Coyotes head coach.

“He was strict but he always kept us relaxed,” says Bond of Arrington. “He told jokes. It was good playing for him.”

When the 2017 MLB draft rolled around, the San Francisco Giants chose Bond in the 12th round as one of six San Jacinto players selected.

“We’d come to practice everyday looking to get better,” says Bond. “We’d challenge each other. (San Jac) should be really good (in 2018).”

Center Grove High School graduate Jacob Cantleberry, a left-handed pitcher, went to San Jac and recently committed to the University of Missouri.

After his two junior college seasons, Bond signed and went to play in the rookie-level Arizona League. In 41 games and 147 at-bats, he hit .306 with eight homers, 31 runs batted in and 50 strikeouts.

“I learned a lot,” says Bond. “If you have a bad day, look to the next day. There are a lot opportunities. You clear your head and play again.

“It’s a work in progress. I still have a lot to learn.”

Most of his defensive time in the AZL was spent in left field, where he got to show off his arm and athleticism.

Bond, 20, has been back in South Bend for a little over a month after attending instructional league in the fall.

He will gain more knowledge about the Giants organization when he travels to San Francisco Saturday, Dec. 9, to start a five-day rookie camp.

When he gets back he will resume sessions four or five days a week in Elkhart  with former Notre Dame baseball and football player Evan Sharpley at Sharpley Training.

“I’ve been been working out so I can gain a little weight, some bat speed and get a little faster,” says Bond. “He’s kicking my butt so far.”

At 6-foot-5 and 190 pounds, Bond says he would like to be at 205 by the time he goes to Arizona for spring training in March.

“I need to eat more,” says Bond. “I need to get more protein.”

Bond was 5-of-8 in stolen base attempts for the AZL Giants.

“That’s something I’ve got to get better at,” says Bond. “I need to get a better jump. I was a good baserunner — going first to third on a base hit.”

Bond began playing for Chicago-based Prairie Gravel and coach Al Oremus toward the end of the summer after his junior year at Clay.

His high school summers up to that point were spent with the Indiana Land Sharks.

Before that, he played one season with the Niles (Mich.) Sluggers following two with the Raptors travel team. He got his start as a player at Chet Waggoner Little League in South Bend.

Aaron got interested in bat-and-ball sports by watching his father play fast pitch softball. Charles and Angela Bond have three sons. Alex (25) and U.S. Marines veteran Alonzo (22) both attend Ivy Tech in South Bend. Aaron is two online classes short of a general studies degree at San Jac.

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Aaron Bond, a 2015 South Bend Clay High School graduate, played two seasons at San Jacinto College North in Texas and signed in 2017 with the San Francisco Giants organization. He is a left-swinging outfielder. (San Francisco Giants Photo)

 

Malcom using baseball to give back to Elkhart community

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Cory Malcom wants to give back to his hometown. Naturally, that gift to the community will involve baseball.

St. Louis Cardinals minor leaguer Malcom and Cleveland Indians farmhand Tanner Tully — co-MVPs on Elkhart Central High School’s 2013 IHSAA Class 4A state championship team — are conducting a pitching camp 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5 at Elkhart Sports Center. They will teach about mechanics, arm care and more.

“It’ll be good for the town,” says Cory, who will be assisted by father Jimmy Malcom. “He knows a little bit about the game.”

Jimmy Malcom teaches about 35 lessons a week out of ESC with his Walk-Off Warehouse. An all-stater at Elkhart Memorial High School and then at the College of Central Florida and Bradley University, he has coached youth baseball for decades.

Cory Malcom grew up in Elkhart with a group of friends, including Tully, while being taught the game by Jimmy. The traveling Rip City Rebels enjoyed lots of diamond success.

“One of the problems we have now is we don’t really have a feeder system (for Elkhart schools),” says Cory, now 22. “It would be nice to see a whole group go together like we did.”

Cory was a Rebels fixture from age 8 to 14. At 15, he took advantage of an opportunity at experience and exposure on the travel ball circuit with the Indiana Bulls, playing with the high-profile organization in the famed East Cobb tournament in Georgia. At 16 and 17, he was a regular with the Dan Held-led Bulls.

Playing on a team that had nearly 20 players earn scholarships to NCAA Division I school, including Zionsville High School’s Parker Dunshee (Wake Forest University and then the Oakland Athletics system). Cory landed an invitation from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock.

Playing four seasons of D-I baseball for the Chris Curry-coached Trojans, the 6-foot right-hander made 61 mound appearances (44 as a starter) and struck out 273 and walked 84 in 287 innings. The summer before his junior year, he played for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the prestigious Cap Cod League.

Malcom made the dean’s list all but one semester and graduated from UALR with a degree in health promotions with a minor in health exercise and sports management. He was selected by the Cardinals in the 34th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

With the short-season Gulf Coast League Cardinals in Florida, Malcom went 0-0 with a 3.18 earned run average. He pitched in 12 games (all in relief) and whiffed 14 batters (with just two walks) and 11 1/3 innings before coming back to Elkhart, where he is following prescribed exercises on a phone app. He plans to begin throwing again in mid-November and go back to Little Rock to work out with the college team in January. Before leaving, he will also teach the game at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen.

His understanding of kinesiology has helped Malcom and his teammates identify areas of soreness and know which exercises to use.

Throwing mostly from a three-quarter arm slot in high school, Malcom was asked to go “way over the top” as a freshman by then-UALR pitching coach Chris Marx (now at Campbell University in North Carolina).

“I was not getting much movement so I started going higher on top,” says Malcom. “If I have (downhill) angle on my fastball and hit my locations like I normally do, I should have success.”

Malcom credits Curry for life lessons.

“He taught you how to present yourself in public and how to go about your business,” says Malcom of Curry, a man who played at Meridian (Miss.) Community College and Mississippi State University followed by seven years of pro baseball. “He also helped me through the draft process.”

Leading up to the draft, Malcom would come to the field hours early to meet with scouts, who were trying to get to know potential picks better.

It was while charting pitches a day before his scheduled start that Malcom got acquainted with the Cardinals scout that would sign him — former Little Rock assistant Dirk Kinney.

After turning pro, Malcom adapted to a relief role.

“In college, I considered myself a starter,” says Malcom. “You have to save your bullets because you hope to get six or seven innings of our yourself. There’s a leeway there if you give up a couple runs. You get to find a groove. The bullpen is cut and dried. You either get the job done or you don’t and you don’t have time to time about it.”

In short order in the Gulf Coast League, Malcom went from middle relief and setting up and finishing games while getting his fastball, breaking ball and change-up over for strikes.

“It was kind of a weird year,” says Malcom. “I was coming off of a lot of innings during the college season. I honestly don’t know what I’ll do (in the future), I think I could be a quality guy out of the bullpen.

“It’s a fun thing to go right at them with everything you have. You can go max effort.”

In most games, his fastball was topping out at 93 mph from that downward angle.

Some organizations take a hands-off approach for the first 90 days after drafting a player and that’s the way it was with the Cardinals. GCL Cards pitching coach Giovanni Carrara was very encouraging to Malcom and others and told them not to put too much pressure on themselves.

But they did not really address mechanics.

“They gave you some free time to figure out things for yourself,” says Malcom. “I was used to feedback all the time at Little Rock. They treat you like a grown man (in pro ball). Baseball is your job and take it seriously.”

For more information, on the Elkhart Sports Center camp, call ESC at 574-294-5050 or Jimmy Malcom at 574-215-5612. To set up a session with Cory at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy, call 734-751-3321.

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Cory Malcom, a graduate at Elkhart Central High School and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, is coming off his first professional baseball season in the St. Louis Cardinals system. He plans a pitching camp with friend and former high school teammate, Tanner Tully, Sunday, Nov. 5 at Elkhart Sports Center.

 

Work ethic leads Riggins to long coaching career

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Diligence and determination learned as a teenager in southern Indiana has sustained Mark Riggins throughout a long baseball career.

Riggins, who played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Tim Nonte on the diamond and Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer Jack Butcher and assistant Nonte on the hardwood as part of the Loogootee High School Class of 1975, went on to pitch at Murray (Ky.) State University and logged five seasons in the minors with the St. Louis Cardinals and Baltimore Orioles organizations.

He has been in player development since 1984 and has been pitching coach for the Mike Quade-managed Chicago Cubs (2011) and Bryan Price-managed Cincinnati Reds (2016) as well as a minor league pitching coordinator and pitching coach for the Cardinals, Cubs and Reds.

Riggins, who was inducted into the IHSBCA Hall of Fame himself in 2016, is now charged with developing pitchers for the Dunedin Blue Jays.

“The work ethic I gained at Loogootee has carried me on,” says Riggins, who was a part of the Lions’ state runner-up basketball team as a senior. “Success and winning doesn’t come easy. We were very successful because of our dedication and hard work that we learned from the people that taught us.

“I still preach the work ethic to these players.”

Dunedin is a member of the talent-rich High-A Florida State League.

“We have quite a few good prospects,” says Riggins, 60. “We have really good arms trying to find the stroke zone and learn a second and third pitch.”

This season, while the team has earned a playoff berth (Game 1 vs. Tampa is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 5), Riggins has helped eight pitchers move up to Double-A or beyond.

“It’s very rewarding to see these kids get better,” says Riggins.

Each Major League Baseball organization has its own philosophy on developing players.

Like the St. Louis Cardinals when Riggins was a part of system, the Toronto Blue Jays tend to be patient with their prospects.

“Other organizations move them along rather quickly,” says Riggins. “That’s a problem in baseball. (Players are rushed to the big leagues and) not prepared to handled that level of talent. We want to make sure the guy is ready to move to the major league level.”

Riggins guides a staff with a five-man starting rotation that rare has a hurler go over 100 pitches in a game.

Relievers rarely pitch on back-to-back days or go more than two innings at a time. Starters tend to pitch 120 to 150 innings during a 140-game season while relievers go 50 to 60.

“We’ve had a really successful year in keeping guys healthy,” says Riggins. “We pick the starters out of spring training. They are best arms with the best chance to be a starter at the major league level.”

Of course, that could change along the way and the pitcher might be deemed better-suited to a bullpen role.

The use of analytics has steadily increased in baseball and they come into play in the FSL.

“We do have scouting reports on every team we play,” says Riggins. “I simplify those reports to what I feel (my pitcher) can handle. Some pitchers can’t do it as well as others.

“But the guys at this level are pretty advanced in being able to execute pitches. We always pitch to their strength vs. a hitter’s weakness. Having reports at A-ball was unheard of five years ago.”

Riggins welcomes the advancements in information and training methods.

“I like new things,” says Riggins. “I have to see how it applies. You have to be open-minded.

“Everybody is getting the information now. If you’re not, you’re way behind. It’s what you do with it that makes each individual organization different.”

The Blue Jays organization has a plan for each one of its player. That plan is reviewed every two weeks during the season and is tweaked as necessary.

The player’s input is always considered.

“If they’re on board, they work hard at their efficiency and trying to make it better,” says Riggins. “Players have changed a lot. They’re smarter. They’re pretty sharp at gaining information from other sources.”

It’s up to Riggins to help them get the most out of the info and their ability.

“I dissect what they do best,” says Riggins. “They are not sure. They are just throwing the baseball.

“The difference is consistency. How often can you execute pitches? Once they can do it on a consistent basis, they can cut hitters apart.”

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Mark Riggins, a 1975 Loogootee High School graduate, began his career as a professional baseball coach in 1984. He is now the pitching coach for the Florida State League’s Dunedin Blue Jays. (Dunedin Blue Jays Photo)

 

South Bend hurler Hudson uses height to his advantage

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The Chicago Cubs have high hopes for a player who stands high on the pitcher’s mound.

Bryan Hudson, a 6-foot-8 left-hander, is honing his craft while sending his deliveries on a downward plane for the Low Class-A South Bend Cubs.

“It definitely plays a part,” says Hudson of his size. “I try to pound the zone and get weak contact.”

Mixing a curve and an inside fastball, Hudson likes to keep the ball on the ground if he can’t get a swing and miss.

“I try to get a lot of tinker ground balls that are turned into double plays or easy outs for us,” says Hudson, who is 8-3 with a 4.17 earned run average, 77 strikeouts, 50 walks in 116 2/3 innings spread over 23 games (all starts) in 2017. “I just try to keep in a good rhythm and a tempo and keep my team kind of locked in with me.”

Selected by the Chicago Cubs in the third round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Hudson began his professional career with five relief appearances that summer with the Arizona Cubs and helped the Eugene Emeralds win the Northwest League title with a 5-4 mark and 5.06 ERA over 13 starts in 2016.

Hudson calls full-season Midwest League, with its 16 teams, tougher than the short-season Northwest League and its eight clubs.

“There’s better hitters and more players with experience,” says Hudson, who is ranked as the No. 28 prospect in the Cubs organization by MLB.com.

He is now in his third season as Cubs property. Growing up, Hudson rooted for the St. Louis Cardinals. He was a standout for the Alton (Ill.) High School Redbirds and committed to play for the University of Missouri before opting to go pro instead.

Alton is a Mississippi River town located about 15 miles north of St. Louis. Southern Illinois is littered with both Cubs and Cards fanatics.

When South Bend visited Peoria in May, there were plenty of Hudson’s family and friends in attendance though he did not pitch in the series.

“I still get a little bit of trash talk when (Cubs and Cardinals are) playing each other,” says Hudson. “But, for the most part, they support, me.”

If South Bend’s schedule is not altered, Hudson’s next start is Thursday, Aug. 31 against West Michigan at Four Winds Field. It will be the next-to-last regular-season home game for the Cubs, who are still in the chase for a MWL wild-card playoff berth.

When the 2017 campaign is over, Hudson plans to head back to Alton to lift weights and get stronger for the 2018 season.

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Bryan Hudson, a 6-foot-8 left-hander, is a starting pitcher for the 2017 South Bend Cubs. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Northwest Indiana Oilmen strike it rich in baseball fun, development

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

After another season of diamond progress, the Northwest Indiana Oilmen are again in the Midwest Collegiate League title hunt.

The summer collegiate wood bat baseball club that calls Whiting’s Oil City Stadium home has qualified for the playoffs in each of its six seasons.

The Oilmen went into the playoffs as the No. 1 seed (Bloomington, Ill., beat Northwest Indiana 3-1 Tuesday, Aug. 1 in Game 1 of a best-of-3 semifinals series). Game 2 was slated for Wednesday, Aug. 2 at Bloomington with Game 3 (if necessary) Thursday, Aug. 3 at Oil City. Home games have been broadcast live on the team’s Facebook page.

Don Popravak and Adam Enright have been with the Oilmen for each campaign. Popravak is president and owner while Enright is in his third season as head coach after three summers as an assistant.

A veteran of more than three decades in marketing, Popravak conceived the idea of the team, negotiated with the City of Whiting for the use of the stadium and has built the Oilmen brand.

Enright is a Munster High School graduate who played at South Suburban College and then helped the University of Southern Indiana to an NCAA Division II national championship (2010). After one year each at Chicago State University and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, he is entering his fifth season as an assistant at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill.

TCC Trolls head coach Justin Huisman is a former Oilmen head coach. Huisman played at the University of Mississippi and pitched briefly with the 2004 Kansas City Royals.

Popravak, a Chicago native who grew up minutes from Whiting and played baseball and football at DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., has watched the Midwest Collegiate League (founded in 2010) grow and greatly improve its ability to attract top-notch talent. Dozens of former MCL players have been drafted by Major League Baseball clubs, including six in 2017. Others have gone on to independent professional baseball.

Left-handed pitcher Tony Cingrani, recently traded from the Cincinnati Reds to the Los Angeles Dodgers, played for the Illinois Jayhawks in the MCL’s first season.

Third baseman Paul DeJong played in the MCL with the Will County CrackerJacks (2012) and DuPage County Hounds (2013).

Former Oilmen player and Munster High graduate Craig Dedelow played at Indiana University and is now an outfielder the minors with the Chicago White Sox.

Hammond Bishop Noll Institute graduate Matt Pobereyko was a player and pitching coach with the Oilmen before going to independent baseball. He was with the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and, after another indy stint, is now a New York Mets farmhand.

John Ely, who pitched for the Dodgers in 2010, 2011 and 2012, managed the Southland Vikings and is now a coach in the White Sox system.

“He credits his experience of coaching at this level,” says Popravak. “We have quality guys working with players and developing their careers.”

Former big league pitcher Marvin Freeman has been a pitching coach for Southland, where former Oilmen player Kevin Franchetti is now manager. Franchetti played for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur at Andrean High School and then at Ball State University.

Popravak said the teams in the MCL — Oilmen in Indiana and Bloomington Bobcats, Crestwood Panthers, DuPage County Hounds, Joliet Admirals and Southland Vikings in Illinois  — are “all on the same page with finding and developing the best talent.”

“We want them go back to their colleges and be an impact player,” says Popravak.

Unique to summer collegiate baseball, the MCL has some players that play in the league before they ever step on a university campus.

“That’s a real advantage for a college coach,” says Popravak. “That young players who’s hungry can get 250 at-bats against college pitching and work their mistakes out early so they can go to a college campus and compete for a job.”

Corey Ray played for Southland before going to the University of Louisville and is now in the Brewers system.

Donivan Williams impressed the Cardinals enough after playing with the Oilmen that they signed him and he by-passed college. The 18-year-old third baseman from Oak Lawn, Ill., is now playing in the Gulf Coast League.

The MCL roster limit is 35 and many are in the mound mix. There are several college underclassmen who have had a low number of innings in the spring.

“The summer gives them an opportunity to shine,” says Popravak. “We don’t want to overuse pitchers.

“Our goal is to always send the player back to college healthy.”

Enright and assistant coach Patrick Antone (who played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Campbell at Chesterton High School, coached with Pishkur at Andrean and was recently named head coach at Boone Grove High School) have watched the Oilmen consistently perform on the bump in 2017.

“The reason we’ve done so well this year is our pitching,” says Enright. “I don’t think we’ve been deeper. It’s a good mix of guys with a lot of talent.

“We have overall depth with our position players. We mix and match lineups a lot. I make sure each of our guys have at least 100 at-bats if they are with us all season. It’s more about development than winning.”

The six MCL teams play each other 10 times during a 50-game regular season leading into a four-team, two-tier playoff format (both best-of-3).

Using his connections, Enright built the Oilmen roster with most of the players commuting from a radius of about 90 minutes from Whiting.

“I’m starting to build up some pretty good relationships with schools throughout the Midwest at all levels,” says Enright. “We like the local flavor that people in the community and the region are familiar with.”

The longest road trip for the Oilmen is about two hours to Bloomington.

Enright played for two respected baseball men in Munster’s Bob Shinkan and USI’s Tracy Archuleta and took from both in developing his own leadership style.

“Those two guys shaped who I am as a coach,” says Enright. “I bring my own flavor to the game and coaching. But I make sure guys have positive experiences. Happy players are productive players. I want guys getting the most out of each other and play together to win baseball teams.”

Enright says neither Shinkan or Archuleta do much yelling, but are “the type of coach you don’t want to let down.”

Shinkan is also an IHSBCA Hall of Famer.

“He makes you enjoy the process and being out there everyday,” says Enright of his high school coach. “It’s about having fun while doing what you need to do to be the best player you can be.”

Enright appreciates the cerebral side of Archuleta’s coaching.

“He will put the game straight into your brain and make you think of it all levels you’ve never done before,” says Enright.

The fans, who turned out for MCL games and a series this summer against the Serbian National Team, get a chance to enjoy baseball played in a park plotted on 119th Street near homes, oil rigs and not far from the water.

“It’s a special place,” says Enright. “The community really loves it. It’s a premier facility. You can’t ask much more for a summer collegiate team. Good product on the field and really nice atmosphere to watch a game in. When the wind blows you can hear the waves off Lake Michigan.”

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