Tag Archives: Steve Holm

Learnard’s transition from player to coach brings him back to Purdue

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

Purdue University’s special 2018 baseball season was heading toward a conclusion when senior closer Ross Learnard began thinking about his future.
The Boilermakers were on their way to a 38-21 record that included 17-6 mark in the Big Ten Conference — second to Minnesota — and an NCAA Regional berth.
Learnard was finishing up his Agricultural Economics degree.
“After each game late down the stretch I’d be in the shower and thinking my last out is going to come here soon,” says Learnard, a 6-foot-2 left-hander went 2-2 with 15 saves, a 3.37 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and eight walks in 34 2/3 innings in 2018. “I just can’t see myself getting a 9-to-5 inside job.
“I decided at that point that I wanted to coach and began to pursue my options.”
Purdue pitching coach Steve Holm went to Illinois State University to become head coach and brought Learnard on as a graduate assistant (he earned a Master of Business Administration degree at ISU) and director of operations in the fall of 2018.
From there Learnard went to Parkland College in Champaign, Ill., where he had pitched in 2015 and 2016, and served as a recruiting coordinator and taught many parts of the game in helping Cobras head coach Jon Goebel.
Greg Goff, who was a Purdue volunteer assistant in 2018 and has been head coach since Mark Wasikowski left for the University of Oregon after the 2019 campaign, recently hired Learnard to handle Pitching Analytics & Team Operations.
High on Learnard’s list of duties is collaborating and communicating with pitching coach Chris Marx as it relates to player development.
“He sets the expectation and culture with the pitching staff and its my job to supplement that and to make it better.”
To do that means making sense of available numbers.
“The game is going towards being data-driven, especially with this generation we’re coaching now,” says Learnard. “(Players are) always on their phones.
“This era of baseball and player that we have is the most read up on the scientific aspect of how you pitcher, where it be biomechanics or ball-flight metrics (like horizontal and vertical break and Revolutions Per Minute aka RPMs).
“It’s insane what analytics can really tell you. ERA, hits allowed and WHIP (walks and hit per innings pitched) can only give you a small portion of the context. You have to pull back the layers and see where you’re getting your swings and misses, where you’re getting your weak contact,
“It’s just untapped potential.”
There are also students on campus who understand data analysis that give feedback to the baseball program.
Just three years removed from being a player, Learnard sees a difference.
“At least in my circle, it was not as data-driven,” says Learnard. “I try to be a lifelong learner as a coach. You can never be satisfied. It’s adapt or die.
I’m trying to read as much as I can about the new-school metrics, analytics and data.
“It’s very important to be well-versed in all things numbers and all the different modalities to train pitchers.”
Purdue uses a Rapsodo machine to read ball-flight metrics and determine things like spin axis, spin direction and spin efficiency.
“You can see the way the ball is moving in space,” says Learnard. “We also use a high-speed camera to see how guys are releasing the ball.
“We can give them mental cues to shape the pitch that we’re going for.”
Learnard, who turns 26 on Oct. 5, went to Catlin (Ill.) High School near Danville and graduated in 2014. A co-op with Jamaica High School (Sidell, Ill.) was called Salt Fork for sports.
The lefty made 21 mound appearances (12 in relief) and went 10-3 with 2.72 ERA, 105 strikeouts and 25 walks in 76 1/3 innings for Parkland in 2015 and 2016.
At Purdue in 2017 and 2018, Learnard got into 56 games (all in relief) and was 8-2 with 19 saves, a 1.78 ERA, 70 stakeouts and 18 walks in 81 innings.
As a senior, he was named a Collegiate Baseball Third Team All-American, Third Team all-Big Ten and was on the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Watch List. He was Big Ten Pitcher of the Week in April and Perfect Game National Pitcher of the Week in May. He was also Academic all-Big Ten.
Purdue’s 45-day window for 2021 fall workouts began Sept. 9 and plans call for it to wrap Oct. 23. Fall ball scrimmages are open to the public Sept. 29, Oct. 1, Oct. 3, Oct. 5, Oct. 8, Oct. 15 and Oct. 28. The Boilers host two 1 p.m. exhibition games with junior colleges — Oct. 9 against Wabash Valley College (Mount Carmel, Ill.) and Oct. 16 against John A. Logan College (Carterville, Ill.). The Black and Gold World Series is slated for Oct. 21-23.
“Right now we’re in full team mode,” says Learnard. “We’re setting the expectations of what we want in the spring. We’re helping these (newcomers) perform at a high level and bring them up to the returner speed.
“We’re always trying to individualize (development). It’s not cookie cutter.”

Ross Learnard (Purdue University Photo)

Former Fort Wayne Carroll catcher Jones decides time is right to turn pro

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

Three years after graduating from Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Ind., Hayden Jones is bigger and stronger and more mature.
Jones, who signed last week as a free agent with the Cincinnati Reds out of Illinois State University, says his biggest growth since his prep days has come on the mental side. That’s why he wanted to go to college first instead of pursuing his pro career right away.
“I put the dollar amount so high no one was going to sign me (out of high school),” says Jones, who turned 21 on April 27. “I’ve learned to accept failure when it comes, knowing its not going to be the end of the world.”
Hayden, whose father Ken Jones was drafted as a catcher by the San Diego Padres in the 33rd round of the 1995 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and is now a Purdue Fort Wayne assistant coach and grandfather Bill Jones (who died in November 2015) was a founding member and longtime executive director of the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association and selected as an IHSBCA Hall of Famer in 1982, played for Dave Ginder at Carroll. The lefty swinger and earned four letters while garnering IHSBCA all-state honors three times and being selected as MVP of the 2018 IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series.
Hayden’s uncle, Brad Jones, lettered in baseball at Ball State University. His son, Tyler Jones, played at the University of Dayton in 2021. Cousin Chris Menzie was a baseball letterwinner at Huntington (Ind.) University. Jennifer Jones is Hayden’s mother.
Hayden Jones spent his freshmen season at Mississippi State University in 2019, appearing in 27 games (14 starts) and hitting .224 (11-of-49) with one home run, four doubles, five runs batted in, five runs scored and a .636 OPS (.269 on-base percentage plus .367 slugging average). His fielding percentage with the Chris Lemonis-coached Bulldogs was .971 with 64 putouts, three assists and two errors.
Because of NCAA Division I transfer rules, he had to sit out the 2020 season.
In 2021 at Illinois State, he played in 38 games (31 starts) and hit .230 (28-of-122) with five homers, two triples, six doubles, 28 RBIs and 15 runs. His OPS was .730 (.296/.434). He also fielded at a .990 clip with 182 putouts, 21 assists and two errors.
“I loved Mississippi State,” says Jones. “My girlfriend (Savannah Shinn) still lives down there. It just wasn’t a fit (baseball-wise).”
At ISU, Jones worked with Redbirds head coach and former big league catcher Steve Holm.
Jones’ mechanics were changed back to where he had been while working with his father in high school.
“It all clicked from there,” says Jones. “I was growing and maturing and understanding the game at a faster pace.”
To Jones, blocking, receiving and controlling the opponents’ running game are important. But overall baseball knowledge is a major key to catching.
“My dad and grandpa gave me that big piece,” says Jones. “You need that support staff. Now they can let go and let the Reds do the magic. I text my dad every single night. He’s learning from me now.”
Playing 18 games this summer in the new MLB Draft League with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio), Jones hit .237 (9-of-38) with one homer, one double, seven RBIs, six runs and .725 OPS (.383/.342). He learned from manager Coco Crisp and coach Ron Mahay — both former big leaguers.
While he still has years of eligibility left, Jones decided now was the time to move forward as a baseball player.
“I was ready,” says Jones, who was draft eligible three years out of high school. “I wanted to get my career going and get my foot in the door.”
Jones’ name was not called during the 20-round 2021 MLB Draft. The phone did ring five minutes after its conclusion with his agent telling him that Reds senior director of player personnel Jeff Graupe wanted the catcher.
In short order, he was traveling to Goodyear, Ariz., to take a physical and sign his contract with scouting supervisor Andy Stack.
“It was not the money I was expecting, but you don’t make your money until you get to the big leagues,” says Jones, who has began training. He and other free agents and draftees will see if the Reds assign them to the Arizona League, send them out to an affiliate (Low Class-A Daytona, Fla., Tortugas, High Class-A Dayton, Ohio, Dragons, Double-A Chattanooga, Tenn., Lookouts, Triple-A Louisville, Ky., Bats) or just keep working at camp.
“Nobody knows what to expect,” says Jones. “It’s where they need help in the organization.”
Jones spent the summer of 2020 with the Brent McNeil-coached Turf Monsters in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. Among those running the CSL were Phil Wade and Blake Hibler, who coached Jones on Team Indiana in the Fall of 2016 and 2017.
Outside the all-star series, Jones was at Mississippi State in the summer of 2018. He was the New England Collegiate Baseball League’s Newport (R.I.) Gulls in 2019.
Jones was pursuing a Recreation and Park Administration at Illinois State. He says he could complete it in another year.

Hayden Jones on Fox 55.
Hayden Jones (Illinois State University Photo)
Hayden Jones (Illinois State University Photo)
Hayden Jones (Illinois University Photo)
Hayden Jones (Mahoning Valley Scrappers Photo)
Hayden Jones (24) (Illinois State University Photo)
Savannah Shinn and Hayden Jones.
Hayden Jones (Cincinnati Reds Photo)

Brownsburg graduate McGowan has made huge leaps for Boilermakers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Jacson McGowan has put up some power numbers for Purdue University baseball.

In 45 games (all starts), the junior first baseman has mashed for team highs in home runs (11), runs batted in (48) and slugging percentage (.588).

Yet it was a single that the Brownsburg High School graduate delivered on Tuesday, May 8 in a win against Fort Wayne that illustrates a positive change Boilermakers coach Mark Wasikowski has witnessed in the right-handed batter.

On an 0-1 pitch, clean-up hitter McGowan delivered a run-scoring single between the first baseman and second baseman in the second inning.

“Against the soft arm he’s able to sit back, get on top of the ball and shoot the opposite-side hole just to get an RBI,” says Wasikowski. “That’s the mature type of approach that he now has.”

Wasikowski came to the Boilers for the 2017 season. Since then he’s seen much improvement in McGowan.

“He’s a man at the plate — that’s for sure,” says Wasikowski of the 6-foot-2 1/2, 212-pounder. “He’s one of the few legit power threats I’ve seen in our conference and in the teams we’ve played.

“He’s really come a long way. He’s still not there yet. He’s a young guy that works really hard. He’s had huge leaps in the last year and a half.”

Wasikowski has seen McGowan up his mental toughness and physical strength while buying into an approach at the plate that works.

“Instead of being a youthful hitter, he’s maturing as a hitter,” says Wasikowski.

It’s a confidence thing.

“I know I’m better than what I betray sometimes,” says McGowan. “No matter who I’m matched up against, I have the advantage over the pitcher.”

McGowan explained his approach on Tuesday’s RBI single.

“It’s good situational hitting,” says McGowan. “If a team’s play a shift on you, you just hit it where they’r not. That’s the name of the game. You hit it where they are and it’s not very much fun. You’re not going to get many hits that way.

“Shorten up and go the other way and get yourself an RBI at the same time.”

With a victory Wednesday, May 8, Purdue has now won 13 in a row — matching the longest winning streak in program history and extending the nation’s longest active streak.

The Boilers (29-16 overall, 13-4 Big Ten) were 16-16 when the win streak began.

The reason for the surge?

“We’ve come together as a team,” says McGowan. “We’ve hit our stride and played the best baseball we’ve played in awhile.”

Wasikowski has his take.

“The team wanted to play baseball as a team,” says Wasikowski. “They were tired of being on the roller coaster ride. We were going through streaks of failures and streaks of successes this year. We started off 8-2 then we got onto a bumpy road. “We started coming on again and then we got onto another bumpy road.

The big thing is we stopped playing for ourselves and started playing for a bigger cause.”

Who lit the fuse?

“Initially, it probably came from the coaching staff,” says Wasikowski, who is assisted by Steve Holm, Wally Crancer, Greg Goff (volunteer) and John Madia (director of operations). “But it’s never going to get down until it comes from inside the locker room. There were some critical guys inside that locker room that ended up pushing the pendulum and the needle on that thing.”

McGowan talks about the culture that Wasikowski has established in the Purdue program.

“It’s awesome,” says McGowan. “His philosophy is ‘just got for it.’ If you go for it and mess up, it’s alright. If you don’t go for it, you’re playing timid.”

Academically, McGowan has enjoyed majoring in Technology, Innovation and Leadership.

“It’s business — just in an another school,” says McGowan. “Most of the classes are with athletes. There’s a lot of communication and working together so it’s pretty cool.”

Most athletes try to schedule their classes Monday through Thursday and in the morning so they can get away on the weekends (the Boilers have a Big Ten series May 11-13 at Ohio State) and get to practice on-time.

Jacson, the son of Steven and Tabitha McGowan and younger brother of Alex McGowan and Sam McGowan, played for Eric Mattingly at Brownsburg High.

Travel baseball came via the Indiana Outlaws (now Evoshield Canes Midwest).

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Jacson McGowan (27) celebrates with Purdue University baseball teammates. (Purdue University Photo)

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Purdue University baseball head coach Mark Wasikowski (left) exhanges high-fives with Jacson McGowan. (Purdue University Photo)

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Purdue University junior first baseman Jacson McGowan, a Brownsburg High School graduate, is a legitimate power threat in the No. 4 hole. (Purdue University Photo)

 

Details the difference for Purdue’s Wasikowski

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Mark Wasikowski sweats the details.

His baseball experience tells him that those things build a championship culture.

The new head baseball coach at Purdue University has been getting his Boilermakers to focus on routines that he expects will translate to success.

Wasikowski shared his ideas in presentation at the recent Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association State Clinic and said “we’ve got to do a good job of earning the trust of the people in that room … High school coaches are absolutely critical.”

Practice organization has been key during Wasikowski’s career as a player (the Seal Beach, Calif., native helped win a College World Series title for coach Andy Lopez at Pepperdine University in 1992) and college coaching stops as an assistant at Southeast Missouri State, Florida, Arizona (helping Lopez earn a national championship in 2012) and Oregon.

Why have routines?

“They let everybody in the organization know about the mission and how the mission will be accomplished,” Wasikowski said. “The purpose of all these checklists is to cover the routine items. As a player, thorough repetition allows them to become more confident. That’s huge for me.”

With routines, players are able to slow the game down.

Making detailed checklists of how the team will practice batting, pitching and defense is important to developing a championship culture.

“These are the building blocks of the program — the critical things we need to do on a daily basis,” Wasikowski said. “The idea is to teach the routine so well that your kids will not only understand why the routine is done, but how it’s done and for what purpose it will be used.”

Wasikowski and his coaching staff of Steve Holm, Wally Crancer, Miles Miller and John Madia has a daily, weekly and monthly calendar to keep his team on-task.

With this calendar posted in the locker room, players will know the practice plan and routines that will allow them to get their work done even if coaches are not around.

“We’re going to put down on a piece of paper everything we want to accomplish,” Wasikowski said. “We know that throwing, fielding and hitting evaluations are probably going to be on Day 1.”

The idea is to hit all the checklist items multiple times during the preseason.

“If you’ve got five checks by each item at the end of the fall, you’ve probably done a pretty good job,” Wasikowski said. “If you’ve only got one check, you’re probably slipping a little bit.”

At Oregon, head coach George Horton’s practice plan took up five pages. If a period was out of place on the practice plan devised by his assistants, he knew it and handed it back.

“Bottom line is the details are critical,” Wasikowski said. “Our calendars us how much time we’re going to spend on things each day.

“Once the kids see the routines equals the details equals the wins, now those things actually start mattering to those kids.”

Wasikowski does not take any detail for granted. That might mean taking out a stop watch and timing a player as he takes a jersey top off the locker room floor and places it on a hanger.

He teaches the value of defense and of not shaking off pitches because the defense is aligned in a certain way behind the pitcher.

At Wasikowski’s first team meeting at Purdue, he talked about details with his players — things like going to class, living your life right and so on.

Last fall, he also learned how competitive Purdue graduates are in the working world.

“I don’t see why we can’t do that on the baseball field,” Wasikowski said. “We’ve got a good school, why not have a good baseball team? I didn’t move my family across the country (from Oregon) to lose … We’ve got to move forward. There’s a plan.”

It’s a detailed plan.

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