If you were in Zionsville, Ind., a few months ago and saw Nate Dohm pushing his mother’s SUV down the street, it wasn’t because of vehicle trouble.
Dohm was doing his best to keep up with baseball strength and conditioning workouts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With Laird’s Training LLC closed because of the lockdown and no access to weighted sleds or other equipment, the athlete had to improvise.
Dohm, a senior at Zionsville Community High School in 2020-21, began working out with Sean Laird in the fall of his eighth grade year. He first participated in Laird’s winter arm care and velocity program as a sophomore and has done it consistently since then.
Right-hander Dohm registered a pulldown max of 89 mph as a sophomore and 95 mph as a junior.
“My jumps on the mound were much bigger,” says Dohm, a right-hander who hit 83 mph as a freshmen, 89 mph as a sophomore and 92 mph as a junior. The Ball State University commit played for Laird this summer on the Indiana Bulls 17 Black squad. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at if I didn’t start lifting with Sean and doing that velo program.
“He helped me get stronger (physically and mentally). He doesn’t make it easy for you. It’s about pushing through that. You have to want to get better if you want to do his workouts.”
Laird has seen Dohm reap the rewards for his sweat.
“His work ethic is second to none,” says Laird. “The kid has literally changed his life.
“He’s changing himself into a power pitcher, which is cool to see.”
Taking his methods with him to the Bulls (it wasn’t unusual to see them doing side-hill sprints before or after a game), Laird was able to see strides in right-hander and Ohio University commit Brady Linkel (South Ripley High School Class of 2021).
“He’s one of those disciplined hard-nosed guys,” says Laird. “You saw him getting stronger and stronger by the end of the summer.”
That Bulls 17 Black team also featured Purdue Fort Wayne commits Bryce Martens (South Bend Adams High School Class of 2021) and Braxton Wilson (Martinsville Class of 2021).
“I was always a hard thrower growing up,” says Laird. “The last five or six years, it’s become very popular to throw as hard as you can.
“I see things people are doing that are really good and really bad. I saw a need. Everything I do is based on my experience, sports, and exercise science background. I want to focus on improving strength, core stability, mobility, and athleticism in our athletes. I take care of the arm and athlete first.”
Laird’s training methods include building athleticism from the ground up.
Typical in-person arm care/velo program sessions will last around 90 to 105 minutes twice a day. The first day is about strength and power, the second day explosive or dynamic effort work.
Athletes are given things to do on their own on the other days of the week.
When the players are with Laird there is a warm-up of 30 to 45 minutes that includes ground-based mobility work, including bands to strengthen the rotator cuff and scapula. There are also exercises with plyometic and medicine balls and attention to Thoracic Spine (T-Spine) movement.
After the warm-up comes activation. There is weighted sled work for the lower half. Weight med balls are used in upper body plyometics.
“We want to create force from the ground up,” says Laird, who also has his players do one-legged box jumps and hurdles to promote explosiveness and agility. “My goal is to have a more mobile and explosive athlete.”
Baseball or softball players — overhead athletes — in the program don’t touch a ball for about 45 minutes then they throw for 15 to 20 minutes maximum. They spend 12 or so minutes on long toss and then begin pulldowns.
“We want them to get their bodies into their throws,” says Laird. “Then we go into a recovery period and do blood-pumping band work and mobility stuff.
“We want to make sure elbow, flexors and extenders are strong.”
The same is true for the T-Spine and ankles.
While recovery is done as a group, Laird knows that not all his athletes are the same and have individual needs.
“I’m a big guy on communication,” says Laird. “Let me know what they feel.”
On the third day of the program, Laird has his players throwing a football — something that Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan did in his training.
“We want to throw with a tight spiral,” says Laird. “Throwing a football teaches pronation and good arm motion. You get immediate feedback with a football. It you have bad mechanics, you’ll throw a wounded duck. You have to be efficient.”
Players are encouraged to build their arms through long toss — working up to throwing the ball 300 or more feet if they are comfortable with it and can maintain mechanics, but everyone is different and distance can be different depending on the athlete’s ability.
Zack Thompson, who played for Laird with the Indiana Bulls and then the University of Kentucky and in the St. Louis Cardinals system, prefers to cap his long toss at 120 feet.
“It helps him mechanically,” says Laird.
This summer, which followed a spring without high school baseball, the Bulls played into mid-August and got in more games than a normal travel season.
“We wanted to make sure we could keep playing,” says Laird. “We treated June as spring training (and gradually increased pitch counts). By July, we hit the ground running.”
The Bulls are playing fall ball. Laird is busy with his training busy so he is not coaching.
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
“When I got to Cleveland they told me my change-up plays pretty well and to throw it more to right-handers than I did in the past,” says Wittgren, who recorded a career-high 12 holds in 55 appearances and 57 2/3 relief innings. His 2.81 earned run average was 19th-lowest among American League relievers. “Roberto Perez was behind the plate and loved calling it.
“I almost felt like I threw my change-up more than I did my slider.”
According to Statcast data, Wittgren’s pitch arsenal included four pitches in 2019. He threw his four-seamer 66.4 percent of the time, slider 18.8, change-up 14.7 and curve 0.1.
“I was in my groove last year,” says Wittgren, who turns 29 on May 29. “I had my head where I needed it.”
With Miami in 2018, Statcast actually has Wittgren with a higher percentage of change-ups (15.7) as compared to sliders (12.8). Besides the four-seamer (62.7), there was also the sinker (7.5) and cutter (1.3).
With all the movement, Wittgren refers to his pitch repertoire as fastball, change-up and breaking ball.
Wittgren pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm angle. He throws across his body with his glove flaring out and whips around to deliver the baseball.
“I don’t know when I started,” says Wittgren of his mechanics. “In college I did it. It just works for me. I get the most force toward home. It’s really tough to pick up the baseball.
“To a righty I’m started with my arm behind them. It works in my favor.”
Wittgren favors sliders and four-seamers in on the hands with change-ups down and away.
“I started manipulated that pitch a little more last year,” says Wittgren of the change-up.
“(Peckinpaugh) brought the most energy and talent out in you,” says Wittgren. “We had a group that played together really well. He was there for every single person, trying to get us better.
“It was a pleasure and a joy playing for him.”
With no college baseball offers coming in, he was thinking about bypassing his senior year on the diamond and focusing on basketball.
“I was just looking for a way to pay for college,” says Wittgren. “I was not looking at the whole picture.”
Wittgren had his sights on teaching math and coaching — either at the high school or college level.
“My mom (Lisa) is a (fourth grade) teacher,” says Wittgren. “I love kids. I love numbers.”
Burton let Wittgren know that he had baseball potential past high school.
He said, ‘you have something special, don’t waste it,’” says Wittgren of Burton’s advice.
Besides that, Burton emphasized that Wittgren was part of a large senior class and he owed it to the guys he’d been playing with since sixth grade to finish high school strong (born in Torrance, Calif., and raised in Long Beach and Cypress, Nick moved to Indiana as a sixth grader; father Andy lives in San Juan Capistrano; Nick’s other brother is Jack).
“If Jake didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be here,” says Wittgren. “He saw something in me.”
A few days ago, the player and his former coach connected via FaceTime and Burton got to see Nick and Ashley Wittgren’s 14-month old son Jackson.
At McCutcheon, shortstop/pitcher Wittgren’s velocity topped out around 85 mph for most of the his senior season.
“I never took reps off in high school,” says Wittgren. “I need to do this to get better.”
His arm was tired from the workload.
With a few days off prior to sectional, Wittgren was touching 90.
Seeing that the Cobras were in need of a Sunday starter, Wittgren pitched an idea to Kennedy.
He wanted to only pitch.
Wittgren recalls the response of the man he calls “KY.”
“He said that might be one of the best decisions you ever make,” says Wittgren a decade later. “I brought you in as a pitcher. I wanted you to figure it out.”
The lanky right-hander went 10-0 with 54 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings for a Parkland that placed fifth in the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series.
In the fall of his sophomore year at Purdue, Wittgren had an ulnar nerve transfer.
Boilermakers head coach Doug Schreiber wanted him to be the team’s closer in the spring of 2011.
“Whatever puts me out on that field is what I want to do,” says Wittgren, who finished 24 games and appeared in 29 with a Big Ten Conference-leading 12 saves to go with 55 strikeouts in 51 innings.
Schreiber (who later was head coach at McCutcheon and is now head coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) and assistants Ryan Sawyers and Tristan McIntyre (now head coach at McCutcheon) implored him to “trust your stuff and pound the strike zone.”
“They got me to throw certain pitches in certain counts,” says Wittgren.
He could change the batter’s eye level with fastballs up and sliders down. If hepitched up and in, hitters would not be able to extend their arms.
Schreiber asked Wittgren to be a closer again in 2012.
He pitched in 26 games, finishing off 25 and racked up 10 saves, setting a new Purdue all-time high with 22. He fanned 39 batters in 41 innings and was named third-team all-Big Ten. His two-year earned run average for the Boilers was 2.54.
On the Cape is where Wittgren first met Ashley Crosby. She was part of the media department for the elite summer circuit.
A few years later, strength trainer Ashley did an internship with Cressy Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and she began dating Nick, who was training in south Florida with the Marlins. The relationship blossomed. The married couple now lives near Miami.
During the COVID-19 quarantine, Wittgren works out in his garage gym.
“It’s a full set-up,” says Wittgren. “There’s anything you need.
Ashley Wittgren has wealth of knowledge with an MS (Master of Science) degree and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Precision Nutrition (Pn1) and TPI accreditations. She is there to help her husband correctly perform the movements and get the most out of them.
“She could apply for a big league strength job if she wanted,” says Nick of his wife. “She walks and talks me through a lift so I can get as strong as I possibly can.”
During quarantine, Wittgren throws into a backyard net. On bullpen days, he throws to catchers living in the area brought together by CSP.
During the off-season, Wittgren long tosses. But as the season approaches, he gets dialed in to pitch from 60 feet, 6 inches.
“I want my release point during the season to stay the same on everything,” says Wittgren. “I keep it on a line the whole entire time and hit (the catcher’s) knees every single time.”
Nick Wittgren, a McCutcheon High School graduate who pitched at Purdue University, is now a reliever for the Cleveland Indians. He made his Major League Baseball debut in 2016 with the Miami Marlins. (Cleveland Indians Photo)
Nick Wittgren, who played at McCutcheon High School and Purdue University, delivers the baseball for the Cleveland Indians. He excelled as a set-up reliever for the Tribe in 2019. (MLB Photo)
Now an Ohio State University orthopedic surgeon based in Columbus, Ohio, who has worked with New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians doctors, Frantz was back near his college town Jan. 19 for the Huntington North Hot Stove clinics as a guest of new Vikings head coach Mark Flueckiger.
Frantz spoke on several topics, including strength and conditioning, mechanics, simple physics, risky behaviors, baseball specialization and the injury epidemic.
“This is pretty new stuff,” says Frantz, who shared his knowledge and findings from studies conducted by Major League Baseball and others. “This is the best of what we know at the moment for how to keep guys healthy.
“In order to stay healthy you need that whole 180-degree arc of shoulder motion (internal or external rotation). Guys who are short on that we know, particularly in the shoulder, have 2.5 to 3 times more likely risk of suffering an injury when they start to lose that flexibility and that range of motion.
“When there’s rotator cuff weakness, that’s another risk factor for shoulder injury. A shoulder surgery for a pitcher is the kiss of death.
“Elbows we’re really good at. We now have a 97 percent return to the same level with Tommy John surgery. Rotator cuff surgery is 40 or 50 percent. It’s not great.”
“The whole shoulder adapts when your throw and you’re overhead that much,” says Frantz. “Even the actual bone itself remodels. It does what we call retrovert, meaning it tilts back a little bit.
“The late cocking is a good thing. You get a lot generated from that. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a normal adaptation for high-level throwers over time.”
Frantz notes that elbow injuries commonly occur alongside hip and core injuries. There is an exponential increase in MLB oblique injuries in the past seven years.
Those with hip injuries also have more elbow injuries.
Throwing engages the kinetic chain — movement at one joint affects movement in another.
Frantz says body regions must be conditioned properly. He adds that there is no perfect training system.
“Every therapist, strength and conditioning coach and ‘expert’ will have their opinion,” says Frantz.
Keys to strength and conditioning include doing movements that appropriate for age/level
Well-balanced i.e.. kinetic chain and with an appropriate dosage.
Doctors have found that complete rest may be bad, too. It used to be that heart attack patients were put on weeks of strict bed rest.
“We now know that is one of the worst things we could have done,” says Frantz. “We encourage them to get up and move and lightly stress the heart a little bit.
“A lot of the strength and conditioning coaches now are buying into that philosophy. Taking three days off, just sitting there and not doing anything at all is probably worse than doing something lightly for a couple of days.”
It’s active recovery to keep things moving and loose.
Frantz says there are now many strength and conditioning programs founded in “real” science.
“It has good philosophies,” says Frantz. “It makes sense in what you’re doing and is well-rounded.
“Be careful of the programs that have marketed upon just one success story. Or it’s one pro athlete who is a freak and would have had success with anything he did. They just happen to have his or her name on this program or institution.”
In addressing mechanics, Frantz says the biggest strides made in biomechanics and pitching mechanics in general occur in youth baseball between ages 9-13.
“Interestingly, as your mechanics improve the force that’s put on your elbow joint increases,” says Frantz. “Everywhere else in the body your risk goes down.”
Frantz says that once proper mechanics are developed, there is no difference in mechanics of those with elbow ligament tears and those without.
Kinetic factors associated with pitching injury include early trunk rotation (loss of hip and shoulder separation vs. maintained hip and shoulder separation), altered knee flexion and increased elbow flexion at ball release leads to increased elbow torque.
Looking at simple physics, Frantz says there are 64 Newton meters of force generated at the elbow with each pitch (bone and muscular structures see 32 Nm and the ulnar collateral ligament sees the other 32 Nm).
“Unfortunately what we’ve shown in lab studies looking at elbows is that (the UCL) fails at 33 to 36 units of that force,” says Frantz. “Essentially every time you throw, you’re within a few percentage points of maximum strength before that’s going to break.
“That’s why you’re seeing the amount of injuries you’re seeing.”
The greatest cause/risk factor for injury is increased velocity. Other things that make for a bigger force are increased body weight and height.
MLB revealed that the percentage of pitches 95 mph or above was 4.82 in 2008 and 9.14 in 2015. Where will it be in 2020?
In this era of high strikeout totals, research shows that 18.8 percent of pitches at or above 95 mph resulted in a swinging strike with 8.2 percent for deliveries less than 95 mph.
“Velocity works,” says Frantz. “It’s not going anywhere.”
Off-speed pitch velocity has also increased.
Frantz issues a warning for high injury risk.
“Be aware of the 14- to 18-year-old who hits a growth spurt, gains 25 pounds and suddenly throws 10 mph harder,” says Frantz.
Risky behaviors include pitching with tiredness (7.8 times more likely for injury), pitching with pain (7.5 times more likely for injury), catching when not pitching (2.8 times more likely for injury), pitching on consecutive days (2.5 times more likely for injury) and playing on multiple teams at the same time (1.9 times more likely for injury).
“There’s a difference between having a little bit of fatigue and having true pain when you’re throwing,” says Frantz. “It’s difficult to isolate, particularly in younger kids.
“As guys play a lot they can get a feel for it.”
Frantz says every player’s description of pain and what they can handle is different and coaches need to know their athletes well enough to understand that.
Studies show that breaking balls have not been found to be a direct contributor to arm injury while velocity does contribute.
In players undergoing Tommy John surgery, there is no difference in the amount of curveballs/sliders thrown compared to those who stayed healthy.
Breaking balls have been showed to increase arm pain by as much as 86 percent and arm pain increases injury rates.
Pitch counts have been widely instituted at various levels since 2004.
Frantz says there is no magic number.
Pitch counts do force players, parents and coaches to stop pitching when the arm pain and tiredness are likely to be ignored.
One website resource for guidelines sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball is PitchSmart.org.
Frantz says it is well-documented that throwers in warm weather regions, where there is more actively, the incidence of injury is higher than those in cold weather places.
In looking at specialization, Frantz quoted a study by the New York Yankees doctor of youth baseball in New York state.
The average age to begin dropping sports to focus on another is 8.1 years old.
In interviewing the youth players, he learned that 84 percent wished they played more sports, 47 percent thought about quitting last season and 33 percent were told by baseball coach to stop playing other sports.
In addition, 74 percent reported an injury, 55 percent stated it wasn’t fun to play while they were hurting, 47 percent were told by a parent or coach to keep playing despite pain, 25 percent had hired personal trainers and 5 percent of parents said they would suspend grade/redshirt to gain a competitive advantage.
What’s more, players with elite coaching had an injury rate of 38 percent. The rate dropped to 7.1 percent to those without elite coaching.
Frantz says an argument for not specializing comes from current MLB players.
They have generally been found to have played more sports than current high school players and “specialized” two years later (age 14 vs. 12 now) than current high school players.
Forty percent of big leaguers say specializing at any time did not help them reach professional baseball.
What does science say on the subject?
Frantz notes there is clear evidence of improved physical, emotional and learning development when playing multiple sports.
There is no advantage in specialization before 12 years of age and a clear increase in injuries.
While there have been very little studies done on the youth injuries, studies have revealed that baseball is a relatively safe sport at the highest level. MLB has 3.6 injuries per athlete-exposures compared to 21.4 for the NBA.
Position players have greater incidence of injury and most injuries involve ligaments and tendons.
During a three-month high school season, most injuries occur during the first month.
Frantz says that many claims about weighted balls are not based upon sound science.
Weighted balls have been shown to increase velocity. But that’s with 4- to 6-ounce balls used over the 10-week period by high school and college athletes.
Frantz says there are not current protocols on how weighted balls help as warm-up or recovery tools. It’s a coaching/pitching preference.
There is no evidence weighted balls hurt or harm mechanics.
Nor has there been any study done to prove they reduce injury.
Frantz says there are plenty of myths surrounding long toss.
He has found that is does not increase arm strength.
Throwers lose about 5 percent of arm strength over the course of the season and 11-18 percent from the start to the end of the game.
Long toss may help endurance and arm speed, but does not promote proper pitching mechanics.
Motion analysis has shown significant differences and that increases when long toss goes beyond 180 feet.
There’s an even higher stress on the arm with max effort crow hop long toss.
Yes, long toss is important, but not a requirement. Many pro players never throw more than 120 feet.
It’s a balancing act between increasing endurance and arm speed vs. cumulative fatigue.
Frantz adds that long toss is helpful, but must be used in combination with downtime, good arm care and quality strength and conditioning.
“There is not one perfect long toss program,” says Frantz.
Dr. Travis Frantz, an orthopedic surgeon in Columbus, Ohio, covered many baseball topics at the Jan. 19 Huntington North Hot Stove clinics. Frantz played at Fremont (Ind.) High School and Huntington (Ind.) University. (Steve Krah Photo)
Heading into his third season as pitching coach at the NCAA Division II school in 2020, Hutchinson uses the latest training methods while staying focused on the ultimate objective.
“It’s very tech-driven,” says Hutchinson, who was learning more about his craft at the Jan. 2-5 American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville. “But at the end of the day you’ve got to try to get guys out.”
To get his pitchers ready to do that, Hutchinson pays close attention to health.
“Arm care is definitely the No. 1 point of emphasis,” says Hutchinson. “Workload is managed. We’re not throwing too much. We’re not throwing too little.
“We make sure we’re recovering and moving the right way. We’re making sure we’re getting proper sleep, nutrition, all those things.”
Motus sensors are used to monitor throwing. It’s a seven-day workload that maps out to a 28-day workload.
“If you keep that on pace it helps ramp things up in a safe manner,” says Hutchinson. “We use the Florida Baseball Ranch style of training as far as the cycle goes.”
The Greyhounds have heavy day followed by a recovery day, connection day (a time to work on movement patterns) and max intent day.
“If you keep repeating it, you don’t have to think about it out on the mound,” says Hutchinson. “The last thing I want them thinking about is that. Their job is to get guys out.”
After his playing career, Hutchinson served the 2016 and 2017 seasons for the Red Storm as a graduate assistant. He received a bachelor’s degree in Educational Studies in 2016 and a master’s in Coaching Leadership in 2017 and joined the UIndy staff in the fall of 2017. Indianapolis went 31-23 in 2018 and 30-20 in 2019.
Since each pitcher on his staff is unique in his approach, cues won’t be the same for each one.
“Sometimes it’s best to tell them to change their aiming point or use their legs more because they have nothing to do with their mechanics,” says Hutchinson. “If you’re glove side is flying open, you might be told to stay tight.
“Little things like that can help guys stay in line and stay true.”
D-II baseball teams are allowed 45 days of practice in the fall. After that comes individual work. That’s when the process of developing velocity and pitch design begins.
During pitch, Hutchinson will create video overlays of all the pitches in a hurler’s repertoire.
“We want to make sure all those are tunneled and we’re going from the exact same arm slot,” says Hutchinson. “We want them to mimic each other. Around the 40-foot mark is our goal for when they start to separate. That’s when the spin actually takes effect.
“I’d rather have later movement than earlier (giving the hitter little time to react).”
Each pitcher is given an individualized plan that begins when they arrive on campus in the fall. Hutchinson asks them the last time they threw live
“I tell them to be honest,” says Hutchinson. “There’s no point in lying because you’re just going to hurt yourself.”
Once they get to winter break after final exams, UIndy pitchers are given six- to eight-week plan they can follow when they are away from the coaches.
Players are due back on campus Jan. 13.
“That’s when we start hitting things pretty hard,” says Hutchinson. “We open up Feb. 15 (against Hillsdale in Johnson City, Tenn.).”
The Hounds will also play several games inside their dome.
“We’ve got plenty of arms,” says Hutchinson. “Guys are getting full ground balls and full fly balls since it’s seven stories high.
“Hitters are seeing live (pitching) and it’swhite background. If you can hit the ball in there, you can probably hit the ball almost anywhere.
“With our pitchers we do a good job making sure their intensity and pitch count is where it needs to be.”
Hutchinson says UIndy head coach Al Ready wants pitchers to be able to throw seven innings or up to 100 pitches within their first outing.
“If we can get them to that point we know we’re going to have a chance to win,” says Hutchinson. “If they can go seven innings, we have a bullpen that can seal the game for them.”
When Hutchinson arrived on campus, there were 15 pitchers. The following year that moved to around 27. This year, there are 30.
“To be a fully-funded program, there must be at least 45 man on the roster,” says Hutchinson. “Why not bring in arms?”
Besides his role at UIndy, Hutchinson is also national scouting coordinator and regional director for Pastime Tournaments, which runs travel baseball events all over the country.
He is in charge of staffing all events. Last summer, the organization employed around 250 250 independent contract workers.
Hutchinson makes certain baseballs and merchandise go to the right places.
On tournament weekends, president Tom Davidson, vice president and national director Brent Miller and Hutchinson divide up the 25 or more tournaments and oversee them with the help of site directors.
Hutchinson also acts as a point of contact between players, parents and college coaches and educates the recruited on the process. He lets them know that the colleges will want to know things like age, grade-point average and SAT score. Players should get their own email address to be used in corresponding with colleges.
“I want to recruit the athlete,” says Hutchinson. “I don’t want to recruit the parents.”
It also helps to have a presence on social media, where videos and other important information on a recruit can be placed.
To help college programs, Hutchinson can let coaches know which teams and players will be playing in which region so they can take a look at that uncommitted left-hander they seek.
When filling tournament fields, Davidson likes to pool like competition to keep them challenging for all involved.
Pastime’s social media presence has swelled in recent years. The organization has more than 8,500 followers on Twitter and more than 1,000 in Instagram.
Landon Hutchinson is baseball pitching coach at the University of Indianapolis and national scouting coordinator and regional director for Pastime Tournaments. (UIndy Photo)
Ryan Harber was a left-handed pitcher at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, Butler University and in the Florida Marlins system. He was selected in the seventh round of the 1999 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and played five minor league seasons.
He has taken his experiences as an athlete, student and 17 years as a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach at Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Sports Performance (he works out of the Carmel location) to help athletes in many sports, including baseball.
Harber shared his knowledge on “Assessing the Overhead Athlete” at the first PRP Baseball Bridge The Gap Clinic in Noblesville as a guest of Greg Vogt.
The pyramid for “ideal athlete” development as Harber presents it has movement at the base with performance in the middle and skill at the top.
“Every athlete should have a wide range of movement,” says Harber.
Movement involves the ability to squat, lunge, bend, extend along with single-leg stability, shoulder mobility, trunk stability and rotary stability.
“It’s everything Greg works on in his program,” says Harber. “It’s everything a strength coach works on.”
Performance includes speed, strength, power, agility, endurance, reactivity and quickness.
Skills are sport-specific, such as working on throwing mechanics or taking cuts off the tee.
“Where we get out-of-balance is when we focus too much on the skills and the performance and not enough on your fundamental movements,” says Harber.
“This movement becomes dysfunctional when you have poor range of motion, or a lack of stability.”
Harber says among his goals is to minimize injuries and maximize potential.
“You can’t make the team if you’re stuck in the training room,” says Harber. “You’re not going to help the team if you can’t stay healthy.
“Your durability is more important than your ability.”
Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from a difficult condition.
“Everything you do in life is managing risk,” says Harber. “You guys took a risk, getting out of the house, getting in your car and coming over here. You could have got into an accident.
“What did you do to minimize that risk? You put your seat belt on.”
Harber says the system as it currently stands does not work in players’ favor.
At 43, Harber came up before travel baseball became what it is today.
There was some American Legion and Connie Mack ball in the summer.
“You guys play 50, 60, 70 games a year right now just in travel ball,” says Harber. “On top of that comes your high school season. Then you may take three weeks off in August right around tryouts for the next travel ball season then you go play fall ball.
“It’s too much. Your bodies can’t handle that at this age.”
Harber says most pain — outside of direct blows or trauma — will seem
to appear suddenly.
“In fact, it’s been building up for years,” says Harber. “Your body is able to compensate and adapt.
“The day that your pain shows up is simply the day that your compensation ran out. Try to start thinking of pain as a request for change. It’s your body’s way of saying, ‘I can’t do it anymore.’”
Harber presented findings from the American Journal of Sports Medicine:
If a pitcher pitches while fatigued, there’s a 36 times increased risk of injury.
• Pitchers lose 6-18 percent of rotator cuff strength after one game.
“Recovery is important,” says Harber.
• Pitchers lose 3-4 percent of rotator cuff strength over the course of one season.
• Throwing more than 75 pitches in a game yielded a 2.5 times greater chance of shoulder pain.
What is the cumulative effect (according to the AJSM)?:
• Pitching for greater than eight months out of the year results in
five times as many injuries.
• Pitching greater than 100 innings in one year results in three times as many injuries.
• Pitching showcases and travel leagues significantly contributed to increased injuries.
• Throwing more than 600 pitches per season yielded a 3.5 times greater chance for elbow pain.
In addressing performance, Harber notes the following:
• The peak age for a baseball player is 27.
“It’s not 18 or 21,” says Harber. “It takes time to develop these players.”
• Typical MLB pitcher is 6-5, 250 pounds.
• Starters 200-plus innings per year.
• Starters throw 3,500 pitches.
• There make 30-35 starts.
• They throw 35 bullpens.
“Injuries are going to happen,” says Harber. “Every pitcher has been hurt, is hurt, will be hurt at some point in their career.
“To be able to withstand that, you have to train. You have to manage that fatigue. You have to recover. All that stuff’s important.”
Harber also talked about the importance the Central Nervous System plays in the whole equation.
“Central Nervous System is king,” says Harber. “It controls everything.
“Without proper motor control, your nervous system doesn’t feel safe.
If it detects a threat it will not give you freedom of movement. It will not let you put force through a joint.”
CNS grants strength and mobility.
“Potential strength is always there, but the brain won’t give it to you if it feels vulnerable,” says Harber. “The brain is always asking itself, ‘Is giving you more strength right now a good idea?’ If the
answer is no, you aren’t getting it no matter how much you want it.
“Your nervous system will only let you go as fast, hard and heavy as it knows you can slow.”
Harber says there is no such medical definition for a “dead arm.”
“It’s the nervous system,” says Harber. “Your brain detects an instability somewhere and it’s not going to let you put force through that.”
Addressing mobility (the ability to move or be moved freely and easily) and stability (the resistance to movement) can help diagnose many issues.
With poor scapular stability, the body locks down the thoracic spine and should range of movement.
When there’s poor core stability, the body locks down the SI joint to find stability/strength.
If there’s poor mid-foot stability, the body collapses the arch and up the joint to create a rigid structure to push off of.
“You were born with all the mobility in the world,” says Harber. “You earn stability and we mess it up along the way due to poor posture, past injuries and faulty movement patterns.
“I’ve got a 7-month old baby at home. He’s like Gumby. I can bend him, and he won’t break. He’s trying to figure it out developmentally.
“I can stand him up and he becomes a Starfish. He locks out his legs and
his shoulder blades. That’s his body trying to create artificial stability.”
During a five-year period of working with youth players while in Atlanta, Harber collected data and found a number of players with shoulder mobility asymmetries with at least a 6 inch difference
between the right and left.
The number of asymmetries went up as the players got to be 16, 17, 18.
“Why?,” says Harber. “More games. The more you throw, the more imbalances are going to happen.”
On top of that, older players are beginning to get into the weight room, lifting heavier loads and getting tighter.
“If they don’t have somebody addressing mobility and stability along the way, they are going to create more issues,” says Harber.
A joint by joint feet-to-fingertip assessment (going up the kinetic chain) includes:
• Foot stability.
• Ankle mobility.
• Knee stability.
• Hip mobility.
• Lumbar stability.
• Thoracic spine mobility.
• Scapular stability.
• Shoulder (gleno-humeral) mobility.
• Elbow stability.
• Wrist mobility.
“Mobile. Stable. Mobile. Stable,” says Harber. “They stack on top of
“When that pattern is broken, injuries happen.”
Ryan Harber, who pitched at Fort Wayne (Ind.) Northrop High School, Butler University and in the Florida Marlins organization, has been a Certified Athletic Trainer and Strength Coach with Indianapolis-based St. Vincent Sports Performance for 17 years.
Urso insists that his players are intensely devoted to baseball.
“You have to have a fire for the game,” says Beck. “If you don’t have a big burning passion this game, it will eat you alive.
“It’s different than any other sport. It’s game of inches. Every single thing does count.”
Beck credits Militello with helping him break down hitters’ swings and throw the right pitches in the right situations.
“He’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had when it comes to pitch calling,” says Beck of Militello, who helped him develop his four-seam fastball, “spike” curveball, two-planed slider (there is some vertical break to it) and “circle” change-up (it moves like a split-fingered fastball but drops straight down).
Beck has been working out himself since seventh grade and has done much research into training and gone through plenty of trial and error.
“My best quality as an athlete is my ability to want to get better,” says Beck. “I want to be that person I wish I had as a (strength and conditioning) mentor in high school.
“I want to be someone younger athlete can rely on. I want to guide them.”
While he’s doing that, he will also do his own conditioning in preparation for 2020 spring training. He was selected in the 30th round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins and pitched in a combined 18 games (all in relief) with the Fort Myers (Fla.) Miracle, Gulf Coast League Twins and Elizabethton (Tenn.) Twins. He went 1-2 with one save, an 3.07 ERA, 43 strikeouts and 10 walks in 29 1/3 innings.
After a redshirt season at Purdue University in 2015, Beck played two seasons (2016 and 2017) at Pasco-Hernando State College in New Port Richey, Fla. In 27 games (20 starts), he racked up 124 strikeouts 110 innings, including 58 K’s in 44 frames in 2017.
“They taught me you have to do what you have to do — on and off the field,” says Beck. “Do what’s best for your player development (and education).
“You’ve got to take ownership.”
Tyler is the son of Terry Beck and Mike and Susan Battles of South Bend. Has two older siblings — half-brother Jeff Beck in Toledo, Ohio, and stepbrother Trevor Battles in Charleston, S.C.
Tyler Beck, a 2014 South Bend (Ind.) St. Joseph High School graduate, played his last two college baseball seasons at the University of Tampa (Fla.). The Trojans won the 2019 NCAA Division I national championship and right-handed pitcher Beck won three games and saved 10 and was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. (University of Tampa Photo)
Tyler Beck played at South Bend (Ind.) St. Joseph High School, Pasco-Hernando State College and the University of Tampa and is now a pitcher in the Minnesota Twins organization. (Elizabethton Twins Photo)
With even more of an emphasis on strength and conditioning, the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization is moving into its next phase.
Evan Jurjevic, a former Chargers player who has been on the staff since 2015, has taken over as owner and director of operations and will still be an instructor and strength coach.
The Chargers will be based solely in Fort Wayne. To begin with, there will only be 14U, 15U, 16U and 17U travel teams.
“I want to make sure we have a quality product so we will decrease the amount of teams initially,” says Jurjevic. “We want to continue to develop players both on and off the field.”
Joel Mishler, George Hofsommer and Ben Bailey founded the Chargers in 2008 and teams were based in Goshen and Fort Wayne. He will serve as a mentor during the transition.
“What he’s done with developing baseball players at all ages is something I wanted to keep going,” says Jurjevic of Mishler. “I want to prepare them for life.
“Baseball has taught me a lot more about life lessons than the game itself — things like commitment, teamwork and communication.”
Mishler, who has coached baseball for more than three decades, calls Jurjevic “a superstar person, physical therapist and baseball guy.”
Tryouts for the 2019-20 season were held for Aug. 1 and another session is scheduled Aug. 12 at World Baseball Academy, 1701 Freeman St., Fort Wayne.
Starting in November, there will be more than 120 hours of off-season training time at The Summit, 1025 Rudisill Blvd., Fort Wayne.
There will be a weight room, pull-down batting cage, PlyoCare ball and J-Band walls and plenty of space for skill, strength and agility development.
Like before, training with the Chargers is not limited to the organization’s own athletes.
“We want players to come train with us, even if they don’t play with our team, to give them the best opportunity to excel at the game,” says Jurjevic. “We want them to get bigger, stronger and faster.”
Contact Jurjevic or the Chargers by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter at @Strength_IC.
Evan Jurjevic has added owner and operator to his titles of instructor and strength trainer for the Indiana Chargers travel baseball organization. The Chargers are now solely-headquartered in Fort Wayne.
The three Indiana natives came to the Sluggers training facility at 5730 Bluffton Road in Fort Wayne to give back to the baseball community. It was the first camp Parker, Frantz and Scott have done together.
“I had gone through enough ups and downs and medical advice that said don’t do it again because I don’t want to fix it,” says Parker. “I don’t want anybody else to ever go through what I had to go through in terms of injuries, bouncing back and injuries. That’s why we’re trying to put events on like this throughout the country.”
Parker lives in Nashville with wife Lauren, a dentist. He opened Parker Sports Performance in late September 2018. The facility has two large batting tunnels, a full mound tunnel and a state-of-the-art weight room.
PSP does not have travel teams of its own, but welcomes teams and individuals and is a place for professionals to train in the off-season.
“We want to be the home base where they can come and develop and learn,” says Parker. “Our goal is to develop better people, better athletes and better baseball players.”
Parker’s assistant at PSP is Ro Coleman, who played at Vanderbilt University and in the Detroit Tigers organization.
Parker and Frantz were travel ball teammates in their 15U, 16U and 17U summers for Sluggers coach Mark Delagarza.
Father Neal Frantz was on the Fremont coaching staff when son Travis was playing for the Eagles.
Emphasizing a strength and conditioning program suitable for baseball players, which hits the rotator cuff and scapular muscles was a point Frantz, Parker and Scott made at the camp.
“Even through those exercises can be mundane and repetitive at times, doing those with good form will hopefully help you increase velocity and prevent injury,” says Frantz. “In high school, you should work on being an athlete and not just a baseball player.”
The exercises are designed with full range of motion and working the muscles that stabilize the shoulder.
The muscles in the upper back should not be neglected because they are also connected to the shoulder.
Frantz notes that studies have shown the benefits of playing different sports, training in different ways and taking time away from other sports.
It’s also important for baseball players to know their arm and their bodies.
“It’s OK to throw with soreness,” says Frantz. “But you have to distinguish between soreness and pain.
“Throwing with pain can lead to a negative spiral of injury. You need to know when to back down and know the concerning risk factors.”
In 2018, Scott completed his 10th season with the Pirates organization and second with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. Dru and wife Mandy have launched Scott Athletic Training and are moving the business to the Sluggers training facility.
“We’re trying educate players, coaches, parents on what an athlete looks like and, specifically, what an overhead athlete looks like,” says Scott. “That’s not strictly just taking care of your arm. It’s more of a holistic approach of what your core does and how strong it is, how mobile your hips are and how it truly does effect your shoulder.
“We try produce as many healthy baseball players and healthy people as possible.”
Frantz talks about the core and working the muscles in both the front and back.
“It’s more than just six-pack abs,” says Frantz. “It’s about having strength, flexibility and motion and all those things.”
While professional pitchers are known to do some throwing everyday during the season, Scott notes that they shut down to rest at season’s end and usually don’t pick up a ball until late November or even December.
For amateurs, rest periods are also key — particularly in younger players who are still growing.
Scott says three things athletes need to do is push, pull and carry.
“That’s the foundation of a lot of strength and conditioning programs,” says Scott. “You’ve got to be able to push — that’s your squat. You’ve got to be able to pull — that’s your deadlift or anything posterior chain on your back side. And you’ve got to be able to carry — you have to have some strong core and strong forearms to play not just baseball, but any sport.”
Scott notes that the huge power lifts seen on Instagram and other social media done by elite athletes didn’t just happen overnight. A lot of work went in to being able to correctly perform that exercise.
“You’ve got to start with the foundation to build a house,” says Scott. “You don’t start with the roof and move down.
“It’s starts at an early age. We have kids come in as early as 10. It may look different than having a bar on their bar squatting. But we’re still mastering those movement patterns of a squat or being able to bend over and move some stuff.
“Whether you’re 10 or 90, you can benefit from a good strength and conditioning program. It starts with mastering the basics. You can never go wrong being strong and it starts somewhere.”
Dru Scott (left), Jarrod Parker, Mark Delagarza and Dr. Travis Frantz gather Dec. 15 for the Arm Care Camp at the Summit City Sluggers training facility in Fort Wayne.
Not a weight room monitor, Clarke is certified performance coach.
“We have event coaches (like baseball, football etc.),” says Clarke. “Our event happens to be strength training.”
When Clarke came to Noblesville a decade ago after stints at Warren Central and Pike high schools, there just 87 student-athletes taking a strength and conditioning class in a smaller space. After a referendum passed to expand the facilities, he now leads six sections of 115 athletes each (that’s 690 Millers — boys and girls — working to get better). These are done prior to lunch to give athletes time to recover on contest days.
Workouts vary for athlete in and out of season and there are sessions before and after school.
A sense of community is built across the Millers athletic teams.
“How we work at Noblesville is something special,” says Clarke. “We have a hashtag here — #WAT, which means We Are Together. (The weight room) is your second home.”
Athlete attitude and championship leadership is being built from Resistant (doesn’t do what is asked and openly opposes it to coaches and team) to Reluctant (hesitant on doing what is asked giving 1/2 effort) to Compliant (does what is asked. No more, less less) to Committed (does what is asked; goes above and beyond. Holds themselves to a high standard) to Compelled (does what is asked; goes above and beyond. Brings others with to do the same thing).
Miller S&C increases performance through many principles including core stability, joint mobility, balance and adaptability, progression.
Character building is achieved in areas like performance and moral skills, hard work and unselfishness, accountability and many more.
With Noblesville’s block scheduling, that means they meet for 90 minutes two or three times per week to engage in total body training.
“We work top to bottom and front to back,” says Clarke, who is building “balanced efficient movers with body armor (muscle).”
Athletes go through workouts with cues, corrosives and drills.
He is empowering athletes and coaches by giving them knowledge and insisting they take ownership of the program.
“Coach Keever sets the tone (for baseball),” says Clarke.
There also must be a total “buy-in” from athletes.
“I want everyone to understand exactly why we do it and can explain everything to everyone,” says Clarke. “I want everyone of them to be a junior performance coach.”
The aim is kinesthetic awareness (The ability to feel and know where one’s and others’ bodies are in space without looking or the awareness of relative force and movement).
Clarke and his staff breaks down every detail and provides “simple, productive tools that everyone every can use.”
As he prepares to host the National High School Strength Coaches Association national convention June 15-16, 2018 at Noblesville High School, Clarke screens his athletes in many areas to identify what they should and should not be doing in the weight room. These tests find if a student has a “kink in the hose” that needs to be addressed.
Every athlete has different strengths, weaknesses and needs depending on their physique and the sport they play.
“It’s not a cookie cutter thing,” says Clarke.
Benefitting from advanced technology, Clarke can track athletes through a Metrifit monitoring system which allows the logging for daily wellbeing, activities and other information. This converts into a RTT (readiness to train) score.
Brian Clarke is the strength and conditioning coordinator at Noblesville High School.