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Former Lebanon righty Schaller debuts in college, pro baseball in same season with Vandy, Nationals system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Reid Schaller returned to competitive pitching in 2018.

Following Tommy John surgery July 19, 2016 — the date is tattooed near the scar — the right-hander did not pick up a baseball until January 2017 and then participated in fall activities at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

The injury caused the 2016 Lebanon (Ind.) High School graduate to miss his freshman college season and summer ball in 2017.

The 6-foot-3 hurler finally got a chance to pitch in a game for the Commodores Feb. 20, 2018. He went on to appear in 21 games over 28 2/3 innings.

Schaller was 1-1 with one save, a 3.77 earned run average, 39 strikeouts and nine walks in helping Vanderbilt go 35-27 with the season ending in the NCAA Super Regional against Mississippi State.

The 21-year-old credits Vandy pitching coach Scott Brown for helping him come back.

“(Brown) cleaned up my arm action,” says Schaller. “And he taught me how to be a pitcher rather than a thrower.”

After his surgery, Schaller still threw from a three-quarter arm slot, but he shortened up his delivery.

“My arm was really long in high school,” says Schaller. “Now, it’s really short — more like a catcher arm action.”

Schaller is grateful to his Vandy coaches, including head coach Tim Corbin.

“The entire coaching staff is very intelligent and helped me with my prospects,” says Schaller. “They did a lot for me.

“Just being around (Corbin) matured me as a person. He’s  full of knowledge and that kind of rubbed off on me.”

Selected in the third round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Washington Nationals, Schaller headed to Florida to pitch for the Gulf Coast League Nationals.

In the GCL, he made five mound appearances (all starts) and was 0-1 with a 1.54 ERA. In 11 2/3 innings, he struck out 16 and walked three and was moved to the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays of the Short Season Class-A New York-Penn League.

The next stops on the Nationals minor league ladder are Hagerstown (Low-A), Potomac (High-A), Harrisburg (Double-A) and Syracuse (Triple-A).

Schaller has been in four games for Auburn (all starts) covering 16 2/3 innings. He is 1-1 with a 4.86 ERA, nine strikeouts and four walks.

He goes to the bump for Doubledays manager Jerad Head and pitching coach Franklin Bravo with a large pitch repertoire. He throws both a four-seam and two-seam fastball as well as a slider, change-up and cutter. He added the cutter to the four-seamer and slider during the NCAA Clemson Regional. Once he got to Auburn, he began working on the two-seamer — a pitch he used in high school.

At Lebanon, Schaller played four seasons for Tigers head coach Rick Cosgray and was a three-time honorable mention all-state selection and three-time all-Sagamore Athletic Conference performer. He captained the team as a junior and senior. In his sophomore year (2014), Lebanon won SAC and IHSAA Class 3A North Montgomery Sectional  championships.

As a freshman, Cosgray had Schaller splitting his time between the varsity and junior varsity teams, going down to get some more at-bats.

“(Cosgray) made me think — this is the time I can get better and bring it to the varsity team,” says Schaller. “Everything happens for a reason.

“You see how it develops through time.”

In 2013, Schaller was a teammate of future Los Angeles Angels minor league pitcher Travis Herrin.

When not pitching, Schaller was an outfielder early in his prep career and then settled at first base. He also played one season a little football for the Lebanon Tigers.

The determination that helped him back from injury has helped propel Schaller throughout his athletic career.

“I’m committed to the goals I’ve set and I’m hard-working,” says Schaller. “I’m determined to succeed on the mound.

“I have the ability to bounce back from a bad outing and be ready for my next bullpen. It’s all about being consistent.”

Born in Indianapolis, Schaller grew up near Thorntown and played Little League baseball at Dover and Thorntown.

When Reid moved with his family — father Matt, mother Heather and older brother Mason — to Lebanon when he was in the fourth grade, he played in the Lebanon Little League and then got into travel baseball, donning the colors of the Indiana Mustangs, Indiana Prospects, Evoshield Canes Midwest, Cincinnati Reds Scout Team and Midland (Ohio) Redskins before heading to Vanderbilt.

Schaller is four semesters from completing his American Studies degree and says he plans to go back at some point to complete it.

Today, Matt Schaller sells insurance, Heather Schaller is a realtor and Mason Schaller is in business. He played baseball at Lebanon and graduated from Indiana University.

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Reid Schaller, a Lebanon (Ind.) High School graduate who played at Vanderbilt University, is now with the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays in the Washington Nationals system. (Auburn Doubledays Photo)

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Reid Schaller bears down for the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays in the Washington Nationals system. He is a 2016 Lebanon (Ind.) High School graduate who pitched one season (2018) for Vanderbilt University. (Rick Nelson Photo)

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Former Lebanon (Ind.) High School and Vanderbilt University pitcher Reid Schaller lets one go for the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays. (Rick Nelson Photo)

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Reid Schaller, 21, is in his first professional baseball season in the Washington Nationals system. (Rick Nelson Photo)

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Reid Schaller, a Lebanon (Ind.) High School graduate, makes a pitch for the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays in the Washington Nationals system. Making his way back from Tommy John surgery, the right-hander made his college debut at Vanderbilt University and in professional baseball both in 2018. (Rick Nelson Photo)

 

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‘Walking medical phenomenon’ Barrett on quest to return to Nationals staff

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Aaron Barrett still has a hard time believing that he broke his humerus — that long bone in the arm that runs from the shoulder to the elbow — while pitching a baseball.

Barrett, an Evansville native and Washington Nationals reliever, was on his way back from Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his elbow (Sept. 3, 2015 by Dr. James Andrews). Things seemed to be progressing well 11 months after the procedure.

The power right-hander was one week from being sent on a rehab assignment in 2016 when snap! — his arm broke on the 11th pitch of a 20-toss simulated game.

“I went into shock,” says Barrett of the painful moment. “It’s crazy the amount of force and torque I used to break that major bone.

“I must’ve thrown that one pitch very hard.”

Doctors told Barrett that he is the first to break the humerus after Tommy John surgery.

“I’m a walking medical phenomenon,” says Barrett, who debuted in the big leagues with Washington in 2014 and made his last MLB appearance in 2015.

And now he’s working to make a comeback.

Turned from a starter to a reliever in his first professional season (2010), Barrett made the big league team out of 2014 spring training and appeared in 50 games and was 3-0 with a 2.66 earned run average, 49 strikeouts and 20 walks in 40 2/3 innings while also pitching in 10 games and 10 innings at Triple-A Syracuse.

In 2015, Barrett made 40 MLB appearances and was 3-3 with a 4.60 ERA. He fanned 35 and walked seven in 29 innings, but landed on the 15-day disabled list with a right biceps strain in both June and August.

“I was pitching nearly everyday and I was in pain for two or three weeks before I went on the DL,” says Barrett, who was soon transferred to the 60-day list. “Being a reliever, throwing everyday is part of the grind.”

Along the way, it was discovered that Barrett had a 90-percent tear in his Ulnar Collateral Ligament and so he underwent the reconstruction then he had his next setback.

But Barrett, signed to a two-year contract by the Nationals to rehab, began throwing again last summer and has worked hard at the club’s training complex in West Palm Beach, Fla.

He now finds himself close to getting closer to the road back to the majors.

Barrett and other players rehabbing injuries have been competing in extended spring training camp games against other organizations along the Space Coast.

“I’m building arm strength and knocking the rust off,” says Barrett. “I hope to go north on a rehab assignment the next few weeks.”

Washington has full-season affiliates in Hagerstown (Low Single-A), Potomac (High Single-A), Harrisburg (Double-A) and Syracuse (Triple-A) and Barrett expects that his assignments will come as a progression.

Barrett — aka “The Bear” — has stayed connected to his buddies in the big leagues and watches the broadcast of nearly every Nationals game.

“I still have many close friends on the team, guys I came up in the farm system with,” says Barrett.

The 6-foot-4 righty holds the distinction of being selected four times in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — in the 44th round in 2006 by the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the 20th round in 2008 by the Minnesota Twins, in the 27th round in 2009 by the Texas Rangers and in the ninth round in 2010 by the Nationals.

Barrett explains why he kept going back into the draft.

“The money was not enough for me to turn away from college,” says Barrett. “I wanted to finish my (liberal arts) degree (three minors — history, sociology and park and recreational management — equals a major). “I  was a ninth-round senior. That’s pretty good. It all worked out.”

Barrett is a 2006 graduate of Evansville Central High School, where he played for coach Jason Engelbrecht. He played two seasons at Wabash Valley College (2007, 2008) in Mount Carmel, Ill., for coach Rob Fournier and two seasons at the University of Mississippi (2009, 2010) for coach Mike Bianco.

Using Barrett some out of the bullpen, Bianco discovered that his stuff played up and he was able to let it go in shorter mound stints.

After turning pro, Barrett developed the mindset of throwing several times a week.

“With the intensity of the later innings, I thrived,” says Barrett.

In 2012, he broke out while pitching in Low-A, High-A and the Arizona Fall League. He was in Double-A and in 2013 and then got the call from Triple-A to the majors in 2014.

The middle son of Dave and Jackie Barrett, Aaron played at Golfmoor Little League on Evansville’s west side before his family moved to the north side where he took to the diamonds of the Highland Baseball Club.

As a 13-year-old, Barrett was on a team that went to Nebraska and won a national championship. Among his teammates was Preston Mattingly, son of Don Mattingly and still one of Aaron’s best friends, and Adam Champion.

Preston Mattingly was a first-round MLB draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006 and played in the minor until 2011.

Champion played four years at the University Arkansas-Little Rock and then two years in the minors and two in independent baseball.

Ryan Barrett, Aaron’s older brother, graduated form Evansville Central in 2003 and played shortstop for four years at the University of Evansville.

Younger brother Drew Barrett was a left-handed-hitting infielder who played two years at Wabash Valley and two at Lindsey Wilson College (Columbia, Ky.).

Two cousins — Evansville Central graduate Jason Barrett and Evansville Reitz Memorial graduate Zach Barrett — also went on college baseball — Jason at Ball State and Zach at Olney (Ill.) Central College and Middle Tennessee State University.

“Evansville is such a good baseball town,” says Barrett. “The state of Indiana doesn’t give it enough credit for how good of a baseball town it is.”

While working on the baseball field to make his hometown proud, Aaron is also spending quality time with wife Kendyl and 7-month-old daughter Kollyns.

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Aaron Barrett, an Evansville native, is working to get back to the big leagues with the Washington Nationals after breaking his humerus while rehabbing from Tommy John elbow surgery. (Washington Nationals Photo)

 

Wynegar wants Indianapolis hitters to know the mental side

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Butch Wynegar is not a meteorologist.

The former big league catcher and longtime hitting coach just likes to use weather terminology to describe the experience of a batter stepping into the box at the highest levels of baseball.

“I call it the Eye of the Hurricane,” says Wynegar, who is in his third season with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate Indianapolis Indians. “You’re trying to find a way to stay in the calmness of the hurricane and out of the surrounding winds — the fans, the score, the big league stadium, facing big league guys you idolized. When you get caught up in the moment, it’s hard to slow down.

“It’s you and the baseball.”

Wynegar was a switch-hitting catcher and played Major League Baseball for 13 seasons with the Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees and California Angels, retiring in 1988.

Butch began his coaching career in 1992. Among his jobs have been roving hitting instructor for the Texas Rangers’ organization, big league hitting coach for the Milwaukee Brewers and Triple-A hitting coach in the Yankees system.

Wynegar helps hitters with the mechanics of their swing, but wants them to understand the thinking side of their craft.

“Something the common fan doesn’t understand unless you’ve played this game is how much of hitting is mental,” says Wynegar. “I might have done it (as a player), but I didn’t do it to the degree I know how to do it now.”

Wynegar wants his hitters to know what to expect from a pitcher and how each team is going to pitch to him. He also wants them to be able to see what they did well and where they need improvement and take that into the next at-bat.

“I told guys a number of times, your swing here (in Triple-A) will probably work in the big leagues,” says Wynegar. “The difference between here and the big leagues is the mental side of hitting.”

Wynegar’s aim is the get his hitters ready to step right in and perform for the Pirates.

“When they go to Pittsburgh, hopefully the adjustment period is a little shorter,” says Wynegar, who regularly corresponds with Pirates hitting coaches Jeff Branson and Jeff Livesey. “They understand how to slow the mind down, slow the game down.

“When they get up there, the game tends to get a little fast for them. It’s the major leagues. You face guys you grew up watching. It was the same thing with me. There was Catfish Hunter or Jim Palmer, who I grew up watching, and I go, ‘Holy Cow!’ and the game starts spinning fast for me.”

A fan of a book written by former big leaguer Shawn Green, “The Way of Baseball: Finding Stillness at 95 mph,” Wynegar has turned Indianapolis infielders Erich Weiss and Eric Wood on to it.

The book tells how Green broke into the majors with the Toronto Blue Jays and the transformation he made mentally and physically.

“There was a lot of mechanical stuff, but their was a lot of mental stuff,” says Wynegar. “He got into meditation and relaxation and all that.

“That’s a big part of hitting.”

Wynegar looks at Weiss and his swing reminds him of Green’s.

“I wasn’t making the comparison that you’re going be Shawn Green one day and go 6-for-6 and hit four home runs in a game (like Green did with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002) — he might,” says Wynegar. “Somebody pops into your mind and this guy reminds me of so-and-so. I might bring that up, but I tell them this is why you remind of him. It might be a confidence booster.”

What is Wynegar’s prescription for a slump buster?

“Go back to the basics,” says Wynegar. “Back in my era, we were not afraid to move around in the box — move closer; move back; move front; choke up. Guys today will just not choke up.

“For me it was spreading my stance out a little bit to reduce my body movement. I really trusted my hands and I’d choke up on the bat a little bit. I was all about contact anyway … That was from Pitch 1.”

When Wynegar sees a hitter who is in a rut — maybe a little tired from the grind of the long season — he asks them a simple question: “Are you going to make an adjustment to overcome what you’re doing?”

He cites an example from his time with the Brewers (2003-06).

“When I was the big league hitting coach in Milwaukee, every year Geoff Jenkins came to me somewhere in August and said, ‘Butchie, I can’t find my home run swing.’ Four years in a row, he’d tell me that,” says Wynegar. “I told him, you can still help us with singles and doubles.

“Calm your swing for about 10 days and you’ll get a second wind.”

Wynegar came through in the Eye of the Hurricane with the Yankees on June 30, 1983. He was reminded of that this week by former New York teammate and current Buffalo Bisons manager Bobby Meacham, who made his MLB debut on the afformentioned date.

Meacham came into he game as a defensive replacement, but didn’t get to hit that day because of Wynegar’s two-out home run in the 12th inning against East Chicago native Tim Stoddard as the Yankees beat the visiting Baltimore Orioles 4-3.

“You think I’d remember a walk-off home run,” says Wynegar. “I remember Tim Stoddard. I remember getting an extra-inning base hit that won a game. I don’t remember a home run.

Wynegar joked to Meacham, “I hit so many walk-off home runs, I couldn’t remember them all.’”

Of his 65 career long balls, the lone game-winner was the one described above.

“I wasn’t a home run hitter,” says Wynegar. “I was a line drive/contact-type hitter.”

In all his time in baseball, Wynegar has come into contact with many talented men. Another teammate in New York was Don Baylor, who died Monday, Aug. 7, of cancer at 68. They were also opponents.

“I’ve got a photo at home where there’s a play at the plate and Donnie’s shoulder in embedded in my chest and I have my mouth wide open,” says Wynegar. “I held onto the ball. I do remember that.”

Famed for his toughness, Baylor was hit by a pitch 267 times during his MLB career.

“He stood right on top of the plate and dared you to throw a fastball in,” says Wynegar. “I never saw him rub somebody when he got hit. He’d just drop the bat and go to first base.”

While they wore the same uniform, Wynegar really gained an appreciation for Baylor.

“What a great man he was,” says Wynegar. “He and Dave Winfield were very similar, but Dave was more boisterous and not afraid to tell you how good he was. Donnie was the opposite. He was kind of quiet. He led by example.

“He was gentle giant in the clubhouse. He just had the respect of everybody with the way he played the game and by his leadership.”

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Butch Wynegar is in his 24th season as a professional baseball coach and his third as hitting coach with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. (Indianapolis Indians Photo)