Tag Archives: Technology

Christman sees baseball through a scout’s eyes

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kevin Christman has been in professional baseball for well over half of his 54 years. He signed his first pro contract as a teenager.

At the end of last summer, Noblesville, Ind., resident Christman concluded a 13-year stint as a scout for the San Francisco Giants and has three World Series rings to show for it. As an area scout, his territory included Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky. He also coached at Giants Fall Scout Team that included several players eventually selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including Ryan Campbell, Garrett Christman, Harrison Freed, Cory Malcom, Connor Mitchell, Mitch Roman, Tanner Tully, Nolan Watson.

While he is assessing his next move, Christman is helping out Sue and Chris Estep at Round Tripper Sports Academy.

“I’m giving back to the game,” says Christman, who has served as a general manager, coach and advisor on curriculum, facilities and the baseball industry over the years at the place where sons Garrett and Connor Christman trained and played for the Indiana Mustangs as well as Noblesville High School’s 2014 IHSAA Class 4A state champions, which were recently inducted with the NHS Athletic Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020. “I’m giving back to the program. I’ve always been available for them.”

Christman went to Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif., and was a 6-foot-3 catcher in the Philadelphia Phillies and Giants systems before beginning his scouting career on the West Coast with the Milwaukee Brewers and joined the Giants player evaluation staff in 2006.

Along the way, the Midwest became his territory and he and wife Linda moved their family to central Indiana.

Christman has watched technology grow and become a big part of player development.

“It’s changed strength level opportunities,” says Christman. “We understand nutrition and what’s out there to use.

“There’s still a lot of unproven aspects of the technology. The game’s the game. But you don’t leave any stone unturned. You use all resources.”

Chistman uses technology, but he has long employed his evaluation and personal skills to find prospects and to see what makes them tick.

“My job was to always bet on a heartbeat,” says Christman. “With what we were spending on players, that’s just as important. We can’t lose sight of that.”

Christman studies players. Once they pass the eye test, he goes in-depth.

“What has he learned? What has he not learned?,” says Christman. “I could almost be like an FBI agent.”

Like other scouts, Christman would project a player’s potential to get to the majors.

“It’s all conjecture,” says Christman. “I think he can do this.

“It’s like a lump a clay you can mold.”

Only a small percentage of players who enter the system will ever have a cup of coffee in the big leagues.

“It’s a very difficult process,” says Christman. “Eventually, physical talents become similar.”

Things like make-up often make the difference between those who break into the majors and those that don’t.

That’s why scouts like Christman will work hard to find and sign the best players.

“I’m a winner,” says Christman. “It’s a competitive business.”

The proving grounds in baseball is at the high school and college levels.

Christman says many big leaguers were signed out of high school. But the latest trend is to sign college players.

“(Colleges can) develop them three years longer,” says Christman. “(Professional teams tend to) go with a proven track record. History will prevail. That’s what’s driving the sport now. There will be another adjustment later.”

Of course, not all big leaguers are known on the national level by the time they’re 16 and performing in showcases.

“One of the joys of scouting is finding that one guy who’s not in the mainstream,” says Christman.

That’s the story of Adam Duvall, a graduate of Butler Traditional High School in Louisville who played at Western Kentucky University and the University of Louisville, made his Major League Baseball debut with the Giants and played with the Cincinnati Reds 2015-18 and the Atlanta Braves in 2018-19. He was a corner infielder in college and has been mostly a left fielder in the bigs.

“His signing was not analytically-driven,” says Christman of Duvall. “He made the game look easy. He had better than average makeup.

“He’s a worker. It’s the grass roots story of a champion.”

MLB has been talking about shrinking the minor leagues, possibly a contraction of 25 percent of teams. If that happens, what would it look like?

With rookie leagues decreased or eliminated, Christman says its likely that players with the least amount of experience would remain in an extended spring training setting before going to Class A ball.

“They will keep players in the complex longer and there will be a higher revolving door at the top,” says Christman. “Either they’re big league players or they’re not.

“It’ll be a little more hands-on at a younger level.”

Noting “it’s all about spots,” Christman says it will harder to enter into baseball at the lower level.

As it stands now, minor leaguers train and play with their organizations from March to September and then are essentially on their own until the next spring.

Christman says a streamlined affiliated baseball could see teams conducting mini-camps throughout the year kind of like OTA’s in football.

KEVINCHRISTMANWSTROPHY

Kevin Christman poses with the World Series trophy. The Noblesville, Ind., resident won three World Series rings as a scout with the San Francisco Giants.

GIANTSWSRINGS

Kevin Christman earned three World Series rings as a scout for the San Francisco Giants. The Noblesville, Ind., resident has been in pro baseball for more than half his life.

 

Learning mentality drives baseball coaching vet Bell

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There’s a running debate in baseball coaching about the Old School vs. the New School.

The Old School represents the long-used methods.

The New School includes emerging technology and its application to the game.

“We’re always learning,” says Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, who has decades of experience as a professional hitting instructor — most recently working in affiliated baseball with the Milwaukee Brewers organization 2018 and 2019. “Technology is very important. That’s where we are today.

“We are not Old School or New School, We’re In School. If we don’t continue to be In School, we’re going to hurt these kids. Period.”

As Bell teaches lessons and clinics across the country as well as in Noblesville, Ind., at Jason Taulman’s Indy Sharks training facility and will soon in Lafayette at Jeff Isom’s new On Deck Training building, he looks to share he’s learned and shares it with his pupils.

“There’s all this information,” says Bell. “I’m not saying its detrimental. It’s confusing. (Technology) can be a great thing.”

Bell, 56, is adaptinhg to the new tools so he can understand and get players to understand.

“I’ve learned it my way instead of some guy telling me how I must learn it,” says Bell, who has worked with Blast Motion sensors and looks forward to using Rapsodo motion detection.

“Humans see in 2D,” says Bell. “Technology sees in 4D. It’s another set of eyes. It can be a great thing.

“You will see great strides in that kid’s progression if it’s utilized the right way.

“You can’t quantify the movement from the left to the right hemisphere You have to combine (technology) with what he’s thinking, how he’s thinking and why he’s thinking. I understand the importance of it all coming together. I really do.”

Knowing that each player is different, Bell does not expect everyone to have the same movement patterns and to reach them you’ve got to get to know them.

“The individual needs to be an individual,” says Bell. “We want them to be short and direct to the ball. We don’t worry about things we don’t control. We control the (strike) zone and get a good pitch to hit. It sounds like a cliche, but you’re only as good as the pitch you hit.

“We try to keep it as simple as possible. Pitching is too good. They throw so hard.”

Bell wants to relate to his hitters on a personal basis.

“I want to establish a relationship with that player,” says Bell. “That’s the key. This guy’s there for him whenever he needs them.”

Bell is a 1981 graduate of Lafayette Jefferson High School. His head baseball coach was Mark Strader, who had been a Bronchos standout for and assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Paul “Spider” Fields.

“(Strader) was one of the best baseball players to come out of Tippecanoe County,” says Bell.

Concepts he associates with Strader are intensity, tenacity, competitiveness, work ethic and doing the little things right.

In the summers, Bell played for Lafayette American Legion Post 11. Manager Eric Harmon became his mentor at a young age.

“He did a lot of things for me,” says Bell, who credits Harmon for getting his a place on Team USA in the 1982 World’s Fair Games in Knoxville, Tenn., and a place in college baseball. “He is a phenomenal man.”

Bell played two seasons at Pima Community College in Tucson, Ariz., where his head coach was Rich Alday and Jim Fleming directed Aztecs hitters.

“(Fleming) was one of the best hitting teachers in the country,” says Bell, who would meet up with him again years later.

From Pima, Bell played two seasons at Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) for head coach Byron Wiehe. Jamie Hamilton was an assistant coach for the Mavericks.

Bell signed as a minor league free agent with the California Angels and played three seasons in the Halos’ system 1986-88, primarily as a righty-swinging catcher with Palm Springs or Quad Cities.

Sometime after his playing career ended, Bell moved back to Lafayette. Isom asked him if he wanted to get back into baseball.

“Absolutely not” was Bell’s reply. But Isom asked again later and got Bell to be his hitting coach with the Joliet Jackhammers in the independent Northern League.

Bell went to be hitting coach in the Northern League with the Andy McCauley-managed Schaumburg Flyers in the independent Frontier League with the Jason Verdugo-managed Evansville Otters.

Then comes a call from John Mallee, then hitting coordinator for the Florida (now Miami) Marlins that leads to another call from then vice president of the Marlins Jim Fleming — the same man who was Bell’s hitting coach back in college.

“I actually hung up,” says Bell. “I didn’t think it was Coach Flem.”

Mallee called Bell back and set him straight and Bell was hired by the Marlins and was hitting coach for Greensboro Grasshoppers (2009), Jupiter Hammerheads (2010) and Gulf Coast League Marlins (2011-14).

He was out of organized baseball for a few years and still offering instruction including at Kiwanis International baseball camps for troubled teens in Alaska at the invitation of David Hall.

By this time Mallee was with the Phillies. He called to say that the Brewers were in dire need of a hitting coach. There was one week left in spring training.

But Bell took the gig and spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the Carolina Mudcats in Zebulon, N.C. Coincidently, the Mudcats vice president/general manager is Lafayette native Joe Kremer. Bell and Kremer had never met until Bell arrived with the club.

The past five years, Bell has been traveling up from Florida to share his knowledge with Taulman and the Indy Sharks.

“I love everything he does for all those kids,” says Bell. “They’ve progressed extremely.”

Bell has been spending more time in Indiana to be closer to daughter Bobbi, a junior at Purdue University. Bell also has four sons — Brandon and Keaton in Colorado, Zion in California and Kai in North Dakota.

BOBBYBELLMARLINS

Bobby Bell, a Lafayette, Ind., native, was a hitting coach in the Florida/Miami Marlins system for six years.

BOBBYBELLBREWERS

Bobby Bell, a 1981 graduate of Lafayette (Ind.) Jefferson High School, has been instructing baseball hitters for decades. In 2018 and 2019, he was a coach in the Milwaukee Brewers system. He works regularly with the Indy Sharks travel organization.

 

Carlton, Shelbyville Golden Bears embracing technology, sabermetrics

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Shelbyville (Ind.) High School baseball has made a commitment to technology.

Through the generosity of parents, donors and the SHS athletic department, the Golden Bears have provided head coach Royce Carlton, his staff and team with several modern tools.

Among those are a 4D Motion 3D motion capturing system, Rapsodo Hitting 2.0, Rapsodo Pitching 2.0, Driveline EDGE, Driveline TRAQ and velocity sensors for the weight room. On the wish list is a Sony slow-motion camera.

But all the gadgets are no good if the data they provide can’t be understood by coaches and players or used is effective ways.

With that in mind, Carlton recruited smart students to be part of the Shelbyville Sabermetrics department. So far there’s juniors Christian DeRolf and Austin Perry and senior Eric Santiago.

“We wanted to squeeze as much baseball out of our players as we possibly could,” says Carlton, a graduate of Morristown Junior/High School (2010) and the University of Indianapolis (2014) who is entering his third season at Shelbyville in 2020. “I saw a couple of college Twitter accounts where they had an analytics team or sabermetrics department.

“I’ve never heard of this done at the high school level so let’s give it a shot.”

The sabermetrics team, which was formed in September, is comprised of students near the top of their class.

“They’re real interested in the game of baseball,” says Carlton. “They may not have the ability to play but they still love the sport. This gives them a chance to help out and be part of the team. They’re just as important as my players as far as I’m concerned.”

DeRolf expresses his excitement about mining the data for information that can help his schoolmates.

“There’s such an opportunity to quantify absolutely everything,” says DeRolf, who sees himself going to college for information systems/computer science and continuing to apply his knowledge to baseball. “It’s not easy to change somebody’s behavior and see that there might be somebody better than what they’re doing.

“But there’s nothing wrong with being able to tweak things. Once they see how this helps, they tend to trust you. The trust is the hardest part to build.”

Santiago was invited to join the sabermetrics team by DeRolf. Before he goes to college to pursue a finance degree, Santiago will crunch the numbers to help the baseball team.

As the Golden Bears work out this winter, they will all be figuring out the best practices.

“It’s a learning process,” says Santiago. “Nobody’s an expert. Everybody is going to learn together.

“We’ll focus on basics and fix small things so we can go onto bigger things.”

Driveline EDGE helps with pitch design. Driveline TRAQ allows for individualized practice plans for each player (who will bring iPads to practice during the off-season to focus on their specific needs). Sensors on bar bells check to see that players are strong and moving in an explosive way.

“It’s not a cookie-cutter approach,” says Carlton. “One reason we got the 4D Motion 3D motion capturing system is slow-motion video can lie. You have clothes on. It hides things. To really be able to see the kinematic sequence for the right order of each body part firing, we had to get the sensors. I didn’t want to teach my guys something I saw on video that might actually be wrong.”

Prior to the next IHSAA Limited Contact Period (which began Dec. 9), Carlton tested the system by taking cuts himself.

“My video looked good, but when I went to the sensors my chest was actually firing before my pelvis,” says Carlton. “So I worked on changing that, where my pelvis would fire before my chest. I added 5 mph on to my bat speed just within a 20-minute session.”

Carlton, who is also the head strength and conditioning coach at Shelbyville, says there is a dynamic in athletics of “feel vs. real” and technology can help with that.

“Now, we can match the real with the feel instead of just guessing,” says Carlton. “A lot of it has been guessing up to this point.

“We can really bridge that gap.”

There’s also a learning curve for coaches.

“Technology’s just blowing up in baseball. Coaches don’t understand how to interpret. They get all these numbers. But what good do the numbers do unless you actually know how to transfer it to high school kids’ minds?

“That can be a chore.”

Carlton says the Golden Bears will be filming every single hitting, pitching and fielding rep through the iPads for analyzation.

“It’s going to be kind of weird having every single player with technology,” says Carlton “It kind of hurts me inside. I’ve still got a little bit of old school in me.

“But the game’s changing.”

Carlton has visited Indiana University to see how the Hoosiers use technology to help their players and recently completed his Driveline pitch design certification. He equates that experience to drinking out of a fire hose.

The program consolidates a great deal of information and involves physics, spin, horizontal and vertical break and much more.

Shelbyville’s plans call for using a pitching report which includes a pitcher’s strengths. Those with high spin rates will generally pitch higher in the strike zone than those with lower spin rates.

“We’re going to get super in-depth,” says Carlton.

Last spring, Shelbyville employed Major League Baseball-style defensive shifts.

“Most of the people on my coaching staff thought I was crazy,” says Carlton. “Most of the teams we played thought I was crazy. But it 100 percent worked for us. Most high school hitters kind of struggle to hit the outside pitches and we’d groove them pitch inside and they’d pull it right into our shift.

“I don’t have any flame throwers. No one who throws over 85 (mph). We had to be really crafty, do the shifts and pitch locations really worked.

“Some didn’t like it, but you’ve got to win.”

Maverick Alexander, one of Carlton’s assistant coaches, does a lot of digging in places like GameChanger and uses historical data against an opponent to put together spray charts to be employed in shifting game plans.

“He puts together a probability packet for us that we go off from batter to batter,” says Carlton, who also counts Mike Jackson, Chase McColley, Jacob Shively and Nate Stonebraker among his assistants. “I think we only got burnt twice all season by shifting and we probably shifted at least 50 percent of the time.

“(My assistants) are all smart. They see what the pro level is doing. We’re at the high school level, but there are still applications we can take. The pros wouldn’t do it if it didn’t win games for them. It’s a money game up there.”

Alexander’s day job is making maps for the State of Indiana. He uses his skills with Excel, Word and data analysis gathered in 2018 and 2019 to produce reports on Shelbyville opponents.

“We hope to be here a long time. It can be a long-term plan,” says Alexander. “If we see a player as a freshman, by the time they are juniors or seniors we’ll be able to see those trends more clearly.”

If possible, players go over Alexander’s pamphlet in practice the day before a game to learn about opponent tendencies and then can go to it during the contest.

“It’s definitely important for pitchers and catchers  to know game plan for each inning,” says Alexander.

Carlton has enjoyed watching the way the athletes have taken to the approach.

“It’s neat,” says Carlton. “The players buy into it. They make it their own.”

Shelbyville (enrollment 1,167) is a member of the Hoosier Heritage Conference (with Delta, Greenfield-Central, Mt. Vernon of Fortville, New Castle, New Palestine, Pendleton Heights and Yorktown).

Beginning in 2020, conference foes will face each other one time on Friday nights. Previously, they had met for Friday doubleheaders.

The Golden Bears are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Bloomington North, Bloomington South, Columbus East, Columbus North and East Central. Shelbyville has won 10 sectional titles — the last in 2005.

In 2018, the Bears featured pitcher/outfielder Damon Lux (now at Duke University) and first baseman Lucas Steineker and went 13-12 and then 9-17 with a very young varsity team in 2019.

“This year, we’re looking pretty solid,” says Carlton. “We’ve got our pitching and our offense straightened out.

“We do a lot of the (Driveline) command ball stuff — the oversized and undersized balls and weighted balls.”

Since Carlton arrived (he was formerly head baseball coach at Morristown and Attica), two teams — varsity and junior varsity — have been representing the school with 26 to 28 total players.

Blending the new with the old, Carlton also has plans to honor Shelbyville’s baseball past this spring when his team takes the field in throwback jerseys and limited edition hats from a time when the school’s mascot was the Camels.

“I’m trying to find some neat things to do during the spring to get some people out to enjoy the game and teach the guys a little about the history of baseball,” says Carlton, who has consulted with former Shelbyville head coach and history buff Scott Hughes, old school yearbooks and the local historical society. “Back when the game was super-pure.”

ROYCECARLTONSHELBYVILLE

Royce Carlton is entering his third season as head baseball coach at Shelbyville (Ind.) High School in 2020.

 

Antone goes for more baseball education at Driveline HQ

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Pat Antone speaks the modern language of baseball.

As a high school coach — he led Boone Grove to an IHSAA Class 2A state championship as head coach in 2018 and served as an assistant at Westfield in 2019 — Antone is familiar with the tools now available to help players and teams get better.

He knows about things like Rapsodo, Blast Motion, J-Bands and ground force trainers like King of The Hill and more.

To familiarize himself even more, Antone went to Driveline Baseball headquarters in Kent, Wash. (part of the Seattle-Tacoma metro area) the weekend of Sept. 21 to take a certification course on Foundations of Pitching (Coming soon: Foundations of Hitting, Foundations of Pitch Design and Technology in Baseball).

Attendees at the session were immersed in Driveline’s core philosophies and beliefs, including concepts found in the book, “Hacking The Kinetic Chain” and the use of training aids and technology.

“They gave coaches who were hungry to learn a chance to learn by giving them as many tools as necessary to get the most out of their content,” says Antone, who played at Andrean High School, Glen Oaks Community College and Valparaiso University and has also coached high schoolers at Valparaiso, Chesterton and Andrean and collegians with the Northwest Indiana Oilmen.

“What I liked most was the programming for athletes to maximize their potential and also stay healthy and prevent injury,” says Antone, noting each area from youth to professional was covered. “It’s all based on needs.”

Antone, who turned 29 on Nov. 7, says a youth player in elementary or middle school can be checked for a base level of strength and coordination and can be introduced to weighted Driveline PlyoCare balls and weighted baseball to help clean up movement quality and base of strength.

“As they get older, add things or make it more intense,” says Antone.

Antone uses Nick Schnell, who was Indiana Mr. Baseball at Roncalli High School in 2018 and is now in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, as an example.

“He was a big, physical kid and could move pretty well,” says Antone. “He could do weighted ball pulldowns, which gives velocity to his throws.

“Then there’s a freshmen who has little time in the weight room. He needs to build a base level in the weight room and get used to (conventional) long toss (before going to things like weighted ball pulldowns and weighted ball long toss).

“You need to understand what each athlete’s lowest hanging fruit is and set up their programming for that.”

Antone says coaches have common objectives, but don’t use the same words.

“In my opinion, everybody is trying to talk about the same thing, but they’re talking in a different language or a different way,” says Antone. “Baseball’s got to get better to have a common language among coaches and players.

“Golf has a common language. Five different (baseball) coaches can look at video of the same hitter and could each say five different things they did well and five things they did not do well and have to work out.

“Technology takes the bias out. It shows what they need to address. We can make changes. We can test to track progress and improvement. It’s just a tool to help us learn and get better and to do it in the fastest, most effective way possible.”

Antone, who attended the John Mallee Major League Hitting Clinic Nov. 23-24 at the University of Illinois-Chicago, says a Rapsodo system costs around $4,000 and a Blast Motion sensor is about $100.

“This stuff is expensive, but do-able,” says Antone. “You prioritize what’s important to you and your program. Eventually you’ll have all the technology you need or want.

“You don’t need all of it. You don’t need to get everything just to have it.”

The way Antone operates, once he gets one piece of technology that is helpful, he wants to add more.

But having tools mean nothing if they can’t be effectively conveyed to players where they will make real changes and adjustments.

“(Coaches) need to study the technology and how you’re going to implement it into your program,” says Antone. “How are you going to communicate to the player in a way they will understand?”

PATANTONEBG

Pat Antone, who was head coach at Boone Grove High School in 2018 when the Wolves won an IHSAA Class 2A state baseball championship, traveled to Driveline Baseball headquarters recently to increase his knowledge of the game.