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Lefty Thompson keeps on collecting K’s for Kentucky

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zachary David Thompson goes by Zack.

Perhaps, it’s fitting that the last letter in this standout baseball pitcher’s shortened name is a K.

Zack Thompson, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior left-hander at the University of Kentucky, sure has made short work of opposing hitters by putting up strikeout after strikeout.

“I love the punch-out,” says the graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is fanning opposing hitters at a rate of 12.81 per nine innings for the 2019 season (102 K’s and 24 walks in 71 2/3 innings) and 12.09 for his collegiate career (240 whiffs and 82 freebies in 178 1/3 innings). “I’ve got pretty good breaking balls. I can expand the zone on them.”

Thompson, who employs a four-seam fastball that he can sometimes get up to 97 mph that he mixes with a cutter, change-up, curveball and slider, says he goes to the mound with two keys in his mind: Get a first-pitch strike and after that win the 1-1 battle.

“There’s such a big difference between 2-1 and 1-2,” says Thompson.

Currently the Saturday starter during weekend series for the Wildcats, the southpaw is 4-1 with a 1.88 earned run a 1.88 earned run average. Opponents are hitting .179 against him in 11 games (11 starts).

Since coming to UK, Thompson is 14-3 with one save, a 2.57 ERA and .188 opponent’s batting mark in 40 appearances (31 as a starter).

Thompson is on a team with Nick Mingione as head coach and Jim Belanger as pitching coach.

Why did Thompson choose Kentucky?

“It was just the right fit and has a very blue collar feel,” says Thompson. “My family (which includes father Bill, mother Jan and older brother Nick) can see games. They’re usually down here every weekend. And it’s in the (Southeastern Conference).

“The SEC has the best competition and best environment to improve.”

Thompson describes the atmosphere at conference road games as “incredible.”

He has gotten to stand on the bump on a circuit that includes Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Missouri, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M.

In the summer of 2018, Thompson played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, making three appearances with one start. He was 1.0 with a 0.00 ERA, eight strikeout, five walks and three hits allowed in 8 2/3 innings. Opponents, including Chinese Taipei, Japan and Cuba, hit .107 against the left-hander.

“That was just an awesome experience,” says Thompson. “I was representing my country and playing with the some of the best players and for some of the best coaches.

“I got to see how other people do it.”

Louisiana State University head coach Paul Mainieri was the USA CNT head coach. The pitching coach was University of Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor.

“Coach O is great,” says Thompson of O’Connor. “We worked on things in bullpen that translated to the game really well like his philosophies and pitch calling.”

Mainieri is a former head coach at Notre Dame, where O’Connor was his pitching coach.

Baseball America made the 21-year-old Thompson the No. 1 SEC prospect in the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (which is slated for June 3-5). D1 Baseball has him No. 2 on their list. He is also high in prospect rankings for MLBPipeline.com and Perfect Game.

“I try not to worry about it,” says Thompson of the MLB Draft. “It won’t matter if I don’t do my job on the mound.”

Thompson was born in Anderson, Ind., and grew up in Selma near Muncie. Playing for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Dudley at Wapahani.

“Brian was awesome and a great mentor,” says Thompson of Dudley. “He’s a great leader in the community.

“He sets his players up for success in the class room and on the field.”

Thompson was a National Honor Society student that led him to study business management in college. On the diamond, he put up eye-popping numbers.

On the mound, he went 23-2 with a 0.98 ERA and 405 strikeouts for 183 2/3 innings (15.43 per seven innings). As a sophomore, he helped the Raiders to an IHSAA Class 2A state championship in 2014 while going 13-0 with a 0.64 ERA over 87 innings as a pitcher and also hit .500 with eight home runs and 36 runs batted in.

High school summers were spent traveling with the Indiana White Sox or Indiana Bulls.

Thompson was selected in the 11th round of the 2016 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays, but opted not to sign and went to Kentucky.

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Zack Thompson, a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., is a junior left-handed pitcher at the University of Kentucky. (University of Kentucky Photo)

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Zack Thompson is among the nation’s top pitching prospects for the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. The left-hander is a graduate of Wapahani High School in Selma, Ind., and has been racking up strikeouts in droves as a University of Kentucky junior. (University of Kentucky)

 

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Weir now running show for Kokomo Wildkats

RBILOGOSMALL copy

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Tim Weir coaches baseball with emotion.

Speakers just might not see or hear it.

“I look laid back,” says Weir. “I’m pretty intense. I don’t scream and yell.

“I’m what you would call quietly competitive. I’m definitely there to win. I’m definitely there to compete. I just don’t get too loud.”

Weir was recently named head baseball coach at Kokomo (Ind.) High School after serving the past two seasons as Wildkats pitching coach.

Kokomo, with Sean Swan as head coach, went 41-14 combined in 2017 and 2018. The Kats won the North Central Conference title in 2018.

Weir, a 1982 Kokomo graduate who played for coaches Carl McNulty and Mike Smith, saw eight players graduate last spring. Among those were several four-year varsity players.

The Kats sent pitchers Jack Perkins (Louisville), Kyle Wade (Purdue) and Bayden Root (Ohio State) on to NCAA Division baseball. Noah Hurlock (Indiana University Kokomo) and Nate Hemmerich (Earlham) also went on to college diamonds.

The past two springs, Weir worked with pitchers that already had plenty of talent and applied what he knows from working with his son T.J. (a 2010 Kokomo graduate who pitches in the San Diego Padres organization).

“We got those guys to understand the mental side of it and how to prepare,” says Weir, who will continue to handle pitching coach duties.

Junior right-hander Charez Butcher and sophomore catcher Jayden Armfield are experienced Kokomo returnees.

The 6-foot-5 Butcher has a fastball in the mid-90s and has gotten plenty of attention from big-time college programs.

Many of the other Kats are talented, but have not been tested at the varsity level.

“We’ve been focusing on fundamentals,” says Weir. “We’re trying to get them up to speed as quickly as possible.”

A new IHSAA rule allowed coaches to practice with their teams for two hours a day two days a week for a a window in the fall. That window closed Oct. 12.

Weir was hired during that time.

“We got a lot done in three weeks,” says Weir, who has a number of two-sport athletes in his baseball program (football, soccer and tennis players in the fall and basketball players and wrestlers in the winter).

He looks forward to the practice window opening again the first week of December.

Weir’s staff includes returning coaches Nick Shanks, Isaac Turner, Matt Turner and George Phares. John Curl comes aboard a hitting coach.

Shanks has coached the Kats for more than a decade. Isaac Turner played at Kokomo and then Anderson University. He is the son of Matt Turner. Phares, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, looks to be Weir’s bench coach.

Curl was a three-time all-state player at Logansport High School, helping the Berries to a state title in 1991 while earning the L.V. Phillips Mental Atttitude Award. He was an All-American and College World Series participant at Texas A&M and played seven seasons of professional baseball.

Weir began coaching when T.J. started playing youth baseball and coached him all the way through high school at the travel ball level. Tim took time off when T.J. was in high school and college (Ball State University).

Father and son have been conducting lessons for teams and individuals during the fall and winter the past five years.

Kokomo is in the West Division of the North Central Conference along with Harrison, Lafayette Jeff, Logansport and McCutcheon. The East Division features Anderson, Arsenal Tech, Marion, Muncie Central and Richmond.

Teams play home-and-home series on weekdays within their divisions. A seeded tournament comes at the end of the season.

While the 2019 schedule has not yet been posted, the Kats have played non-conference games against Marion and Muncie Central as well as Howard County foes Northwestern and Western. There were also games against Brebeuf Jesuit, Huntington North, Norwell, Warsaw, Westfield and Zionsville and games against out-of-state competition in the Prep Baseball Report Classic at Grand Park in Westfield in 2018.

Kokomo plans to field three teams again next spring — varsity and two junior varsity squads (Blue and Red).

Home games and practices are conducted on the turf at Kokomo Municipal Stadium.

“You can’t beat the facility,” says Weir. “I don’t recall us getting rained out last year.”

Youth baseball in and around town is alive and well, especially for younger players.

The ever-popular “city” tournament typically draws a big crowd at the finals.

“It’s a pretty big deal,” says Weir, noting that T.J. was on the winning team at age 11.

The eight teams feeding into the tournament are Kokomo’s Eastside, Northside, Southside and UCT with county parks Greentown, Northwestern, Russiaville and Taylor also sending teams.

Also feeding the Kokomo Wildkats are the combined seventh and eighth grade squads that play in the spring.

Weir has noticed a substantial drop-off in participation for players in the middle school years.

“That’s one of the challenges I have,” says Weir. “The majority of our kids don’t play travel ball.

“They get into high school and don’t know the fundamentals like they would know in some of the better travel programs.”

Since 2017, Indiana has had a pitch count rule (1 to 35 pitches requires 0 days rest; 36 to 60 requires 1 day; 61 to 80 requires 2 days; 81 to 100 requires 3 days; and 101 to 120 requires 4 days).

“It hasn’t impacted us in the last two years,” says Weir. “We had a lot of arms. The maximum pitch count has never come into play for us.

“When T.J. played, pitchers routinely pitched the whole game. Kids aren’t programmed to do that anymore.”

To get his pitchers more innings, Weir can see times when he may use multiple arms in a game.

He’s also observed something from watching T.J. — a reliever in all but 22 of his 173 pro appearances.

“It’s whole lot easier to throw one good inning than three,” says Weir.

A software developer for the last 32 years, Weir is employed by DXC Technology. Working from home, he has the flexibility to start his work day early to accommodate baseball.

Tim’s wife, Shelly, is a fourth grade teacher in Kokomo. Daughter Whitney, a twin to T.J., was a cheerleader, volleyball player and track athlete at Kokomo and is now a software developer for Liberty Mutual and lives near Carmel, Ind.

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Tim Weir, a 1982 Kokomo High School graduate, is now head baseball coach at his alma mater. He served the past two seasons at Wildkats pitching coach.