Tag Archives: Texas Rangers

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)

 

Gary SouthShore RailCats embrace independent baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Outside the lines, professional baseball in Gary, Indiana, is very much like it is in many places.

Affordable family-friendly entertainment is the goal. Fans are invited to have a good time at the ballpark. The experience at U.S. Steel Yard includes food, giveaways and other forms of fun.

As a member of the independent American Association, the Gary SouthShore RailCats operate differently than Major League Baseball-affiliated clubs.

“It is not a developmental league, but it is an opportunity league — an opportunity for everyone from the radio broadcasters looking to break into professional baseball to groundkeepers to general managers and managers,” says 13th-year Gary manager Greg Tagert. “And, most importantly, it’s an opportunity for players who may have never gotten the opportunity to continue their careers or extend their careers.

“What it’s done for the industry cannot be underrated.”

But the emphasis is on the pennant race (Gary went into play Monday, Aug. 7, at 40-33 and seven games behind first-place Lincoln in the AA Central Division; the RailCats were two games out of the wild card lead in a 100-game season) and not getting a player ready for the next level.

“We make no apology to the players,” says Tagert. “We tell them from the beginning, we are all about winning.

“When a player steps through the door, it’s not about: Is he going to get his at-bats? Is he going to bat third? Is he going to pitch the sixth inning every night?

“Sometimes the players find that out the hard way. They’re used to a different type of format. They are surprised at the level of competition and the emphasis put on winning … It’s not for every player, just like it’s not for every manager.”

Tagert is a native of Vacaville, Calif. He a pitcher at San Francisco State University. He served as pitching coach at the University of New Mexico in 1988 and an associate scout for the Detroit Tigers in 1993-94.

A manager in independent baseball since 1995, Tagert enjoys the challenge of having the ability and the responsibility of building a team.

Unlike affiliated ball where players and coaching staff are assigned to a franchise and are told how to develop the talent with hopes of one day seeing them in the big leagues, Tagert makes all on-field personnel decisions.

“Player procurement and all the player decisions sit at this desk,” says Tagert. “That’s something I would not give up.

“It is the lure of the job for many of us (independent baseball managers) … The challenge is great. But it’s like anything else in life. If it was that easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.”

League rules limit rosters to 23. An additional one player may be on the disabled list during the regular season. Of those 23 players, a maximum of five may be veterans and minimum of five must be rookies. The remaining players will be designated limited service players and of those LS players only six (6) may be LS-4.

Tagert says the classifications create a unique kind of parity in the league and also creates opportunity.

The American Association is full of players with MLB experience and others who played at the Triple-A or Double-A level.

Right-handed pitcher Jorge DeLeon, a reliever for Gary, played for the Houston Astros in 2013 and 2014.

MLB scouts regularly cover the independent leagues.

Notable Gary alums include outfielders Jermaine Allenworth and Nathan Haynes and left-handed pitcher Tim Byrdak.

Allensworth, who played at Madison Heights High School and Purdue University, was a first round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1993 and played in the big leagues with Pittsburgh, the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets. He was with the RailCats in 2006 and 2007.

Haynes was a first round pick of the Oakland Athletics in 1997. He played in Gary in 2006 and then with the Los Angeles Angels in 2007 and Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.

Byrdak made his MLB debut with Kansas City in 1998. He played in Gary in 2003 and became the first former RailCats player to play in the big leagues with the 2005 Baltimore Orioles.

Wes Chamberlain, who played six MLB seasons including in the 1993 World Series with the Philadelphia Phillies, was a RailCat in 2003.

Some players to see at least a little MLB time that also wore a Gary jersey include first baseman Randall Simon (2010), third basemen Howard Battle (2003) and Jarrod Patterson (2008), outfielders Trey Beamon (2004), and Bubba Carpenter (2002, left-handed pitchers Tony Cogan (2007-09), Jim Crowell (2007), Brad Halsey (2010), Onan Masaoka (2009), right-handed pitchers Zach McClellan (2010) and Brad Voyles (2008).

Crowell played at Valparaiso High School and the University of Indianapolis. McClellan played at Indiana University.

There’s were Australian first baseman Ben Risinger (2005) and Japanese outfielder Masato Fukae (2016).

Texas Rangers hitting coach Anthony Iapoce was a former RailCats outfielder (2004-05).

The team has retired No. 23 for right-handed pitcher Willie Glen (2005-07, 2010) and No. 45 for Gary native and coach Joe Gates. Glen played at Plainfield High School and the University of Evansville. Gates played at Gary Roosevelt High School and briefly with the Chicago White Sox.

The RailCats were part of former Northern League and began as a road team in 2002 while 6,139-seat U.S. Steel Yard was being constructed along U.S. 20, South Shore rail lines and I-90 (Indiana Toll Road) and very close to the steel mills.

The first RailCats game at U.S. Steel Yard was May 26, 2003.

Chicagoans Pat and Lindy Salvi bought the team in 2008.

Gary was a member of the Northern League through 2010 and won league titles in 2005 and 2007. In 2010, the RailCats joined the American Association and reigned over it in 2013.

The current AA lineup includes Fargo-Moorhead (N.D.), St. Paul (Minn.), Sioux Falls (S.D.) and Winnipeg (Manitoba) in the North Division, Gary, Kansas City (Kan.), Lincoln (Neb.) and Sioux City (Iowa) in the Central Division and Cleburne (Texas), Salina (Kan.), Texas (Grand Prairie) and Wichita (Kan.) in the South Division. Salina is a partial road team in 2017.

Gary takes a bus to all its games. It’s about 16 hours to both Grand Prairie and Winnipeg. There’s usually days off built into he schedule to allow for that kind of travel.

A commuter trip will be added in 2018 when the Rosemont, Ill.-based Chicago Dogs join the league.

RailCats general manager Brian Lyter is in his fifth year on the job after working four seasons in affiliated baseball with the Double-A Arkansas Travelers.

With Tagert handling most of the baseball side of things, Lyter tends mostly to the business side.

Lyter has watched the community embrace the independent baseball model while embracing the amenities at the park.

In a competitive Chicagoland market that offers the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and many other entertainment options, the RailCats draw well with most fans come from northwest Indiana.

Through it’s first 37 openings, Gary was averaging 3,573. That ranked fourth in the league behind St. Paul (8.293), Winnipeg (4,336) and Kansas City (3,984).

Some of the things Lyter appreciates about the American Association is that players have a “little more staying power” and that the product is top notch.

“Some people underestimate the quality of baseball,” says Lyter, who compares the overall level of play to Double-A.

GARYSOUTHSHORERAILCATS

South Bend’s Pieters proudly representing island of Curacao

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball in Curacao has really taken off since Andruw Jones became a big league star in the late 1990’s.

Jones aka “The Curacao Kid” played 17 Major League Baseball seasons with the Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees and paved the way for players from the Caribbean island nation of 150,000.

“Baseball has always been big, but since Andruw Jones got to The League it has gotten even bigger,” says Chris Peters, a pitcher-turned-position player who is working on his diamond future with the Low Class-A Midwest League’s South Bend Cubs. “Scouts started coming over even more looking for talent. I think I can pretty much say baseball is the No. 1 sport (in Curacao) right now.”

The Chicago Cubs signed free agent Pieters to a minor league contract in 2011 and he made his professional pitching debut at 17 in the Dominican Summer League in 2012.

After he went 3-5 with a 7.16 earned run average in 29 games on the mound, Pieters was moved to first base for the 2015 and 2016 seasons and has been used primarily in right field in South Bend.

“As a kid, I always liked hitting,” says Pieters, now 22. “I was very happy when (the Cubs) gave me the chance, the opportunity to become a position player. I’m just going for a dream or a goal which is to get to the big leagues.”

Pieters was a mid-season Northwest League All-Star at Eugene in 2016 while hitting .246 with three home runs, 28 runs batted in and 20 stolen bases in 66 games.

“Speed is one of the biggest parts of my game,” says Pieters.

Through his first 55 games in 2017 (he has spent two stints on the 7-day disabled list), Pieters was hitting .240 with four homers, 21 RBI and nine steals, including .342-1-5-2 in his last 10 games.

“I’ve progressed a lot this season,” says Pieters. “I’ve learned a lot from my coaches. I’m really grateful for them.”

South Bend’s staff includes manager Jimmy Gonzalez, hitting coach Jeremy Farrell, pitching coach Brian Lawrence and assistant coach Jonathan Mota.

Pieters, a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder who bats and throws left-handed, explains his approach at the plate: “Look for my pitch and do damage to it. Don’t get myself out. Go up with a plan, look for a certain pitch and attack it.”

Pieters comes from a place where it is often 90 degrees and humid.  The upper Midwest did not offer that kind of climate in the early part of the season, but it’s been more Curacao-like as the summer has heated up and Pieters is enjoying his time in the River City.

“South Bend is pretty chill,” says Pieters. “Since the cold weather went away, it’s been perfect. I can’t complain.”

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Chris Pieters was signed by the Chicago Cubs as a pitcher in 2011. He is an outfielder with the Low Class-A South Bend Cubs in 2017. (South Bend Cubs Photo)

 

Elkhart’s Strausborger getting fresh start with Twins

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Spring brings with it a chance for a fresh start.

The sense of newness rings especially true for Elkhart native Ryan Strausborger as he heads into his eighth season of professional baseball.

Strausborger, a 2006 Elkhart Memorial High School graduate who hitting a program-record .500 as a senior first-team all-state shortstop honoree by the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association, recently signed with the Minnesota Twins organization. He will spend his first spring training in Florida’s Grapefruit League after knowing nothing but Arizona’s Cactus League.

“I’m excited about it,” Strausborger said. “It’s a big relief knowing I have a chance with a team. That’s all I can ask for.

“I’ll hopefully start in Triple-A (at Rochester, N.Y.).”

The right-handed-hitting outfielder who turns 29 March 4 plans to take the option of getting to Twins camp in Fort Myers early on Feb. 20. That’s well ahead of the March 7 official reporting date for position players (pitchers and catchers get there first).

“I’m anxious to get into the swing of things,” Strausborger said.

The versatile speedster was selected in the 16th round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Texas Rangers organization after a stellar collegiate career at Indiana State University (he was a three-time all-Missouri Valley Conference performer as a second baseman in 2008, utility player in 2009 and outfielder in 2010).

Strausborger worked his way up the Rangers ladder and made his MLB debut with Texas Aug. 5, 2015 and socked his lone big league home run Aug. 16 of that year.

He spent all of 2016 in the minor leagues and was traded to the Seattle Mariners organization near the end of 2016 and hit .153 with two homers, 11 RBI and six stolen bases in 40 games at Triple-A Tacoma.

Strausborger chooses to see the positives.

“I’m thankful to the Mariners for the opportunity,” Strausborger said. “I met a lot of awesome people and took away a lot of good things.

“I just didn’t show what I bring to the table. I have nobody to blame but myself.”

Having moved from the Rangers to the Mariners, he had already experienced one transition and now he’s getting ready for another after the Twins reached out to Bob Garber, Strausborger’s agent, and showed interest.

The Twins are bringing Strausborger in as an outfielder, but he plans to let the right people know about his utility abilities and hopes to get in some infield reps.

When Strausborger was with the Rangers, former minor league manager and big league coach Steve Buechele took note of his talents.

“He has that one tool that’s unique to the game and it’s valuable,” Buechele said. “It’s speed and he uses that to play good, solid defense and it helps him offensively. It’s a big part of his game.”

Casey Candaele, who was then minor league field coordinator, also praised Strausborger.

“He plays the game right,” Candaele said. “He’s a hard-nosed guy. He has tools that play.”

While he won’t know too many faces, a couple of Strausborger’s former teammates in the Rangers organization — catcher Chris Gimenez and relief pitcher Nick Tepesch and — are now with the Twins.

Since the end of the 2016 season, Strausborger has gotten to play rounds of golf with his dad, Mike, and to practice the acoustic guitar (picking up pointers on YouTube), while splitting his time between Indiana and Texas.

Off-season training has been devoted to strength and conditioning.

“You want to get as strong as you can and go into the season strong and injury free,” Strausborger said.

Winter months have also been consumed with plenty of batting practice. He even got a chance to share his hitting knowledge in a camp put on by the South Bend Cubs Performance Center. His career has had him traveling too much to give lessons on a regular basis, but he can see himself giving back to the game more in that way after he retires.

During his rise through the baseball ranks, he’s noticed the difference in levels comes down to three things — speed of the game, experience and talent.

“Everybody’s good at this level,” Strausborger said. “Everybody’s here for a reason.”

Right now, he’s enjoying the pro baseball experience.

“I’m happy and I’m blessed,” Strausborger said. “Looking back on it, there’s nothing I would change. I love what I get to do for a living and a job and you can’t ask for more than that.”

Once in awhile, Strausborger might find himself glancing back to his high school days or even to the summers on Elkhart’s Cleveland Little League diamonds.

“It helps you clear your head a little bit,” Strausborger said. “You remember that this game has to be fun.”

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Ryan Strausborger, seen running the bases for the Texas Rangers, is now in the Minnesota Twins organization. (Getty Images)