By STEVE KRAH
Aaron Ernst is experiencing professional baseball for the first time.
The 24-year-old right-handed pitcher from Carmel, Ind., reported two weeks ago to the Tri-City ValleyCats — a Frontier League team in Troy, N.Y. The MLB partner league club is to begin the 2023 regular season Friday, May 12 at home against Trois-Rivieres.
Ernst also received an invitation from the Evansville (Ind.) Otters in the same league, but decided to go to New York on the recommendation of friends who had played in Tri-City for manager Pete Incaviglia.
“Pete’s a good guy,” says Ernst of the former big league slugger. “He’s a players’ coach.”
Ernst, who is classified as Rookie-1 by Frontier League eligibility rules, also works with ValleyCats pitching coach Brooks Carey, a former pro pitcher with plenty of managing and coaching on his resume.’ He was pitching coach at Evansville in 2012.
“He’s a great guy, too,” sats Ernst. “I enjoy the coaches, the team and everything about it.”
So how did Ernst get to this point?
After two seasons of not playing while recuperating from Tommy John surgery (Ulnar Lateral Ligament reconstruction), Ernst pitched in 2022 at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.
“I started off the year well and got banged up a little bit,” says Ernst.
The righty was the Opening Day starter for the Alex Sogard-coached Raiders and made 10 mound appearances (five starts) and went 1-1 with an 8.41 earned run average, 30 strikeouts and 19 walks in 20 1/3 innings while also making the Horizon League Academic Honor Roll.
Ernst graduated with a Business degree concentrating on Marketing and is well on his way toward getting a Masters of Business Administration.
His first two college seasons (2018 and 2019) were spent at the University of Dayton, where he made 23 appearances (15 starts) and was 4-11 with a 5.48 ERA, 70 strikeouts and 41 walks in 88 2/3 innings. He was named to the Atlantic 10 Conference All-Freshman Team in 2018.
In the summers after those two seasons at Dayton, Ernst went with the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Richmond (Ind.) Jazz in 2018 and New England Collegiate League’s Upper Valley (Vt.) Nighthawks in 2019. He did not play in the summer of 2022.
Ernst transferred to Wright State in 2020 and was required to sit out what turned out to be a season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
While working out at home during quarantine, he tore his UCL and was soon on the operating table and unable to pitch in 2021.
His pro career looks to begin with Ernst as a bullpen arm.
“I’m definitely a reliever right now,” says Ernst. “But I’m open to whatever I’m asked to do.”
Throwing from an over-the-top arm slot, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Ernst employs a four-seam fastball, change-up, slider and curveball.
In recent weeks, his four-seamer has been regular-clocked between 92 to 95 mph and sometimes touching 96.
Not quite a “circle” change, that pitch drops.
When it’s right the slider is in the low to mid-80s and has late and sharp break.
The curve is at 80 mph or below with late 12-to-6 movement.
When Ernst is Indiana during the off-season, he works out at Pro-X Athlete Development in Westfield and gets pointers from Jay Lehr.
When in Dayton, Ernst gives lessons and trains at Pauer Sports Performance.
Growing up in Carmel, Ernst was with the Carmel Dads Club, Carmel Pups and Indiana Bulls in his early years. He then went with the Indiana Aces (Lehr’s organization) and played on a team coached by Brad Pearson.
Ernst went back to the Indiana Bulls for his 17U summer and played for Sean Laird. He was with the Jay Hundley-coached 18U Indiana Blue Jays before heading to the Jayson King-coached Dayton Flyers.
A 2017 graduate of Carmel High School, Ernst’s head coach as a senior was Matt Buczkowski. Before that is was Dan Roman.
Aaron is the second of two boys born to Allen and Carmen Ernst. Allen is a salesman. Carmen is in health care. Older brother Addison Ernst is a Purdue University graduate and an engineer in the Grand Rapids, Mich., area.