Tag Archives: Tommy John surgery

Motus Baseball technology aimed at injury prevention, performance improvement

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Over-use in baseball has led to many injuries and countless hours on the operating table.

Will Carroll, a former Bleacher Report and FanDuel writer who has been tracking athletic injuries for the past two decades, says that 30 percent of Major League Baseball pitchers end up with the tell-tale scare of reconstructive surgery on their elbow.

“Teams, through no fault of their own, are ramping up pitchers wrong and overextending these guys,” says Carroll, who resides in the Indianapolis area. “There were like 106 Tommy John surgeries at the professional level (majors and minors) in 2016. That’s just too many.

“This is a problem in baseball without any solution. We have a chance to really make a dent in it and maybe reverse it.

“Most people don’t understand the forces they’re putting on their elbow. Ask a player, ‘How many times did you throw?’ The player has no idea. Coaches have even less of an idea.”

But what if these throws could be tracked and the subsequent injuries could be prevented while also improving performance?

That’s the idea behind a product from Motus Baseball that tracks every throw and calculates arm stress and throwing workload.

Motus, founded in 2010 and headquartered in New Jersey, makes biomechanics accessible to athletes and more with clinical-grade motion capture data.

A lightweight sensor is placed into a Motus Baseball compression sleeve and data is collected as the player goes about his daily routine — warm-up, bullpen, long toss, game action.

“It is a product that demos itself and manages itself,” says Carroll, who has joined the Motus team as chief storyteller. “All you have to do is put it on.”

With the aim of protecting young arms, the IHSAA adopted a pitch count rules (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) in 2017.

Carroll says this approach is better than nothing.

“There are better measures,” says Carroll. “We think there’s a smarter way to do it.”

Motus wearable technology can help track fatigue and show that a pitcher’s arm is dropping.

Before, when a coach suspected this, the exchange would go something like this:

Coach: “How do you feel son?”

Pitcher: “I’m fine, coach.”

“They’ve lied to us for 100 years,” says Carroll. “This is demonstrably better.”

Carroll sees the hesitation of those who see this as another baseball gimmick.

“It’s a tool,” says Carroll. “Gimmicks are just tricks. This isn’t a trick, it’s data and it’s powerful data.”

This data is being used all over baseball and is endorsed by New York Yankees right-hander Dellin Betances.

The University of Indianapolis has started using it and head coach Gary Vaught reported at the 2018 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches State Clinic in Indianapolis that he is more than pleased with the early results.

“I haven’t heard a college coach get more excited about something,” says Carroll of Vaught. “This is the big thing. Arm injuries will kill baseball if we don’t fix it. He took a big leap of faith once he saw it.

“I haven’t seen a team buy in like that and I think they’re going to see the results.”

It’s not just UIndy pitchers using the Motus product. The Greyhounds also have sensors for all their hitters.

Since the state clinic in January, Carroll has watched Indiana high school programs like Center Grove and Carmel begin to use Motus and he has a list of schools that want him to visit.

“When Center Grove and Carmel get something, everybody else is going to want it,” says Carroll. “We think we’ll have 10 or 15 by the time school starts and 100 by next year.”

The tool becomes even more effective in the hands of knowledge coaches.

“This is going to make the best coaches better,” says Carroll. “They can make quicker adjustments. At worst, it will be an early warning system for some coaches.”

Carroll says customer services is important to Motus.

“We don’t sell a product and forget you,” says Carroll. “We don’t change what you’re doing. We want to enhance what you’re doing.”

Motus team members, including Carroll, will help teams analyze the data and essentially serve as part of their medical staff.

“It’s like they just hired five new assistant coaches,” says Carroll.

And it’s not just at the high school level where this will make an impact.

“It’s the younger guys that will pick this up, adjust and use the data that they’re getting,” says Carroll. “This is going to grow from the bottom up.”

Understanding this data will only help them when it comes time to talk with college recruiters and pro scouts.

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New York Yankees right-hander Dellin Betances is a Motus Baseball athlete. (Motus Photo)

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A lightweight sensor is placed into a Motus Baseball compression sleeve and data is collected as the player goes about his daily routine — warm-up, bullpen, long toss, game action. (Motus Photo)

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The Motus Baseball sensor is small, but helps collect much useful data. (Motus Photo)

 

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Hagerstown graduate Bartlett looks back on Mizzou diamond days, first year of pro baseball

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Effective pitching can be compared to real estate.

It’s all about location, location, location.

Cole Bartlett learned to locate his two-seam fastball more during his final college baseball season and carried it over into his first professional campaign.

Bartlett, a 6-foot-2 right-hander and 2013 Hagerstown (Ind.) High School graduate, finished up his playing days at the University of Missouri and was selected in the 25th round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“I was able to locate that fastball more,” says Bartlett, who also throws a circle change-up and curve ball. “It’s something I really worked on at Mizzou with (pitching) coach (Patrick) Hallmark.”

After four varsity seasons at Hagerstown, including winning 10 games as a senior, Bartlett appeared in two contests as a Missouri freshman in 2014. That summer, he pitched for the Sedalia (Mo.) Bombers of the MINK League. He tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching arm and had Tommy John reconstructive surgery August 2014.

Rehabilitation time kept him off the mound for about a year. He was a medical redshirt at Missouri in the spring of 2015 and resumed pitching in practices and intrasquad games that fall.

Bartlett went 3-5 with three saves and a 3.90 earned run average, 26 strikeouts and 11 walks in 55 1/3 innings over 31 appearances (28 in relief) in 2016. That summer, he pitched for the Plymouth Pilgrims in the Northeast Collegiate Baseball League.

In 2017, he went 6-3 with a 3.19 ERA, 53 strikeouts and 22 walks 79 innings over 19 appearances (14 in relief).

After the draft, he made one-inning stint with Arizona League Diamondbacks then was sent to the Missoula Osprey of the short-season Pioneer League. He went 1-0 with four saves and a 2.53 ERA, 30 strikeouts and four walks in 32 innings over 21 appearances (all in relief).

“It went pretty well,” says Bartlett of his first pro season. “I put put up some good numbers, got good experience and gained a lot of knowledge.”

One thing he learned is that the tempo of the game is faster in the minors than it is in college — even in the ultra-competitive Southeastern Conference.

“In college, we played more small ball and bunted runners over,” says Bartlett. “Pro ball is really not like that. Everyone is swinging the majority of the time.”

It also becomes more serious when players begin getting paid to play.

“Everything is on you,” says Bartlett. “if you don’t want to get better that’s on you. You really have to take initiative of your own career.”

Since Bartlett had already logged a substantial amount of innings in the spring, the Diamondbacks restricted his use in the summer. The rule for him and other rookies was one day of rest for each inning thrown.

“I was pretty max effort every time I went out there, especially out of the pen,” says Bartlett. “I would sit 88 to 92 mph. My fastball gets a lot of movement. It’s basically a sinker.”

Hallmark was his pitching coach at Missouri for one season. Former Tigers head coach Tim Jamieson handled the pitchers in Bartlett’s second and third seasons and Matt Hobbs was pitching coach his freshman year.

“(Hobbs) told me, ‘Never turn your back to the hitter. Show them you’re confident,” says Bartlett. “(Jamieson) worked with me on my change-up.”

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Lloyd Michael was Hagerstown head coach in Bartlett’s freshman campaign before Brad Catey took over the program.

Bartlett remembers that Michael believed in discipline.

“We had to run strong to first base and do everything right,” says Bartlett. “That’s what stuck with me.”

A catcher and shortstop when he was not pitching, Bartlett remembers that Catey liked to play small ball.

Being a pitcher only, he never got a chance to hit at Missouri.

Did he miss it?

“I did,” says Bartlett. “But after seeing guys throw 100, I was OK with not hitting.”

Bartlett played from T-ball through age 12 at Hagerstown Little League then with the Centerville (Ind.) Yard Dogs travel team. He attracted the attention of the Dayton (Ohio) Classics and was asked to try out. He ended up playing for them in the summer the rest of his high school days.

The youngest of Charlie and Rhonda Bartlett’s three children, Cole earned a degree in agribusiness management at Missouri.

“I’ll fall into that once baseball is done,” says the 23-year-old.

Brother Lex, who is four years older than Cole and a former Hagerstown baseball player, earned an agribusiness management degree at Purdue University and now works for Crop Production Services in Williamsburg, Ind., near Hagerstown. The Bartlett boys grew up on a 600-acre farm.

Their sister, Connor Allen, attended Indiana University-Bloomingtoin and IU-East in Richmond is now an elementary teacher in the Shenandoah (Ind.) school system.

Cole is spending the off-season in Longmont, Colo., the hometown of fiancee Sophia Mastronardi (a 2017 Mizzou graduate).

He has been working out and recently began throwing at Extra Innings Longmont as he prepares to report for spring training in Glendale, Ariz.

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Cole Bartlett, a graduate of Hagerstown High School and the University of Missouri, is now a pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization. (Missoula Osprey Photo)

New Albany graduate Rogers stays in control as pitcher in Yankees organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Josh Rogers gets paid to throw a baseball now.

But the left-handed pitcher in the New York Yankees system is still following the advice of his head coach at New Albany High School.

Rogers was advised by Chris McIntyre to focus on the mental side of the game and things he can control and not to worry about those he can’t.

“It’s stuck with me,” says Rogers, who counts McIntyre as a good friend. “It’s like wanting to move up the ladder in the Yankees organization. I had been playing well in Tampa for so long.”

But Rogers knows that is the Yankees’ call.

After going 4-3 in eight starts with a 2.22 earned run average, 51 strikeouts and eight walks in 52 2/3 innings with the High Class-A Tampa Yankees (recently renamed the Tarpons), the southpaw starter did get the call in late May of 2017 to advance to the Double-A Trenton Thunder.

Before a bone spur ended his season on June 28, Rogers went 4-2 in seven starts with a 4.62 ERA, 29 K’s and eight walks in 39 innings.

“It’s been a long off-season for me,” says Rogers, who has been working out at the Katy Hearn Gym in New Albany and resumed throwing about three weeks ago in preparation for a Jan. 12 arrival at spring camp in Tampa. “I’m definitely going early. I’m comfortable with the Yankees staff. I hope to get an invite to big league camp this year.”

As a youngster, Rogers played in the New Albany Little League. Prior to his days at New Albany High School, his team came within one win of going to the Little league World Series in Williamsport, Pa., losing in the finals of the 2007 Great Lakes Regional.

For the next three summers, he played for the Indiana Prospects elite travel ball organization.

As a New Albany High Bulldog, he went 24-2 with a 1.07 ERA and 259 strikeouts.

He had already chosen the University of Louisville over Vanderbilt University prior to his senior season, which wound up lasting only a few innings in the first game of the season.

Rogers felt a twinge in his left elbow.

“I knew something wasn’t right,” says Rogers, who wound up having Tommy John reconstructive surgery. He graduated from New Albany June 2 and enrolled in summer school at Louisville the next day. He worked out twice a day and rehabbed his arm.

“It was a real grind,” says Rogers. “But it paid off. I came back sooner than we expected.”

The 6-foot-3 lefty was able to pitch for the Cardinals about a month into the 2014 season. He made 14 mound appearances (nine starts) and went 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA, 47 strikeouts and 12 walks in 52 innings.

Rogers then spent the first of two straight summers with the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod League.

“That’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball,” says Rogers, who was a combined 4-1 in nine starts with a 3.60 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 18 walks in 45 1/3 innings in 2014 and 2015. “The best players in college baseball are all in that league.”

Rogers earned second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors and his second all-Louisville Regional selection in 2015, going 8-1 in 16 starts with a 3.36 ERA, 82 strikeouts and 25 walks in 93 2/3 innings.

At the Louisville, Rogers played for head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

Rogers credits McDonnell for his leadership and getting him ready for the challenge of pro baseball.

“It’s impressive the way he lives his life,” says Rogers of McDonnell. “He takes advantage of every single minute to make people better.

“When you go to the University of Louisville, you know what you’re getting into. It’s not an easy journey. You’ve got to earn that playing time.

“You also learn how to eat right, work out right and sleep right. These are things that have gone a long way into helping me with my career to this point.”

Rogers retired many a high school hitter with his breaking ball. In college, Williams convinced him that was not the way to go at higher levels.

“He’s the No. 1 reason I chose the University of Louisville,” says Rogers of Williams. “Hitters were at such a disadvantage when I threw a curve in high school. I thought that would carry over to college or professional baseball. (Williams taught me) a well-located fastball is the best pitch in baseball. Coach Williams really taught me how to pitch.”

Being draft-eligible after his sophomore season, the lefty was selected in the 11th round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Yankees and signed with area scout Mike Gibbons.

Rogers split the 2015 season with the short-season Staten Island Yankees and Low Class-A Charlestown (S.C.) RiverDogs then 2016 with Charleston and Tampa. In those first two pro seasons, he went 14-6 in 29 appearances (24 starts) with a 2.71 ERA, 131 strikeouts and 25 walks in 139 2/3 innings.

Josh (23) is he oldest child in a family of five. Bobby and Eldora also have Haley (21) and Chase (12). The family was able to watch Josh pitch in-person plenty when he was at Louisville and they have gotten to see him a few times in each of his pro seasons.

Rogers is 38 credits shy of a sport administration degree at Louisville.

“I promised my parents and Coach Mac that I will get my degree,” says Rogers. “I’ll keep chipping away at it.”

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Rogers looks to command his pitch selection of fastball (thrown as a four- or two-seamer or cutter), slider and change-up. When he was moved up to Double-A, he was convinced to throw the fastball even more frequently — maybe 65 percent of the time.

Rogers spent many an hour in the bullpen with Tampa pitching coach Tim Norton learning to develop the change-up and making mechanical delivery tweaks. The two also battled it out on the golf course.

“It’s a pretty cool relationship,” says Rogers. “You don’t call them ‘Coach’ in pro ball, just their name.”

While the Yankees certainly take an interest in the development of a player, he knows the responsibility ultimately lies with that player.

“It’s your career,” says Rogers. “If you’re not ready and slacking, it’s up to you.

“The Yankees do a lot of job of giving people equal opportunity. It just may take longer to someone that is a higher draft pick that they’ve given more money to.

If you control what you can control and focus on helping your team win every time out, the chips will fall where they’re supposed to.”

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Josh Rogers, a 2013 New Albany High School graduate who pitched two seasons at the University of Louisville and was drafted in 2015 by the New York Yankees, delivers a pitch in 2017 for the Double-A Trenton Thunder. (Trenton Thunder Photo)

 

 

After elbow procedure, Penn graduate Szynski working his way back in Athletics system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Skylar Szynski has not delivered a pitch in a regular-season baseball game for more than a year.

A tear in his right elbow — the first major injury of his diamond life — cropped up near the end of preseason camp.

“I was feeling good all through spring training,” says Szynski, the former Penn High School standout and Oakland Athletics minor leaguer. “I threw my (simulated) game (and the arm began to hurt).

“I’ve been sore. But that’s regular soreness.”

An examination revealed the damage.

As a high schooler, he had originally accepted a scholarship offer to play at Indiana University or the $1 million signing bonus that came with being taken in the fourth round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Athletics.

At Penn, he won 27 career games (20 as a junior and senior), including the 2015 IHSAA Class 4A state championship (a 3-2 win for Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Greg Dikos and the Kingsmen against Terre Haute North).

The hard-throwing righty opted to go pro and saw limited action the summer in the rookie-level Arizona League.

On an innings restriction limit coming off his senior high school season, Szynski appeared in seven games (all starts) in a month with the Arizona League Athletics. His professional debut came was June 29. He gave up three hits and four runs in 1/3 of an inning. He went on to log 13 1/3 innings, going 0-3 with an 8.10 earned run average, eight strikeouts and four walks.

After a short break, he went back to Arizona to throw bullpen sessions in the fall instructional league.

It had been hoped that rest would allow him to continue without surgery. But that was not possible.

Now, Szynski had another decision to make.

Would he have right-arm ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (Tommy John surgery) or repair?

Szynski chose UCL repair — which generally has a recovery time half as long a reconstruction.

Decoding against a stem-cell shot, collagen tape was wrapped around the repaired elbow and then the pitcher started on his journey to get back in the game.

The last few months, Szynski has been at Oakland’s spring training complex in Arizona for five-days-a-week rehabilitation program.

“It’s going pretty good,” says Szynski. “I work on shoulder strength and have soft tissue massage on my elbow and forearm.”

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Szynski and a half dozen others are led by Athletics pitching rehab coordinator Craig Lefferts, a former big league pitcher. This week, they moved from 60 to 75 feet to play catch.

Lefferts watches Szynski and company to make sure they are using the proper mechanics and not overdoing it.

“We’re throwing around 65 mph,” says Szynski, who goes through arm care protocol with shoulder and elbow movement after these sessions. That is followed by working out, 10 minutes in the cold tub and a consultation with trainers.

When Szynski is in Indiana (he lives in Granger with parents Brent and Robin and little brothers — sophomore Camryn and eighth grader Bradyn), he is a regular at Sharpley Training in Elkhart.

Former Notre Dame baseball and football player Evan Sharpley pushes Skylar to the limit.

“Everyday is brutal,” says Szynski. “There’s no easy days at Sharpley’s.”

At 6-foot-2, Szynski has been looking to put more weight on his frame and get to around 215 or 220.

“That should help with my durability,” says Szynski, who was at 207 as a Penn senior.

Szynski throws both a four- and two-seam fastball, circle change-up and curve.

“The change is the pitch I need to work on the most,” says Szynski, who turned 20 on July 14. “I need to throw more strikes with that. In high school, I really didn’t need it. Here, you need three pitchers or better to succeed.”

Szynski says the Athletics sees his breaker as more of a slider. He is trying to fine tune the pitch and get more break downward and less sweeping action.

Plans call for Szynski to come back to Indiana for Christmas and New Year before he heads back to Arizona and resumes getting ready for spring training and the 2018 season.

“I should be game ready toward the end of spring training if everything works out,” says Szynski. “I’ll probably be in extended spring training to get some innings in.”

From there, he hopes to be once again standing on a mound in a regular-season game. It could happen close to home. The Athletics’ Low Class-A team is the Beloit (Wis.) Snappers. Beloit is slated to visit the South Bend Cubs July 11-13.

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Skylar Szynski delivers a pitch for the Arizona League Athletics during the summer of 2016. The 2016 Penn High School graduate had elbow surgery and missed the entire 2017 season. He is working his way back for 2018. (Robin Szynski Photo)

 

Crown Point’s Plesac in Indians system making up for lost time

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Plesac’s true introduction to professional baseball was delayed.

The Crown Point native spent the spring and summer of 2017 making up for time lost.

Plesac, a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher, was selected out of Ball State University in the 12th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

Two months before that life-altering June event, he underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery on his pitching arm, ending his college mound days and making the rest of the year about rehabilitation rather than facing batters.

At Ball State, Plesac had been splitting his time between pitcher, outfielder and designated hitter as a junior.

Head coach Rich Maloney brought Plesac to Muncie.

“He believed in me,” says Plesac. “I thought I was going to play a position and maybe pitch a little.”

When Plesac set a school single-season record for victories while going 12-2 with a 2.11 earned run average, 67 strikeouts and 33 walks in 85 1/3 innings and 25 appearances (six starts) as a freshman in 2014, his mound profile increased.

In 2015, he went 5-5 with 3.27 ERA, 77 strikeouts and 38 walks in 107 1/3 innings and 16 appearances (all starts). Since he could swing the bat, he was also used as an outfielder, DH and first baseman.

The came his junior season in 2016.

Mostly from the No. 5 hole in the order, he hit .304 with 15 runs batted in. As the Cardinals’ Friday night starter, he pitched in 11 games (eight as a starter) and was 3-2 with a 4.25 ERA and a nine-inning shutout against Miami University of Ohio.

“The next morning, I could not throw a baseball,” says Plesac. “I knew something was wrong.”

His next start came against Central Michigan and Plesac was still not feeling normal. A check of his arm revealed a partial tear.

Now he was faced with the decision of getting the surgery right away or staying in the lineup as a hitter.

“As much as I wanted to play, I didn’t want to be hurt,” says Plesac. “I had to do what was best for my career.”

While he was working his way back post-surgery in Arizona, he began taking online classes. He kept it up all season and has earned a general studies major with three minors (communication, psychology of human development and sociology).

“Now I can go into 2018 season and  focus on playing ball with no nervousness (about school),” says Plesac, who is scheduled to walk in BSU winter commencement ceremonies Dec. 16.

Plesac finally walked up on a pro mound in game action in 2017 extended spring training action against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

A witness to the event was Chris Fetter. He had been Ball State’s pitching coach and had become a pitching coordinator for the Dodgers.

“That’s my boy. He’s the man to me. He’s a mentor,” says Plesac of Fetter, who is now pitching coach at the University of Michigan. “He was there on the last pitch of my college career and first pitch of my professional career.”

Plesac was first assigned to the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the short-season New York-Penn League. He went 0-1 with a 1.38 ERA for the Niles, Ohio-based club and made eight appearances (seven as a starter), starting with limitation of three innings.

After Mahoning Valley came a stint with six starts for the Low Class-A Midwest League with the Lake County Captains. He went 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA for the team in Eastlake, Ohio. By season’s end, he was up to five innings or 60 pitches. He wound up the season with 50 strikeouts and 14 walks in 51 total innings.

“Finding the (strike) zone was a big key for me,” says Plesac. “That’s what I wanted to work on. If I can find the zone, it doesn’t matter how hard I’m throwing. I could be effective.”

Plesac used his fastball most in 2017, followed by his change-up (which became his most-effective pitch), slider and curve. He saw his velocity return and he was regularly hitting the gun at 91 to 94 mph with his fast one.

“I had so much confidence,” says Plesac. “I felt ready. I didn’t feel like I was a year behind.

“I’m coming out max effort. You have to be smart with how you pitch. Max effort doesn’t mean you lose control. I’m so comfortable. I’m just trusting in God.”

The righty is happy to say he goes into 2018 with no innings restrictions.

“I’ve put in the work,” says Plesac. “I’ve got good routine to help me keep moving forward.

“Daily, I’m growing and becoming wiser about the game.”

Plesac views his time since starting in pro ball as a period of personal growth.

In college, he was on a schedule based on practices and what the coaches dictated. As a pro, he has been able to take the reigns of his schedule.

“It’s really fun,” says Plesac. “The people I’ve met have changed my life.”

He is pleased to be going through the journey with the Indians.

“I fell into best organization,” says Plesac. “They know how to treat people. This (delayed start) has been a blessing — to be honest.”

Plesac is in the same organization with Elkhart Central High School graduate and left-handed hurler Tanner Tully. The two were roommates for the 2013 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series and both play in the Area Code Games.

Since the 2017 season wrapped, Plesac has been able to spend time in Los Angeles where girlfriend and former BSU diver Quinn Bixler is in graduate school at Loyola Marymount University and working out with Jordan Smolar at NWI Performance in Crown Point.

A a Crown Point High School athlete, Plesac earned three letters in baseball and helped the Steve Strayer-coached Bulldogs to a 27-4 record in his senior season of 2013 and to sectional and regional titles in 2011. He also claimed two letters each in football and basketball.

Strayer made an impact on Plesac then and still does.

“He groomed me into who I am as a baseball player and a man,” says Plesac. “I can remember when I was freshman practicing with the other kids. I was at third base. I made a bad throw to first and I said, ‘it slipped.’ He told me, ‘don’t make excuses ever.’

“Now I don’t make excuses for anything happens. You can’t get caught up in that. I’ve been able to go to Coach Strayer for all types of things. He’s been a good person in my life. He’s always helped me out.”

Plesac who turns 23 Jan. 21, is also taking the time to catch up with family.

Ron and Jeannie Plesac have three children — twins Zach and Ronnie (Zach is 10 minutes older) and Frankie (15).

Ronnie Plesac pitched at Parkland College in Illinois and State College of Florida. Frankie Plesac is a Crown Point sophomore ballplayer.

Uncle Dan Plesac pitched 18 years in the majors and is now an on-air regular with MLB Network.

“He’s there for me whenever I need him,” says Zach of man who in the IHSBCA Hall of Fame and won 65 games and saved 158 for the Milwaukee Brewers, Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies.

The pitcher plans to attend a strength camp in January before heading back to Arizona for spring training.

“I’ve caught myself up ability-wise,” says Plesac. “I’m ready to rock.”

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Zach Plesac, a 2013 Crown Point High School graduate, made his pro baseball debut in 2017 with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers. The right-handed pitcher was drafted in 2016 by the Cleveland Indians and spent the season rehabbing from Tommy John reconstructive surgery. He pitched three seasons at Ball State University (2014-16). (Mahoning Valley Scrappers Photo)

 

Right-hander Ruxer doing his baseball homework

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

As a finance and accounting double major at the University of Louisville, Jared Ruxer studied figures as they relate to business.

“I’ve always liked numbers,” says Ruxer, a 2011 graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis.

Now that his business is baseball — he is a 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization — Ruxer is examining concepts like Spin Rate and Extension that are a part of TrackMan or Statcast technology.

According to MLB.com, a pitcher’s Spin Rate (SR) “represents the rate of spin on a baseball after it is released. It is measured in revolutions per minute. The amount of spin on a pitch changes its trajectory.”

For Extension (EXT), “a pitcher must begin his throwing motion while standing on the pitching rubber — which is 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate. This does not mean pitches are actually thrown from 60 feet, 6 inches away from the plate.

“The point at which a pitcher releases the ball is actually a few feet closer to home plate than the pitching rubber itself. Extension quantifies exactly how much closer a pitcher’s release point is to home plate.”

The higher EXT the better and the less time the hitter has to react to the pitch.

“I’ve been looking at the TrackMan data and getting an understanding of that and how to apply it,” says Ruxer, 25. “I’m getting more into the biomechanics of pitching. I’m also learning to manage the running game better and getting really good at PFP’s (Pitcher Fielding Practice) and things like that.”

Ruxer was chosen in the 29th round of the 2011 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and did not sign, opting to go to Louisville. He pitched for the Cardinals 2012-14.

He was named Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America, National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association All-America, Big East Conference Rookie of the Year and third-team all-Big East while making 16 mound appearances (14 starts) and going 8-3 with a 3.38 earned run average, 32 strikeouts and 15 walks in 77 1/3 innings.

As a sophomore in 2013, he made 19 appearances (seven starts) with a 0-1 mark and a 5.63 ERA, 35 strikeouts and 21 walks in 38 1/3 innings. Louisville went 51-14 and played in the 2013 College World Series.

Ruxer’s junior campaign in 2014 saw him make 13 starts and go 7-1 with a 2.27 ERA with 68 strikeouts in 75 1/3 innings before an elbow injury ended his season. He named second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference. The Cardinals (51-15) returned to Omaha for the 2014 College World Series.

Two days before the 2014 MLB draft, Ruxer underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and did not pitch that summer. In the fall, he went back to Louisville and complete his degree.

The righty made his first professional pitch until 2015 with the rookie-level Orem Owlz. That initial season back, he worked 29 2/3 innings over 14 appearances (11 starts) and was 0-3 with a 4.85 ERA, 33 strikeouts and 11 walks.

“That first short season was tough,” says Ruxer. “It definitely took awhile (to bounce back from surgery). I didn’t feel like I was a 100 percent and back to myself until 18 months later. I had to pitch through it.

“I had to learn how to pitch a little more because I didn’t have all my velocity back yet.”

Ruxer split the 2016 season between the Low Class-A Burlington Bees and High Class-A Inland Empire 66ers, combining for a 4-8 record, 3.08 ERA and 29 appearances (19 starts) with 99 strikeouts and 31 walks over 111 innings.

The first full pro season was also when he was introduced to the TrackMan data.

Knowing the Angels were using it as an evaluation tool, Ruxer began doing his homework and studied ways to improve his numbers and performance.

He found that change could be made through grip, arm action and some minor mechanical cues.

“Some days the ball has a little more carry. Some days it has a little more sink on it,” says Ruxer. “You make adjustments based on that.”

On Dec. 1, 2016, the Angels traded Ruxer to the Royals. He spent most of the 2017 season with the High Class-A Wilmington Rocks, going 5-7 with a 3.45 ERA in 24 appearances (17) starts with 84 strikeouts and 29 walks in 109 2/3 innings.

In three games (one start) and six innings with the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals, he was 0-0 with a 16.50 ERA, one strikeout and seven walks.

Ruxer says the differences in the way he was handled by the two organizations is very slight.

“The Angels were very hands-off,” says Ruxer. “It was on me.

“The Royals were a little more proactive.”

While player development staff are there to help, Ruxer has learned that how players progress in pro baseball is largely up to them.

“It’s going on our stat sheet,” says Ruxer.

The Royals sent Ruxer to the 2017 Arizona Fall League to work on a breaking ball and he relieved in nine contests with the Surprise Saguaros. He went 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA. In 12 innings, he had 12 strikeouts and nine walks.

More than three years removed from Tommy John surgery, Ruxer is back to letting it rip on the mound.

“I’m pretty high-effort now,” says Ruxer. “I’m not holding anything back. I get a lot more results when I do that.

“There’s no reason to leave anything in the tank. There’s not too much thinking ahead. You’ve got to get the guy out standing in the box and the rest is secondary.”

Looking to his diamond past, Ruxer played in the Fall Creek Little League, where he was a teammate of current Texas Rangers minor league pitcher David Ledbetter.

Ruxer played travel ball for the Indiana Prospects at age 12 and for the Indiana Bulls at 13 and 17. From 14 to 16, he was with the Indiana Braves, a team father Jim helped organize.

At 18, Ruxer was with the Midland Redskins in Ohio. The summers after his freshmen and sophomore seasons at Louisville, he hurled for the Wareham Gatemen of the Cape Cod League.

In his three seasons at Louisville, Ruxer learned from head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.

“(McDonnell) taught me about managing the running game, PFP’s and was a stickler for bunt defense,” says Ruxer. “(Williams) called all the (pitches). I liked that. We could just go out there and pitch and just worry about our stuff. He did all his homework on the hitters. I trusted him. I didn’t shake off too much.”

While catchers in the minor leagues are allowed to develop their pitch-calling abilities, Ruxer notes that almost all pitches in major college baseball are called by coaches.

“Their job’s on the line. They want to control the game,” says Ruxer. “I get it. They have time to read up on the hitters. You are a student-athlete. There a lot of things going on. We can’t afford to lose games.”

Ruxer played three varsity seasons at Lawrence Central. He went 5-2 as a sophomore, 6-1 as a junior and 6-1 as a senior with a total of 155 strikeouts. His final high school season saw him earned all-state, all-Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference and all-Marion County honors.

Dan Roman (who is now head coach at Brownsburg High School) led the program when Ruxer was with the LC Bears.

“That was a blast,” says Ruxer. “Dan was awesome. “When it came to pitching, he showed me how to pitch to certain hitters and about reading the hitters’ swings. I learned how to attract hitters and started learning how to manage the running game.”

After an extended 2017 season, Ruxer managed to get away for some vacation and quality time with family — father Jim in a Certified Public Accountant, mother Lisa is a recently-retired as a physical education teacher at Carmel High School and younger sister Addie is life science recruiter in Chicago after graduating from Indiana University.

Ruxer will spend the rest of the off-season working out in Indianapolis. He has trained at both St. Vincent Sports Performance and the new Pro X Athlete Development. Former MLB pitcher Joe Thatcher is involved with Pro X.

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Jared Ruxer, a Lawrence Central High School and University of Louisville graduate, is a right-handed pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization. (Wilmington Blue Rocks Photo)

 

Pirates approach attracts Hickerson back to coaching

rbilogosmall

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Baseball is about pitching, hitting and fielding.

But it goes deeper than that for Bryan Hickerson.

When Hickerson finished his last assignment in an 18-year stint in baseball-related ministry, he went looking for a job in professional or college baseball.

Through his work with Unlimited Potential Inc. — based in Winona Lake, Ind. — Hickerson had gotten to know folks in the Pirates organization through former Personal Development Coordinator Anthony Telford and spent as much time as he could the Bucs at various levels.

Hickerson, a former University of Minnesota left-hander who pitched for nine pro seasons and went 21-21 with the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies from 1991-95, and moved to the Warsaw area in 2001 to begin his work with UPI, helped coach during the 2015 season at Winona Lake-based Grace College.

He last coached professionals in 1997 with Bakersfield and 1998 with San Jose in the Giants system.

“There are more analytics now then when I coached then,” says Hickerson, 54. “But the biggest difference is in me and not the game itself. In my perspective, it’s about people and developing trust and relationships with the people you work with. The Pirates are big on that. That’s what attracted me to the organization.

“Baseball is baseball. Who you get to do it with makes all the difference.”

Hickerson served the Pirates in 2017 as the pitching coach with the Double-A Eastern League champion Altoona (Pa.) Curve.

After the EL season, he spent time with players in the Florida Instructional League and Arizona Fall League. Three pitchers who were with Altoona — Mitch Keller, Brandon Waddell and J.T. Brubaker — were sent to the AFL’s Glendale Desert Dogs.

“I went there to touch base,” says Hickerson. “I went to see how they were doing mentally (after a season which began with spring training in Bradenton, Fla., in February) and to see if they were growing or just going through the motions.”

The Pirates’ purpose statement — Changing the world through baseball — appeals to Hickerson.

“It’s a process of developing men — the staff and the players,” says Hickerson. “We invest all this time. Are they going to be difference makers?”

That goes for those on a path toward the big leagues and those that will fall short — which is the vast majority.

“It’s not just about developing a baseball player,” says Hickerson. “It’s the heart, mind, soul and body. It’s refreshing to see in professional athletics.”

Players in the Pirates system are asked to take stock of themselves.

“We make them understand who they are,” says Hickerson. “We get them to answer the question: ‘Why do you play professional baseball?’ The answer is what motivates you day in and day out.

“We peel back the layers until they come to grips with why they’re there.”

For some it might be about being rich and famous. For others, the goal may be very different. Players fill out a comprehensive “blueprint.” The plan is likely to change as the player grows and matures.

“You have to commit to a process of growth and understand your strengths and weaknesses,” says Hickerson.

It is the duty of coaches to help players through the process toward reaching their maximum potential while also buying into the team culture. The latter is not always easy in a game where individual statistics are valued so highly.

“It’s easy for a player to care about their own stats and not the team,” says Hickerson. “We want them to care about the whole.

“Once sports becomes a business how do you compel men to pull together and do something special?”

Double-A baseball is unique.

By that point, many players have achieved a high level of on-field skill. While the 30 Major League Baseball organizations have multiple rookie level and Class-A teams, there is just one Double-A team for each. That means it is very competitive.

“Competing in baseball is non-stop,” says Hickerson. In each organization, there are 150 players competing for 25 big league jobs. The Indianapolis Indians are the Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate.

Even though the competition can be cut throat, it does no good to root for a teammates’ downfall.

“You still have to get better,” says Hickerson. “Hoping for someone else fails never makes you a better baseball player.”

By the time they reach Double-A, many players have wives or are engaged.

“We don’t disregard that,” says Hickerson. “We help them in that area. I could have the attitude that as long as you can compete on the field, I don’t care what your life is like. I don’t think that ever builds a team.”

It’s the idea of “people and process over program and product.”

This kind of people-first approach will only work if all adhere to it.

“I have to be all-in,” says Hickerson. “(Players) know if I’m just giving lip service. You have to get to know the person. What kind of man is he? That takes time.”

Hickerson expects to find out where the Pirates will send him 2018 sometime in December and then will start getting ready for spring training.

A native of Bemidji, Minn., Hickerson was drafted in the seventh round of the 1986 MLB First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Minnesota.

After his first full season (1987), he hurt his arm while lifting weights and underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery and missed the entire 1988 campaign.

“I went from the prospect to a suspect real fast,” says Hickerson.

While at Minnesota, he met future wife Jo (a member of the Gophers track and field program). With her support, he and “shear stubborness” he kept working and got back on the field.

“I was not willing to give up when things got tough,” says Hickerson. “It seemed like it was a really, really long shot for me to make it at all.”

He stuck with it, made his MLB debut with San Francisco in the miiddle of the 1991 season and played for as long as he could.

Bryan and Jo have four children — Emily, Joey, Claire and Tommy. The youngest is a college sophomore. Essentially empty nesters, this gave him a push to re-join the world of baseball coaching.

And he is enjoying it — one relationship at a time.

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Bryan Hickerson (left) and wife Jo share a moment during a break in his duties as a minor league coach with the Pittsburgh Pirates. After 18 years in ministry with Unlimited Potential Inc., former big leaguer Hickerson went back into coaching with the Pirates because he likes their relationship-based approach.

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Bryan and Jo Hickerson on the field at an Altoona (Pa.) Curve game. Bryan served as pitching coach with the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Double-A affiliate in 2017.