Tag Archives: Tommy John surgery

Pirates approach attracts Hickerson back to coaching

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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.

 

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Pobereyko giving it his all along his winding baseball path

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

The baseball career of Matt Pobereyko can’t be draw with a straight line.

The 6-foot-3 pitcher from Munster, Ind., has zigged and zagged his way and pursued opportunities at every turn.

“I’ve never been out in the greatest spots in the world,” says Pobereyko (pronounced Poe-Buh-Reek-Oh). “But I wouldn’t change the path that I’ve taken. It’s all been a learning experience.”

Pobereyko graduated from Hammond Bishop Noll Institute, where he did not crack the varsity lineup for then-Warriors coach Paul Wirtz until his junior season and graduated in 2010.

“P-Dub is awesome,” says Pobereyko of Wirtz. “He gave me a chance to pitch when somebody else went down. We are still friends. He coaches at Merrillville now we stay in touch.”

Pobereyko’s five-year college career started with two seasons for coach Steve Ruzich at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill., and three for coach Todd Lillpop at Kentucky Wesleyan College.

The righty is grateful for Lillpop.

“He was a great guy,” says Pobereyko. “He kept an offer on the table for me. He gave me every opportunity I could get. He gave me his all and I — in return — gave him my all on the field.”

In 2012, the pitcher underwent Tommy John arm surgery. He went 2-2 for KWC in 2013 then tossed just three innings in 2014.

Coming back strong in 2015, Pobereyko went 9-2 with a 1.84 earned run average and 104 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings. He was the Panthers’ team MVP and an All-Great Midwest Athletic Conference first team selection and expected to get selected in that year’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

While waiting on the draft, he went to coach with the Midwest Collegiate League’s Northwest Indiana Oilmen.

A starting during the college regular season, it was in the summers of 2013 and 2014 with the Oilmen that Pobereyko was asked to be a late-inning relief pitcher.

He has been strictly a reliever in pro baseball.

Pitching from the stretch ever since his Tommy John surgery, Pobereyko says he’s always been max-effort guy whether he’s been a starter or a back end of the bullpen guy.

“I’m aggressive and that puts me into that role,” says Pobereyko, who is comfortable throwing a fastball, forkball or slider in any count. “(As a reliever), I’m able to put that little extra something on it and use a a little more adrenaline. That gives me a leg up being comfortable with it when not every hitter is comfortable with it.”

When the MLB call never came in 2015, the hurler went to the pay-to-play California Winter League for the first two months of 2016 and dominated, allowing just two earned runs (1.05 ERA) and fanning 17 in 13 1/3 innings. He drew the attention of Dennis Pelfrey, manager of the independent Frontier League’s Florence (Ky.) Freedom.

Pobereyko performed well enough in 20 games for Florence (1.33 ERA, 31 K’s in 20 1/3 innings) to be signed as a free agent with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

He took the mound at the Rookie, Low-A and High-A levels for a total of 15 games. After going 1-2 with three saves, seven games finished and whiffing 36 in 27 innings, he was released in October 2016.

Hooking on again with Pelfrey and Florence in 2017, Pobereyko showed well enough (1.00 ERA, 38 K’s in 18 innings) for the New York Mets to come calling and signed with that organization on June 22.

In 23 games and 34 1/3 innings with the Columbia Fireflies of the Low Class-A South Atlantic League, Pobereyko went 3-3 with a 3.15 ERA and racked up 53 strikeouts. He finished 11 games and recorded two saves. For less than a week, he was a teammate of Tim Tebow.

“I didn’t see any of the chaos and sold-out stadiums,” says Pobereyko. “He was just a regular guy in the locker room and the dugout.”

Pobereyko now finds himself among the best minor leaguers from each MLB organization in the Arizona Fall League.

So far, he has finished two games for the Scottsdale Scorpions and is 0-0 with a 0.00 ERA and four strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings.

He relishes the challenge of the AFL.

“I’m being put to a little bit of a test,” says Pobereyko. “This forces you to make your pitches a little sharper. It shows me what I need to do to compete at a higher level.

“I’m just very thankful for the opportunity (the Mets) gave me. They’ve really put the ball in my hands for my career to show what I can do.”

When the AFL wraps play in November, he sees himself coming back to northwest Indiana to work, train and give baseball lessons. The past few years, he’s done that at Morris Baseball and Softball Center (owned by Munster graduate and former pro Bobby Morris) and Triple Crown Baseball & Softball Academy (ran by former big leaguer Brent Bowers) — both in Schererville.

But Pobereyko, who turns 26 on Christmas Eve, is not looking too far down the road right now.

“Thinking where I’m going to be in the future is an additional stresser,” says Pobereyko. “I want to be in the now.”

Matt is not the only member of his family firing baseballs the past several seasons.

Younger brother Danny Pobereyko pitched at Noll and finished a four-year mound career at Butler University in 2017, twirling all but six of 60 appearances in relief. The 6-foot-5 right-hander played for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League during the summer of 2015.

A knee injury made Danny decided to end his playing career. He is now teaching and working on his master’s degree at Northern Michigan University. A Creative Writing major at Butler, he is also working on a baseball-themed novel.

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Matt Pobereyko, a 2010 Hammond Noll Institute, delivers a pitch for the Scottsdale Scorpions on the 2017 Arizona Fall League. He is a member of the New York Mets organization. (27 Outs Baseball Photo)

 

Big leaguer Gibson has not forgotten his Greenfield roots

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Kyle Gibson now wears the colors of the Minnesota Twins and spends his off-seasons near the team’s spring training camp in Fort Myers, Fla. But the 6-foot-6 right-hander takes a piece of Greenfield, Indiana wherever he goes.

Gibson grew up in the Hancock County town located east of Indianapolis and learned lessons about baseball and life that he still carries as a fifth-year major leaguer.

Harold Gibson, Kyle’s father, was part of a group that started the Indiana Bandits travel team in 1996.

“That was at the beginning of when travel baseball took off in central Indiana,” says Kyle Gibson, who went from a small, skinny kid to a starter in the Twins rotation. He is coming off a win Friday, Sept. 22 at Detroit. “I am where I am today thanks to that group of guys starting that for us.”

Flashing back, Kyle spent three high school summers at IMG Academy in Florida after enduring his first pitching arm operation at 15.

“I’m a big believer that God puts me in certain situations for a reason,” says Gibson of a procedure to repair a fractured growth plate. “I came out of that surgery my freshmen year following Christ as a much as ever.”

Kyle spent his freshmen season at Indianapolis Cathedral High School, coached by Rich Andriole (who recently was named head coach at Guerin Catholic High School), and the last three years of high school baseball at Greenfield-Central, where C.J. Glander was head coach and Harold Gibson — who pitched for the Cougars then one year at the junior college level — was a volunteer.

Kyle and Glander arrived at GC at the same time and by Gibson’s junior and senior seasons, the program was turned in a positive direction with the head coach’s attention to detail.

“He was really, really good at pushing guys he knew wanted to play in college,” says Gibson, who was Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association All-Star Series MVP in Terre Haute in 2006. “He was also good with the guy who’s senior year was going to be their last playing baseball.

“He made sure to make it fun.”

More mature — physically, mentally and spiritually — than when he had his first surgery, there was a “Tommy John” ligament replacement for Kyle near the end of his second professional season (2011).

After three seasons at the University of Missouri, Gibson was selected in the first round of the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Twins and he made his MLB debut for Minnesota at Target Field in Minneapolis on June 29, 2013, against Kansas City, surrendering two runs on eight hits in six innings pitched with no walks and five strikeouts, earning the win. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the win and five strikeouts made him just the third Twin to win their big league debut while striking out five-or-more batters, the others being Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven in 1970 at RFK Stadium against Washington and Darrell Jackson in 1978 at Metropolitan Stadium against Detroit; they each had seven strikeouts.

Among those in the crowd that day were parents Harold and Sharon and current Greenfield-Central head baseball coach Robbie Miller (an assistant when Kyle was a Cougar). Kyle and Harold still have an impact on baseball in Greenfield as co-owners of a training facility at I-70 and S.R. 9 that caters to ages 8 and up.

At Mizzou, Kyle gained baseball knowledge from pitching coach Tony Vitello while also meeting his future wife, St. Louis area native Elizabeth.

“(Vitello) had a big hand in developing me as a player — physically and mentally,” says Gibson. “I still tap into all that information that they taught us (at Missouri).”

As MU’s pitching coach from 2004-10, Vitello helped develop 15 Mizzou pitchers who were drafted by major league teams, including current Washington Nationals star Max Scherzer, as well as first-round picks Gibson and Aaron Crow.

Kyle sent a text of congratulations to Vitello when he recently was named head coach at the University of Tennessee.

Kyle and Elizabeth Gibson have two children — daughter Hayden (3 1/2) and son Mills (9 months) — and plan to spend the off-season between Florida, family in Indiana and Missouri and also doing some mission work in the Dominican Republic with organizations like One Child Matters, Bright Hope Ministries and Help One Now.

While the Gibsons were away with baseball, their Florida neighbors put up storm shutters that kept out the wind and water of Hurricane Irma.

Right now, the Kyle and the Twins are focused on holding on to the second wild card in the American League and Gibson could be part of any postseason success enjoyed by Minnesota.

Currently 12-10 with a 5.02 earned run average in 28 starts with 115 strikeouts and 60 walks in 154 1/3 innings, Gibson said he is right when he can establish his four-season and two-seam fastballs and mix in his sinker, slider and change-up.

“The fastball is very important to me,” says Gibson, who has worked with Neil Allen as Twins pitching coach since 2015. “I’m working on locating it and getting ahead (in the count). I’m trying to get (hitters) to come out of their approach and make them make quick decisions.”

While he occasionally needs to elevate a pitch, Gibson tends to concentrate on keeping balls low to induce grounders and let his defense help him out.

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Kyle Gibson, a 2006 Greenfield-Central High School graduate, delivers a pitch for the Minnesota Twins. Gibson is in the starting rotation for a team fighting for a 2017 postseason berth. (MLB Photo)

 

Pishkur, Andrean 4A sectional champions for first time

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

After nearly two decades, Andrean High School baseball is going back to LaPorte’s Schreiber Field.

Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Dave Pishkur last took his 59ers to the home of the Slicers in 1998 — the year Hall of Famer Ken Schreiber retired.

Andrean — a private school with about 475 students in Merrillville playing “up” because of the IHSAA success factor (the 59ers were 3A state champions in both 2014 and 2015) — will take part of the Class 4A LaPorte Regional Saturday, June 3.

Game 1 pits Northwest Crossroads Conference champion Andrean (25-7) against LaPorte (22-8) with the second semifinal featuring Lake Central (23-8) against Penn (24-6) with the regional final at night.

Joe Plesac, Ryne Pishkur, Tyler Ochi, Pat Antone and Bob Ochi are Dave Pishkur’s 2017 assistant coaches.

Pishkur took over as Andrean head coach for the 1980 season and played at LaPorte every year 1982-98.

“I had a very good, competitive relationship with Ken,” says Pishkur. “For many years, we were their first game of the season.

“I’ve thanked Schreib many, many times for being a mentor … I stole many ideas from Ken Schreiber.”

Pishkur’s 59ers of 2017 will go against the Scott Upp-coached Slicers after Andrean bested Portage 3-1, Valparaiso 9-5 and Chesterton 4-3 to win the Chesterton Sectional.

The Trojans, coached by IHSBCA Hall of Famer Jack Campbell, sent three straight NCAA Division I-caliber pitchers to the mound (juniors Grant Brunt, Austin Peterson and Chris Torres) against the 59ers who countered with one (sophomore Mike Doolin).

Pishkur, who surpassed 900 coaching wins in 2016, notes the difference between 4A and 3A is the ability to have a deeper mound staff and batting order.

“It’s way more challenging to play the 4A schools,” says Pishkur. “We enjoy playing 3A because we think we are a pretty good 3A school. In all likelihood, we’ll be back in 3A next year.”

With its enrollment, Andrean (which also competed in 4A in 2016 and lost to Chesterton in the Merrillville Sectional championship game) would be in the middle of the IHSAA pack in 2A. Rules don’t allow for a team going up because of the success factor to go down more than one class.

Winning against bigger schools at tournament time is satisfying.

“A 4A sectional championship means a heck of a lot,” says Pishkur. “That’s so rewarding for our kids to compete and beat schools significantly larger than us.”

Pishkur, a 1971 Andrean graduate who also serves as alumni director, has more to say about playing out of class.

“I understand to some extent that the success factor is to even up the playing field,” says Pishkur. “They say private schools recruit. We just have open enrollment. More and more public schools (have gone to open enrollment and) have the same advantage that the so-called private schools had.”

By rule, the 59ers went up after the back-to-back state championships. Pishkur notes that graduation took the majority of those players and yet the school still went to 4A for two years.

“I don’t know how you remedy that,” says Pishkur.

The coach sees no cure for his lifelong obsession with the sport and he’s not seeking one.

“It’s a love affair with the game of baseball and, in particular, Andrean High School,” says Pishkur, who has had dozens of relatives attend the school, including his wife (Gretchen) and three children (Ryne, Courtney and Mark). “Not everybody is blessed with a job that they enjoy going to. It’s not a chore to get up in the morning. It’s not a chore to go to the school.”

Andrean started its baseball program in Pishkur’s junior year (1969-70) and played around a dozen games and treated it more like a recreation than a competitive venture.

“We were a basketball/football school,” says Pishkur.

The 59ers were 9-9 in 1979. The next season, Pishkur got a team featuring Dan Dakich to win more than 20 games and the first of the program’s 27 sectional titles (Andrean has also gone on to take 12 regionals, six semistates, five 3A state crowns — 2005, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2015 — and a 3A state runner-up finish in 2004).

“The culture was changed because we took it more seriously,” says Pishkur. “Nobody had ever pushed them. We pushed. We had three-hour practices.”

Pishkur remains close with members of that ’80 team.

“They established the program so future teams would know what to expect,” says Pishkur.

Mark Pishkur, a four-year player for his father and a 2012 Andrean graduate, never expected to play baseball again but got the chance five years after his high school days.

His senior year, Mark played the field but could not bat because of injuries incurred his junior and senior years though he did lay down two left-handed bunt singles.

After his last 59ers game, Mark walked away from the diamond for good.

Or so he thought.

Time had healed him and made him stronger. He added life and movement to his fastball, hitting the gun around 84 or 85 mph.

In the fall of 2016, he walked on at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Fla., and impressed enough to be considered for a scholarship in the spring.

However, he hurt his arm during the winter and decided against pitching with pain or the possibility of a Tommy John reconstructive surgery.

Sidearmers and submariners are not unusual at Andrean. Pishkur likes to have at least one player in the program give it a try.

“A lot of kids can’t change arm angles,” says Pishkur. “But it’s a look you don’t see very often in high school.”

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Dave Pishkur is in his 38th season as head baseball coach at his alma mater — Andrean High School. His teams have won more than 900 games and taken five state championships. (Andrean Photo)

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Speedy, versatile South Bend Cubs ready to roll in 2017

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

South Bend is about to begin its third season as a Chicago Cubs affiliate.

Jimmy Gonzalez was the manager for the first two and he’s back for 2017.

The skipper has plenty of nice things to say about the community and the fans (the Cubs drew 350,803 during the 2016 Class-A Midwest League season and owner Andrew Berlin has set a goal of 400,000 for 2017).

“It’s a great town,” says Gonzalez. “There are things to do around here and good restaurants. It’s great to have a minor league affiliate called the Cubs and be so close to Chicago. The support is through the roof.”

Gonzalez leads the ’17 team (Notre Dame visits for a seven-inning exhibition at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 5 at Four Winds Field before plays two road games Thursday and Friday and the home opener at 7:05 p.m. Saturday, April 8) with a few returnees to South Bend and several who played for short-season Northwest League champion Eugene (Ore.).

The Emeralds, managed by former South Bend coach Jesus Feliciano, went 54-22 during the 2016 regular season.

While there was no pennant (that went to the Lansing Lugnuts), the ’16 campaign saw South Bend go 84-55 during the regular season, make the playoffs and Gonzalez earn MWL Manager of the Year honors.

“There’s a bunch of exciting guys,” says Gonzalez. “They’re coming off a great season last year in Eugene, guys that have won.”

Gonzalez surveys his ’17 South Bend roster and sees fleetness and versatility.

“Speed is going to be a huge factor with this club,” says Gonzalez. “Those speed guys create spark and excitement and a lot of good things happen.”

The swiftest of the Cubs are outfielders D.J. Wilson (21 stolen bases in 2016), Kevonte Mitchell (15) and Chris Pieters (20) and infielder Yeiler Peguero.

Wilson expects to be in center field.

“I have first-step quickness,” says Wilson. “My angles are pretty good.”

Wilson is glad to be back with a group of friends that he played plenty of winning baseball with last summer.

“We had great chemistry last year with the Emeralds and it’s only gotten stronger throughout the spring,” says Wilson, who also looks forward to playing in South Bend since it is closer to his hometown of Canton, Ohio, which should allow friends and family to see him play in 2017.

Mitchell says he could see time in right and left and, possibly, center.

“My base running and my speed (are strengths),” says Mitchell. “I also have a nice arm from the outfield.

“I bring energy to the team.”

All the way up the big league team, the ability to play multiple positions is valued in the Cubs organization. South Bend reflects this philosophy.

“I love having that as an option,” says Gonzalez. “It gives rest to a bunch of guys. (Versatility is) also great for their development.”

The manager says it is likely that Peguero will see time at second base and shortstop with Wladimir Galindo at third base and first base, Isaac Parades at shortstop and third base and Zack Short at shortstop, second base and third base.

Including time in instructional league and spring training, Vimael Machin has played all four infield positions and has been used at catcher.

“That’s a good thing about Vimael,” says Gonzalez. “He is willing and able to do a lot of things.”

Machin, Paredes, catcher Alberto Mineo and right-handed pitchers Jared Cheek and Dakota Mekkes appeared with South Bend in 2016.

“I consider those guys leaders,” says Gonzalez. “Yes, they probably didn’t want to come back here (but move up in the Cubs system). That’s just part of the game. You can mope about it or you can just go out there and play.”

Machin models that team-oriented attitude.

“I’ll do whatever (Gonzalez) tells me to do,” says Machin. “Even if we’re not playing, we’re helping and supporting each other. That’s what it’s all about.”

With the grind of a long season, baseball is a game where slumps and bad days are inevitable.

“It’s important that (the players) know that adversity is going to come,” says Gonzalez. “How are they going to handle it? Are they going to get down and just not perform moving forward and understand that’s going to happen.

“Whether you’re 5-for-5 or 0-for-5, that sixth at-bat is another at-bat. You can’t change what you just did. It’s written down. You always have that moment to do something.”

Because it translates in games, Gonzalez says the concept of staying in the moment was an emphasis of the Cubs mental skills program during spring training.

Flame-throwing right-hander Dylan Cease has embraced the mentality and does not dwell on the future.

“It’s the process over the result,” says Cease. “I just expect to stay in my process and do as good as a I can.

“I feel really good about my mechanics. It just comes down to executing … I’m just focused on being the best ballplayer I can be and getting better.”

South Bend pitching coach Brian Lawrence has watched Cease progress well since having Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery in June 2015, but there will be a learning curve in 2017.

“He’s never thrown meaningful pitches in April before,” says Lawrence. “He’s going to have to get through his first full season. He has to learn what he has. What he’s shown from last year through spring training is tremendous. He has command of all his pitches.”

Cease is part of a starting rotation that right-handers Duncan Robinson, Kyle Miller, Tyson Miller, Erling Moreno and Matt Swarmer and left-hander Manuel Rondon. Lawrence says there will be a few “piggyback” situations where one pitcher will start and another starter will take over. Left-handers Bryan Hudson and Jose Paulino may join the team from extended spring training in the coming weeks.

“This is going to be a fun team to play with,” says Tyson Miller. “I’ve just got to execute pitches. I want to throw the most innings I can with the least amount of pitches.

“I just need to get better with my pitching I.Q. and knowing how to set up hitters.”

Lawrence says starters will be limited to 80 pitches to start the season.

The bullpen features 6-foot-7 righty Dakota Mekkes and 5-8 lefty Wyatt Short and several other arms who will get work.

“We won’t go back-to-back (days) for quite awhile (with relievers),” says Lawrence. “We do have a lot of guys who can pitch at the end of the game. We have a lot of options.”

NDSBCUBS2017

Just 25, Carlton is already making his mark on Indiana prep baseball scene

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

One of the younger minds on the Indiana high school baseball coaching block is enjoying success early in his career.

Royce Carlton, who turned 25 in January, has racked up 48 victories in his first three seasons as a head coach.

As a University of Indianapolis junior, Carlton was hired as an assistant at his high school alma mater — Morristown. The next spring (2014), the Yellow Jackets went 19-7 with Carlton in charge a season after going 12-13. The ’14 Morristown team hit .378 with Quality At-Bat percentage of 61, a .458 on-base percentage and 3.15 earned run average).

After graduating UIndy, Carlton got a job and a fresh start on the western side of the state. At Attica, he is head baseball coach, head boys tennis coach, strength and conditioning coordinator and teaches health and physical education. He was also coaching basketball when he first arrived at the Fountain County school.

“It’s been a very enjoyable experience so far,” says Carlton. “It’s a very tight-knit community and there’s a lot of support.”

On the diamond, Carlton took a team that was around .500 the year before he arrived to 14-10 in 2015 (.351/45/.446/3.56) and 15-8 in 2016 (.312/45/.407.2.25). Opponents hit .207 against Red Ramblers pitching last spring.

Drawing from his many influences and conducting plenty of research, Carlton is making Attica better on the diamond. Attica will be out to earn its eighth overall sectional title and first since 2010.

The foundation of what Royce does comes from his parents — Roger and Elaine Carlton. Roger stole 72 bases in a season for Morristown in the late ’70s and base stealing has been a major component for Royce’s teams (Morristown swiped 98 in 2014 while Attica pilfered 95 in 2015 and 67 in 2016, all with a success rate of over 85 percent).

The enthusiastic coach is always talking with people in the baseball community and applying that knowledge to his program. He will take this from a college coach and that from Major League Baseball manager.

Some of what Carlton knows about base running comes from Mike Roberts, professional and college coach and the father of former American League stolen base champion Brian Roberts (who took 50 for the Baltimore Orioles in 2007 and 285 for his MLB career).

To be successful on the paths, Carlton says his players must be “aggressively technical.”

“You have to commit at the right time,” says Carlton. “You have no time for a second thought.”

Grandfather Paul Goble, a highly-respected track and cross country coach at Morristown, and great uncle Charlie Nugent (who hit .299 with five home runs and 28 runs batted in as a first-team all-Indiana Collegiate Conference first baseman at Ball State in 1965) have also shaped Royce.

Royce played for Tim Hancock at Morristown and credits head coach Gary Vaught and assistant Al Ready for teaching him a lot of baseball in his two seasons as an Indianapolis Greyhound.

He is thankful to the athletic directors who hired him — Craig Moore at Morristown and Fred Unsicker at Attica. Moore continues to be a professional mentor to the young Carlton.

Carlton saw that Oscar Jimenez (a former Kansas City Royals prospect, Little League World Series star and native of Panama living in the Lafayette) did not have a job in baseball and added him a coaching staff which also includes Rod Crist at the varsity level with Nick Burris and Chris Ferguson running Attica’s two junior varsity teams.

With 34 players, Carlton said he has to the biggest numbers in the Wabash River Conference (a league of Class 1A and 2A schools).

“That’s unheard of for a school our size,” says Carlton. With two JV teams, players will be moved around as needed. The head coach is not yet sure about the quality of pitching in his freshmen class.

A few ways that he helps his pitchers — really all players — is by the use of the DriveLine Baseball training methods as well as the Motus sleeve, a device which includes a ulnar collateral ligament workload monitor which is touted by the company as “the first tool aimed specifically at combating UCL tears that lead to Tommy John Surgery.”

“The kids see all the technology and see how changing an arm slot reduces arm stress on the elbow,” says Carlton.

Pitchers throw from their natural arm slot and if Carlton sees any issues with the data he gathers, he might change their motion a little bit.

Ramblers senior ace right-hander Eli Merriman was converted from overhand to a sidearm delivery and found to have less stress that way.

“It’s not one size fits all,” says Carlton. “You’ve got to adapt to each kid. Not every kid can throw sidearm.

“In the past, coaches wanted each pitcher to be a cookie cutter (and all throw with the same delivery). It’s not that way anymore.”

Following a two-week spring break, the Ramblers are scheduled to open the 2017 season Tuesday, April 4 by visiting the Cornjerkers of Hoopeston (Ill.).

I am very excited to see how all of our players contribute to having a successful season and a deep tournament run,” says Carlton. “I am looking forward to having our best season yet lead by not only my strong senior class but also our freshman, sophomores, and juniors.

“I want us to be “uncomfortable” this season. We know we have the pieces but we need to stay on a continued path of growth each pitch of every game and not get comfortable with success.”

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Royce Carlton is entering his third season at Attica in 2017. He has led the Red Ramblers to 29 victories in his first two seasons. He turned 25 in January.

Former big leaguer Stults explains importance of mental game to campers

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

To pitch at high levels — college or pro — the space between the ears becomes even more important than the arm.

That’s one of the big lessons Eric Stults absorbed in his 14 seasons of professional baseball (2002-2015).

“It’s the mental part of the game,” Stults said after leading a pitching camp for youngsters Saturday, Feb. 25 at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy inside Eastlake Athletic Club in Goshen. “A lot of guys can physically throw a baseball and throw it hard and well. But what separates the guys who excel or do so at the next level is their ability to mentally make adjustments and stay focused.

“It’s somebody I probably didn’t learn until college. More than physically, I needed to be mentally sharp. (After learning that,) I was practicing that as much as I was throwing the baseball.

“The earlier some of these players can get that, it’s only going to help them along the way.”

Stults played at Argos High School and Bethel College before being  drafted in 2002. The left-hander’s pro baseball odyssey took him through experiences with five different Major League Baseball clubs (Los Angeles Dodgers, Colorado Rockies, Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves) as well as several minor league teams and in Japan (Hiroshima Toyo Carp).

While working toward the big leagues (he made his debut in 2006), Stults was introduced to the importance of the mental side.

“I got in a rut and was searching for something,” Stults said. “Someone said, ‘have you ever thought of the mental side of the game?’ I said, ’Not really. I just go out there and throw the baseball and hope for the best.’”

Stults started his Indiana Chargers camp remarks by focusing on enjoyment of the game.

“This is a game,” Stults said to 45 pitchers of varying ages and their parents. “We want to have fun.”

Then comes learning how to pitch — not just throw.

Even the hardest throwers can’t rely on velocity alone.

Stults, who resides in Middlebury, enjoyed longevity in the game not from gas but his ability to focus on the game within the game — pitcher vs. hitter. He was able to change speeds and the eye levels of hitters by moving the ball around.

After a Tommy John surgery early in his career — before he really knew the importance of arm care — he stayed relatively healthy.

While campers went from station to station for Crossover Symmetry Band work for rotator cuff and scapular strengthening, throwing and recovery drills with the help of ECBSA’s Joel Mishler, Justin Barber and George Hofsommer, Stults also took time to tell them about concepts like routine.

Stults, who worked with many coaches and sports psychologists throughout his diamond days, said his routine changed throughout his career, but having one helped with the mental side of the game.

One pre-pitch routine that he had was taking a deep breath and letting it go along with all of the tension.

“It can be that simple,” Stults said. “I also had a key word — FOCUS. It let me focus on the catcher’s glove and take the distractions out of my head. That allows you to get back into a good mind frame.”

Learning the mental side also helped Stults to keep from dwelling on the negative things and focus on his next pitch or next outing.

“The mindset is you’ve got to forget about it,” Stults said. “It’s easier said than done. But that comes through practice and mental part of the game. Let’s move forward.”

In discussing mechanics, Stults noted that not everyone delivers the ball in the same way or has the same arm slot.

“As an individual, you have to figure out what works for you,” Stults said. “When I talk about different grips and throwing different pitches, it’s trial and error.

“You have to be willing to try new things and be coachable.”

Stults encouraged players to learn how to “self-coach” and diagnose their own problems and find solutions.

He emphasized always having a purpose even when playing catch (throw to a target) and developing tempo and rhythm while using nice loose grip on the baseball.

As Stults, 37, looks back on his lengthy career, it’s the relationships that stand out.

“What was gratifying was the people I met,” Stults said. “You can sit there and talk about victories and this and that. But it’s the people I met along the way. It’s that clubhouse camaraderie I was able to have in baseball.”

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Former big leaguer Eric Stults demonstrates a grip during a camp at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy inside Eastlake Athletic Club in Goshen. (Photo By John Sadowey)

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Eric Stults throws at a camp at Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen. He was helped by ECBSA’s Justin Barber (from left on right side of photo), George Hofsommer and Joel Mishler. (Photo By John Sadowey)

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A pitching camp by former big leaguer and Middlebury resident Eric Stults brought out several youngsters to Eastlake Chargers Baseball/Softball Academy in Goshen. (Photo By John Sadowey)