Tag Archives: Tracy Smith

Anderson grad Earley now guiding hitters at Texas A&M

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Michael Earley has a knack for developing elite hitters.
Spencer Torkelson was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Arizona State University. His hitting coach was 2006 Anderson (Ind.) High School graduate Earley.
“Texas A&M hired a rising star in the coaching ranks with the addition of Mike Earley,” said former ASU coach Tracy Smith (who led the Indiana University program before his time with the Sun Devils) on the Aggies baseball website. “He is the best I’ve seen in my career at developing hitters. However, Coach Earley’s ability to build rapport by balancing toughness and genuine care for the players is what really makes him special. The Aggies are getting a good one.”
Earley, 33, played one season for Brian Cleary at the University of Cincinnati, three for Smith at Indiana and spent five in the Chicago White Sox system and one in independent ball. He coached in the Pac-12 Conference at Arizona State for five seasons — the last four as hitting coach — and was hired in mid-June of 2021 to mold hitters for Texas A&M in the Southeastern Conference.
“I could’ve stayed at Arizona State, but I wanted to explore and see what else was out there,” says Earley, who attended the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. “I talked to a few schools and ended up at Texas A&M. I could not be happier. It’s been a really, really fun time and a great experience.
“Head coach Jim Schlossnagle was a big draw for me. I think he’s the sharpest guy in the game and he’s someone I want to learn from and work for.”
Earley hit the recruiting trail right after joining the Aggies staff. Recruiting coordinator Nolan Cain directed hitters his way.
“He’s really, really good at finding talent and how to communicate,” says Earley of Cain. “I try to help him as much as I can.”
Coming to College Station and the Brazos Valley with his own ideas on hitting, Earley has also incorporated offensive ideas from Schlossnagle.
“It’s evolving every year,” says Earley. “I don’t think I’ve ever been quite the same every year though its the same base and foundation.
“I mean it’s (NCAA) Division I baseball. The SEC is a step up from the Pac-12, but there’s a lot of good teams and players in the Pac-12 as well. It’s not going to be anything too much different. It’s really a lot of hard work.”
Earley enjoyed his time with Torkelson, a right-hitting third baseman in the Detroit Tigers organization.
“He’s by far the best hitter I’ve work with to date,” says Earley. “If I ever work with one that again it will be like hitting the baseball lottery.
“He’s a generational talent for me. What separates him is not only is he just really, really good, he’s more competitive than anyone I’ve ever been around. He’s a Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant type. I’m gonna beat you and you’re not gonna beat me.”
The year before Torkelson went was the top pick in the draft, lefty-hitting outfielder Hunter Bishop was taken out of ASU with the 10th overall pick by the San Francisco Giants.
Arizona State has elite baseball facilities and so does Texas A&M, which plays in Blue Bell Park. Renovations are on the way for a stadium built in 2012.
“The SEC has become an arms race,” says Earley, who says new seating is coming along with a fresh hitting facility and weight room. “This place is already really, really nice.
“I don’t know how we’re going to upgrade it but we are and it’s going to be bigger and better. And then — I’m sure — in another 15 years we’ll probably do it all over again.”
Besides Schlossnagle, associate head coach Nate Yeskie, Cain and Earley as coaches, there’s a support that with a director of baseball operations (Jason Hutchins), director of player and program development (Chuck Box), sports performance coach (Jerry McMillan) and director of video and analytics (Will Fox).
Earley says analytics are very helpful when used the right way.
“You don’t want paralysis by analysis,” says Earley. “You find what works for you. There’s definitely a benefit in the game for analytics, but there’s an old word called competing and that can’t get lost.”
Nolan Earley, Michael’s brother, is a 2009 Anderson High graduate who played three years at the University of Southern Alabama and in the White Sox organization and independent ball (He played 96 games for the Frontier League Southern Illinois Miners in 2021). He is in Arizona running the Phoenix Hit Dogs.
“It’s a development-first travel program,” says Michael Early of the organization started in 2020. “Everyone says they are, but they’re actually not. They’re just trying to win and get the trophies. We’re actually trying the develop and I think it’s a success.”

Texas A&M assistant baseball coach Michael Earley at the 2022 American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago. (Steve Krah Photo)

Former Indiana University player McConnell leading baseball program at Barr-Reeve

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A former Indiana University baseball player is sharing his experience and knowledge as head coach at Barr-Reeve Middle/High School in the tiny Daviess County town of Montgomery.
Trevor McConnell, who graduated from Bloomington (Ind.) High School South in 2005 and earned his IU degree in December 2008, enjoyed his first on-field season with Barr-Reeve in 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic took away 2020. He was an assistant to Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Joe Rademacher during the 2019 season.
Before Barr-Reeve, McConnell spent five seasons as an assistant to Bloomington South head coach Phil Kluesner (2014-18) and five as head coach and athletic director at Eastern Greene (2009-13).
A center fielder in high school, McConnell played for IHSBCA Hall of Famer Grier Werner at Bloomington South and was recruited to play at IU by Bob Morgan.
“(Werner) was an old-school guy,” says McConnell. “He had that football mentality. He wanted physical and mental toughness from his teams and pushed us to take on that mentality because baseball is a game of failure.”
By the time McConnell joined the Hoosiers, Tracy Smith was head coach. He saw action in 65 games from 2006-08 and counted future big leaguer Josh Phegley as a teammate. Michael Earley went on to be a college coach (he’s now at Texas A&M).
“I learned a ton from Coach Smith in my time around the IU program,” says McConnell, who picked up pointers in practice planning, strategy and all facets of running a baseball team. “(Werner and Smith) are responsible for molding my coaching mindset more than anybody.”
McConnell sustained a career-ending arm injury and served as a volunteer assistant to Smith in the fall of 2008.
By then, McConnell saw his path as a teacher and coach and took the job the Eastern Greene positions at 23.
McConnell played summer ball for Kluesner with the Bloomington Wizards and accepted an invitation to coach with him.
“He welcomed me with open arms,” says McConnell of Kluesner. “He’s one of my best friends.”
At Barr-Reeve, McConnell teaches junior high school education and has a coaching staff that features pitching coach Rademacher, varsity assistant/infield coach Nathan Lester and head junior varsity coach Joe Cummings. All three have been head coaches at the high school level — Rademacher in two stints at Barr-Reeve, Lester at Barr-Reeve and Cummings at Pike Central.
There’s also JV assistant Ryan Graber, who played for Rademacher and Lester, former Vincennes Lincoln and University of Southern Indiana national championship player Craig Heinz, Beau Sluder, Trevor Yoder and Kraig Knepp. Chris Winkler runs Barr-Reeve’s junior high baseball program (Grades 7 and 8).
“I appreciate having experienced guys with me in the dugout,” says McConnell, who works with Vikings hitters and outfielders. “I have no ego. Joe Rademacher has been a good mentor for me. He’s been super gracious.
“He told me has still has a fire for the game and would like to be around if you want me.”
The Vikings play on Joe Rademacher Field. An old agriculture building was recently converted into a hitting/training facility for Barr-Reeve baseball and softball.
“We have four full-length (batting) cages,” says McConnell. “We are spoiled.”
A T-ball league is hosted by Barr-Reeve. Coach Pitch leagues start at Chuck Harmon Little League in nearby Washington, Ind.
The Viking Baseball Club sponsors teams of local students from second grade through 12U.
“They play together as a group with ‘Barr Reeve’ across their chest,” says McConnell, who attends and runs some VBC practices in the winter to show players the way he does it at the high school. A three-week fall camp for Grades 2-6 ran by McConnell and his assistants and players just concluded.
An IHSAA Limited Contact Period goes from Aug. 30-Oct. 16. Starting after Labor Day, McConnell has been leading close to 20 baseball players two days a week. Those practices are on Mondays and Wednesdays and many also participate in basketball activities with Josh Thompson on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Thompson guided Barr-Reeve to an IHSAA Class 1A state championship in 2020-21 and a state runner-up finished in 2018-19.
“I like the fact we can instruct and be more hands-on with our players,” says McConnell of the current off-season set-up. “There’s less quantity but the quality is a lot better.
“We can coach them up.”
Barr-Reeve (enrollment around 250) is a member of the Blue Chip Conference (with Loogootee, North Knox, Northeast Dubois, Shoals, South Knox, Vincennes Rivet, Washington Catholic and Wood Memorial). In recent years, Washington Catholic has not fielded a baseball team.
In 2001, the Vikings were part of a Class 1A sectional grouping with Loogootee, North Daviess (host site), Shoals and Vincennes Rivet. Barr-Reeve has won 12 sectional titles — the last in 2019 — Rademacher’s last season as head coach. A senior on that ’19 team — Gage Wilson — went on to Vincennes (Ind.) University for baseball.
The youngest child of former college football coach Bob McConnell and wife Barbara, Trevor was born in Amherst, Mass., when his father was on the staff at the University of Massachusetts.
About the time Trevor went into kindergarten, his family (including older brother Ryan) had moved to Nashville with Bob McConnell joining the football staff at Vanderbilt University.
From 1995-2001, the McConnells were in Baton Rouge, La., and Bob was coaching at Lousiana State University.
Trevor McConnell’s freshmen baseball season was spent as a varsity role player at Parkview Baptist High School, where Eagles head coach and Louisiana High School Sports Hall of Fame inductee M.L. Woodruff was on the way to one of his 11 state championships. His 27-season record was 603-163-2.
“I learned a lot of fundamentals,” says McConnell of Woodruff. “He was super-organized and super-efficient.”
The McConnells wound up in Bloomington when Bob was hired by Hoosiers head football coach Gerry DiNardo, who also coached at Vandy and LSU.
After years of the gypsy lifestyle of a college football coach, Bob McConnell went into financial services and retired last fall. Barbara McConnell is a Muncie, Ind., native. Ryan McConnell (38) resides in Baton Rouge.
Trevor (35) and wife Jessica both went to Bloomington South and began dating at IU. They have been married since 2009. The couple have two children — second grader Nolan (who turns 8 in October) and kindergartener Lauren (5).

The McConnells (from left): Jessica, Trevor, Nolan and Lauren.
The McConnells (clockwise from upper left): Trevor, Jessica, Nolan and Lauren.
Trevor (left) and Ryan McConnell.
Trevor McConnell (30).
Trevor McConnell directs traffic.
Trevor McConnell swings the fungo.

Indiana Nitro grows from one team into successful travel ball organization

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Indiana Nitro — a travel baseball organization launched in the central part of the state — has had 164 college commits and five Major League Baseball draft selections since 2014.
Among Nitro alums who went on to pro baseball are Zach Britton (Toronto Blue Jays system), Matt Gorski (Pittsburgh Pirates), Niko Kavadas (Boston Red Sox), Devin Mann (Los Angeles Dodgers), Tommy Sommer (Chicago White Sox) and Zack Thompson (St. Louis Cardinals).
The Nitro fielded more than 20 teams — spring, summer and fall — at the 8U to 17U levels in recent seasons. The group has earned many victories and championships and competed in multiple states.
It all began with a single 11U team that took to the diamond in 2010.
Tim Burns, whose sons Brendan and Brock were playing travel ball, was exploring diamond opportunities for his boys when he was approached by some fathers about coaching a team.
With the idea of being able to control development and practice schedules, the elder Burns agreed and led that first Nitro squad, featuring Brock.
Most of the players were from Hamilton County — one of the exceptions being Batesville’s Britton. Brock Burns is now on the football team at Ball State University as an outside linebacker while Brendan Burns was a right-handed pitcher for BSU baseball; Tim Burns is a graduate of Ball State where his major was Telecommunications.
Both Burns brothers are Hamilton Southeastern High School graduates — Brendan in 2014 and Brock in 2017.
Most games in 2010 were played in central Indiana and the team went 50-5 with five tournament titles. Eleven of the 12 players on that first team went on to play at the collegiate level.
Tammy Burns, Tim’s wife, told him that he did not have the time to head a travel organization. Yet momentum kept on building.
“Kids wanted to play,” says Burns.
Parents and players gathered and voted on a team name — Burns presented around 300 choices found on Google — and team colors. The Nitro wound up donning Athletic Gold and Cardinal Red and uses explosive terms like Bombs and Gas on social media.
In 2011, the Nitro had four teams. The number went to seven in 2012 then 11 in 2013. It jumped to 20 in 2014 (the first year the organization had a high school age team).
“The snowball got big,” says Burns. “It took on a life of its own.”
The mantra of the Nitro is “Advancing players to the next level.” That came to mean grooming them to play high school baseball and then — for those who wished to do so — college baseball.
“It’s a very complex recruiting process that we came up with over the years,” says Burns, a 1982 graduate of South Newton High School in Kentland, Ind., who grew up on the diamonds of Goodland, Ind., and counted Tracy Smith (who went on to coach at Miami University-Middletown, Miami University, Indiana University and Arizona State University) as a teammate. “You dive deep into it and build relationships with college coaches and recruiters.
“Learning how to help these kids get recruited was important to our board (of directors) and and organization.”
Nitro staffers work the phones on behalf of their players and are constantly seeking talent and getting ready for the next thing.
“It’s a year-round job,” says Burns, who is employed in sales for Bally Sports Indiana (the Indiana Pacers TV Network). “There’s so much behind the scenes in the off-season. It keeps the board and volunteers busy.”
Randy Poiry has been on the board since the beginning. Two sons — catcher Rutger Poiry (Lincoln Trail College and Eastern Kentucky University) and right-handed pitcher Carter Poiry (Murray State University and Quinnipiac University) — played for the Nitro.
Directors are Chris Poland (daily operations and high school age teams) and Dan Rodgers (ages 8-14). Jared Poland, son of Chris, is at the University of Louisville. Nathan Rodgers (Carmel High School Class of 2024) played for his father on the Nitro 14U Gold team in 2021.
Burns, who coached the Nitro 16U Gold team to a 26-9-1 mark in 2021 and will move up to coach the 17U Gold squad in 2022, gets players from near and far.
“We don’t care where they come from,” says Burns. “We want good kids from good families who want to put in the work.”
Nitro players train at Pro X Athlete Development on the Grand Park campus in Westfield, Ind. A membership is included with fees.
Burns counts four nephews — South Newton graduates Jarrett Hammel and Jay Hammel and Benton Central High school alums Payton Hall and Conner Hall — among former Nitro players. Former Saint Joseph’s College and Valparaiso right-hander Jarrett Hammel is now head baseball coach at Benton Central. Jay Hammel is a righty pitcher at Quincy (Ill.) University. Payton Hall is an outfielder at Oakland City (Ind.) University after transferring from the University of Southern Indiana. Former middle infielder Connor Hall is an Aviation Management student at Indiana State University.

Bloomington’s Cornwell building coaching resume

By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Only a few years removed from playing himself, Adam Cornwell sees what makes today’s young baseball players tick in the era of metrics and analytics.
“It’s a different era of baseball,” says Cornwell, a former pitcher at Bloomington High School North, the University of Indianapolis, University of Pittsburgh and independent professional ball and the head coach of the 2021 Park Rangers in the College Summer League at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. “They want to show off their athletic ability a little more as well as their velocity, strength and all this stuff.
“Metrics are a big numbers and they’re being used. Every single pitch is measured.”
When not guiding the Park Rangers, Cornwell can often be found at Grand Park learning how to use technology like TrackMan. He is also seeking his next full-time gig.
He just finished a two-year stint on the coaching staff at the University of Dayton, where he had access to Rapsodo, Synergy and more. Jayson King is the Flyers head coach. Cornwell assisted pitching coach Travis Ferrick. Dayton won 11 straight Atlantic-10 Conference games leading into the conference tournament where the Flyers were beaten by Virginia Commonwealth in the championship game.
Cornwell spent the 2019 season at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y. It Paul Panik’s first season as a head coach and his Gaels staff was among the youngest in NCAA Division I with Panik (29), head assistant Andrew Pezzuto (26), volunteer J.T. Genovese (23) and pitching coach Cornwell (24).
“Learning with those guys was awesome,” says Cornwell, now 26. “I had freedom and it made me grow faster. I was thrown into the fire early.
“I’m super-thankful for the opportunity I was given over there.”
Before beginning his coaching career, right-hander Cornwell pitched briefly with the Frontier League’s 2018 Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums. Manager Dan Rohn and pitching coach Greg Cadaret were former big leaguers.
Cornwell was signed by Traverse City after playing for the Grizzly in the California Winter League in Palm Springs. There he got to work with Dom Johnson and work out with Joe Musgrove (who pitched the first no-hitter in San Diego Padres history April 9, 2021).
“Dom is probably the best pitching coach in the country,” says Cornwell. “He’s just a stud.
“I got to work out with (Musgrave) a lot. I got to learn how pro guys go about their day and their business. Dom showed me how I needed to change my ways of working out. He is the guy that made me the player I was.”
Cornwell was connected to Johnson through Tracy Smith, whom Cornwell knew from Smith’s time as head coach at Indiana University in Bloomington.
“He is the reason I wanted to get into coaching,” says Cornwell of the former Arizona State University head coach. “I see the way he was day in and day out and how his kids looked up to him. He’s their hero. There’s no better family than that family.”
Smith’s children are among Cornwell’s best friends. Jack Smith was going to be in his Oct. 24 wedding in Bloomington (Cornwell is engaged to Renee Rhoades of St. Charles, Ill.) but he is expected to be the starting quarterback at Central Washington University after transferring from Arizona State.
Cornwell played three seasons for College Baseball Hall of Famer Gary Vaught and pitching coach Mark Walther at UIndy and graduated in 3 1/2 years. He joined the Pitt Panthers featuring head coach Joe Jordano and pitching coach Jerry Oakes just before the start of the 2017 season.
“I credit my coaching path to Coach Vaught,” says Cornwell. “He got me to the University of Pittsburgh. That’s where I made connections to start coaching.”
Cornwell, who holds Sport Management from Indianapolis and master’s degree in Athletic Coaching from Ball State University, appreciates his relationship with Walther.
“He’s a great dude and a hard worker,” says Cornwell. “As a pitching coach he allowed me to be me.”
Walther, the director of operations at Pro X Athlete Development, now runs the College Summer League at Grand Park and Cornwell reached out to him and landed his position with the Park Rangers and has former UIndy pitcher John Hendry and former Center Grove High School pitcher and current Trojans freshmen coach Zach Anderson as assistants.
Born and raised in Bloomington, Cornwell played in Danny Smith Park Baseball Leagues in Unionville, Ind., beginning at age 4.
The Smithville (Ind.) Sluggers were an early travel team. In high school, he was with the Southern Indiana Redbirds among others. That team featured three players selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft — Seymour High School graduate Zack Brown (fifth round by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2016), Columbus North alum Daniel Ayers (25th round by the Baltimore Orioles in 2013) and Greenwood Community graduate Alex Krupa (35th round by the Cincinnati Reds in 2015).
In one tournament at East Cobb in Atlanta, Cornwell’s team picked up Nick Senzel as a shortstop and Cornwell pitched the only no-hitter of his career. Senzel is now an outfielder with the Cincinnati Reds.
A 2013 Bloomington North graduate, Cornwell play for Richard Hurt.
“He’s a worker and he does everything right,” says Cornwell of Hurt. “He’s on top of everything. He’s super-prepared. Every practice is down to the T.
“He demands respect and in return he gives a ton of respect to his players and the freed to be what they want to be. That’s the way these kids are taking to coaching and he understands that.”
Adam is the son of Kara (John) Jacobs and George (Michelle) Cornwell and has seven siblings — Andrew, Matt, Allison, Jake, Sabrina, Ayden and Addisyn.

Adam Cornwell with mother Kara Jacobs.
Adam Cornwell (left) with father George Cornwell.
Adam Cornwell (center) coaching at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y.
Adam Cornwell pitching in the California Winter League.
Adam Cornwell pitching for the independent Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums.

Crossroads Baseball Series helps talent connect with next level programs

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Connecting baseball players who wish to play at the next level with coaches seeking talent is something that the Crossroads Baseball Series has been doing for more than a decade.

Started in 2008 by former Indiana University and professional infielder Eric Blakeley as an outgrowth of his Diamond Kings training business in northwest Indiana, CBS has grown to include showcases, tournaments and fall leagues in numerous states.

Blakeley ran Diamond Kings — former Griffith (Ind.) High School and Tulane University standout and current Los Angeles Dodgers minor leaguer Kody Hoese was one of his early pupils — for about a decade. 

Crossroads Baseball Series began as a way for “Region” area players to have exposure events without traveling to Indianapolis or Chicago. 

The first CBS event held at Gary’s U.S. Steel Yard include future big league pitcher Sean Manaea. Blakeley notes that 85 of the 87 players involved went on to play college baseball.

At Crossroads Baseball Series showcases, players work out in front of college coaches and play in prospect games against top recommended players.

There are 17 tournaments on the 2021 calendar with events in Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Ohio. Many of these are for 14U to 18U players.

“We’re on the verge of growing our tournament space,” says Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series. “There’s a high demand for quality tournaments that don’t cost $2,000. We try to stay around $1,000 price point.”

Blakeley says college coaches can get on an RSVP list and attend events and receive information from them.

Rosters are collected and each player fills out an information form. Coaches have full access to this for free.

CBS provides social media coverage for recruiters and players’ families to share.

“We pride ourselves on educating the families,” says Blakeley. “We can get your names out there.

“The players have to do their research and count the schools that match (their choices).”

What Crossroads Baseball Series does, according to Blakeley, makes it easier for players to communicate with college coaches and do their research.

Blakeley emphasizes that college coaches will know if a player has done his homework on his program. 

It is even more important now that the competition for roster spots has become even more fierce with many players staying in college baseball longer thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the smaller MLB Draft.

“It’s become a lot more competitive to get into these schools — academically and athletically,” says Blakeley.

The words of former Indiana University and current Arizona State University head coach Tracy Smith ring true with Blakeley.

“If you want to play college baseball, there’s a place for you,” says Blakeley. “You just need to do your research and go to camps.”

Travis Keesling, former head coach at Pendleton Heights High School, is Vice President of Baseball Operations for CBS after starting out as a coach selecting players for a showcase.

“Travis has a very good baseball background,” says Blakeley. “He knows the game very well.”

Keesling deals with finding on-field personnel, RSVPing college coaches and the overall vision of the company. He and Blakeley talk on a daily basis.

Nelson Gord, a former minor league opponent to Blakeley who resides in Illinois and is Director of Baseball for NCSA (Next College Student Athlete), is also Director of Recruiting Education for Crossroads Baseball Series.

“He’ll come to events and speak to parents about the recruiting process,” says Blakeley of Gord.

NCSA had purchased a platform called Coach Packet and CBS now has its own app that incorporates video, social media and results to the same player profile. College coaches are given access to this information.

The Crossroads Baseball Series staff also features field coordinators include Rob Fay, Craig Cotter and Austin Green.

Blakeley was a four-sport athlete at Greenville (Ohio) Senior High School.

“I was fortunate to have good coaches for high school and summer ball,” says Blakeley. “I got hit by pitch and broke my arm and did not play junior year of high school.”

The righty-swinging infielder wound up at Indiana through a relationship his coach had with Hoosiers head coach Bob Morgan.

“He taught you some things about life,” says Blakeley. “There’s nothing easy about getting through a practice with Bob Morgan.

“He taught you accountability and taking care of yourself.”

As much as the process has changed over the year, one things has remained constant.

“It was word-of-mouth then and it’s still that way today,” says Blakeley. Coaches want to hear from coaches who they consider trustworthy and whose opinion they respect. “What has changed is technology. There is accessibility and instant updates now.”

Another change is the age of those being seriously pursued by recruiters.

“Recruiting has gotten a lot earlier,” says Blakeley. “When we started Crossroads in 2008, every single of the players had not made their college choice yet and were juniors going into their senior year. Ten years later, eighth graders were (verbally) committing going into their freshmen year.”

A shortstop for much of his four seasons at IU (1999-02), Blakeley was selected in the 21st round of the 2002 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners as a second baseman.

After his first pro season, Blakeley had Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. He was in Class-A ball in 2003 and 2004 and made it up to Triple-A in 2005.

Released by the Mariners in 2005, Blakeley played for the independent Joliet (Ill.)JackHammers and Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats before retiring as a player after the 2008 season. 

“I wasn’t trying to go back into affiliated ball,” says Blakeley. “I had my business and had gotten married (to Lake Central High School graduate Laura).”

Gary won the Northern League title in 2007 and were runners-up in 2008.

RailCats manager Greg Tagert invited him back for 2009, but Blakeley decided to focus on his business and having a family. 

Eric and Laura Blakeley now resides in Fishers, Ind., with daughters Isabella (10) and Gianna (8). Eric coaches both girls on the Fishers Cats.

“Sports can teach kids for the future — about adversity and how to overcome it,” says Blakeley. “Don’t think what might happen bad. Think what might happen good. 

“Failure is going to help you where you want to be. They just don’t understand that yet.”

Eric Blakeley, CEO/President of Baseball Operations for Crossroads Baseball Series

Former Vincennes, Indiana U. hurler Martin teaching at Pitching Performance Lab

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Fortified with knowledge that he gained playing in Indiana and lessons learned since a Kentucky native is passing along baseball wisdom in the Commonwealth as owner/pitching coordinator at Pitching Performance Lab.

Opened in October 2019 by Chad Martin, the Lexington business has trained more than 300 players and currently works with about 200. PPL shares space and partners with Watts Performance Systems, owned by Drew Watts.

According to the WPS website: “The collaborative approach to baseball training offered by Watts Performance Systems and the Pitching Performance Lab is like nothing else available in central Kentucky. Throwing athletes who train at our facility receive training guidance that addresses their specific needs both from a skill standpoint and a movement/strength standpoint.”

Says Martin, “We’re integrating strength and skill together to make sure every athlete’s individual needs are met.”

Martin, who pitched at Vincennes University and Indiana University, says clients are taught to develop a routine and go through soft tissue and mobility work and an arm care plan.

The plan is not rigid. It is adaptable so adjustments can be made depending on the player’s needs.

One size does not fit all.

“We talk to our athletes and see what are goals are,” says Martin. “We don’t emphasize velocity alone.”

Martin and his instructors utilize motion-capture technology such as TrackMan and Rapsodo, which gives feedback on vertical and horizontal break, release angle and height, spin rate and efficiency and tilt and helps in the process of creating a separation in various pitches. 

While those these things are helpful, the idea is not to get too caught up in technical jargon.

“It’s a lot of information even for me,” says Martin. “It can be something as simple as a grip adjustment or a visual cue.

“We always go simple first. Our goal is not to overcomplicate pitching. We try to stay away from really big words because it doesn’t really matter.”

Of all the players trained by PPL, 25 to 30 have been strictly position players who don’t pitch. There have been many two-way players and pitcher-onlys.

With non-pitchers, the goal is to make them a better overall thrower with their arm speed and path.

Martin is a board member and coach with Commonwealth Baseball Club travel organization and is to coach the 17U Xpress team this summer with trips planned to Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. CBC teams begin at 13U with some designated Xpress and others Grays. Depending on the level, some teams will compete in events at Prep Baseball Report events at LakePoint Sports campus in Emerson, Ga.

Travel ball is about college exposure. There are opportunities at many levels.

“We are definitely not D-I or bust,” says Martin. “We look for programs where we feel comfortable sending kids.”

Martin, 30, grew up in Lexington, where he graduated from Dunbar High School in 2008. He was recruited to Vincennes by Ted Thompson (now head coach at Tecumseh, Ind., High School) and played two seasons (2009 and 2010) for Trailblazers head coach Chris Barney and pitching coaches Scott Steinbrecher and Jeremy Yoder. 

After two seasons at the junior college, 6-foot-7 right-hander Martin took the mound at IU for head coach Tracy Smith and pitching coach Ty Neal in 2011 and 2012. 

“I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if it wasn’t for (my coaches),” says Martin. “I’m tickled to death to be able to coach and do it as my job.”

Martin made 36 mound appearances for the Hoosiers (17 starts) and went 4-8 with a 4.08 earned run average. He struck out 81 batters in 139 innings. 

Selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 10th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Martin relieved in 14 games with the Arizona Cubs in 2012 and played a few games with the independent Florence (Ky.) Freedom in 2013.

Martin remembers Barney’s approach.

“He was always real supportive and real,” says Martin. “He didn’t lie about how he thought we were performing. That was a good thing.

“I thought I was really good and I wasn’t. I decided to work harder.”

Martin thrived in the junior college culture.

“We had some long days in the fall,” says Martin. “Juco is synonymous for doubleheaders all the time.

“It’s a good opportunity to get reps.”

As younger coaches, Steinbrecher (who played at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.) and Yoder (who had been a graduate assistant at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn.) introduced new wave concepts.

Smith (who is now head coach at Arizona State University) was a straight shooter like Barney.

“He had a real good ability to be able to kick you in the butt and pat you on the back,” says Martin. “He was able to give players the right source of motivation. He got into my rear end a bunch of times. Having expectations is something I needed — some guard rails to keep me in-check and focused.

“I really enjoyed playing for him.”

Martin appreciated Neal’s way of explaining pitching concepts.

“We’d talk about what location worked better for setting up certain pitches,” says Martin. “It was more about getting outs and not so much mechanics.”

In pro ball, Martin had to adjust from starter to reliever.

“I’d long toss like I did as a starter then sit for seven innings,” says Martin. “I got hurt my first outing.”

In the minors, Martin saw the importance of routines and taking care of the body. 

But the biggest takeaway was the anxiety component. Players can care too much about what people think and implode.

“It can be extremely stressful,” says Martin. “You can be around some of the best players on Planet Earth and wonder if you belong. 

“It helped from a mental standpoint.”

He passes that know-how along to his PPL and travel ball players.

“We put a big emphasis on the mental side,” says Martin. “We want them to be prepared for what they’re going to encounter during a game. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns.

“There are coping strategies when things go wrong so there are not as many peaks and valleys.”

Martin says younger players tend to be very emotional and there’s no shame in getting upset or embarrassed.

“You’ve just got to learn to process it and let it go,” says Martin. “It seems to help.

“Some players are better at it than others.”

When Indiana was recruiting Martin they wanted to see how he would handle hard times.

Neal (who is now coaching at Loveland High School in Ohio) attended four or five games where Martin pitched well and sent short messages afterward.

When Martin had it rough in a fall outing the conversation got a little more intense.

“They wanted to see how I would handle adversity,” says Martin. “It’s damage control.

“Things are going to go bad at some point.”

Chad Martin, a Lexington, Ky., native who pitched at Vincennes (Ind.) University, Indiana University and in the Chicago Cubs system, is the owner and pitching coordinator for Pitching Performance Lab in Lexington. He also coaches with the Commonwealth Baseball Club. (Indiana University Photo)

This Gobert following college version of baseball coaching path

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Nick Gobert saw his career path back when he was playing for his father at Jasper (Ind.) High School.

“I thought I was going to be Terry Gobert Jr. and be a teacher and coach,” says Nick Gobert of his father, a long-time JHS educator and Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer with more than 800 career victories, five state titles (1996, 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2006) and three state runner-up finishes (2013, 2015 and 2017). “I’ve always wanted to be a coach, seeing the relationships and how much guys can grow and develop.”

Nick was a two-time team MVP and Most Valuable Pitcher as well as the L.V. Phillips Mental Attitude Award winner at the 2013 State Finals.

During his high school days, Jasper went 113-18 with three sectional crowns, two regional titles and two semistate championships. He was on the IHSBCA South All-Star squad in 2013. He was honorable mention all-state in 2012 (pitcher) and 2013 (second baseman).

Nick describes his prep days as “the worst/best four years of my life in terms of baseball.”

The baseball bar is set very high for the Jasper Wildcats.

“I was supposed to win four state championships in four years,” says Nick. “That was my mentality.

“I didn’t get special treatment.”

His junior year, he spent three periods during the school day with his father plus all the time on the baseball field. There were tense moments, but a lot of very good memories.

“I’m glad everything happened the way it did,” says Nick.

Terry and Caroline Gobert had five children. Sarah died of leukemia as a toddler. Maria just graduated from Indiana University in three years. Laura will graduate from Jasper this year and head to the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville. Julia is in the Jasper Class of 2021.

Nick is the lone Gobert offspring currently pursuing coaching. Along the way, he got a taste for working with older players and recruiting and adjusted his vision to the college game and pursue it while he’s still young.

“I haven’t regretted it so far,” says Gobert.

In July 2019, he was hired as an assistant at Indian Hills Community College. The National Junior College Athletic Association Division I member has campuses in two Iowa towns — Centerville (where baseball is based) and Ottumwa. Centerville has a population under 6,000.

“I’ve been social distancing since I moved to Iowa,” says Gobert.

The coach who turns 26 on May 27 serves on a staff led by Matthew Torrez and coaches third base, helps with recruiting and instruction of infielders, outfielders and hitters and a little bit with pitchers.

Torrez played for Tracy Archuleta at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

After graduating from Jasper in 2013, Gobert played for Tony Vittorio at the University of Dayton in 2014 and 2015.

A torn labrum in 2016 ended his season and he was given a medical redshirt. He transferred to the Southern Indiana, where he played two seasons for Archuleta (2017 and 2018), earning honorable mention NCAA Division II All-American and first-team all-region and first-team all-conference selection in 2018 after batting .357., and served as graduate assistant in 2019. He is working toward as master’s degree in Sport Management.

He played two summers (2014 and 2015) and helped coach one (2016) for the Dubois County Bombers with Andy Lasher, who was a USI assistant and recently became head coach at Oakland City (Ind.) University as manager.

Gobert chose Dayton, which went to an NCAA D-I regional in 2012, and Vittorio for the coach’s blue-collar approach.

“He was very tough-minded and very organized,” says Gobert. “He embraced being a mid-major college. He had a lot of passion for the game.

He was a fiery individual.”

When it came time to travel, Gobert knew the winning tradition at USI led by Archuleta.

“I knew a lot of guys who played for him and spoke highly of him,” says Gobert of the man who brought NCAA Division I national crowns to Southern Indiana in 2010 and 2014. “He had high expectations. Our end goal was being in Cary, N.C. and winning a national title.

“He was concerned for our well-being with tough love. He was easy to play for and he helped me grow and develop and also pursue my passion for coaching.”

In Torrez, Gobert sees a combination of Vittorio and Archuleta.

“He coaches with a lot of energy and likes to put the time in,” says Gobert. “In junior college, you get a lot of hands-on time (more than at NCAA or NAIA schools).

“I’ve learned a ton about the game from him, especially about pitching. I pick his brain quite a bit when it comes to his philosophies.”

Gobert says he and Torrez bring new school and old school together.

“I’ve got old-school roots,” says Gobert. “I’m old school in how we conduct our business.”

The new school comes into play with the use of biomechanics, kinesiology and technology.

“We bounce ideas off each other,” says Gobert.

Indian Hills played around 20 games in the fall of 2019. The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic caused the 2020 spring season to be shut down after 15 contests. The Falcons never got to play a home game. A March 13 date at Des Moines Area Community College, where Indiana native Nic Mishler is head coach, ended up being the finale.

Since the shutdown, Indian Hills has been conducting classes online (the last day is Monday, May 11) and coaches have been helping a 2020 roster that includes out-of-state players from California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Wisconsin as well international talent from Canada, Japan, Netherlands, Panama, Puerto Rico, Spain and Venezuela.

Gobert says Indian Hills is also hoping to build the brand by attracting more local players.

Recruiting leads come through videos, apps, web sites and data bases like Prep Baseball Report and FieldLevel.

“We have a contact we go through,” says Gobert. “It’s much easier to communicate these days.

“We get hundreds of emails a week. People looking for a place to play.”

There are about three dozen players in the program right now. There could be as many as 50 in the fall.

Gobert says five are expected to come back for a third year (a measure allowed by the NJCAA because of COVID-19).

Some players are feeling out offers from four-year schools and deciding if they want to come or not.

It’s not just the 2020 class that has been granted an extra year, but so has 2021, 2022 and 2013.

“What a lot of people don’t understand how good this is going to be for junior college baseball,” says Gobert. “This is going to be an ongoing thing for three — maybe — four years.

“Depth will get even better and it will be more competitive than it is now.”

Gobert’s day-to-day routine has only changed in that he can’t visit or see players off-campus or have them visit the Indian Hills campus.

But he can still make calls, watch videos, do office work and maintain the baseball field.

And some day, he will again be able to build those relationships in-person.

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Nick Gobert (left) and father Terry helped Jasper (Ind.) High School win 113 games in Nick’s four seasons playing for the Wildcats (2010-13). Nick is now an assistant coach at Indiana Hills Community College in Iowa. Terry, an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer, has more than 800 wins, five state titles and three runner-up finishes as Jasper head coach. (Dubois County Herald Photo)

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Nick Gobert, a graduate of Jasper (Ind.) High School and the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, played two baseball seasons at USI and served as a graduate assistant. He is now an assistant at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)

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Nick Gobert, a graduate of Jasper (Ind.) High School and the University of Southern Indiana, is an assistant baseball coach at Indian Hills Community College in Iowa. (Indian Hills Community College Photo)

 

Anderson native Earley builds trust with elite hitters at Arizona State

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Michael Earley works with some of the best college batsmen in the country.

The Anderson, Ind., native is the hitting coach at Arizona State University, where former Indiana University head coach Tracy Smith fields a potent Sun Devils lineup featuring junior outfielder Hunter Bishop (.391 average, 17 home runs, 43 runs batted in), sophomore infielder Spencer Torkelson (.378-11-42), sophomore outfielder Trevor Hauver (.355-9-33), sophomore infielder Alika Williams (.352-3-34), Carter Aldrete (.290-4-32), junior catcher Lyle Lin (.287-4-35) and more.

In Earley’s first season with ASU hitters in 2018, Torkelson slugged a nation-leading 25 homers (the first frosh ever to lead the country in circuit clouts). Aldrete and Lin both raised their averages from the previous season by 20 points and were named to the all-Pac-12 team.

With Earley’s help on offense and defense, outfielder Gage Canning (.369-9-45) had a strong junior season and was selected in the fifth round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and signed with the Washington Nationals.

Earley, who turned 31 on March 15, helps players get into a productive rhythm.

“We create a routine and stick to that routine when things are going good or when things are going bad,” says Earley. “I know how important that is and to not get caught up in failure or success.

“With the elite guys, I become a psychologist and a mental coach more than a physical coach. I want to keep them even-keeled at all times.”

It’s not a cookie-cutter approach.

“Every guy’s different,” says Earley. “They can be similar hitters, but have opposite personalities.

“You need to connect with them so you know what makes them tick or go.”

Earley (@earleybaseball on Twitter and earleyhitcoach on Instagram) does this by making himself available.

“It’s about putting in the time and always being available for them,” says Earley. “Your work shows them you care. You never turn them down.

“We’ve built a culture of guys hitting all the time. They do it on their own and between classes. Guys are just working. We’ve got some guys who are obsessed with their craft.”

Spending so much time with his players builds a sense of trust.

“If they trust you, that’s the key to having a good relationship as hitting coach and hitter and having success,” says Earley.

After the 2018-19 Christmas break, Sun Devil hitters moved into the $5 million Malone complex, a place where they put in cage work before hitting outdoors.

“It’s the nicest batting facility I’ve ever seen,” says Earley.

Hitters will see pitches off a velocity and breaking ball machines.

“We usually do it every other day,” says Earley. “On a comfortable day, we’ll do regular BP and front toss. On a discomfort day, we’ll take gameday, high-heart rate swings.”

During preseason, Smith raised the competition level by sending his top four hitters against his top two pitchers for three or four innings of intense scrimmage.

ASU has built a culture of competition. It calms down a little during the season. But in the fall and preseason, Earley says it’s tough to beat.

“We have alpha-type athletes competing over and over again,” says Earley. “We have a smaller roster and we’re getting creative and writing things down and it just came to him.

“We had a lot of stressful innings for our pitchers and high-intensity at-bats for our hitters. It was huge for us coming into the year.”

Arizona State, which plays its home games at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, got out of the gate in 2019 at 21-0 and are currently 27-7 overall and 10-5 in the Pac-12.

“We’re big on opposing scouting,” says Earley. “Our guys are really prepared. They’ve seen (opposing pitchers) before on video.

“Some of the analytics things we keep in-house. It does pay a big part in what we do every day.”

Earley is a 2006 graduate of Anderson (Ind.) High School, where he played for head coach Terry Turner. After one season at the University of Cincinnati for head coach Brian Cleary, he went to Indiana to play for Smith.

“I love Coach Turner,” says Earley. “He was mentor figure. He was the first coach that believed in me and helped push me.

“I’m a huge Daleville fan now.”

Turner has coached Daleville (Ind.) High School to IHSAA Class 1A state titles in 2016 and 2018.

Earley calls former Cincinnati coaches Cleary and assistant Brad Meador “great people.” He was just looking for a different experience and a chance to play at IU.

“He never let you let down,” says Earley of playing for Smith. “You always had to compete. He always expected the best out of you. It helped me get to the next level and be the best player you could be.

“It helped me translate into a better player and a better coach.”

In one season with the Bearcats (2007) and three with the Hoosiers (2008-10), righty swinger Smith hit .327 with 23 home runs and 87 RBI’s. In 2010, he was a third-team all-Big Ten selection after hitting .352-13-40 with 15 stolen bases. Mostly an outfielder, he played at least one inning at every position on the field except pitcher.

He was drafted in the 29th round by the Chicago White Sox, signed by scout Mike Shirley and ascending to Triple-A Charlotte in 2013. He played professional baseball through 2015, the last year with the independent Southern Illinois Miners. He was an associate scout with the New York Mets in 2016.

Nolan Earley, a freshman center fielder and lead-off hitter at Anderson when big brother Michael was a senior shortstop and No. 3 hitter (Nolan was the starting QB and Michael a wideout in football). Nolan later played at the University of South Alabama and in the White Sox organization and with the Southern Illinois Miners.

Michael and Lisa Earley were married in 2015. The couple have three children — Marshall (5), Mia (3) and Maddie (1). They were living in Anderson before getting the call to Arizona.

Her husband says Lisa was not hesitant to make the move.

“She was with me in the minor leagues,” says Michael Earley. “She’s a baseball wife. This is her lifestyle.”

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Michael Earley, a graduate of Anderson (Ind.) High School who played at Indiana University and in professional baseball, is in his second season as hitting and outfielder coach at Arizona State University. Former IU head coach Tracy Smith is head coach of the Sun Devils. (Arizona State University Photo)

Kiifner wants South Newton Rebels to be strong up the middle

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

A border town will play more baseball in 2019 on the side of the state line where it plays its home games.

South Newton High School, located in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland, went 17-10 in 2018 and played 15 games against Illinois high schools.

After three seasons in the Illinois-based Sangamon Valley Conference (current members are Cissna Park, Clifton Central, Dwight, Iroquois West, Momence, Paxton-Buckey-Loda and Watseka), South Newton (enrollment around 190) is a member of the Midwest Conference (with Indiana schools Frontier, North Newton, North White, Tri-County and West Central).

Jim Kiifner, a 1984 graduate of Sheldon (Ill.) High School (now consulted into Milford Township), is entering his 10th season on the South Newton coaching staff — his third as head coach.

The 2019 Rebels — led by Kiifner and assistants Jason Krug (third season), Ricky Montemayer (fourth season) and Conner Ulmer (first season) — are scheduled to play 23 varsity and 13 junior varsity contests. Ulmer, a 2013 South Newton graduate, is a teacher while the others are lay coaches. Kiifner works in a warehouse for DuPont Corporation.

“My boss allows me to be a little flexible,” says Kiifner. “It also helps that I work in the Eastern Time Zone and coach in the Central Time Zone.

“I gain an hour.”

South Newon’s non-conference varsity opponents include Attica, Benton Central, Fountain Central, Frontier, Kankakee Valley and Seeger in Indiana and Cissna Park, Milford Township, Momence and Watseka in Illinois.

The Rebels are part of an IHSAA Class 1A sectional grouping with Caston, North Miami, North White, Northfield, Southwood and West Central. South Newton has won eight sectional titles — the last in 2017. That year, the Rebels advanced to the semistate for the first time, losing to eventual state runner-up Rossville at Plymouth.

“We’ve been pretty successful the last four years,” says Kiifner, 52. “We get a lot of fan support.”

Athletic budgets at the small school are supplemented through community fundraisers.

Kiifner was coaching in the Travelers Babe Ruth League when then-South Newton head coach Ron Benakovich invited him to join his staff. Benakovich led the Rebels from 2009-12 and Glenn Donahue from 2013-16 before Kiifner took over the as leader of the program in 2017.

“I want the kids to have the most fun as possible,” says Kiifner. “Discipline is a big thing. But I don’t like to be a brow beater.”

Program numbers are up to 23 with 11 newcomers.

“We’re working to get them up to speed on what we expect and do,” says Kiifner, who had a veteran team the past two seasons. The 2018 squad had six seniors and three juniors in the starting lineup.

Kiifner says he wants his teams to be strong up the middle on defense.

“Defend the middle first and work your way out,” says Kiifner. “(Pitchers are asked to) throw strikes and let the defense do the work behind them.”

With that in mind, South Newton has junior Austin Miller and sophomore Brandon Gilliam in the mix at catcher, senior Levi Sample and freshman Kayden Cruz at shortstop and Cruz and junior Terron Welsh in center field.

Senior left-hander Riley Patterson is the top returning pitcher who also plays first base. Senior Tyler Martell is at second base and freshman Kellen Krug at third base. Senior Ben Bryant is a candidate to play a corner outfield spot.

Offensive approach depends on personnel. Kiifner says the Rebels are transitioning from a power team to more of a small-ball squad.

The Hammel brothers have taken their pitching talents from South Newton to the college level.

Junior left-hander Jarrett Hammel started at Saint Joseph’s College and is now at Valparaiso University.

Freshman Jay Hammel was an all-state third baseman as junior, all-state first baseman as a senior and became the school’s second Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series player (Trent Smith was the first in 1990) and is now a freshman right-hander at Quincy (Ill.) University.

Trent Smith is the brother of Tracy Smith, a South Newton graduate who played at Miami University in Ohio and in the Chicago Cubs system before head coaching assignments at Miami University-Hamilton, Indiana University and Arizona State University. Smith’s 2019 Sun Devils were off to a 22-1 start.

Rebel Field, located on the South Newton campus, is a small non-lighted diamond with the distance down the foul lines at 272 feet to right field and 300 to left. Kiifner says there is talk about moving the fences back in the future.

With the school and field sitting in the midst of farm land, it is a breezy place.

“The are winds always blowing,” says Kiifner. “And it’s either too hot or too cold.”

Sheldon was a school of less than 100 students and baseball was a fall sport where there was no football team. Kiifner’s baseball coach was John Spezia, who has gone on to win more than 500 games as a basketball coach.

“He broke down fundamentals really well and brought it to your level,” says Kiifner of Spezia. “He tried not to overwhelm (his players).”

Jim and Madonna Kiifner have been married for 26 years. They have two sons who both played baseball at South Newton — William (24) and Luke (22).

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This is the 2019 South Newton High School Rebels baseball team.

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South Newton won a sectional and regional baseball title in 2017.

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Jim Kiifner is the head baseball coach at South Newton High School in rural Newton County, Ind., between the incorporated towns of Kentland, Brook and Goodland.

 

Former McCutcheon, Indiana slugger Sowers displaying power as pro rookie in White Sox system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Logan Sowers has made a habit of clobbering baseballs since his days at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette, Ind.

As Indiana Mr. Baseball in 2014, the righty-swinging Sowers slugged 11 home runs while hitting .365 with 30 runs batted in and a .514 on-base percentage.

“I consider myself a power hitter,” says Sowers, 22. “I had pretty good power numbers in college and high school.”

That trend has continued in his first professional season with the Chicago White Sox organization.

Sowers was drafted in the 28th round of 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the White Sox after playing fours seasons at Indiana University (2015-18) and headed to the Short-Season Class-A Pioneer League to play for the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers.

“I’m really grateful I was drafted by the White Sox,” says Sowers. “They are first class.

“The coaches are really positive and know a lot about the game of baseball. They understand the grind. They know what we’re going through. They’re good about accommodating us in every way possible.”

Tim Esmay is the Great Falls manager. Eric Richardson, who played for the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks in 1994 and 1995, is the Voyagers hitting coach.

Sowers’ first pro homer came in his fourth game on June 20 against Billings.

Playing in the outfield, Sowers helped Great Falls win the PL North Division in the first half of the split season. Through his first 47 games, he was hitting .318 with seven homers, 11 doubles, 26 RBIs with .411 on-base and .518 slugging averages. He started in center field in the Pioneer/Northwest League All-Star Game.

At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Sowers says his power comes from a mixture of size, strength and bat speed.

The dimensions of Centene Stadium in Great Falls is 328 feet down the left field line, 415 to center and 335 down the line in right. Most of his road dingers have been of the opposite-field variety.

“I have long arms and can get great leverage,” says Sowers, who clubbed five of his first seven long balls away from Great Falls. “When I get extended I can hit the ball pretty far.

“Baseball going toward launch angles. But I’m just trying to hit the ball hard.”

Working hard is what was expected by Sowers’ head coach at McCutcheon —  Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Jake Burton.

“He taught me work ethic and was a big stickler for showing up on time and behaving yourself outside of baseball,” says Sowers. “Was he old school? You could definitely say that.”

“Playing in high school was when I found my true talent for baseball. I was good growing up. Then I started putting it a lot of time outside of school practices.”

A third baseman on the freshman team in 2011, Sowers was an outfielder on the Mavericks varsity 2012-14.

Logan went to the batting cages with his father, Shawn Sowers, and got regular pointers during his  high school and college years from former Purdue University and minor league player Jordan Comadena (who is now bullpen catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates).

An IHSBCA all-stater who played in the IHSBCA North/South All-Star Series in Richmond in 2014, Sowers was selected in the 31st round of that years’s MLB draft by the San Diego Padres. After weighing his options to go pro out of high school or attend college, he decided to attend Indiana University to play for the Hoosiers and study recreational sport management.

Recruited to IU by Tracy Smith, Sowers was given permission to talk with other schools when Smith left Bloomington, Ind., to become head coach at Arizona State University.

A meeting with incoming head coach Chris Lemonis convinced Sowers to stay committed to Indiana and he played there for four seasons (2015-18), hitting .281 with 37 home runs, 50 doubles, 137 RBIs, a .367 on-base and .480 slugging averages.

“(Lemonis) was big on getting your school work done,” says Sowers. “You’re a student before you’re an athlete.”

Lemonis (now head coach at Mississippi State University) worked with IU’s outfielders and also let his Hoosiers know that time in practice is not good enough to get players to the next level. They had to find time between their studies and team activities to do extra work on their own.

In the summers of 2015 and 2016, Sowers played 38 games in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League — first with the Wareham Gatemen and then the Orleans Firebirds.

Sowers completed all his classwork toward his degree and now just needs to complete an internship, which he says he plans to do next baseball off-season.

Great Falls, which takes bus rides of up to four hours for North Division opponents and treks up to 15 hours for South Division clubs, wraps the regular season Sept. 3, followed by the playoffs.

At season’s end, Sowers says he plans to come back to Lafayette for a few days and then head back to Bloomington to train and pursue a part-time job.

Born in Royal Oak, Mich., Logan lived briefly in Indianapolis, but he spent much of his life in Lafayette, where his father is now a project manager in the IT office service management at Purdue University. Shawn and Valerie Sowers have three children — Madison, Logan and Adrienne.

Logan played travel baseball for the Indiana Pony Express, McCutcheon league and Indiana Eagles before one summer with the Indiana Bulls.

Michael McCormick, a pitcher and Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, is also a member of the Great Falls Voyagers.

After Great Falls, the minor league steps on the White Sox ladder are Kannapolis (Low-A), Winston-Salem (High-A), Birmingham (Double-A) and Charlotte (Triple-A).

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Logan Sowers, a former McCutcheon High School and Indiana University slugger, is putting up power numbers in his first professional baseball season. (Great Falls Voyagers Photo)

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Logan Stevens was Indiana Mr. Baseball at McCutcheon High School in Lafayette and put up power numbers in four seasons at Indiana University. He is now with the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers. (Tianna Stevens Photo)

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Logan Sowers was named to the Pioneer/Northwest League All-Star Game as a member of the Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers in the Chicago White Sox system. (Tianna Stevens Photo)

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Through 47 games with the 2018 Great Falls (Mont.) Voyagers of the Pioneer League, former McCutcheon High School and Indiana University outfielder Logan Sowers was hitting .318 with seven home runs, 11 doubles and 26 runs batted in. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in June. (Tianna Stevens Photo)