Tag Archives: University of Central Florida

Purdue alum Serrato spreading knowledge as Kent State coach

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

A Purdue University graduate is applying some lessons he learned while playing for the Boilermakers in his role as an assistant baseball coach/recruiting coordinator at Kent (Ohio) State University.
Barrett Serrato, a graduate of West Chicago (Ill.) High School, played four seasons for head coach Doug Schreiber at Purdue (2009-12) and received a Physical Education degree and experienced a Big Ten Conference championship in 2012.
Former Boiler assistants Jamie Sailors (current Lafayette Aviators managers) and Spencer Allen (now a Northwestern University assistant) were involved in Serrato’s recruitment.
“It’s hard to pick one experience,” says Serrato of his time at Purdue. The whole thing was so enjoyable for me.
“We’ve got a team group chat now. Any time anybody texts it’s like we never left.”
Among players who were on the 2009 and 2012 rosters with Serrato are Kyle Bischoff (New Haven High School graduate), Ryan Bridges (Griffith), Eric Charles (Zionsville), Sean Collins (Pendleton Heights), Joe Haase (Knightstown), Jake Hansen (Westfield), Robert Ramer (Sunnyvale, Calif.) and Tyler Spillner (Fort Wayne Northrop). Bridges was head coach at Hanover Central High School.
Three future big leaguers were juniors on the 2012 team — Cameron Perkins (Southport), Kevin Plawecki (Westfield) and Nick Wittgren (McCutcheon). Brett Andrzejewski (Westfield) was also on that team.
“We all really got along,” says Serrato. “We all jelled. On the field and off the field we really enjoyed our time.
“Winning conference in 2012 was the icing on the cake.”
That squad went 45-14 overall, 17-7 in the Big Ten and beat Indiana twice to win first Big Ten Tournament title. Serrato was named to the all-tournament team.
Another memorable moment for him came in 2011 while Purdue swept a three-game series from visiting Indiana. It was the first sweep of the Hoosiers in 14 years.
“I remember a couple of fans getting on top of the IU dugout (with brooms),” says Serrato. “That’s as good as it gets.”
In 177 games (151 starts) at Purdue, the lefty-swinging Serrato hit .309 with eight home runs, 117 runs batted in and 116 runs scored.
Lessons learned from Schreiber (who is now head coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) included discipline.
“You have to have discipline in everything you do,” says Serrato. “Be the toughest team on the field at all times. Play hard and don’t back down.
“If you have high goals and high standards you have to be able the stuff that comes with it.”
Serrato says Schreiber stressed fundamentals and following the path.
“You knew the standards and the rules,” says Schreiber. “Nobody got any special treatment. This is how we do things and we’re going to do it this way.
“That’s been the biggest carryover to what I do now.”
In Serrato’s last three seasons in West Lafayette, Jeff Duncan was a Boilers assistant and is heading into his 10th season as Kent State coach in 2023.
Selected in the 48th round of the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Florida Marlins out of high school, Serrato was later picked in the 30th round by the Texas Rangers in 2012 and played in the minors in 2012 and 2013.
Serrato was on Duncan’s Golden Flashes staff 2015-17, coached 2018-19 at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., and was at the University of Central Florida in the fall of 2019 before coming back to Kent State in January 2020.
“Coach Dunc is a people person,” says Serrato. “He relates to every type of person.
“He’s good at making sure each guy feels important.”
As recruiting coordinator, Serrato is after a certain kind of player.
“Here at Kent we have a bit of a track record in western (Pennysylvania) and Ohio,” says Serrato. “We have a similar stomping grounds to Purdue. We go into Chicago and Wisconsin. We get some guys from around the Detroit area. It’s a tough kind of kid.
“We’ve got high standards here. We’re going to go into some big places. We’re going to play some really good teams and we’re going to expect to win. If we don’t have a strong mental will — hey, we’re going to get this done — we’re not going to accomplish what this program has set out to do.”
With relationships as a priority, Serrato wants to bring the right people into the Golden Flashes fold.
“If there’s a bad attitude, we’re out,” says Serrato. “At the end of the day we need people who can handle failure and be mature in what they do.”
While looking at potential recruits, he is readying body language, energy and gathering information from multiple sources.
“Off the field are they positive people?,” says Serrato. “What are others saying about them?”
As a hitting coach, Serrato prepares his players to have mature conversations — something he gleaned from pro ball — and preaches three things in this order: mentality, approach and fundamentals.
“It’s that toughness, that go-get-it attitude,” says Serrato. “Anybody who’s been around this game knows that as a hitter you’re going to fail a lot. Guys who can’t take some punches are really going to struggle.
“With two strikes, we shortened up (our swings) and sacrifice power. Our motto is ‘win fastballs away with two strikes.’ If we get beat (inside) we tip our cap.”
Barrett, 32, and wife Karlie met at Kent State. The couple has two daughters.

Barrett Serrato. (Kent State University Image)

Rooney wants his Purdue pitchers to be aggressive, strike-throwers

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

Terry Rooney has returned to a familiar role in his second season as a Purdue University baseball coach.
Rooney is the Boilermakers pitching coach on head coach Greg Goff’s staff for 2022-23.
Since his coaching career began in 1997, Rooney had been a recruiting coordinator and pitching coach. He focused just on recruiting in 2021-22 as he rejoined Goff (the two worked together at the University of Alabama during the 2017 season).
“He’s one of the greatest coaches there is in college baseball,” says Rooney of Goff. “What he brings to the field every single day is unmatched.”
With a 15-0 start, Purdue went 29-21 overall and 9-12 in the Big Ten Conference in 2022.
This fall, which includes an exhibition game at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8 against Dayton in West Lafayette, Rooney is evaluating his pitchers while implementing systems.
“We want to be an ultra-aggressive, confident, strike-throwing pitching staff … guys that pound the strike zone,” says Rooney. “We have a phrase around here — A3P and that’s ‘ahead after three pitches.’ One of our main focuses is to get to that advantage count of 1-2.
“The difference in a hitter hitting in a 2-1 count and a 1-2 count is about 200 points (roughly .360 vs. .160). We say it all the time — 1-2 is our full count. We’re doing everything we can to get to that advantage count of 1-2.”
Rooney says the goal is to be able to throw something other than a fastball on 1-2.
“You want to have the ability to throw multiple pitches for a strike,” says Rooney. “We talk about locating fastballs ahead (in the count) and controlled off-speed pitches behind.”
It’s all about attacking the strike zone.
“It’s hard to be ultra-competitive and ultra-confident and aggressive if you’re falling behind 2-1 and 3-1 all the time,” says Rooney. “Your actions have to mimic what you want to be.”
Rooney says the challenge that players face at the highest level of college baseball — as opposed to high school or even junior college — is a smaller margin for error. There are more great hitters at NCAA D-I.
“As a pitcher the stuff hasn’t changed,” says Rooney. “You’re still the same guy. But you can get away with more at those levels. Here, you can’t get away with much. You’re exposed so to speak.”
With all the concentration on velocity Rooney says the change-up has become almost a lost art.
“A change-up is a switch pitch,” says Rooney. “That’s how you mess up (the hitter’s) timing. The hitter is swinging at the arm speed of the pitcher and it looks like a fastball.
“They’re taught on breaking balls, sliders and cutters to lay off that pitch until two strikes. But the change-up you can’t lay off because it looks like the fastball.”
Rooney came to Purdue in July 2021.
“My relationship with Coach Goff was certainly the No. 1 reason (for coming to West Lafayette),” says Rooney, 48. “Last year was the first time in 24 years that I didn’t do the pitching. For the chance to come in and really focus on recruiting was another reason that I did it.
“The third thing is just what Purdue is, what I think it’s going to be and what it has been.”
Coming back to a “college town” really appealed to Terry and wife Shaun (who have a daughter, Milly Margaret).
The couple met when Terry was on Paul Mainieri’s staff at Notre Dame (2004-06).
“We have been in a lot of college towns together,” says Rooney. “We loved our time in Houston (Texas) and I had a great four years there.”
Rooney enjoys the fact that he lives 10 minutes from Purdue’s Alexander Field.
A native of Fairfax County, Va., and the Washington D.C. area, Rooney pitched at Davis & Elkins College (Elkins, W.Va.) in 1993 and Radford (Va.) University 1994-96.
Purdue is the 10th school where Rooney has coached. It started with George Washington University (Washington D.C.) in 1997, followed by James Madison University (Harrisonburg, Va.) 1998-99, Old Dominion University (Norfolk, Va.) 2000-01, Stetson University (DeLand, Fla.) 2002-03, Notre Dame, Louisiana State University (Baton Rouge, La.) 2007-08, University of Central Florida (Orlando, Fla.) 2009-16, Alabama and the University of Houston 2018-21. He was an assistant to Mainieri at LSU and went to the College World Series with the Tigers in 2008 and head coach at UCF.
Rooney recruited or signed future Major League Baseball all-stars Justin Verlander (Old Dominion), D.J. LeMahieu (LSU) and A.J. Pollock (Notre Dame).
He coached six different schools to NCAA regional appearances (10 total bids): 2000 (Old Dominion), 2002-2003 (Stetson), 2004-2006 (Notre Dame), 2008 (LSU), 2011-2012 (UCF) and 2018 (Houston).
He was part of the coaching staff with six 40-win teams, including talented teams at Stetson, Notre Dame, LSU and UCF.
Rooney counts himself lucky to have worked with so many good coaches during his career. Three of them — Mainieri (1,505), Pete Dunn (1,312) and Tom Walter (790) — have 3,607 victories between them. Current Wake Forest head coach Walter was Rooney’s boss at George Washington. Dunn was in charge when Rooney was at Stetson.
A 30-day NCAA recruiting window is coming to a close soon.
While coach Chris Marx has been on the road for the Boilermakers much of the time and volunteer Daniel Furuto has been very engaged, Rooney has generally worked with pitchers on-campus during weekdays and hit the recruiting trail on weekends.
“We have devoted almost all of our (fall) efforts to junior college,” says Rooney. “The summer is really high school dominant along with the (NCAA) Transfer Portal.
Besides the Dayton game, Purdue has scheduled 3 p.m. open scrimmages for Oct. 12, 13, 14 and 18, the Black and Gold Series Oct. 20-22 and Halloween Bash at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27.

Terry Rooney. (Purdue University Photo)
Terry Rooney. (Purdue University Photo)

’22 Evansville North grad Decker adapting to life with the Dodgers

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

Cameron Decker was a young baseball player at McCutchanville Community Park on the north side of Evansville, Ind., when he donned a Dodgers jersey.
Flash forward about a decade later and Decker is with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
The 18-year old was selected in the 18th round of the 2022 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Dodgers. The draft was held July 17-19, he signed July 30 and last week finished a short stint in the Arizona Complex League. He came back to Evansville for a few days then headed back to Glendale, Ariz., for “bridge” league and Arizona Instructional League (which conclude Oct. 8). The Dodgers’ training complex is at Camelback Ranch.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder enjoyed a super senior season at Evansville North High School in 2022. He made 115 plate appearances and hit .447 with 12 home runs, five doubles, three triples and .617 on-base percentage as a righty-swinging shortstop. He bashed six homers in the Huskies’ first three games.
“It was my goal going in to hit a lot of home runs,” says Decker of the offensive approach at the end of his high school career. “(After the hot start), I saw a ton of curveballs and balls. I switched my mindset to be less aggressive and more patient and take what comes my way.
“As a pro, I’ve tried to hunt fastballs. In two-strike counts, I’m looking to put something in-play.”
While he has not fully committed to it, Decker is considering becoming a switch hitter.
“When I was about 12 I took a few (lefty) swing in the cage and my body felt well and not awkward,” says Decker. “I’ll sometime hit (lefty) in the cage to loosen things up.”
Decker was selected to play in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series June 25-26 at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion and Evansville North head coach Jeremy Jones was head coach for the South.
A University of Central Florida commit, Decker opted to go pro rather than attend college.
“It was a combination of a lot of things,” says Decker of the factors that went into his decision. “Three years of college is a lot of time. You’re not guaranteed to be drafted again. Development in pro ball is higher than three years of college.
“My dream since I was a little kid to play Major League Baseball.”
Decker, who turns 19 on Sept. 22, is getting used to the transition from amateur to pro baseball.
“I’m enjoying you a lot,” says Decker. “It’s a job and it’s a lot of baseball. We’re at the field 9 to 12 hours a day getting work in and playing games.
“I’m around a lot of smart people who love baseball. It’s pretty cool.”
The Dodgers have used Decker as a corner infielder but he has also gotten reps in the outfield and at shortstop and second base.
Decker considers strength and the ability to cover ground in the infield and outfield and run the bases well as some of his best qualities.
“I’ve always been a strong kid,” says Decker. “I’ve always had power regardless of my height. I’ve been working on being more mobile and loose. “It’s part natural strength. I also hit weight room three times a week for a whole-body workout.”
Since the end of his freshman year at Evansville North, Decker has worked out with Tyler Norton, who is a strength and conditioning coach for the Dodgers and runs TNT Fitness and Performance in Fort Branch, Ind.
Decker was born in Evansville and grew up on the north side. After playing at McCutchanville, he was with Highland and competed in the Indiana Little League State Tournament at age 12.
Playing for father Chad Decker, Cameron went into travel ball with the Evansville Thunder.
“Then it was time to go chase bigger things,” says Cameron, who was with the Canes Midwest coached by David Bear and Phil McIntyre his 15U and 16U summers and 5 Star Midwest coached by Jerry Cowan at 17U.
Along the way, Decker impressed scouts including those with the Dodgers, especially after he showed well in an event in Jupiter, Fla.
Dodgers Upper Midwest area scout Mitch Schulewitz (who pitched the University of Illinois-Chicago) signed Decker to his first pro contract.
Cameron — the oldest of Princeton (Ind.) Community High School graduates Chad and Libby Decker’s two sons — comes from a family with a strong baseball pedigree.
Grandfather Joe Don Decker played at Indiana State and in the Cincinnati Reds system. He was a 1962 spring training roommate of Pete Rose and went as high as Triple-A.
Father Chad Decker set records at Princeton then went to the University of Central Florida as a pitcher. After developing arm problems, he transferred to Indiana University to study business and now sells dental insurance.
Cousin Jeff Goldbach broke Chad’s Princeton hitting records and was drafted in the second round of the 1998 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs. He was tragically shot and killed in Greensboro, N.C., in 2021.
Uncle Quinn Decker pitched at Indiana State and lettered in 1996.
Brother Cole Decker (Evansville North Class of 2024) is a lefty-swinging and lefty-throwing outfielder who spent the summer of 2022 with the traveling Louisville Legends. The spring high school season was his first baseball season playing with his big brother.
“We’re a very tight family,” says Cameron. “But summers are usually split with mom and dad trading off (to followed one brother or the other).”
Libby Decker is a former social worker now in marketing. She holds degrees from Indiana State and UCF.

Cameron Decker. (Los Angeles Dodgers Photo)
Cameron and Chad Decker from the McCutchanville days.

Cameron Decker’s first Los Angeles Dodgers organization jersey.

Cameron Decker (left) and Los Angeles Dodgers strength and conditioning coach Tyler Norton in Glendale, Ariz.

Eleven players who prepped in Indiana selected in ’22 MLB Draft

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

Eleven players who graduated from high school in Indiana were chosen in the 2022 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, which concluded its three-day run in Los Angeles Tuesday, July 19.
There were 20 rounds and 616 players selected.
Indiana University right-handed pitcher Jack Perkins (Kokomo High School graduate) was picked in the fifth round (154th overall) by the Oakland Athletics.
Ball State University left-hander Tyler Schweitzer (Hamilton Southeastern) was chosen in the fifth round (161 overall) by the Chicago White Sox.
University of Louisville right-hander Jared Poland (Indianapolis Cathedral) was taken in the sixth round (172 overall) by the Miami Marlins.
University of Connecticut right-hander Austin Peterson (Chesterton) went in the ninth round (271st overall) to the Cleveland Guardians.
Purdue University left-hander Jackson Smeltz (McCutcheon) was picked in the 10th round (300th overall) by the San Diego Padres.
Indiana U. right-hander Bradley Brehmer (Decatur Central) was drafted in the 12th round (347th overall) by the Baltimore Orioles.
Ivy Tech Northeast Community College right-hander Matt Peters (Fort Wayne Dwenger) was picked in the 12th round (353rd overall) by the Chicago Cubs.
Righty-swinging Georgia Tech shortstop Tim Borden II (Providence) was chosen in the 16th round (493rd overall) by the Houston Astros.
Evansville North High School switch-hitting shortstop Cameron Decker (a University of Central Florida commit) was drafted in the 18th round (555th overall) by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Westfield High School right-hander Gage Stanifer (a University of Cincinnati commit) was picked in the 19th round (578th overall) by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Indiana U. right-hander Reese Sharp (University High) was selected in the 20th round (587th overall) by Baltimore.

Major League Baseball Image

Notre Dame’s Wallace talks about coaching the bases

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

Notre Dame baseball generated plenty of base path traffic in 2021 — Rich Wallace’s second season in the third base coach’s box for the Irish.
ND led the Atlantic Coast Conference in on-base percentage (.379), runs scored per game (7.06) and runs batted in per game (6.55).
Wallace talked about coaching the bases for the South Bend Cubs Foundation Coaches Club Tuesday, Feb. 8 in the Pepsi Stadium Club at Four Winds Field.
Wallace has been coaching the bases for almost half his life. He started as a 22-year-old graduate assistant at the University of Central Florida in the first base box. At 24, he began coaching third.
Over the years, he’s learned to be ready for all situations.
“One thing that I always try to do is prepare enough that I can become invisible,” says Wallace. “I do enough work with our guys and with the scouting that nobody even notices me out there.”
Wallace looks at coaching the bases from both internal and external perspectives.
“At Notre Dame we practice base running and I practice base coaching more than any place I’ve ever been,” says Wallace, who is on a staff led by Link Jarrett. “We’ll never run the bases without both base coaches out there for our drills.
“Good base runners do not need help. The problem is they’re very hard to find and are getting harder to find.
“We’re on the bases (as coaches) all the time to get to know (the runners) — the way they run, the types of jumps, what they screw up and what they’re good at.”
Runners also get accustomed to Wallace and first base coach Brad Vanderglas.
“I have a different cadence from another third base coach they’ve had,” says Wallace. “I have different mannerisms.”
There is also creativity in the Notre Dame practice plan that allows for base running work.
“Anything that we feel is going to come up in a game or something we’ve screwed up before or might screw up we do it live,” says Wallace. “You have to have some tough skin to make it through base running because it happens so fast.
“But if you don’t put them in those situations there’s really no way they can handle it.”
Communication between coaches and players is key.
“The language needs to be the same from the head coach to the first base coach to myself so that (players) are not hearing one thing from the first base coach and it sounds like something different from me and something different from (Coach Jarrett),” says Wallace.
The Irish use a wristband system.
“We have more things in our offensive package than you could possibly imagine,” says Wallace, who notes that ND has nine different ways to bunt. “We haven’t missed a sign in three years.”
Not that the execution has always been right 100 percent of the time. But no signs have been missed.
When Wallace yells out instructions, it’s always “yes, yes, yes or no, no, no.”
“I never say ‘go’ because ‘go’ sounds like ‘no,’” says Wallace. “Make sure that you practice hand signals.”
Verbal signals are just a single word — one for advance and another to go back.
Wallace addressed spacing for base coaches. NCAA Division I rules say the coach must be touching the coaches box and the time of the pitch, but can move after that.
“Then you can be as far north (toward the outfield) and as close to the dugout as you want from that spot,” says Wallace. “Use your space. I think about what might possibly happen and I put myself in position (to make a decision where the runner will be able to see me).”
With no runners on-base, Wallace likes to get as deep as possible in anticipation of a triple.
“Everything else in the field (runners) are making their own decisions,” says Wallace. “If the ball gets in the corner then I’ll help them.
“If there’s a runner on second, I’ll be down the line as far as I can.
“I want to make sure I can see the runner and both middle infielders. Depending on where the umpire is, you adjust from there.”
Coaches also help the runner read the pitcher’s pick-off move. There’s also the back-pick attempt by the catcher.
Wallace says it blows his mind when a first base coach lets a runner get picked off with the first baseman playing behind him.
“There’s really nothing else for you to do except tell the runner what is happening behind him,” says Wallace. “So (the back-pick) should never happen.”
Wallace says its the first base coach’s job to gather information on things that will help the runner like pitcher’s grip, rhythm of delivery, catcher’s set-up and arm strength, defensive positioning and more.
The coach communicates this to the dugout without tipping anything to the opponent.
As a third base coach, Wallace is always looking for “chinks in the armor” of the opponent.
“Is there something out there I can see that’s going to allow us to exploit them and do something pretty cool that the guys enjoy themselves and score runs?,” says Wallace.
External preparation includes watching the opponent warm up to study outfielders’ arms, cut-off systems, speed of players and more.
Wallace addressed the Coaches Club in 2019 about recruiting.
Jarrett talked about what it means to be a coach in January 2022.
Notre Dame opens the 2022 season Feb. 18 against Manhattan in Deland, Fla. The first ACC game is March 11 at North Carolina State. The Irish’s first home game is slated for March 15 against Valparaiso.
Performance consultant Dr. Amber Selking will be the guest speaker at the next South Bend Cubs Foundation Coaches Club meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 29.

Rich Wallace (University of Notre Dame Photo)

Riggs shares prep, college, pro experiences with next generation

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Like many Indiana boys, Eric Riggs’ athletic focus growing up in Brownsburg, Ind., was basketball.

His father, David Riggs, was on the 1962 Evansville Bosse state championship team and earned a letter on the hardwood at the University of Evansville in 1966-67. The Purple Aces were NCAA Division II national champions in 1963-64 and 1964-65.

David’s father Walter Riggs and uncle Clarence Riggs are both in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Both graduated from Evansville Central High School and Evansville College.

Walter Riggs, grandfather of Eric, coached Evansville Central to an IHSAA state runner-up finish to Lafayette Jeff in 1948.

Eric Riggs, who is 6-foot-2 and played on Steve Brunes-coached Brownsburg High School teams that went 20-5 and 24-3 in his junior (1993-94) and senior seasons (1994-95), accepted a basketball scholarship to the University of Central Florida.

Playing Knights head coach Kirk Speraw, Riggs started in 22 of 30 games and averaged 11.4 points and 3.1 assists per game as a freshman in 1995-96. UMass and Marcus Camby knocked UCF out of the 1996 NCAA tournament.

Then Riggs turned his attention back to the diamond.

In his 16U, 17U and 18U summers, Riggs played travel baseball for the Indiana Bulls — the first two years with Jeff Mercer Sr. as head coach and the last with Bret Shambaugh.

The switch-hitting infielder had played baseball at Brownsburg for head coach Wayne Johnson and assistants Craig Moore and Mick Thornton. Big league pitcher Jeff Fassero came in to help the Bulldogs during the off-season.

“(Johnson) was a players’ coach,” says Riggs. “We were pretty stacked in our senior class. We had a lot of guys play at the next level (including Brian Stayte, Mark Voll and Joel Martin).”

Junior Quinn Moore, youngest son of Craig, was the mound ace in 1995 and went on to play at the University of South Alabama.

During a basketball recruiting trip to the school near Orlando in the spring of 1995, Riggs met with UCF baseball coach Jay Bergman near the end of the program’s 29-game win streak.

“He was very positive,” says Riggs of Bergman. “Coach Moore had been in Coach Bergman’s ear to let me walk on.

“(Craig Moore) was very instrumental in my baseball career. I just kind of played it. Basketball was my first sport.”

“I had never played year-round baseball. I wanted to find out what that was like. I ended up getting a partial baseball scholarship.”

Before he knew it, Riggs was batting ninth and starting at second base at the NCAA D-I level.

From 1996-98, Riggs amassed a career average of .362 with 49 doubles and a .573 slugging percentage. As an all-Atlantic Sun Conference first-team shortstop in 1998, he hit .394 with 26 doubles, 154 total bases and 64 runs scored.

Selected in the fourth round of the 1998 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers, Riggs was one of 10 UCF players picked from a 41-21 team. Two of those — pitcher Mike Maroth (Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals) and outfielder Esix Snead (New York Mets) — reached the majors.

In the winter of 2000-01, Riggs played a few months in Queensland, Australia, before returning to the U.S. and the Dodgers. He was with that organization for eight years (1998-2004, 2006), getting as far as Triple-A in 2003, 2004 and 2006.

In three seasons, his roommate was David Ross (who went on to be a 14-year big league catcher and is now manager of the Chicago Cubs).

“He’s a natural leader,” says Riggs of Ross. “Being a catcher that was his state of mind. He managed the pitching staff well.

“He was just a solid baseball player. Once he got his chance (in the majors), he showed them what he could do as a catcher and hit a little bit.”

Riggs also played Double-A ball for the Houston Astros in 2005 and was briefly with the independent Schaumburg (Ill.) Flyers at the beginning of 2007 before finishing up his pro career that year in Double-A with the Miami Marlins.

In 10 seasons at all levels, Riggs played in 1,050 games (with 500 appearances at shortstop, 235 at second base and 216 at third base) and hit .264 with 78 homers, 217 doubles, 459 RBIs and slugging percentage of .406.

Steve Farley, then the Butler University head coach, brought Riggs on as a part-time volunteer coach in the spring of 2008.

“Steve gave me a chance to see what coaching at that level was like,” says Riggs. “He was a very, very smart baseball man. He was great to learn from and watch work.

“I had a blast.”

Riggs also had the opportunity to pick the baseball brain of Butler assistant Matt Tyner, who had played the University of Miami (Fla.) for Ron Fraser and in the Baltimore Orioles system. After Butler, Tyner was head coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Ky., a University of Richmond (Va.) assistant and head coach at Towson (Md.) State University.

With a change in his full-time job in 2009, Riggs changed his focus to coaching his sons. Eric and wife Trisha have four sons. Bryce (16) is a sophomore at Noblesville (Ind.) High School. Twins Blake (13) and Brooks (13) are seventh graders at Noblesville West Middle School. Beckett (8) is a third grader at Noble Crossing Elementary School. 

The three oldest Riggs boys have had their father as a coach with the Indiana Bulls. Eric was an assistant with Bulls teams Bryce played on from age 8 to eighth grade and he is now head coach of the 13U White team as well as a board of directors member. The 12-player roster (pitcher-only players become a thing in the high school years) includes Blake and Brooks. 

The team played in two fall tournaments and plans to ramp up preparation for the 2021 season of 11 tournaments with 50 or more games in January. His assistants include Brandon Inge, J.J. Beard and Kyle Smith. Former MLB third baseman/catcher Inge (Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics and Pittsburgh Pirates) go back to their Cape Cod Baseball League days in college with 1997 Bourne Braves.

Kevin O’Sullivan (who went on to coach the 2017 national championship team at the University of Florida) was the Bourne head coach. The ace of the pitching staff was left-hander Mark Mulder, who was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1998 MLB Draft and went on to win 103 games in nine Major League Baseball seasons with the Oakland Athletics and St. Louis Cardinals.

When he can, Eric also helps coach the Noblesville Millers travel team that includes Beckett.

“I’m using what I’ve learned from players and coaches I’ve been around,” says Riggs. “I want to pass that to kids to make them better people and baseball players.”

Riggs, 44, is also a sales pro for BSN Sports with college and high school clients. He says uniform trends at the high school level tend to revolve around what catches a coach’s eye on the college scene. If they like the Vanderbilt look, they may wish to replicate in their school colors.

The Riggs family (clockwise from top left): Eric, Bryce, Trisha, Brooks, Beckett and Blake. Eric Riggs, a 1995 Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, played pro baseball for 10 years and now helps coach his boys with the Indiana Bulls and Noblesville Millers travel organizations. 

Notre Dame’s Wallace explains recruiting process

RBILOGOSMALL copy

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Wanted: A baseball athlete who projects as a big league candidate who also has the skills to thrive in highly-competitive academic setting.

That’s sums up the wish list of new University of Notre Dame assistant baseball coach Rich Wallace.

Hired by new head coach Link Jarrett on a staff with pitching coach pitching coach Chuck Ristano, volunteer assistant Scott Wingo and director of baseball operations Steven Rosen, Wallace is charged with identifying and landing players that will fit the needs of the Fighting Irish as recruiting coordinator. He will also work with ND hitters and catchers.

Wallace shared his knowledge on recruiting and more at the first monthly meeting of the South Bend Cubs Foundation Cubbies Coaches Club for 2019-20 on Monday, Nov. 18 at Four Winds Field.

“Our goal is to get Notre Dame to the College World Series,” says Wallace, who comes to the Irish from Jacksonville (Fla.) University, where he was Dolphins assistant in 2018 and 2019. “I’ve played against teams who did (go to the CWS). Those teams had (future) big leaguers.

“I’m looking for as many kids who want to be big leaguers as I can — not guys who just want to get drafted.

“It’s my job to find the guys who look like they actually could be big leaguers and mix them with the guys who want to be big leaguers and develop them the best that we can.”

Wallace says it is a necessity playing in a Power 5 league like the Atlantic Coast Conference.

“There’s no way for us to beat Clemson, Florida State, Louisville or Miami with guys that are just OK players,” says Wallace. “Coach (Jarrett) will coach them up. He’ll get them great. But there’s only so much you can do against those guys.”

What is the right kind of player for Notre Dame?

“One with a giant chip on their shoulder who wants to do something that’s really, really hard and they’re excited about that,” says Wallace. “It’s he not, he probably needs to go somewhere else. It’s just not going work.”

Pitchers must be good movers and have fastball command and/or an elite fastball or a premier secondary pitch (both is preferable).

“Give me at least one of the two,” says Wallace. “If you don’t have those in our league, you’ve got no shot.”

Do pitchers have to be big and strong?

“I’d love for the guy to be 6-foot-5 and throw 92 (mph) and have a good breaking ball,” says Wallace, noting that pro ball might snap up that kind of player before Notre Dame ever gets a chance to put them on their roster.

Wallace says that Georgia Tech and North Carolina go after both taller pitchers with heat and shorter hurlers with top-notch breaking balls in case they can’t keep the tall flamethrowers.

“We look for both of those,” says Wallace.

The Irish are after explosive athletes.

Once they are on-campus, it will be up to the staff to make them better.

“You have to trust what you do development-wise,” says Wallace.

As one of the top academic institutions in the country, Notre Dame has admission standards higher than most.

Wallace talked about the basic NCAA Division I requirements.

The floor is a 2.3 grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale). All D-I athletes must complete 16 core courses by the end of the their senior year.

Recently, the NCAA has required that 10 of those core courses have to be done before they start their final prep year.

Wallace notes that the top two revenue generators at the NCAA Division I tournament level are men’s basketball and baseball, yet D-I baseball offers 11.7 scholarships (athletic aid) and can carry up to 35 players (no more than 27 athletes on scholarship).

“We’ve got to be really smart about who we are going after,” says Wallace.

Players on athletic aid must receive at least 25 percent.

At Notre Dame, the plan is to carry a maximum of 33 players in the spring (there are 41 on the roster now) on a combination of athletic scholarship and institutional aid.

In addition, NCAA rules no longer allow contact with underclassmen — on or off-campus — until September of their junior year.

There are contact, quiet and dead periods in the recruiting calendar and part of those are at the same time as the season.

Notre Dame tends to play games Friday through Sunday (sometimes traveling on Thursday) with on-campus games Tuesday and/or Wednesday. This means coaches mostly seeing players close to campus on Monday or Thursday (if possible) or missing games or practices to do so.

It’s the high school season — more so than the travel ball season — when Wallace and company want to see players perform.

“We not only want to recruit good players, but winners,” says Wallace. “We want to see them play for their hometown and with their teammates and classmates/

“I’ve got to find guys who really like to compete. That’s hard to do that in a summer setting.”

There’s a one-month recruiting window from mid-September and mid-October and then camps become key to get underclassmen in front of coaches.

Of the nine players who have committed to Notre Dame since Wallace arrived, seven have attend Irish baseball camps. The Irish already have two verbal commitments for the Class of 2023.

“For us, the camps are a huge recruiting tool,” says Wallace. “We’ve got to be smart in the way we use them.”

Wallace notes that campers get a sense of how things are done by ND staff.

“The way we run our program, it’s aggressive. It’s blue collar,” says Wallace. “We present that in camp.

“If the kid is scared off by the way we run things in camp with the intensity and high pace, it might not be the place for him. That’s OK, too.”

Wallace recommends that whatever school a player is considering, it is advisable for them to attend the school’s camp to get a real feel for the program and coaching staff.

“Much of my time is spent on the phone talking to scouts and coaches I trust,” says Wallace. “I build that list so when I do go out I have a plan to go see everybody I need to see.”

Sometimes he likes a player on the other team better than the one he has gone to see.

Such was the case of outfielder Nate Roberts, who went from Northwestern University to Parkland College to High Point (N.C.).

As a High Point recruiter, Wallace got on the phone to head coach Chris Cozart.

“I want the Roberts kid?,” says Wallace of that conversation. “‘He’s playing right field for Parkland. Coach, he’s going to change our program.’

Cozart’s reply: “We need a center fielder. If he’s so good why is he playing right?”

“Wallace: “Because the center fielder is going to play in the big leagues.”

We end up getting the right fielder. He’s a fourth rounder. He led the country in on-base percentage and runs scored. He ended up as a first-team All-American. He pretty much changed the program at High Point.

“The center fielder we couldn’t get was (future big leaguer) Kevin Kiermaier. He turned out to be a pretty good baseball player.”

Notre Dame does not get many junior college transfers since those players must have met requirements to get into ND coming out of high school and have 50 percent of their credits toward Notre Dame degree (the NCAA requires 40 percent) transfer.

The Irish do get graduate transfers.

Wallace says some programs “over-recruit” to prepare for players who sign with pro teams out of high school or might go to another school late in the recruiting process.

“At Notre Dame, we’re not doing that,” says Wallace. “It’s tough to tell a kid to invest in Notre Dame, believe he’s going to get his degree here and before opening day, we chop their legs out (by cutting them from the team).”

When a scout or the player themselves says they are going pro, it’s ways to prepare for that.

“It’s the guy who nobody thinks is going to sign and somebody tries to sneak him in the 29th round for $10,000 and you’re caught,” says Wallace. “I can’t go out in June and find somebody that can get into Notre Dame. It’s not going to happen.”

Being realistic throughout the whole recruiting process is another piece of advice from Wallace.

Can that player really play there?

Does it fit what they want or are able to do academically?

Wallace appreciates the dialogue that he can have with a high school coach who knows the score.

“Some coaches will call and say that guy can play for you,” says Wallace. “I’ll say, ‘have you ever seen us play?’ The answer is no. ‘Have you ever seen us practice?’ The answer is no.”

“Once we get to know you guys as coaches and you’ve seen us play and practice, it’s real easy.”

Another thing that drives Wallace crazy as a recruiter is the campus visit from athletes and parents who are not prepared.

“I’m asking (the athlete) questions and he has no idea what he wants to do,” says Wallace. “Mom is walking around the campus on Facebook. They don’t know any better.”

That’s where coaches can educate them — ask them to do their homework on the school and program, sign up for the NCAA Eligibility Center as soon as they enter high school if they have plans of playing college sports.

“The sooner we can put this in front of kids and their parents the better it is,” says Wallace. “(The Eligibility Center) will give them a free profile.

“If you make your guidance counselor aware, they’ll start sending the stuff in for you.”

It’s also a good idea to send short videos to the top five schools on your wish list.

Wallace says the contacting of coaches should be done by the player and not the parents.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard ‘My son Johnny wants to play for you,’” says Wallace. “Then Johnny probably needs to pick up the computer. I’m sure he’s probably never put his cell phone down. He can send an email.”

Wallace does also not want to see the name of another coach in the league on the subject line.

“They forgot to change the email,” says Wallace. “That one goes right to the trash.”

While taking with coaches on the phone, recruits should let them know what they expect at the end of the rainbow. What are their goals? What degree do they want to pursue?

“At Notre Dame, they have to have some sort of academic goal or it’s just not going to work,” says Wallace.

As a player, Wallace grew up in St. Louis and moved to Orlando for high school. His best college baseball fit was the hometown University of Central Florida, coached by Jay Bergman.

“Pure toughness,” is how Wallace describes Bergman, who won 1,183 games as head coach at Seminole Community College, the University of Florida and UCF. “He still has a giant chip on his shoulder.

“If you didn’t show up everyday ready to work, somebody else will take you job.”

When Wallace arrived at the school and its pro-style atmosphere, there were 62 players on the fall roster. He had to work to find his place with the Knights.

He also saw how much baseball Bergman knew.

“He was magical,” says Wallace. “He would see things a whole other level.”

One time at Clemson, where the Tigers had not lost a non-conference weekend series in about 15 years.

At the end of the game, with UCF down by a run and runners on the corners, Bergman predicts that his first batter will double into the gap to score one run and that the next two batters will safety squeeze to plate two more runs and give his team a two-run lead and that’s just what happens.

Another time against LSU, he asks his No. 2 hitter to bunt a batter to second with one out in the ninth to get scoring position. They did just that and the Knights won.

“He knew how that game was going to play out,” says Wallace of Bergman, who began his coaching career at UCF then served with Cozart at High Point (where he first coached against Link Jarrett), Ed Servais at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and Chris Hayes at Jacksonville.

Wallace graduated from UCF in 2004 with a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Studies. He and his wife, Alex, have two girls — Easton and Maxx.

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Rich Wallace was an assistant coach at Jacksonville (Fla.) University for the 2018 and 2019 baseball seasons before being hired at the University of Notre Dame. (Jacksonville University Photo)

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Rich Wallace (center) was an assistant baseball coach at Jacksonville (Fla.) University before being hired at the University of Notre Dame. He is a Central Florida University graduate. He coached at UCF, High Point University and Creighton University before landing at JU. (Jacksonville University Photo)

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Rich Wallace is an assistant baseball coach at the University of Notre Dame on the staff of new head coach Link Jarrett. Wallace is the recruiting coordinator for the Irish and will also help with hitters and catchers. (University of Notre Dame Photo)

 

New Indiana pitching coach Parker places premium on development

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Justin Parker has been on the job as Indiana University baseball pitching coach for about three months.

The Fort Wayne, Ind., native, who spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons at the University of Central Florida after five campaigns at alma mater Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, has spent his time in Bloomington learning what makes each of his IU players tick and then creating an individualized program to maximize their potential.

“With (Hoosiers head) coach (Jeff) Mercer and I, it’s very individualistic development,” says Parker, who was a teammate of Mercer’s at Wright State. “It’s very much tailored toward their strengths and weaknesses. I don’t have a one-size-fits-all.”

Parker is taking the time to know his pitchers’ personalities as well as the pitches they throw.

“A lot of this fall has been self-scouting,” says Parker as IU comes near the end of a 12-week fall practice period. “You have to get to know them to be able to put together a plan for each of them.

“As a player, all you want is feel like your coaches are invested in your career. You want to make them feel like they’re leaving each day excited about getting better. Then they’re willing to come to work the next day.”

Relationships are key.

“We want to run a family program,” says Parker. “You build trust that way. That’s the name of the game when it comes to development.

“When you want to base your program off development, you have to gain the trust. You have to get to know them. You have to spend time with them.”

The team was invited after Tuesday’s practice to watch Game 1 of the World Series together.

Parker, Mercer and recruiting coordinator Dan Held have been identifying potential new Indiana players.

But they are also working to give the current ones their best chance at success.

“Recruiting is incredibly important,” says Parker. “We hope to do that at a high level. We’ve already got a great start.

“Development is kind of the second pillar.”

Looking at the fall roster, pitchers who saw the most playing time with the Hoosiers during the 2018 season are Pauly Milto (79 2/3 innings), Cameron Beauchamp (52 1/3), Cal Krueger (44 2/3), Andrew Saalfrank (35 2/3), Tommy Sommer (29 1/3) and Connor Manous (24).

Senior Milto (Roncalli High School graduate), junior Krueger (Jasper) and sophomore Manous (Munster) are right-handers. Juniors Beauchamp (Peru) and Saalfrank (Heritage) and sophomore Sommer (Carmel) are lefties.

Milto and Beauchamp were primarily used as starters last spring while Beauchamp, Saalfrank, Sommer and Manous were mostly relievers. All of Krueger’s 27 came out of the bullpen.

Born in Fort Wayne to Brent and Ranelle Parker and the older brother of eventual big league pitcher Jarrod Parker, Justin played Wildcat Baseball and at Elmhurst Little League as well as for a local travel team.

Parker was with the Indiana Bulls at 17 and 18. Among his teammates were future big league pitchers Lance Lynn, Tommy Hunter and Josh Lindblom.

In four seasons at Wayne High School, Parker was a right-handed pitcher and shortstop for Generals head coach Tim Gaskill.

Parker picked up on Gaskill’s emphasis on work ethic and putting in the reps.

“Baseball is such a game of repetition,” says Parker. “Confidence is hard to come by without success unless you’re willing to prepare.

“(Gaskill) used to talk about getting your confidence from the work you’ve put in. You trust that work is greater than the opponent. If you’re willing to work at that level, you ought to be confident regardless of your success.”

Parker was selected in the 43rd round of the 2005 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Minnesota Twins as a right-handed pitcher at Wayne.

He had been an IHSAA Class 3A all-stater, hitting .498 with six home runs and 22 stolen bases as a Wayne senior, but opted to go to college.

Playing at Wright State for Raiders head coach Rob Cooper, Parker was a two-time all-Horizon League honoree (2007 at designated hitter, 2008 at shortstop) and was drafted again in 2008 in the sixth round by the Arizona Diamondbacks as a shortstop.

Parker played at Yakima, Wash., in 2008. He logged 91 games for the South Bend (Ind.) Silver Hawks in 2009 and was with the Milwaukee Brewers organization in 2010 and Minnesota Twins system in 2011.

When his playing career was complete, he went back to Wright State to finish his Organizational Leadership degree and was offered a spot on the coaching staff. He worked with head coaches Cooper then Greg Lovelady. Parker followed Lovelady to Central Florida.

“(Lovelady) is one of the most down-to-earth, easy-to-play-for players’ coaches,” says Parker. “Guys just feel comfortable playing for him.

“Baseball is a hard game to play. Sometimes — as coaches — we can forget that. We (as coaches) haven’t played in a long time.

“Coach Lovelady was good at getting guys to play free and easy. There was no tension or pressure from the coaching staff.

“We have to be relatable. We have to be identifiable. We have to have patience. Those are all things I’ve taken from him.”

What are Parker’s strengths as a coach?

“Understanding the game,” says Parker. “I’ve seen it at a high level from both sides. I’m more patient as a pitching coach because I’ve been at a higher level as a position player. I think I can see things in pitchers from the eyes of a hitter.

“I’ll always tell guys the truth. I’ll always hold them accountable. I’m very detailed and very unassuming. I’m very thorough with an individualized program. Those things have helped the guys I’ve worked with have successful careers.”

Parker, 31, has coached 12 MLB draft selections, including five in the first 10 rounds. He sent nine arms to the pro ranks in just two seasons at UCF.

Justin and Angela Parker will celebrate four years of marriage in November.

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Justin Parker is the pitching coach at Indiana University. The 2019 season will be his first with the Hoosiers. (Indiana University Photo)BLOOMINGTON, IN - 2018.08.23 - Headshot

New Indiana University pitching coach Justin Parker shows his players how to do things during a fall practice. (Indiana University Photo)

 

Former Lawrence Central righty Montgomery goes pro in Orioles system

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

J.J. Montgomery pitched in his first professional baseball game July 11, 2018 — a one-inning stint for the Gulf Coast League Orioles.

But the 6-foot right-hander has been preparing for pro ball since his sophomore year at Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis.

That was 2013 and Montgomery was primarily a center fielder for then-Bears head coach Matt Buczowski.

Having played in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, South Bend, Ind., native Buczkowski saw potential in young Montgomery.

“Started teaching me what the lifestyle was like and started preparing me for it,” says Montgomery of Buczkowski, who is now head baseball coach at Carmel (Ind.) High School and regularly trades texts with his former player. “I love Coach Butch. He’s a really good friend of mine.”

Buczkowski told Montgomery he needed to put in the time and effort to reach his potential.

“You can’t let anybody out-work with you,” says Montgomery of Buczkowski’s advice.

In his junior year, right-hander Montgomery got more more opportunities and struck out 96 batters in 63 innings with a 1.63 earned run average.

Swinging a potent bat, Montgomery hit .456 with 10 home runs as an Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association all-stater in his senior year at LC (2015).

As a high school freshmen, Montgomery’s head coach was Dan Roman (now head coach at Brownsburg High School).

Staying loose and having fun were qualities Montgomery took from Roman.

Montgomery, who played football for four years at Lawrence Central, logged two junior college baseball seasons at Northwest Florida State College (2016-17) before landing in NCAA Division I baseball with the University of Central Florida (2018).

As a freshman at Northwest Florida, he made 16 appearances (12 in relief) and went 3-2 with two saves, two complete games and a 2.64 ERA. In 47 2/3 innings, he racked up 56 strikeouts with 10 walks.

Montgomery was selected in the 33rd round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the San Francisco Giants. He opted to stay in college and went back for his second season at Northwest Florida and pitched in 13 games (12 as a starter), going 8-2 with three complete games and a 1.87 ERA. In 82 innings, he fanned 82 and walked 20.

Raiders coach Doug Martin taught his players, including Montgomery, the meaning of work ethic and not getting to bring for one’s breeches.

“In Juco, everything is blue collar,” says Montgomery. “I was told to just stay humble and be the guy you are.”

In his one season at Central Florida, where Greg Lovelady was Knights head coach and Fort Wayne, Ind., native Justin Parker the pitching coach, Montgomery competed in 17 contests (eight as a starter) and was 6-4 with one save, one complete game and a 2.54 ERA. In 63 2/3 innings, he whiffed 74 and walked 21.

“(Lovelady) taught me about the mental game and dealing with failure,” says Montgomery. “Not everything is going to go your way. You deal with it

“You can only control what you can control. After you let go of the ball, you can’t control much unless it’s a come-backer.”

Montgomery credits Parker (who is now pitching coach at Indiana University) for helping him develop his off-speed stuff.

“I’ve always been able to throw hard,” says Montgomery. “(Parker) told me to find my grip and throw it with the same confidence as my fastball.”

Montgomery was chosen in the seventh round of the 2018 MLB draft by the Baltimore Orioles. After the one game in the GCL, he moved up to the Aberdeen (Md.) IronBirds of the Short Season Class-A New York-Penn League.

In his first nine games with Aberdeen (all in relief), Montgomery was 1-0 with one save and a 5.56 ERA. in 11 innings, he struck out 13 and walked eight.

Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Montgomery has touched 97 mph with both his four-seam and two-seam fastballs. He usually sits between 92 and 95 mph.

“I attack with the fastball then work in the off-speed (which includes a “circle” change-up, “spike” curveball and slider,” says Montgomery. “I have more control with the four-seam (which tends to have more revolutions than the two-seam).”

In his brief time in pro baseball, Montgomery has witnessed the difference between college and the minors beyond the raised level of talent and athleticism.

“In college, the schedule is more structured,” says Montgomery. “(In pro ball), you do what you need to get ready. It’s on you. It’s your career. It’s up to you whether you succeed or fail.”

Jarrett James Montgomery was born in Indianapolis (his parents are Alan Montgomery and Crystal Walton) and played at Oaklandon Youth Organization and Skiles Test Baseball. He played travel ball from age 13 to 17 with the Indiana Prospects then spent a summer with the Houston (Texas) Banditos.

Older brother Christian Montgomery, who also graduated from Lawrence Central, pitched in the New York Mets system from 2012-16.

After Aberdeen, where Kyle Moore is the manager and Mark Hendrickson the pitching coach, the next links in the Orioles minor league chain are Delmarva (Low-A), Frederick,(High-A), Bowie (Double-A) and Norfolk (Triple-A).

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J.J. Montgomery, a graduate of Lawrence Central High School in Indianapolis who pitched at Northwest Florida State College and the University of Central Florida, is now with the Aberdeen (Md.) IronBirds in the Baltimore Orioles organization. (Aberdeen IronBirds Photo)

With a little help from dad, Sampen pitching in Dodgers organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Caleb Sampen, a right-hander in the Los Angeles Dodgers system, is a second-generation professional baseball pitcher.

His father — Bill Sampen — toed the rubber for pay for 10 seasons and appeared in 182 major league games with the Montreal Expos, Kansas City Royals and California Angels.

Selected in the 20th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate Caleb Sampen had been in three pro games though July 10 — all with the Short Season Class-A Ogden (Utah) Raptors.

Caleb has picked up pointers from his father. But it hasn’t been too much.

When Caleb was getting started in the game, Bill was coaching his two older sons. Isaac and Sam played for the West Side Crusaders.

“I was just around,” says Caleb Sampen. “(My father) didn’t force any mechanics on me. He let me be an athlete.

“It wasn’t like I had a pitching lesson with him everyday.”

The elder Sampen decided when his older boys were reaching their teens that he would stop serving as a coach for their teams and he never coached any of Caleb’s squads.

“It was best for them to learn to play for other people,” says Bill Sampen, “I thought that was part of the process. I think that’s the best route for kids.

“I got to step back and just be a dad and enjoy watching them play.

“I just played coach when they asked me questions.”

In November, Samp’s Hack Shack baseball/softball training facilities will reach the ninth year in Brownsburg (5,200 square feet) and mark one year in Plainfield (7,500 square feet).

The Indiana Expos travel organization are in their second season and have seven teams in 2018. None of them have fathers coaching their own sons.

Bill Sampen says that policy for Expos coaches achieves a couple things.

“It allows us to be completely honest and give honest and objective feedback,” says Bill Sampen. “And they just get to watch their kid play.

“I know I enjoy the value of just sitting back and being a dad. The truth is they’re not going to play very long. Enjoy the journey. Don’t stress so much.”

Bill Sampen coaches the 16U National team, David Brewers the 16U American, Derek Hankins the 15U National, Nick Spence the 15U American, Isaac Sampen the 14U National, Leo Tobasco the 14U American, Tony Meyer the 13U National.

Calling the teams the Expos was not Bill’s call.

“My family decision informed that was what the name was,” says Bill Sampen. “You can see I have no clout.”

Bill coached the Bethesda Christian School baseball team for about a decade before starting his training business.

“It’s a very pure level of coaching I have now,” says Bill Sampen, “I appreciate that.”

During the school year, he has students from 4 p.m. on. But he is involved seven days a week most of the year as either an instructor or travel ball coach.

His 16U team has been in Georgia, competing against some of the best from all over the continent.

“Our upper age groups do more extensive travel,” says Bill Sampen. “We’re helping them get exposure. They get to see kids committed (to colleges) all over the place.

“It’s good for our players to see the skill level and talent that’s out there. We want to play people that the only way we can beat them is if we out-execute them.

“Do things right day in and day out. If you have a plan and do the routine things, you’re going to be in baseball games, no matter who you’re playing.”

Knowing that some players will not go on to college, they are getting to have experiences they may not have without travel baseball.

“We want to hope them grow and develop — not just as baseball players but as people,” says Bill Sampen. “It’s the life skills that carry past baseball.

“If you’re trying to win trophies, I think you’ve got the wrong purpose.”

Caleb Sampen grew up in Brownsburg and played at Brownsburg Little League until seventh grade when he started his travel ball experiences. He donned the uniforms of the Indiana Outlaws, Indiana Prospects and Indiana Bulls and Indiana Blue Jays.

At Brownburg High, where Caleb graduated in 2015, his head coach was Eric Mattingly.

“He always talked about doing the little things right and an attention to detail,” says Caleb Sampen, who played shortstop when not pitching for the Bulldogs. “You take care of every little piece so you’re well-prepared.”

At Wright State, Sampen had Greg Lovelady as his head coach and Justin Parker his pitching coach his freshman year before both went to the University of Central Florida.

“(Parker) always talks about lower half and using your legs,” says Caleb Sampen.

The next two years, Jeff Mercer was head coach and Alex Sogard led the pitching staff.

(Sogard) didn’t try to change me a whole lot on the mound,” says Caleb Sampen. “He was pretty individualized, which I liked a lot.”

Recently, Mercer became head coach at Indiana University and Sogard was promoted to head coach at Wright State.

Sampen also got the chance this past year to learned from Diamyn Hall, NCAA Division I baseball’s first full-time mental skills coach.

“We worked on routines and being ready to go,” says Sampen of Hall. “He gets you in that mindset and having self awareness.”

In Caleb Sampen, Bill sees a cerebral kid.

“He’s got an idea,” says Bill Sampen. “I can’t take any credit for any successes he’s had.”

The father does see some similarities to himself.

Bill Sampen developed his abilities while playing baseball and basketball at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill.

“I see the way he moves and his athleticism,” says Bill Sampen of Caleb. “He has a long, loose arm and does things naturally.”

In two seasons at Wright State (2016 and 2018), Caleb went 14-4 in 26 games (21 as a starter) with a 2.92 earned run average, 90 strikeouts and 37 walks in 141 2/3 innings. He missed the 2017 season after having surgery on the ulnar nerve in his elbow.

On a pitch count because of the college workload in the spring of 2018, Caleb Sampen, 21, began his pro career with two relief appearances and a short starting stint. He was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA, seven strikeouts and one walk in 4 2/3 innings.

Jeremy Rodriguez is the Ogden manager. Dean Stiles is the pitching coach.

The next stops on the Dodgers minor league trail are the Low Class-A Great Lakes (Mich.) Loons, High-A Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) Quakes, Double-A Tulsa (Okla.) Drillers and Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers.

Caleb says he goes to the bump each time with an aggressiveness mindset.

“You’ve got to go out and attack with your strengths,” says Caleb Sampen, who uses a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up, 12-to-6 curveball and cutter.

What about the change-up?

“It’s own own little mix I’ve perfected over the years,” says Caleb Sampen. “I use an off-set two-seam grip and throw it with my ring finger and middle finger. I keep my index finger off the ball as much as possible.”

Amy Sampen, a former Brownsburg teacher, is now an virtual educator and is the “boss” as co-owner of the Hack Shack, according to Bill.

Isaac Sampen (24) and Sam Sampen (23) both played at Parkland College in Champaign, Ill. Sam graduated highs school a semester early and joined his older brother.

Isaac Sampen went on to play at Eastern Illinois University and Sam Sampen at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Besides coaching and helping with the coordination of the Expos, Isaac now helps in many ways at the Shack. Sam has an outside job and also helps out at the training facilities.

In his time around the game, Bill Sampen has seen an increase in research and scientific data related to throwing a baseball.

“It’s validated some things that should have been done all along,” says Bill Sampen. “It can be very valuable in preventing injury.

“It seems that injuries are still there in spite of new data and new science.”

The likely reason?

“It’s the intensity of weight training,” says Bill Sampen. “Velocity is based on arm speed and not body strength.

“There are big, physical guys that can’t throw hard.”

And yet 5-foot-11, 180-pounder Billy Wagner regularly hit 100 mph and won 47 games and saved 422 in the bigs.

CALEBSAMPENOGDEN

Caleb Sampen, a 2015 Brownsburg High School graduate and former Wright State University pitcher, makes a delivery for the Ogden (Utah) Raptors in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. (Ogden Raptors Photo)