Tag Archives: West Virginia Black Bears

Hamilton Southeastern, Indiana U. grad Gorski brings multiple tools to the game

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

Matt Gorski brings many attributes to the diamond.
The former Hamilton Southeastern High School and Indiana University outfielder now in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization takes pride in his versatility.
“I can do a bunch of stuff on a baseball field,” says Gorski, who swings and throws right-handed. “I consider myself to be a five-tool athlete.”
In 95 games with the 2021 High Class-A Greensboro (N.C.) Grasshoppers (48 in center field, 38 in right field, three in left field, three at first base and three at designated hitter), Gorski hit .223 (80-of-358) 17 home runs, 18 doubles, 56 runs batted in, 62 runs scored, 18 stolen bases and .710 OPS (.294 on-base percentage plus .416 slugging average).
On Sept. 7 at Jersey Shore, 23-year-old Gorski went 5-of-6 with one homer, two RBIs and one run.
Does Gorski consider himself a power hitter?
“I’m starting to think of myself as one,” says Gorski. “I didn’t always.
“During the (COVID-19) quarantine period, I went though a bit of a body change.”
With no Minor League Baseball season in 2020, Gorski focused on strength training at home.
“I could not do a lot of baseball stuff,” says Gorski, who lives in Fishers, Ind.
Once facilities opened, he was able to work on keeping his batting eye and swing in shape.
“I tried to face a live arm,” says Gorski. “You can’t replicate that any other way.”
From October until the holidays, he went to PRP Baseball workouts at Finch Creek Fieldhouse in Noblesville, Ind.
Around Feb. 2021 — before spring training in Bradenton, Fla. — he went with Pirates minor league infielder Jared Triolo to Dynamic Sports Training in Houston.
Through it all, Gorski bulked up to 215 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame.
In the field, Gorski is most comfortable in center field though he spent a fair share of time in left as an IU sophomore and right as a Hoosiers junior.
Gorski played three seasons at Indiana University (2017-19) — two for head coach Chris Lemonis and one for Jeff Mercer.
In 165 games (158 as a starter), he hit .306 (189-of-617) with 24 homers, five triples, 32 doubles, 108 RBIs, 127 runs, 57 stolen bases and .869 OPS (.378/.491).
“(Lemonis) was a lot like a dad not like a baseball coach,” says Gorski. “He’s a really good recruiter and knows how to care for people. He cared about the classroom and your family. He was first one to call me (when I got drafted).
“He didn’t try to make anything bigger than what it was. He laid it out for you. You’re going to have to work. He told it straight.”
Mercer took another approach.
“He’s a lot more baseball-driven than Coach Lemonis,” says Gorski. “That’s not a bad thing. They’re just different styles. (With Mercer) it was get big, get strong, hit balls far.
“We won a Big Ten title with him (in 2019). It obviously works.”
Gorski was part of a powerful Indiana lineup that slugged 95 homers (second in the country behind Vanderbilt’s 100) and was selected by Pittsburgh in the second round of the 2019 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (57th overall pick).
In 49 games with the short-season 2019 West Virginia Black Bears, he hit .223 (40-of-179) with three home runs, two triples, nine doubles, 22 runs batted in, 32 runs, 11 stolen bases and .643 OPS (.297.346).
His two pro ball seasons have taught Gorski some things.
“I learned that it’s hard,” says Gorski. “You have to have the love of the game to go through the peaks and valleys.”
Since the 2021 season ended, Gorski has been working out at PRP Baseball. Next Sunday he heads to Florida for a month-long hitting camp.
Born Dec. 22, 1997 in South Bend, Ind., Gorski moved to Fishers when he was very young.
He played for the HSE Cats and Indiana Prospects before spending his 13U to 18U summers with the Indiana Nitro with Rick Stiner, Ken Elsbury and Eric Osborn as head coaches.
He was on the freshmen team his first year at Hamilton Southeastern then spent three varsity season with head coach Scott Henson.
“He was a lot like Lemonis,” says Gorski of Henson. “He cared about you more than a baseball player. It was the classroom, your family, your girlfriend.
“He was also a very good baseball coach. He made a lot of players better than expected. He knew how to individualize each person’s styles and connect with them in different ways.”
Henson is now an assistant at Noblesville High School.
Matt, who finished his IU degree in Sports Marketing & Management in the spring, is the youngest of HSE accountant Mark and nurse Lisa Gorski’s three children. Steven Gorski is a seventh grade math teacher at Hamilton Southeastern Intermediate/Junior High. Kristen Gorski is a communications specialist/press secretary for the Indiana Senate.

Matt Gorski (Greensboro Grasshoppers Photo)
Matt Gorski
Matt Gorski

Catcher Hewitt experiencing MLB Draft League

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

Duncan Hewitt has always played baseball with emotion.
As the Indianapolis native has matured he has learned how to harness that passion and make it work for him.
Hewitt, a 2016 graduate of Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, credits Wildcats head coach Richard Winzenread for helping him channel his emotion on the diamond.
“I learned how to control my competitive edge playing for him,” says Hewitt. “I’m an emotional guy. He taught me how to embrace (my emotions).
“Don’t run from it. Find a way to turn that into something positive.”
Hewitt continued to do that at Butler University in Indianapolis. He played for the Bulldogs 2017-21, taking a medical redshirt year when he tore his meniscus 15 games into the 2019 season. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he still has a year of eligibility.
“I’m certainly more level-headed and more calm, cool and collected than I have been at any time in my career,” says Hewitt, a team captain the past two seasons after having that unofficial designation at the end of his prep days.
Playing for Butler head coach Dave Schrage, Hewitt has appeared in 123 games (96 starts) with 675 putouts, 58 assists and just four errors and a .995 fielding percentage.
Though he played in just 15 games, Hewitt’s best offensive season was 2019 when the righty swinger hit .333 (15-of-45) with two home runs, 18 runs batted in and a .967
(. 434 on-base percentage plus .533 slugging average).
“It’s been a lot of fun,” says Hewitt of the Butler experience and playing for Schrage. “I got very, very lucky.
“He’s been around the game so long. I know he’s always got my back. I know he cares for me and my teammates very deeply.”
The connection between Hewitt and Winzenread continues as they still talk on a weekly basis and enjoys getting together with the coach and former LN teammate Nolan Watson (who pitches in the Kansas City Royals system) to talk baseball.
Hewitt, who turned 23 on May 17, is with the Coco Crisp-managed Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Niles, Ohio) of the new MLB Draft League this summer. He and his teammates were going to travel to Pittsburgh to work out for the Pirates at PNC Park today (June 7) and then play a three-game series at the West Virginia Black Bears and three-game set at the Frederick (Md.) Keys.
“It’s a really, really cool idea,” says Hewitt of the MLB Draft League, an exposure circuit that sprung up out of the overhauling of Minor League and college summer league baseball with the MLB First-Year Player Draft being pared down and moved to July (the 20-round 2021 MLB Draft is scheduled for July 11-13). “I’m surprised its taking this long for something like this to come to fruition.
“It’s really giving guys a chance to come out and play and get a couple of last looks (for professional teams) and I’m finding it’s more for guys who haven’t gotten any looks at all. They’re proving they can play with anybody in the country. It’s cool to some of these come out with a chip on their shoulder and show what they can do.”
The MLB Draft League gives players a taste of pro baseball. They learn what it’s like to play everyday with most games beginning at 7 p.m. They see what its like to prepare for that and get the proper rest so they can perform at their best. A typical day at the park is 1 to 10 p.m.
“There are nuance things you can only gain through experience,” says Hewitt.
Three other Indiana players — Sam Crail (Sheridan High School and Saint Leo University), Hayden Jones (Fort Wayne Carroll High School and Illinois State University) and Garrett Schoenle (Fort Wayne Northrop High School and University of Cincinnati) — are on the Mahoning Valley roster and there are others in the league.
What Hewitt appreciates most about summer baseball is the blending of players.
“We’re coming from extremely different lifestyles,” says Hewitt. “But we’re all chasing the exact same thing.”
As a catcher, Hewitt has come to see the game like a coach or manager.
“(Catcher) is a position that takes good leadership and understanding personalities — when to chew someone out and when to put a hand on someone’s shoulder,” says Hewitt. “It’s a big, big reason I pride myself on making decisions in moments like that.”
Growing up in Lawrence Township, Hewitt got his first taste of league baseball through Oaklandon Youth Organization. He began playing for various travel teams around 9 including the Indiana Bulls in high school.
“I think I did it right,” says Hewitt. “My dad (Mike Hewitt) kept me away from the daddy ball experience and the crazy parents.
“I wore a lot of jerseys, but I always say I played for the Bulls.”
Dan Held was Hewitt’s coach with that travel organization.
“He was the first coach I had that was a professional himself,” says Hewitt of Held, who played at the Triple-A level in the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets organizations and is now an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Indiana University.
“To be on his team you had to be at a certain skill level and invited to play,” says Hewitt. “He introduced me to professionalism on the field.
“It was the way you carried yourself and how you went about your business.”
Duncan’s mother is Heather Hewitt and his sister is Presley Hewitt (18). The Lawrence North graduae is heading to the University of Cincinnati as a sophomore after starting at Ball State University.

Duncan Hewitt (Butler U. Photo)

Duncan Hewitt (Butler U. Photo)

‘Stubborn approach’ has Evansville’s Owen at Triple-A level with Pirates

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BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Hunter Owen was playing in his fifth game since being promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis.

The Evansville, Ind., native was facing a knuckleball pitcher for the first time.

After grounding into a fielder’s choice in his first plate appearance on Thursday, July 18, Owen belted the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the third inning from Syracuse right-hander Mickey Jannis for a two-run home run and the Indians went on to beat the Mets 9-1 at Victory Field.

“You can’t prepare for (the knuckleball),” says Owen. “You have to be willing to battle and stick to your stubborn approach.”

Owen, who swings from the right side, says that when he’s going good he looks for a pitch in a particular location and doesn’t miss it.

That kind of pitch recognition comes with repetition.

“The majority is experience — a lot of at-bats at each level,” says Owen. “The higher up you go, the better the stuff is.

“(Experience) allows you to progress as a hitter — visually and physically.”

Owen was selected out of Indiana State University in the 25th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He experienced 187 at-bats for the short-season West Virginia Black Bears in 2016. In 2017, he had 12 AB’s with the Black Bears, 291 with the Low Class-A West Virginia Power and 10 with the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Pirates.

There were 401 at-bats with the Advanced-A Bradenton (Fla.) Marauders in 2018. He opened 2019 with 235 more for the Double-A Altoona (Pa.) Curve.

Owen hit .257 with five homers and 34 runs batted in for 2016, .284 with 13 and 49 in 2017 and .262 with 18 and 60 in 2018.

At Altoona, his numbers were .298, 15 and 44 before his promotion.

The biggest difference between Double-A and Triple-A?

“The pitching,” says Owen. “Guys can throw three to four pitches wherever they want it.

“They have a better plan of how to attack you.”

Owen really learned how to play in attack mode from his head coach at Evansville Mater Dei High School and with Funkhouser American Legion Post 8Jeff Schulz (who played 40 games in the majors with the Pirates and Kansas City Royals).

“What sticks with me is the aggressiveness mentality,” says Owen. “You’re going up to the plate to do damage.

“You also want to be as much of a well-rounded player as a you can be.”

Growing up, Owen was mostly a shortstop. In high school, he was also used at second base and third base (and was also honorable mention all-state on the football field).

Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs told him to embrace versatility and Owen is comfortable in the infield, outfield or behind the plate.

“Any ability to crack the lineup and be versatile for my team,” says Owen. “(Hannahs) made me the ballplayer I am today — for sure.

“More than anything, he helped me grow mentally. He takes pride in having ballplayers with a lot of character that are good people.”

While he’s got 52 minor league homers, Owen does not classify himself as a pure home run hitter.

“I have gap-to-gap power,” says Owen, who is 5-foot-11 and 197 pounds. “I have the ability to drive the baseball over the wall (with a combination of bat speed and strength).”

Owen notes that every hitter has a launch angle — that’s just physics.

He sticks with the approach that’s more conducive to his swing.

“I’m hitting down through (the baseball),” says Owen, who also has 70 doubles and 12 triples in three-plus minor league seasons.

Owen, who resides in Fishers, Ind., in the off-season, began training last winter with Mike Robertson at Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training (IFIT) to increase his mobility, overall strength and speed.

“They help you maximize your physical potential,” says Owen.

Now that he’s playing home games in Indianapolis, Owen has had many family and friends in the stands and expects to see more.

“It’s super humbling to have so many people reach out who are interested in my career,” says Owen, who turns 26 Sept. 22. “The big support system behind me makes it super special.”

The youngest of former University of Evansville baseball player Steve and wife Kena Owen’s five children (following Michael, Leslie, Tyler and Mandi), Hunter took advantage of the lessons that position afforded him.

“It was awesome,” says Hunter. “I really took hold to my two brothers.”

Tyler Owen played four years of NCAA Division I baseball at Murray (Ky.) State University.

“He helped me through my high school and college career,” says Hunter of Tyler. “Picking my brother’s brain was super helpful.”

Hunter attended St. Philip Catholic School through the eighth grade and played for the school teams as well as the Southern Indiana Bombers prior to high school. He played a summer with the Jeremy Johnson-coached Evansville Razorbacks before heading off to ISU.

As a Sycamore, Owen was redshirted in 2013 then played from 2014-16. He hit .342 with nine homers and 59 RBIs, including .350, six and 47 as an all-Missouri Valley Conference outfielder in 2016.

At the time he began his pro baseball career, Owen was working toward and sport management degree and plans to complete it at some point.

Right now, he’s battling and being stubborn in his approach.

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Hunter Owen, an Evansville (Ind.) Mater Dei High School graduate who played at Indiana State University, is now with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. (Indianapolis Indians Photo)

 

Former Mt. Vernon (Fortville), Miami U. lefty now following routine in Pirates organization

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Sticking to his daily routine, Zach Spears is finding out what it means to pitch as a professional.

“It’s executing what you’re trying to do and staying on top of things at all times,” says Spears, who was selected in the eighth round of the 2018 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He is a 2015 graduate of Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville, Ind.

Through games on June 28, the 6-foot-7, 230-pound left-hander had made two appearances (both as a starter) for the West Virginia Black Bears of the Short-Season Class-A New York-Penn League and was 0-0 with a 2.25 earned run average, no strikeouts and two walks in four innings.

“In my routine to prepare for a start, I’m activating the arm,” says Spears. “I get the body moving before I pick up a ball. When I pick up the ball, I don’t want to have any tightness or anything like that. I do band work to get my whole entire body loose.”

Spears throws a two-seam fastball, four-seam fastball, slider and “circle” changeup from a three-quarter overhand arm slot. His velocity ranges from 89 to 95 mph on his fastball, 76 to 80 mph on his slider and 82 to 85 mph on his change-up.

“My fastballs have a lot of arm-side movement,” says Spears. “It’s real important to change speeds and keep the hitters off-balance.”

In three seasons at Miami, the big southpaw was 8-22 with a 4.92 ERA, 216 strikeouts and 126 walks in 212 innings. This spring, he logged 82 innings for MU.

Danny Hayden was the RedHawks head coach and Matt Davis the pitching coach.

Spears, who turned 21 June 3, remembers their advice.

“You’ve got to go about things the right way to be successful,” says Spears. “You can’t be lazy. You have to be prepared at all times to have success.”

Ryan Carr was the head coach and Brian Downs the pitching coach in Spears’ last season at Mt. Vernon.

“They told me to go out there and have fun,” says Spears. “Approach the game with a positive, hard-working attitude and just trust yourself and compete.

“It’s helped me.”

Spears has one more year of college left. He was a sport management major with a minor in marketing and management at minor.

How does he plan to use that education?

“I’d like to go into some kind of real estate,” says Spears. “It’s got a sales side I enjoy. I like to be hands-on doing things.”

Baseball life for got rolling for Spears at the Mount Vernon Optimists League. He played two years of travel ball in high school with the Pony Express.

Zach is the younger of Pat and Deb Spears’ three children. There is older brother Andy and older sister Elizabeth.

The next steps in the Pirates system are the Low Class-A West Virginia Power, High Class-A Bradenton Marauders, Double-A Altoona Curve and Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. The Black Bears play on the turf at Monongalia County Ballpark in Granville, W.Va.

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Zach Spears, a 6-foot-7 left-hander drafted out of Miami University of Ohio by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018 is now with the West Virginia Black Bears. He is a graduate of Mt. Vernon High School in Fortville, Ind. (West Virginia Black Bears Photo)

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Former Mt. Vernon (Fortville) High School and Miami University of Ohio pitcher Zach Spears (67) is now with the West Virginia Black Bears in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. (West Virginia Black Bears)

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Former Mt. Vernon (Fortville) High School and Miami University of Ohio pitcher Zach Spears (67) is now with the West Virginia Black Bears in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization. He was an eighth-round MLB Draft selection in 2018. (West Virginia Black Bears)