The 2017 graduate of New Palestine (Ind.) High School made five appearances (three starts) as a corner outfielder and pitched in relief in six games in 2018 and took the field as a position player 24 times (17 as a starter) in 2019 while earning two letters for the Cornhuskers.
Batting and hurling right-handed, Watson collected 15 runs batted in and logged 5 1/3 innings on the mound and entered the NCAA transfer portal after the 2019 fall semester.
The 6-foot-3, 198-pounder considered going to an NCAA Division II school so he would not have to sit out, but ended up staying in D-I and was required to miss only a half year while coming back to his state of residence.
Recruited by Indiana State head coach Mitch Hannahs while at New Palestine, Watson reached out to the Sycamores for a chance and was given one.
After moving to Indiana State, he was not eligible to play in the spring, but will be able to participate with the Sycamores this fall. Watson has two years of eligibility remaining.
“I work hard and show up in the weight room and at practice,” says Watson of his baseball strengths. “I’m a pretty intense guy when it comes down to it.”
He says his he used to let his emotions get the best of him, but he’s learned to get that under control.
Since entering college Watson has changed his major to Psychology and says he has at least three semesters left toward his degree.
Watson was tipped off about the 12-team loop by former New Palestine teammate Jason Hall-Manley, who goes to Anderson University and plays for the CSL’s Juice.
“See ball – hit ball,” says Watson of his hitting approach this summer. “I’m just trying to see pitches and get live AB’s.
“For me, cage work is locking in mechanics. In the game, you can only focus on so many things and your swing isn’t one of those. You have to trust muscle memory.”
Watson, 21, was born in Jasper, Ind., and moved to Fountaintown near New Palestine as he was entering seventh grade. Keegan is the son of Dan and Amy and the younger brother of Callee. The family moved when his mother took a job in the Indianapolis area.
He split his freshmen season between the junior varsity and varsity and was up with head coach Shawn Lyons for his final three springs with the Dragons.
“He knows what he’s taking about,” says Watson of Lyons. “He’s intense. He’s good a reading people. He’s not afraid to let you know when he thinks you’re not giving your best effort.”
Prior to high school, Watson played four years of travel baseball for the Indiana D-I Hoosiers, which had players from the Bedford, Ind., area.
His 16U and 17U summers were spent with the Indiana Bulls, where he was coached by Sean Laird. Watson was with the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays (18U) before heading to Nebraska.
Watson is hoping Indiana State can use him out of the bullpen like he did with the Cornhuskers.
“I’m pretty confident in all my stuff,” says Watson. “I could pitch backwards or normal.
“As I get stronger, I stay mobile,” says Bachman, a 2018 graduate of Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers with 19 mound appearances (18 starts) in two seasons at Miami. “It’s important to stay mobile in your upper and lower half.”
To say mobile as his strength increases, Bachman pays attention to his movement patterns, goes through mobility circuits and does yoga.
Besides a two-seam fastball, Bachman throws a slider — more of a “slurve” which breaks two planes of the strike zone — and a vertical-breaking change-up.
The Grand Park League began last week and Bachman made his second appearance Tuesday, June 23. He expects to throw a bullpen Saturday at Fishers Sports Academy and take the mound in the college league again Tuesday, June 30.
Bachman and Miami pitching coach Matthew Passauer have mapped out the hurler’s regimen.
“He’s very flexible about what I want to do,” says Bachman of Passauer. “We work together and bounce ideas of each other and develop a plan.”
As a RedHawks freshman for head coach Danny Hayden, Bachman was an all-Mid-American Conference first-teamer. He went 7-1 with a 3.93 earned run average. He struck out 75 batters in 75 2/3 innings and opponents hit .229 against him.
With that many innings, he was shut down for the summer collegiate season.
In 2020, the righty started four times and was 1-2 with a 3.42 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 23 2/3 innings.
“I’m usually a high-adrenaline guy, which is a little unusual for a starter,” says Bachman. “It’s about beating the hitter every time no matter what the situation.”
That’s just the way Bachman is wired. His parents — Kevin Bachman and Suzanne Bachman — divorced when Sam was young and he pushed himself athletically and academically.
“I’m very competitive and driven for sure,” says Bachman. “I always have a chip on my shoulder. I’m never satisfied. Workhorse mentality.”
In order to build relationships and develop players, coaching staffs tend to stay with the same group of players from their 14U through 17U seasons.
“If I’ve only been around these kids for eight weeks in summer, I don’t really get to know the kid and the family,” says Jay Hundley, Canes Midwest Baseball president and 17U head coach. “The cycle — I believe in that.”
Hundley recalls an emotional goodbye by himself and his assistant coaches to the Canes 17U team when they played their last game of 2019.
“We cried like babies for 25 minutes straight,” says Hundley. “(The players and their parents) became our second family.”
That bond happens through years of training (off-season workouts are done at Pro X Athlete Development in Westfield, Ind.), traveling and playing together.
McGaha (Mooresville), Honaker (Martinsville), McIntyre (Indianapolis North Central), Bear (Ben Davis), Webb (Western Boone) and McDaniel (Columbus North) are all high school head coaches. Sensenbaugh (Indianapolis Cathedral), Koning (Zionsville) and McIntosh (Columbus North) are also high school assistants. Bertram played at Purdue University and just graduated.
Hundley says there will be teams at each age from 10U to 17U when new squads are formed for 2020-21.
“We’ll only only ever have only one team per age group,” says Hundley. “We want to have the best kids and coaches. We’re trying to grow it the right way — slowly and surely.
“We’ve had the same coaches for almost 10 years.”
Hundley founded the Indiana Outlaws around 2012. A few years ago, that organization merged with Canes Baseball.
With President and CEO and 18U National head coach Jeff Petty and general manager and 14U National head coach Dan Gitzen based in the Virginia/Maryland/North Carolina area, Canes Baseball is one of the biggest travel programs in the country with thousands of players and a very large social media presence.
“The Outlaws were known in Indiana and surrounding areas,” says Hundley.
While Canes Midwest Baseball is locally owned and operated, Hundley says the national Canes brand helps with outreach in getting better players and with exposure to college programs.
Canes Midwest Baseball does not have a huge board of directors.
“It’s like a mom-and-pop operation,” says Hundley. “It’s myself and our coaches. It’s about baseball at the end of the day.
“We’re getting guys into college and developing our younger players. We build great relationships with families. We do it for the right reasons.”
Hundley says 21 of the 23 players on the 17U team in 2019 (members of the Class of 2020) made college baseball commitments.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 college season was cut short and players were given an extra year of eligibility. High school seniors missed the entire spring campaign.
The Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft was sliced from 40 to five rounds.
On top of that, the recruiting calendar for NCAA Divisions I and II was changed so coaches can’t see players in-person until after July 31. The travel season is essentially over by then.
To deal with that, Hundley says Canes Midwest Baseball will continue to provide those college coaches with video and use the equity built built over the years between the travel group and the college recruiters.
“We have to vouch for our player’s character, but we can’t oversell a player who’s not a fit for the school or we lose credibility,” says Hundley. “(Recruiters) can see a guy’s talent, but can’t see what’s in his heart or between his ears.”
It’s typical that close to 90 percent of players are committed by the end of the 17U summer.
Hundley says that it used to be that the 17U summer was the most important for players bound for Division I Power 5 programs.
That has changed to 16U and some players have even made verbal commitments as 15U players. At 17U, there are still D-I commitments made as well as at other collegiate levels.
“The landscape has changed so much,” says Hundley. “There may be a chain reaction for three or four years. There are a lot of guys that didn’t leave college because of not being drafted.
“The waters have gotten very muddy. I don’t think it’s going to get clear for awhile.”
Depending on participation by college recruiters, Hundley says the 17U Canes Midwest team might also play in the next Bullpen Midwest Prospect League event at Grand Park.
With their bright gold attire, it’s usually not difficult to spot the Canes at a tournament.
Hundley is a 1997 graduate of Ben Davis High School and played for head coach Dave Brown. Later on, Hundley was a Ben Davis assistant for six years and followed Aaron Kroll to staff Roncalli High School in Indianapolis and was on his staff 2015-19.
“If you just show up on your high-intensity or game days, you’re not going to get much better,” says Vogt. “Guys are around other guys with high energy and motivation who do not skip drills, warm-ups and recovery.”
During the week, there are also high school players (many of whom are in travel ball tournaments Thursday through Sunday) working out, too. There is weight training, Core Velocity Belt work to emphasis the lower half and the use of PlyoCare Balls.
Each player follows an individualized workout plan based on their Driveline Baseball profile.
“Everyone does a pre-assessment,” says Vogt. “We measure strength, power and velocity and create a plan off that.”
Because of COVID-19 many of the players have not been able to get on an outside diamond in a sanctioned game for months.
Many were not able to do much in the way of throwing or lifting weights for two months.
College players saw their seasons halted in mid-March. High school players heading into college lost their campaigns altogether.
Minor League Baseball has not began its 2020 season nor has the Utica, Mich.- based USPBL .It’s uncertain when or if MiLB will get going. The USPBL has announced it will start with smaller rosters June 24 and expand when fans are allowed at games.
“It’s just a really fun time to come out here and really put all the work that me and all these guys put in throughout the week to a test,” says Polley. “It’s really cool to be able to see the guys come out here and thrive whenever they’ve made adjustments.
“It’s a time to relax and get after each other.”
Donning a T-shirt defining culture as “A wave that inspires a community to achieve greatness” (by Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson), Polley relates to the atmosphere at PRP Baseball and Finch Creek.
“They bust your butt during the week and whenever it’s time to play, it’s time to play,” says Polley. “We don’t worry about the mechanics or the drills we’re working on throughout the week. Let’s see what you got and you make adjustments week to week.”
Polley’s focus was on having a good feel for all his pitches and moving the way they’re supposed to based on Rapsodo-aided design.
Though the timetable is unknown, Polley says being prepared to return to live baseball is the key.
“I view this as an opportunity to improve my craft,” says Polley. “I come off and throw and lift everyday to make myself better.
“Whenever it is time to show up, I’m going to be better than whenever I left.”
Polley came down with the coronavirus in March after coming back from spring training in Arizona and was unable to throw the baseball for two weeks.
For that period, he and his girlfriend stayed away from everyone else and meals were brought to the bedroom door by Polley’s parents.
With facilities shut down, he was able to train in a barn and at local parks.
“To just be a kid again was really cool,” says Polley. “As a kid, you’d go to the park with your friends and practice. You’d compete and try to get better.
“That’s all it has been this entire quarantine. You come back into a facility like (Finch Creek) ready to go.”
Vogt has noticed an attention to detail Polley.
“If the minor league season happens, he’s going to be ready to go,” says Vogt.
“This gives me a chance to compete and feel out my stuff,” says Milto. “I get a chance to improve and see what’s working and what’s not working.
“This time is kind of weird, not knowing when or if we’re going to go back. So I’m just here, seeing the competition and staying ready.”
Milto just began coming to PRP Baseball this past week after hearing about it through friends.
“I really love all that they offer,” says Milto.
While maintaining strength, Milto also makes sure he stays flexible.
“For longevity standards and being able to move well consistently for as long as possible, I think it’s important so I work on by flexibility,” says Milto. “Especially with my upper body. My lower body is naturally flexible.
“I’m working on by thoracic rotations and all that kind of stuff. It’s helped me feel good everyday.”
Milto just began adding a cutter to his pitch assortment.
“Using the cameras and the Rapsodo here is really helping me accelerate the development.
“I’m feeling it out (with the cutter). I’ve already thrown a slider. I’m trying to differentiate those two and make sure they look the same out of my hand but different coming to (the batter).”
Milto says he’s made a switch in his take on how electronic devices can help.
“At first, I didn’t buy much into the technology,” says Milto. “It was all just too much to look at. As of late, I’ve started to pay more attention to it. I’ve realized the benefits of it.
“My mentality has been to just go out there, trust my stuff and compete instead of I need to get my sinker to sink this much with this axis. But I’ve started to understand how important that stuff. You make everyone look the same until it isn’t.
“It’s immediate feedback when you’re training. You release it. You know how you felt. And you know exactly what it did.”
Gray, 25, is a right-hander who played at Columbus (Ind.) East High School, Western Michigan University, Gulf Coast Community College and Florida Gulf Coast University before being signed as a minor league free agent by the Colorado Rockies in 2019. He was released in February 2020 and reports to the Milkmen this weekend.
“I see that they get results here,” says Gray. “It’s always great to push yourself and compete with others that are good at sports.”
Gray, who has been working out with PRP Baseball since prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, counts down his pitching strengths.
“I compete. That’s a big one,” says Gray. “I throw strikes. I’m determined to get better and be the best version of myself.”
When the quarantine began, Gray had no access to a weight room.
“I did a lot of body weight stuff and keep my body there,” says Gray. “I was lifting random stuff. I was squatting with my fiancee on my back. I was finding a way to get it done.
“I knew at some point COVID was going to go away and baseball was going to be back and I needed to be ready.”
Strobel, 25, is a left-hander who played at Avon (Ind.) High School and for the final team at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. (2017) before pitching for the independent Frontier League’s Joliet (Ill.) Slammers that summer. He underwent Tommy John reconstructive surgery and missed the 2018 season. He appeared in 2019 with the AA’s Gary (Ind.) SouthShore RailCats. When not pitching, he’s helped coach pitchers at Avon and for the Indiana Bulls 17U White travel team.
Strobel coached at Grand Park early Friday and then scooted over to Finch Creek for PRP “Compete Day.”
“I try to mimic what we do here,” says Strobel of his pitching coach approach. “It’s mainly work hard and be safe.
“Summer ball is now acting like the high school season. It’s been about getting everyone up to speed. Some guys were not throwing over the spring. They just totally shut down. You have other guys who’ve been throwing.”
Strobel has been training with Vogt for about four years.
“I like the routine of everything,” says Strobel. “Everything’s mapped out. You know what you’re doing weeks in advance. That’s how my mind works.”
And then comes the end of the week and the chance to compete.
“Everything’s about Friday live,” says Strobel. “Everyone has a routine getting getting for Friday.”
Strobel has been told he’s on the “first call” when the USPBL expands rosters.
He was “on-ramping” in February when the pandemic came along and he switched to training at the barn before coming back to Finch Creek.
“I really didn’t have to shut down,” says Strobel. “It’s just been a long road from February and still throwing.
“I help out in any way that I can,” says Sullivan, who reached out to Vogt in the spring of 2019, interned last summer and then came on board full-time. “We mesh well together because we believe in a lot of the same sort of fundamentals when it comes to pitching and developing a pitcher.
“It helps to have an extra set of eyes and that’s where I come into play. I dealt with a lot of mechanical issues myself and my cousin help me out. That sparked me to want to do the same for other players.”
Sullivan is pursuing his Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).
“Once I have that, it opens up a lot more doors and opportunities for me in the baseball world,” says Sullivan. “Baseball has had a funny route to where it is today. When I grew up a lot of times you threw hard because you were blessed and had the talent.
“Now, it’s been proven that you can make improvements — whether it be in the weight room, overall health or mechanical adjustments in your throwing patterns — and can train velocity.
“A lot of people are trying to find a balance of developing the mechanical side of things while strengthening things in the weight room. They kind of go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.”
Sullivan says that if the body can’t support the force that’s being generated through it, it’s going to lead to a faster breakdown.
“That’s where the weight room comes into play,” says Sullivan. “Being able to transfer force is kind of the name of the game right now.”
Nanny, who bats and throws lefty and plays in the outfield and at first base, goes after baseball and life the same way.
“My biggest strength is my ability to want to get better every single day,” says Nanny. “I showed up to the park everyday with a plan of how I want to attack the day. I see where I’m at and where I need to get better in order to take my game to the next level.”
Nanny says he’s always been that way.
“That’s the way my dad raised me,” says Daylan, the oldest son of Jamie and Jennifer and older brother of Skylar (12), a player for Evoshield Canes Midwest. “Be your own biggest critic and always find a way to get better so you’re never really getting complacent.”
Nanny has learned its not hard to settle.
“It’s easy to do,” says Nanny. “You see a lot of guys do it.
“The guys who can push themselves — day in and day out — and find a way to get better, even if it’s something super small, hopefully it makes a difference in the end.”
Nanny hit .394 for his high school career, including .452 with a career-high 38 hits as a senior and earned honorable mention on the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Class 4A all-state team.
Originally committed to the University of Evansville, Nanny played one junior college campaign at Arizona Western and hit .347 with 11 doubles, one triple, one home run, 34 runs batted in and 46 runs scored to go with 39 walks and a .487 on-base percentage in 57 games.
At NCAA Division I Western Carolina in Cullowhee, N.C., he started 50 times as a sophomore (42 in right field, seven at first base and one at designated hitter) and batted .320 with seven homers, 19 doubles, 31 RBIs, 22 walks and a .403 OBP.
Nanny played in all 15 games before the season was halted, starting 12 in the outfield and three at first base. He batted .211 (12-for-57) on the shortened season with four doubles and seven RBIs while scoring 12 runs.
“I had some uneasiness about how the spring went,” says Nanny. “I had two really good weeks and I had two really bad weeks. I really couldn’t get into a rhythm. It was good-bad-good-bad.
“I had a 1-for-14 stretch at the end that didn’t sit too well with me. I thought I had put in a lot of work to be ready for the season and it didn’t happen.”
Not that he would go back and change it.
“It helped me figure out what I really do to be successful,” says Nanny. “I learned from it. I grew from it.
“I’m a way better baseball player now because of that struggle.”
“The way the world is right now, you’ve got to be ready for anything,” says Nanny, who has two years of college eligibility remaining thanks to an extra year granted by the NCAA with a big portion of 2020 being wiped away. “I don’t want to rule anything out. It’s very different times to say the least.
“If I go back to Western Carolina, I go back to Western Carolina. If I sign (a pro contract), I sign. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m prepared for anything that comes my way.”
Nanny is one year away from a Psychology degree. What he learns in the class room — or online — he tries to apply to his daily life, including on the diamond.
“I find myself learning about the mental side of the game more,” says Nanny.
“I read it once every couple months,” says Nanny. “It’s a very interesting book that gave me a whole different perspective on how to go through the day in and day out of the baseball grind and how to mentally be able to stay at an even keel level.
“This game is hard and it’s easy to let the game get you down. The game’s going to hit you and you have to be ready for it.
“You have to control the things you can control you can control on a daily basis to give yourself the best chance for success. Once you take that swing or the ball leaves your hand, it’s out of your control. You have to be OK with that.”
Nanny notes that “Chop Wood Carry Water” is not a sports book.
“It’s more of a life book, honestly,” says Nanny. “I don’t get too into sports psychology. I try to keep it as basic as possible.
“It’s finding the simplicity within the complexity.”
Born in Indianapolis, Nanny moved from the Ben Davis to the Plainfield school district as a middle schooler. From the age of 13, he played travel baseball with the Indiana Outlaws (now known as the Evoshield Canes Midwest).
“We created because a lot of these guys had nowhere to play,” says Luke Dietz, director of operations for Bullpen Tournaments and acting commissioner for the College Summer League. “We also give them the option to play-and-train, too.”
The CSL is set up to have games turf fields on Mondays and Tuesdays (this week that meant one Monday and two Tuesday). Players can go through training at Pro X, located on the Grand Park Sports Campus, Wednesday through Friday.
Several players also work in various capacities at Grand Park.
“We were not planning on having a collegiate league,” says Dietz. “The way everything happened gave us a way to do it safety.
“We think this is going to be a good opportunity for us to do it for years to come. What’s great about us is that you play all your games here and you have a training schedule as well.”
The focus in the league is not to extend anyone too far.
“We’re directly in-contact with all of their coaches at their colleges,” says Dietz. “They’re setting their programs with us (at Pro X).
“(CSL coaches and trainers) know this guy is only supposed to throw 25 pitches this week. He’s not going to go past that.
“That sets us apart from other leagues.
Dietz says ‘The League” is focused on the needs of the athletes and that’s how the the idea of playing a few games plus training and earning money by working came about.
“Everything we do is for the players,” says Dietz. “It’s not about revenue or anything like that.
“We probably have 40 guys working for us to pay off the league. That’s an opportunity for them to see how we opportunity and put some money in their pocket.”
The CSL sports 261 players, which were gathered through them asking to be invited and by recruiting. Of that number, more than 120 come from NCAA Division I programs.
“It’s not just a league in Indiana,” says Dietz. “It’s a high level of competition college league for sure.”
Daylan Nanny, a Plainfield (Ind.) High School graduate who was a lefty-swinging junior outfielder/first baseman at Western Carolina University in the spring, is in the CSL.
“It’s cool to be back here playing,” says Nanny, who was a 14-year-old travel ball player with the Outlaws (now Evoshield Canes Midwest) in some of the early games at Grand Park and then went to work there. “I’ve spent a good amount of my time on the Grand Park complex. Bullpen Tournaments is a great place to work. They’re great people and I love it.”
Nanny appreciates the summer league’s format.
“This is a really good opportunity to get better,” says Nanny. “The middle of the week to the end of the week is to work on what you struggled with on Monday and Tuesday
“Use that time and get ready to come out the next week ready to play again. It’s a unique setting. If you do it right, you can get really good out of here.”
Some players are from junior colleges and others are incoming freshmen. One ballplayer came from Texas and is staying in a motor home with his father.
There are athletes staying with teammates who live in the area, some in an Air BnB with buddies and others in apartments.
“We sold it as a commuter league, trying to get all of our local guys,” says Dietz. “Especially with the uncertainty of when we were able to start the league because of everything go on in the world, we weren’t going to be able to do housing on such a short notice.”
Every team has at least two college coaches on its staff. One of those is Butler assistant Matt Kennedy.
“We want to get the guys back on the field, knock the rust off a little bit and get them reps,” says Kennedy. “We want to prepare them to go back to their institutions in the fall and be ready to play.”
There was a couple of weeks of “spring training” leading into CSL games. Players came out and took batting practice and fielded grounders. Pitchers threw bullpens.
Kennedy says he expects teams will play close to 36 games in eight weeks.
“In my opinion, that’s a good thing,” says Kennedy. “It’s not 70 games. It gives these guys enough time to play and develop and time to rest and get int he weight room as well.
“These guys have been done basically for three months. Easing them into it with this format is really good. Guys have plenty of time to recover.”
Haddad has been in the organization since 2013. He was signed by the Yankees as a non-drafted free agent and was a catcher is the system until 2016, when he served as a player-coach at Staten Island in preparation for a minor league coaching assignment.
But an opportunity came with the major league club and Haddad has been on the Bronx Bombers staff since 2017. He can use his knowledge to help Blake and Swanson with their transition.
Radley and wife Arielle, a Franklin, Ind., native who he met at Butler, moved from Manhattan to New Jersey in January. It’s a 20-minute drive to Yankee Stadium.
Being close year-round has made it easy for Haddad to get to know the ins and outs of the team’s analytics department.
Hadded earned a Finance degree at Butler. His familiarity with regressions, progressions and algorithms allows him to work with weight averages and other analytic concepts.
“You need to have some experience in some upper level math,” says Haddad. “You don’t have to be a genius. It’s math and it’s computers and being able to write codes.
“(Players) are very open to what we’re trying to do. Kids coming from college programs are more up with technology and buzzwords and they understand the value. We’re all trying to accomplish the same thing. Sometimes you just have to use different verbiage.”
Haddad notes that 29-year-old right-hander Gerrit Cole, who signed as a free agent in December 2019 and likely would have been tabbed by manager Aaron Boone as the Yankees’ Opening Day starter had the 2020 season started on time, has embraced analytics during his career.
“He’s really smart guy and cares about his career,” says Haddad. “He applied what they gave him in Houston. He used the information presented to him.
“We’re trying to parlay off of that and make him just a tick better.”
With Haddad being close by, he’s also been able to catch area residents Coleand righty reliever Adam Ottavino during the current COVID-19-related shutdown. Some of those sessions happened in back yards. The Stadium was just recently made available.
Players and staff are literally spread across the globe and have stayed in-touch through group texts and Zoom calls. Sharing of Google Docs has allowed coaches and other pitchers to keep up with their progress.
Yankees bullpen coach Mike Harkey makes sure they have what they need, including a catcher, so they can stay on track and be ready.
Haddad likes the way Gerrit puts it: “I will keep the pilot light on so I can fire it up.”
Haddad moved with his family to Carmel, Ind., at 10. He played travel baseball with the Carmel Pups. They were in need of a catcher so Radley put on the gear and fell in love with the position.
“I loved everything about it,” says Haddad, who was primarily a catcher at Brebeuf, two seasons at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N.C. (2009 and 2010), and two at Butler (2012 and 2013). “I liked the mental side, being involved in every pitching and calling games. I liked working with all the pitchers and seeing how guys can manipulate the ball.”
John Zangrilli was a frequent spectator at Carmel Pups games and is now Greyhounds pitching coach on a staff led by Matt Buczkowski.
Zangrilli was head coach at Brebeuf when Haddad was there and had a major impact.
“He was the most beneficial person in my baseball career,” says Haddad of Zangrilli. “He taught me about being a real baseball player and taking care of business.
“That meant doing things the right way, paying attention to details.”
It was also the way you treat people. It was more than baseball, it was life skills.
Zangrilli was at Radley and Arielle’s wedding in 2018.
Haddad earned honorable mention all-state honors at Brebeuf. He helped the Braves to an IHSAA Class 3A No. 1 ranking and a Brebeuf Sectional title while hitting .494 with 38 runs scored as a senior.
Playing time at Western Carolina was limited and Haddad decided to go to Butler, where he started 89 games in his two seasons.
NCAA rules at the time required players transferring between Division I school to sit out a transfer season. That’s what Haddad did when he went to Butler, where Steve Farley was Bulldogs head coach.
“Steve was a great guy,” says Haddad. “He welcomed me. He didn’t have any stigma about who I was and why I was leaving a school. He knew I wanted to get on a field.
“He’s a good man who taught people how to live the right way.”
Though he doesn’t get back to Indiana often, Haddad stays connected to central Indiana baseball men Zangrilli, Farley, Chris Estep, Jay Lehr and Greg Vogt.
“We played together or against each other our whole lives,” says Haddad of Vogt. “He’s done a great job of building a program he believes in.”
Bob Haddad Jr., Radley’s father, is Chief Operating Officer at Harrison Lake Country Club in Columbus. Radley’s mother, Lauren Schuh, is remarried.
Radley (30) has two younger brothers — Griffin Haddad (28) and Ian Schuh (20).
Grffin is an assistant athletic trainer for the Green Bay Packers. He went to Brebeuf for four years, earned his undergraduate degree at Texas Christian University and his master’s at the University of Michigan.
Ian spent one year at Brebeuf and finished high school at Carmel. He is at South Dakota State University with his sights on being a conservation officer.
“When I got to Cleveland they told me my change-up plays pretty well and to throw it more to right-handers than I did in the past,” says Wittgren, who recorded a career-high 12 holds in 55 appearances and 57 2/3 relief innings. His 2.81 earned run average was 19th-lowest among American League relievers. “Roberto Perez was behind the plate and loved calling it.
“I almost felt like I threw my change-up more than I did my slider.”
According to Statcast data, Wittgren’s pitch arsenal included four pitches in 2019. He threw his four-seamer 66.4 percent of the time, slider 18.8, change-up 14.7 and curve 0.1.
“I was in my groove last year,” says Wittgren, who turns 29 on May 29. “I had my head where I needed it.”
With Miami in 2018, Statcast actually has Wittgren with a higher percentage of change-ups (15.7) as compared to sliders (12.8). Besides the four-seamer (62.7), there was also the sinker (7.5) and cutter (1.3).
With all the movement, Wittgren refers to his pitch repertoire as fastball, change-up and breaking ball.
Wittgren pitches from a three-quarter overhand arm angle. He throws across his body with his glove flaring out and whips around to deliver the baseball.
“I don’t know when I started,” says Wittgren of his mechanics. “In college I did it. It just works for me. I get the most force toward home. It’s really tough to pick up the baseball.
“To a righty I’m started with my arm behind them. It works in my favor.”
Wittgren favors sliders and four-seamers in on the hands with change-ups down and away.
“I started manipulated that pitch a little more last year,” says Wittgren of the change-up.
“(Peckinpaugh) brought the most energy and talent out in you,” says Wittgren. “We had a group that played together really well. He was there for every single person, trying to get us better.
“It was a pleasure and a joy playing for him.”
With no college baseball offers coming in, he was thinking about bypassing his senior year on the diamond and focusing on basketball.
“I was just looking for a way to pay for college,” says Wittgren. “I was not looking at the whole picture.”
Wittgren had his sights on teaching math and coaching — either at the high school or college level.
“My mom (Lisa) is a (fourth grade) teacher,” says Wittgren. “I love kids. I love numbers.”
Burton let Wittgren know that he had baseball potential past high school.
He said, ‘you have something special, don’t waste it,’” says Wittgren of Burton’s advice.
Besides that, Burton emphasized that Wittgren was part of a large senior class and he owed it to the guys he’d been playing with since sixth grade to finish high school strong (born in Torrance, Calif., and raised in Long Beach and Cypress, Nick moved to Indiana as a sixth grader; father Andy lives in San Juan Capistrano; Nick’s other brother is Jack).
“If Jake didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be here,” says Wittgren. “He saw something in me.”
A few days ago, the player and his former coach connected via FaceTime and Burton got to see Nick and Ashley Wittgren’s 14-month old son Jackson.
At McCutcheon, shortstop/pitcher Wittgren’s velocity topped out around 85 mph for most of the his senior season.
“I never took reps off in high school,” says Wittgren. “I need to do this to get better.”
His arm was tired from the workload.
With a few days off prior to sectional, Wittgren was touching 90.
Seeing that the Cobras were in need of a Sunday starter, Wittgren pitched an idea to Kennedy.
He wanted to only pitch.
Wittgren recalls the response of the man he calls “KY.”
“He said that might be one of the best decisions you ever make,” says Wittgren a decade later. “I brought you in as a pitcher. I wanted you to figure it out.”
The lanky right-hander went 10-0 with 54 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings for a Parkland that placed fifth in the 2010 National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series.
In the fall of his sophomore year at Purdue, Wittgren had an ulnar nerve transfer.
Boilermakers head coach Doug Schreiber wanted him to be the team’s closer in the spring of 2011.
“Whatever puts me out on that field is what I want to do,” says Wittgren, who finished 24 games and appeared in 29 with a Big Ten Conference-leading 12 saves to go with 55 strikeouts in 51 innings.
Schreiber (who later was head coach at McCutcheon and is now head coach at Purdue Fort Wayne) and assistants Ryan Sawyers and Tristan McIntyre (now head coach at McCutcheon) implored him to “trust your stuff and pound the strike zone.”
“They got me to throw certain pitches in certain counts,” says Wittgren.
He could change the batter’s eye level with fastballs up and sliders down. If hepitched up and in, hitters would not be able to extend their arms.
Schreiber asked Wittgren to be a closer again in 2012.
He pitched in 26 games, finishing off 25 and racked up 10 saves, setting a new Purdue all-time high with 22. He fanned 39 batters in 41 innings and was named third-team all-Big Ten. His two-year earned run average for the Boilers was 2.54.
On the Cape is where Wittgren first met Ashley Crosby. She was part of the media department for the elite summer circuit.
A few years later, strength trainer Ashley did an internship with Cressy Sports Performance in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and she began dating Nick, who was training in south Florida with the Marlins. The relationship blossomed. The married couple now lives near Miami.
During the COVID-19 quarantine, Wittgren works out in his garage gym.
“It’s a full set-up,” says Wittgren. “There’s anything you need.
Ashley Wittgren has wealth of knowledge with an MS (Master of Science) degree and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Precision Nutrition (Pn1) and TPI accreditations. She is there to help her husband correctly perform the movements and get the most out of them.
“She could apply for a big league strength job if she wanted,” says Nick of his wife. “She walks and talks me through a lift so I can get as strong as I possibly can.”
During quarantine, Wittgren throws into a backyard net. On bullpen days, he throws to catchers living in the area brought together by CSP.
During the off-season, Wittgren long tosses. But as the season approaches, he gets dialed in to pitch from 60 feet, 6 inches.
“I want my release point during the season to stay the same on everything,” says Wittgren. “I keep it on a line the whole entire time and hit (the catcher’s) knees every single time.”
Nick Wittgren, a McCutcheon High School graduate who pitched at Purdue University, is now a reliever for the Cleveland Indians. He made his Major League Baseball debut in 2016 with the Miami Marlins. (Cleveland Indians Photo)
Nick Wittgren, who played at McCutcheon High School and Purdue University, delivers the baseball for the Cleveland Indians. He excelled as a set-up reliever for the Tribe in 2019. (MLB Photo)
Confidence and self-assurance was valued by Jason Van Skike as a baseball player and are traits emphasized by him as a coach.
“Baseball is a great teacher of things that happen in your life,” says Van Skike, the second-year pitching coach at Westfield (Ind.) High School. “You focus on the things you can control. There are three things we talk about everyday — work ethic, attitude and confidence.
“You can’t make up for a lost day,” says Van Skike. “You want to always go to bed at night knowing you put in your best effort.”
That’s work ethic.
“You have a choice to have a good attitude or a bad attitude,” says Van Skike. “It’s a mindset. It’s an opportunity to get better.
“If you believe good things are going to happen, good things tend to happen. If you believe bad things are going to happen, bad things tend to happen.”
“My job is to make sure (Westfield pitchers) feel that they are the absolute man,” says Van Skike. “That’s all do-able if they’ve done the things they need to do on the days leading to (the game appearance).”
Rick Heller, who is now head coach at the University of Iowa, was ISU head coach when Van Skike was in Terre Haute. Heller had him join the Sycamores after seeing the righty at a sophomore showcase while he was at Treasure Valley.
“(Heller) would preach ‘chest out; a lot of confidence,’” says Van Skike. “I would hear that all the time. I found out that body language plays into the game. If you can trick yourself into thinking you’re the man, you might be the man.
“(Heller) was always talking about body language and confidence.”
Van Skike says it was not until the end of his college career that this lesson really began to sink in.
“I was an excuse maker,” says Van Skike. “If I walked a guy, it wasn’t my fault.”
“(Herbst) made me feel comfortable,” says Van Skike. “He didn’t try to change too much of what I was.”
Herbst went on to help steer Sean Manaea, who is now in the majors.
“He was a baby giraffe at Indiana State and didn’t know how to pitch,” says Van Skike of Manaea.
Van Skike had come a long way by the time he pitched for the Sycamores.
He entered Gig Harbor, he was 5-foot-5 and maybe 135 pounds. He didn’t make the varsity squad until he was a senior.
“They kept me around since I had a sense of urgency,” says Van Skike, who played for Washington State Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Pete Jansen. “I ran on and off the field. I needed to in order to stand out.”
By the time he was a senior, he had began to fill out and stood 6-3.
He went to Treasure Valley, where Rick Baumann was head coach, with a fastball clocked at 78-82 mph. That’s when he began showing up an hour early for practice every day to do a towel drill. By the end of the fall, he was up to 84 mph. During indoor workouts, he was sitting at 83-86. On a nice day, the team went outside and he was at 88-91 and he was able to sustain that speed.
“I made a 10 mph jump in a four- to five-month span,” says Van Skike. “I needed those extra reps.”
Extra reps is what Van Skike got in junior college, where there is less restriction on the amount of times players and coaches can spend working on the game.
“I loved every moment of it,” says Van Skike of the juco diamond life. “You spend so many hours with your teammates and coaches. You build that brotherhood. Reflecting back, junior college baseball was the most fun for me.”
Van Skike sings the praises of junior college because it also offers a chance to develop. A juco player might get 60 at-bats in the fall between games and scrimmages and around 200 more in the spring. By the end of their sophomore year, they’ve gotten almost 500 at-bats and that doesn’t count summer ball.
Van Skike says a D-I player who does not crack the lineup as a freshman and sophomore — which is often the case — might go into their junior year with less than 100 career at-bats.
“You’ve got to play,” says Van Skike. “You’ve got to get game experience.”
Van Skike left college in 2011 unsure of his baseball future. Scout Mike Shirley (now amateur scouting director) brought him to Madison County for a workout and signed him to a White Sox contract as an undrafted free agent. He hustled to Bristol, Va., of the Appalachian League and picked up an extra-inning victory in his first outing.
His pitching coach at Bristol was Larry Owens, now head baseball coach at Bellarmine University in Louisville.
“(Owens) simplified the game for me,” says Van Skike.
Through 2013, Van Skike appeared in 73 games (64 as a reliever) and went 10-8 with a 3.18 earned run average in 150 2/3 innings. He was 3-5 with a 2.80 ERA in 74 innings at Advanced Class-A Winston-Salem in 2013.
“(Winston-Salem pitching coach) J.R. Perdew was a tremendous help,” says Van Skike. “He told me things I had never thought about before.
“The more simple you can keep baseball the better off you’re going to be.”
Perdew is now the White Sox assistant pitching coordinator.
Van Skike learned to use a cut fastball to be effective against left-handed hitters.
He had a six-month lease on an apartment in St. Louis and expected to be in spring training in 2014 when he was released by the White Sox. He went to live with his parents — Ike and Cathy Van Skike — in Arizona and got a job delivering pizzas. Not having a steady catch partner, he threw into a chain link fence. Occasionally, he would work out with a high school team and they had no trouble hitting his deliveries.
Still, an invitation was extended in Wichita. Even though he did not have a stellar spring training with the Wingnuts, he had enough of a resume on affiliated ball to keep him. The 2014 season saw him start 26 games and got 12-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 110 innings. He started the American Association All-Star Game and helped Wichita win the league title.
It tended to be very breezy out to left field in Wichita. Van Skike used it to his advantage.
“A lot of hitters get big egos when the wind blows,” says Van Skike. “I made my living down and away (to right-handed hitters) and got roll-overs to the shortstop.”
The 2015 campaign was not as successful (7-8, 4.89 in 116 innings) and Van Skike retired as a player.
“Getting into college coaching is extremely difficult,” says Van Skike. He went with friend Arlo Evasick, the head coach at Federal Way and the Eagles qualified for the 2016 state tournament.
That summer, Van Skike ended up back in Indiana on the coaching staff of Jackrabbits manager Matt Howard, who is now head baseball coach at Indiana University Kokomo.
Van Skike was starting to prepare for a chance to play pro ball in Australia when Heller let him know about an opportunity in Des Moines.
“I got extremely lucky,” says Van Skike.
David Pearson was hired as DMACC head coach and soon hired Van Skike as an assistant. The two had to dismantle the roster after the first season and went into the second year (2018) with mostly freshmen.
Near the end of that season, Van Skike began to examine his relationship with baseball.
“It consumed my life and I missed a lot of family events (as a player),” says Van Skike. “I began missing those again as a college coach.
“I need more of a balance. I didn’t know what that was at the time.”
Through a fortunate sequence of events, Van Skike moved to central Indiana and wound up taking a job as an Edward Jones financial advisor in Westfield.
He was at the right place at the right time since Westfield High School head coach Ryan Bunnell was also looking to fill a slot for a pitching coach.
“I’m still heavily involved with baseball and I can still be around my family and friends,” says Van Skike. “That’s what I was searching for.
“I’m extremely lucky I’m at Westfield.”
The COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic took away the 2020 season.
“We had an extremely talented group,” says Van Skike of a Shamrocks team that received votes in the Class 4A preseason poll. “We could’ve won state. But there’s nothing we can do to control it.
“It’s an awkward time for these seniors,” says Van Skike. “They almost don’t want to hear about baseball.
“It’s still a little tender.
“We’ve been talking with juniors and saying let’s do it next year for these seniors (in 2021). They shouldn’t complain one day. Don’t ever take things for granted.”
Jason Van Skike is a financial advisor at Edwards Jones and the pitching coach at Westfield High School, both in Westfield, Ind. The graduate of Gig Harbor High School in Washington pitched at Treasure Valley Community College Oregon and Indiana State University as well as in the Chicago White Sox organization and in independent professional baseball. (Edwards Jones Photo)
Westfield (Ind.) High School varsity baseball coaches in 2020 include (from left): assistant Bill Lindley, head coach Ryan Bunnell and assistant Jason Van Skike. Shamrocks pitchers are led by Van Skike, who played collegiately at Treasure Valley Community College in Oregon and Indiana State University and professionally in the Chicago White Sox system and with the independent Wichita (Kan.) Wingnuts. (Westfield High School Photo)
His first season leading the Screaming Eagles was 2007. Since then, USI has won nearly 500 games with a pair of NCAA Division II national championships (2010 and 2014).
Jeremy Kuester has been a part of much of it. The 2020 season — cut to 14 games by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic — was his 11th spring on the Southern Indiana coaching staff.
Kuester’s main responsibility?
“I make sure Coach Archuleta has everything in line,” says Kuester, who took the job in August 2009 after a playing career as an outfielder, first baseman and left-handed pitcher. “We both do everything. I work with pitchers 70 to 80 percent of the time. But he will go with the pitchers and I’ll go with the hitters.
“It’s nice to have a fresh set of eyes so we go back and forth — whatever we feel is most beneficial for the guys.”
Kuester has been asked many times what makes Archuleta a winner.
“What’s his secret sauce for success?,” says Kuester. “He connects with people really well. He can take a group of guys then pull the best out of each and every one of those guys.
“He’s a very intense, very driven individual with a lot of knowledge.”
Not that Archuleta won’t laugh on the diamond. He does like to do that on occasion.
“He knows when it’s time to joke around and time to be serious,” says Kuester.
“We make sure they’re aware of what they need to accomplish every single day,” says Kuester.
As recruiting coordinator, Kuester looks to bring as much talent to the program as possible.
He says the difference between D-II and D-I often comes down to depth. D-I tends to have more of it. Plus, D-I can give 11.7 scholarships per year and D-II can grant 9. Not fully-funded, USI tends to bestow between 6 and 7.
From a player’s’ perspective, he might also crack the lineup sooner at a D-II school.
“That’s biggest recruiting sell when going after junior college guys,” says Kuester. “Competition (for playing time) is less because the depth isn’t quite there.”
Kuester is not wishy-washy in his player evaluations.
“I’m not the kind of recruiter that leaves question marks,” says Kuester. “I’m blunt. I’m straight to the point. I tell them exactly what I think.”
The pandemic has made planning for the future less cut-and-dried.
When it looked like the season would be at least be put on hold, Southern Indiana (6-8) was coming off a pair of games in Pensacola, Fla. Coaches would try to sort through contingencies and scenarios, which seemed to change daily.
“Nobody was prepared for this,” says Kuester. “The hardest part for us is communicating things with our guys. They see things online before its official. Administrators don’t have the answers either.
“Finally, we (as coaches) decided to sit back and wait. It’s out of our control right now.”
Kuester says the majority of returning players were hoping to play summer baseball. With some leagues canceling (about 10 USI leagues were going to play in the Ohio Valley League), they have been looking for opportunities. Leagues are expected to form at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., and in Louisville.
“We want them to find some place where they can play the game a little bit,” says Kuester. “A lot of our guys have went and got jobs for the summer.”
Southern Indiana coaches have suggested for nearly 40 players to keep active and make the best of their situation.
“But we don’t know what they’ve done for the past two months,” says Kuester. “That’s the scariest thing. We want to make sure these guys are going to be healthy. It’s more risky for pitchers than position players.”
The last day of classes for USI was Wednesday, May 6. The term ended with weeks of online instruction.
“It’s not the easiest thing in the world,” says Kuester. “And I was only teaching one class this eight weeks.”
Besides coaching, Kuester is on the faculty and has taught introduction to kinesiology or an activity class (hiking, badminton etc.). He earned a masters degree in Public Administration from Southern Indiana in 2012.
Jeremy and Ashley Kuester were wed in September 2009. She is a nurse practitioner with in Evansville. The couple has three children — first-grader Bryce (7), kindergartener Alli (5) and Colton (3). At their Rockport house, built in 2017, internet access is spotty, making eLearning with Bryce a challenge.
Jeremy slowly downloads YouTube videos for his son to watch and helps him with his homework. When completed, they take a picture with the school-supplied iPad and upload it.
Jeremy’s father — Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Famer Brian Kuester — is the Rebels head coach.
“I never thought about him as my dad,” says Jeremy of the time spent playing for Brian. “He never coached me growing up. Whatever the coach says is what you do. When we were on the field I called him Coach.
“It was coach-player relationship at home even during those four years.”
Baseball discussions did happen away from the diamond.
“He’s say you need to improve on this — not in a negative way, just trying to get better.”
Jeremy recalls his last high school game while teammates were sitting around and lamenting the end of the season.
“Dad gave me a big hug and said I’m proud of you,” says Jeremy. “I’ll never forget that.”
Brian Kuester and his father, Ivan, had also been assistant coaches at USI. That’s when Larry Shown was head coach.
Brian and Debbie Kuester’s four children are Jeremy, Shawn, Nathan and Katie. Shawn played baseball at the University of Evansville and Nathan at USI. Katie played softball at Olney Central College.
While 2020 was Lillipop’s 19th as KWC head coach, he was a young in the profession when Kuester played for him.
“You could tell was still trying to figure out how he was going to be as a coach,” says Kuester. “He’s done at real good job of maturing as a coach over the years.
“He’s a really good, genuine person.”
Kuester first met Lillpop when another South Spencer graduate played for the Panthers. Kuester opted to transfer there to continue being a two-way player.
He earned a Sports Studies degree from Kentucky Wesleyan.
The Kuester family of Rockport, Ind., includes father Jeremy, mother Ashley and (clockwise from left) Bryce, Alli and Colton. Jeremy Kuester is an assistant baseball coach and faculty member at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville.
University of Southern Indiana baseball assistant coach Jeremy Kuester (center) makes a mound visit. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)
Jeremy Kuester (center) has been on the University of Southern Indiana baseball coaching staff of Tracy Archuleta (left) since August 2009. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)
Jeremy Kuester has been an assistant baseball coach at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville since the 2010 season. He is also on the USI faculty and has a master’s degree from the school. (University of Southern Indiana Photo)