Sam Klein keeps getting more stingy as his college baseball career progresses. The Ball State University right-hander missed the first month of the 2023 season working out some soreness. He got into his first game March 19 and has worked stints of 4, 2 2/3, 3 2/3 and 3 1/3 innings. For a team that is 23-9 overall and 10-2 in the Mid-American Conference heading into a three-game MAC series Friday through Sunday at Central Michigan, Klein is 3-0 with one save an 0.66 earned run average. He has 16 strikeouts and five walks in 13 2/3 innings. Opponents have hit .196 with eight singles and two doubles. All 38 of Klein’s appearances for the Cardinals since 2021 have been out of the bullpen with the last two being BSU’s closer. That has caused him to develop a mindset. “You have to do your job or else you’re not going to win the game,” says Klein. “My job is to go out there and compete. “I use my natural competitive nature to help myself on the mound. I’ve only thrown the last four weeks. I’m getting back into the role.” Born in Tennessee, Klein grew up in Bloomington, Ind. He played his early baseball at Winslow Sports Complex and competed in the Monroe County Youth Football Association. As a teenager, he began travel baseball — first for Demand Command then Diamond Dynamics and the Troy Drosche-coached Indiana Bulls. A 2020 graduate of Bloomington High School North, Klein lost his senior prep season to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a junior, he went 6-0 with one save and a 1.31 ERA for the Richard Hurt-coached Cougars. He produced 51 strikeouts and nine walks in 32 innings. A shortstop when not pitching, Klein hit .333. In his first college season of 2021, Klein took the bump 11 times and posted a 1-0 mark with one save and a 5.52 ERA. He whiffed 12 and walked 11 in 14 2/3 innings. In 2022, Klein made 23 appearances and went 4-3 with 11 saves and a 3.18 ERA. He fanned 47 and walked 21 in 34 innings. Foes hit .179. His career WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is 1.32. Klein has become accustomed to how Ball State head coach Rich Maloney and pitching coach Larry Scully will use him. “Usually if it’s a close game in the seventh inning I’ll come down to the bullpen and start stretching out,” says Klein. “If (the game is) tied or it’s a save situation I’ll usually go in.” A 6-foot-3, 210-pounder, Klein uses three pitches from an over-the-top arm slot — a rising four-seam fastball clocked at 90 to 93 mph, a 12-to-6 slider that looks like a curveball and a change-up with drop and arm-side movement. Last summer Klein pitched for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League, making five appearances (four as a reliever) with no decisions. “It was a great experience,” says Klein. “It was really good competition. The coaches and players all know what they’re doing.” In the summer of 2021, Klein took the mound seven times (all starts) for the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League’s Hamilton (Ohio) Joes and went 5-0 with a 1.84 ERA. He had 55 strikeouts and 15 walks in 44 innings. Klein, who turned 21 in January, is eligible for the 2023 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. But he is focused on the here and now. “If I do well out here that helps my chances,” says Klein. “I don’t tend to think about much about it while I’m playing.” Sam is the second of three children born to teachers Bill and Brittany Klein. Professional baseball player Will Klein (Bloomington North Class of 2017) is the oldest and prep softball/volleyball athlete Molly Klein (Bloomington North Class of 2025) the youngest. Will Klein, 6-foot-3, 230-pound right-hander, was a mound standout at Bloomington North and Eastern Illinois University and was taken in the fifth round of the 2020 MLB Draft by the Kansas City Royals. He was with Double-A Northwest Arkansas in 2022 then pitched in the Arizona Fall League. The 23-year-old begins 2023 at Northwest Arkansas. “He’s a little stronger than me and throws harder,” says Sam Klein of Will. “He relies on (velocity) a little more than I do. I’d like to think I have a little more command than he does.” Like his brother, Sam is a Biology major. “It was my favorite thing in high school,” says Klein, who is considered a sophomore academically and athletically. “I stuck with it.”
Richard Hurt teaches math in the classroom and baseball on the field. At Bloomington (Ind.) High School North, Hurt leads second-Algebra students. He has taught the Indiana University Finite Math class for about 15 years. “I’m not the kind of teacher that there’s only one way to do things,” says Hurt. “The kids I’ve had in class kind of make fun of me because I say, ‘how do you get from Bloomington North to the mall on the east side? Is there only one road that gets you there? No. There’s all sorts of roads.’ But you’ve got to show me your work. You’ve got to show me how you’re going. “There’s all sorts of ways to solve math problems. But you need to show your work. You’ve got to prove what you’re doing. There’s that logical step-by-step approach to mathematics. I like that. “Everybody talks about the book in baseball. I haven’t seen it yet. But there are certain things you tend to do in certain situations. If you can find a better way to do it, absolutely. If it works, that’s right. Baseball is a numbers game. I like dealing with numbers.” Hurt was one of the first in his area to adopt arm band signals when went to them almost a decade ago. “It opens up a lot more things because everything is on paper,” says Hurt of the numbers-based shorthand system. “It allows you to do more things with your signals.” A 1977 graduate of Bloomington High School South, Hurt was double major in economics and mathematics at IU and earned a baseball letter for the Bob Lawrence-coached Hoosiers in 1980. Hurt was an assistant baseball coach at both South and North and was head coach at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis for three seasons (1986-88). He led Bloomington North 1989-2002, stepped away for six years and came back to the Cougars as head coach in 2009. He has compiled close to 500 victories. “I don’t live on wins and losses,” says Hurt. “They’re still important. You keep score. “At the same time it’s working with kids trying to get them better. You see how they progress.” Hurt has taught his player how to care for and maintain a field (that has changed a little since Bloomington North went to a turf diamond in 2021) and believes in the importance of fundamentals. “My dad was very much that way,” says Hurt. Warren Hurt, a graduate of Winslow High School (part of the Pike Central consolidation), played basketball with all-stater and future member of Branch McCracken’s Hurryin’ Hoosiers, Dick Farley. Hurt was a teacher and high school basketball coach (he guided Smithville High School for a time and later taught at Bloomington South) and also led youth baseball teams. The same lessons that his father taught Richard were also absorbed by brother Mark Hurt who exhibits those traits as head girls basketball coach at Mooresville (Ind.) High School. Hurt’s coaching has changed over the years. He saw the running at the end of practice was not vital and he no longer does that with his teams. “Do we condition?,” says Hurt. “Yeah. Whenever we go from drill to drill, you better run. But that fits into baseball. You hit the ball. You run 90 feet. If you’re out you back to the dugout and rest for 10 or 15 minutes. “You may get a double. You take a short break there.” Not that running is completely out of the equation. Recently, the Cougars had been striking out too much of Hurt’s liking so he came up with the “30 to 350” batting practice drill. “I’m 30 feet away,” says Hurt. “I’m throwing the ball as hard as my 63-year-old arm will allow me which is probably about average for high school “They have two strikes and if you strike out, you got to go to the 350 sign and back. The whole team does. You’ve got to dig in. You’ve got to battle. If you foul it off or put it in-play you’re good.” Hurt has also noticed a change in his players on the artificial surface. “Your fielders are much more confident now,” says Hurt. “They stay down on the ball and get true hops.” Bloomington North (enrollment around 1,600) is a member of the Conference Indiana (with Bloomington South, Columbus North, Southport, Terre Haute North Vigo and Terre Haute South Vigo). There are five conference games. The Cougars are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Bloomington South (2022 host), Columbus East, Columbus North, East Central and Shelbyville. Bloomington North has won 17 sectional titles — the last in 2013. Several of Hurt’s players have gone on to college and pro baseball. Will Klein (Class of 2017) is a pitcher in the Kansas City Royals organization. Gant Elmore (Class of 2007) was a second baseman in the Milwaukee Brewers system. Sam Klein (Class of 2020) is the closer at Ball State University. Hurt’s assistants are Erik Pearson, Clay Keltner, Dr. Terry Greene, Drake Smith (JV head coach), A.J. Willis (JV assistant), Gary Stratten (freshmen head coach) and Eizlee Nixon (freshmen assistant). Pearson, Willis and Nixon played for Hurt. The Cougars have about three dozen players for varsity, junior varsity and freshman/C-team squads. Two of Hurt’s sons — Jim (Class of 2009) and Tyler (Class of 2012) — played for him at Bloomington North. Jim Hurt played baseball at the University of Dayton and Tyler Hurt at Cedarville (Ohio) University. Hurt’s stepson is Abe Carney. Richard and Cinder Hurt have been married since 1988. She is a dental hygienist and a Bloomington native.
In his last appearance of the summer, he pumped in a pitch at 100 mph.
Klein was the EIU Panthers’ Friday starter in 2020 and went 1-2 in four appearances with a 3.33 earned run average, 33 strikeouts and 13 walks in 24 1/3 innings before the season was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While university facilities were off limits, Klein and two of his three roommates stayed in Charleston, Ill., and got ready for the MLB Draft, which was shaved from 40 to five rounds this year.
Klein played catch in parking lots and open fields, threw PlyoCare Balls against park fences and used kettle bells, benches and dumb bells in the living room.
Kansas City took Klein with the 135th overall pick.
“I talked to every team,” says Klein, 20. “I could tell some were more interested than others.
“The Royals were definitely the team that communicated with me the most.”
The pitcher, who has added muscle and now packs 230 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame, saves time and fuel by staying with an aunt and uncle in Fishers.
“The Royals sent a weight lifting, throwing and running schedule,” says Klein. “I blend that with what Greg’s doing.”
Klein first worked out at PRP Baseball last summer and also went there in the winter.
Klein’s natural arm slot has been close to over the top.
From there, he launches a four-seam fastball, “spike” curveball (it moves from 12-to-6 on the clock face), “gyro” slider (it has more downward and less lateral movement than some sliders) and a “circle” change-up.
In three seasons at EIU, Klein’s walks-per-nine innings went from 9.6 in 2018 to 9.9 in 2019 to 4.8 in 2020.
Why the control improvement?
“A lot of repetition and smoothing out the action,” says Klein. “I’ve been able to get a feel for what I was doing and a more efficient movement pattern with my upper and lower halves.
“Throwing more innings helped, too. I didn’t throw a whole lot in high school.”
Playing for head coach Richard Hurt, Klein was primarily a catcher until his senior year. In the second practice of his final prep season, he broke the thumb on his pitching hand and went to the outfield.
“(Anderson) was very helpful coming from pro ball,” says Klein of the former University of Illinois right-hander who pitched in the big leagues with the New York Yankees and New York Mets. “He knew what it took mentally and physically and took me from a thrower to a pitcher.”
Former catcher Godinez brought energy and also helped Klein learn about pitch sequences.
Brown was given full reign of the Panthers staff by Anderson this spring.
Klein struggled his freshmen year, starting three of 14 games and going 1-1 with a 6.62 ERA. He was used in various bullpen roles as a sophomore and went 1-1 with a 5.11 ERA.
He was the closer and Pitcher of the Year with the Lakeshore Chinooks in the summer of 2019 when he hit 100 on the gun and was told he would be a starter when he got back to EIU in the fall.
For his college career, Klein was 2-2 and struck out 62 in 42 1/3 innings.
Born in Maryville, Tenn., Will moved to Bloomington at 3. Both his parents — Bill and Brittany — are Indiana University graduates.
Will played youth baseball at Winslow and with the Unionville Arrows and then with local all-star teams before high school. During those summers, he was with the Mooresville Mafia, which changed its name the next season to Powerhouse Baseball.
At 17U, Troy Drosche was his head coach with the Indiana Bulls. At 18U, he played for the Mike Hitt-coached Indiana Blue Jays.
The summer between his freshman and sophomore years at EIU, Klein was with the Prospect League’s Danville (Ill.) Dans.
“I grew up loving science,” says Will, who has had both parents teach the subject. Bill Klein has taught at Jackson Creek Middle School with Brittany Klein is a Fairview Elementary. Both schools are in Bloomington.
Will is the oldest of their three children. The 6-4 Sam Klein (18) is a freshman baseball player at Ball State University. Molly (13) is an eighth grader who plays volleyball, basketball and softball.
“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.”