Tag Archives: Yadier Molina

UIndy’s Ready talks about offensive approach, pitch framing, defensive shifting

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

There are less than two weeks before the University of Indianapolis is scheduled to open its 2019 baseball season (the NCAA Division II Greyhounds host Wisconsin-Parkside at 2 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15).

UIndy head coach Al Ready took the time to discuss offensive approach, pitch recognition, catcher pitch framing and defensive shifting.

Ready says probability can be applied to anything in baseball. He wants to put his players in the best position to have success and for hitters that translates to their approach.

“I have them watch the pitcher and what he’s throwing in certain counts,” says Ready. “We want guys sitting on the pitches they’re going to get, not the ones they want to hit.”

Pitch recognition — knowing a fastball from a curve, slider or whatever — is a valuable talent for hitters to possess.

“It’s a skill,” says Ready. “It can be improved on.”

Ready, who was a switch-hitting catcher for Indianapolis and still holds school records for most walks in a career and in a season and played in independent professional baseball, notes that most pro hitters adjust off the fastball because of the high velocity at that level.

He says that most high school hitters are timed for 80 mph with those in college for 85 to 90 mph and pros for 90 mph-plus.

“If you’re not ready for it, you’re not going to hit it,” says Ready. “If you don’t have pitch recognition, you have to be a fastball adjust hitter. You sit on pitches.”

In other words, you wait for a particular pitch to swing at.

Ready talks daily with his UIndy hitters about approach.

“I used to be a cookie-cutter approach guy and teach the same approach to everybody,” says Ready. “That simply doesn’t work.”

The Greyhounds employ an approach spectrum. For some, it as simple as “see ball; hit ball.”

“If that’s what’s going give that kid the best success rate,” says Ready. “I’m going to get behind that 100 percent.”

Others will sit on a pitch based on count, read pitcher tendencies in certain counts, look for grips, tipped pitches and take into consideration the game situation. How many outs? How many on base? What’s the score? Is it the first inning or the ninth?

While some hitters can rely on their physical skills for success, they are in the minority.

“The majority of us at this level have to be a smart hitter,” says Ready. “The best place to be on the approach spectrum is in the middle.

“If the (pitcher’s) throwing hard and you’re indecisive, you should be fastball adjust.”

To improve on this process, UIndy hitters do a lot of vision training and things of that nature.

They learn to recognize pitches thrown in pitcher-friendly and hitter-friendly counts.

“If it’s 1-2 and you have a fastball/slider pitcher, there’s a good probably you’re going to see a slider,” says Ready.

The coach would like his hitters to swing at pitches they can handle and hit with authority.

“You wouldn’t believe the number of kids at this level if they’re fooled on a pitch, they don’t swing through it,” says Ready. “They still try to make contact and hit in weakly.

“Swing through and go to the next pitch.”

Vision is of utmost importance to a hitter.

“You can work on your swing all you want,” says Ready. “If you’re not seeing the ball, you’re not going to hit it.”

One way, UIndy hitters work on their eye strength is with a concentration grid test.

On a laminated 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper, 100 squares contain numbers 00 to 99 placed randomly.

With a dry erase marker, players are asked to find each number in order for time.

A quick time would be 3 to 4 minutes. For others, it might take 6 to 10 minutes.

“At the end of that 6 to 10 minutes, their eyes are extremely tired,” says Ready, who notes that there are two basic kinds of eye focus — soft and hard. “You can only stay at hard focus for a split second before you blur up.”

These concentration grid tests done in different ways — sometimes counting by threes and getting as far as you can in five minutes — are done each week and posted for team competition.

The Hounds also do this with some distraction training.

Players will have a partner who will stand next to their partner say random numbers during the test.

“The main point is to improve the strength of your eyes,” says Ready.

UIndy also uses the colored ball drill.

While throwing regular batting practice, balls with red and green squares on them are thrown.

It used to be that players were supposed to swing at green and take on red.

“But with a good four-seam fastball with a high spin rate, you’re going to see red,” says Ready. “So green is take and red is swing.”

The pitching machine the Hounds use goes up to 100 mph.

“We train at a high rate of speed,” says Ready. “For our guys 88 is the new 82.”

Ready is more interested in quality at-bats and hitting the ball hard than what he calls the “internet statistics.”

“I don’t judge success by batting average,” says Ready. “I judge them by contact. Are you hitting the ball hard?”

It often comes down to pitch recognition/selection by the batter.

“I laugh when one of our young hitters have a great at-bat (hit a ball hard) and next time they come up and they fly out or strike out and say, ‘coach, what’s wrong with my swing?,’” says Ready. “It’s the same swing. You may have swung at the wrong pitch or didn’t see the ball as well. The first question you should ask: Are you seeing the ball?

“If they say they’re seeing the ball well: Are you swinging at pitches you should be swinging at or swinging at the pitcher’s pitches?.

“As coaches, we get a little to quick to fix problems that aren’t really there.”

Another way some teams help identify pitches is with occlusion training (GameSense is a company that offers tools for this visual reaction training).

Hitters watch videos of pitchers. They may be allowed to see half or three-quarters of the pitch and cut it off or when the pitcher is about to let go of the ball. This allows hitters to look for the release point, see the grip or spin or how it pops out of the hand.

“If it’s a slider, you’ll be seeing a dot at the halfway point,” says Ready.

With a senior-laden roster, Ready says pitch recognition is no necessarily something he is worried with his current team.

As a former catcher, Ready knows about framing pitches.

“Pitch framing’s important,” says Ready. “But you don’t frame everything — only borderline pitches.”

Catchers who try to jerk pitchers several inches outside back into the strike zone will quickly lose credibility with the plate umpire.

Ready says some catchers apply the “skinny and sway” method. But umpires are starting to recognize that and calling balls when they sway outside to catch the baseball.

Other catchers stand wide and only move their glove.

The Molina brothers — Bengie, Jose and Yadier — played behind the plate in the big leagues and it was Jose who was especially good at framing.

An overlooked aspect of catching is how far back they squat from the plate.

Ready contends that most are too far back. He understands that in pro ball, there a good reason because many hitters have a big back swing and catchers are at risk of getting hit by the bat so they get out of the way. But that does not happen as much at the college or high school level.

“The closer you can get to the pitcher the better,” says Ready. “That’s less distance the pitch has to travel.

“You’re going to get more calls. You’re in a position to stick that low pitch.”

By being too far back, catchers can miss out on some opportunities to frame some pitches and it’s a longer throw to a base when a runner is attempting to steal.

Ready says being up on the dish can make the difference in turning a 1-1 pitch into a 1-2 pitcher-friendly count or 2-1 hitter-friendly count.

He kept track in a fall game and noticed that his catcher was up where he needed to be and the opponent’s was too far back. There were a dozen 1-1 counts — six for each team — the next pitch was low and UIndy got all of them called for strikes and the other side got them all called as balls.

Spray charts like those produced by Indiana-based Diamond Charts are helpful for teams in placing their defenders. Taking published play-by-play accounts from NCAA Division I and II games and data gathered from televised contests, opponents’ tendencies can be traced.

Ready says most coaches place their fielders where the majority of the balls are hit.

“I like to take it a step further,” says Ready. “I want to know how the ball was hit (fly ball, line drive, in front of the fielder or over his head).

“I like to place my fielders to take away the hits, not where the likely fly-ball outs are. That’s the logic I use when looking at a spray chart.”

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University of Indianapolis head baseball coach Al Ready pays attention to probability in many areas of the game. (University of Indianapolis Photo)

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Al Ready is the head baseball coach at the University of Indianapolis. He played for the Greyhounds and was a longtime assistant before taking over as leader of the program. (University of Indianapolis Photo)

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From first-time fatherhood to Gold Glove, life has been full for Reds catcher Barnhart

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

It’s been an eventful last six months or so for Tucker Barnhart.

In August, the Cincinnati Reds catcher and Indiana native and wife Sierra welcomed first child Tatum into the world. Before you knew it Tucker was buying a tiny catcher’s mitt he found on Amazon.com.

“I was bored one day and I was trying to find a glove,” says Barnhart. “It just so happened there was a (miniature) black and red catcher’s glove. It made a ton of sense to grab it.”

In September, the switch-hitting backstop signed a four-year contract extension that will keep him with the Reds through at least the 2021 season. The deal also includes a club option for 2022.

In October, the 2009 Brownsburg High School graduate rapped his fourth Major League Baseball season with career-high totals for batting average (.270), on-base percentage (.347), slugging percentage (.403) and games played (121).

Reds manager Bryan Price told MLB.com in December that Barnhart will be Cincy’s primary in 2018 with Devin Mesoraco backing up.

“Tucker’s going to get the lion’s share of the playing time now; he’s earned that,” said Price.

“He has stamped himself — without a doubt — as a day-to-day big league catcher,” says Marty Brenneman, the Reds radio play-by-play voice since 1974. “He’s a guy who’s wonderful at handling a pitching staff, a guy who proved he could hit big league pitching before than the Average Joe. And above all that, he won the Gold Glove for defensive excellence in the National League.”

In November, Barnhart became the first Reds catcher since 10-time recipient Johnny Bench in 1977 to be awarded a Rawling Gold Glove in the Senior Circuit.

Brenneman calls Barnhart beating out St. Louis Cardinals receiver Yadier Molina — eight times a Gold Glove winner and NL All-Star — “a big, big deal.”

November was also a time celebrate his second wedding anniversary. Tucker is married to the former Sierra Thompson.

While adapting to fatherhood and recovering from the grind of the long season, the Zionsville resident has found the time to take in Indianapolis Colts and Indiana Pacers games.

“I’m a big-time Pacers fan,” says Barnhart. “Basketball is my favorite sport. It’s in my blood.”

He is childhood friend of Boston Celtics small forward Gordon Hayward and Reds relief pitcher Drew Storen — both Brownsburg graduates.

Barnhart was a freshman and sophomore when he caught during Storen’s junior and senior Brownsburg seasons.

Years later, Barnhart looks into the stands at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati and sees a lot of Bulldogs purple and white.

Barnhart has also consulted this fall and winter with long-time personal hitting instructor Mike Shirley near Lapel and Reds catching coordinator Mike Stefanski in Cincinnati.

“Mike’s a great guy,” Barnhart says of Shirley, a national cross-checker scout for the Chicago White Sox. “I’ve worked with Mike since I was I would say 11 years old. Other than my dad (Kevin Barnhart), Mike has seen my swing more than any other person around. I trust Mike a lot. He’s cutting edge. He looks at all the numbers and all that stuff. I really appreciate the work he’s done for me.

“We look at video of other hitters and things that they do that I can do or things that I do that are similar to what they do. We do a lot more talking than hitting, which is good in my opinion.”

Barnhart said his offense has picked up as he has gotten more familiar with National League pitching.

“It’s facing the same guys over and over again seeing how they pitch you and how to attack them as a hitter,” says Barnhart. “Obviously, I’d like to grow as a hitter. I think I could drive some more balls. I don’t know if that’s going result in more home runs (than the seven he hit in both 2016 and 2017) or more doubles or what have you, but I’m getting more out of my swing.

“I’m getting stronger and more explosive.”

There continues to be an education — in baseball and in life — from his father.

“What haven’t I learned from Kevin Barnhart?,” says Tucker, who turned 27 on Jan. 7. “My dad has been so instrumental in my career.”

Kevin Barnhart is an instructor at Samp’s Hack Shack in Brownsburg, a facility owned by former big league pitcher Bill Sampen.

Tucker also offers a shout-out to mother Pam Barnhart, sister Paige Barnhart and the rest of his relatives.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without (my family),” says Tucker. “I am extremely thankful.

“Being a dad (myself) puts that all into perspective.”

Tucker went on paternity leave Aug. 31-Sept. 3 to be with Sierra and Tatum.

“It’s difficult and it’s the best thing ever,” says Barnhart of fatherhood. “No matter what kind of day I’m having when I see him smile, that’s all that matters.”

Barnhart also found the time to make western swing of the Reds Caravan.

One fan at the Muncie stop gave Barnhart her own nickname, “Johnny Bench Jr.”

“That’s pretty humbling,” says Barnhart, who was selected in the 10th round of the 2009 MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Reds and won an MiLB Gold Glove in 2011 and the Reds Joe Nuxhall Good Guy Award in voting of the Cincinnati chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in 2016.

Barnhart is slated to address the Indiana Bulls travel baseball organization at their player/parent meeting Sunday, Jan. 28 at Westfield High School.

Barnhart played six seasons with the Bulls He made the 13U team at 11, but was not allowed to play for the fear of getting hurt. At 12, he played for the 13U squad then played 13U, 14U, 15,U 16U and 17U.

“It’s going to be a message of hard work, dedication and having fun,” says Barnhart of his remarks to Bulls players and parents. “You have to be able to have fun to get the most out of yourself. To achieve all the things you want to achieve in your life — whether it’s in baseball or in anything.”

The Barnharts plan to leave Thursday, Feb. 1 for spring training camp in Goodyear, Ariz. Pitchers and catchers are to report Feb. 13 (position players Feb. 18).

Cincinnati’s first Cactus League spring game is scheduled for Feb. 23. The season opener is slated for March 29.

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Tucker Barnhart, a Brownsburg (Ind.) High School graduate, goes into spring training 2018 as the primary catcher for the Cincinnati Reds. (MLB Photo)