Testimonial Tuesday: Coleman McGinnis

Testimonial Tuesday: Coleman McGinnis

Many athletes today have found “their” sport by the time they get to high school and seemingly focus on it from a development and competition perspective.  Plenty of them may play other sports because of interest or opportunity or even skill sets. But the 3-sport athlete is an endangered species. And in considering that truth, Coleman McGinnis is among the rarest of breeds. 

The uncommitted 2023 catcher who attends Eastern Alamance High School in Mebane, NC, is a quintessential in-season guy. McGinnis routinely plays whichever sport is in season and seamlessly transitions from baseball, to the gridiron, to the hardwood, and then back to the diamond. Coleman says the  drive to be a multi-sport athlete had been one he’s always had, and he looks forward to just being out playing and attempting to improve. 

On top of that, McGinnis loves to help his team win. So far in his high school athletic career the freshman has done plenty of winning. Playing outside linebacker for his Eagles’ JV football, the  squad went 9-0. And as a guard he helped the JV basketball to a 20-1 record.

But baseball is McGinnis’ top priority. Thus decisions like joining the Dirtbags, as he did in the fall of his 13u season, have been made to enhance his opportunities in his favorite sport. Coleman acknowledged he had been aware for some time of the high quality of teams and access the organization provided to those looking to be recruited to play at the next level. He also knew he wanted to be a part of the Dirtbag culture, and grow from the competition that exists both within the talented rosters and of course from the opponents they regularly face.

Being a Dirtbag has paid dividends for Coleman thus far. He says it’s been mainly from guidance he’s received from coaching as a part of the Chin Music team. The most obvious area of growth according to him has been the confidence factor. He is quick to mention that confidence now shows up both on and off the field.

On the field, McGinnis is a fierce competitor who has built his game around hustle and the attitude to taking no plays off.  As he puts it, “(It’s about) busting my butt behind the plate. Always ready to block balls in the dirt to help the pitcher and the team.”

Those leading the Dirtbags have also noticed how his skills and attitude match up to create a player who will continue to impress as he develops. Dylan Dickens, a coach for the Bags who himself was a Dirtbag and has worked quite a bit with McGinnis had this to say regarding the demeanor of the catcher and its impact on his pursuit, “McGinnis is relentless. He prepares himself for success. Failure doesn’t seem to be an option.”

This all lends itself to the conclusion that the “off-season” doesn’t exist for the Coleman McGinnis’ of the sport.  He counters by saying it just means the 3-sport athlete needs to subscribe to some simple principles. Namely, management – the intent to use the time wisely and effectively.  He enhances his efforts by using the competition as an advantage.

His off-season has been finding chances to throw or occasionally hit. McGinnis is already aware of the essential nature of the weightroom as a recognized benefit in all sports. In respect to lifting, the work is non-stop, even while in-season.

He sees the three sports as very interactive supporting components to one another. From football he finds the toughness and physicality he finds so essential as a catcher. McGinnis also loves the way football has taught him “you can’t do it all yourself” and that the team work is key to his own successes. His stamina gets a boost from basketball. Safe to say each has a way to bring out the best of Coleman in the other sports.

For Coleman, this creates an attitude that extends to his efforts in the community and his academic life. Due to time commitments from all the athletics it may seem achievable, but he finds himself extending those same attributes he embodies on the field. As an A-student, he’s regularly eager to give academic assistance to teammates and friends. He’s very involved with his church and its youth group, active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at school, where he is also member of both the Student Council and DECA. 

Matching the baseball skills with academic and community involvement means even as a ninth grader, Coleman is building the recruitment resume. And like many aspiring student-athletes who want to play at the next level, he has his dream school list ready. But he also has a keen understanding that right fits for him will center on connecting with a program dedicated to his development while also offering top facilities and a winning atmosphere where his game can play.

And his game plays. A righthanded line drive hitter who is regularly gap to gap, at 6’ and 165 pounds, he is just going to keep getting better. When asked about whether he looks to be a JV or varsity contributor as a freshman, McGinnis responded he’s not sure what the spring will offer when it comes to his status, but he’s just ready to serve; and get better.

After the spring, Coleman says he’s looking forward to the summer of 2020, with opportunities to play at new places with the Bags. He also quickly points out it’s an opportunity to help pitchers get better and thus serving as a proving ground for his own improvements. He already understands that when teammates improve together everyone wins. 

Getting this type of view from a regular fifteen year old may be abnormal but truly, Coleman is  atypical when it comes to his view about himself in the context of performance. His comments center not so much on what he’s done, but more about what he wants to become. The overwhelming theme of the conversation about himself in all capacities seems to center on ways to get  ́better. 

It’s just how the dude is wired. Right now isn’t good enough. A new opportunity is coming and he wants to be better.  A new season is around the corner, and he wants to do it better.

With that mentality, programs BETTER pay attention to this guy because he’s going to one day be one of the best.

Testimonial Tuesday: Maddox Smith

Testimonial Tuesday: Maddox Smith

A conversation with 2021 uncommitted RHP Maddux Smith, out of Southern Alamance High School, in Graham, NC, reveals a truth about the young man as player, and as a person. He’s an achiever. And that holds on the diamond, in the classroom and quite honestly in life. 

The sixteen year old junior is the type individual able to rise to an occasion and get the very best out of himself. One notable piece of evidence to this recognition can be found in how Smith has used playing with the best as a member of the Dirtbags to be a motivating factor in his development. 

Like all the other baseball players in NC, Smith is excited to test out the off-season development in just a few weeks once the games for the 2020 season get going. He says he’s anticipating good things from his fellow Southern Alamance Patriots, as they take a somewhat young team into tough Mid-Piedmont 3A conference. Whether this year or next, Maddux feels like the squad could make a run; at a conference title or even higher.  

The summer season means playing with the Dirtbags on some of the top college facilities in the region as Smith and his teammates will be in action to pile up some wins and gain the attention of college programs in hopes to gain interest and offers. Maddux has taken cues from his previous campaigns as well as in watching some fellow Bags make commitments. He understands the process and has worked towards what it will take for him to make his own mark.

Of course the diamond will have to wait for him to get finished playing basketball for his Patriots. Always a competitor, he takes his 6’3” 200 pound frame onto the hardwood as a “stretch-big” forward.

But the push to play baseball at the next level has long been the goal for Smith. Having suited up with several teams at this stage of his career with the Bags, Maddux referenced being able to compete with such elite teammates has driven him to elevate his game. The righty offered some insight about playing with exceptional talent.

“It pushed me to get to that level. I wanted to reach that level,” he said.

Longtime Dirtbags skipper, Brent Haynes, who has coached Smith had this to say about the strides he has made, “Maddux is a hard worker who has really transformed his body and has worked his tail off to get better this off season.”

According to Maddux, the work this past off-season has centered on lifting and training with bands to loosen the actions in his delivery. The velo on the fastball has reflected that effort, already reaching 87 mph on the radar gun.

While the fastball numbers continue to climb, perhaps Smith’s greatest attribute is how he works and provides difficulty for hitters to feel comfortable in the box. From his fastball, to his 12:6 curveball, or even his changeup, Maddux competes on the bump.

Haynes agreed and recognized the style of his game by saying, “Maddux likes to work fast on the mound and goes right after guys with a 3 pitch mix. When he’s at his best he is getting a lot of ground balls and quick outs.”

The approach Smith takes on the mound allows him to attack hitters and establish his dominance as a pitcher; not simply responding to what the hitter provides as a guide to his plan. Instead he likes to get ahead to build his confidence  and then be in charge of the “conversation.”  

Those “conversations” can often be one-sided with Smith doing all the talking.

One could say Maddux carries a similar mindset into other areas of his pursuits, most notably academics. With a 4.5 GPA, he seems to have plenty of answers for much of what the classroom has thrown at him – that includes math classes like pre-calculus. 

Brent Haynes also sees all of the attributes that Smith brings as a strong force that will ultimately deliver the right opportunity. Haynes remarked, “He’s a great student and is going to make a program very happy at the next level.”

The traits of being an achiever in life often brings people to point where they want to be around other achievers.  And Smith admits the decision to be a Dirtbag was largely driven by this view. He recognized players within the organization commit to play college baseball at a high rate. 

Even as the desire to play college baseball was a huge factor in joining the Dirtbags according to Maddux, he found the real value of the program went much deeper. Because Smith learned  the culture of being a Dirtbag was very much like his own mentality in terms of how players operate.

When asked what it means to be a Dirtbag, Smith quickly responded, “Success and hard work. It means competing everyday to get better.” 

And that’s just what achievers do. They take the steps to achieve. Everyday.

Testimonial Tuesday: R.J Johnson

Testimonial Tuesday: R.J Johnson

Accomplishing goals can often be aided when a person has the ability to ascertain how processes work. People who can see those possibilities will have a head start on the rest of the population. They are able to identify potential solutions and determine the viability of each. With their insight, choices to success are made with confidence. R.J. Johnson is one of those people with this ability.

While some may spend a lifetime to reach this understanding, Johnson, a 2021 left-handed hitting outfielder out of Kerr Vance Academy in Henderson, NC, has seemed to figure this out at the age of 16. His approach to identifying his course when it comes to baseball paved a way for him to commit to Appalachian State in the fall of 2019. 

As a member of the Dirtbags since the summer of 2019, he says the quest to be seen was a major factor. Knowing the Bags had a reputation for providing exposure, R.J. felt playing with the best would enhance his opportunities. According to him, what he got was much more.

The Dirtbags not only provided Johnson notoriety, as he was placed on the prestigious Bad Company squad, but he says playing on such an elite team gave him great encouragement.  The members of the team undeniably push one another. Seeing his teammates gain accolades and offers prompted him to elevate not only his game but also his development. 

He knew he needed to take the next step. R.J. knew his physical tools could be accentuated with a commitment to his body. His six foot frame put on ten pounds of muscle. His already fast 6.6 sixty, became a 6.4.

Johnson figured it out.  He didn’t blame anyone when others were getting connections with the DI schools, he found a path and did the work. It becomes apparent in conversation with R.J. that finding out how things work is a big deal to him. He’s an investigator of sorts.

He quickly found out how to impress his coach for Dirtbags. Brent Haynes, the Bad Company skipper had this to say about Johnson, “RJ was our table setter at the top of the line up that got things going for us offensively. He’s a quick twitch guy who has game changing speed and puts a lot of pressure on the defense.” 

When it comes to being impressed the feeling Johnson had about his fellow Dirtbags was also impactful. But it seems to reach far beyond just their physical attributes and skills.  R.J. says the teammates are very much a brotherhood who talk daily and find matches among themselves in terms of dedication and hard work.

He appreciates this and is equally excited to find the same dynamics when he transitions to Appalachian State after high school. The decision to be a Mountaineer had many factors according to Johnson. From facilities to the area, all were just as important. Perhaps most meaningful to him though was the opportunity to be a part of something he feels is building in Boone with the coaching staff.

Though Johnson considers himself a grinder by nature, he has plenty of tools which are accentuated by his decisions as to how he plays the game. His speed is a factor for how he patrols centerfield and directs his approach at the plate, where he tries to be selective and take advantage of ways to be a baserunner. In short, R.J. plays the game smart and leverages his strengths to his teams advantage.

The team he will be looking to aid next will be Kerr-Vance Academy, who is looking to make a run to a 4th straight state title. Johnson then plans to take those skills right into the summer with Bad Company in hopes that trips to Georgia and other high profile events in 2020 can create championship memories.

It seems those big events are where R.J. has tended to shine brightest, as explained by Haynes, “The bigger the tournaments we played in the bigger RJ played, and he was rewarded with a scholarship to play baseball at App State at the next level.”

None of these steps in process are lost on Johnson  when it comes to making an impact on others. He says he even sees some of his course being emulated by his younger brother, Evan Johnson (LHP/OF), who is himself a Dirtbag as a member of the 2025 class.

According to R.J., “No days off in the Johnson house.”

His “figure it out” mindset combined with that strong work ethic also shows up when talking about his academic goals. With a 4.3 GPA his aspirations in courses of study were always of a high standard. At one point, Johnson thought he may want to be an engineer. But after spending some experiencing the field he now finds his pursuits to be more geared towards physical therapy. 

Johnson says despite wanting to play the game as long as he can and at its highest levels, he understands that life after baseball is a real thing.  And just like how he prepares to dominate on the diamond, he’ll be ready.

Testimonial Tuesday: Tristen Odham

Testimonial Tuesday: Tristen Odham

Making younger players understand the connections between baseball and life is something one would think a seasoned coach or a longtime observer of the game would lecture about or encourage youngsters to recognize. Tristen Odham, an uncommitted 2022 outfielder out of Ashley High School in Wilmington, NC, surely wouldn’t interrupt that message, but he clearly gets it already.

Odham, who bats and throws right-handed, can in fact sound somewhat sage himself when talking about the ways in which life lessons are found so prominently within baseball. In discussing both his play on the diamond, and his goals beyond the game he simply and powerfully stated his view, “Be the best I can be.”  

Having just the fall of 2019 under his belt as a Dirtbag, he has already seen this same theme being promoted in the organization. He shared that once he got to know everyone on his team, he quickly recognized that being a Dirtbag meant way more than baseball. Odham says he learned the Bags are “built around character.” 

This is clearly important to Tristen and he sees the value of the Bags pouring into not only his skill development as a player, but also his personal foundation. He commented, “Baseball is life. In both you need dedication and the ability to do what’s needed.”

In terms of baseball skills, Odham shows the ability to perform at a high level in a number of ways. His offensive game will many times find him in the lead-off spot where he consistently puts the ball in play hard, and then uses his speed to put pressure on his opponent with smart, but aggressive baserunning.  

As a defender, his knowledge of the game shows up as an asset that allows him to combine his strong arm and athleticism into making plays off great reads and anticipation.

Upon being assigned to Ben Cassillo’s club for the 2019 fall, he made a quick and meaningful impression on his skipper when it came to his impact on a game.  

“Tristen is the epitome of a spark plug. Once on base, he used his incredible speed to make the game faster for his opponents and cause them to make mistakes. Anything from fielding routine ground balls to cutting a ball off quickly in the outfield becomes a problem because of Tristen’s speed and high IQ on the bases,” said Cassillo.

Noting his production at the plate Cassillo added, “He has surprising strength, which combined with a compact swing, produces gap to gap power.”

According to Odham, his performances were enhanced by the level of play he saw in his fellow Dirtbags, in addition to the high caliber of teams they routinely faced. He noted such competition serves as a driving force for him.  

And it became obvious to Cassillo who stated, “Tristen competes every single pitch.”

But Tristen was quick to note he also saw himself grow from his experiences this past fall.  And not just from the tips Cassillo provided on hitting, but most notably in his own character. 

Odham said, “The character is built by being put in a direction and (the Dirtbags) wouldn’t let me veer off and go the wrong way.”

To Odham his time with the Bags thus far has provided him a connection with teammates he cherishes and finds tremendous value in, both personally and corporately. He sees the competition within the team in positive fashion because it drives everyone; never causing animosity or jealousy when another Dirtbag has a great day. 

“It makes you work harder, but also pull for one another,” says Odham.

Clearly, his teammates reciprocate the respect, as seen from Cassillo’s remark about Tristen joining the club, “He’ll put his body on the line to take away hits from the opponents, and that’s something that quickly endeared him to our pitching staff and the entire team.”

Another attribute Odham brings to the table in baseball that can also serve him in life is his versatility. Though an outfielder by trade, he can and has easily been able to make moves into the infield and even on the mound to serve his team.

On the mound, Tristen’s control and savvy make him a valuable asset for his team as a reliever or closer. His ability to locate off-speed pitches like his changeup or multiple breaking balls, only accentuates the effectiveness of the fastball.

And just when it looks like the list is complete on how Odham can serve his team, know that he has also found his way to either of the middle infield spots and not been overmatched. In fact, none of the aforementioned responsibilities seem to be foreign or even slightly overmatching for Tristen. The versatility is definitely wide ranging.

Odham looks to take all of those skills to the field this spring for his Ashley Eagles. He is excited to be a part of a program that routinely shows up in the conference and in the play-offs. He says 2020 should be no different and are hoping to make an extended run.

As the 2020 campaign transitions to the summer and beyond, he has a lot of confidence in both himself and his Dirtbags teammates to excel in tournaments and inevitably garner the attention of college coaches out evaluating to find recruitable players that fit their programs.

With the recruiting scene just beginning for the sophomore, Tristen is aware the 2020 seasons could be huge for his performances to attract the type of programs that he aspires to join. Schools that he is interested in learning more about are currently regional and mainly in the Carolinas.

At this point, Odham has found attending camps with college coaches in attendance or even on college campuses to be beneficial. Not only do those experiences provide exposure, but according to Tristen, it gives him first-hand knowledge to see what those coaches are looking for in a player.

Any school to be considered with need to have strong academic offerings to match his 4.3 GPA. While Odham isn’t sure what he’d like to study, a run through on potential vocations to pursue post-baseball all required extensive college degrees.

That means Tristen’s goals not only involve furthering his academic and athletic pursuits at preeminent baseball program, but the destination also needs to be a prestigious university of high standards. One could say that Odham is looking for a college fit that has just as much versatility has he does.

Testimonial Tuesday: Jacob Kirby

Testimonial Tuesday: Jacob Kirby

Baseball players who are looking to be recruited need to stand out. They need to have qualities that separate them from the pack. Jacob Kirby is a 2023 uncommitted RHP at Reagan High School, in Pfafftown, NC. He stands in at 6’3” and 155 pounds. The fastballs from the three-quarters arm slot from which he delivers his pitches are generally in the low 80’s. He is the epitome of projectable. 

Having joined the Dirtbags in the summer of 2019, he has already been able to make an impact on the top brass in the organization. Jacob was a member of the uber talented Chin Music team in 2019 under the direction of Dirtbags Middle School Director, Logan Koch.

Kirby also caught the attention of Trey Daly, the GM for Dirtbags Baseball. The tangibles displayed by Kirby puts him in a category of players often sought after by those searching for elite performers.  

Daly captured that view by saying, “When you look at Jacob Kirby you see a very projectable body that has a very high ceiling is very appealing to the eye for college coaches.” 

The clincher, perhaps for Kirby, may be the intangibles the righty has to offer. This becomes immediately obvious in how he talks about himself, and how he talks about the game.  

When asked about what it means to be a Dirtbag, Kirby responded, “It’s a high quality player and person.”

Asked to elaborate on that, he confidently stated, “Talent can only take a player so far. How you are off the field is part of your process.”

Diving deeper into his personality with questions to understand what drove him to these stances, Jacob perhaps encapsulated his genuineness by saying, “I’m just good at being myself and not trying to be something I’m not.”

Those are his words. And as a reminder, he has yet to play an inning of high school baseball.  Jacob Kirby is just a freshman. Let that sink in … 

With such a level-head on his shoulders, the projectability becomes even more obvious as those tangibles mentioned earlier are looked at even more closely. Kirby is quite aware of the advantages he is afforded with his height and he attempts to work that to his benefit.

Definitely a pitcher with a sense of pace, Kirby likes to work quickly and stays pretty even keeled emotionally. Never afraid to challenge hitters, Jacob quipped about opposing batters, “They have to prove solid contact.” 

The hurler also brings some uniqueness to the table when it comes to his pitches. Apart from his fastball and changeup, Kirby employs a knuckle curve as his breaking ball. When asked about that pitch, he said the depth and width of the break are its positive attributes. Additionally, the grip works for him, giving him the control to throw it for a strike or as a swing-miss offering in the dirt.

On all accounts, Daly agrees. And the GM sees where all of this is going as he evaluated, “On the mound he throws three pitches for strikes and shows loose, easy arm action that will continue to get better as he matures.”

With the Spring right around the corner, Jacob will soon be able to show improvements he has been working towards. And at a program like Reagan’s, who is loaded with top level talent, Kirby is more than cognizant his role is dependent on how he will be needed.  He commented he’s just happy to be a part of a program with such prestige. (Translation: he’ll be ready when he’s needed.)

That readiness according to Kirby is somewhat owed to his experiences with the Dirtbags in the past year. Being able to play with the best and against the best became a prime motivator to push himself into the work necessary to gain strength and develop his craft. The stage is already set for that to continue in the summer of 2020.  

Kirby is hoping for big things to happen for himself and his Dirtbag teammates in 2020. While the most prestigious programs in the region and country shouldn’t sound unreasonable for Jacob, he of course mentioned the school had to provide an academic match for him, as well. Nonetheless, he is excited about the recruiting likely to ramp up in the oncoming year.  

All of these opportunities soon to be presented to Kirby, whether with his school team or with the Bags, are sure to be met with an attitude of confident humility. In the language of intangibles, that translates to leadership.

Testimonial Tuesday: Ty Dooley

Testimonial Tuesday: Ty Dooley

It’s easy to tell that family is important to Ty Dooley. He talks about it when asked where he wants to go to college.  As expected he talks about family too, when providing info on his support system, who offers him great encouragement. The theme of family even shines through his description of being a Dirtbag. So when Dooley, a 2021 uncommitted shortstop, flat out states he’s a “family oriented” individual, it means he carries that approach to all aspects of his being.

As for why he became a Dirtbag in 2017, Dooley said, “They had a great track record with (college) commitments, but also had developed talent and showcased it.”

Though he joined the Dirtbags with the expressed intent of tapping into what the organization had done for players who came before him, he has learned that it’s so much more than that. Ty noted he’s come to see at this point the term “Dirtbag” means hard working, team oriented and unselfish. He’s also learned just how big the organization is. And, he says, it’s now obvious why it’s grown so large.

Making connections in a large group essentially requires those same family attributes Dooley cares about. The junior, out of Blythewood High School in Blythewood, S.C., seems to find great comfort playing with the Bags. 

Comfort. Connection. Those don’t just happen. They take effort on both sides. Ty seems to recognize that and in turn, do more than his part to achieve those standards. 

From being very vocal on the infield to having a cool, but confident demeanor,  it all translates to him providing great communication with his teammates. And that can happen immediately as Dooley found out last summer playing with a new Dirtbag team in Fort Myers, Florida. While Dooley says he was with a team different from who he had spent the previous weeks, the unfamiliarity didn’t show.

“It was like I’d been with them the whole time,” Dooley stated.

But for those who have been watching the infielder mature on and off the diamond, that’s not surprising. His versatility is found not only in his personality but also in his skills. As the South Carolina Director for the Dirtbags, Brendan Dougherty perfectly explains how and why Ty can connect so quickly with whomever he’s playing and find that “family” comfort.

“Ty can really play. He has a baseball pedigree with a skill set to match.He’s a versatile player with power in his bat and has a chance to be special,” according to Dougherty.

With 2020 here, Dooley is looking to reach that special status referred to by Dougherty. The off-season has been full of lifting sessions, arm care work with band stretches and a throwing program. Additionally, he has been working on his swing, which he says wasn’t where he wanted it last season as he wasn’t able to show the patience he needed. Rectifying that has meant trying to get tons of live arm reps with his left-handed swing.

All the work has been with purpose, both with individual and team goals in mind. Ty is excited to be a part of the Blythewood program and try to help them return to the state championship. He also finds the opportunity to be recruited by some top college programs to be good reason for all the effort.  

While saying he’d love to find the right college fit right in the Palmetto state where he’s always called home, the chance to join a program where he can make, again, that family connection will be the ultimate determining factor.

As for now, Dooley is finding himself gaining exposure whether that means being a Dirtbag, or a Bengal at Blythewood. Ty also has enjoyed attending camps in the off-season at schools that could end up being destinations. Not only is he able to get a feel for a program’s atmosphere and culture, but ever the learner, he states he always gets something out of it; from drills to skills of the game.

With that kind of attitude to go along with his already advanced skills, it may be sooner rather than later that Ty Dooley will find connection with his next “family.”

Testimonial Tuesday: Tyler Sparrer

Testimonial Tuesday: Tyler Sparrer

Generally speaking, most baseball players are more than okay with their teammates performing well and at a high level. However, rare is the attitude taken by uncommitted 2022 Tyler Sparrer. Not only does he hope those pitchers he receives have a quality outing, he makes it a personal mission for them look their best.  

When he talks about “building trust with pitcher by expanding the strike zone” or “building a relationship with them,” it’s easy to see this ball player is somewhat of an old soul. He has learned very early that by leveraging others to be their best, the team benefits and in turn he benefits.  

Tyler views this mindset as part of his job as a catcher; to make others look good.  He is a true field general and of all the tools a catcher regularly has to employ he takes great pride in framing as his best.  And he’s proof that it matters. As a freshman at Auburn High School, in Riner, Va., last spring he set the school record for put-outs and played an instrumental role in the Eagles winning the Virginia 1A state championship.    

At 6’ and 185 pounds, the right-handed hitting Sparrer fits the quintessential description of a catcher, and his thinking man’s approach to the game matches his physical tools. This made him an easy fit when he decided to join the Dirtbags in the summer of 2019. While he was looking for opportunities to enhance his chances to play at the next level, he says he knew the competition in which the organization competes and the track record of helping players connect with college programs were both attractive.  

Once he got on the diamond with the Bags, he says it was a seamless transition as the teammates and the guidance he found playing for Dirtbag coach Ben Cassillo’s 16u team made him feel like he fit immediately. Sparrer credited Cassillo with improving his game last summer by pulling him aside between innings regularly to offer valuable one-on-one attention when it came to topics like framing and blocking. 

Tyler also mentioned how playing with top talent impacts him like he experiences with the Dirtbags. “It pushes me to want to be better than them.”

That’s not a negative, that’s just a competitor elevating himself in the face of a demanding environment. He takes ownership in having an attitude to always continue to learn. Sparrer stated simply, “I never want to be content with where I’m at.”

As his coach, Ben Cassillo recognized that as well, saying, “Tyler is extremely eager and curious to learn. After games many players are seeking to grab their phones and check their messages. Tyler, however, would seek out ways to get better and would want to ask about certain game situations so that he could learn from them for the time they came up.”

The learning seems to be happening all the time for Tyler, too. He regularly works with an instructor for catching and hitting.  He even cited that the bullpens he is able to catch under this tutelage has been “incredibly valuable.” Sparrer commented he gets to receive “tons of bullpens of HS guys in the 80’s, college guys in the 90’s and even a AA pitcher for the Rays organization …Catching this level of speed and experience really prepares me for the next level.”

What an attitude to see the learning opportunities found in catching bullpens, instead of just something catchers have to do. But Tyler sees all the learning as a way to strengthen his mission to help his team whether at the plate do a job, or behind the plate building trust with his pitching staff. 

The trust factor is huge for Tyler, evidenced in him saying, “I try to keep those guys as calm and focused as I can. There have been times where I had to go out and either tell a joke to calm one down or to get tough with them to get them focused. I always try to have good communication with them and they trust that when I’m on the way it is a needed visit.”

Capturing perhaps the truest essence of Sparrer as a catcher, Cassillo summed it all up by saying, “Tyler takes his job as a catcher seriously. He recognizes that his relationship with the pitchers on our team is vital to our success. He instills confidence in them to throw any pitch with his blocking ability. He finds ways to give them encouragement when they need it, and isn’t afraid to challenge them at the same time. No matter what kind of day he is having at the plate, Tyler makes sure  to leave that in the dugout the minute he gets back behind the plate.” 

As for his plate performances, he was better than adequate last spring in 6-spot for his high school. He admitted he was too anxious last summer which impacted his performance, and thus, he has been working on his swing this off-season.  

Something else Sparrer has been trying to improve this off-season is his POP time. While regularly around 2.0 in a workout setting, he knows it’s a part of his game he can still get better.

So the question begs to be asked, where does this elite catcher want to continue playing once he completes high school.  Sparrer says the recruiting process is still in its early stages for him, yet he was quick to rattle off a number of regional DI programs, both major and mid-major, in which he has an interest in. Whether through playing with the Bags or attending camps he’s been impressed with facilities and has taken the initiative to research their academic offerings in hopes to connect with the right fit. 

And that’s the type of kid Tyler Sparrer is. When asked to describe a “Dirtbag” he ultimately pegged himself – “Strong. Hard working. Smart.”

But the attitude piece of Tyler is what truly separates him. He’s a leader in how he handles and presents himself.

His attitude about being a catcher shines through crystal clear when he talks about it. He loves it. Whoever gets to have him as a part of their college program will surely understand they are getting a guy that will make everyone around him better because of his leadership and his love for the game.

Testimonial Tuesday: Cole Watkins

Testimonial Tuesday: Cole Watkins

When it comes to waiting, 2022 uncommitted middle infielder Cole Watkins doesn’t come across as one who passively sits around hoping an opportunity will miraculously appear. Instead, by aggressively pursuing personal improvement the sophomore out of J.H. Rose High School, in Greenville, NC, isn’t just waiting for those opportunities; he’s getting ready.

Waiting one’s turn is something that can be a reality when playing at such a storied program as that of the Rose Rampants, coached by legendary Ronald Vincent. As regular contenders for both conference and state crowns, their roster can be routinely stacked with players who are college and pro prospects.  

Thus, Watkins was very candid about his need to be prepared saying, “My turn is coming. I’ve got to be ready.”

One way Watkins took a step to ready himself to not only make his mark for his school, but put himself in a position to play at the next level, was in joining the Dirtbags in the fall of 2018. After researching the organization, he felt a dual purpose could be served to not only aid in his skill development, but also provide exposure to college coaches. Watkins says it has done both.

The preparation and steps to readiness have allowed Cole to find his game at a level where he can play with a sense of confidence. And it shows, because the kid plays the game hard. He not only is capable of executing in all phases of the game, but also shows leadership by displaying active engagement each pitch with verbal cues and encouragement to his teammates. 

All of this hasn’t gone unnoticed in the Dirtbags organization. His most recent experiences had him play with Tyler Drew’s squad in the summer of 2019 and then he was coached by Ben Cassillo in this past fall. Both coaches recognized all the attributes which make him the kind of player coaches want to have on their teams.

Drew saw the attributes of Watkins’ readyiness as he said, “Cole is always cool, calm, and collected. No matter the situation Cole always stayed in control of his emotions and never let the moment get too big for him.”

Acknowledging his view the preparation for performance had been made, Cassillo commented, “Cole has a silent killer mentality to him. He asks for the ball in the biggest situations, and then lets his play do the talking.”

Watkins equally seemed to be appreciative of what he’s gained by being a Dirtbag. He said he recognized very early that the coaches are relationship builders and don’t just teach you skills, but also want what’s best for each player.

Perhaps most impressive about the 15 year old, is his vision of who he is and who he wants to be as a baseball player. He is very precise and direct in describing the work he sees in front of him. He’s a shortstop, but strives to gain skills to make more plays. He hits, but wants to make hard contact more consistently. He can get outs on the mound, but is looking to add more punch to his three-quarter arm slot low 80’s fastball. Even with being “ready” it’s almost like Watkins sees a need to be MORE ready.

His descriptions of his work at the plate centered on working with a hitting instructor for fine tuning to a swing in order to produce “better results.” He talked a lot about balance and keeping the head still, along with “not casting” the hands in order to stay inside the baseball. This isn’t just a guy at the plate trying to hit it hard. He has a plan to hit and has come to understand the more intricate details of the swing. 

Beyond his hitting efforts, Watkins also regularly does work with a pitching instructor and routinely engages in workouts to improve body strength.  If it sounds like a busy schedule, it is and that’s not all. He also carries his athletic build at 6’2” and 165 pound onto the hardwood as he represents his school as a forward on the JV basketball team.

On top of that, Cole is a regular volunteer in his community, largely through the Health Science Academy at Rose High School. He routinely works with younger kids with homework and playing games at the Boys and Girls Club, plus working at the food bank. Cole says the experiences are very rewarding and the ability to help others is very important to him.

Thus, it’s easy to see why finding a college program for Watkins my largely hinge on connecting with the right fit in terms of building relationships with coaches and teammates. Though he’s in what he considers the early stages of the recruiting process, he sees the opportunity to play on college campuses and getting exposure to college coaches, via his Dirtbags experience, as a vital step for his being ready for that next stage in his career.

 

Testimonial Tuesday: Bentley Yeatts

Testimonial Tuesday: Bentley Yeatts

An observer’s analysis of uncommitted 2022 Bentley Yeatts would lead one to believe he has abounding options. This seems to be by design for the Hammond School (Columbia, SC) Sophomore. At 5’10” and 165 pounds, he’s an infielder who can play the outfield; he’s also a lead-off hitter who rarely strikes out and can produce from the 9-hole.

Additionally, his experiences in recruiting so far could also be seen as wide-open. He has somewhat of a draw to play on West Coast; citing family, weather, a few visits that have allowed him direct contact with a few coaches. But that’s not to say a destination in the southeast or even in his own state of South Carolina isn’t out of the question. The reality is that all options are on the table. Yeatts isn’t stuck on a specific conference or even level of prestige – he just wants to play and allow the best fit to be his landing spot.

The pursuit of finding the right university to continue a baseball career after high school is what perhaps brought him to join the Dirtbags two years ago. Knowing the reputation of the organization and with some encouragement from a few peers already playing with the Bags, Yeatts joined and found himself on the 2022 Tap Out team, which is full of highly recruited players.

According to Yeatts, the chemistry on Tap Out squad was unbelievable in 2019. A highlight was the 3rd place finish at the PG National Championship. Bentley recounted how each player truly wanted to see the other players succeed because of their collective goals. 

He attributes the growth of his own options largely on his experiences to play with and against the best, as well as the coaching he has received with the Dirtbags. Yeatts says it’s easy to take it for granted when talking about the experience of being a Dirtbag but the bottomline is summed up with, “They want you to succeed. The Dirtbags are getting us to where we want to be.”

As the skipper for the Tap Out squad, Dirtbags GM Trey Daly gets to the point on how valuable Bentley Yeatts is. Daly remarked, “He’s one of those guys coaches love to have on their team. He can play multiple positions and you never have to worry about the effort he’s going to give you.”

Bentley surely appreciates that type of confidence and the opportunities to be so multi-dimensional. In fact, Yeatts somewhat sees it too when he quipped, “Trey puts me wherever.”

That “wherever” is what gets him into the lineup, where he knows the chances can sometimes be limited when playing with the best. But he likes that. He seems to thrive on making sure he doesn’t take opportunities for granted. According to Yeatts, the key ingredient is “being ready.”

The well spoken 17 year old also impressively breaks down all the advantages he’s realized playing for such an organization as the Dirtbags and where his mindset was in doing so. He used phrases like “knowing my role,” “put the ego aside,” “will not get outworked,” and “move on to the next play,” to show he gets it when it comes to how a player can get the most out of being a part of the whole in order to produce one’s best self.

Daly notices those little things too, saying, “Not only does he give you maximum effort on the diamond, he does the work when no one is watching.”

Having recently moved from Lynchburg,Va. to South Carolina, Yeatts found himself on a Hammond School roster with some pretty prestigious future DI players including fellow Dirtbag, Tucker Toman. The Skyhawks, defending state champs in the Palmetto State, undoubtedly are glad to have Bentley to shore up an already impressive lineup as they go after another crown. Not limited to being just a baseball athlete, Yeatts is also the starting point guard for the Hammond School. 

No matter the sport, team or position, Trey Daly again captured Yeatts’ mentality with “(He’s a) guy that flat out hates to lose.”

All these signs point to a conclusion to be drawn about the multi-talented Yeatts – he’s a baseball player. Don’t box him into being an outfielder, or an infielder or whatever narrowly construed descriptor some expert may want to classify him as. Simply put he plays the game and plays it with a lot of passion to pursue one objective – to help his team win.

And Yeatts seems to be perfectly fine with that sort of analysis. 

Testimonial Tuesday: Garret Kangas

Testimonial Tuesday: Garret Kangas

While the phrase may seem universally applicable for any player with innings left in their career, for Garret Kangas, a 2021 right-handed pitcher out of Carlisle School in Axton, Virginia, it simply depicts his attitude towards his development.

Part of that approach may come from the fact his pitching delivery has taken on some major changes in the last few years. Garret made the decision to drop his arm angle as a 14u player and though it took some time to settle in on the delivery he has noticed marked improvement the last few seasons.

In speaking about the transition to the sub arm slot, Jon Walker, the Director of Operations for Dirtbags – Virginia, said, “That’s not typical for most HS freshman to commit to doing. Garret knew he needed to be different to get noticed. He had always been a striker thrower and had the ability to throw multiple pitches for strikes, but working from down under really burst him onto the scene.”

Kangas’ velo went from 70mph prior to his 9th grade year to 84mph this past summer. Garret says apart from the physical maturation that took place in that time span, the biggest reason is learning the timing of the delivery.

To accomplish such a feel for the delivery the 17 year old righty has found a myriad of resources to aid his progress. Foremost of those, according to Garret, has been the ability to simply be available to throw and trying to learn each time.

Putting himself in a position to get quality feedback and face quality opponents in high profile events certainly has also been a part of the process for Kangas. Becoming a Dirtbag two years ago, he says getting instruction and opportunities from coaches like Will Inman and Jon Walker definitely made a significant impact. From advice on how to handle game situations to learning how to talk to college coaches the tutelage from the Dirtbags has seemingly been invaluable.

As one would imagine, making such aforementioned improvements might bring attention from college coaches looking for a quality arm able to successfully perform with such a unique delivery. 

Walker noted, “Over the summer, there was 8-10 DI baseball programs who were watching Garret closely.”

Even with those college programs ramping up interest, Kangas says his decision to commit to Campbell University this past August was an obvious one.

About the experience, Garret said, “It all happens fast …(but) Campbell was an easy call.”

Getting into more detail on the commitment to the Camels, Kangas says a number of factors influenced the decision. Among those were the relatively standard draws a student-athlete may see in any institution they find to their liking; the size of the school, the campus, and even the athletic facilities were all positives for him. Additionally, Kangas said he felt the coaching staff at Campbell can best provide him valuable direction as he continues to hone his craft on the mound.

The junior hurler stated that being committed with still two seasons of high school baseball left in his career provides him an opportunity to be relieved of pressure and allow him to focus on continuing to get better. Instead of fearing what results may be from a gutsy pitch in a tight count, he said he can now direct his attention to the execution in that moment.

But in all of this talk about developing his skills, the fact remains that his game on the bump is quite simple.  Standing at 6’1” and 200 pounds, Kangas looks to pound the zone with his two-seamer that can be anywhere from 77 to 84 mph, to go with his occasional slider or changeup. The attacking style, his movement, and the variance in speed lends itself to results that range from weak contact to swings & misses.  Kangas admits this provides him an emotional charge at times and will sometimes “let loose after a K.”

Even with this drive to be his best on the diamond, Garret finds time to do the things a lot of teenage guys love to do – go fishing or even play other sports. One sport or pastime high on his list is actually bowling. While he didn’t reflect on the similarities between his bowling style and his “down under” delivery, he did share a he recently posted a not-too-shabby 190 on the lanes.

But baseball remains Garret’s passion and his desire to help his team shows up well beyond his pitching performances. As a two-way player for his high school Kangas is already prepping for the spring with taking cuts regularly at off-season workouts. The Chiefs of Carlisle School are looking to get past the state semifinals, where their season has ended the last three years, to achieve a coveted state championship.

When asked what the term Dirtbag means, Kangas responded “(Dirtbag) symbolizes a great organization that helps kids realize their goals … it’s the coaches who strive to get you to play at the next level.”

He went on to mention that Dirtbag coaches help not only in the skill development required to give kids a chance at that next level but also in having contacts and connections to intersect the players’ performances with college coaches.

Attributing the success he’s experienced thus far to God, it’s clear to see the young man wants to keep getting better so he can help his team – the Dirtbags, the Carlisle Chiefs, and eventually the Camels. Which means, like his will to improve, his playing days are far from being done.

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