Cole Thompson

Cole Thompson

  Making life decisions are often hard.  But when a person has tremendous confidence in themselves and the opportunity made available, everything seems to come together.  Recently, Cole Thompson committed to William Peace University. The 2020 outfielder out of Cardinal Gibbons High School in Raleigh called it a “life decision.”

Right-handed hitter who can patrol any of the outfield positions at 5’8” and 155 pounds made the decision to commit to the Pacers based on several factors that all seemed to line up with who he is.  Much of it centered around his love for his city of Raleigh. So that familiarity coupled with the smaller school environment where he feels he can find great academic success, were instrumental in guiding his choice.

And speaking of the environment, Thompson loves the outdoors – hunting, fishing and just being in nature.  Even his fav class into his senior year is shaping up as Marine Ecology. By the way, William Peace Unversity has an environmental program of study.

It was also a life decision two years ago in choosing to be Dirtbag. Once Cole determined he wanted to have the opportunity to play college baseball, being a Dirtbag was seen as a sure-fire way to get the needed notoriety.  

The reputation of the organization not only brought attention from colleges but it gave Thompson a chance to pay attention to what he needed to do in order to achieve his goals.

Cole says being with the Dirtbags has allowed him to elevate his skills and game due the players he plays with and against.  It has forced him to fight for a position or spot in the line up.

It’s not just as a Dirtbag that forced Thompson to rise to a challenge as a baseball player.  This past spring, as a junior at Cardinal Gibbons HS, he recounted how much he was pushed by the competition on the team that had multiple outfielders who were highly touted. Cole talks about how grateful his first varsity season for the Crusaders made him as he learned lessons and experienced a conference championship.

While competition on a team has been a leverage point to separate himself from other players in the sport looking to make themselves stand out, one gets the sense that Cole really appreciates the sense of being part of something bigger than himself while being a member of a successful baseball team.

Says Thompson about his view of being on these good teams he’s been a part of, “I really like to do my part.”  

And doing his part is what leadership for the Dirtbags has noticed.  General manager, Trey Daly says, “Being around Cole for the last two years I have seen a guy that always puts the team first and wants to play for the name on the front.  Peace is not only getting a good outfielder but a guy that is selfless.”

Growth in his skills has occurred in so many areas but he says his baseball IQ really stands out as an attribute he has recognized significant growth.  Where to be, how to handle a situation or what to expect rank just as high in Thompson’s view of game skills as strong arm or a solid bat.

Even having what Daly called a “compact swing,” Cole talked about some struggles at the plate over the past summer which provided that opportunity to get great guidance from a fellow Bag, Tyler McDaniel.  “He was always pushing me and showing me little things.” 

To Thompson that speaks volumes to the types of people in the Dirtbags organization.  Perhaps competing with one another for the ever valued chance to get an offer from a collegiate program, the players show care and comraderie to build relationships in the game. 

Lessons learned go well beyond the diamond for Cole Thompson. He says he has come to realize not to take everyday aspects of life and loved ones for granted.  The bonds created on his summer of 2019 team (17u Alberts) was like a family which he values and appreciates all the members in good times and tough times.

With such an outlook, it’s easy to see the drive that puts Cole at 100% effort all the time.  He even says such a fast aggressive approach has created some problems on the field in the past.  He says he sees how slowing down may be more productive in some circumstances.  

But the flip side is a kid can speak with conviction when he says, “When I’m on the bases, throw me out if you can. And I will never go down without swinging.” 

In Thompson’s eyes it’s what being a Dirtbag is all about.  When asked what the term “dirtbag” means to him, he responded, “Get after it … on a team to do just that.  If you can’t, don’t be on the team. You’ve got to compete all the time. So many people know the name, you have to show them.”

It seems in talking to Thompson, those words don’t just reflect his views on the game of baseball, but it’s also about life decisions for him. Just trying to give his best in all he does, everyday.

 

Tyler Parks

Tyler Parks

   People are always looking for opportunities to get to where they want to go and reach what they want to achieve.  Many times, the windows and doors are right under their noses and they fail to recognize them.  

That is not true for Tyler Parks, the 2023 uncommitted middle infielder out of Southwestern Randolph High School in Asheboro, NC.  He has a destination of the level he wants to play the game and he has recognized his work ethic combined with being a member of the Dirtbags as a solid route to make it all happen.  

In fact, one aspect of the organization that has stood out to him prominently since joining in 2018 is that the same is expected from everyone – work hard and be your very best. Then the opportunities will correspond.

The right-handed hitting Parks, at 5’9” and 160 pounds, said his decision to be a Dirtbag was driven by the reputation that players earn those opportunities.  And he has also noticed the opportunities come in ways that match the level most befitting the player.

In 2019 as a member of the 14u Chin Music, Tyler played for Dirtbags Middle School Director, Logan Koch, who immediately puts the 9th grader into an esteemed category when he says, “Parks is the definition of a ‘Dirtbag’ and has huge upside.”

And Parks also sees himself in very much a mold for the quintessential Dirtbag.  His game according to him is one where he attacks the baseball and plays gritty. Tyler goes on to say he’s not an emotional player – trying to not get too high or too low. And he hopes his style shows his love the game and he’s having fun on the diamond.

Koch seems to agree when he states, “You know what you are going to get from him everyday. We never questioned his effort  and I could always tell he was thinking while the game was going on. Very rare for a younger player.”

By being a Dirtbag, Parks has seen the experience help him grow in the game. Stating, “I’ve learned how the game should be played.”

This has mostly influenced how Parks prepares and takes his mental approach on the field.  Particularly, the defensive opportunities are seen as a way to stand out. In a game of making plays, the slick-fielding gloveman knows it can make him a valued member of any program at the next level.

Again, Logan Koch can see how all of this is working not just to benefit Parks’ quest to find a college fit, but also be a benefit for the Bags over the next few years. “He is going to be a hot commodity very soon and I am very happy he part of the program,” says Koch.

The opportunities aren’t all that Parks recognizes.  He also sees the hard work in front of him to continue his development. Outside the ground balls and the countless swings sure to fill his next four years, he is well aware that a commitment to his efforts in the weight room will be a difference maker in his ceiling.

Ultimately, Parks sees the Dirtbags playing its part in providing those opportunities.  By putting him on the field to play on college campuses and even in venues like the Future Stars Series in Texas, he has recognized the scouts and college coaches at games.  This has encouraged Parks to elevate his game to match the skills of his teammates and the competition.

While it may be early in the recruiting game for Parks, he is already setting those next level sights. And he agrees being a Dirtbag gives him leverage in the process. He sees a number of prominent programs within his home state as landing spots he’d consider due factors ranging from their success to their prestige at the national level.

No matter where he ultimately commits, Koch really sums it up with this, “The university that is fortunate enough to get Parks is going to be getting a dude.”

And assuredly, that “dude” won’t miss those opportunities the game places in front of him.

 

3 QUESTIONS ON HITTING (SET UP, SOFT TOSS, & CURVEBALLS)

3 QUESTIONS ON HITTING (SET UP, SOFT TOSS, & CURVEBALLS)

When it comes to hitting a baseball, results matter. So if a batter finds a stance or a load movement to provide the best opportunity to perform, all is well in the baseball universe. The same can be said for drills or even approaches to situations players face in the box.

Often sound fundamentals will provide very similar insight to the task, with the main instructional differences being found in the point of emphasis or the style of delivery. It really becomes about what can offer that player an ability to gain confidence to barrell the ball in the zone.  

Having confidence is important because hitting a baseball when the pitcher is intending either weak or no contact can be very hard. Velocity, movement and location all play a role in minimizing the batter’s best efforts. Thus, a hitter should look for advantages in the small things that occur in preparation or in execution.

In today’s installment of Instructional Friday, the Dirtbags are looking for ways to enhance plate performance by looking at the set up, considering a drill variation, and even how to attach the ever troublesome breaking ball.  The panel of coaches is well versed in providing tips to young hitters in these areas. And those coaches are:

  • John Eberle … 17u
  • Ben Cassillo … 15u
  • Joe Lebeda … 14u

Question 1.

How important are details in a hitter’s set up (grip, plate coverage, etc.) to him being successful?

JOHN EBERLE –  For me I’m all about the hitter being as comfortable as possible, the more tense the body/hands are the more chance there is for the bat speed to slow down and the fluidity of the swing to be impeded. Hands should be relaxed (no “white knuckling”), bat should not be jammed into the had but held more in the pads of the hands and fingers, which allows for the bat to “whip” the bat through the zone. 

With plate coverage the hitter should get as close to the plate that allows them to reach at least the outside corner (if not a little further) with the bat.  In advanced levels/higher velocity the hitter should also set up as far back in the batter’s box as possible to give themselves a little extra time to react. 

Hitters should have some sort of rhythm with their hands (objects in motion stay in motion). This will help increase reaction time and bat speed.  If the hands are dead stopped it is more difficult to “be on time” especially with higher velocity pitchers.

BEN CASSILLO – A hitter should do whatever feels comfortable pre-pitch (stance, bat movement, grip), as long as they consistently are able to get their hands and weight back and loaded. If you watch enough big leaguers, they all have different stances, some wiggle their bat or move their fingers to keep their hands and wrist loose, but when the pitcher goes to break their hands, they all have shifted their weight to their back foot, and gotten their hands back in a position from which they can immediately come through the zone. Often times, when players don’t load their hands, they will be late and just miss a lot of hittable fastballs. Long story short, your pre-pitch set-up can vary dramatically from player to player, but as long as you’re consistent in what you do, and consistent in getting loaded when the pitcher breaks his hands, you’ll be in good shape. 

JOE LEBEDA – The details in a hitters set up is very important to success. First having an approach, knowing the situation, timing the pitcher while on deck. Setting up means knowing your bat covers plate. You should set up in the back of the box to allow more time to see the pitch. Pitchers with less velocity may require you to move up in the box. Staying balanced and loading quickly keeping lower body from pulling out. Most importantly you got to stay relaxed because nobody hits the ball if they are tense.

Question 2.

What is a solid variation on the soft toss drill that hitters can use to enhance performance?

        JOHN EBERLE – Here are a few different variations I’ve found helpful and players find useful.

    

  1. While feeding soft toss, every few tosses or so throw one a little higher to simulate an off-speed pitch which will help in the player keeping their hands back and getting a good feel for off-speed timing through the natural rhythm of the swing.

    2. The feeder will have a ball in each hand and rotate them in a circular motion (hands towards the body) varying which hand      they release the ball from.  This makes the hitter focus a little differently which is a nice mental variation.

    3. The feeder will release the ball at a more rapid rate forcing the hitter to reset quickly and react to different locations quickly.  Again, a nice variation that causes the hitter and the mind/body to process a little differently and breaks up the monotony of standard soft-toss.

BEN CASSILLO – Many people don’t maximize the value of taking soft toss. For starters, hitters need to make sure they start by looking at where a pitcher would actually be, and not to the side where the person tossing is. You never start an AB looking to the side, so make sure you’re not doing that during soft toss. When the person tossing brings their arm back, then you can pick up the ball and look towards them.

Additionally, you can practice hitting change-ups & breaking balls during soft toss. For breaking balls, they should be tossed with spin and the batter should look to hit the ball on the way back down. This will force the hitter to: 1) recognize spin out of the hand, and 2) see the ball twice. For change-ups, have the person tossing bounce the ball off the ground, and the hitter should be focused on hitting the ball at its highest point as opposed to letting it come down. Change-ups are incredibly hard to hit once they break, so practicing hitting them at their highest point will pay dividends. 

Besides these, front toss is an incredibly effective way to work both sides of the plate and get live reps without putting strain on anyone throwing. 

JOE LEBEDA – I think a good variance with the soft toss would be a front toss focusing going on backside hitting. You focus on keeping your hands inside and drive the ball up the middle. This will work on the movements to take the ball where it is pitched.

Question 3.

Do you have any tips to help hitters to make solid contact with the breaking ball?

JOHN EBERLE – Hands back, weight back and stay balanced. The approach/mentality based on the match-up should be as follows (though there are always exceptions):

  • RHH v RHP/LHH v LHP – When the ball is started in the middle of the plate breaking away from them, hitters should try to hit it up the middle or to the opposite field. If it starts more at the hitter, hit it up the middle or to the pull side.
  • RHH v LHP/LHH v RHP – The ball will obviously be breaking into the hitter in these match-ups, so balls on the outer half should be hit to the opposite field and breaking middle-in can be hit up the middle or to the pull side.

As always hitters should try to gain an advantage by watching the pitcher warm up to get a feel for the timing and depth of a pitchers breaking ball and during the game get a sense of when/what counts the pitcher is using it.

BEN CASSILLO – If possible, stand in the box and watch as many breaking balls as possible. Ask to stand in while any of your teammates through bullpen sessions. If the only time you’re seeing a breaking ball, is 1 or 2 in-game, you can’t possibly make meaningful improvements in picking it up out of the hand & making solid contact. When you stand-in, try watching the ball all the way to the back of the catcher’s glove. This will help you start to recognize different spin of seams & start to become better at recognizing the trajectory of the ball. 

Some will use the phrase “see the ball twice.” Essentially, what is being taught is to see the spin out of the hand, and then to see the ball at contact again. We all know that it’s hard enough to hit a fastball when we pull our head out, but ensuring that you keep your head down looking down the barrel at contact will make for more consistent contact. 

Lastly, aim to hit the inner half of the ball. If you hold a baseball so that you see both seams running vertically, you should be aiming to hit the seam that is closest to you. This focus keeps you from rolling over on pitches and allows for more hard contact. It will allow you to also hit the ball where it’s pitched and not try to pull an outside pitch, but rather shoot a line drive the opposite way. Practice putting the ball vertically while hitting off a tee, and aim to make contact on the inner half of the ball, and you’ll notice your ability to consistently barrel balls will go up. 

JOE LEBEDA – Hitting the curve ball can be a challenge but by first paying attention to what the  pitcher has been throwing and recognizing his sequences. Also very important is you knowing the count. Once the pitch is thrown you can pick up the spin and keep hands back so to drive the ball up the middle. Again with you hands back keeping your lower half balanced you then can explode through the ball.

What a session by a fine group of hitting instructors.  Surely, hitters looking for answers will find something within those responses to offer an advantage when making adjustments and improvements to the swing. Be sure to check-in next week when the column asks some questions relating to defense.

Kerry Herndon-Brown

Kerry Herndon-Brown

  It is not by chance that Kerry Herndon-Brown, an uncommitted 2022 LHP out of Bethesda, Maryland, is a Dirtbag.  In fact, he and his family were very intentional in their efforts to connect with the prestigious organization as a fit for the 15u performer to join in the summer of 2019.

A drive to eastern North Carolina for a tryout in the fall of 2018 came after having seen the Dirtbags play at a tournament earlier in the year.  Research then provided evidence the organization has produced results for players which matched the aspirations of Kerry. Those aspirations are to have a chance to be recruited on the national level by powerful baseball programs. 

The Dirtbags took a liking to Herndon-Brown as the lefty was placed on the talented 15u Tap Out squad, coached by general manager, Trey Daly.  

Daly thinks things could really open up for the 5’10”, 145 pounder with a commitment to build strength and further develop his athleticism.

“I have told Kerry multiple times, if he will dedicate himself to the weight room in the next six months to a year, the sky is the limit for him,” said Daly.

So Herndon-Brown does his 150 pushups daily and has begun other initiatives in the strength training process that has already pushed his once mid 70’s fastball to operate largely in the 80’s.

And just like the move to join the Dirtbags, the term intention is how Herndon-Brown describes these jumps he’s made on the diamond.  Working with a personal pitching coach he began to make mechanical adjustments to use his body in his delivery, tinker with his arm angle and be more … well, intentional down the mound. 

Daly sees the development paying off as he adds, “On the mound he’s a 80-84 mph southpaw that can throw three pitches for strikes. There is deception in the delivery as the baseball gets on hitters and causes some swing and miss.”

Playing with the Dirtbags for Herndon-Brown has thus far brought the elevation to his game as he intended.  He agrees playing with and against the best is critical in motivating one to leverage their skills into performance.  

For him, the overall composure aspect necessary in baseball is where he has seen some of his biggest jumps. It’s realizing failure and growing through those learning moments to be a better player on the other side.

Kerry sees playing with the Bags as a way to improve his game also with guided instruction from the coaches as he comments, “(They’re) straight up with you and tell you what to work on to get better. Then you are given the opportunity to work through the improvements on the field.”

Reflectively, Kerry mentions about when the spring rolled around, he started the season at Georgetown Prep with the JV team as a 9th grader. He took this opportunity to work instead of being disappointed.  He was once again being intentional with developing his secondary pitches.

His comfort with his game has definitely made strides.  He knows exactly who he is and while he will tell you he’s not a finished product, Herndon-Brown sees the intent aspect in each part of his game. On the mound he will establish the fastball but can now throw the slider on any count (and we’re not really mentioning that splitter that is also in his arsenal). And at the plate, he able to swing harder, transitioning his contact hitter mentality to now attack the gaps.

His performances in big stages have been fantastic all summer.  On a team that finished 3rd at the 2022 WWBA in Georgia, he was a solid performer.  Daly cites his role in that run with, “The Final 8 game in the WWBA down in Lake Point was flat out impressive. He threw 6 ⅓ innings and punched our ticket to the Final 4.”

With the summer Dirtbag season complete after reaching the final game of the Future Stars Series 2022 event in Cypress, Texas, the lefty is in Vero Beach, Florida, this week participating in the Hank Aaron Invitational – an event that Daly nor Dirtbags CEO Andy Partin can ever recall a Dirtbag having the privilege to attend. 

The event is an amateur development event sponsored by the MLB, the MLBPA, USA Baseball, and the Atlanta Braves.  Players are selected via outreach of those organizations and others. The purpose is to provide HS age players of diverse backgrounds baseball skill instruction, in addition to off field direction that could benefit the participants as they look to reach the next levels of the game.

While serving some 250 players through the summer, the players are coached and tutored by former big leaguers, including Hall of Famers Ken Griffey, Jr., and Dave Winfield.  The top 44 players will participate in a showcase game at SunTrust Park in Atlanta as a part of Hank Aaron Week.  

All of this performing and learning has begun to product opportunities that match those aspirations which led Kerry to the Dirtbags.  In his words, he now has his “eyes on some of the big D1’s with top academic programs” as potential institutions he’d love to find as a fit.  

Which makes perfect sense if one spends any time with the young man, who admittedly loves to read, and seems to take as much care in his articulation of conversation as he does with his surgical dissection of the strike zone from the mound.

He credits his academic prowess, much like his drive in baseball, to his family.  And that is obvious to many who have seen them interact.

“He comes from a first class family.  I say that due to watching how his family treats the ‘team’. No matter if Kerry is pitching or not the family is into every pitch. It’s flat out awesome to see.  With his upbringing and knowledge of the game, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the Dirtbags and the Brown family in the upcoming years,” according to Daly

While the whole baseball journey is perhaps just beginning for Herndon-Brown, the steps seem to be leading to some pretty exciting moments – not just for Kerry, but also the Dirtbags.

 

CATCHING (POPS, PICKS & CALLING A GAME)

CATCHING (POPS, PICKS & CALLING A GAME)

  When it comes to which defensive player has the most diverse responsibilities on the baseball diamond, a strong argument can be made for the catcher.  They are of course involved in every play by being on the receiving end of each pitch. But that’s just the beginning as they are involved in fielding bunts, throwing out runners and making tags at the plate.  

Not to mention catchers must have such a great feel on the games many intangibles with handling a staff and directing the defense.  They are without a doubt a baseball player who needs multiple skills.

The Dirtbags are fortunate to have many high quality coaches who can speak to a number of positions and topics in the game.  And no shortage exists for those with catching expertise. The assembled panel has been asked to touch on 3 topics this week to push catchers to take those next steps in their development. Starting with the art of calling a game, then the when & how on  running a back pick, and finishing with tips on catching the ever difficult pop up.

This week’s coaches include:

  • Logan Kock … 14u / Dirtbags Middle School Director
  • Ben Conner … 16u (SC)
  • Noah Heatherly … 15u

Question 1.

What are a few tips you can share with catchers on calling a game and selecting pitches?

LOGAN KOCH – 3 tips I would give catchers when calling pitches 

  1. If you don’t feel confident your pitcher can throw a certain pitch for a strike 3-2 then don’t call the pitch 2-2. If you throw a pitch he can’t throw for a strike in a 2-2 count then it makes it obvious what is coming 3-2. Always want to keep hitters guessing late in counts when they have seen a lot of pitches in that at-bat. 
  2. Try and make it through the lineup one time only using 2 pitches. If you can have an off speed pitch hitters haven’t seen when going through the lineup the second time you can still have them guessing and uncomfortable. 
  3. There are such things as beneficial/productive balls. Not every pitch needs to be for a strike. To often you see catchers and pitchers “fall in love” with the fastball to get outs. Nothing wrong with throwing something behind or even counts to disrupt timing or a hitters’ thought process. Doubling up or even tripling up on pitches to disrupt a hitter early in the game can be beneficial later in the game so hitters aren’t on time with one pitch.  

BEN CONNER – Tips for calling pitches would vary based off of a number of things such as: 

  • Who is on the mound?
  • What kind of hitter is at the plate?
  • What’s the score of the game?
  • Are runners on base?
  • How is the P’s offspeed that day? 
  • What kind of approach does the other team have?
  • What is the umpire calling?  

Generally, these are some of the recommendations I have: 

  • Never be afraid to go inside. 
  • Call to the pitchers strengths. 
  • Take advantage of what the umpire is giving. 
  • Don’t get in a pattern. 
  • Work more than east and west in the zone (climbing the ladder can be effective).
  • Throw down shakes to make the hitter overthink when he sees the pitcher shaking his head. 
  • Pitch in twos such as throwing a fastball outer half following with a breaking ball on the same plane. 
  • Develop a plan with the P before the game on what he likes and what is working. 

NOAH HEATHERLY – When it comes to calling a game, the most essential part is knowing your pitching staff. Knowing what pitch your guy commands the best and then knowing what pitch is his best swing and miss pitch. Having this information makes your job a lot easier. Now calling the game is just about seeing what hitters do with certain pitches. It is critical to notice a hitters timing on different pitches and that can often dictate what you throw next. If the hitter is on time and fouls a fastball straight back, consider throwing a change-up because it looks like a fastball out of the hand and we can potentially get a swing and miss or roll over ground ball. This is just one example of reading the hitter to determine what to throw next. I also encourage guys to work ahead with the fastball. Most of the time a pitcher will command a fastball better than anything else and it is a lot easier to pitch to a guy 0-1 than it is 1-0. Finally, if you are ever unsure of what to call, just call your pitchers best pitch. You would rather the hitter have to beat your pitcher when they are throwing their best stuff at them. 

Question 2.

When is it a good time for catchers to throw a back pick & what are some fundamental moves to success?

 LOGAN KOCH – The best time to throw behind runners is when the inning is getting out of hand. Aggressive base runners will be aggressive the whole game. Just because he can be thrown behind in the first doesn’t mean you should. Don’t throw behind a runner just to throw. Always have a purpose. I used to call a pitch I knew hitters wouldn’t swing at to set up a back pick but if you are going to do that you need to be certain there is a chance of an out. 

BEN CONNER – A good time to throw behind a runner is:

  • When the runner is being lazy. 
  • A pitcher is struggling to get outs. 
  • Base runners are being too aggressive 
  • When a pitcher struggles holding runners (showing that the catcher will throw behind the runner makes the runner shorten his lead allowing the C a better chance at throwing him out). 
  • After a failed bunt attempt.

The fundamental moves of success to throw behind a runner are:

  • Making sure to throw on a good pitch (a pitch where he can take his momentum towards the bag he’s throwing towards). 
  • Pre-setting his body without compromising his receiving (this allows him to cheat a bit to be able to deliver the ball quicker). 
  • Lastly, make sure the man receiving knows what’s going on and will be there to receive the throw.

NOAH HEATHERLY – I love aggressive catchers. If you have the opportunity to back pick and feel you can do it confidently, let it fly! A back pick is the type of play that can completely swing the momentum in a game, help your pitcher get out of a jam, or just get you back in the dugout to swing it. When deciding whether or not to back pick you do need to consider a few things. The first being, what is the situation of the game? If you are in a tie game in the bottom of the seventh with a man on first and third, it might not be the best time to throw. If you are early in the game and want to try to steal an out, I say go for it. A few fundamental moves to throwing to 1st base in particular are to make sure that you get body turned completely to first base, by doing this you lower the chances of throwing the ball away. You want to get your hips and shoulders turned to the bag, drive off your back leg, and let it fly. Back picking is very similar to throwing down to second base. You just have to make sure your body is in the right position and square to the target and then just put the throw on the bag.

Question 3.

How can catchers best position themselves on pop ups to execute the catch?

LOGAN KOCH – Pop ups that are behind the plate will always make their way back to the field because of the way the baseball is spinning. When looking up you always want the ball to be slightly in front of you so you don’t over run it and end up falling backwards trying to catch the ball. Create your angle off the bat and always keep the ball at a good angle in front of you. Also, when going to field a pop up always turn away from the hitter. Very rarely is a hitter going to hit a pop up behind them. Turning away from a hitter puts you in a good angle to the ball right off the bat.

BEN CONNER – Catcher’s pop ups are no easy task because the ball is spinning so hard and a mitt isn’t made to catch a fly ball. In order to make sure to be in the best position, he must read the trajectory of the ball off the bat. He needs to take his mask and hold it until he is in position under the ball. Once in position, he will throw the mask out of the way. The C’s back needs to be facing the infield and keeping the ball in front of him because the ball will be spinning back towards him. Don’t put the mitt up until it’s time to make the catch and when he does, catch the ball with two hands to secure it. This process is implemented only if the catcher has time to get under it. Sometimes a catcher simply has to be an athlete and get to the ball without time to get his back to the infield or his mask off. 

NOAH HEATHERLY – When catching pop ups, you have to remain calm and under control. When the ball goes up, you need to pull your mask off and hold it in your throwing hand. You then turn your back to the field of play and find the ball. Once you have located the ball you can then throw your mask as far away as possible as not to step on it and trip yourself up, then you can begin to position yourself behind the ball, similar to an outfielder. When the ball is popped up it typically has a lot of spin. This spin will cause the ball to travel back toward the field of play. When you have positioned yourself behind the ball to compensate for this spin, you then need stay in an athletic position and take slow, under control steps to get in position to make the catch. Once you are in position you need to keep your feet moving and watch the ball into the mitt. Keep in mind, the spin on the baseball can make the catch difficult, so I would recommend always using two hands to secure the catch.

As always, the Dirtbags want to thank these coaches for sharing their extensive knowledge of the game for all to benefit. They pour so much into the not only the players on their teams but are also willing to provide such valuable insight for the betterment of the game.  Check back next week when Instructional Friday will be talking about HITTING.

 

Testimonial Tuesday: Joe Valchar

Testimonial Tuesday: Joe Valchar

  As a baseball player, Joe Valchar has plenty of identifiable skills to succeed in the game.  As a person, the 2021 uncommitted RHP/infielder has skills that will serve him in life just as well as they have on the diamond.  His perseverance and commitment to a process is a rarity in the game, and quite frankly in society.

The rising junior out of Heritage High School in Wake Forest, NC, joined the Dirtbags going into his 9th grade year because he determined he wanted to play college baseball and his research led him to a tryout with the organization.  After spending a year on a team coached by the Dirtbags’ general manager, Trey Daly, Joe felt the next season found him moved down a level.

Instead of jumping ship looking for someone to tell him the Dirtbags had made a mistake, he decided to do the work and prove himself.  Which according to him is something he learned since joining the organization and now greatly values.

On that lesson from when he first became a Dirtbag, he says, “I thought I’d get a cool uniform and a hat so I must be good. I found I have to prove myself.” 

A pretty mature statement from a 16 year old.  And that’s just the beginning.

Valchar also recognizes how showing his game and being a Dirtbag coincides with opportunities.  In talking about being recruited by college programs he says, “They know who to call if I can play.”

This summer has proven he can play.  

Which brings the rising junior to begin to identify what he is looking for in a college program and who fits those criteria.  From the energy of the staff, to the facilities and what the campus offers both academically and in terms of atmosphere, Joe has a pretty level headed view of how he’d like to see the recruiting process to play out.  He is also very direct when talking about finding a place where his faith can be supported as being an important factor.

According to Valchar, the journey to being a recruited player goes hand in hand with his development while being a Dirtbag.  He credits a lot of that to being surrounded by a talented group of teammates. Being in such an environment has motivated him to compete in order to stand out. Not only did he learn to compete in order to be elevated within the organization, but he also recognized how to take advantage of an identified skill.

“I learned to harness my arm strength.  Pitching revealed itself and I refined that to build a skill I didn’t have before,” says Valchar.

An athletic 6’1” and 180 pound hurler, he uses his quick arm as an effective tool usually as a reliever. And from the bump, his low to mid 80’s fastball with an effective slider recently got him named to the all-tourney team for the WWBA 2021 National Championship event in Georgia while playing for the 16u Dirtbags James squad.

Dirtbags GM, Trey Daly gives these comments on Valchar’s pitching development, “His velocity has jumped 8 mph in the last year.  He shows a clean arm action with a fastball up to 85mph.”

As a position player, Valchar makes his plays at 3B and can hit anywhere from lead-off to the middle of the order.  His offensive aggressiveness brings results at the plate as well as making him a constant threat to steal bases.

His current  Dirtbags coach, Will James, sees the whole package coming together for Joe by saying, “Valchar has a wide variety of tools that showcase how much of an athlete he is. He his going to play the game at a 110 percent at all times.  If he continues to develop and keep the effort, his talent will be rewarded.“

If previous endeavors are any indication of what lies in front of Valchar, those that know have a good idea of what will happen. In fact, Trey Daly sees what has produced the success to this point, saying, “Joe is not afraid to work to improve his game.”  

The respect seems to go both ways as Valchar is quick to point out not only how coaches like Daly and James have directed his skill development, but also in his appreciation for how they both use their connections and guidance to help him navigate the recruiting process.

So the work will continue and surely the recruitment will correspond.  And whichever college program lands Joe Valchar, know for certain he will be “all in” regardless of the challenge.

 

Pitching: Delivery and Mental Focus

Pitching: Delivery and Mental Focus

   It has been said that the game of baseball is all about pitching. If a team has pitching so many other parts of the contest will fall into place.  Conversely, teams that lack solid output on the mound many times must overproduce to compensate for subpar pitching performances.

Thus, the amount of emphasis put on even the smallest of details of pitching a baseball seem worthy of the attention.  With that in mind, today’s piece on instruction will zero in on the movements of delivery, as well as the mental edge needed to overcome the countless obstacles faced by the moundmen crafting their skills.

As a panel of coaches, the Dirtbags have assembled quite a collection of coaches/instructors to drill down to some core thoughts on these topics.  The hope is that one of these responses may offer the exact answer a pitcher searching such insight needs to improve. For this article the coaches are:

  • Ryan Falcon … 11u / Dirtbags Baseball Analytics & Development Director
  • Phil Maier … 17u
  • Justin White … 16u

Question 1.

What is your view on the movements pitchers need to include in their windup?

RYAN FALCON – Every pitcher’s windup will be different based on their body’s natural movements.  I teach pitchers to load as much of their weight as possible on their back leg as they begin their leg kick.  This loaded weight must then be transferred down the mound and through the catcher initiated by their hips. Body control is important, but a pitcher’s momentum should never stop throughout his delivery in order to get the most power and acceleration out of their body.

PHIL MAIER – The movement pitchers need to include in their wind-up can be a wide range based on the pitcher’s ability to control his body.  Overall, I feel it is best not to have too many drastic movements so the pitcher can stay in control of his body. He wants to control his movements so he gets his body and energy moving towards the catcher when pitching.  Pitchers need to know some basic physics. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So if he is moving his body to the 1B side (RHP) too much during start of delivery, then his body will then drift to 3B side when trying to come to balance and he may have a hard time finishing with all his momentum to the plate.

 JUSTIN WHITE – Every pitchers windup can differentiate in ways that make it more repeatable for that specific player throughout an appearance. The biggest keys that I’ve seen help players would be having hands set in a comfortable relaxed position, wherever that feels most natural. Once the pitcher starts his motion whether it be by stepping straight back, directly to the side or anywhere in between the goal is creating an easily duplicatable, controlled,  rhythmic motion that gets them to their balance point. There is no one way that is correct or incorrect with a pitchers windup and it is something pitchers in the MLB use to disrupt timing. Marcus Stroman is a good example of how he can change his windup from pitch to pitch but has enough control of his body and feel that he reaches every step in sequence.

Question 2.

What are some hot tips for pitchers on getting the ball out of the glove to aid the arm action?

RYAN FALCON – One of the most important parts of a pitcher’s delivery is the timing of his arm in relation to his body.  A basic rule of thumb out of the windup, is to take the ball down out of the glove as soon as the pitcher’s knee reaches the top of it’s leg kick and starts downward into the stride.  In the stretch, especially when incorporating a slide step, the pitcher needs to take the ball out of his glove as soon as he starts the leg kick. This way his arm will have enough time to catch up to his body.

PHIL MAIER – I have always tried to keep it simple with my guys and tell them that the ball needs to come out of the glove when the knee comes down when throwing out of the wind-up.  There are a lot of different visuals you can tell a pitcher to get it to sink in and video is a great way to determine if hands are breaking late and arm is dragging. How the ball comes out of a pitcher’s hand when releasing to the plate and location it goes to also can be a key.  Pitchers also have to remember that the process has to speed up and the pitcher cannot be lazy when getting the hands out when working with a slide step. 

 JUSTIN WHITE – For getting the ball out of the glove I would prefer a kids hand break to be later down the hill so that his arm isn’t getting up too soon causing him to lose his lower half. The main key is to not overthink it, once again most pitchers can’t be cookie cut with one particular style so just make it natural. Focus more on hips/lower half being gathered and riding down the hill. 

Question 3.

How can pitchers overcome frustration or distractions in the mental game while on the mound?

RYAN FALCON – Being able to “turn the page” on the mound is key to a consistent, successful season.  I used to pick a sign or object on the fence, scoreboard or somewhere in the stadium and pretend it was a toilet.  Any time things started going bad or getting stressful, I would look at the toilet and flush it in my mind. This meant the last inning, batter or pitch was flushed away and gone.  Time to “turn the page”!

PHIL MAIER – The mental side of pitching is huge.  Guys need to know how to control their breathing at all times of the game and especially when they are struggling.  Slowing the game down by have some relaxing breaths can help tremendously. Also, a pitcher needs to have the ability to have positive thoughts.  He needs to be able to recall times of success and be confident he will replicate that success with the next pitch. I have always told guys that they need to remember to use the toilet and flush it when things are not going their way.  The area behind the mound is their toilet and they need to know when to go there, breath, provide themselves some positive self-talk or visualization and flush what has happened. Then they can get back on the rubber and make some successful pitches to help themselves and the team.

JUSTIN WHITE – A pitcher must try to stay even keeled as much as possible during an appearance on the mound. You cannot get too high or too low at any one point so if you keep this mentality you will stay focused and be less likely to be affected by distractions. Some pitchers use mental keys to lock themselves in, in the movie “For Love of the Game” Kevin Costner uses a verbal cue “Clear the mechanism” to get locked in. This may be a line out of a movie but it is something that can be very effective. A lot of college programs teach players to grab their “anchor” which can be a visual to take a breath and then be ready to go to work.

What a fantastic job by the pitching gurus from the Dirtbags’ coaching staff.  Those guys really brought out some great points that each pitcher could and should consider when looking to sharpen their skills of the delivery and mental focus.  Be sure to check back next week when the series dives into 3 questions on CATCHING.

 

Testimonial Tuesday: Drew Siegner

Testimonial Tuesday: Drew Siegner

  Learning is a process.  From learning content to skills, or from knowledge to operations, the acquisition of learning takes a period of time to achieve a functional status.  Whether that time is immediate or lengthy, the process demands it be completed. Drew Siegner, a 2022 uncommitted RHP who plays with the Dirtbags 15u Tap Out team, seems to understand this.

In fact, it appears in talking to him he comprehends that baseball is a game where learning  “how things work” is just as important as crafting the skills. His maturity as a rising sophomore out of Southern Alamance High School shines through when he speaks about how he is learning to grow from being a thrower to being a pitcher. 

To make such a transition requires certain skills and he’s definitely a player with some baseball skills.  On the mound his low to mid 80’s velocity has caught the attention of Dirtbags GM/Tap Out head coach Trey Daly. And that attention is not necessarily for what he is now, but for what he will be. 

After noting the velo of Siegner’s fastball, Daly gives a hint as to where this process could lead, as seen in his comment on the breaking ball and his future, “Siegner has a very good 73-76 mph slider with depth.  He can throw it in any count. Drew has pitchability that makes him very appealing to college coaches.”

Siegner, who at 6’1” and 185 pounds and in his first season with the Dirtbags, perhaps saw the  process begin to take shape as he was given the opportunity to play with older players on his high school’s varsity team.  He noted that it allowed him to build relationships with older players and he was able to take stock of how the game operates at that level.  This continued when he transitioned to playing with top notch talent as a member of the Dirtbags 15u Tap Out squad. 

Drew is very open about what he’s learned.  Since joining the Dirtbags, he is well aware that investing in his craft will demand him to grow physically as well as mentally.  An off-season weight room commitment to build strength and stamina is already identified as a priority.

He has also learned about being a team player amongst such a stockpile of talent. He noted, “It helps you grow as a player and understand more about the game.”

The righty is anxious to experience what being a part of such a group can bring to them all.

“Super excited to see where this team goes when at 16u or 17u,” Sienger said.

For him personally, the chance to play beyond high school and find a collegiate program that fits is definitely a priority. And the recruiting process seems to be just getting started.  He has a few schools of interest on his list and they are currently ones he is familiar with in terms of following their programs. He is emphatic that the academic factor weighs heavy in any future decision as he says, “The academic part is just as big as the sports side.”

On the mound Drew describes himself as a fast worker who controls the pace of play and keeps an even keel by controlling his body language.  That fits perfectly for his take on what being a Dirtbag is all about.  

He captures the organization’s attitude by talking about being a Dirtbag and what it means to play with swag and confidence.  He says, “(It’s) Knowing no one can beat you when you step on the field.“

And that appears to be true a lot this summer for Siegner and his Tap Out teammates.  At the writing of this article the Tap Out team sports a 5-0 pool play record on day four of the Perfect Game WWBA 15u National Championship.

Trey Daly thinks the hurler is on the right track with his development by adding, “After being around Drew all summer, the kid is selfless and loves to compete.  I know you hear that a lot but this kid just wants to win. I’m very excited to continue to work alongside of him for the upcoming years.”

One more learned lesson is evident in Siegner’s comment about what he has realized since being a Dirtbag, “Really go get it and don’t wait for it to come to you.”

And it seems Drew has already started to act accordingly.

 

Making Plays As An Infielder

Making Plays As An Infielder

  As position players, infielders need deft glove skills and an arm action that allows them to make even the most unbelievable plays seem routine.  Those acquired movements however could very well be nullified without the proper positioning and tactics to intertwine the situation with the developed skills.

Thus, infielders need to consider how to position themselves. How to prepare their bodies to acquire a thrown or batted ball. And they need to determine the most effective decisions to make during the play to help their team while the play is being made.

Dirtbags Baseball has asked 3 questions to 3 very capable coaches who have successfully provided such sound defensive instruction to infielders. Pay attention to the details of their responses and find that in the uniqueness of their explanations each has a way to connect with a player seeking to enhance their abilities to up their defensive game.

This weeks coaches are:

  • Tyler Drew … 15u
  • Brendan Dougherty … 17u / Director of Dirtbags Baseball in South Carolina
  • Hunter Ridge … 15u

Question 1.

How should infielders position themselves to the base when making a tag play? 

TYLER DREW – There are a lot of thoughts on where to position yourself around the bag when making a tag. My preference is to position yourself in front of the bag. This allows you to adjust easily to bad throws and still make a tag. Be sure to catch the ball deep when making a tag. Don’t reach for the ball and bring it back to the bag.

BRENDAN DOUGHERTY – Many infielders are taught to either straddle the bag or be on the front part of the bag. For me the best and easiest position for any infielder to receive throws is to get their left knee over the bag. The tip of your left shoe should be up against the bag and your left knee should be directly over the bag. This allows freedom to adjust to throws and also it allows freedom to adjust to the baserunner and also the shortest distance to apply the tag. Left knee over the bag for all infielders. it is slightly more difficult for the 2B and 3B because they have to get across the bag so the footwork has to be worked on constantly.

HUNTER RIDGE – Never straddle the bag. When you straddle the bag it limits your rage for the throw. You always want to be receiving the throw in front of the bag. 

Question 2.

What are some hot tips for middle infielders on the double play feed or pivot?

TYLER DREW – For the feed, the flip to me is the quickest and most accurate. It’s not the sexiest thing but it’s the most sure thing. Also find the position on the field where you cannot flip and you have to throw for the feed. This spot can be different for every player, if you know where this spot is you won’t get caught in between deciding on a flip or a throw.

BRENDAN DOUGHERTY – Feet should always be moving at or near the bag. Athletic position to receive throw. Always react to what the ball is doing do not anticipate the throw is coming to hit you in the chest. The only time we use two hands is if the ball is at our chest. If it is outside our shoulders or above or below our shoulders then we should always use 1 hand.

HUNTER RIDGE – The #1 rule in double plays is always make sure the first out! Your feed should always give the other person a chance to turn two. Make sure your never caught being flat footed on feeds or pivots. 

Question 3.

 What are some do’s and don’ts for corner infielders on cuts & relays to the plate?

TYLER DREW –  Do your footwork and align your body before you catch the ball. Always turn glove side when cutting a ball. If it is a short relay, less than 90 feet, don’t shuffle your feet to throw the ball. This is extra time and extra steps for the runner. As the ball is coming in, step to the ball, plant your back leg, and throw. Once you get to the high school level you should not have to shuffle your feet to throw the ball less than 90 feet.

BRENDAN DOUGHERTY – When a corner infielder is in the cut position he should always line himself up. The catcher should never have to line them up. They should always be aware of where they are. In a high level baseball game I have never seen a play unless it is a double cut where the 1B or 3B has had a cut 4 and gotten the guy out. As a corner infielder if you are going to cut the ball you should always redirect it to another base besides home. Look to steal an out because if you cut it the majority of the time that runner will be safe at home. 

HUNTER RIDGE – Always peek to see where you are lined up to throw the ball. Yes, listen to your partner but still peek to see. When receiving the ball as the cut always have your feet moving and never be caught flat footed. Make sure you are giving a target to the thrower as well. Also make sure your feet are in line with where you are wanting to throw the ball.

Wow. Those responses were great for anyone looking to find a tip or hint on connecting the skills of infield play to some game situations.  As always, check back on our instructional series next week as the questions will delve into the topic of pitching.

 

Testimonial Tuesday: Owen Kincaid

Testimonial Tuesday: Owen Kincaid

   Though one shouldn’t classify Owen Kincaid, a 2020 uncommitted LHP, as having a Jekyll & Hyde personality, it should be noted that this seemingly easy-going guy finds a different version of himself when competing on the mound. It’s like a switch turns when he takes the ball; the funny guy suddenly turns to all business. 

Kincaid says his quest to beat an opponent he faces when pitching is so intense he literally takes it personal if the batter finds success in their confrontation.

Something else the 6’5” lefty out of Southwest Guilford High School has recently taken personal was when he was challenged this past off-season about getting serious in the weightroom.  While he has long been a participant in such classes, he says he felt called out when told that for him to compete at a high level he would have to commit in the weightroom first.

“I took it as an insult,” said Kincaid.

Insult or not, he took heed and has produced the goods as a result. While he pitched 78-80 mph last year, he now is consistently in the mid 80’s and popped an 87 at a recent camp.

But despite the velo jump, he sees himself as a control pitcher who creates movement with everything.  With a 4-seamer, a 2-seamer, a slider and a change, Kincaid appears to have a pitch for any occasion. And this is where his “funny side” meets his competitiveness. He commented, “I love seeing funny swings.” 

Trey Daly, the general manager of the Dirtbags has also seen this jump Owen has made and how the pieces are being put in place for him to shine even brighter.  Daly says about Kincaid, “With his stature and frame the LHP really gets on the batters, especially in the left-handed box.”

As he enters his 2nd year with the Dirtbags, he credits being a part of the organization with helping him find these improvements. Kincaid says that playing with the Bags makes him want to up his game. He recognizes also that his confidence in his pitches has grown exponentially as well. He noted he is now able to throw his  breaking ball in any count and make it count.

Whether it’s a chance to go against a top team within the Dirtbags or to get the 2nd round start in the NCHSAA play-offs vs. perennial power TC Roberson (a game that Owen’s Cowboys would win after his 6 inning performance),  the southpaw is finding his stride and taking his game to that next level with each opportunity.

And those opportunities could be growing soon.  Daly adds this after Kincaid’s showing at the PG WWBA 17u National Championship, “In Atlanta this past week, Kincaid had a bigtime outing going 7 innings in front of many college eyes.”

Though according to his own account he feels like he’s just scratching the surface, colleges are taking notice to this projectible hurler from the Triad.  Already having been on several visits to some D1 programs, Kincaid is looking for more opportunities to explore potential suitors.  

And the right program will need to be able to offer him a true college campus experience, a place where he can grow and build relationships with the staff and teammates, and have a chance to be part of a winning culture. But just as important to Owen is the education that goes along with being a student-athlete. 

The Dirtbag GM summed up how he felt about the journey Kincaid has taken in the organization by saying, “I’m excited for the Kincaid family as he will make a college decision soon.  Owen is a prime example of Dirtbags Baseball – work hard, keep nose to the ground and dreams will happen.”

And though he called himself a “monster” when he takes the mound,  it’s looking like those will be sweet dreams for Owen Kincaid

 

There is no custom code to display.

All Upcoming Events

Sports league management software powered by LeagueApps.

The Faceoff Academy Video Coach

Facing Off with the Pros with Up to Date Rules and Techniques. In this DVD The Faceoff Academy goes over:

- Warm Up - Stance - Moves - Wing Play
- Counters - Live Drills/Hand Speed Drills

Click Here to Order the Video On-Demand!