SCHERERVILLE | It may be safer to dig in against Connor Manous deep into the baseball season than when he still has hoops on his mind.
"I'm focusing more on basketball right now," said Manous, a Munster freshman. "I haven't been throwing much, lately. Just a little to get ready for this."
The right-handed pitcher was among those regional prospects invited to be part of a baseball showcase organized by former pro player and manager Bill Bryk, now special assistant to Arizona Diamondbacks' general manager Kevin Towers. The annual event, which was free for the prospects, was held Jan. 26 at the Northwest Indiana Chicago White Sox Academy inside Omni Health and Fitness.
Manous, who helped his Indiana Playmakers travel team compile a 50-10 record last season, was a little wild due to the winter rust. That still didn't stop him from reaching the mid-80's with his fastball.
"(Playmakers pitching coach) Jim Nohos has been working with me," Manous said. "I feel as a get older and bigger, I should throw even harder."
Among those hitting the ball hard during the batting practice session was Eric Rapacz of Andrean. If the senior catcher "caught" the eye of any of the pro and college scouts present that day, it would obviously bode well for his future. But Rapacz seemed more concerned about the immediate future, knowing that there is some unfinished business to attend to.
"It was hard to take," Rapacz said of highly-ranked Andrean's upset loss to Griffith in the regionals last spring. "We had a lot of juniors on that team, so you can imagine the intensity for this season."
Bryk mentioned that there were a strong group of catchers at this year's showcase. He cited Hanover Central sophomore Jesse Wilkening, who "already has a major league arm throwing across the diamond;" Crown Point senior Bobby Morgan, "who has good hands and is an offensive and defensive threat;" Mount Carmel freshman Scott Kapers, who has worked extremely hard in making himself "one of most improved players from last year;" and Grant Park sophomore Jake Perreira.
Among the more impressive pitchers in attendance included Andrean senior right-handed ace Zac Ryan, whose fastball was clocked in the 90's; Marian Catholic right-hander Reggie Johnson, who had his knee-bending slider on display; top-rated sophomore southpaw Kyle Ostrowski of Lincoln-Way North; and Mount Carmel sophomore lefty Mike Lorenzi.
"Mike has a major-league curve," Bryk said of Lorenzi. "We call him 'Boomer Wells' (after former MLB All-Star David Wells) because he looks just like him."
Another big presence on the mound is Munster senior right-hander Mike Poulos.
"He stands at about 6-foot-6, and he's just starting to get more coordinated with his body when pitching," Bryk said.
Bryk credited former White Sox outfielder Mike Huff, who is vice president of sports for the Chicago Bulls/White Sox Academy, in providing a venue to hold the free showcase.
"Of course, there was nothing like this when I was growing up," Huff said of year-round training facilities, which the Bull/Sox Academy has five not including a training wing at U.S. Cellular Field.
"All these kids here have worked hard to get where they're at," Huff said. "We had a good group of quality athletes for this event."