Baseball season preview

The big top might not be fully set up just yet, but the circus is definitely coming to town.

Mercer Field has already been a popular destination for local high school baseball fans the past two seasons, but with Franklin senior Max Clark expected to be among the top picks — if not the top pick — in the 2023 Major League Baseball draft, the eyes of the baseball world will be even more focused on the Grizzly Cubs.

Scouts from several MLB teams picking near the top of the first round have already paid visits during the preseason, and the crush only figures to intensify once games start and the weather warms up.

Clark, for his part, is loving every minute of it.

“I’ve been looking forward to this moment for what seems like three years,” he said, “so now that the time’s finally here, it’s getting really exciting.”

The reigning Daily Journal and Gatorade Player of the Year, Clark has been rated as high as No. 1 in various mock drafts and prospect rankings. Not surprisingly, the Pittsburgh Pirates (who own the top pick in July’s draft) and the Texas Rangers (who pick fourth) have been among the most regular visitors to Franklin lately.

Their scouts should have plenty of company this spring — not only from their peers, but also from various media outlets and fans from around the state and elsewhere.

“I think it’s going to be significant, to be honest with you,” Franklin coach Ryan Feyerabend said. “There’s just a lot of interest in the community and beyond of wanting to watch him play.”

What exactly that interest will look like on a game day in May is unclear right now, but the Grizzly Cubs are preparing for just about anything. Athletic director Bill Doty has already contemplated having extra security on hand to help deal with potentially large crowds, and various other ideas have been floated, including moving the concession stand to allow more space for scouts or media behind home plate.

Doty got a taste of the Clark Effect the last two years, when his son Drew played for the team. Whatver the amplified version looks like this spring, he says that his main concern is making sure that the extra attention doesn’t get to be too extra.

“As long as the guys are able to do their thing and not be distracted, that’s what we really want to achieve,” Doty said. “I don’t want to put any undue burdens on the team and the coaches and the players and have them distracted. I want to be able to take that distraction away from them and manage it if I can.”

Like Doty, Feyerabend is trying to keep his players protected as much as possible. At times, that’s going to mean playing the bad guy if and when demands on Clark’s time become excessive.

Everybody wants a piece of the Franklin star, but there’s only so much of him to go around. Clark is, after all, still a high school student with plenty on his plate outside of baseball.

“If I brought 500 balls, he’d sit there and sign them all, but we just don’t do that,” Feyerabend said. “Max will do anything I ask him without complaining. (But) we’ll kind of read his body language and see how he’s feeling.”

One fringe benefit of the added attention on Clark has been the extra eyeballs that it’s placed on his friends and teammates. Scouts coming to see one player often end up taking notice of another, and word gets around; college coaches may end up courting other Grizzly Cub players on the recommendation of a friend in pro scouting.

Clark has been all too happy to spread the wealth.

“Every Saturday night, we were going live at-bats with top-75 players in Indiana, and you see the Pirates guy back there recording some other players that, they caught their eye,” he said. “So the nice thing about this is it’s an opportunity for everybody, not just me. I feel like I’m bringing a lot of people to see a lot of guys play really, really well.”

In the end, though, Clark is the main attraction. Major league teams invest millions of dollars on their first-round draft picks, so they’re all doing their due diligence. Clark and his family have already met in person with all 30 clubs, and as the season gets going, area scouts from the most interested suitors will be joined in Franklin by scouting directors and team executives.

That sort of scrutiny can create a lot of pressure — but it can also be viewed as a golden opportunity.

“I remind Max a lot … what goes on this spring is probably going to dictate whether you’re the first pick or the fourth pick,” Feyerabend said. “The good thing is that the things that you do very well, and all the tools and the hard work, you get to show that for 30-some ball games. That’s going to be the deciding factor on where you go.”

Accustomed to being scrutinized by now, Clark is eager to solidify his standing at or near the top of the draft board.

“I’m hyper-focused — and I always have been in the past, but this year it just feels like it’s pretty much everything I have, I’ve got to leave it out there. Because this is their last view before things get real,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I’m feeling pressured by any means. It’s just like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to go out here and do our thing,’ do the thing that I’ve been doing the last three years, and prove to everybody that this is where I deserve to be.”


Center Grove Trojans

Coach: Keith Hatfield

Last season: 25-3-1, lost to Mooresville in Class 4A sectional semifinal

Key returnees: Garrison Barile, Caden Cornett, Drew Culbertson, Ben Murphy, Jacob Murphy, Grant Sawa and Evan Zapp, seniors; A.J. Beggs and Noah Coy, juniors

Top newcomers: Bradley Gillium, Carson Vlcan and Brady Walker, seniors; Cam Alford, Connor Liford and Connor Vanderluitgaren, juniors

Outlook: Despite some heavy graduation losses, the Trojans are still somehow loaded, with at least five Division I recruits in the lineup, and they should again score a ton of runs. Meanwhile, a deep and experienced pitching staff led by Cornett and the two Murphys probably won’t be surrendering very many. Hatfield says he doesn’t expect to win 25 games again because of a beefed-up schedule, but Center Grove still comes into the season ranked third in Class 4A and suiting up more than enough talent to make a deep state tournament run.

Edinburgh Lancers

Coach: Jason Schoettmer

Last season: 6-16, lost to Indianapolis Lutheran in Class A sectional final

Key returnees: Jarrett Turner, senior; Gabe Bennett, junior; Milas Burkman and Jaden Detling, sophomores

Top newcomer: Jared Myers, sophomore

Outlook: The Lancers picked up some momentum at the end of last season with a surprise run to the sectional title game, but graduation cut into that roster and leaves first-year coach Schoettmer with an extremely young group. Bennett, who’s coming off of an offseason knee injury, and Turner will provide some veteran leadership, but Edinburgh will be leaning heavily on its six sophomores and six freshmen. Schoettmer — who coached several of these players in youth leagues — isn’t expecting much in the way of immediate results but has very high hopes for the future if he can keep this group together.

Franklin Grizzly Cubs

Coach: Ryan Feyerabend

Last season: 16-10, lost to Mooresville in first round of Class 4A sectional

Key returnees: Beau Baker, Max Clark, Noah DeArmitt, Jackson Henry and Pryce Rucker, seniors; Clay Pinnick and Cooper Taylor, juniors; Landen Basey, Braeden Burton and Nash Netter, sophomores

Top newcomers: Luke Sherry and Blake Smythe, freshmen

Outlook: Any conversation about the Grizzly Cubs obviously begins with Clark, the nation’s top high school player and a potential No. 1 overall pick in this summer’s MLB draft — but he’s got plenty of help. The other four returning seniors all play valuable roles in the lineup, and Basey made an immediate impact as a freshman. Henry and Burton will be expected to head up the pitching brigade. Franklin should be able to contend in the Mid-State Conference and make a run at a sectional championship.

Greenwood Woodmen

Coach: Andy Bass

Last season: 7-15-1, lost to Center Grove in Class 4A sectional opener

Key returnees: Payton King, Noah Rollings and Jaren Sanders, seniors; Brendan Bailey, Logan Connor, Wyatt Flowers, Cade Kelly, Jackson Simms, Landen Smith and Micah Vessely, juniors; Ethan King, sophomore

Top newcomers: Amare Middleton and Cooper Smith, juniors; Mavrick Pauley, sophomore

Outlook: The Woodmen took their lumps at times with a young lineup last spring but bring back several experienced players, including their top five pitchers. Landen Smith heads up what should be an improved lineup loaded with plenty of speed. Bass says that much of the offseason was spent working on shoring up a defense that gave opponents too many free outs a year ago; if Greenwood can tighten that up, it should be able to stay competitive all season long.

Greenwood Christian Cougars

Coach: Doug Hagist

Last season: 13-9, lost to Morristown in first round of Class A sectional

Key returnees: Eli Ellis, Trey Harney and Jake Potter, seniors; Colton Flint, Charlie Overton, Wyatt Schlageter and Mason Wright, juniors; Caden Camden, Eli Jackson and Preston Van Til, sophomores

Top newcomers: Cole Mullhauser, junior

Outlook: With eight starters returning, including three veteran arms in Harney, Overton and Potter, the Cougars have plenty of reason to believe they can be a factor in Class A. Hagist has added some bigger schools to the schedule to toughen his squad up for the postseason, and he also believes he’s got a motivated group after a tough sectional loss last spring. Hunger and experience is a good recipe for success; we’ll see what GCA can cook up.

Indian Creek Braves

Coach: Greg Taylor

Last season: 12-9, lost to Edgewood in Class 3A sectional semifinal

Key returnees: Nolan Ankney and Arj Lothe, seniors; Brock Bragg, Jagger Bray and Carter Modlin, juniors; Talan Steinway, sophomore

Top newcomers: Bryce Harmon and Bryce Turner, juniors; Evan Fisk, sophomore; Colt DeHart, freshman

Outlook: The Braves enjoyed some success last year with a very young lineup and are hoping for big things after supplementing their returning starters with some talented transfers (Harmon, Turner and Fisk). Lothe and Ankney will again lead the way on the pitching front, with Bragg providing a rock-solid presence as a third-year starter behind the plate. Speed and defense should be plentiful; if Indian Creek can get the bat on the ball consistently and produce some runs, it’ll have a good chance to compete for conference and sectional championships.

Whiteland Warriors

Coach: Scott Sherry

Last season: 11-16, lost to Martinsville in Class 4A sectional semifinal

Key returnees: Kevin Denham, Peyton Emberton, Kayden Ferguson, Brayden Roy, Ethan Shipp and Donavin Woodall, seniors; David Collins and Drew Helton, juniors; Peyton Dickens, Maalik Perkins and Blake Riddle, sophomores

Top newcomer: Jordan Palmer, freshman

Outlook: still reasonably young, but the Warriors have a good nucleus of senior leaders who have been playing together for a couple of years along with a healthy Helton and a trio of sophomores who cracked the lineup as ninth-graders. Helton and Riddle will likely lead the pitching corps, with Woodall and Roy among the top returning hitters. There’s enough talent here for Whiteland to contend in the Mid-State and in the sectional, especially if the health and pitching hold up.