May 2, 1996 in Sports

Scouts On Lookout For Pair Sandpoint Pitcher, Lakeland Catcher Have What It Takes

By The Spokesman-Review

Radar guns, stopwatches and notebooks of pro baseball scouts have been common sights at Lakeland and Sandpoint games this spring.

Lakeland catcher Josh Phelps and Sandpoint pitcher Mike Lindgren - the main recipients of the scouts’ attention - are having dominating seasons.

Drafted or not next month, Phelps and Lindgren believe their best playing days are ahead.

As recent as four years ago, though, they probably wouldn’t have been picked out of a crowd of their peers as potential standout high school players - not to mention be on the recruiting lists of several colleges or be must-see prospects of several pro scouts.

Big for his age most of his life, the 6-foot-4 Lindgren had to overcome doubters who thought he had the frame of a football player, not a pitcher.

“I didn’t start pitching until I was about 12 and people told me I was too tall, too goofy a kid. I wasn’t athletic enough to be a pitcher,” Lindgren said. “That just motivated me more to prove to myself and to other people that I could do it.”

For Phelps, the most immediate liability was size. As a freshman, he was just 5-6. Now 6-3, Phelps, through weightlifting and conditioning, has bulked up to 200 pounds. He’s 5 pounds shy of breaking the school weightlifting record for his class in the squat and 10 pounds shy of the top mark in the clean.

Like Lindgren, Phelps said he’s watching his dream “unfold before my very eyes.”

Actually, their dreams are being played out this spring before several sets of eyes.

The right-handed Lindgren is a large reason why Sandpoint has emerged as a contender for the Inland Empire League’s lone state berth. He’s 5-0 with a 0.93 earned run average, and 36 strikeouts in 37 innings. He’s been clocked in the upper 80s while pitching in primarily rainy and frigid conditions.

“From what I’ve heard from the scouts, they see a player with a lot of potential,” Sandpoint coach Dave Martinez said. “He’s really worked hard in the off-season. He’s much more fluid in his delivery and hides the ball well from the hitters.”

Phelps is on pace to break the school record for batting average. Going into the week, he was hitting .553 (21 points better than the record). The average has increased more than 100 points from last season, and he’s struck out just twice.

He’s had just one hitless game, had no fly outs and figures 14 of 17 outs were hit hard.

“Everything he hits is a hard line drive or a hard ground ball,” Lakeland coach Ken Busch said. “I know I wouldn’t want to be on the other end of a lot of the balls he hits.”

Busch said Phelps has improved on defense, too. Phelps has yet to be charged with a passed ball, and few runners test his arm more than once.

Baseball is year-round for Phelps. During the high school and American Legion seasons, he takes 100 swings in his batting cage at home in the morning and evening. From August through December, he takes 100 cuts once a week, and from January to March he takes as many swings three times a week.

Phelps, who hit a team-record .442 during the Legion season last summer, also swings off a tee, especially when he feels the need to analyze his swing.

On game days, Phelps’ mother throws batting practice with wiffle balls in their garage.

“He’s really become a student of the game,” Busch said.

At practice Tuesday, for example, budding 6-4 sophomore Kurt Reese asked Phelps for help with his swing.

“Keep your head down,” Phelps yelled while shagging balls in the outfield. “You’re pressing really bad. Just relax.”

Phelps and Lindgren said they haven’t felt any pressure with the scouts at nearly every game.

“Last year, you wanted to get their attention,” Phelps said. “This year, I know they’re coming to see me. I don’t go out thinking I’ve got to impress them - or I’ll screw up.”

Busch and Martinez receive frequent calls from scouts.

“How often do I get calls? All I know is I should have a (free) AT&T; card for all the long-distance calls,” Busch said.

Martinez believes Lindgren has improved most between the ears.

“He doesn’t let things bother him, and he’s become a leader,” Martinez said.

“(As an underclassman) I didn’t have good senior leadership,” Lindgren said. “I try to practice hard and lead by example.”

Characteristic of a leader, Lindgren plays down his statistics.

“I don’t think I’ve pitched as well as I can,” he said.

He certainly hasn’t pitched as much as last season. His innings are down by half because Martinez wanted Lindgren fresh for the regional tournament, which begins next week.

Lindgren and Phelps have turned their focus on postseason.

For Lindgren and the Bulldogs, the goal is to earn their first trip to state.

For Phelps and the Hawks, the goal is to not only qualify for state, but win it as well.

One thing is certain for Phelps and Lindgren in the season’s final days. Plenty of eyes will be on them.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos

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