IVC grad prepares for spring training

Last week, Zach McAllister reported with Cleveland Indians pitchers and catchers for spring training in Goodyear, Arizona. He’s been in the southwest since Jan. 30 preparing again to secure a spot in Cleveland’s starting rotation.

Vigorous offseason training has been key for the Chillicothe native as he prepares for his fourth full major league season. 

Morning

He spends this early morning — like most mornings — at the CougarPlex at Illinois Central College throwing and improving on his pitches. ICC baseball coach Brett Kelley graciously lets McAllister use the school’s indoor facilities.

Kelley, along with a group of current and former major leaguers, have become instrumental in helping McAllister. There’s David Cales, a right-handed pitcher who spent time with the Chicago White Sox’s Triple-A affiliate last season, former Washington Nationals infielder Rick Short and Brian Shouse, a former big league pitcher who is now a pitching coach in the Texas Rangers farm system.

“Having those guys there are a big help for me,” McAllister said. “They’ve been there for me since day 1. They’re a still a big part of my offseason routine.”

He plays long toss with Cales to get warmed up before a bullpen session with Short catching and Shouse keeping a watchful eye. McAllister eases his way into throwing more pitches, adds his breaking stuff and works on his command.

He simulated having a hitter in the batter’s box and worked on different counts and game situations throughout his session. Shouse had some sort of feedback after every pitch.

Consistency with his mechanics, his release point and making each pitch look the same has become critical. McAllister’s power and velocity — coming from his 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame — will always be there.

“I think he’s becoming an all-around pitcher more instead of a thrower,” Shouse said following the workout. “He’s starting to understand that he needs to be looking for angle, looking for movement, not necessarily just throwing it up there flat and 95 (mph)-plus.

“He’s a lot more consistent and a lot more understanding of what his body is able to do and what he’s wanting to try to do. He’s believing in trusting himself more with his pitches.”

The group shares a few laughs before heading their separate ways for the day. Tomorrow brings another day with another chance to get better.

Afternoon

McAllister put a pause on packing up his life in central Illinois for the nearly nine-month major league season and headed to Germantown Hills. He had a 3:30 workout scheduled at The Human Performance Lab. He’s trained under the watchful eye of owner Joe Terry since before high school.

In late May last season, McAllister went on the disabled list after 10 starts with a strained lower back. That a meant something entirely new for Terry this offseason.

“This is the first year he kind of came in banged up a little bit,” said Terry, who is a physical therapist and certified strength and conditioning specialist. “He just needed to focus on all the little things that make a difference in your performance.”

The focus for the 2006 Illinois Valley Central graduate turned to strengthening small muscles for better posture and large muscles for power. Pitching, more than anything though, became the sole focus of McAllister’s workouts with Terry.

Power development in a horizontal fashion was used to increase McAllister’s velocity.

“There’s no big change in the way that I’m lifting or what I’m doing, but it’s just been a lot more baseball specific stuff,” he said. “This year has probably been the most (baseball specific) that it’s been.”

Lifts such as squats and barbell reserve lunges were incorporated for two-leg and single-leg stability, respectively. Rotational stability and strength work for his pitching, general thrower’s exercises and flexibility for a good range of motion were all also a big part of his training.

Conditioning to meet the Indians’ spring training endurance requirements was also a heavy focal point.

His strength, however, is the best Terry has seen.

“He’s always been a focused athlete … this year you could tell that every workout was the most important workout for him to do,” Terry said. “He kept that focus throughout the whole offseason.”

McAllister’s grey shirt was soaked with sweat following his workout. He cooled down and spent some time talking with UFC fighter Kenny Robertson along with Pekin senior and Kansas track and field recruit Hannah Swift before saying some good-byes.

“You always hope for a healthy year, for a good year and then I wait nine months and see him again,” Terry said.

Evening

McAllister eats a quick dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings before heading to Civic Center for the Bradley men’s basketball game. He’s been coming to games since he was little with both his parents: Bradley graduates Steve and Jeannine McAllister.

He posts up courtside to watch the Braves take on Drake. McAllister, who played on the Carver Arena floor as an all-state center for IVC in the 2006 Class A state tournament, is just as knowledgeable about basketball as he is about baseball.

His time at the game is short, though. A small gathering with friends — Patrick Hogan, Ryan Thornton and Andy Chambers — and family, his uncle, Dr. John Ruff and aunt, Mary, is planned for 8 p.m. at Kouri’s Grill and Bar in Peoria. A group of kids approaches his table at Kouri’s and one shyly asks, “Are you Zach McAllister?” He nods politely and then is flooded with autograph requests. McAllister signs every autograph, while asking each kid’s name and even joking around with a few of them.

This is his last night he is able to spend time with those close to him. Being around his buddies and immediate family in the offseason has maybe become just as important to McAllister as his training.

He’s loyal to those who care the most about him.

“I’m gone for a long time,” McAllister said. “You have your close friends that you stay in contact with, but during the season, for whatever reason, you normally don’t talk to them as much. When I come back home, we pick up right where we left off and nothing’s changed.

“It’s nice to have that support group here from my friends and also my family.”