Ian Kaiser did not take the prescribed route in his journey to a Division 1 commitment, but it certainly revealed the type of athlete he is and the depth of his determination.
Kaiser is a hard-throwing lefthander who has shown tremendous upside, both on the mound and as a positional player. The two-sport Montville High athlete knew the Garden State Games at Diamond Nation last June was going to present an opportunity to showcase his abilities and, perhaps, draw the interest of at least a few of the plethora of college scouts in attendance.
The hurdle blocking Kaiser’s path to an attention-grabbing evening at Diamond Nation was a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Swinging a lefty bat and chasing down balls in the outfield with a debilitated shoulder on his glove side was going to be troublesome. Pitching? He would have to see.
“I dove for a ball late in my high school season and landed on my shoulder weird,” said Kaiser. “Then I tried to do a bicycle kick in my club soccer game that same day and landed on the same spot.”
Kaiser scored five goals as a sophomore for Montville’s soccer team, which boasted a 13-1-2 record and won an NJSIAA sectional title in the COVID-stifled 2020 fall season. He scored 13 goals from his spot at striker for the 2021 Mustangs who went 14-5. Kaiser was a Second Team All NJAC selection last fall. He saw time on the Montville varsity team as a freshman in 2019. He is a “player” as the saying goes, be it on the pitch or the diamond.
Back to Kaiser’s true love, baseball.
Fortunately for Kaiser, the shoulder injury did not require surgery and, because it was a mild enough tear, would be managed positively through physical therapy and anti-inflammatories. But, in mid-June, it was looking like the Garden State Games was going to be quite a challenge for Kaiser. It was fair to consider he’d, more likely, need to lean on other opportunities that lie ahead in the summer with the Diamond Jacks Super 16U squad.
“I talked to Ditro and thought I could pitch in the Garden State Games,” said Kaiser. “He gave me a chance and got me in there.” Steve DiTrolio was Diamond Nation’s recruiting coordinator the past several years and charged with assembling the four separate 25-man lineups for the perennial and highly-popular showcase.
That chance, as Kaiser called it, turned heads pretty quickly when Kaiser, who had struggled with his command during his high school season, popped 87, 88 and 89 on the radar gun. “I was able to pitch an inning,” said Kaiser. “I gave up one hit and got a couple strikeouts. A few more colleges talked to me and most looked at me as a pitcher after that.”
And it clearly set the tone for the summer from a recruiting standpoint for Kaiser, who still had some physical therapy sessions ahead to stabilize the labrum.
“I played a couple innings in the outfield, too, at the Garden State Games and got one at bat,” said Kaiser. “I think I grounded out.” His right shoulder hurt enough at that point that his lefty swings were impacted. “I had to finish my swing with one hand,” he said.
An MRI revealed what Kaiser called a minor tear and the shoulder healed through therapy as the summer progressed. Kaiser became Kaiser again – did the injury ever stifle him? – and the eyes of scouts never left him.
“We went to Alabama and Georgia with the Diamond Jacks and one school offered me in the beginning of July,” said Kaiser, who took advantage of the trip to visit schools, such as Radford in Virginia. Binghamton was one of the schools that saw Kaiser at the Garden State Games and was pretty much aboard from there.
“I was talking to Binghamton a lot,” said Kaiser. “They wanted me to see the school and be sure. When we got back from Georgia we had a week off. That’s when I went up to see the school.”
Ryan Hurba is Binghamton’s recruiting coordinator and has been an assistant at the upstate New York school for 17 years. Hurba has been instrumental in Binghamton’s New Jersey recruiting efforts.
Kaiser’s athleticism, an impressive spring season, his strong arm and, what many of his coaches called, still not fully tapped potential, helped him draw offers from as many as five attractive Division 1 schools and conversations with a few others.
“Ian has all kinds of tools,” says Kevin Cust, Diamond Nation’s director of baseball operations. “He’s a fast-twitch kid. He has great bat and arm speed. He has raw athletic ability. It will be interesting to see which way he goes. He’s left-handed and throws in the high 80s. And he’s made big strides with his bat.”
Cust should know.
“I’ve worked with Ian in the cages for awhile,” said Cust. “I started working with him every Friday last winter. He’s making big improvements at the plate. We want him to trust his athletic ability and slow it down. It’s been a pleasure working with him and watching him develop.
All of that work in and out of season helped to produce that big sophomore season at Montville last spring. Kaiser batted .409 with 25 hits, ripped six doubles and scored 14 runs.
“It’s crazy how much he’s helped me,” Kaiser said of Cust. “I was pulling my front side out. I had a good high school season then it carried over to the summer.”
The athlete, Ian Kaiser, meanwhile was also helping the Montville boys soccer team fortify its status as a Top 10 team in the Garden State. The Mustangs soccer squad won that sectional title in 20202, which was as far as a team could go under the NJSIAA imposed postseason limitations that season. Late that season, No. 11-ranked Montville defeated Morris County and statewide power Delbarton, ranked No. 5 in the state, 1-0, on a goal by Kaiser.
Kaiser, indeed, is that athlete everyone around him is glad is on their team. He’s capable of so much. And he delivers. Could Kaiser have played college soccer? Sure. But baseball is his first love and that’s where he was going to land more softly.
“Ian played soccer in the fall and still played fall baseball, which is impressive,” said Cust. “He’s come a long way since he arrived here in his 15U year. We could see his ability then. He runs well and is such a good athlete.
Kaiser’s baseball future would be nailed down after a late July visit to Binghamton.
“Once I went to Binghamton, saw the field, met the coaches, I just loved it,” said Kaiser. “I really liked Radford and was close to committing there. But the distance was a big factor. Radford was an eight-hour drive and Binghamton was only two-and-a-half hours.”
It didn’t hurt that Kaiser’s grandparents live in northwest Pennsylvania, a quick strike to Binghamton. The Hurba connection certainly was another important factor.
“Coach Hurba was down at Diamond Nation and saw me play like 10 times,” said Kaiser. Binghamton head coach Tim Sinicki is in his 30th season and doubles as the team’s pitching coach.
Kaiser’s summer with the Super 16U squad helped straighten out some command issues that led him to walk 32 batters in 25.2 innings while striking out 39 in 2021.
“I was pretty wild in the spring,” said Kaiser. “I got that under control in the summer. The showcases helped. I think it was a matter of me trying to overpower people instead of pitching. I had to become a pitcher instead of a thrower.”
Kaiser has spent part of his winter working on his pitches and mechanics at Total Arm Care.
“The walks were a mechanical thing,” he said. “I have to have a consistent release point. I get fired up on the mound and was overthrowing.”
Kaiser can get outs with his fastball, adds a quality curveball and has been working on a slider of late to go with a changeup he’s shown confidence in. “My curveball can be a good first strike pitch,” he says.
Montville should be improved from the 9-13 season in 2021, especially with Kaiser and Ithaca-bound righthander Ryan Nieskens at the front of the rotation, whichever way new coach Jason DeVirgilio slots them in. And Kaiser will contribute in centerfield and at the plate.
The Mustangs had a pair of big wins at the end of 2021, picking off Delbarton and then Ramapo in an NJSIAA state tournament game. It was a sign of a young team’s development and, perhaps, visions of 2022.
“I’ve been coaching 20 years,” says DeVirgilio, a Montclair State grad who comes to Montville from Madison, where he was an assistant. “Ian is the most well-rounded kid I’ve coached. He can hit, run, he’s tremendous on the bases and really knows the game. He’s really advanced as a junior. Missing a year (COVID) didn’t hurt him one bit. And everyone knows he can pitch.”
DeVirgilio got a good look at Kaiser when the team was working out for eight weeks this winter at the Morris County Cubs facility.
“The first thing that jumps out is Ian comes from a great family,” said DeVirgilio. “His mom and dad are amazing people. You can see it come out in their kid. Ian is so willing to help others, He’s not a superstar type. He’s a leader and loves being around his team.
“His ceiling is very high. We haven’t tapped into all of his potential. I want to see him get in a place where he is really comfortable on the mound. Binghamton has a very good player on their hands. In my eyes he can be a two way guy in college.”
Either way or both ways, Kaiser will be a handful this spring for Montville’s opponents.