While Football and Men's Basketball dominate the headlines, Indiana Baseball is quietly working to maintain and build upon its unprecedented stretch of success. CQ baseball writer Alex Robbins has all you need to know about what the program is up to and more.
Four months after the disappointing end to a topsy turvy season, Hoosier baseball made its first public appearance on a diamond this past weekend, beginning its Fall season with a couple intrasquad scrimmages.
Now, while cream bashing with crimson won't relieve the pain of letting two ballgames slip from their grasps in Nashville and new faces won't make it easy to move on from a wildly successful Class of 2015, the scrimmages unofficially marked the beginning of the Road to Omaha for the 2016 team, which will need to answer a number of questions about itself before the season rolls around in February, including how to replace Scott Effross, Christian Morris, and Ryan Halstead on the bump, and the offensive prowess of Brad Hartong, Casey Rodrigue, Scott Donley, and Will Nolden.
Logan Sowers, Brian Wilhite, Nick Ramos, and Craig Dedelow will be among the names expected to fill into those latter roles, but this weekend showed that they'll get some help from a highly touted newcomer, Alex Krupa. Krupa, who has been drafted twice by the Cincinnati Reds, is expected to bring a big bat to the Hoosier lineup. But what he showed over the weekend is that he has some blazing speed, evidenced by beating out an infield single and smacking a triple during which he ran so fast it seemed as though he teleported from base to base.
As for how to replace the pitching, Jake Kelzer, Caleb Baragar, Will Coursen-Carr, Evan Bell, and others will undoubtedly be called upon to step into roles behind ace Kyle Hart. But an interesting sight on Saturday afternoon calls another name into question -- Isaiah Pasteur.
As was noted in the way too early outlook on the 2016 season, there's potential for a logjam with not enough spots in the lineup for the position players that Indiana has on its roster. One would figure that Ramos, Sowers, Dedelow, Wilhite, and Krupa will be everyday guys, while Laren Eustace, Big Meech Webb, Luke Miller, Austin Cangelosi, Chris Lowe, and Colby Stratton are in flux until someone steps in and proves that they are everyday kinds of guys.
Cangelosi is probably closer to that everyday group than anyone else. The only reason you may not consider him a lock is the abysmal hitting slump he hit at the end of last season. Pasteur could probably be part of that bunch too, if the numbers game works. I fully expect that Pasteur will be an infield regular. But if not, perhaps he could find a role on the mound.
Pasteur was an outstanding pitcher in high school, and Saturday he saw some action on the mound. It may have been that it was late in the action at the end of the weekend (Miller, another position player, also pitched) and that Chris Lemonis didn't want to overwork the staff. But it's an interesting wrinkle to consider, and given that Lemonis showed no fear to tinker with the lineup and with pitching roles in his first season, its not unfair to assume that nothing is outside the realm of possibility.
The good news is that we'll get a better look at what the lineup may look like on October 8.
Also we have scheduled a game with Xavier for October 8th at Bart Kaufman Stadium.— Chris Lemonis (@lemo22) September 11, 2015
The Hoosiers have recently landed a couple notable recruits from the high school Class of 2017. Justin Walker, a shortstop at Lafayette Jeff High School has committed to join the Hoosiers. During his sophomore campaign in 2015, Walker hit .373.
Walker had offers from Central Michigan and Purdue, where his father played ball in the 90s. But Walker told WLFI in Lafayette that when he visited Bloomington, "everything clicked." He said, "I mean I got down there. I loved the coaching staff. I loved campus and their baseball program. You guys have seen what they’ve done, and it’s ridiculous. So that’s why I decided IU."
Walker isn't the only high school shortstop to commit to join the Hoosiers, though. In the same Class of 2017, Cole Barr of Yorktown High School in Muncie has also given Lemonis his word that he'll be in Bloomington. Barr was the leadoff man for Yorktown as a sophomore, hitting .427 with 5 HR, 13 doubles, and 12 RBIs.
Yorktown coach Mike Larrabee told the Indy Star that Barr is a complete player. "Obviously he can hit ball really well, picks it up well, and then he has the speed package – kind of a five-tool guy. I think that's what makes valuable to college coaches; they can see him getting on base and wreaking havoc. That's one of the big things, just having the combination of all those skills."
Walker and Barr play together in the summers with the Indiana Prospects.
Schwarber and Co.
By now, you know what Kyle Schwarber has done in the show, helping catapult the Chicago Cubs into a pennant race. But Schwarber isn't the only Hoosier making strides in the professional ranks.
Alex Dickerson received a call up to the show with the San Diego Padres in August, making him the fourth Hoosier currently in MLB, joining Schwarber, A's catcher Josh Phegley, and White Sox second baseman Micah Johnson.
Other recent Hoosiers are climbing the ranks through their organizations as well. Aaron Slegers has made it to Double-A Chattanooga in the Twins organization. Joey DeNato found his way to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, a farm club for the Philadelphia Phillies, after he had a masterful season in Low-A ball, skipping High-A and Double-A. And Sam Travis, the oft-forgotten slugger who seemed to be overshadowed by Schwarber, has been so good with the Portland Sea Dogs (Double-A, Red Sox), he was invited to Arizona's Fall Showcase league.
With four already in the show and at least two more who seems destined for the league, Indiana's unprecedented success is becoming more unprecedented with an absurd number of players getting results in the professional game.
Dreaming About the 2016 Schedule
With huge series during the 2015 season against Stanford, College of Charleston, and Cal State Fullerton, it became evident that Indiana is a program of high enough quality to not only schedule a couple big dogs, but to get some at home. While you would expect to see some regional opponents again (Louisville, Cincinnati, Indiana State, Notre Dame), it's hard not to speculate about some of the big nonconference series.
It's hard to imagine that Stanford will be on the schedule again. The Cardinal probably don't want to come to Bloomington anytime before May, and they aren't coming in May. And if Indiana is heading West again, it would make sense for it to be to Fullerton as the back end of a home and home. College of Charleston could be a possibility, but heading to the low country in February produced some terrible weather for Indiana in 2015, so a trip further South may be in the cards instead.
Aside from playing in some round robins, like the Snowbird Classic, one would hope that the Hoosiers find quality opponents in warm weather locations in February and early March, like the trip to Gainesville in 2013 or Lubbock in 2014.
This is where the dreaming comes in: What you have to be hoping is that relationships developed in the postseason turn into games just like what happened with Stanford in the 2014 postseason and 2015 regular season. And while Radford would be a nice addition to the schedule, you all know the one that we're hoping for. Vanderbilt.
The Hoosiers had Vandy on the ropes in winner's bracket game in the Nashville regional before the Commodores scored about a billion runs en route to a national runner-up finish. Even if IU can't get them to Bloomington, a series like that offer a quality opponent, warmer weather, and an easy trip for fans.
Regardless of who the Hoosiers schedule and where they head for warmer weather, it appears that if Indiana has it its way, they host their first three games series on the same weekend as 2014. According to collegebaseballinsider.com, Director of Operations Roger Rodeheaver is looking to schedule a home series for March 11-13. Last year after two home games against Eastern Michigan, IU opened on that weekend with Cal State Fullerton. Hopefully the "great guarantee" that CBI says the Hoosiers are offering will mean another high caliber opponent comes to the Bart.