We know, it’s football season, but hear us out! There’s baseball stuff happening at IU too! The Hoosiers have been playing fall ball scrimmages, allowing fans to get out to the ballpark and get a look at this year’s roster. After attending a few of these events, here are some of the big takeaways from fall baseball:
The Offense is Still Good
Do you like it when the baseball boys mash dingers over the fence? Then you’ll probably like this team! Despite losing Craig Dedelow, Alex Krupa, and Tony Butler from last year’s lineup that led the Big Ten in home runs with 75, the Hoosiers should still put plenty of pitches in the cheap seats.
This year’s lineup still has Logan Sowers, Matt Lloyd, and Luke Miller, who hit one so far last season that he inspired our own Eddie Cotton to make this call:
(Kinda) New Faces in New Places
Obviously when a team loses older players to the draft, graduation, etc., other players will get an opportunity to take their place. One such player is Laren Eustace. Eustace was primarily used as a defensive specialist or pinch runner last season, but should have a much bigger role now that Craig Dedelow is gone, as he should be the everyday starter in center field. The senior has the legs and the glove to fill that role, but the question has been and will be his bat, as his career batting average is .238. In fall ball that appeared to be something that Eustace improved on, as he hit a homer and drove in a few runs during one of the scrimmages. If he can get on base regularly at the top of the Hoosier lineup, he should be able to wreak plenty of havoc on the base paths.
Another player that could step up for Indiana is Matt Gorski. As a freshman last season, he played first base and hit .287. Gorski will probably split time between first base and the outfield this season, and his power production could increase as a sophomore. During fall ball, he looked good in left field and in one instance crushed a no-doubt homer off of Pauly Milto.
Infielders Scotty Bradley and Pat Loeffler didn’t get a lot of playing time last season, but with holes to fill around the diamond they could both get an opportunity to play. Bradley played first base during scrimmages and drove in a few runs at the plate. Loeffler contributed at the plate as well, hitting a 2-RBI triple in one scrimmage.
Before last season, the pitching staff was seen as a bit of a question mark, as several older guys had graduated and/or gone pro. After a year where some less experienced pitchers stepped up and defied expectations, this pitching staff should be pretty solid in the spring. Jon Stiever and Pauly Milto should give the Hoosiers a chance to win every Friday and Saturday, but there may be a bit of a competition for the Sunday spot in the rotation. As freshmen, Cal Krueger and Andrew Saalfrank both pitched well for Indiana at times. Saalfrank got a start against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament and threw five solid innings despite losing the game. Krueger did most of his work as a reliever until late in the season when he took over as the Sunday starter. Through 22 games last season he had an ERA of 2.82 and had a record of 5-2. Another competitor for the Sunday spot could be freshman Nick Eaton. He was lights out at Cathedral HS last season, giving up just 48 hits and 10 earned runs across 70 innings as a senior. He also struck out 88 while anchoring Cathedral’s run to the Indiana 4A State Championship.
Last season the Indiana bullpen was a roller coaster. Not unlike a certain IU basketball player, they sometimes did good things and sometimes did bad things. The good news for this unit is that they’re more experienced now and should be able to use that to their advantage.
New Addition to Bart Kaufman Field
Whaddayaknow? IU Athletics cares about their fans! One very noticeable change at BKF was the addition of safety nets on both dugouts.
The addition of these nets had been a hot topic after a young girl was struck by a foul ball at a Yankees game. This was a possible issue at BKF before, and nearly happened to me! Ryan Fineman mashed a foul ball and I was somewhat frightened!
All in all, this was a good move by the IU Athletics Department.
Best in the Big Ten
D1baseball.com recently ranked the Top-100 programs in Division I baseball, and the Hoosiers came in at No. 31 on the list, best of all Big Ten programs. Though the program dropped eight spots from 2015, the last time the publication released these rankings, D1Baseball suggests the Hoosiers are still a program to be reckoned with:
The transition the Hoosiers have gone through over the last decade is nothing short of remarkable. Indiana had just one, yes, one, NCAA tournament appearance before Tracy Smith arrived. Not only did Smith guide the Hoosiers three NCAA tourney appearances and a College World Series appearance in 2013, he also spearheaded the construction of one of the nation’s true ballpark gems. Chris Lemonis took over for Smith when he left for ASU, and has done a solid job, guiding the program to three-straight 30-plus win campaigns, along with two NCAA postseason appearances. In addition to their success on the field, the Hoosiers are showing a strong commitment in other ways, such as with the beautiful ballpark and the athletic department’s willingness to hire premier coaches. Don’t look for IU to detour from its track anytime soon.
With fall ball now over, the schedule for this season should be released in the near future. We’ll have the full analysis at CQ when it drops.