On Saturday, Oct. 5 the IU baseball team hosted John A. Logan College for a pair of seven-inning games at Bart Kaufman Field. As I did with the Hoosiers’ previous fall ball scrimmage/exhibition against the Great Lake Canadians, I’ve thrown together a smorgasbord of thoughts from the day’s event with some loose organization:
-The Vols were a much better test of where the Hoosiers are at as a team right now. They were much more competitive than Great Lake as expected considering that Logan has one of the top JUCO programs in the nation and has a handful of guys who are committed to play for good schools. To exemplify the kind of talent that comes out of Logan some recent Hoosiers to play for the Vols include Logan Kaletha and Tanner Gordon. Current Hoosiers who transferred to Bloomington from Logan include Hunter Combs and Cooper Trinkle.
-Speaking of Trinkle, it seems like he’s the frontrunner to start at second base for IU this season. He struggled at the plate a bit against JAL compared to the hurting that he put on Great Lake, but he was still solid in the field.
-Overall JAL’s pitching was good. In the first game the Hoosiers saw guys that are committed to Louisville, Illinois and TCU. That test showed that IU isn’t quite where it wants to be at the dish. The Hoosiers struck out 12 times which has been a recurring problem for seemingly as long as I can remember. The bright side is that they didn’t get up near 20 strikeouts, which has happened before, but don’t forget that there were only 21 outs made in that game because it was seven innings long. Taking a good approach at the plate is surely something the coaching staff will continue to hit for the foreseeable future.
-One guy who’s approach at the plate was relatively good against Logan was senior shortstop Jeremy Houston. He’s never been much of an offensive threat and likely won’t be moving forward in the way that his contemporaries have been (i.e. hitting bombs), but he managed to draw a couple of walks in game one of the doubleheader. As the presumed ninth hitter in IU’s lineup this season all the Hoosiers need him to do is make opposing pitchers work — seeing tons of pitches, drawing some walks, trying to bunt for hits, moving runners over and the like. He doesn’t have to have a special season at the plate to make an impact because he still has a plus glove at worst. If he’s improved his ability to fit into his role at the bottom of the lineup it could be an exciting final year on campus for Houston.
-True freshman outfielder Hunter Jessee seems to have an inside track to some playing time. Fans received heavy doses of the Ohio native both against Great Lake and on Saturday as he has started all four of IU’s scrimmages this Fall. It seems as if the youngster’s glove is ready to go as he’s played both center and right field and looked good doing so, but his bat isn’t quite there yet. He struck out twice in the first game against Logan and didn’t get a third chance to hit as he was pinch-hit for late. He did manage to steal a base in the second game after getting on via a fielder’s choice after popping up a bunt. This is particularly curious after all the interest surrounding his classmate Ethan Vecrumba, who’s not only a local recruit from Edgewood HS, but a guy who reportedly received serious interest, like fourth-round pick, six-figure signing bonus interest, from at least one Major League organization and chose to come play at IU instead because he believed he can be an even higher draft pick in a few years. Those two battling for work as the third outfielder will likely be one of the big things to watch as we head into the Spring.
-The situation at catcher might be a bit more complicated than initially thought. After the Great Lake exhibition it seemed like the Hoosiers had a trio of decent options and the coaching staff was singing their praises. Against Logan things weren’t quite as nice. In the first game the Vols stole five bases in five attempts against Hunter Combs. In game two they picked up at least one more stolen base against Collin Hopkins. Now, perhaps the Hoosiers had no intention of limiting JAL’s running game as there weren’t many pickoff attempts by IU pitchers on the day, which certainly didn’t help matters. It’s hard to tell with things of this manner in scrimmages and exhibitions because you don’t know what exactly the team’s plan was going in. That being said, the throws down to second base didn’t look particularly promising either as a few of them dribbled the final quarter of the way there after bouncing halfway between the mound and the bag, but not in a good way that creates a long hop for the shortstop or second baseman to snag and apply the tag.
-I think that this might be the year that Drew Ashley starts turning heads and receiving more regional or national attention. He should be hitting in one of the top two spots in IU’s lineup and I’d expect him to lead the Hoosiers in batting average and on-base percentage. In game one against Logan the junior had an RBI single and then walked it off in the bottom of the seventh with this hit:
In game two he laid down a really good push bunt to the first base side to get on. He also played left field and third base in the doubleheader, playing pretty good defense and flashing the leather by making a web gem of a play on a hard grounder down the third base line. Overall this Fall all he’s done is go 8-for-12 at the dish with three doubles, two RBIs and a walk. He’s also been hit by a pair of pitches and scored five runs. His OPS is 1.650 which isn’t half bad. This Spring expect Ashley to be a do-it-all kind of player for the Hoosiers and a good one at that.
-The two starters against Logan and IU’s presumed 1-2 punch, Gabe Bierman and Tommy Sommer, looked a bit vulnerable at first but they were able to pitch through their respective troubles and limit the damage they allowed. Bierman allowed two runs in two innings of work, striking out a pair and allowing a walk. Sommer also got two innings of work. He gave up a solo homer, walked a batter and gave up a double but was otherwise solid. He also used a pickoff move to get an out after giving up a run in the second inning. All in all they both showed why they’re probably IU’s top two arms though they still have room for improvement as does practically everybody.
-We also caught a glimpse of what could be the back end of IU’s bullpen. With game one being a tight contest down the stretch the Hoosiers deployed Grant Sloan in a set-up role. The flamethrower gave up a pair of singles, but no runs as Jessee made a fantastic throw to the plate from right field to get the final out of the inning. Sloan also picked up a strikeout.
-The first pitcher out of the ‘pen for IU in game one was Alex Franklin. The Bloomington native threw a pair of innings, giving up a run in the first after hitting a batter and allowing a single. He also walked a batter. Once he settled in he was pretty good, picking up six strikeouts including five against the final five batters he faced. He was a guy who we knew had “stuff” coming out of high school. He’s got a big frame and plenty of muscle. He fits the profile of the modern pitcher that this coaching staff likes. His fastball was sitting around 91 mph and his curveball looked pretty good as well. It seems like he may be in line for an expanded role this Spring.
-Grad transfer Grant Macchioci made his unofficial mound debut for the Hoosiers in the first game, entering after Franklin. He pitched the fifth inning and looked pretty solid as he needed just seven pitches to get back to the dugout. His two-way potential makes him one of the more intriguing players on the team, definitely one to watch as he could be a significant bullpen piece.
-Braydon Tucker had a pretty good summer for Terre Haute Rex, striking out 47 batters in 37.2 innings across seven starts. His role grew as last season went on and I’d expect it to continue growing. Against Logan he threw a pair of scoreless innings, picking up a pair of strikeouts.
-McCade Brown also showcased that he’s got the stuff to be a contributor for this team. He’s improved since last season, but still has room to improve in terms of control.
-I didn’t get a chance to see Matt Litwicki, but the sophomore pitched the final inning and was reportedly impressive, using a fastball that ran up to 93 mph as well as a tight slider to get the job done.
Postgame with Jeff Mercer
-The good folks from iubase.com spoke with the Hoosier coach after the exhibition wrapped up. Here’s the full interview: