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Indiana Hoosiers Fall baseball notebook: Great Lake Canadians

Jeff Mercer’s crew got back on the diamond for an exhibition, giving the public a preview of this Spring’s squad

Auston Matricardi

On Tuesday evening the IU baseball team hosted the Great Lake Canadians, an 18-U travel team, for a pair of six-inning games at Bart Kaufman Field. Here are some thoughts and takeaways from the event in List Form:

- It was a good night to observe some of IU’s younger talent. The Hoosiers gave fans a heavy dose of their freshman class. Standouts in the lineup included Ethan Vecrumba, Hunter Jesse and Paul Toetz. Vecrumba showed off his versatile skill set as he played well in the field, hit a few balls pretty hard and flew around the bases. Jesse made one particularly nice catch out in center field, but was solid overall out there. Toetz drove in a pair of runs while hitting in the two-hole and playing shortstop in the second game. He was a guy who head coach Jeff Mercer praised postgame:

“I thought he did a good job. He’s young obviously. Just his breadth of understanding of kind of the angles and the position allowed him to make some adjustments with the way he plays defense, the way he throws, but Paul is a tremendously talented player. He’s a really tough kid, comes from a great high school organization, we’ve got really high hopes and aspirations for him and I think he’s talented enough and tough enough to do that. He did a good job, he got a little sped up on that first chopper to him, but the defensive ability is there for him so he’ll learn the position better and then you look at him offensively and he’s got real offensive tools. The swing really works, it’s flat, plays in the zone. He’s got juice from pole to pole. I think he’s got a chance to do some really good things in his career at Indiana. His ability to slow the game down and play under control will really determine how early in his career he’s able to contribute, but Paul’s gonna be a really good player for a really long time.”

- The freshman arms were even more exciting to watch. IU has a good number of young guys who throw hard. David Platt was possibly the peak of the day in terms of pure arm strength as he was hitting 93 mph on the gun, might’ve peaked at 94 at one point. He did miss a spot now and then, but that’s normal for a freshman. Fans also got a taste of 2019 MLB draftee Reese Sharp who pitched rather well after he got settled in a bit. Nathan Stahl was impressive. He struck out five of the six batters he faced across two innings of work. AJ Hacker looked really good as well. He struck out four straight batters to close out his pair of innings on the bump and didn’t give up a hit. Blayne Deaton was the final pitcher of the evening for IU and he looked solid as well. There could be a handful of interesting candidates to start midweek games in this group.

- Another thing worth noting about the pitchers is that they were working on establishing the fastball quite a bit — using it to get outs, pitching off of it, etc. — which Mercer spoke about postgame:

“We were very fastball dominant. Just like offensively you have to learn to value the walk, with pitching you have to value the ability to throw a fastball for a strike so it’s something we work a ton on and for those guys to learn early we have to get outs with our fastball pitch early and often and be able to control the zone, control the tempo with our fastball and if you want to put a guy away with a breaking ball, well if you can control that later on then great we can pitch off of that moreso, but the fastball should be the priority early in their development.”

- There should be a lot of eyes on the play behind the plate as we get closer to the Spring as Ryan Fineman graduated following four years of solid production as IU’s backstop. What makes things more interesting is that his backup, Wyatt Cross, also graduated and the only other catcher on the roster last season, Jeff Holtz, transferred following the season. That means that three fresh faces are duking it out for the right to start behind the dish for the Hoosiers. On Tuesday each of freshman Brant Voth, John A. Logan CC transfer Hunter Combs and Western Kentucky transfer Collin Hopkins received similar amounts of playing time and each seemed to be capable of manning the position. The group’s defensive play in particular was something that Mercer was excited about:

“I thought our catching, our defensive work, was the highlight of the entire day. I just told the whole team that. I was terrifically impressed by those guys. I thought we received, those arms are real, that’s real stuff, that’s 88 to 92 (mph) up to 95 the whole day and those guys received really well. Low fastballs they blocked and recovered really well, great energy, they threw the ball well. I thought the catching was the one highlight of the day defensively. Offensively those guys had good at-bats. Brant hit a ball hard his last at-bat, but he walks twice, Hunter hit some balls hard, Hopkins hit two balls on the nose. I thought they were all three really, really good. Coming into today, literally when the lights turn on and there’s a little bit more at stake, how do those guys transition into that environment? I was very, very pleased (with that). And I know our pitching coach is very pleased. It’s kind of like when mom is happy, everybody’s happy. When the pitching coach is happy, everybody’s happy, especially at Indiana. Coach (Justin) Parker was really thrilled and very complimentary and you have to earn his compliments, so they did a really good job.”

- We also got to see the unofficial debuts of another pair of transfers as Cooper Trinkle and Jordan Fucci were both in the lineup for game one of the doubleheader. Trinkle played second base and was good in the field, but at the plate was where he made the biggest impact. He ripped a three-run bomb to left-center field in the first inning. Fucci played over at first base and made a few nice defensive plays. He also drove in a couple of runs.

The Hoosiers will play again on Saturday against some tougher competition as the John A. Logan Vols will be in town to play a pair of seven-inning games. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.