The Hoosiers have developed a reputation in recent years—they hit the long ball and they score a bunch of runs. This was in part thanks to guys like Logan Sowers and Luke Miller who helped make up the heart of the lineup, bashing 37 and 24 career home runs respectively.
Sowers and Miller are gone now. Sowers is playing in the Chicago White Sox organization after getting drafted in the 28th round. Miller is playing in the Philadelphia Phillies organization after getting drafted in the 22nd round.
For a lot of programs losing two guys like that could lead to a slip in offensive production the following year, but Indiana’s situation could be quite the opposite.
“I think this year is gonna be a special lineup,” catcher Ryan Fineman said. “I think it’s gonna surprise a lot of people.”
That special lineup could look like this:
The lineup should start with a pair of outfielders that will be stars for this team. Matt Gorski and Logan Kaletha are, for a lack of a better or less cliched term, a dynamic duo.
Gorski might be the closest thing the Big Ten has to a true five-tool player. He can hit for contact and power—he posted a .356 average and went yard eight times last season—but he’s also got speed, a good glove, and a good arm to boot. Hoosier fans should expect a big year out of the junior, as he’s been projected by several publications as the Big Ten Player of the Year and could be a guy that sneaks up draft boards as the year rolls on.
Kaletha is one of the best leadoff men in the conference. He posted a .429 on-base percentage in 2018 at least in part thanks to his ability to draw walks and a tendency to get hit by pitches.
The senior also has plenty of speed and takes care of business in center field, occasionally making unbelievable plays like this one against Maryland last season:
The real question comes in left field, with Kaletha manning center and Gorski moving to right field to replace Sowers. This is a team loaded with talented players and because of that, there are plenty of options to take this spot in the lineup.
The frontrunner for that left field spot could be Drew Ashley. It seems as if the do-it-all sophomore is a great fit with the philosophy the new coaching staff has installed. During the fall he showed an ability to be a pest on the basepaths and has shown in the past that he’s a capable fielder.
Other contenders for this spot could include sophomores Sam Crail and Elijah Dunham, who each showed they were capable of playing roles for this team last season as true freshmen, and Heartland Community College transfer Carter Bridge who hit .353 with 43 RBIs and 19 stolen bases for the Hawks last spring.
Like the outfield, the infield has a mix of spots that seem to be solidified and some question marks.
Ryan Fineman will once again be the guy behind the dish for the Hoosiers. This will be his fourth season as the starting catcher in Bloomington.
The California native has always been a defensive stalwart, but in 2018 he had his best season by far in the batter’s box. As a junior he hit .284 with seven home runs and 37 RBIs, all career highs.
Another guy that you can sharpie into the starting lineup is shortstop Jeremy Houston. The junior from Chicago is another plus defender up the middle for IU, but his bat could surprise people this spring.
“I think Jeremy’s growth offensively has been one of the more interesting storylines that we’ve had,” IU coach Jeff Mercer said. “That guy’s worked really hard. He’s a different offensive player.”
Matt Lloyd is listed as a utilityman and for good reason. The senior can play all over the diamond and should pitch in the back of the IU bullpen as well, but Hoosier fans should expect to see him at first base to open the season.
The slugger received All-American honors last season and should once again be a key piece in IU’s lineup. He could see time at third base and designated hitter as well.
Here’s where things could get a little interesting. Luke Miller’s spot at third base is vacant and there are a number of players that could take over at the hot corner in 2019. Cole Barr seems to be the frontrunner. On Wednesday Mercer mentioned the sophomore as a player that’s come into his own this offseason. Barr hit .318 in limited opportunities last season, including picking up a pinch-hit RBI single to give the Hoosiers a lead in their matchup with No. 25 Louisville late in the season.
Second base is another spot that seems to be up in the air. Mercer mentioned on Wednesday that the battle for the position is between sophomore Justin Walker and senior Cade Bunnell.
Walker had ups and downs last season in his first season in Bloomington but showed plenty of upside. He’s a plus defender who utilizes a slender, athletic frame to cover a lot of ground in the middle of the infield and if Houston weren’t on this team he’d be a natural fit at shortstop. Walker has a similar issue to Houston in that he’s struggled at the plate at times. He hit .248 in 2018 with a pair of homers and 22 RBIs as a freshman. He also only got on base at a .287 clip.
Bunnell didn’t see the field very often last season, his first in Bloomington after transferring from Madison Junior College and previously Kansas State. He mustered just one hit in his 14 total at-bats as a junior, but there’s been some buzz around him heading into the year.
Here I believe that Walker is more of a known quantity than Bunnell purely because of the difference in the playing time the two had last season. Walker’s potential seems high and if you truly buy into the theory that strong fielding up the middle is an important part of building a good baseball team you won’t find a much better defensive pair than Houston and Walker. Edge: Walker.
The last spot in the lineup is the designated hitter. It’s very feasible that this spot will be used to give some players a rest day, Fineman would be a prime candidate for this. It could also be used as a tactical tool to give Matt Lloyd more freedom to get out to the bullpen and warm up for a late game pitching appearance without taking his big bat out of the lineup.
When the Hoosiers put their nine best players on the lineup card, Scotty Bradley is almost certainly the guy that takes the DH spot. Last season as a sophomore Bradley earned a second-team All-Big Ten nod by hitting .326 with seven long balls and 19 RBIs.
This lineup should be capable of lighting up opposing pitchers, but perhaps not in the way we’ve seen the Hoosiers light up opposing pitchers in recent years. The Hoosiers relied heavily on the long ball under former coach Chris Lemonis, perhaps sometimes too much depending on who you ask. Under Jeff Mercer we’re less likely to see guys swinging out of their shoes and more likely to see a balanced offense with the Hoosiers scoring in a number of ways.
The Hoosiers could line up in a multitude of ways this season. Something that could quickly become a recurring theme for IU is the amount of depth they have all around the diamond—there isn’t a single spot on the field where there aren’t at least two or three quality players that can play for the Hoosiers which is something to be excited about if you’re an IU fan.