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Mercer, Hoosiers make another splash in recruiting

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IU picks up a commitment from highly-touted Southern California product Tank Espalin

IU baseball coach Jeff Mercer receives what may be the first of many Gatorade baths after his team won the Big Ten championship in 2019.
Auston Matricardi

On Saturday night, a notification popped up on my phone. Nothing unusual. When I tapped it and unlocked my phone, however, I had to double- and then triple-check what I read.

What I saw was a tweet from California Baseball Academy USA. This tweet, to be exact:

There isn’t much to it. It’s relatively simple. The thing is that I knew the name Tank Espalin prior to seeing the tweet. Espalin’s a highly-touted player from Orange Lutheran (CA), one of the most significant high school baseball programs in the country. He’d been committed to the University of Southern California, just 35 miles away from Orange Lutheran, for a while and I’d assumed he’d be heading there.

I had to make sure what I was reading was right for a couple of reasons. The first is that it’s pretty late to be picking up an incoming freshman and the second is that Espalin isn’t just a really good college prospect — he’s a really good professional prospect. In a lot of other years, he would’ve heard his name called during the MLB Draft but this year, with the event shortened from 40 rounds to just five, he didn’t get that chance.

If you look at his Perfect Game profile it’s pretty easy to tell that he can play. The site gave him a grade of 10 which is, of course, out of 10. PG describes a grade of 10 as being for a “potential very high draft pick and/or elite level college prospect.”

Espalin appears to be the whole package. He hits the ball hard, he runs well, and in 2018 PBR California called his glovework at shortstop “borderline elite.”

The addition is, of course, an impressive one for Jeff Mercer and his Hoosier staff. Getting a player of Espalin’s caliber is a big win, especially when you get him to flip from a big school like USC. The thing is that this is just the latest in a line of recruiting wins for the IU skipper.

If you look at the next two incoming freshman classes, 2020 and 2021, IU has received commitments from some impressive players. Espalin is the headliner in 2020, but the class also includes a pair of players, Alex Logusch and Joe Reid, who received PG grades of 9, awarded to a “potential top 10 round pick and/or highest level college prospect” according to the site. IU’s 2021 class includes three players who’ve received a 9 including TJ White, Max Johnson and Evan Appelwick.

IU has done a great job of mixing in plenty of highly-touted in-state recruits, as well. In 2020 the Hoosiers hold commitments from PBR Indiana’s second, fourth, eighth, and 10th-ranked players in the state. The Hoosiers’ 2021 class includes the state’s top-ranked player, Edgewood pitcher Luke Hayden, as well as the number two, number eight, and number 10 prospects in the state. It’s still early for the class of 2022, but PBR’s 3rd- and 4th-ranked in-state recruits are already committed to IU as well.

Things still look pretty good when comparing these classes to others around the country. Before adding Espalin, the 2020 group was ranked 77th nationally by Perfect Game. Expect that ranking to rise.

The 2021 group headlined by Hayden sits at 24th in the country, sandwiched between southern powerhouse programs North Carolina and Auburn. That’s really good company to keep! It’s also the highest ranking of any Big Ten team, coming in a healthy 21 spots ahead of Michigan.

Among 2022 classes, Indiana’s is currently ranked 38th nationally. That’ll change as teams continue adding players, but it’s a solid starting place.

Whenever the Hoosiers get a big commitment, Mercer sends a tweet. It’s roughly the same every time. It has the same GIF of the 2019 IU team lifting the Big Ten Championship trophy with the same three words included: build the monster.

With Espalin on board alongside guys like Logusch, Reid and Kip Fougerousse, guys with pro potential like Ethan Vecrumba and Reese Sharp, and guys like Hayden, White, Appelwick and Colson Montgomery expected to come to Bloomington in 2021, Mercer’s metaphor is apt. IU’s future looks monstrous. The 2019 season might have been the beginning of a new golden age for baseball in Bloomington.