Indiana baseball head coach Jeff Mercer grew up around baseball. His father, Jeff Sr., was a high school coach who worked to develop players on their way to the next levels of the sport.
That’s been Mercer’s favorite part of being a coach. He enjoys recruiting and gamedays, but his true passion lies in getting the most out of each individual player on his roster.
“What I’m really passionate about and love is the development,” Mercer said in a press conference Wednesday. “The X’s and O’s of how to get better at your particular craft.”
Mercer is entering his fourth year as head coach. The freshmen from his first season in 2019, when the team won a Big Ten regular season title, are now seniors. He’s had time to build his roster, adding new talent from high school and experienced pieces in the transfer portal.
Twenty-seven members of Indiana’s roster this year are underclassmen, good for 64% of the team. Six players were selected in the 2021 MLB Draft, four of whom were pitchers.
Mercer balanced his team by adding eight players from the transfer portal, seven of whom are upperclassmen. He even gave them a nickname — the land of the misfits.
“We all had to leave a school, we all had to come from different places,” infielder Tyler Doanes said. “A lot of schools didn’t want us and now we’re here, so we all kind of play with a chip on our shoulder.”
Doanes joined Indiana as a graduate transfer from West Virginia, where he started 36 out of 40 games as a senior in 2021. His recruitment moved quickly, he’d known Indiana assistant coach Derek Simmons, a fellow Georgia native, from his time in high school.
All it took was one call from Simmons and another from Mercer for Doanes to make his decision. Doanes played second base and was a leadoff hitter at West Virginia. It’s a role that Mercer wants to experiment with this season, Doanes said.
“Coach Mercer calls me and we talked for a good little bit,” Doanes said. “I was like ‘coach, this is the school, you’re the coach for me’.”
Indiana added four pitchers from the transfer portal after losing McCade Brown, Gabe Bierman, Matt Litwicki and Tommy Sommer to the MLB Draft last summer. Mercer also hired Dustin Glant as pitching coach this offseason after Justin Parker was hired by South Carolina.
Right-handed pitcher John-Biagio Modugno will start for Indiana on Friday against Clemson, with right-handed pitcher Jack Perkins starting Sunday. Mercer said Indiana has yet to reach a decision for a starter on Sunday, but he feels good about who they have.
“We feel good about where we’re at with the pen,” Mercer said. “There’s three or four guys that we could start on Sunday.”
Modugno, a junior, made 16 appearances on the mound for Indiana in 2021 with four starts. He said that while Glant has a different personality from Parker as a pitching coach, he’s shown his expertise during the offseason.
With players leaving in the draft and arriving through the portal, Modugno said that the pitching group is full of new faces. Despite that, the goal and message from previous years has remained the same.
“We’re gonna come get your ass,” Modugno said with a grin.
Indiana’s season will begin on the road with opening day against Clemson on Friday in Clemson, South Carolina. Both players and Mercer expressed excitement for that matchup and the season to come.
It’ll be a long season for Mercer and his young, largely unproven team. But that also means plenty of room to develop.
“I’m looking forward to watching them grow,” Mercer said.