Coming off a season in which the Indiana baseball Hoosiers hit .327 as a team and were considered considered by many to possess the most dangerous offensive attack in the Big Ten, Tracy Smith will look this season to fill six major voids at the plate from a season ago. Who's gone and who will replace them? Keep reading to find out who those replacements are likely to be.
C - Josh Phegley .344 avg, 17 HRs, 66 RBIs, .459 OB%
The Replacement? Josh Lyon
As arguably the most feared hitter in the Hoosier lineup a season ago, Phegley led the team and ranked among the league leaders in runs, homeruns, RBIs, slugging %, walks, and sacrifice flies. Needless to say, sophomore Josh Lyon will have some big shoes to fill. The big catcher hit .314 in limited action last season and certainly has the tools to be a force to be reckoned with offensively, but Lyon will need to cut back his strikeouts (he struck out 14 times in 35 at-bats a year ago) and demonstrate more discipline at the plate to have any hope of mirroring Phegley's production at the plate.
OF - Kipp Schutz .392 avg, 5 HRs, 34 RBIs, .449 OB%
The Replacement? Michael Earley
Another MLB draftee, Schutz came on strong down the back stretch of the 2009 campaign to lead the Hoosiers and rank among the Big Ten leaders in batting average. Schutz was a stable presence both on and off the field for IU, and he will certainly be missed. However, waiting in the wings is a guy I feel is poised for a breakout season in 2010. Although Michael Earley only hit .276 last year for the Hoosiers, the senior is coming off a solid summer with the Grand Lake Mariners in which he hit .309 with a .403 on-base percentage and 13 stolen bases and played in the Great Lakes summer league all-star game. His playing time and at-bats were relatively limited in 2009, but he did hit .318 as a sophomore, and I strongly believe Earley will take advantage of the opportunity in front of him and have a big senior season.
OF - Evan Crawford .323 avg, 27 SBs, 29 RBIs, .406 OB%
The Replacement? Brian Lambert
While it will be hard to replace the speed and athletic ability Crawford brought to the table, in Brian Lambert the Hoosiers have a more than capable replacement. Lambert started 22 games a season ago, and in 84 at-bats the red-shirt junior hit .345 with a .394 OB% and 5 steals in 6 attempts. Teaming up with Michael Earley this summer for the Grand Lake Mariners, Lambert was also an all-star and hit at a .325 clip with a .434 OB% and 15 stolen bases. The only knock on Lambert might be that he doesn't walk much (only 2 in 84 at-bats last year), but if he can be a little more patient at the plate I would think he would be a good candidate to hit lead-off for the Hoosiers in 2010.
OF - Chris Hervey .283 avg, 3 HRs, 17 RBIs, .419 OB%
The Replacement? Kyle Leiendecker
Although his numbers were down from his stellar junior campaign, there is no denying Chris Hervey's value and contribution to the success of the 2009 Indiana baseball Hoosiers. His leadership and stability will be difficult to replace, but from a purely statistical perspective, I would like to think that replacing his production will not be a monumental task. While it remains to be seen who will get most of Hervey's playing time, the most likely candidate at this point in time appears to be Kyle Leiendecker. The junior did not record so much as a single at-bat in 2009, but the former pitcher saw considerable action in the outfield during the fall. Playing for the San Diego Mavericks of the Western Baseball Association this summer, Leiendecker hit .356 with a .485 OB%, 21 RBIs and 25 runs scored in 101 at-bats. Leiendecker did look shaky at times playing the outfield during the fall, his athletic ability and summer stats are encouraging signs that he could be a more than capable presence for the Hoosiers in 2010. As a side note, while Leiendecker did not see much time on the mound last season, sources close to the team say that he has professional "stuff." This is a guy who beat both LSU and Fresno State as a freshman, and I hope that Coach Smith will give him an opportunity to figure out the control issues that plagued him in the past and at the very least give him some innings on the mound early on.
SS - Jake Dunning .308 avg, 5 HRs, 45 RBIs, .355 OB%
The Replacement? Ethan Wilson
While Dunning did end up hitting over .300 and finished third on the team with 45 RBIs, he was a very inconsistent, streaky hitter. His likely replacement spent nearly all of last season on the "DL" as he suffered a season-ending injury on March 1 and took a medical redshirt. Although he struggled mightily this summer playing for the Sanford Mariners in the New England League (.139 BA, .262 OB% in 72 at-bats), I for one think his performance was more attributable to injury recovery than anything else. Wilson started 29 games as a freshman in 2008 and hit a strong .292, and he was actually expected to be a big contributor for the Hoosiers last season before injury ended his year. People close to the team seem to think that Wilson is poised for a big season if he can stay healthy, so let's hope that's the case.
3B - Vince Gonzalez .303 avg, 17 RBIs, .374 OB%
The Replacement? Micah Johnson
Gonzalez surprised many people with his solid performance as a freshman last season, and after starting 37 games, I for one foresaw big things in a Hoosier uniform out of Gonzalez. It was not to be, though, as Gonzalez decided to transfer to a school closer to home and will not be back in 2010. Ready to replace him is another freshman - Micah Johnson. A graduate of Indianapolis' Park Tudor High School, Johnson hit .561 with a .963 slugging percentage as a junior and was named Indiana's best athlete in the 2009 class by MaxPreps Baseball. Johnson was tabbed as one of the state's top players heading into his senior season but missed the entire season due to injury. He is fully recovered now and looked like he could be a solid contributor in 2010 in the fall. Hopefully that will prove to be the case.
While these are undoubtedly some big shoes to fill for this year's squad, it is not unrealistic to think that the current Hoosiers highlighted above can have the same kind of impact as those that preceded them. Yes, truly replacing a MLB draft first round "sandwich" pick like Phegley will be next to impossible, especially when you consider the leadership and other intangibles he brought to the table, but I for one would not be surprised if IU's offense picks up where it left off last season.