This post is courtesy of the Official Sports Report - January 19, 2010
Baseball Season Just Around the Corner
by Matt Brady
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - As I scraped the "frozen fog" off the windows of my car yesterday morning, I looked at my watch. Suddenly I realized that just one month from today I will be in San Diego, Calif., for Indiana Baseball's season-opening weekend series at the University of San Diego. (I know, you all feel so bad for me.)
It seems like such a long time ago that the Hoosiers took the 2009 Big Ten Tournament championship, so I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised that the season is right around the corner. But the fact that the countdown to the opener is now in the "days" category rather than the "months" category really hit me.
The Hoosier baseball squad was the talk of the town last year, as year four of the Trac! y Smith era brought a Big Ten title and a spot in the NCAA Louisville Regional. The team's accomplishments did not end with the season, though, as IU went on to become the only school in the nation with three players taken in the top 50 of the MLB Draft. And with seven underclassmen drafted overall, the Hoosiers are going to have several pairs of shoes to fill heading into the 2010 season.
So, with that in mind, Indiana will have a tough task ahead if it is able to repeat as Big Ten Champs. Here are answers to some focal questions heading into the 2010 campaign.
If the IU staff knew that a bunch of players were going to get drafted, why didn't they bring in a bunch of players for this year?
Before this fall, in the Big Ten, baseball coaches were not allowed to oversign at all. With a limit of 25 players on scholarship and 11.7 scholarships, the Hoosier staff could not use the scholarship money for any of the drafted underclassmen until that player signed a pro contract. So by the time that happened, most of the top talent was already signed. The incoming class for the fall of 2010 (IU has signed nine players, including seven pitchers) is where much of that scholarship money was spent.
So who will be this year's Eric Arnett?
Those close to the team always knew Arnett could break out at any time, but his sheer dominance and rising all the way to a National Pitcher of the Year Finalist was surprising to everyone. It's unlikely that the Hoosiers have anyone on the roster that will put up pitching numbers in the same stratosphere as Arnett this year, but in terms of breakout candidates, there are a couple.
Sophomore Josh Lyon only saw limited action being behind Josh Phegley at catcher and Alex Dickerson at DH, and he definitely has double-digit home run potential. Junior Brian Lambert could be one of the top hitters in the region playing every day in center field.
Who will pitch on the weekend for the Hoosiers?
Sophomore lefties Blake Monar and Matt Igel are both likely to start weekend series after strong freshman seasons, but no spot is guaranteed and the competition is really wide open for that third slot. Freshman Walker Stadler was probably the biggest breakout player during fall ball, and he will be given a big chance to earn a weekend spot. Joining the baseball squad after football season, redshirt sophomore Matt Ernest could make a run at a weekend starter position if he can show control and continue to develop secondary pitches to go along with his 90-plus fastball. There's also the possibility that Chris Squires could transition to a starting role and freshman Jonny Hoffman could emerge, but the competition is wide open.
So where will the Hoosiers finish this year?
That's a great question. Ohio State is the trendy pick to win the conference this year after returning most of its championship-winning squad last year, but after superstar Alex Wimmers, the Buckeyes are pretty thin on pitching. Minnesota lost some key players from last year, but has a solid bunch back for 2010. Illinois is still a team on the rise, but the Fighting Illini lost some key pitchers as well, leaving that as a huge question mark. Michigan should be back near the top of the league after a disappointing seventh-place finish last year.
With everything the Hoosiers lost, if Indiana finishes in the league's top four, it is a major accomplishment by the IU staff and players. But with other teams having a number of question marks as well, anything is possible. And the Hoosiers also have the player who many consider the conference's top hitter for power (Alex Dickerson) and hitter for average (Jerrud Sabourin) on the roster. So if IU can have a couple pitchers emerge on the weekend and avoid any major injuries, the Hoosiers should make another run at the conference title.
And it all starts one month from today.