Tuesday, February 12, 2008

2008 BTH Preview: Indiana

Head Coach
: Tracy Smith
2007 record: 19-35 overall; 8-23 in Big Ten
2007 RPI: 195
2008 Projected Big Ten Finish:
Collegiate Baseball - 10th
Rivals - 9th

At The Plate: The Hoosiers’ bats are led by OF Andrew Means. A second team All-Big Ten selection in 2007, Means hit .369 which was the seventh best mark in the conference. The IU centerfielder was also third in the Big Ten in steals with 27 and led the Hoosiers with a .467 slugging percentage. Means is not the only offensive threat in Bloomington, however.

Evan Crawford had a very nice freshman campaign hitting .333 while driving in thirty runs. He also stole 18 bases. Crawford will be moving from second base to shortstop this season. Another freshman who made an impact was catcher Josh Phegley. Phegley, a former Mr. Baseball in Indiana, hit .232 a year ago and had 16 RBI. Where Phegley impressed was behind the dish where he cut down 35.4% of base stealers and made only two errors in 46 games (42 starts). Phegley was so highly regarded he wound up playing summer ball in the Cape Cod League where he also received high marks in limited action.

Another strong defensive player is starting third baseman Tyler Cox. Cox, who hit .240 in ‘07, led Big Ten 3B in assists last year with 121. He made only two miscues in his final 38 games of 2007. Across the diamond, the Hoosiers got a boost at first base when Jerrud Sabourin transferred in from Arizona. The lefthanded hitting Sabourin is a San Diego area product who will be a freshman at IU. Sabourin hit .390 as a senior at Torrey Pines High School and pitched, as well. He should get the nod at first base.

Another transfer should fill in at second base. Michael Earley arrives from Cincinnati where he hit .320 with five homers last year. Noted for his bat, Earley has also impressed with his glove thus far.

Redshirt freshman Kipp Schutz was off to a strong start last year before getting injured. He returns and should claim one of the outfield jobs next to Means. Sophomore Brian Lambert looks to be holding down the remaining corner slot.

On The Mound: Junior Tyler Tufts (3-9, 4.21) looks to begin the year as the Hoosiers‘ number one starter. He will be pressed by super sophomore Matt Bashore (4-7, 4.33). Bashore probably has the best stuff on the staff. In his initial campaign, he paced the Hoosiers staff with 50 strikeouts.

The three and four spots are a bit less clear. Freshman Kyle Leiendecker is in the mix to make the second start on Saturday. Leiendecker was drafted by Cleveland in the 25th round a year ago. Sophomore Eric Arnett (2-2, 2 sv, 6.11) is also in the running to be IU’s final weekend starter. Veterans Doug Fleenor and Chris McCombs are capable of claiming the final two weekend spots, as well.

Joe Vicini is also an important cog in the Hoosiers success. Vicini (2-1, 2 sv, 4.88) pitches long relief, short relief and even started a game a year ago. Sophomore Chris Squires (2-1, 4.50) holds down the closer’s job.

The Schedule: This year’s slate is a bit brutal. The opening series is a three game set at LSU. The Hoosiers get to play Fresno State, ranked #18 by Baseball America, three times. In conference play, the Hoosiers travel to Minnesota, Penn State, Northwestern and close the year at Michigan State. At home, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Purdue all come calling.

Bottom Line: The easy thing to do is dismiss Indiana based on history, but this is an intriguing team. They’ve got a better than average nucleus -- Means, Phegley, Crawford, Tufts, Bashore -- to build upon, a couple of potential impact transfers on the right side of the diamond (Sabourin and Earley) plus a couple of freshmen that could surprise. The downside is, of course, that IU is wildly young. That tends to yield wildly unpredictable results. Even with that factored in, I think this Hoosiers squad should be better than last year’s. Maybe quite a bit better.