Thursday, February 14, 2008

2008 BTH Preview: Iowa

Head Coach: Jack Dahm
2007 record: 32-22 overall; 18-12 in Big Ten (lost in conference tournament)
2007 RPI: 102
2008 Projected Big Ten Finish:
Collegiate Baseball - 5th
Rivals - 4th

At The Plate: The Hawkeyes offense focuses around CF Caleb Curry and 2B Justin Toole. Curry was a second team All-Big Ten performer last year when he hit .354 (12th best in the Big Ten) with a .482 slugging percentage and .441 on base percentage. Curry, who is moving to center from a corner OF slot, also drove in 41runs and stole 11 bases for Iowa. Toole, a third team All-Big Ten player, hit .367 (good for ninth in the conference) with a .490 slugging percentage and a .451 OBP.

The player most are looking to have a breakout season is SS Kevin Hoef. Last year, Hoef hit .295 with a .365 slugging mark and a ..408 OBP. Hoef, who played third base last year, also finished amongst the Big Ten leaders in hit by pitch (14; good for 2nd) and sacrifice flies (tied for first with seven). However, it was Hoef’s productive summer in the Cape Cod League that has elevated expectations for 2008. He hit .317 for Bourne which was the fifth best mark on the Cape and was named an all-star.

Another player looming large in Iowa’s plans is transfer Matt Mossey. Mossey will take over at third base with Hoef’s move to short. Mossey comes from North Dakota State where he paced the team in at bats, triples, walks and assists while NDSU’s shortstop.

The Hawkeyes have the luxury of two dependable catchers -- Ben Geelan and Tyson Blaser. Geelan will start and Blaser, who was in the top ten prospects in Central Illinois Collegiate Summer League, will get at bats at designated hitter.

Wes Freie will get the start at first with T.J. Cataldo seeing some time there as well. On either side of Curry in the outfield will be senior outfielder Kyle Riffel (.337 in 83 at bats) and sophomore Justin Brauer, who only saw action in 14 games in 2007.

On The Mound: Iowa’s weekend rotation consists of senior righthander Brock Alberts (2-1, 3.47), Nick Erdman (7-3, 5.15) junior Steve Turnbull (2-4, 5.26) and Mike Jacobs (3-0, 4.91). Erdman, a junior righthander, earned a second team All-Big Ten nod in 2007. Jacobs, a sophomore lefthander, is making the transition from reliever to starter.

The closer role appears to be in the hands of Mossey, who also pitched at NDSU. Jason Belk, Kyle Heim and Patrick Schatz are battling to be the set-up man. The Hawkeyes also have prized freshman Zach Kenyon who is probably destined for bullpen work in his first year.

The Schedule: The marquee match-ups of the pre-Big Ten slate include a game at Vanderbilt, three at Missouri State and three more against Rutgers. Not that the pair versus Stetson are a cakewalk, either. Iowa also get Nebraska in Iowa City once conference play begins. In Big Ten action, the Hawkeyes open with a trip to Michigan and visit Indiana, Michigan State and Penn State. At home, the first conference guest in is Purdue followed by Northwestern , Minnesota and Ohio State.

Bottom Line: Iowa has all the elements necessary to return to the Big Ten Tournament in 2008 -- a balanced lineup, albeit lacking in some power and a pitching staff with some experience and expected to improve. Coach Dahm also brings in a recruiting class amongst the best in the Big Ten. That combination should assure the Hawkeyes of another post-season appearance.