Sunday, February 08, 2009

2009 Preview: Iowa

Iowa Hawkeyes
Head Coach: Jack Dahm
2008 Record: 22-33 (10-22, tenth in the Big Ten)

At The Plate: The strength of the ‘09 Hawkeyes will be the left side of their infield -- SS Justin Toole and 3B Kevin Hoef. Toole started and played in 55 games last season while hitting .395. Along the way, he collected a hit in a school-record 27 straight games. Toole also had a .500 slugging percentage and a .458 on-base percentage while driving in 49 runs and stealing 24 bases. Needless to say, Toole is claiming his fair share of preseason accolades.

Much was expected of Hoef last year coming off an impressive summer in the Cape Cod League. A series of nagging injuries slowed him down in ‘08. Still he managed to hit .357 with three homers and 31 RBI while starting in 50 games. Hoef also totaled 17 steals. Both Hoef and Toole will be strong contenders for first-team all-Big Ten honors this year.

Junior Tyson Blaser will be the Hawkeyes’ catcher. Blaser, who also spent time in the outfield last year due to injuries, hit .323 in 96 at bats last season. A pair of seniors are vying for time at first base. T.J. Cataldo (.270) and Wes Freie (.324 with four homers) will also be in line for starts at designated hitter.

The remainder of the ‘09 Hawkeyes are very young. Sophomore Zach McCool will handle second base. McCool hit .321 in only 46 at bats in his freshman season. The outfield is entirely new. Trevor Willis, a sophomore with just 38 career at bats, is being given the CF job. Rightfield duties should come down to a battle between red shirt freshman Phil Keppler and JUCO transfer Ryan Durant. Freshman Chet Zeise, a high school infielder, looks to be Iowa‘s opening day leftfielder.

On The Mound: The Hawks have a number of returning arms, but in what role will they find themselves? Lefthander Michael Jacobs (3-5, 6.63) returns and could be Coach Dahm’s Friday starter. Senior Steve Turnbull (3-5, 7.30) is also back, but he could be either in the rotation or the bullpen. Sophomores Zach Kenyon (1-3, 7.52 in 40.2 IP) and Tony Manville (1-1, 6.63 in 38 IP) are also looking to become weekend starters. JUCO transfer Zach Robertson might make an impact in the rotation, as well.

Former closer Mike Schurz returns from Tommy John surgery. Word has it that his velocity has returned, but he was struggling to find the strike zone. If questions about Schurz persist, then expect Turnbull to close games.

The Schedule: According to Boyd’s World’s strength of schedule, Iowa has the third most difficult path in the Big Ten. The highlights include three games at nationally ranked Louisville, four against Austin Peay and single games against Nebraska, Stetson, St. John’s and South Alabama. It’s a good slate of non-conference foes.

The Big Ten schedule sees Iowa opening at Michigan and traveling to Indiana, Michigan State and Penn State. The Hawks get to host Purdue, Northwestern, Minnesota and Ohio State.

Bottom Line: We know what we are going to get from Toole and Hoef, right? They should be among the better players in the Big Ten. Blaser, if healthy, looks like a pretty solid backstop, too. After those three, however, it’s anybody’s guess.

Certainly the Hawkeyes have some promising underclassmen and the pair of JC transfers could provide some immediate help, but counting on so many inexperienced players at so many spots is rarely the recipe for success. It’s difficult at this point to envision Iowa making into the conference tournament field, as that would take big years from so many new faces, but if even a few of the youngsters can be effective, Iowa can look to improve on last year’s finish.