While the Iowa Baseball squad gets ready to begin their 2018 campaign in Kissimmee, FL, we here at Black Heart Gold Pants are also getting gearing up for the start of college baseball. Let’s take a look at who’s going to be in the outfield.
There is a solid group returning to the Iowa outfield this season.
One could make the argument that it’s perhaps one of the strongest returning groups on the team this season and it would sound pretty reasonable. Obviously there are still a lot of moving pieces, but it’s not hard to say this will be an area of strength for the Hawkeyes this season.
It’s also obvious where to start.
#44 Robert Neustrom (JR)
2017: 61/61 GP/GS - .310 BA, 79 H, 16 2B, 9 HR, 55 RBI, 1.000 fielding percentage.
World University Games: .387 BA, 12 H, 3 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 6 RBI.
If there’s a more important player returning to Iowa’s baseball team than Robert Neustrom... well, actually, there’s not.
The second-ranked prospect in the Big Ten is starting to get plenty of attention and will likely be a high draft pick in this year’s draft. That’s pretty cool.
The preseason Big Ten player of the year will be asked to do a lot this season and has to be more than special for the Hawkeyes to make a return trip to the NCAA tournament. Even so, Neustrom could be in for a very, very special year regardless. This sort of excitement is exactly what Iowa needs as a program.
Rick Heller is starting to make a habit of getting guys drafted and that’s exactly the type of buzz you want around your program.
#9 Ben Norman (Soph)
2017: 59/56 GP/GS - .296 BA, 61 H, 12 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 25 RBI, .951 fielding percentage.
WUG: 6/6 GP/GS.
#6 Justin Jenkins (Soph)
2017: 41/6 GP/GS - .148 BA, 4H, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 1.000 fielding percentage.
WUG: 6/1 GP/GS - 1 RBI.
Norman was a solid player for the Hawkeyes last year and all six of his starts at the World University Games at centerfield. It’s a good bet he’ll play center most of this season.
He did have six errors last year, second-most on the team, but that’s not a high price to pay for his bat. He was fourth on the team in doubles and while his 33 strikeouts is a little high, he did have 29 walks last season, second most on the team.
Another thing? He stole a base 14 times on 19 attempts. Both of those marks led the team. When Norman is on the field, he’s dangerous.
There’s also a chance Norman could slide over to left at points this season.
Jenkins spent most of his time last year as a defensive replacement and while his batting average isn’t great, he had just 27 at-bats. At the World University Games, Jenkins also saw time on the mound, allowing two runs on two hits in just one inning. While he’s no starter, there’s a chance to see him in relief this season, though likely only in an emergency situation.
Left field/everyone else
#3 Matt Hoeg (JR)
2017: 60/56 GP/GS - .277 BA, 54 H, 16 2B, 5 HR, 38 RBI, .962 Fielding Percentage.
WUG: 7/6 GP/GS - 3 starts at first base.
#30 Connor McCaffery (FR)
2017 (HS): .386 BA, 11 2B, 6 HR, 49 RBI, 31 BB.
#8 Luke Farley (JR)
2017: 22/7 GP/GS - .235 BA, 8 H, 1 2B, 1 RBI.
With the injury to Chris Whelan (Tommy John surgery) there’s a bit of a gap in the outfield. As Max mentioned earlier today, that might mean Hoeg — who comes out to Rainy Day in Autumn, a truly great song — might see some time in the outfield.
While it sounds like Whelan’s recovery is going well, he’ll likely only see time at DH for a fair portion of this season.
“The coaching staff and I have talked about it that I’ll probably be the DH for most of the season, just with how my arm is not quite caught up to where my bat is,” Whelan said. “I won’t be able to throw until March — or at least start my throwing program, which will probably go into May.
“So maybe play a little first base if I can, but other than that, I’ll probably stick to hitting.”
That’s certainly not ideal for a player that started 57 games and owned a .309 batting average and had seven home runs last year.
But, such is life. I’d expect to see a bit more Farley this year and even perhaps redshirt freshman Kace Masser (.418 with eight home runs, 45 RBIs and 21 steals as a HS senior).
Does McCaffery even play this year? That’s another question to be answered as well. Just expect a lot of moving parts in the outfield this season.