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Hellerball: Hawkeyes Set to Kick Off 2020 Season

Baseball season is here! Can the Hawkeyes put everything together for a return to the tournament?

NCAA BASEBALL: JUN 03 Houston Regional - Iowa v Texas A&M
Can we harness the excitement we had for Jake Adams in 2020?
Photo by Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s only February and Major League Baseball teams don’t kick off their spring training games for another week and a half, but the 2020 season is upon us in Iowa City. The Hawkeye baseball team met with the media last week to preview the season, as they kick things off with a trip to Florida beginning this Friday evening.

Iowa is coming off a 2019 season where they finished 31-24 and 12-12 in the Big Ten. That was good enough to finish in a three-way tie for 6th place, but not enough for a spot in regionals. The Hawkeyes will look to improve on that mark and push for a regional bid as they embark on the 2020 campaign.

That may be a difficult task, however. Iowa has a tough schedule ahead of them and the Big Ten continues to improve. Illinois has been solid the last several years, but it’s Minnesota and Ohio State who are looking to make a run up the Big Ten standings this season in hopes of knocking off Michigan. The Wolverines, for their part, enter the year ranked #3 in the country. The Hawkeyes get a three-game stint with Michigan in Ann Arbor in mid-May.

D1 Baseball projects the Hawkeyes to finish the year 7th in the conference. Baseball America is a bit more optimistic for Iowa, projecting a 5th place finish.

Here’s what they had to say for Iowa’s prospects in 2020:

In back-to-back seasons, Iowa has won an important nonconference series in early May only to see its regional hopes fizzle down the stretch when it has been unable to capitalize on that momentum. The Hawkeyes this season have a deep, experienced roster that will look to avoid a similar fate in 2020. Iowa returns junior first baseman Izaya Fullard (.307/.376/.422) and senior catcher Austin Martin (.294/.369/.396), its two leading hitters. That duo, along with senior outfielder Ben Norman (.251/.335/.396, 6 HR, 14 SB) gives the Hawkeyes some key pieces to build around offensively. The pitching staff should be the Hawkeyes’ strength, however. They return starters Grant Judkins (4-7, 2.72) and Cam Baumann (4-5, 5.29) and closer Grant Leonard (2-3, 3.37, 14 SV). Redshirt sophomore lefthander Jack Dreyer, the best prospect of the group, is also back after missing all but two starts last year due to a shoulder injury. If he can regain the form he had before his injury, he can be a difference maker. The Hawkeyes have the talent and experience to write a different ending this spring.

As Baseball America points out, the Hawkeyes figure to have a strong rotation in 2020 with the return of Dreyer to the team full time and Judkins and Baumann back. Rick Hell also returns his closer, Grant Leonard, who is a pre-season All-American per Collegiate Baseball. The Lincoln Way product logged 14 saves a season ago with 37 strikeouts and a 3.37 ERA.

Leonard was one of several Hawkeye players to talk with the media last week. He talks about Iowa’s bullpen heading into 2020 in the video below courtesy of HawkeyeReport.

As for what we can expect from Dreyer in his return to the Hawkeyes, the lefty says he’s fully back. He talks about the rehab process and what it means to him to be back with the team after not traveling a season ago. Video again courtesy of HawkeyeReport.

While the rotation is set to be a strong suit for Iowa this year, the offense will also be key. Last year’s leading hitter, Izaya Fullard expects big things this season. In the video below, he comments on playing more at 2nd base this season, as well as the depth of the lineup and the goals this team has in its sights.

And finally, head coach Rick Heller took time media day to talk about some of the struggles last year, including the difficulties in winning on the road. He also touched on what he felt were some overblown issues.

Heller also talks about his thoughts on the strength of the pitching rotation, depth of the bullpen and some shakeups to the lineup. He’ll likely use the early part of the season to feel out a lineup that works best and slot players into different roles to see how they perform.

The Hawkeyes will kick off the 2020 season on Friday afternoon. They’re in Florida for the first leg of the Snowbird Baseball Classic. They’ll have three games in three days this weekend before returning the first weekend in March.

Friday, Iowa takes on Kent State in Port Charlotte. They turn around for a matchup with Saint Joseph’s in North Port on Saturday and close out the road trip with a matchup against Pitt Sunday morning back in Port Charlotte.

Following this weekend’s trip to Florida, the Hawkeyes head to San Diego for another trio of games next weekend. They’ll face off with San Diego State, Arizona and San Diego in the Tony Gwynn Legacy Tournament. The following weekend, Iowa will be in Minneapolis for the Cambria College Classic with NC State, North Carolina and Duke.

Iowa’s home opener will come on Tuesday, March 3rd when the Hawkeyes play host to Grand View at 4:05pm CT at Duane Banks Field. Tickets for Iowa baseball are available through the University of Iowa ticket office.