By Pete Ruden
There was snow falling Thursday, but there was also a glimpse of spring on the Iowa campus.
Iowa baseball head coach Rick Heller and Company hosted the team’s annual media day Thursday, giving a look of what’s to come from last season’s Big Ten Tournament champions.
This year’s team has a different makeup, though. All-American Jake Adams, who led the NCAA with 29 home runs, and All-Big Ten shortstop Mason McCoy were both selected in the sixth round of the MLB Draft, and they leave voids in the field.
Although some key pieces of last year’s squad graduated or signed with an MLB organization, the Hawkeyes return some important parts to make another run at a Big Ten title and maybe go even further.
“I think we can get to Omaha,” catcher Tyler Cropley said. “I think we got the talent, we got the drive.
It’s no secret that Iowa’s pitching staff took a huge blow as the MLB Draft concluded. Starters Nick Gallagher and Ryan Erickson were selected in the draft, while C.J. Eldred — who missed most of last season after a UCL injury — signed with the Kansas City Royals.
The Hawkeyes also lost one of their more clutch members of the bullpen in Josh Martsching, who graduated last spring.
Still, not all is lost. Nick Allgeyer is set to return and be the Friday starter after missing all of last season because of Tommy John surgery, and Cole McDonald, who displayed some tremendous pitching in the World University Games, will be the Saturday starter.
With reliever Zach Daniels returning and Parkland College transfer Brady Schanuel ready to begin his first year at Iowa, the Hawkeyes have some depth on the mound, despite all their losses.
“We lost a lot last year with Gallagher, C.J., Erickson, everyone that left, but we have a lot of new guys come in,” Allgeyer said. “Everyone’s working hard, trying to get ready to go, and I think we’ll have a real nice staff this year.”
Neustrom the leader
Junior outfielder Robert Neustrom has racked up a lot of preseason awards, and for good reason.
A second-team All-Big Ten outfielder last season, Neustrom was named Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year by Perfect Game and Baseball America, and he will shoulder a big load on the offensive end in the absence of Adams and McCoy.
He has proven to be a leader of this team before, and this year is no different.
“People are always saying, ‘You got to step up this year, fill that role a little more,’” Neustrom said. “If I keep doing me, the stats are going to fall.”
Most improved player
Infielder Kyle Crowl didn’t play a huge role for the Hawkeyes last year. He played in 20 games and started six, but he hit just .061.
In the World University Games, though, Crowl started all seven games at shortstop and was a much improved hitter, finishing with a .333 average.
Heller was impressed with Crowl’s improved confidence following the summer league, and Crowl carried that confidence into Taiwan.
“When he came back to campus to start training for the World Games, he was a different player,” Heller said. “Most improved player by far heading into the fall. He played very well for us defensively, had some big hits for us offensively, and Kyle’s going to be a big part of this team this year.”