By Pete Ruden and Adam Hensley
Any baseball team that loses its best two hitters will be in trouble.
Just ask the Kansas City Royals. When Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain left through free agency for San Diego and Milwaukee, respectively, the Royals lost the only players on the team who batted over .300.
Now, Kansas City sits at 22-45 with a winning percentage of .328, the second-worst in the league, just two and a half years removed from a World Series victory.
And after an MLB Draft that stole away five Hawkeyes, Iowa baseball is in a similar position. The Hawkeyes lost their two best hitters in Tyler Cropley (.342 batting average) and Robert Neustrom (.311). The duo also combined for 86 RBIs and 20 home runs, ranking first and second in both categories.
With such a powerful part of the offense leaving for the pros, Iowa needs someone to step up. And who better than Chris Whelan?
Although he missed 15 games at the beginning of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery, Whelan was the only other Hawkeye to hit above .300, boasting a slash line of .308/.403/.410.
In his 38 games for the Black and Gold, Whelan had 13 multi-hit games, proving his ability to make something happen at the plate.
He also won’t, presumably, be coming off a big injury next season, meaning he won’t have to take it slow when the season kicks off. He can go through the fall, winter, and spring at full speed, which is something he couldn’t do this past season.
And even though he was recovering, he still played a key role for the Hawkeyes when he returned. Now at 100 percent, Whelan has a chance to make the Iowa offense his own.
— Pete Ruden
Am I surprised Pete threw in a reference to the Royals? No.
Anyway, while I do think Chris Whelan will pick up where Iowa’s dynamic batting duo left off, I don’t think he’ll be Iowa’s most dynamic man at the plate.
Enter Lorenzo Elion. The Chicago native and former Kirkwood Eagle showed flashes of greatness last season in limited action — just 37 starts in his 45 appearances.
Elion had the fourth-best batting average on the Iowa roster last season, the second-best out of the returning Hawkeyes behind Whelan.
Elion’s batting seemed to be boom or bust. In his 45 appearances, only seven of those games turned out to be multi-hit performances, and he had 19 hitless outings.
But then, there were times in which Elion was practically unstoppable, such as his 4-hit performance against Milwaukee.
Elion’s best performance, however, came during his 5-for-6, 2-home run, 6-RBI stat line against Coe College. In that game, he went for the cycle, hitting a single, a double, a triple, and a home run. His 5 hits tied a school record.
The potential is there, no doubt, so the Hawkeyes should give Elion another offseason to perfect his craft and be Iowa’s top hitter when the snow melts and the regular season begins in 2019.
— Adam Hensley