By Pete Ruden
Next time country music blares over the PA system at Banks Field for Hawkeye batting practice, the Iowa baseball team is going to look different.
The Hawkeyes lost their two best hitters, best starting pitcher, best reliever, and another hurler who occupied a spot in the weekend rotation to the MLB Draft, not to mention the graduated seniors.
To put it simply, Iowa lost a lot of production next year. But how much? Let’s put it into perspective.
Losing 26 of 41 home runs — 63.4 percent
Iowa lost four position players in Robert Neustrom, Tyler Cropley, Matt Hoeg, and Austin Guzzo, and it just so happens that all four players in the bunch can rake.
Neustrom led the Hawkeyes with 11 homers on the year, and Cropley followed by crushing 9 over the fence.
Hoeg and Guzzo tied for fifth on the team, blasting 3 apiece.
Luckily for Iowa, it returns the players who placed third and fourth, so all is not lost. Kyle Crowl showed his power potential, hitting 6 shots, and Chris Whelan smacked 4 despite missing 15 games recovering from Tommy John surgery.
While the Hawkeyes certainly took a hit, there is still hope. After all, Crowl and Whelan combined for just under a quarter of the team’s long balls, and Lorenzo Elion has an offseason in which to develop more power hitting.
Losing 18 of 33 Wins — 54.5 percent
For the fifth year in a row, Iowa hit the 30-win mark. But four of the pitchers who earned those victories on the mound are now gone.
Friday starter Nick Allgeyer was drafted after a stellar year in which he recorded a 5-4 record with a team-best 2.41 ERA, as was Zach Daniels, Iowa’s best reliever, who led the staff with 6 wins.
Brady Schanuel was also selected in the draft after recording a 5-7 record, and Nick Nelsen, another trusty reliever, graduated after picking up 2 wins and 3 saves.
The lack of great returning pitching puts a lot of pressure on starters Cole McDonald and Jack Dreyer — but they can handle it.
In his first year in the weekend rotation, McDonald went 3-2 with a 3.23 ERA, good for second-best among starters behind Allgeyer.
Dreyer stepped up on the bump toward the end of the season, tossing solid starts when the Hawkeyes needed them. He finished the year with a 5-2 record with a 3.69 ERA.
With McDonald and Dreyer set to start on the weekends, Iowa needs to find that key bullpen piece that Daniels and Nelsen served as in 2018.
Once it does, the pitching could be dangerous.
Losing 129 of 280 RBIs — 46 percent
Cropley and Neustrom led the team at the plate, batting .342 and .311, respectively, and they unsurprisingly led the squad in RBIs as well.
A good chunk of the runs they brought in come from the homers they hit, combining for almost half of the team’s home-run total by themselves.
It will certainly be a challenge to replace Cropley’s 50 RBIs, but Neustrom’s 36 and Hoeg’s 30 are attainable, and Guzzo’s 13 was surpassed by many this past season.
With his 6 home runs, Crowl knocked in 33 runs, passing Hoeg and making his way close to Neustrom, while Elion was within striking distance, bringing in 27.
Add Whelan — who will be one of Iowa’s biggest threats at the plate next season and will likely improve with runners in scoring position — and the Hawkeyes are not in bad shape.