2017 Iowa Baseball Review: The Hitters

By RossWB on June 15, 2017 at 1:54 pm
Dingers, dingers, and MOAR DINGERS

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Iowa had an extremely consistent lineup in 2017. Rick Heller didn't do much tinkering or rotation. Eight batters started at least 56 games for Iowa this years (Iowa played 61 games in total), so we were seeing the same names game after game. This was especially true at the end of the season when Iowa had a very locked-in lineup. 

In part, that's because his starters enjoyed good health and were quite productive (only two of Iowa's regular starters ended the year with a batting average lower than .270). But it might also be because the possible rotation options on the bench didn't do a lot to give Heller some difficult decisions about who to start. But we'll discuss that in a minute. Let's focus on the starters first in our season recap. 

JAKE ADAMS (1B; Jr)

2017: 

GM AVG SLG OBP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
61 .335 .747 .417 245 55 82 14 0 29 72 29 57

You know, just the best season in the history of Iowa baseball, that's all. Adams was the unanimous Big Ten Player of the Year because the ripped the cover off the ball all season long. Adams hit for power (oh my did he ever), to the tune of an Iowa record-shattering 29 home runs (which also led the entire NCAA), but he also hit for average -- his .335 average led the team. His slugging percentage was stratospheric (.747 !!!) and he came through for Iowa in the clutch on too many occasions to count. He was absolutely spectacular this year. 

2018 PROGNOSIS: Adams was drafted by the Houston Astros in the sixth round of the MLB Draft this week and has already signed his offer with them. That means that he won't be returning to Iowa City next year, despite having an additional year of eligibility remaining. The odds of Adams returning got ever-shorter as Adams just kept hitting mammoth home runs and putting up stupefying numbers. It will certainly hurt to lose his incredible production -- even coming close to replacing it will likely take a full team effort -- but we'll just have to be content with enjoying his amazing 2017, a fantastic comet-like performance when he appeared in our lives, blasted home runs across the sky, and then disappeared into the night. 

MASON MCCOY (SS; Sr)

2017:

GM AVG SLG OBP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
61 .328 .474 .394 253 55 83 18 2 5 34 27 25

2018 PROGNOSIS: McCoy was the only senior in Iowa's starting lineup, so he's the only starter who is guaranteed not to be back next season (although, with Adams heading for MLB, he won't be the only starter not back next year). McCoy was disappointed not to be drafted last year, but he came back to Iowa and had a very strong season. He improved his numbers across the board in 2017, becoming one of Iowa's best and most reliable hitters. He also cut his strikeout margin in half. Defensively, he led the team in errors (nine), but he also played shortstop, one of the most difficult defensive positions on the field, and overall his defense was very solid. Iowa has had very good shortstop play over the last several years, first with Nick Roscetti and now with Mason McCoy, so that will be a key hole to fill in 2018.

ROBERT NEUSTROM (RF; So)

2017:

GM AVG SLG OBP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
61 .310 .486 .358 255 41 79 16 1 9 55 19 36

Neustrom was overshadowed a bit by Adams and McCoy, but he was still very good in 2017. He was third on the team in hits and batting average, and tied for second in doubles and homers, as well as solo second-place in RBI. Neustrom has hit over .300 both seasons at Iowa and displayed some pretty good pop at the plate. He also does a good job of avoiding strikeouts; despite leading the team in at-bats, Neustrom struck out in just 14% of those at-bats. 

2018 PROGNOSIS: Neustrom has been a consistent presence in Iowa's lineup since he arrived in Iowa City before the 2016 season and that doesn't figure to change next year. With Adams and McCoy both departing, Neustrom could be Iowa's best hitter -- as well as their top power hitter. The key for Neustrom is how much better he can get. He's not going to touch Adams' staggering HR total from this past season, but if he could get in the 10-15 range, that would be a nice boost for Iowa. But no matter what, Neustrom will be one of Iowa's key offensive players next year. 

CHRIS WHELAN (LF; RS So)

2017:

GM AVG SLG OBP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
57 .309 .464 .435 207 37 64 11 0 7 25 32 40

Whelan had a somewhat quiet start to the 2017 season, but he ended the year playing well, especially at the Big Ten Tournament, where he earned Most Outstanding Players for helping guide Iowa to a tournament title while hitting .333 with two home runs, two doubles, and some critical defense during Iowa's must-win Big Ten Tournament semifinal game against Minnesota. If Whelan can build on that performance, he could be one of Iowa's top players in 2018.

2018 PROGNOSIS: Whelan has the second-best batting average among Iowa's returning players (and his .309 average was just a hair behind Neustrom's .310), so he's poised to be one of Iowa's best hitters next year. Even when he doesn't get a hit, though, Whelan is great at getting on base -- his .435 OBP was tops on the team, and he also led the team in walks (32) and getting hit by pitches (15!). Along with his potent bat, Whelan also did well in the field and was part of an Iowa outfield that was very sound defensively. 

TYLER CROPLEY (C; Jr)

2017:

GM AVG SLG OBP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
61 .268 .459 .371 205 41 55 8 2 9 36 28 41

Cropley struggled at the plate early in the year, but he got it going late, especially at the Big Ten Tournament where he was on fire: .412, three home runs, seven runs scored, five RBI. If Iowa can get that sort of bat from Cropley more often -- look out. He's tied with Neustrom among Iowa's returning players for most home runs, so he's got plenty of pop. But even if he had a below-average bat, Cropley would be an easy starter for Iowa because his defense is spectacular. He led the Big Ten in runners caught stealing (19) and his prowess in front of the plate saved Iowa several runs. He was constantly blocking pitches, digging balls out of the dirt, and making key saves. We had some thought that he might get some MLB Draft attention as a result of his defensive skill, but thankfully (for Iowa's sake) that didn't happen and he'll be back behind the dish next year. 

2018 PROGNOSIS: Since Cropley didn't get drafted this week, he won't have to make any tough decisions about taking a minor league deal or returning to Iowa. Hopefully he follows the same path as Mason McCoy a year ago, who didn't get drafted, came back to Iowa and had a tremendous season, and then got drafted in the sixth round. Cropley's defensive skill should get him on draft radars and if he hits as well as he did at the end of this season, he'll draw even more attention. With Iowa breaking in some newer and less-experienced pitchers next year, having an experienced (and very good) catcher behind the plate will be invaluable. 

GRANT JUDKINS (DH; Fr)

2017:

GM AVG SLG OBP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
37 .270 .333 .396 111 11 30 1 0 2 16 19 27

Judkins replaced Austin Guzzo as the regular DH by the end of the year and he did pretty well for a freshman, hitting .270 with a .396 OBP. Unlike most designated hitters, though, Judkins didn't exactly hit for power -- he had just three extra-base hits all season. Hopefully that gets better. Judkins was also a two-way player for Iowa in 2017, as he threw 21.1 innings out of the bullpen this past season. As Jeremy noted, though, he had some struggles from the mound, posting a 7.59 ERA and an opponent batting average of .311.

2018 PROGNOSIS: Judkins played two ways in 2017, but it seems likely that Heller will have him focus more on on side of the game in 2018. Given that he seemed to show a bit more promise at the plate, I'd guess that he becomes a full-time hitter next year. Hopefully that also includes some improved hitting stats, particularly in the power department. 

MATT HOEG (3B; Jr)

2017:

GM AVG SLG OBP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
60 .277 .446 .357 195 32 54 16 1 5 38 24 54

Hoeg came to Iowa after two years at Iowa Western and he gave Iowa a powerful infield bat. His .446 slugging percentage was sixth on the team and his 16 doubles were tied for second-most, behind McCoy's team-leading 18. The only real downside for Hoeg at the plate was strikeouts -- he had the second-most on the team (54) and he struck out in almost 28% of his at-bats.  That's a pretty high whiff factor.

2018 PROGNOSIS: With Adams departing, Iowa will be looking for someone to help fill the power void next year and Hoeg will likely be one of the guys they look to do that. He had a solid year in his first year in Iowa City after two years in JUCO ball; hopefully he takes another step forward next year and hits a little better (and cuts his strikeout rate a bit). 

BEN NORMAN (CF; Fr)

2017:

GM AVG SLG OBP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
59 .296 .379 .397 206 34 61 12 1 1 20 29 33

Iowa had a massive gap to fill in center field after All-Big Ten performer Joel Booker left Iowa City after 2016 and while Ben Norman certainly didn't completely fill that void, he did a hell of a job for a true freshman. He ended the year hitting almost .300 and he drew the second-most walks on the team (19); he also led the team with 14 steals. Norman's job on offense is to get on base and get in scoring position and he did that quite well, especially as the season progressed. While some of Iowa's biggest bats struggled in the NCAA Regional, Norman was excellent in a pressure-packed situation. In addition to what he brings at the plate and on the base paths, though, Norman also brings some excellent defensive skill -- he made a number of highlight-worthy catches during Iowa's postseason run. His speed and athleticism allows him to cover a lot of ground and make acrobatic grabs. 

2018 PROGNOSIS: More of the same -- but even a little better, hopefully. Norman did well as a true freshman in 2017, so hopefully a year's experience allows him to get even better next year. Watching his development over the next few seasons ought to be very exciting. 

MITCHELL BOE (2B; So)

2017:

GM AVG SLG OBP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
61 .244 .315 .323 197 29 48 10 2 0 26 23 28

Boe took over at second base when Mason McCoy moved to shortstop this year and he was... mostly solid. He had the weakest bat among Iowa's regular hitters, although like Norman, he came through for Iowa in the postseason and was one of Iowa's top hitters at the NCAA Regional. Boe doesn't seem to have a lot of power, so the key for him will be making good contact and using his quickness to his advantage. He was a solid defensive partner for McCoy in the middle of the infield, too.

2018 PROGNOSIS: Boe wasn't bad at all in 2017, but there's certainly room for improvement with his hitting. If he can take a step forward there, it will be a nice boost for Iowa's lineup. He'll be a key part of Iowa's infield defense as well and will likely be relied upon to help Iowa break in whoever will be replacing McCoy. 

That accounts for the regular starters; now let's talk about the other hitters Iowa used in 2017.

AUSTIN GUZZO (C/3B; Jr)

2017:

GM AVG SLG OBP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
32 .225 .324 .368 71 14 16 1 0 2 10 15 21

Guzzo split time with Judkins as Iowa's primary designated hitter for most of the year, but Judkins was the one favored at that spot down the stretch. Guzzo managed a few hits in limited appearances this year, but didn't play much in the second half of the season.

2018 PROGNOSIS: Guzzo has versatility, which is useful -- he can fill in at DH, catcher, or third base. As noted above, Iowa was pretty healthy this year, but if the injury bug strikes next year, Guzzo could be called on to fill some holes. It would be nice if he could have a breakout senior campaign, but unless his bat gets really hot or injuries open opportunities, he looks in line for a year similar to this past season. 

LUKE FARLEY (OF; So)

2017: 

GM AVG SLG OBP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
22 .235 .265 .381 34 3 8 1 0 0 1 7 18

Farley, the son of UNI football coach Mark Farley, is a player that I thought would see a bit more time for Iowa this year, but that didn't happen. Farley struggled (albeit in pretty limited opportunities) and Norman and Whelan pretty quickly seized control of two spots in the outfield. That didn't leave much for Farley. One thing Farley will need to work on if he wants to see more playing time is his strikeout rate -- he whiffed in 53% of his at-bats this year and while 34 at-bats is definitely a very small sample size, it's definitely a red flag for a guy fighting for playing time. 

2018 PROGNOSIS: Iowa is set to return all three starters in the outfield next year (Whelan, Norman, Neustrom, from left to right), which probably means another year of limited opportunities for Farley. Hopefully he can get his bat right and make the most of those opportunities when they arrive. 

KYLE CROWL (IF; Fr)

2017:

GM AVG SLG OBP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
20 .061 .182 .184 33 1 2 1 0 1 4 3 12

Crowl appeared in 20 games, started six, and had just 33 at-bats. Hello, defensive sub. Crowl saw limited action this year, but he certainly struggled in what action he did get, as evidenced by that .061 batting average and the fact that he struck out in 36% of his at-bats. Again, we're talking about very small sample sizes here (just 33 at-bats). but his bat will need to show a lot of improvement for him to get more playing time. On the bright side, both of his hits were extra-base hits (a double and a homer).

2018 PROGNOSIS: The good news is that Crowl was just a freshman in 2017, so there's certainly reason to hope that he can develop and improve as he gets older. Until he shows more potential at the plate, though, he's only likely to see the field as a defensive sub late in games. 

ZACH FRICKE (C; RS Jr)

2017:

GM AVG SLG OBP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
16 .138 .207 .235 29 3 4 2 0 0 3 4 13

Fricke was Iowa's other main catcher, but with Cropley being so good (and so healthy) there wasn't much action for him. Fricke was another bench guy who struggled at the plate in limited opportunities. 

2018 PROGNOSIS: Fricke may have slotted in as Iowa's starting catcher if Cropley had been drafted and opted to head to the minor leagues, but since that didn't happen, Fricke's 2018 could look a lot like his 2017. 

JUSTIN JENKINS (OF; Fr)

2017:

GM AVG SLG OBP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
41 .148 .222 .333 27 7 4 2 0 0 3 5 10

Jenkins was in the rare position of playing in more games (41) than he had at-bats (27). Jenkins made 35 appearances off the bench and was a key defensive substitution for Iowa late in many games. An outfield defense with Jenkins and Norman is one with a lot of speed and athleticism to cover a lot of ground and make a lot of fine catches. Jenkins didn't show off much of a bat in his limited appearances in 2017, but again: small sample size, true freshman, etc.

2018 PROGNOSIS: Again, it's going to be hard for a non-starter to crack into the lineup at outfield given that Iowa should have three high-performing returning players there in 2018 in Whelan, Norman, and Neustrom. If Jenkins can improve at the plate he would give Heller a true rotation option as well as a possible pinch-hitting weapon, but even if nothing changes at the plate, Jenkins will have a lot of value to Iowa as a defensive substitute and pinch-runner. 

CORBIN WOODS (IF; Sr)

2017:

GM AVG SLG OBP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB K
25 .190 .333 .346 21 13 4 0 0 1 3 4 6

Along with McCoy, Woods was Iowa's only other senior hitter. He mainly saw action as a pinch-runner; he played in 25 games and only had 21 at-bats, but he scored 13 runs when he was on the field. He got a home run in one of his 21 at-bats, too, which was nice.

2018 PROGNOSIS: As a senior, Woods has graduated and will be moving on to other pursuits. 

That wraps up all the players who hit for Iowa in 2017. There were a trio of freshmen who didn't play and who redshirted -- Kace Massner (6'5", 225; OF), Connor Lindaman (6'5", 235; 1B), and Adam Larock (6'1", 180; IF/OF). They could all challenge for some playing time next year. Larock was a Top 500 recruit and three-time all-conference player in Wisconsin who hit .329 with four home runs, 12 steals, and 29 RBIs as a senior. Lindman was also a Top 500 recruit and two-time all-state player in Iowa (Davenport) who hit .415 with five home runs and 52 RBIs as a senior. Massner was another Top 500 recruit and Perfect Game Preseason All-American who hit .418 with eight home runs, 21 steals, and 45 RBIs as a senior. 

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