Let's start our preview of Iowa baseball in 2018 with a look at the pitching -- that looks like one of the biggest question marks for Iowa this season. The Hawkeyes could have had one of the top weekend rotations in the conference this season if Nick Gallagher and C.J. Eldred returned for another season instead of turning pro. Their departures leave Rick Heller waiting for someone to step up like Ryan Erickson did last season, and hoping that his top-two starters don't battle injuries this season like Eldred did in 2017 when he missed basically the entire season.
While Iowa's pitching carried it in the postseason last year, it needs to have a more consistent season if the Hawkeyes want to return to the NCAA Tournament. After last season, I wrote a recap of Iowa's pitchers, though a lot has changed after multiple summer tournaments, including winning silver at the World University Games.
Brady Schanuel (JR)
As I noted a couple of weeks ago, Brady Schanuel is dealing with soft tissue soreness in his shoulder, which could force him to miss his first start next weekend or have a strict pitch count. That said, he enters the season as Iowa's top starting pitcher, ranking as the second best Big Ten pitching prospect in 2018, according to Baseball America. Despite playing at Parkland College, scouts still found him and he was drafted in each of the past two MLB Drafts -- 36th round in 2016 and 20th in 2017. As a sophomore in 2017, he threw 80.1 innings, striking out 130 batters to go along with a 2.13 ERA. He also holds Parkland's records for strikeouts in a game (21), season (131) and career (261).
For Schanuel to work his way into the top-10 rounds of the MLB Draft and help Iowa this season, he needs to show he can strike out batters at a high rate against D-1 competition while maintaining a low ERA and pitching deep into games. He struck out a lot of batters during the University Games, but he struggled with his command at times and only pitched 8.1 innings in two starts. When fully healthy, I expect these things to get better, as well as his strikeout rate being one of the best in the conference. It wouldn't be surprising to see Jim Magrane's 1999 school record for strikeouts of 110 falling this season.
— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) February 9, 2018
Nick Allgeyer (RS JR)
After missing all of last season due to Tommy John surgery, Nick Allgeyer will be Iowa's opening day starter against Toledo on Friday. I'm sure Heller would have preferred to use Allgeyer as a midweek starter and long relief option on weekends this season, but Iowa's lack of starting options has pushed him to be Iowa's No. 2 weekend starter. He looked sharp at the University Games, allowing just one run over 4.2 innings, but the fear of another significant arm injury is still there.
Along with another potential significant injury, Allgeyer isn't that experienced. He owns a respectable 3.45 ERA and .213 opponent batting average, but it has come from 31 relief appearances and only one start, totaling just 47 innings over two years. I'm sure Iowa will limit his innings to start the season, but he'll still have to avoid arm fatigue during the season due to not pitching for an entire year and having a heavier workload. He has the potential to be a consistent weekend starter, but it's no guarantee Iowa will have another daunting one-two punch this season.
Cole McDonald (JR)
Cole McDonald threw a no-hitter against the Czech Republic at the University Games over the summer, and he'll start Saturday against Oakland. McDonald gets the first crack at becoming Iowa's No. 3 weekend starter, but he'll have to be better than last season to keep it. While McDonald showed his potential over the summer, he struggled over 13 appearances (11 starts) in 2017. He owned a 6.96 ERA and 1.735 WHIP over 42.2 innings, while opponents hit .319 off of him -- 7.36 ERA during his 11 starts. A big reason for those struggles is that he gave up too many free bases. He walked 22 batters, hit four and threw five wild pitches. Hopefully his successful summer indicates he'll return to his freshman form when he had a 3.33 ERA.
Jack Dreyer (FR)
Jack Dreyer's 0.34 ERA and 102 strikeouts, including a complete game shutout in the state championship game, over 69 innings as a senior in 2017, paired with allowing one unearned run over four innings against Japan this summer, proves why BA ranked him as the fifth best freshman in the conference. It's hard to get a gauge on Dreyer after only a couple of appearances over the summer, but there's a reason more than 50 schools recruited him. His fastball was clocked at 87 mph as a senior, and that should increase throughout his college career. While it's no guarantee, there's a good chance Dreyer is a consistent midweek starter this season given Iowa's pitching inconsistency and Heller's willingness to use freshmen.
— Iowa Baseball (@UIBaseball) February 9, 2018
Grant Judkins (SO)
In order for Grant Judkins to become Iowa's next great two-way player, he'll need to improve on the mound. That said, I expect a similar role to last season when Judkins appeared in 10 games, making five starts. He says he's more comfortable as a starter, and the numbers back him up. He owned a 5.40 ERA and a 1.267 WHIP as a starter compared to a 12.80 ERA and 3.002 WHIP when coming out of the bullpen. There is enough competition to knock Judkins to the bullpen full time, though I think he is the early favorite to start midweek games after Heller continued to go back to him last season. His three innings per start average is low, but not concerning since Heller usually uses midweek games to give multiple pitchers 2-3 innings.
Zach Daniels (JR)
Eventually Zach Daniels will put it all together, right? He's the hardest throwing reliever in Iowa's bullpen -- he led the team with 9.83 K/9 -- and enters the year as Iowa's closer for the second straight season. After a productive freshman season in a limited role, Daniels struggled to find consistency during his 50.1 innings (fourth on the team) last season, resulting in him losing his closer role. While he finished second on the team with seven wins, he also had a 1.590 WHIP as he allowed a base runner in all but one of his 24 appearances. That didn't always lead to big innings, but it often led him to getting himself into tough situations. Stressful innings continued throughout the entire season, though Daniels only allowed two earned runs in his last 15 innings -- 1.933 WHIP during that span. Iowa needs fewer stressful innings from him, but it would settle for a reliable closer at the end of its deep bullpen.
If Daniels isn't used in a save situation during Iowa's first two games, he could start on Sunday to give Schanuel extra rest.
Kyle Shimp (RS SO)
After a redshirt year, Kyle Shimp became a stalwart in Iowa's bullpen, being named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball. Shimp missed part of last season due to mono, so his role of 28.1 innings should increase. He's a pitch-to-contact hurler, which worked well with Iowa's stellar defense in 2017. In fact, Shimp was Iowa's only only pitcher with at least 20 innings not to allow 28 or more hits during the season -- Shimp allowed 18 hits. Opponents hit just .186 against him, also only recording two extra base hits all season. Shimp needs to find better command at times, though, as he walked 23 batters, including multiple batters in eight appearances -- 1.84 ERA when walking one or fewer batters, 4.61 ERA when walking multiple batters. He'll be nearly-impossible to score runs off of if he can limit his walks.
Nick Nelsen (SR)
After pitching at two community colleges to start his collegiate career, Nick Nelsen had an up-and-down 2017 season with the Hawkeyes. Nelsen had the opposite problem of Shimp, as he only walked 10 batters in 28.1 innings but allowed 36 hits. Opponents hit .316 against him, leading to a 6.35 ERA. Similar to Daniels, he showed potential at the end of the season which needs to carry over to 2018. He allowed only two earned runs over his final 7.1 innings. Given Nelsen's struggles and the fact he only surpassed 1.1 innings during five appearances in 2017, I expect Heller to use him as a situational pitcher again in 2018. If he can lower his opponent batting average, he might find a bigger role in the bullpen.
Shane Ritter (JR)
Shane Ritter has pitched exactly 27 innings in each of his first two seasons, yet he still doesn't have a defined role in Iowa's bullpen. He started Iowa's third game of the season, saved four games in the middle of the season, and ended the season as Josh Martsching's set-up man. Heller used Ritter less at the end of the season, and his 22 appearances compared to 13 as a freshman show Ritter's outings were shorter, too. A big reason for that is that opponents hit .294 against him last season and drew 22 walks, compared to .255 OBA, 14 BB as a freshman. Ritter will likely be a middle relief/set-up option in 2018, as well, but it will depend on his streakiness, which caused his ERA to balloon to 5.33. Ritter showed his potential in the middle of the season, but he struggled to start and end the season.
|First 5 G||7.1||11.05||2.183||9.82|
|Next 11 G||15.1||0.59||1.305||9.39|
|Final 6 G||4.1||12.47||3.695||0.00|
Kole Kampen (RS FR)
It's been a while since Kole Kampen last pitched. He missed most of his senior season in high school and entire freshman season due to Tommy John surgery. But he looks poised to have a role in Iowa's bullpen this year. He appeared in two games at the University Games, most notably against Japan in the Gold Medal game when he allowed three runs in 1.2 innings of work, while also striking out two batters. It's hard to tell much from a couple of appearances over the summer, though. Of course, staying healthy is top priority, as well as continuing to build velocity and stamina.
Ben Probst (FR)
Ben Probst had a stellar high school senior season in 2017 -- 61 IP, 0.80 ERA, 84 K, 12 BB. It led to him being named the state's No. 11 draft prospect by Baseball America, so there's a chance we could see his name drafted in a couple of years. Over the summer, he threw 2.1 no-hit innings, including two shutout innings against South Korea. Probst has an outside chance of starting a couple of games this season, but it seems more fitting to use him as a long relief option this season in favor of more experienced pitchers.
Derek Lieurance (RS SO)
While Lieurance didn't see any action last season or during the University Games, he was one of two pitchers to pitch in multiple games during the NBC World Series. Therefore, it's hard to get a gauge on how Heller wants to use Lieurance. However, it's unlikely he'll have a huge role.
Grant Leonard (SO)
In 2017, Grant Leonard only threw two innings. While he fared well in the Midwest Collegiate League over the summer, his lack of appearances with Iowa over the summer suggest he'll be near the end of the bullpen again.
Cam Baumann (FR)
Cam Baumann didn't pitch over the summer. Redshirting him in 2018 seems like a possibility.
Trenton Wallace (FR)
There's a chance Trenton Wallace, a two-way player, sees action out of the bullpen this season. However, he didn't pitch for Iowa over the summer and will start the season behind other true freshman like Dreyer and Probst on the depth chart.