Iowa Baseball Having Success in Summer League, MiLB

By Jeremy Karll on July 6, 2017 at 8:15 am
Who needs an (Aaron) Judge when you've got a (Grant) Judkins?

@UIBaseball

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College baseball probably shouldn’t start its season in the winter when all the northern schools have snow on the ground and have to travel south to play. Instead, the NCAA should have college baseball played in the summer like, you know, when baseball is supposed to be played. Sadly, it is not. The silver lining is that college players can play in summer leagues to get more playing time than during the season. Also, players drafted can join their team’s minor league system during the season.

Iowa has multiple players in summer league, staying fresh for the 2018 season and World University Games in August. The Hawkeyes also have many players scattered throughout the minor leagues.

Summer League

RF, Robert Neustrom, Cape Cod League: 19 G, .300/.354/.483, 3 HR, 11 RBI, 18 H

The Cape Cod Baseball League is one of the top collegiate summer leagues in the nation, so it’s fitting that Iowa’s top returning bat in Robert Neustrom is playing in it. Neustrom improved as a sophomore in 2017 but will need to take on an even bigger role next season with the departures of Jake Adams and Mason McCoy. Hitting .300 while continuing to show the power hitting he flashed at the end of last season in a top summer league is a good start. He is tied for fourth in home runs and 10th in RBI. However, Neustrom has been striking out at an uncharacteristic rate, ranking 11th in the league with 17 strikeouts through his first 60 at-bats. His 28.3 strikeout percentage is double his 14 percent strikeout rate during 2017. I won’t be worried about his strikeout rate unless it carries over into 2018, though. Neustrom playing against top competition, while continuing to hit extremely well, are both great things for the Hawkeyes.

UTIL, Grant Judkins, Northwoods League: 20 G, .312/.430/.468, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 24 H

Rick Heller will likely make Grant Judkins a full-time hitter in 2018 after he took over the team’s starting DH spot at the end of last season. Judkins’ success in the Northwoods League continues to point that his future is as a hitter, too. He is hitting .312 with a .430 on-base percentage, which are great numbers in any league. Pair that with solid power and only striking out in 14.3 percent of at-bats, and Judkins looks like he is ready to take the next step at the plate. Also, his pitching career took another hit during the Northwoods League. He has appeared in three games as a pitcher but has a 14.72 ERA after giving up six earned runs in one inning during his first appearance. Given his success at the plate at the end of 2017 and during the Northwoods League, it would be best for Judkins to focus on his batting.

CF, Justin Jenkins, Prospects League: 18 G, .292/.439/.431, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 19 H

Iowa returns its entire outfield, which means Justin Jenkins will probably serve as a defensive replacement and pinch runner again in 2018. However, he could earn playing time if he proves he can hit. He has done that in the Prospects League, hitting just under .300 with an exceptional .439 on-base percentage. Jenkins’ biggest strength is on the base paths, though. In the Prospects League, he is 4-for-7 in stolen bases. Not a great percentage but four stolen bases are noteworthy nonetheless. Either way, Jenkins is finally showing some flashes of his potential at the plate.

Jenkins also pitched a shutout inning, striking out one. Considering he pitched in a 13-4 blowout loss and hasn’t appeared in another game, I don’t think Jenkins will be coming out of the bullpen for Iowa in 2018. But a shutout inning for an outfielder is pretty impressive.

IF, Kyle Crowl, Prospects League: 17 G, .275/.359/.435, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 19 H

Kyle Crowl is in the same summer league as Jenkins, but they’re not on the same team. Crowl, also a freshman in 2017, only had 33 at-bats, so this is valuable experience for him. While he hasn’t hit as well as Jenkins, he’s still putting up respectable numbers with decent power numbers with his three home runs and 12 RBI. In the future it will be important for Crowl to lower his 33 percent strikeout rate from 2017. In the Prospects League, Crowl has struck out just 18.8 percent of the time in double the at-bats.

RP, Grant Leonard, Midwest Collegiate League: 10.1 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.29 WHIP, 9 K

Grant Leonard only pitched in two games as a freshman last season, but there’s a good chance he will have a bigger role in 2018, especially if his summer league performance is any indication of his potential. The Midwest Collegiate League isn’t a top-tier summer league, but throwing 10.1 shutout innings is still incredible. The only base runners Leonard has allowed are two hits and a walk, while striking out nine batters. He will be fighting for innings in Iowa’s shaky bullpen next season, and this should definitely open Heller’s eyes.

SS, Tanner Wetrich, MINK Summer League: 18 G, .357/.478/.589, 3 HR, 14 RBI

Tanner Wetrich is a JUCO transfer that might replace Mason McCoy at shortstop. Well, the transition from McCoy might not be as difficult as once expected if Wetrich hits above .350 and reaches bases almost 50 percent of the time. Wetrich is fifth in the league in home runs, despite just 56 at-bats, which is the best home run rate of any Hawkeye in summer league this year. In fact, his production in MINK Summer League isn’t far off from what he did as a sophomore at Mineral Area College last season:

  AVG OBP SLG% HPG HR per AB RBIPG
Summer League .357 .478 .589 1.11 .054 .78
Mineral Area College 2017 .354 .429 .557 1.12 .038 .58

He probably won’t put up numbers quite this gaudy at Iowa, but he seems like the real deal.

MiLB

1B, Jake Adams, A-: 11G, .205/.267/.359, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 8 H

Jake Adams started his minor league career the only way he knows how: by hitting a home run to dead center. Since then, it’s been an up-and-down start to Adams’ professional career. He has two multi-hit games and hit another home run, but strikeouts have been his Achilles heel. Adams has struck out in 35.9 percent of his at-bats. The good news? It’s only been 11 games, it took Adams time to adjust to Division-I pitching at the start of the year, and the Houston Astros won’t be giving up on Adams anytime soon.

SS, Mason McCoy, A-: 6 G, .235/.286/.412, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 4 H

Mason McCoy isn’t an everyday player for Baltimore Orioles’ Short-Season A club, which makes it hard to get into a rhythm. Just like Adams, McCoy started his career on a high note by driving in two runs during his pro debut. He’s currently on a three-game hitting streak, which includes driving in four runs in the past two games, but McCoy hasn’t had an at-bat since July 2. It will be hard for McCoy to stand out as a platoon player, but so far he’s doing a good job by getting timely hits.

RP, Ryan Erickson, R: 2 G, 3 IP, 3.00 ERA, 2.00 WHIP, 1 SV, 4 K, 1 BB

It was unknown whether the Chicago White Sox would keep Ryan Erickson as a starter when he was drafted. It seems that Chicago thinks Erickson’s future is as a relief pitcher, though. After giving up an earned run in an inning of work during his pro debut, Erickson recorded a two-inning save in his second outing. He allowed three hits and struck out two batters. Players drafted in the 30th round usually don’t have huge roles, so it’s good to see Erickson thriving in his small role.

OF, Joel Booker, A+: 10 G, .237/.310/.289, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 9 H

Joel Booker, the Chicago White Sox 22nd round pick in 2016, was promoted from Class-A during the season after hitting .312/.374/.400. He hasn’t had as much success in Class-A Advanced, but 10 games are a small sample size. Booker will probably spend the rest of the season in Class-A Advanced with a chance to be promoted to Double-A next season.

SS, Nick Roscetti, R: 8 G, .303/.378/.485, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 10 H

Nick Roscetti was drafted in the 26th round in 2016 by the Milwaukee Brewers, but he has had a tough time finding consistent playing time to start his career. Roscetti has found success, hitting .303 through his first 33 at-bats, but he rarely plays back-to-back games. Still, recording a hit in seven of eight games this season is impressive.

SS, Jake Yacinich, A+: 55 G, .278/.332/.374, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 52 H

Jake Yacinich started the trend of Iowa shortstops in the minors when the Los Angeles Angels drafted him in the eighth round of the 2014 MLB draft. He has worked his way up to Class-A Advanced and is having his best pro season yet. This season, Yacinich has set career-highs in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, and is on pace to set career-highs in home runs and RBI, too. Although he's also striking out on 29.4 percent of his at-bats, which is holding him back.

RP, Tyler Peyton, A: 9 G/1 GS, 33.2 IP, 4.28 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, 2-2, 28 K, 14 BB

Tyler Peyton was drafted in 2015 but came back to Iowa for his senior season. In 2016, the Chicago Cubs selected him in the 29th round. For the most part, Peyton is being used as a long relief option out of the bullpen. However, he made the lone start of his career after starting the season throwing 5.2 shutout innings. Peyton allowed two runs on three hits, striking out three, over four innings in his lone start. He has respectable numbers, but he has given up at least one run in each of his past seven appearances, including multiple runs in five appearances.

SP, Blake Hickman, A: 6 GS, 36 IP, 3.50 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 20 K, 8 BB

After missing almost two years due to Tommy John Surgery, the former seventh round pick of the Chicago White Sox, Blake Hickman, finally made his pro debut this season. Other than Jake Adams, I think Hickman has the best chance of reaching the majors. Even after a two-year absence, Hickman has started his career throwing four quality starts and lasting at least six innings in all but one start. Hickman doesn’t strike out a lot of batters, but he also doesn’t allow many base runners. 

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