IU Primed for 2005 Campaign
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Despite losing nine letterwinners, including three players to the pros, the 2005 Indiana baseball team will provide a mix of youth and experience. Gone are leaders Seth Bynum (Montreal Expos organization), Kevin Mahar (Texas Rangers organization), Adam Pegg, Nick Vitielliss and Cody Wargo (Baltimore Orioles organization). But returning are 17 letterwinners from 2004, led by right fielder Joe Kemp, center fielder Reggie Watson, infielders Corby Heckman and Ryan Parker, and utility man Jay Brant. All five were starters on last season's ballclub and will attempt to lift the Hoosiers back into the upper echelon of the Big Ten.
Along with the returning players, Indiana will enjoy a youth movement. Seventeen new faces will join the Hoosiers with eight pitchers, three catchers, four infielders and two outfielders added into the mix.
Head coach Bob Morgan begins his 22nd season at the helm of the Hoosier baseball program and his 30th season overall in collegiate baseball. With 1,044 career victories, Morgan sits 11th among active coaches and 26th all-time in NCAA Division I history. The skipper looks forward to 2005 and a team which will bring both intensity and aggressiveness to the ballpark every game.
"We are a relatively young team with great team chemistry and a great work ethic. We have good team speed, and we need to be consistent and play hard to give ourselves a chance to be successful," said Morgan.
IU will be very strong in the outfield with the return of senior Joe Kemp and junior Reggie Watson. Kemp had a breakthrough season in 2004, culminating with his selection in the 42nd round of the MLB Draft by the Texas Rangers. The left-handed batting right fielder hit .317 with seven home runs and 35 RBI last season. He started all 54 games in which he appeared, led the team in doubles (16) and tied for the team lead in triples (4).
"Joe is going to be a leader on this team," said Morgan. "If we are going to be a good team, Joe is going to be an important cog. He is an outstanding outfielder who can hit for average and power."
Watson will patrol center field in his second season as a starter. A third team All-Big Ten selection, the Cincinnati native served as the Hoosiers leadoff man and had a dominant season. In addition to hitting .307, Watson led the Big Ten with 25 steals, including 17 swipes during the league season.
"Reggie is very similar to Joe Kemp in that we need him to have an outstanding year for us. He had a breakthrough season in 2004, and hopefully he can build on that. Reggie is a very good defensive outfielder who can run and steal bases for us," added Morgan.
A new addition to the outfield will be junior Jay Brant, who was the team's second baseman last year. Brant is slated as the starting left fielder for 2005. The Indianapolis product will supply more speed next to Watson after stealing 12 bases in 2004.
"Jay is an outstanding athlete and a great kid to coach," said Morgan. "Because of his great speed, he will be playing some outfield for us this year. Jay is a very good runner who has improved offensively every year. He also will see some time at second base depending on how things go."
Along with the starting trio, junior college transfer Zach Boswell is expected to see some time on the field and as a designated hitter. Boswell comes to Bloomington after two seasons at Grand Rapids (Mich.) Community College. In addition, freshman Kevin Mathews (Pittsburgh, Pa./ Upper St. Clair) will also get a chance to roam the outfield.
After gaining valuable experience in 2004, Indiana will return a veteran infield. Senior Corby Heckman, junior Ryan Parker, and sophomores Michael Nilles and Josh Richardson make up the Hoosier infield.
Parker will get the nod at first base following a 2004 season where he started 30 games, driving in 24 runs and scoring 29 times. Parker also excelled off the diamond, where he was a second team Academic All-American selection.
"Ryan is a joy to coach. He has gotten better each year he has been here. Ryan is very capable and has improved offensively and defensively each season," said Morgan.
Heckman is entering his third year as a starter and as a leader on the infield. The Spencer, Ind., native hit over .300 the last two seasons (.372 in 2003, .310 in 2004) and has proven to be a reliable run producer. Last year, Heckman drove in 33 runs (fourth on squad) and scored 42 times (third) while finishing second on the team with a .399 on-base percentage.
"Corby has been a very good player for us," said Morgan. "Hopefully, he can put together his best season in 2005. We need Corby to be consistent offensively and lead by example on this team."
Nilles (29 games) and Richardson (34 games) both saw ample playing time as freshmen and provide the Hoosiers with a slick fielding, left side of the infield. Nilles will start at third with Richardson taking over at shortstop for departed senior and Montreal Expos' draft pick Seth Bynum.
"Michael has always been a good defensive player, but now his offense has improved. He has shortened his swing and can hit the ball with some power," said Morgan.
"Josh got some good experience last year and has gotten stronger. He is a very good offensive player who has a good eye at the plate and can get on base for us. We are looking for good things from Josh."
Sophomore Steve Head returns to the team after redshirting in 2004, and he will be joined by freshmen Tyler Cox (Georgetown, Ind./Floyd Central), Kevin Leininger (Perrysburg, Ohio/St. John's Jesuit), Arden McWilliams (Shaker Heights, Ohio/Shaker Heights) and David Trager (Prospect, Ky./Ballard), in giving Indiana a number of options off the bench or in a starting role.
BEHIND THE PLATE
Following the departure of senior Cody Wargo, a 27th-round draft pick of the Baltimore Orioles, IU will turn to senior Kurt Weigle and freshman Jon Fixler behind the plate. Weigle appeared in 20 games last season with nine starts, throwing out 5-of-12 would-be base stealers.
"Kurt is one of the senior leaders on this club. We feel he has the potential to be a very good hitter," said Morgan. "Hopefully, we can get a healthy Kurt Weigle back this season and hopefully, he can finish out his senior year in good fashion."
A Riverwoods, Ill., native, Fixler arrives in Bloomington after starring at Deerfield High School, where he batted .465 his senior season with six home runs.
"Jon is a very good, athletic catcher. He throws the ball well and has improved offensively," said Morgan. "Jon is a very hard worker who is getting better everyday."
Along with the aforementioned backstops, Academic All-Big Ten selection Bobby Segal returns for his junior season. The Indianapolis product saw action in six games last season.
"Bobby is one of the finest young men you can coach. He is a team leader. We know what to expect from Bobby; he is a hard worker, and we are very happy to have him in our program," said Morgan.
Joining Lewis will be a pair of seniors, Brian Lortz and Steve Nielsen. Lortz is in his third season with the Hoosiers, seeing action as a starter for the first time in 2004. He went 3-3 last season, making 16 appearances with one start.
"Brian had an up-and-down season last year. We need more consistency from him. Brian has good movement on his fastball and is capable of being a Big Ten starter," said Morgan.
Nielsen took the mound for his first season at Indiana in 2004 after redshirting the prior season. The 6-6 righthander won three games and made 15 appearances. Nielsen turned in his best performance against Purdue in his final start, allowing two runs on three hits in 6 2/3 innings pitched, and he will look to build on that momentum.
"We hope that last year's experience can get Steve over the hump, where he can be a big-time contributor for us. Steve is capable of having a big year. He possesses a good fastball and breaking ball, but consistency and confidence will be the key," said Morgan.
"Dan is an outstanding kid who is going to be a side-arm reliever this year. He has a good breaking ball and is getting a lot of good movement on his fastball." said Morgan.
"Matt had a very good freshman season as a recruited walk-on. We are looking for Matt to build on last season and eat up some more innings in 2005."
In addition to his duties in the outfield, Kemp will serve as the team's closer. The Bowie, Md., native saw some time on the bump his freshman season, pitching 15 2/3 innings in eight appearances.
Returning to the mound after missing last season with an injury is sophomore Chris Hynes. Hynes made 16 appearances in relief as a freshman, going 2-2. Along with Hynes, sophomore Clint Crosier (Corydon, Ind./Corydon Central) will provide a left-handed presence out of the pen.
IU will welcome 11 new arms, including junior Adam Poole, and freshmen Bradley Davidson and Joe Trucchio. Poole, a 6-3 lefthander from Lincoln Trail (Ind.) Junior College, will have an opportunity to work his way into the starting rotation.
"Adam is a good left-handed pitcher with a good fastball and a great change up. We look for Adam to be one of our top pitchers and hopefully be a Big Ten starter," said Morgan.
"Additionally, sophomore Graeme McFarland has given up football and has a chance to be a solid pitcher for us," said Morgan. "Redshirt freshmen Scott Circle and Tony Tevis, along with freshman Brad Kramer (Harrison, Ohio/William Henry Harrison) and Chris McCombs (Louisville, Ky./Ballard) will get a chance to pitch and give us some depth on the mound. And sophomore Byron Banks will be a left-handed option out of the bullpen."
Check back soon