BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- In 2002, the Indiana baseball team exceeded expectations as it finished with a 35-20 record, ranked as the nations No. 12 hitting team and posted a fourth-place finish in the Big Ten to earn a spot in the Conference Tournament for the first time since claiming the championship in 1996. The plan in 2003? To build on it.
The Hoosiers have a solid nucleus back as they return four full-time starters in the field and six members of the pitching staff. But the major key, as 20th-year head coach Bob Morgan sees it, is leadership. Leadership that should come in the form of eight seniors.
Last season, we had a great team and great senior leadership. I think if we have the type of leadership we had last year, we are capable of getting back to the playoffs and winning a Big Ten Championship, Morgan said. Hopefully our seniors will carry that sword of great leadership and make sure the chemistry is right.
PREVIEWING THE INFIELD
The Hoosier infield will be anchored by All-American third baseman Vasili Spanos. The 2002 first-team All-Big Ten pick led hit .385, led the Big Ten in slugging (.782) and the team with 16 home runs. He continued his stellar play over the summer as he was selected an All-Star in the Cape Cod League.
(Vasili) Spanos is our power, RBI-type guy, Morgan said. Hes disciplined at the plate and hes going to be our leader. He leads by his play on the field.
Spanos will be backed up at the hot corner by redshirt freshman Ryan Parker and sophomore Corby Heckman.
In the middle of the infield, three players figure to get the majority of the time -- sophomore Jay Brant, junior Seth Bynum and sophomore transfer David Hughes.
Brant started in his rookie campaign at second base while hitting .272 and scoring 38 runs. He was forced to miss the fall while recovering from rotator cuff surgery, but is expected to be back for the season.
(Jay) Brant has progressed really well,Morgan said. He looks good and has improved a lot. (His return) will solidify us at second base.
At shortstop, Bynum and Hughes will fill the void left by 2002 senior Eric Blakeley. Bynum spent last season as a redshirt at IU after transferring from Lincoln Trail CC where he played for current Hoosier assistant coach Tony Kestranek.
Seth has great range and an excellent arm, said Morgan. Hes gotten stronger and that has helped him offensively. Hughes, who played at Morehead State last season, started 54 games, hit .328 and led the team with 20 doubles. In addition to playing at shortstop, he could see time at second base as well.
David possesses excellent bat control and good bat speed, Morgan said.
Junior college transfer Nate Lasley and freshman Steven Head will provide added depth in the middle of the infield.
The Hoosiers have a number of options at first base, with Parker and juniors Kevin Mahar Ryan Donley.
Parker had an excellent fall season and really impressed the coaching staff.
Ryan has gotten stronger and quicker, Morgan said. He has always had a good bat, but Im impressed with how hes come back ready to play. Hes going to be a factor for us.
In addition to backing up Spanos at third base and seeing time at first base, Parker could play the designated hitter position.
Mahar, who is back at IU after playing at Lincoln Trail CC last season.
Kevin has outstanding athletic ability, Morgan said. We look for him to hit the in middle of our the lineup. He can run, throw and hit for power.
Ryan has made improvements offensively and defensively and is a great competitor, said Morgan.