Outdoor practices help IU baseball recover from losses, groom new talent
Freshman catcher Kyle Schwarber displayed his power potential at Sembower Field recently, as the warm temperatures have allowed the Indiana baseball team to practice outdoors.
IU Coach Tracy Smith said his team has been outside for a week holding some intrasquad scrimmages, and Schwarber has been hitting the ball well against good pitching. Smith also said the Hoosiers are more accustomed to playing outside than in
“I don’t remember ever in my coaching career having the ability to do this,” Smith said. “Most of the time, we’re stepping outside for the first time during the first game. What this has allowed us to do is slow ourselves down a little bit.
“I think it will allow us to be more in that baseball mode right now. The time we’ve had up to this point has been invaluable.”
That opportunity will help IU as the team plays the second-toughest non-conference schedule in the Big Ten, according to Boydsworld.com, a college baseball analysis site.
This year’s team features 16 freshmen and 10 sophomores.
Junior second baseman Micah Johnson said he expects the freshmen to contribute.
“Teams won’t know anything about them,” he said. “These kids should do well this year. It should be exciting to see.”
Gone is graduated outfielder Alex Dickerson, as the Pittsburgh Pirates selected him in the third round.
Catcher Wes Wilson has also graduated. Dickerson and Wilson combined for 16 of the Hoosiers’ 34 home runs in 2011.
Johnson, a Baseball America Preseason All-American, said the team learned last year that hitting home runs won’t be its strongest suit.
“Skip did a good job recruiting speed,” he said. “A combination of doubles, maybe stealing a lot of bases, sacrifice bunting. Speed’s definitely going to be the name of our game this year.”
Smith said after last season ended, they had to adjust their approach offensively because “the three-run homer, that type of ball, isn’t playing in college baseball as much anymore.
“Everybody saw the success in the Big Ten was dictated by the two teams that were the fastest,” Smith said.
He said those two teams were Michigan State and Illinois.
Last season, to keep their hopes of earning a Big Ten Tournament berth alive, the Hoosiers won five of six Big Ten games entering the final series against Illinois in Champaign, Ill.
The Illini swept the series, including two wins via the walk-off home run, and ended IU’s season.
Smith praised his team’s offseason work.
“I’m pleased with what we’ve done,” he said. “We’re top to bottom a lot faster than we were last year. You miss the power potential of Dickerson. (Now) we stress a ball-in-play (team) this year because our speed’s going to put pressure on a defense.”
The Washington Nationals selected IU pitcher Blake Monar in the 12th round of last year’s MLB Draft. Smith said sophomore pitcher Aaron Slegers, who pitched one inning last season before sustaining a forearm injury, can help ease the loss of Monar.
“People this year are going to go, ‘Holy cow, where’d this guy come from?’” Smith said. “What he’s done from last year to this year is going to be pretty good for us.”
Sophomore pitcher/outfielder Joey DeNato said the pitching staff will be an area of strength for the Hoosiers.
“We have a chance to dominate some games with our pitching, which will be huge, especially with the new bats,” DeNato said.
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