Looking to the bullpen on Monday at Sembower Field, IU baseball coach Tracy Smith was more than pleased to see the number of pitchers throwing and participating in various drills and workouts.
“Just seeing the numbers down there makes you say ‘Oh, it looks like a pitching staff again,’” Smith said. “You can actually do drills again.”
Smith’s positivity comes from knowing his team might no longer have to go through what it experienced last spring when a draft-depleted staff forced him to pitch position players at several points during the season.
“The big difference for us is that we’ve got numbers now, instead of having to abuse guys and work them over like we did,” Smith said.
The strengthened staff might prove to be just the magic touch for the Hoosiers — they were 28-27 in 2010 and earned their third straight trip to the Big Ten Tournament — when the season begins anew next February.
Effective Jan. 1, 2011, the NCAA will implement a new composite barrelled bat to be used in all its divisions of competition instead of the traditional aluminum bat.
“At the Big Ten meetings, we were talking to some of the other coaches, and they had theirs in already,” Smith said of the new bats. “We’re a TPX school, and we don’t have ours yet, but they were saying the performance is significantly different.”
Smith said the bats have a weight distribution and performance similar to a wooden bat.
“It makes you think as you move forward,” he said. “Do you recruit speed, or do you recruit power? I’ve heard it’s a big-time difference in bats.”
One player the new bats may affect is junior outfielder Alex Dickerson. Last season, Dickerson smashed his way to a .419 average with 24 home runs in 55 games.
Those numbers were good enough to earn Dickerson Big Ten Player of the Year honors, and he earned a spot on the 2010 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team roster for a short series of games in the U.S., Taiwan and Japan.
“That was an awesome summer, and I certainly got to do things I’ll never get to do again,” said Dickerson, who also played in the Cape Cod Baseball League over the summer.
Dickerson was one of 41 players on the field Monday for IU’s second practice. That number must drop to 35 by the time the season starts in the spring, and Smith plans to sort through that in the best way he knows how during fall practice.
“We want to see who can play and who can’t play, and there’s a lot of time to really go indoors and break things down,” Smith said. “We’re going to put in some fundamentals to really make the game look smooth, but after that we’re going play as much as we can. I’m hoping we’ll play four or five times a week.”
Senior catcher Dylan Swift said the new class of pitchers, several of whom reach into the high end of the six-foot range in height, are already throwing well in the limited amount of practice he’s seen.
“I’m like a boy walking among men now; these freshman are huge,” the 5-foot-10-inch Swift said. “These recruits are strides ahead of where we were my freshman year, which is great. That means the program is moving even more in the right
Naturally, more bodies around the diamond contribute to some logistical issues, Swift said.
“We run out of Gatorade pretty quick, so that’s pretty rough on the trainers,” he said with a laugh. “But it’s going to be good.”