IU baseball’s infield could be its deepest position in the 2019 season.
Despite losing third baseman Luke Miller in the MLB Draft, the Hoosiers return all their starters with most players possessing the ability to play anywhere on the diamond.
The spread in the infield will depend on how first year coach Jeff Mercer decides to use senior utility player Matt Lloyd. While primarily playing second base last season, Lloyd was also used as a designated hitter, first baseman and relief pitcher.
Lloyd stacked up numerous accolades last year including All-Big Ten First Team after batting .275 and hitting nine home runs. With other athleticism available in the infield, Lloyd could see more time at designated hitter to give his arm rest.
The two positions in the infield that should be locked in ahead of the first game Friday are catcher and shortstop.
Senior catcher Ryan Fineman was one of the team’s captains last season and one of the most dominant catchers in the Big Ten. Batting .284 with seven home runs, Fineman consistently produced for IU in the heart of the lineup.
Junior Jeremy Houston made 54 starts last season — most coming at shortstop — while hitting just .207. Houston’s stretch of more than 70 starts for IU at the position came to an end roughly midway through the 2018 season when his struggles at the plate were met with struggles in the field.
Sophomore Justin Walker was the player taking most of the repetitions at shortstop after Houston was benched but as the season progressed Houston was able to find his groove and take back the position heading into this season.
Walker saw plenty of playing time at second and third base as well with Miller battling injuries.
As the season progressed, junior Scotty Bradley saw his workload increase and ended the season with a .326 batting average. He was named to the Second Team All-Big Ten and made most of his starts at first base.
Among Bradley, Houston, Walker, Fineman and Lloyd, IU should have its infield set. But in baseball slumps are a frequent occurrence, and that’s where IU’s depth can be important.
Sophomore Drew Ashley was an All-Big Ten Freshman Team selection while making most of his starts at second base. With Lloyd likely getting playing time as a designated hitter, Ashley could be the usual player to fill the gap in the middle infield.
Sophomore Cole Barr and senior Cade Bunnell saw inconsistent playing time last season, but both were able to start at third base due to Miller's injuries.
Senior catcher Wyatt Cross only started nine games last season because he played behind Fineman but four of his seven hits went for extra bases.
Jake Skrine, who is listed as a freshman after not playing last season, and freshman catcher Jeff Holtz are other options Mercer has for pinch hitting or giving starters a day off.
Despite being listed as an outfielder this season, sophomore Elijah Dunham appeared in 36 games for IU last season with most of his starts coming at designated hitter or first base.
Miller led the team in home runs last season even after missing time with an injury, but the depth IU has in the infield could be enough to fill the void.