IU baseball coach Jeff Mercer is a little more than a week away from putting out his first lineup card as the manager of the Hoosiers.
Mercer, who still has a handful of question marks throughout the roster, can perhaps find stability in his outfield group. The outfield, despite losing one of its most productive four-year players in program history in Logan Sowers, still figures to anchor the center of IU’s lineup.
The Hoosiers return starters in junior left fielder Matt Gorski and senior center fielder Logan Kaletha — two players who appeared in all 59 games for IU last season.
IU’s offense figures to run through Gorski this season. A First Team All Big Ten player last season, he led the team in batting average at .356 last year. He also finished with eight home runs and 40 RBIs and was named the No. 32 Draft Eligible Prospect by Perfect Game earlier this year.
Gorski led the team with 79 hits and 123 total bases while recording 14 doubles, three triples, and a team-high 27 multi-hit games.
Kaletha, a transfer from John A. Logan College, became a regular in the Hoosier lineup right away. He batted .261 with 8 home runs — including a walk-off home run for a series clinching victory over rival Purdue last April — and 31 RBIs last season.
While the offensive prowess of Gorski and Kaletha stands out on the stat sheet, their fielding and baseball knowledge should help calm Mercer’s nerves. Last season, the two combined for 207 putouts and just one error.
There will be a fair amount of contenders to replace the hole that Sowers leaves in right field. The Hoosiers return sophomores Elijah Dunham and Sam Crail, two players who earned a handful of plate appearances in their first seasons in Bloomington.
Dunham figures to be a favorite to replace Sowers in the outfield. Dunham appeared in 36 games last season, starting 18 of those primarily as a first baseman and designated hitter.
He hit .250 with 8 RBIs and recorded two hits including a double, RBI and a run scored in his first collegiate start — a 5-0 victory over Kansas State University last February.
Crail wasn’t featured as much a year ago but was still productive in limited appearances. He had ten hits, including two multi-hit games, primarily as a pinch hitter.
Freshman Grant Richardson, an outfielder and pitcher, who won an Indiana state title for Fishers High School last June, could also figure into the equation. Richardson hit a home run during the Fall World Series in October and brings a powerful bat and arm to the Hoosier outfield.
Mercer has been hesitant to determine a set lineup early in the preseason. Gorski and Kaletha will almost assuredly be regular starters for the Hoosiers this season, barring any last minute issues. However, any combination of Crail, Dunham or Richardson could make up that final piece of what could be IU’s strongest and most productive position group this season.