It’s February, which means college baseball is just around the corner. With less than two weeks until the start of its season, IU head coach Jeff Mercer is focused on growth and player development as the foundation of his team.
IU has a difficult nonconference schedule, beginning with a three-game series Feb. 14- 16 against Louisiana State University.
Mercer said starting the season with a harder schedule places players in difficult environments, which helps them improve as a team. It also lets the coaching staff discover weaknesses early in the season.
“Playing a really tough nonconference schedule allows us to learn where we have to grow,” Mercer said Monday night. “Then we have to address those issues.”
The team won the regular season Big Ten championship last year.
“It’s a lot of fun to be able to come in and work with a group of guys who have had success and that have an expectation of winning,” Mercer said. “And then to be able to build off of that is a great challenge.”
Mercer, who is entering his second season at IU, doesn’t want to put pressure on repeating the team’s success, however.
“When you put an expectation on production, you rarely ever get production,” Mercer said.
Instead, Mercer said he likes to focus on the work ethic and mentality of his team. He said if players build a culture of hard work and growth, the results will take care of themselves.
Mercer chooses the strategies his team uses based on the talents of the players. This year Mercer said they have better runners, and he hopes they can play in a more dynamic style that incorporates base-running techniques.
He highlighted senior catcher Collin Hopkins, junior outfielder Elijah Dunham and junior infielder Cole Barr as potential major offensive players for the team. He also said sophomore outfielder Grant Richardson had a good preseason.
Junior pitcher Tommy Sommer and sophomore pitcher Gabe Bierman are expected to play as starters. Mercer said they have been pitching well, along with sophomores Braydon Tucker, McCade Brown and Matt Litwicki.
Hopkins has been catching well, and Mercer said junior Drew Ashley will also likely catch.
Mercer said he coaches every player as if they’re going to be a starter. He is focused on constant development and improvement from his players.
“Every team I’ve ever been on, as a player and as a coach, the starting nine was almost never the nine that finished,” Mercer said.