Indiana Daily Student

New kids on the block: Indiana baseball’s early-season proficient freshmen and transfers

<p>Redshirt junior catcher Matthew Ellis watches a pitch come in during a game against Purdue University Fort Wayne on March 9, 2022, at Bart Kaufman Field. Ellis is among the freshmen and transfers that have stepped up early in the season for Indiana baseball.</p>

Redshirt junior catcher Matthew Ellis watches a pitch come in during a game against Purdue University Fort Wayne on March 9, 2022, at Bart Kaufman Field. Ellis is among the freshmen and transfers that have stepped up early in the season for Indiana baseball.

College baseball rosters are constantly changing. Players transfer, graduate or advance to the next level, either as incoming freshmen or to the minor or major leagues. 

This past summer, six Indiana baseball players were all drafted by various MLB teams and decided to hang up their college jerseys. 

Half of the six draftees, Tommy Sommer, McCade Brown and Gabe Bierman, made up Indiana's 2021 weekend pitching rotation. The trio's absence wounded the experience of the starting rotation heading into 2022. 

"The lion's share of those innings (last season) was made (up) by four top-10 draft picks on the mound and an additional free agent," head coach Jeff Mercer said. 

But as players leave, newcomers emerge in the spotlight. Few have had a more significant impact in the starting rotation than junior right-handed pitching transfer Jack Perkins. 

Perkins has cemented his role as the ace of the weekend rotation and recently was bumped up to become the series opening starter. 

Perkins has showcased his pitching arsenal in three consecutive quality starts, hurling at least six innings while holding opponents to three runs or fewer. He has also struck out 37 batters in just over 26 innings pitched, tied for the fourth-most in the conference. 

"He's got really good stuff and he's very talented," Mercer said after Perkins’ quality start against Xavier University on Thursday. "But he's also got a great mindset and he's competitive. As he gets more confidence, he gets better." 

Junior catcher Matthew Ellis is another notable transfer, sitting only 60 feet away from Perkins and receiving his pitches behind the plate. 

However, 60 feet isn't far compared to the distances of Ellis' home runs this season. Ellis smashed a 441 foot home run against Xavier on March 19 for his conference-leading 10th home run. 

Ellis' home runs aren't uncommon — he hit 17 last year playing in 65 games for Walters State Community College. As a Hoosier, Ellis already has 10 home runs in 20 games. Six of them have come in three multi-home run games. 

"He's a really special person," Mercer said about Ellis. "He's really tough, a competitive kid, and an incredibly hard worker. When he's locked in, there's nobody more dangerous than I've ever coached." 

Also among impactful infielders are freshmen Josh Pyne and Brock Tibbitts. Both have had impressive starts to their first-year campaigns, and the duo has the second and third most runs batted in on the team, respectively. 

Pyne experienced a shaky start and batted 1-for-12 in the season-opening series. However, he has since improved his batting average to above .300 and is riding a 10-game hitting streak with three home runs. 

"Defensively, he's impacted the game tremendously, and now offensively he's catching his footing," Mercer said. "He's a very gifted player and somebody that has a bright future ahead of him." 

Tibbitts is also hitting above .300 and is tied for five home runs with fellow freshman Carter Mathison, the second-most behind Ellis. 

Alongside Ellis, Pyne and Tibbitts is "captain of the infield" senior shortstop transfer Phillip Glasser. The streaky senior has occasionally struggled at the plate but is still batting over .300 and is 9-for-23 in his last five games. 

Glasser has played incredible defense in a crucial role in the field, only committing one fielding error while recording sixteen put-outs — the fielder who physically records the act of completing an out — and turning five double plays. 

Although Indiana has a losing record of 8-12 and has lost six of its last eight games, the team has bright spots and talent. It's in the hands of Mercer and his players to channel that toward the start of conference play in April. 

"We're a month into this thing, and now we have to find a way to grow and improve,” Mercer said. “That's all of us. That's me, that's Coach Glant, that's the players." 

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