Feb. 9, 2009
In his sixth season with the Hawkeyes, Iowa Baseball Coach Jack Dahm is looking for the Black and Gold to become a more consistent team and improve last year’s 22-33 record. With an experienced group of players returning and a talented freshmen class, the Hawkeyes are set to continue their improvement in the Big Ten and make a run at a conference title.
“This season we have a nice mix of experience and young talent,” Dahm said. “When we’ve had success in this program, it was when our upperclassmen have had good years and have given us good leadership and I believe we will get both from this years seniors.”
“I’m very excited about our pitching staff. We have a lot of depth, which has created a great deal of internal competition,” Dahm said. “I’ve also been impressed with the entire staff’s attitude and work ethic. Also, the way they’ve embraced Coach [Chris] Maliszewski and what he brings to the table.”
Junior Michael Jacobs, who started 11 games a year ago, was second on the team in innings (55.2). Jacobs pitched six solid innings and got the win at No. 5 Vanderbilt, the Hawkeyes only win against a ranked opponent in 2008.
Sophomore Zach Kenyon gained several innings of experience as a freshman, seeing action in 19 games, with seven starts. He finished with a 7.52 ERA.
Senior Wes Freie, who was primarily used as a DH last season, will see some work on the bump in 2009. Freie made four appearances in relief with two starts his freshman campaign.
“Wes hasn’t pitched since his freshman year. We had him start throwing last spring and he looks like he can be an outstanding pitcher for us,” Dahm said.
On top of that, the Hawkeyes have several freshman pitchers who have a shot at a starting rotation role.
“We have freshmen who will be starting out of the bullpen early on, however, they will be pushing the older guys for spots in the rotation.”
“Over the past 10 years the thought process of coaches has changed in baseball by putting some of their best arms in the bullpen to try to shorten the game,” Dahm said. “We think that we can have this type of bullpen with Schurz, Turnbull, Heim and many other talented arms.”
Senior Steve Turnbull struck out 31 batters last season — the third most of any Hawkeye pitcher. He saw action in 17 games, including seven starts.
“Steve will begin the season as one of our short relievers to take advantage of his dominant fastball,” Dahm said. “Steve threw very well out of the bullpen last year and we have some high expectations for him this year.”
Junior Kyle Heim was second on the team in 2008 in appearances (26). He recorded 37.1 innings of relief for the Black and Gold and finished with a 2-1 record and one save.
Senior Mike Schurz returns from Tommy John surgery this season. In 2007, Schurz had nine saves and led the team with six wins in 24 appearances. He factored into the decision in 18-of-24 games that season.
“Getting Mike back as a closer is going to be extremely important to us,” Dahm said. “Mike is a proven commodity and was one of the best closers in the Big Ten two years ago with nine saves and six wins. He can give our team a lot of confidence knowing they have a guy who can get that last out.”
Adding options to the bullpen are left-handers senior Matt Douglas, sophomore Jeff Pacha, redshirt freshman Nic Jensen and freshman Patrick Brennan. Along with talented right-handed pitchers sophomore Kevin Lee and freshman Sean Flanagan.
“The strength of our infield is its experience,” Dahm said. “We should be a good defensive team, which is important. In order to win championships it comes down to pitching and defense and I think our interior defense will be very, very good.”
Senior Kevin Hoef will start his fourth and final season at third base after being drafted by the Boston Red Sox last June. He was named second team all-Big Ten after hitting .389 in conference play with only three errors in the league.
“Kevin had an outstanding junior year and he continues to develop in all phases of the game,” Dahm said. “He is one of the most talented defensive third basemen I have ever coached.”
Justin Toole, a third team pre-season all-America selection by Ping Baseball, will play shortstop. The senior received all-Region honors and was recognized as a third team all-Big Ten honoree the past two season. Toole is one of Iowa’s most consistent hitters, establishing a school-record 25-game hitting streak last season.
“Justin works at his weaknesses,” Dahm said. “He is extremely competitive and plays very hard. Justin is a guy who’s made himself into an outstanding player and we are fortunate to have him. You look at the left side of that infield and there aren’t two guys in the region as experienced as Hoef and Toole.”
There is still open competition for the starting nod at second base. Zach McCool has a slight lead on Chett Zeise entering spring practice. Other freshmen who are in the running for the position are Mike McQuillan and Corey Gleiden.
“We’ve got some talented guys battling for the second base position” Dahm said. “I am looking forward to the internal competition and seeing who will earn that position.”
First base will be primarily played by senior T.J. Cataldo. He started 33 games at first base in 2008 and was tied for first on the team with four triples.
Freie will also see some time at first base for the Hawkeyes this season.
“We have two experienced players at first base,” Dahm said. “T.J will be the primary first baseman. Wes will also play some at first however expect to see him in the middle of the lineup as our DH.”
Tyson basically played with one hand last year and he was able to hit .320, which is extremely impressive. I think he has a chance at being one of the best defensive catcher in the Big Ten.
Head Coach Jack Dahm
After a season plagued with injuries, the catching position is ready for some stability.
After coming off several injuries sustained last season, and a summer off to recover, Tyson Blaser will be Iowa’s starter behind the plate.
“I expect consistency and leadership from Tyson,” Dahm said. “He basically played with one hand last year and he was able to hit .320, which is extremely impressive. I think he has a chance at being one of the best defensive catcher in the Big Ten.”
Kody McManis will back him up, after hitting .321 in the conference and playing four different positions last season.
“Last year, Kody proved himself as a utility player,” Dahm said. “He did an outstanding job after basically learning how to catch last year. He gives us some outstanding depth behind the plate.”
Dallas Burke, a left-handed hitting freshman, will also add depth behind the plate.
While it will be hard to replace center fielder Caleb Curry and right fielder Kyle Riffle, the Hawkeyes have the athleticism to do it in 2009.
Kurtis Muller will move over from left to center. Muller had a tremendous freshman campaign. He played in 54 games, with 51 starts, breaking the true freshman record with 47 RBI and was named to the Ping Baseball freshman all-America team.
“Kurtis is an outstanding player, not only with great physical tools, but a strong mental approach,” Dahm said. “He will be a big part of our offense this year, hitting in the three-spot for us.”
Sophomore Trevor Willis will see time in right field after appearing in 21 games, with 10 starts last season.
“Trevor is probably the most improved player in the program,” Dahm said. “He will be making a transition to the outfield this spring after coming in as a shortstop.”
The seniors have goals they want to achieve on the field that they haven’t yet. They want to win a championship. They’ve accomplished a lot off the field but there’s still more they want to accomplish between the white lines.
Head Coach Jack Dahm
Coach Dahm has been impressed with the leadership that this year’s senior class has already provided and will provide their final season. He feels like the senior class isn’t done writing their legacy yet.
“They have goals they want to achieve on the field that they haven’t yet,” said Dahm. “They want to win a championship. They’ve accomplished a lot off the field but there’s still more they want to accomplish between the white lines.”
“Our players elected captains and they’ve given tremendous leadership so far,” Dahm said. “Being named captain is an honor and I feel that those three guys deserved it.”