Constructing a squad that puts a program in position to win a conference titles takes coaching skill. You have to recruit talented players who can help your team win and then develop those players to get the most out of them. You also need some luck. Maybe a player with superstar potential falls into your lap, or perhaps you get some players back for another season when you thought they might be lost to the draft. Perhaps coaches have their best success when they have both of these things in equal measure.
Heading into 2018, the Indiana Hoosiers look the part of a team that could walk away with the Big Ten title, and certainly, Chris Lemonis and his staff have had skill and luck along the way.
The skill is on display in bringing in players who become multi-year contributors, many of whom were productive right away. The Hoosiers just graduated a player in Craig Dedelow last year who fits that bill. He played a role all four years, getting better all along the way, culminating in a senior season that saw him put up huge numbers from a power standpoint.
And as far as players who jumped right in to help out in 2017, freshmen Matt Gorski, Jeremy Houston, Cal Krueger, Andrew Saalfrank, and Cameron Beauchamp all held regular roles for an Indiana team that ended the season in a regional.
The coaches have also shown an ability to help players make a jump in their development, as pitchers like Tim Herrin and Pauly Milto saw increases in production from 2016 to 2017.
Heading into 2018, they did also get some of that aforementioned luck. Logan Sowers, Luke Miller, and Matt Lloyd were all players you could have easily foreseen being drafted high enough to see them sign and move on to pro baseball. Instead, Lloyd and Sowers went undrafted and Miller went in the 31st round and decided to return to Bloomington. Perhaps the program anticipated getting some subset of those players back, but it’s doubtful they expected them all back.
Now, thanks to that combination of skill and luck, the Hoosiers will go into 2018 absolutely loaded with experience.
On offense, Sowers (.291/.356/.536, 19 2B, 13 HR), Miller (.272/.331/.464, 15 2B, 10 HR), and Lloyd (.301/.393/.554, 16 2B, 11 HR) will be joined by Gorski (.288/.348/.400), catcher Ryan Fineman (.239, 7 2B), and shortstop Jeremy Houston (.232, 8 SB), who got off to a hot start in 2017 before slowing down late in the season and succumbing to an injury that cost him time. IU will also get back Scotty Bradley, who missed virtually all of 2017 with injury but hit .257 as a freshman in 2016. That’s to say nothing of Laren Eustace, a four-year role player who has gotten on base at a .363 clip in his career.
On the mound, it’s the same story, with the team returning Jonathan Stiever (4-4, 4.31 ERA), Milto (6-3, 3.92 ERA), Herrin (3-3, 3.91 ERA), Krueger (5-2, 2.82 ERA), Saalfrank (2-1, 5.58 ERA), Lloyd (2.23 ERA, 9 SV), Kade Kryzsko (3.91 ERA, 25.1 IP), Beauchamp (4.64 ERA, 21.1 IP), B.J. Sabol (4.69 ERA, 40.1 IP), and Brian Hobbie, who had an inflated 6.61 ERA in 2017 but still ate 65.1 innings in 14 appearances, 12 of which were starts. Put another way, Indiana returns everybody on the pitching staff.
The Big Ten has become a league that features a wire-to-wire battle for a conference title and postseason positioning year after year, so who really knows what we’ll see when things get underway. But given their considerable experience in every facet of the game, it’s tough to bet against the Hoosiers.