Hawkeye Baseball Looking to Future, Hoping for Facility Upgrades

May 31, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa baseball team found out Monday that it would not be going to the NCAA Tournament. It made official what was expected after the team’s quick exit from last week’s Big Ten Tournament in Omaha.

The Hawkeyes’ bats went silent in losing to Michigan and Ohio State. They were the first team eliminated from the event.

It was unknown what they needed to do in Omaha to secure their third NCAA berth in four years before things got underway. It turned out they likely would have needed a sustained run in the event.

Only four Big Ten teams (Minnesota, Purdue, Indiana, Ohio State) earned their way into the NCAAs. They were the top league squads in the RPI. Iowa entered the conference tournament seventh in those rankings.

Still, when you consider what it lost off of the ’17 Big Ten Tournament championship team, the season showed the Hawkeyes’ ability to sustain success as a program. For the first time since ’90, four players earned all-conference honors. Fan interest remained high with people pouring into Banks Field during the spring.

They’ll be faced with rebuilding again heading into next year. After losing standouts Jake Adams, Ryan Erickson, Josh Martsching, Nick Gallagher and Mason McCoy off the ’17 squad, key contributors will exit from the latest roster.

Two-time all-Big Ten catcher Tyler Cropley exhausted his eligibility. He’s listed as the No. 472 best player in next month’s MLB amateur draft by Baseball America.

Infielder Matt Hoeg will be missed after coming on during the second half of the season and finishing third on the team with a .272 batting average. Relief pitcher Nick Nelsen and versatile Austin Guzzo also leave holes to be filled following productive senior seasons.

The Hawkeyes also are likely to lose others with eligibility remaining. Junior outfielder Robert Neustrom, a two-time all-Big Ten selection, is ranked as the No. 189 draft prospect by Baseball America and at No. 147 by MLB.com. That would put him in the 5-6 round area and probably mean the end of his college career.

Redshirt junior left-handed pitcher Nick Allgeyer is ranked No. 457 by Baseball America after earning first-team all-Big Ten honors in ’18. After four years in college, he might be ready to make the move into professional baseball.

While not listed in Baseball America’s Top 500, junior pitchers Zach Daniels and Cole McDonald could hear their names called during the draft and be faced with decisions. Draft eligible hitters Chris Whelan and Mitchell Boe probably will be coming back to school.

Coach Rick Heller is waiting to see what happens with those guys when the draft gets underway on Monday. Whatever goes down, he’ll have talent with which to work.

Sophomores Kyle Crowl, Loreno Elion, Justin Jenkins, Ben Norman, Grant Leonard, Tanner Wetrich, Brady Schanuel and Grant Judkins will back after contributing at varying degrees during ’18. Freshmen pitchers Jack Dreyer, Trenton Wallace and Ben Probst give reason for optimism moving forward.

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The Hawkeyes signed nine players in its ’18 recruiting class. They were junior college transfers Zeb Adreon (OF/1B), Korry Howell (SS), Austin Martin (C), and Tanner Padgett (1B/OF) along with high schoolers Brayden Frazier (SS), Duncan Davitt (RHP), Drew Irvine (RHP), Clayton Nettleton (RHP), and Brendan Sher (SS).

Perfect Game does not rank the group among the Top 100 in the country. Maryland (23), Michigan (40), Ohio State (41), Purdue (42), Indiana (43), Nebraska (44), Illinois (61) and Michigan State (64) are teams in the rankings.

Most, if not all, of the schools ahead of Iowa in the latest recruiting cycle ratings benefit from superior facilities. While the university has upgraded areas of Banks Field, it still lags behind the competition.

Northwestern unveiled its new park last year. Meanwhile, Iowa had to bring in temporary extra seating for series this season.

Here’s a look at some photos and information from other Big Ten facilities:

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Purdue

Indiana

Illinois

Nebraska

Penn StateĀ 

Rutgers

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Minnesota

MichiganĀ 

Michigan State

Ohio State

Maryland

You can click on the links but probably don’t need to if you’ve been to Banks recently. While not a dump, a strong case can be made that it’s the worst facility in the conference. Most of the league members also enjoy their own indoor hitting facilities.

The Iowa administration has done its part to help the baseball program progress. In December, it extended Heller’s contract through 2024 and bumped his salary up to $250,000 annually.

Moving forward more quickly on facility upgrades would show Heller the Hawkeyes are all in on baseball. Dragging out the process might show other schools looking for a coach that they have a chance to lure him away.

Kendall Rogers of D1 Baseball reported this week that Kansas State was interested in talking to Heller. The Iowa coach then told KCJJ Wednesday morning that he’s not a candidate for the position.

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