Year One under Rick Heller is in the books for the Iowa baseball team.
The Hawkeyes had their best start to a season through 10 games since 1940, totaled 30 wins overall, advanced to the Big Ten Tournament, won a Big Ten Tournament game, and featured an offense that was either first or second in many statistical categories.
But even a swift glance at Iowa’s roster would indicate an opportunity for much more success in 2015. Just three seniors exit the program — only one starter, outfielder Taylor Zeutenhorst — meaning nearly the entire team will be returning, including seven starting position players and three starting pitchers.
That all could be disrupted with this week’s MLB Draft Thursday through Saturday. As many as six Hawkeyes could be selected, and two incoming recruits.
“We’ve been talking a lot over the last couple weeks,” Heller said Wednesday of the prospective draftees. “We try to get them prepared as much as possible in order to make an educated decision. Just because they get drafted doesn’t mean they will sign. You never know what a kid will do when it gets down (to the signing deadline on July 18), but all of them have said they won’t sign for just anything.”
The headliner amongst the group is junior shortstop Jake Yacinich, who hit .365 with 32 RBIS, 45 runs scored, and 25 stolen bases this past season. Heller said he wouldn’t be surprised if Yacinich is picked within the first 10 rounds. Round one and two is Thursday night, rounds three-10 on Friday, and rounds 11-40 on Saturday.
Five others players are considered draft prospects: outfielders Zeutenhorst and Eric Toole, infielder Jake Mangler, and pitchers Sasha Kuebel and Nick Hibbing. Outfielder Joel Booker and pitcher Connor Grant, both incoming recruits from the junior college level, are also of interest to the professional ranks.
With no apparent replacement waiting in the Hawkeyes dugout, the biggest departure, though, would be Yacinich.
“Jake does so many things for you,” Heller said. “He plays great defense at shortstop, he runs the bases extremely well, and gets quality at-bats pretty much every time up there. … You never want to lose one of your best players.”
With seven starters returning around the diamond plus the addition of Booker — who hit .403 with nine home runs and 61 RBIS in 54 games this spring for Indian Hills Community College — Iowa will carry one of the most potent offenses in the Big Ten again. Nearly an entire arsenal of pitchers returns, too. A handful will be returning from injury-plagued seasons, including Opening Day starter Calvin Mathews.
Year One was nice, but Year Two, well, wait and see?
“I was very pleased with this season. If we had a healthy pitching staff all year, we could have even made a bigger run with the way we swung the bats,” Heller said. “To lead the Big Ten hitting in the first year here, that was a major step.
“We have to have it line up for us, but next year’s team could definitely have a chance to do big things.”