Commentary: Looking forward for Iowa baseball

BY JACOB SHEYKO | MAY 13, 2014 5:00 AM

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Before the rain could extend Iowa’s final home game against Illinois to last just under six hours, the program held its Senior Day ceremony.

The seniors were introduced one-by-one with their parents alongside them. However, contrary to what one would expect from a baseball team that has 34 players on its roster, the ceremony took no longer than 10 minutes.

The Hawkeyes will graduate just three players this season — Taylor Zeutenhorst, Trevor Kenyon, and Bryan Niedbalski. This shortage of seniors provides hope for next season. But, as every college baseball team is reminded on a yearly basis, not every player is guaranteed to return.

Let’s assume the extremely unlikely scenario that every junior on Iowa’s roster forgoes the draft and returns to Iowa. If that happens, the Hawkeyes will return as one of the top teams in the Big Ten.

They’ll return every starter but Zeutenhorst, whose power — 9 home runs thus far — will certainly be missed, but he won’t be irreplaceable. The Hawkeyes will return every starting pitcher and every bullpen arm. And if they’re lucky, they’ll remain healthy for the entire season.

But that scenario is unlikely.

A more likely situation is one that sees first-year head coach Rick Heller losing several members of the team to the draft, something he was clearly aware of before the season began.  

“The fact that out junior group is so talented is a positive,” Heller said at the team’s media day. “The only thing that could set us back a bit is if say [Eric] Toole, [Jake] Yacinich, [Sasha] Kuebel, and [Nick] Hibbing all have great years … if they do, they’ll more than likely get drafted, which would throw a wrench into our plans for next year.”

As Heller referred to, and judging by performance of the season, the two most likely candidates to get drafted are Toole and Yacinich. They are two of the Hawkeyes’ best all-around players, excelliong both in the field and at the plate.

Often, what the decision boils down to is money. Not that these players don’t play because they love the game, but common sense says that juniors have the most leverage of any draftee other than a high-school prospect. The threat of returning for their senior year of college often bumps up a junior’s signing bonus.

However, it’s not unheard of for juniors to turn down a signing bonus and play their final college season. This is probably the scenario that Heller would likely prefer. But it’s also a scenario that he, or any coach for that matter, has little say in.

Iowa has 19 juniors on the roster. And whereas this year’s senior ceremonies were minimal, you likely wouldn’t hear a complaint from Heller if next year’s ceremonies were drawn out because of the number of seniors.

If this turns out to be the case, Iowa can seriously contend for a Big Ten title. If not, Heller might face his toughest task yet as coach of the Hawkeyes.

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