CBB 2009 Big Ten Preview: Indiana

Indiana 2008 Overall record 31-30, Big Ten record 15-17

In 2009 Indiana will be celebrating its 60th anniversary of its 1949 Big Ten Championship team. Unfortunately for the Hoosier the ’49 Championship is always the school’s last. Coming off of a breakout season that caught the eye of the traditional Big Ten powers, if Indiana led by Coach Tracy Smith is to break the drought, it won’t come as a surprise. After finishing last in four consecutive seasons from 2004-2007, Indiana finished 6th in the conference, securing the last Big Ten Tournament bid. The Hoosier turnaround didn’t stop in the post-season, after losing its opening game to Penn State, Indiana won three games in two days in the loser’s bracket, knocking out Ohio State, Illinois, and Penn State, before having its season end to in-state rival Purdue in the loser bracket final.

The catalyst behind the Indiana’s breakout year was their offensive prowess and relentless attacking at the plate. Finishing with a team batting average of .337 a mark that placed them 1st in the Big Ten and 6th overall in the nation, the Hoosiers finished atop of second in numerous Big Ten offensive categories; 2nd in runs with 439, 1st in hits with 703, 2nd in doubles with 119, and 1st in triples with 19. With an astounding eight of its top nine offensive producers returning, all who hit .292 or better, it’s a scary thought for the rest of the Big Ten in what might Indiana hold in 2009.

Leading the way at dish both offensively and defensively for the Hoosiers is All-American Catcher, junior Josh Phegley. The right-handed Phegley was named a second team All-American by Collegiate Baseball News, the American Baseball Coaches Association, the National Collegiate Baseball Writers of America and Ping!Baseball. A unanimous first-team All-Big Ten perfomer, Phegley finished second in the nation with a .438 batting average, led the conference and finished 15th nationally in RBI with 80, also was the leagues leader in hits with 98, on-base pecentage at .508. With 15 home runs and 20 doubles, Phegley had a slugging percentage of .746, those numbers placed Phegley in the top three in their respective Big Ten categories.

One doesn’t have to look far down Indiana’s stat sheet nor its infield to find another All-American. Sophomore First basemen Jerrud Sabourin picked up Freshman All-American honors from both the National Collegiate Baseball Writers of America and Ping!Baseball after putting together hitting .383, 9th best in the conference, with 5 home runs, 14 doubles, and 53 RBI. Holding down the opposite corner infield spot for the majority of the season is junior Evan Crawford. Crawford spent the season with the Cotuit Keetlers in the Cape, and with the numbers he displayed in his sophomore season, its not a surprised he played in the most prestiogus collegiate summer league. Crawford hit .335, drove in 30 runs, scored 43 himself, and stole 18 bases in 22 attempts. Crawford did play in the outfield towards the end of the season, and with the number of quality bats that play an infield role, a permanment move might be made for Crawford in 2009.

Not every position in the Hoosier line-up will be filled with a familiar face. With the loss of Short-stop Tyler Cox to graduation, Coach Smith dipped into the JUCO ranks and signed junior Jake Dunning from Florida Community College of Jacksonville. At FCC Dunning hit .341 in 2008, with 15 home runs, and 3 triples, stealing 15 of 17 bases. Junior Tyler Rogers and sophomore Ethan Wilson will fill out the infield for Indiana. Rogers in 2008 hit .316 with 12 doubles, and 3 home runs, driving in 24 runs, while Wilson posted .292, 6 doubles, 2 home runs, and drove in 23 runs.

Though there isn’t a more offensive producing infield in the Big Ten, Indiana ranks near the bottom in fielding. Led by Crawford’s 20 errors, 5 Hoosiers finished 2008 with 10+ errors in the field. David Trager and Wilson both committed 10, while Rogers finished with 17. The team’s .952 fielding percentage finished last in the Big Ten, as did its 113 total errors. Not all is woe for Indiana defensively as shown by the league high 72 double plays the team turned.

For the Hoosier’s the 72 double plays turned weren’t enough to prevent the pitching staff from post a collective 6.22 ERA, finishing in the middle of the Big Ten at 6th best. The pitching staff in Bloomington did combine for a league high 11 complete games, but in the process its .320 batting average against was the leagues second-worst, and the 49 home runs and 255 base on balls allowed, were last in the league.

Just as Indiana offensively is led by an All-Big Ten performer, Phegley’s Friday night battery-mate junior Matt Bashore is as well is a standout as well. The southpaw Bashore in 2008 posted a 7-3 record on the strength of a 3.59 ERA in 82.2 innings pitched, compiling 86 strike outs to lead the league. The 86 strike outs were the 5th most in IU history. Bashore’s impressive 2008 year continued in the Cape, where he pitched for the Wareham Gatemen. Appearing in 7 games, starting 3, Bashore struck out 32 batters in 20 innings, finishing with a 2-2 record and a 3.15 ERA. Bashore’s summer led him to being name the Cape Cod League’s 28th best pro prospect.

After Bashore, the IU rotation has a few vacancies to fill. Looking to join Bashore as a staple of the rotation will be returning pitchers; junior Eric Arnett (4-5, 5.45, 37 K’s), and sophomore Kyle Leiendecker (3-0, 7.76, 19). Freshman Blake Monar, a 26th draftee of the New York Yankees from Rockport, In. is expected to compete and potentially secure a spot in the weekend rotation.

When the game no longer rests on the shoulder on the starting pitcher, Indiana will be utilizing a number of pitchers to utilize their bull-pen. The anchor of the pen is set-up man sophomore Matt Carr. In 10 appearances the right-handed Carr maintained a team low 3.12 ERA, with a 3-1 record. Junior RHP Chris Squires led the team in saves with 3 in his 18 appearances. Squires also posted a 2-0 record out of relief, his 6.75 ERA was 5th best on the team, and was the only other pitcher outside of Bashore to have more than 1 strikeout per inning at 23 K’s in 21.3 IP. RHP Joey O’Gara, (0-2, 7.94), and LHP Anthony Agnew, (0-3, 8.38) will also be expected to contribute to the bull-pen.

There is no doubt that Indiana will rack up runs and force opposing teams in the Big Ten to keep up and put runs on the scoreboard themselves. The problem for IU in 2008 was their pitching staff didn’t make that a difficult feat at all. Not helping their pitchers was their defensive effort. No team in the Big Ten in 2009 will be able to put up the offensive numbers that IU will. If the Hoosiers want to continue changing their program there must be a more consistent effort defensively and from the pitching staff. Coach Smith will continue to do an outstanding coaching job, and if the players buy into the thought that small things matter, a potential deeper run in the Big Ten postseason is possible. Right now IU’s lack of definite starting pitching has them nothing better than the 3rd best team in the league, if Arnett step-ups and becomes a viable #2 pitcher, or if highly touted freshman Monar shows why the Yankees selected him out of high school, Indiana might not just shock the Big Ten, and if the stars line-up a bid to the NCAA tournament isn’t too far fetched and shock the world nationally. This isn’t your bottom feeder Indiana anymore.

Chris Webb is a writer for The Buckeye Nine which covers Ohio State Baseball. He will be covering the Big Ten conference for our site this year as he will be doing a season preview on each team and writing weekly previews/recaps. You can check out his site by clicking here.