Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa baseball plans to keep winning despite losing players to the pros

Iowa baseball's Duane Banks Field. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Iowa baseball's Duane Banks Field. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — With the good comes the bad.

The good for the Iowa baseball program is five straight 30-win seasons under Coach Rick Heller, five consecutive appearances in the Big Ten Conference tournament and two NCAA regional trips.

The bad? Nine players the past two seasons have gone on to affiliated professional baseball as MLB draft picks or free-agent signees.

That actually sounds good, and, really, it is very good. It’s just that most of those guys still had college eligibility remaining.

“It’s great for our players and great for our program,” said Heller during his team’s media day Tuesday. “As a coach, it’s not so great to lose them sometimes. It’s tough to replace those situations, but it’s great. It means we are moving the program in the right direction, and we hope it will continue. I feel it will.”

It has been reload and not rebuild for the Hawkeyes, and you get the feeling that’ll be the case again this season. Iowa was 30-23 overall in 2018 and 13-9 in the Big Ten.

Eleven guys from that team have moved on, though there are 19 returning letterwinners and 15 newcomers: nine from the junior college ranks and another (pitcher Jason Foster) who transferred from another Division I program (Wright State).

“When you come to Iowa baseball now, it’s like an expectation of ‘Hey, the program is here, we have everything that we need to improve and stuff like that,’” said senior pitcher Cole McDonald of New Hampton. “Now it’s up to the individual to buy in and have that work ethic it takes every day to improve. Knowing that (pro ball) is possible, it’s up to the individual. It is awesome to see all the guys go to the pros, and for me, myself, it gives me a lot of motivation to achieve and get to the next level, knowing that it is possible.”

And it’s not just players moving on. Assistant coaches Desi Druschel and Joe Migliaccio recently accepted jobs with the New York Yankees, leaving Heller in a pickle (baseball pun intended) that way, too.

He hired Robin Lund as hitting coach and Tom Gorzelanny as volunteer pitching coach. Lund has a doctorate in exercise science, while Gorzelanny spent 12 years in the big leagues, spending his offseasons in the area with his wife and their two sons.

“(Druschel and Migliaccio) were offered jobs they really couldn’t turn down,” Heller said. “But the great thing is they left us in a great spot. Our guys were really prepared, they were ready to go. They did a good job of helping the new coaches get acclimated before they took off. Robin Lund and Tom Gorzelanny have been doing an outstanding job ... Very confident in and feel very good about where we’re at.”

McDonald will assume Friday pitching duties in conference play, with sophomore Jack Dreyer the likely Saturday starter. The third spot is up for grabs, Heller said.

Former Cascade prep Trace Hoffman is expected to take over closer duties from Zach Daniels, who was drafted and signed by the Atlanta Braves. Hoffman led the nation in saves last season at Southeastern Community College in Burlington.

The lineup has five guys with starting experience: outfielders Ben Norman and Justin Jenkins, infielders Mitchell Boe and Lorenzo Elion and outfielder/DH Chris Whelan. Among the newcomers with the most promise are infielder Izaya Fullard (former Iowa City West prep from Kirkwood Community College) and first baseman-outfielder Tanner Padgett (a power-hitting type from Johnson County C.C. in Kansas).

Iowa begins its season Feb. 15 in Kissimmee, Fla., against George Mason. The schedule also includes four games at Hawaii, followed by three at Oklahoma State.

The home opener is slated for March 6 against Simpson.

“To be honest, I think this is one of the most talented we’ve had in my time here through the lineup,” Boe said. “There are guys sitting on the bench who can easily play for us or start for any other team. That’s just the situation we’re in now. It’s a great situation to have.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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