IOWA CITY — Zach Daniels has a gift. That’s the only way you can explain it.
The Iowa junior pitcher throws fastballs with velocities in the low-90s. When he’s really pumped up, he can get his heater to 94 or 95 miles per hour.
There’s movement to go with it, all from a slight body listed at 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds. It kind of doesn’t make sense physiologically.
“He has an electric arm,” said Iowa Coach Rick Heller, whose team begins the 2018 season with three games in Kissimmee, Fla., this weekend.
It was brought up to Heller that former major league closer Billy Wagner could bring upper-90s heat despite being a similarly small guy.
“But I think one of Billy Wagner’s legs was bigger than both of Zach’s, though,” he replied, bursting into laughter.
Daniels, a former Cedar Rapids Kennedy prep, will play a large role for the Hawkeyes, as they seek to return to a NCAA regional tournament. Earlier this week, the right-hander was named a preseason Big Ten Conference player by league coaches.
He was 7-3 with a 3.22 earned run average in 24 appearances last season for the Hawkeyes, striking out 55 in 50 1/3 innings. Daniels came to Iowa as a two-way guy, a pitcher and infielder, but is strictly a pitcher now.
A real good one the Hawkeyes can bring out of the bullpen for multiple innings to close games.
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“Our bullpen is deep this year, and that will definitely be a strong point for us,” Daniels said. “But I’m sure the starters will step up. They always do.”
Daniels was stretched out this winter after junior college pitcher Brady Schanuel came down with a sore arm. Schanuel is expected to be one of Iowa’s starters, but uncertainty with his health forced the Iowa coaching staff to consider Daniels as a starting option.
Schanuel has begun to bounce back physically, but Daniels is still there just in case.
“I’ve been throwing a lot more this winter,” Daniels said. “Brady was hurt, and they shut him down. They’ve been thinking about starting me, maybe three or four weeks in, if one of the freshmen don’t step up. Then I might have to go.”
He was asked his thoughts on that.
“I don’t know. I don’t know how I feel about that,” he said. “I definitely like it at the back end of the bullpen. You can just let it go.”
“I think he is that versatile, and we have talked about (starting),” Heller said. “Especially when Brady first got arm trouble, we were seriously considering having that. The way we were going to play it was using him as a closer on Friday and Saturday. If we didn’t use him, then start him on Sunday. Go that way ... He is built enough now to do that if we choose.”
Being his junior year, Daniels is available to be taken in this summer’s MLB Draft. This season will be big for him that way.
Not that he’s thinking about it.
“No, not much right now,” he said. “I see the stuff written, but you have to block it out. I’m here to win games, help the team win games. Ultimately that’s our goal. Going to a regional last year was probably the most fun I’ve had in baseball. I definitely want to make it back.”
“I believe so. Oh, yeah,” Heller said, when asked if he believed Daniels has a professional future. “Scouts have been calling all winter long. He really impressed them at our scout day (in the fall). A lot of guys saw him in the regional, where he pitched so well. Had a longer stint, was up to 94, touched 95 in front of a lot of guys. He has been getting a ton of attention.”
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Iowa kicks things off Friday afternoon at 5:30 against Toledo. Then it’s a 2 p.m. game Saturday against Oakland (Mich.) and a 10 a.m. Sunday affair against Old Dominion.
The following weekends see trips to New Orleans and Birmingham, Ala. The scheduled home opener is Tuesday, Feb. 27, against Cornell College.
“Hopefully by week three we’ve got a pretty good feel on how things are going to go,” Heller said.
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