Oct. 31, 2011
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Fall ball is a time for the baseball team to work on fundamentals, incorporate a crop of newcomers into the fold and play exhibition games. Head coach Jack Dahm liked the team's effort this fall, and he noted that the team's fall approach is different than in the spring competition season.
"Each exhibition, we played basically everyone on our roster," said Dahm. "We got to see everyone in a competitive situation. That's why we feel good about our freshmen because of the experience they gained this fall. This was the first year we traveled in the fall, and I believe it helped prepare our young players for what it's like to travel and also the intensity and focus we need."
Dahm said if the team scores 4-5 runs this spring, the Hawkeyes will have a great chance to win due to its strong pitching staff. But, getting the timely hit eluded the team a year ago and is something the offense needs to improve.
"We showed signs of being a very good offensive team this fall, but that didn't carry over to the games," said Dahm, who is entering his ninth year at Iowa. "We need to carry that from practice to the games and continue to gain confidence from an offensive standpoint."
"From what I saw in practice this fall, I believe we will be a solid team. This winter will be very important for our program as our guys continue to work on their game and get physically and mentally stronger."
UI head coach Jack Dahm
Due to graduation, players returning from injury, individual improvement and position changes, the 2012 lineup will have a different look than last spring's. Taylor Zeutenhorst, who had a strong freshman season as a right fielder, will shift to center. Zeutenhorst hit .320 and had 12 RBI during league play in 2011.
"Zeutenhorst has a chance to have a big year both offensively and defensively," said Dahm.
A couple freshmen have an opportunity to see a lot of action in Eric Toole -- the younger brother of former Hawkeye Justin Toole -- Jacob Yacinich, Sasha Kuebel and Ryan Rumpf. Toole will likely land in left field and serve as the team's table setter, Yacinich will battle for a spot at shortstop, Kuebel has emerged as a talented left-handed starter, and Rumpf has been one of the team's most consistent hitters.
"Eric has tremendous speed and great feel for the game," said Dahm. "Yacinich is in the running to be our starting shortstop. He will be on the field quite a bit for us. Kuebel has made an impact this fall. He is making a run at being one of our top 3-4 starters."
Dahm has been impressed with all the newcomers, not just the three mentioned above. Dahm said that, collectively, the freshmen have a strong work ethic and benefit from their athleticism. Dahm and his coaching staff are very excited both offensively and from a pitching standpoint.
Two guys that will return from season-ending injuries a year ago will be catcher Dan Sheppard and right-handed pitcher Nick Brown. Both saw time in practice this fall and are expected to be ready by the start of practice in January.
"Dan's one of the most competitive kids we have on the team," said Dahm. "He's one of the most talented defensive catchers I've ever been around. He will be a good RBI guy for us in the middle of the order."
"We shut Nick down all summer and have started to build him back up this fall," said Dahm. "He should be 100 percent this spring. We will try to figure out where we want to use him this spring. Nick has been very successful in the starting role the last three years, but at the same time, we feel like he can pitch at the end of the game for us and be able to close some games."
Hawkeyes who had solid summers include redshirt freshman infielder Jake Mangler, utility player Andrew Ewing, outfielders Andrew Host and Sean Flanagan, infielder Mike McQuillan and third baseman Chett Zeise.
Host was a Prospect League All-Star for the second consecutive summer, Ewing earned the Northwoods League's "Finest in the Field" for his defensive performance at second base, Mangler hit over .300 in the Prospect League, while Zeise and Flanagan made strides while playing for the Palm Springs Power. McQuillan had another solid summer and returns for his senior season after leading the Hawkeyes in batting (.330), runs (30), RBI (31) and walks (27) a year ago.
Iowa will have a veteran pitching staff in 2012, with Jarred Hippen and Matt Dermody anchoring the starting rotation. Patrick Lala, Ricky Sandquist and Tim Fangman also return to solidify the bullpen.
"From what I saw in practice this fall, I believe we will be a solid team," said Dahm. "This winter will be very important for our program as our guys continue to work on their game and get physically and mentally stronger."