2002: A Season of Visible Improvement for Iowa Baseball
Although the overall winning percentage may not seem extremely different from some of the last few seasons, watching this team play felt completely different than the other recent editions. Unlike last year's team that seemed to suffer from a complete team hitting slump for almost the entire season, this year's edition, with many of the same players, was very tough in the top half of the batting order. In 1999, the team offense was very strong, but the pitching staff and the bullpen could not hold a lead. Although the bullpen was not always perfect this season, Dyson Miguel, Nick Jenson, Jeff Gilmore, and Chris Maliszewski gave Head Coach Scott Broghamer better bullpen options than Iowa Baseball has had in years.
This year's success does not mean that Iowa Baseball has turned the corner and will be just as good or better in the following years. Potentially, the entire pitching staff returns next season besides senior Dyson Miguel, but there are holes to be filled in the regular starting lineup. No matter how the Iowa coaching staff is able or not able to recruit to fill those holes in the following years, next year's team should have an easier time envisioning and competing within the conference because of what happened this year. Not only did the 2002 Hawkeyes play meaningful games down the regular season stretch against Minnesota and Illinois, but they were able to compete and win many of those games. Although the 0-2 record in the Big Ten tourney is not what the Hawks had hoped for, they should be able to remember how it felt beating Illinois in the last three regular season games in order to make the conference tourney. In the most jumbled Big Ten race in years, Iowa need to win the last three games with no margin for error to make the tournament, and that is exactly what happened.
Not only was 2002 a turnaround season for the program, but it was for some players as well. Senior John Paul Cappellano hit only .176 last season in 24 games for Iowa after transferring from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, but rebounded to hit a respectable .268 after hitting around .300 for most of this season. J.P. also played a solid right field and had some clutch hits at key points during the season.
Ian Mattiace had always been one of the key regulars in the Iowa lineup over his four seasons as a starter, but 2002 was his best season. Much like Andy Jansen, Alex Dvorsky, and Brad Carlson, Ian had a very good freshman season at the plate in 1999 as he hit .303 with 9 HRs and 37 RBIs. Over the next two seasons however, he posted good numbers in the first half of each season, only to slump in the second half. In 2000 he hit .242 with 4 HRs and 18 RBIs, while in 2001 he finished at .295 with 9 HRs and 24 RBIs. When figuring in the fact that the metal bats in college baseball today are legally not as juiced as they were in 1999, Ian's senior campaign was his best. He finished this season at .347 with 8 HRs and 38 RBIs. In addition, he set his career high in doubles with 17 and stolen bases with 20.
Andy Jansen burst onto the scene in 1999 by hitting .324 with 5 HRs and 33 RBIs, but injuries took away much of his sophomore and junior seasons. He performed well before getting injured in 2000, and missed almost the entire 2001 campaign. Part of the main reason that Iowa was so poor offensively in 2001 was from not having Andy in the middle of the order. Getting him back and keeping him healthy was one of Coach Broghamer's main goals this season, and his health and production were a key part of the program's turnaround. He slumped a little over the last few games to finish at .339 with 5 HRs and 31 RBIs, but his energy and leadership also made a big difference in the team fortunes this season. "Andy is one of those kids that does good things day after day that don't always show up in the score book," said Head Coach Scott Broghamer. "He does things to win. When you gets kids like that, it makes your job much easier."
The player who had the biggest turnaround this season of his roller coaster career was senior Brad Carlson. In 1999 Brad had one of the most productive seasons in Iowa history when he hit .367 with 21 HRs and 71 RBIs in his freshman campaign. As great as things seemed for him at the time, things must have seemed almost completely the opposite last season as he hit a career low .276 with 3 HRs and 17 RBIs. Although teams were pitching Brad differently after his success in the first season and the rules regarding the size and length ratios of bats were different, these factors could not completely explain the drop-off in his career.
However, after starting this season in a horrible slump, Brad rebounded to have a great all around campaign that resulted in being named both 1st Team All-Big Ten and making the all-tourney team at the league tournament. Besides hitting .293, Brad led the team and Big Ten with 16 HRs and had 54 RBIs. Impressively, most of his production came in meaningful Big Ten games as he led the conference in homeruns in conference games with 11 and tied for the league lead for RBIs in conference games with 27. Losing both tourney games was no fault of his as he was 5-9 with 2 HRs and 5 RBIs in the contests. His career total of 45 homeruns set the school record.
More than any other season, Brad was able to hit and hit for power to all fields in 2002. Many of his best swings were on balls that he hit to center field or left-center. Defensively, this was also his best season as he was very good in both fielding his position and digging short hops out of the dirt on throws to first base. "Homeruns are down all over the country compared to four years ago, yet I thought all of our seniors had their best years this year even though the bats aren't as juiced since they outlawed the -5 bats," said Coach Broghamer. "Brad was definitely an all-Big Ten player this year because this was no doubt an outstanding season for him. He hit the ball, hit for power, played great defense by taking hits away from opponents in crucial situations, and saved errors for the other infielders with his glove work. He had a great all-around season and showed great leadership."
2002 was also the first season since 1999 that new players to the program were able to step in and contribute to the Iowa Offense in their first season. Transfer Junior Kyle Thousand had a very good season playing centerfield and hitting fifth in the Hawk lineup for much of the season. Although he is not a true slugger, his speed and bat do help generate nice extra base totals. For the season he hit .316 with 4 HRs, 8 triples, 12 doubles, and 29 RBIs. He was named 2nd Team All-Big Ten, and led the league in triples.
Transfer Junior Chris Groth did not exactly step in and play well right away, but he had a very good season. After playing good defense but sharing time with fellow second baseman Andy Cox for the first half of the season, Chris was one of the most valuable players in the second half of 2002. After struggling offensively until midseason, he was able to raise his batting average to .333 for the year by finishing with 25 hits in 49 at bats in the last 16 games. In those games he also scored 13 runs and knocked in 11. "Chris really played well down the stretch," said Coach Broghamer. "He really cemented himself as a guy to build around for next season." The Hawkeye lineup next year will be built strongest up the middle with the return of Groth, Thousand, and SS Jeff Gremley.
Although the Hawks may be strong both offensively and defensively up the middle next season, the pitching staff might be the biggest strength. Besides senior Dyson Miguel, every other pitcher on the staff has eligibility left for the 2003 season. Miguel will be missed since he always threw strikes and was 3-1 with six saves and a 3.20 ERA in 25 appearances out of the bullpen, but the bullpen should be strong again next season. Junior Nick Jensen had five saves to go with a 2.16 ERA in 15 appearances, while Jeff Gilmore saved three games and exhibited a good fastball in his freshman campaign. Chris Maliszewski split time between starting and relieving after injuries hit the starting staff, but was very effective, as he was 4-2 with a 4.60 ERA. Chris not only was very tough mentally like Dyson in that he battled and challenged hitters, but the lefthander was especially effective against left-handed hitters.
Ryan Mentkowski and Steve Sharpe are two talented starters that missed much of this season and could bolster the staff next season by remaining healthy. Both will be pitching in leagues this summer, and should have no problems reporting to school healthy in the fall. Besides Maliszewski, Cory Hollenhorst and Matt Hasz were major parts of the rotation and should be in the mix again next year. However, the fortunes of the team and the mainstays of the pitching staff may not come from the potential starters listed above but rather from two players that have been considering pro ball. Junior Reed Pawelk made the adjustment from being a closer in 2000 and 2001 to being the staff ace in 2002. Reed did not get drafted last week, but pro options are still available to him if he wants to sign as an undrafted free agent.
Reed pitched his best games down the stretch this last season, and another year of school could really improve his pro status next season. Although his fastball and size are above average, Reed is still striving to improve his off-speed stuff. If he returns he could be a true dominant number one starter to anchor the starting staff. "Reed did a great job anchoring our staff this season," said Coach Broghamer. "To have him back would be a huge plus for us next season. Hopefully we will find out what is going to happen in the next week or so. If he returns and it is in his best interest, the pitching staff could really be a strength."
Although it will be hard to turn down the money and security that comes with being drafted in the second round of the pro draft, Iowa City High standout Zach Hammes did sign with Iowa and could be in a Hawkeye uniform next season. IF Hammes does not like the money that the Dodgers offer or decides that going to college and playing college ball are the best options for him right now, he has the ability and potential to be one of the top pitchers in the Big Ten over the next three years. If Pawelk returns and Hammes signs, the two hurlers could pitch the Friday and Sunday nine-inning conference games with the other starters with experience throwing the shorter Saturday games. It is not likely that Hammes will turn down the pros, but hopefully at least one of the potential top two is on the Iowa campus this fall.
Nothing new has happened on the recruiting front in recent months and it looks as if the starting position players that graduate will be replaced by traditional high school recruits or players currently on the roster. Hitting coach Tim Evans has an extensive junior college background at Kirkwood as a player and coach, and is out looking for JUCO talent to come in an compete for spots at first base, third base, and other spots like catcher and outfield. Iowa has scholarship money to give and has glaring holes at first and third base, but the coaches have yet to find and sign suitable prospects from the community college level to compliment the traditional four-year players on campus.
Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program, but even if Iowa does not sign any additional recruits for next season, the team still may continue to improve from the progress they made this season. The returning players need to stay healthy and progress while it would also help tremendously if Pawelk and Hammes were on the team next season. Even if Hammes goes pro, the Hawks should be a better pitching staff next season. If the pitching staff and defense are strong, the offense should have time to retool and gel next year. "We got over a lot of humps over the course of this season," said Coach Broghamer. "Our goal next season is now to build on this and get back to the Big Ten tournament and to win more games and become more consistent year after year."
HIE PREMIUM BOARD UPDATE: We have received some of the forty time results from the Hawkeye testing that occurred at the of the spring. To get the three fatest times and other great tidbits, simply Click Here.