The two positions in the middle infield for Indiana baseball will be handled completely differently coming into 2018.
Last season, two main guys dominated up the middle. Tony Butler at second base and Jeremy Houston at shortstop. While Houston will return to his starting role at shortstop in 2018, second base remains a major question mark after Butler graduated, leaving a big hole on the left side of the infield.
Even with the loss of Butler, the continuation of Houston at short and a plethora of options for second base present a promising season in the middle infield. Let’s break it down.
Houston was a highly heralded freshman last season, rated the No. 1 defensive shortstop out of Illinois and the No. 11 prospect out of the state by PBR when he came to Indiana.
Starting 48 games at shortstop, he missed 12 games due to an early season hamstring injury, but started every game he was healthy enough to play in.
Houston batted .232 during the 2017 season. He drove in 21 runs, with nine extra-base hits (including 2 home runs), and stole eight bases on 11 attempts. In the field, Houston had a .961 fielding percentage, turning 31 double plays.
The relay 👌https://t.co/W4AzttgyXY
— Indiana Baseball (@IndianaBase) May 24, 2017
All of this production granted Houston a spot on the Big Ten All-Freshman team in 2017.
After a year of experience at shortstop, the sophomore from Chicago is expected to have another solid season for the Hoosiers and be that guy his team can rely on at shortstop.
If the injury bug gets to Houston again in 2018, look to Colby Stratten to fill in for him.
Last season, Stratten started every game at shortstop while Houston was out and has a career fielding percentage of .988. He heads into his senior year looking to help out at either position in the middle infield.
For the most part, the shortstop position will be one of consistency for the Hoosiers, just like second base was a year ago.
#iubase defensively this year 👌
— Indiana Baseball (@IndianaBase) June 5, 2017
Second base was one of the most consistent positions last season with Butler starting all but one game there.
Butler led the team with a .314 batting average last season, driving in 30, knocking out four home runs and boasting a .454 slugging percentage. Most of his damage was done during Big Ten play, hitting .341 in conference games.
— Indiana Baseball (@IndianaBase) May 14, 2017
Not only was he dominate at the plate, but his fielding will be missed as well. Butler had a fielding percentage of .988 and turned 40 double plays, the most on the team.
So where does Coach Lemonis go without Butler at second base? Well, he has a few options.
First, Colby Stratten, who started 13 times in the middle infield a year ago, could be a good option. The senior is a utility player and could help out at both middle infield positions.
Another option is Matt Lloyd. Lloyd is Indiana’s primary closer out of the bullpen. However, the Hoosiers may need him to help out on the right side of the infield.
Lloyd led the team with a .358 batting average in conference last year while slugging .674, with 7 of his 11 home runs coming in Big Ten play.
— Indiana Baseball (@IndianaBase) April 22, 2017
However, Lloyd and Lemonis both said that he will be day-to-day on whether or not he feels ready to play second base or first base, or if he needs to go DH for the day. That’s when Lemonis listed off a few other options for second base.
Cade Bunnell, a junior transfer from Madison Junior College, could see a good amount of time at second base. Bunnell also started 16 games his freshman year at Kansas State. Last season, Bunnell batted .291 and led Madison Junior College with eight home runs. He also added 37 RBIs and seven stolen bases.
The other two options are freshman Justin Walker and Cole Barr. Walker hit .345 in his four high school years was rated the No. 13 overall recruit from Indiana by PBR. Barr was rated the No. 14 recruit in Indiana by Perfect Game. Both Barr and Walker played mainly shortstop in high school but are candidates for the second base position this spring.