Today’s the day, folks. At noon Friday, 17th-ranked Indiana begins its 2018 campaign against Oklahoma in Myrtle Beach, which should have better weather than Bloomington. The Hoosiers will play four games, in four days, before heading even further south to Florida. Lucky them.
But before all of that, there is still one preview remaining on The Hoosier Network: Indiana’s outfield. In case you’re just catching up, the Hoosiers have graduated the services of Alex Krupa and current White Sox minor-leaguer Craig Dedelow.
In this season’s outfield, three return for skipper Chris Lemonis. Those names are familiar, in Logan Sowers, Laren Eustace, and utility man Chris Lowe. Meanwhile, a trio of new faces will join the ranks — most notably junior-college transfer Logan Kaletha.
Sowers is expected to stay in right field for the Hoosiers in 2018, his position for all 59 starts a season ago. Now a senior, it’s remarkable to see the consistent progress of Sowers — raising his average to a steady .291, including a source of power in 13 home runs, 43 runs batted in, and slugging percentage of .536.
If Indiana competes for a Big Ten title and College World Series appearance this season, it will likely have to do with its 6-foot-5 slugger. Along with Matt Lloyd, Sowers is the motor to Lemonis’ lineup.
Joining Sowers as a familiar face for IU fans is Eustace — and noticeable, too. The 5-foot-9 Eustace returns for his senior season after hitting .237 in only 59 at-bats last year. Compared to 105 AB’s as a sophomore, Eustace saw his playing time drop. In an outfield with Sowers and Dedelow, at-bats are hard to come by.
But in 2018, expect Eustace to take on the biggest role of his career — primarily in center. Eustace might not be Indiana’s most potent hitter, but he can find his way on base. The Batavia, Ill. native held a .378 on-base percentage a season ago.
Lowe only made seven at-bats for the Hoosiers a season ago in that crowded outfield, but as a senior, his bench role may have the potential of expanding. In 45 career at-bats, the Californian is hitting .311. In last season’s regional loss to Kentucky, Lowe drove in a run.
Without the likes of Krupa and Dedelow, outfield depth and bench production is more useful in 2018.
Let’s start with Kaletha, who has been labeled as a “hit-machine” by Lemonis this offseason. The junior comes to Bloomington from John A. Logan College in Illinois. Kaletha spent three years there, playing in two. His JUCO numbers are eye-opening, hitting .354 in 52 games last season — slugging six homers en route to 59 runs batted in.
There’s more too — Kaletha can run on the base paths. In two seasons, the 6-foot Michigan City native swiped 43 stolen bases. Expect Kaletha to be a consistent part of Indiana’s outfield from the start — albeit after all, it’s still February and he hasn’t played a Division-1 game yet. His presence has provided a major focal point for the Hoosiers this season.
In addition to Kaletha, Indiana also added a pair of listed freshmen outfielders in anticipation for the 2018 campaign. Both hail from Indiana — as Elijah Dunham played at F.J. Reitz in Evansville, hitting .386 as a senior and ranked the No. 6 player from Indiana by Prep Baseball Report.
Dunham was an all-state honorable mention last season and stole 26 bags in the process. Then there’s Sam Crail, from Sheridan — where he was a .547 career hitter to go along with seven home runs (three of which in the same game). Crail was rated as the 18th-best player from Indiana in the 2018 class.