As with the majority of positions throughout College Baseball, roster turnaround has also changed the depth at catcher for Indiana. A familiar face, however, will play behind the plate when the Hoosiers open their 2018 campaign on Friday against Oklahoma. With Jake Matheny transferring to Missouri after one season with the club, junior Ryan Fineman will certainly be head coach Chris Lemonis’ starting catcher beginning this weekend.
Joining Fineman at the catcher position will be a pair of newcomers in true freshman Drew Ashley and highly-touted transfer Wyatt Cross. Let’s take a look at all three, and what to expect from the Hoosiers’ backstops:
Ryan Fineman, Jr. -- 2017 stats: 52 games/45 starts, .239/.291/.313, 2 HR, 17 RBI
It’s somewhat surprising to see Fineman listed only as a junior -- after all, the 6-foot catcher has started an impressive 95 games through two seasons in Bloomington. Offensively speaking, Fineman took a step back following his All-Big Ten Freshman season. With 14 extra at-bats as a freshman, the Westlake, Ca. native saw his average drop nearly 30 points (from .268 to .239 between the two seasons. Fineman also walked less (19 to 9), and struck out at a higher clip (14% to 19%).
With the Hoosiers returning power hitters in Matt Lloyd (utility) and Logan Sowers (right field), as well as on-base productivity in sophomore Matt Gorski (first base), Lemonis’ lineup is in good hands. Fineman is exceptional behind the plate, proving as a reliable target for Indiana’s ever-important pitching staff and defense. Make no mistake, Fineman is certainly no slouch behind the plate and can provide at the bottom of Lemonis’ order -- and a few less hits surely shouldn’t alter Indiana’s offensive production.
While Matheny was also used as a designated hitter, his depth was a valuable asset for the Hoosiers -- and now gone. Fineman is slated, and primed for a bounce-back junior campaign as a seasoned veteran to bolster Lemonis’ bottom-half of the order.
Wyatt Cross, Jr. -- 2017 stats (San Jacinto College): 41 games, 21 hits, 6 HR, 16 RBI
Cross could make an early impact in his first season at Indiana, either sharing time with Fineman at catcher or finding other ways in the lineup. Drafted by the Rockies out of high school, Cross was ranked as a top-40 recruit nationally by Perfect Game, and 74th by Baseball America. The 6-foot-3, Colorado native played his freshman season at North Carolina -- but was used sparingly, appearing in just 15 games and collecting a double, two RBI’s, two runs, and three walks for the Tar Heels. From Chapel Hill, Cross transferred to highly-regarded San Jacinto College in Houston, where the likes of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite, among others, have played. Cross hit .256 in just 86 at-bats, including six home runs and 16 runs batted in.
On the surface, Cross has the ability to provide this Indiana lineup with power from the bench, if not more. He could certainly find ways to earn at-bats, having played first base at San Jacinto last season. With Matheny having left, Cross will at least function as an experienced backup behind Fineman -- with high-level baseball under his belt.
Drew Ashley, Fr. -- 2017 stats: N/A (High School)
Expectedly behind Fineman and Cross, will be true freshman Drew Ashley. The state of Indiana’s 3rd-ranked catching recruit by Perfect Game will play as the Hoosiers’ third catcher in 2018. Doubling as a pitcher for Reitz Memorial in Evansville, Ashley hit .432 in his career -- with a .538 on-base percentage in 106 games during high school to garner first team All-State honors in 2017. Ashley’s high school pitching record shows only a 1.13 ERA, in 142.2 innings pitched, including a no-hitter.
Having both parents attending IU, Ashley chose the Hoosiers over the likes of Purdue, Tennessee, and Xavier out of high school. Ashley is listed as a catcher, and provides depth and future development for the Hoosiers at catcher.