On Wednesday morning, the full 2024 Indiana Baseball schedule was released. The 56-game slate includes clashes against 13 teams from last year’s field of 64 and a balanced diet of home and road contests, with three of those tournament teams coming to Bart Kauffman Field.
"We believe our non-conference schedule is built to prepare us for the rigors of conference and hopefully postseason play," Indiana head coach Jeff Mercer said.
Yes, I know we’re close to three months away from the season, but I can still get excited. I took a deep dive into the best teams and players the Hoosiers will face this season, in a “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” format.
FIVE: Best Players Indiana Will Face This Year
It was tough to decide who to include with so many of these players being pitchers. With a lot of the best teams on the schedule facing Indiana for just one game, they’ll miss many of these arms. But here goes nothing.
Jonathan Santucci, Duke, LHP
With all the uncertainties of when pitchers will pitch, and if they’ll face Indiana, I think it’s safe to assume that Duke will throw its ace in game one of the season if he’s healthy. The 6-foot-2 southpaw shows a smaller three-pitch arsenal with a deadly slider and a fastball sitting around 95 mph. Santucci widely considered a top-20 2024 MLB Draft prospect, the Hoosier bats will have their work cut out for them in the neutral-site season opener.
Ben Hess, Alabama, RHP
Like Duke and Sanducci in Myrtle Beach, Indiana plays Alabama on Friday, day one of the Frisco Classic. What does this mean? They’ll have to face another veteran ace. It’s rare to come into your freshman season at an SEC school and cement yourself as a Weekend starter on an NCAA tournament team. But that’s exactly what Ben Hess did. His real-game experience combined with his fastball that tops off at 98 mph will make him a tough arm for Indiana to hit.
Davis Diaz, Vanderbilt, IF
Going through Vandebilt’s roster makes it tough to highlight only five players. Nothing Diaz does is too flashy but he can do just about anything you ask of him. His defense is what makes him really stand out and find his way onto many top-50 MLB Draft Prospect boards.
Derek Bender, Coastal Carolina, DH
There is no shortage of talent the Hoosiers will see the first weekend of the season, and maybe the best hitter on the list comes from the host Chanticleers. Bender’s coming off a dominant sophomore season finishing with 1.000+ OPS and .300+ BA. Whoever the Hoosiers go with as the Saturday starter to open the season will get a warm welcome to South Carolina from the First-Team All-Sun Belt member.
Jonathan Vastine, Vanderbilt, IF
Vastine was one of the most coveted players out of high school by MLB teams a couple years ago, but decided to go the college route. Although he homered in five games, including an NCAA tournament game, and finished the season with 34 RBIs, Vandy coaches are still raving about his offseason improvement and expect this season to be his best.
FOUR: Weekend Series I'm Most Excited For
With the Big Ten not expected to be quite as strong as we’ve seen in the past, the Hoosiers loaded up their non-con schedule, including a couple of MTE’s at the beginning of the season.
“Baseball On The Beach”, Feb. 16-18, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
With three games against three different teams, all of which found themselves in a 2023 NCAA regional, the Hoosiers get started right away. It’s Indiana’s first time playing in the event since 2018, this year headlined by a Duke team that was just one win away from the College World Series last year. It also included a regional host Coastal Carolina and A-10 champion, George Mason.
Frisco Classic, March 1-3, Frisco, Texas
Four-team events with four teams that made the 2023 NCAA tournament is a common theme early on for the Hoosiers. It’s not just the quality of teams that makes this event exciting, but the attention the Frisco Classic gets. The Hoosiers will have to face a Rob Vaughn-led team, but in a different uniform. The field features a Super regional team from last season in Alabama alongside Arizona and Dallas Baptist.
Troy, March 8-10, Bloomington, Indiana
With a three-game set at Baylor sandwiched in between the two aforementioned events, you’d think the Hoosiers take a break with some lesser opponents before conference play starts right? Think again! A very solid Troy program coming off an NCAA regional appearance makes its way up to Bloomington for arguably Indiana’s toughest home series of the season.
Maryland, April 5-7, College Park, Maryland
All Indiana fans want to do is forget about last season’s series against Maryland, where IU got swept in three blowouts, but this is not the same Maryland team. Reigning Big Ten Coach of the Year Rob Vaughn went down south to Alabama while the 2023 Big Ten Player of the Year, Matt Shaw, got drafted in the first round to the Chicago Cubs. Nonetheless, the Terps return some production and are always a threat in the Big Ten.
THREE: Midweek Games I'm Most Excited For
Midweek games were crucial for Indiana a season ago. They helped the Hoosiers find some pitching depth and gave them resume-boosting wins over teams such as Indiana State, Louisville and Ball State.
Vanderbilt, March 12, Nashville, Tennessee
Indiana and Kentucky are going their separate ways after some drama with scheduling and the 2023 Lexington regional. This left Indiana needing an SEC midweek replacement, and who to fill the void better than college baseball royalty, Vanderbilt. Their accolades speak for themselves. Eight College World Series appearances and two national championships in the past decade for the Commodores, and they’ll host the Hoosiers over spring break.
Ball State, Apr. 23, Indianapolis, Indiana (Victory Field)
My excitement for this one is less about the opponent and more about the location. The Hoosiers and Cardinals will head back to the home of the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians, Victory Field, for a neutral site battle. On top of that, Ball State is another team coming off of an NCAA tourney appearance, losing in the Lexington Regional, same as the Hoosiers.
Louisville, May 14, Louisville, Kentucky
Louisville missing the tournament last season is as rare as it gets. Another program that’s been almost a mainstay in the NCAA baseball top-25 is on the schedule for Indiana, this time later in the season. It could end up being a big opportunity for resume-boosting that late in the campaign on the road.
TWO: Biggest Questions At This Point In The Offseason
Despite the schedule being released, our knowledge of the team is lightyears away from what it will be just before the season. What do I hope we’ll find out before the season begins?
Who will be the Hoosiers’ ace?
An Indiana pitching staff that really got its footing late in the season last year was expecting to return the vast majority of its production. That was, until last year’s ace Luke Sinnard was ruled out for the 2024 season, needing elbow surgery. Indiana has a few options. Ryan Kraft, who made just one start a season ago but gave a starter-like number of innings every weekend is an option. Connor Foley was one of the most impressive freshman arms for Indiana last season, and could be another. Like last season, I don’t expect all of this to be figured out in the first two weeks of the season, but the Hoosiers need a clear ace if they want to get to the 40-win mark again.
Which newcomers will step up?
Luke Sinnard isn’t the only big loss for Indiana. If we flip to the offensive side of things, senior leader and star shortstop Phillip Glasser got drafted by the Washington Nationals this summer. Bobby Whalen, the junior center fielder, hit the transfer portal leaving Indiana without its one and two hitters in the lineup. Mercer likes to think his team reloaded, not rebuilt though, grabbing a top transfer portal member in Nick Mitchell and one of the top recruits in the country in Andrew Wiggins. Mitchell hit .364 last season with Western Illinois.
ONE: Record Prediction
If you check back in with me in a couple of months, my answers might change, but in my opinion, it’s never too early to start talking college baseball.