Iowa baseball set for success despite departures

Even though some key players are gone, Iowa baseball preps for a big year next season.

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Iowa baseball set for success despite departures

University of Iowa baseball player Jack Dreyer winds up to pitch during a game against Penn State University on Saturday, May 19, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 8-4. (David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan)

University of Iowa baseball player Jack Dreyer winds up to pitch during a game against Penn State University on Saturday, May 19, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 8-4. (David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan)

David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan

University of Iowa baseball player Jack Dreyer winds up to pitch during a game against Penn State University on Saturday, May 19, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 8-4. (David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan)

David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan

David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan

University of Iowa baseball player Jack Dreyer winds up to pitch during a game against Penn State University on Saturday, May 19, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 8-4. (David Harmantas/The Daily Iowan)

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

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For the first time in years, the MLB Draft has been kind to Iowa baseball.

The only defector to the draft from head coach Rick Heller’s squadwill be Cole McDonald, the senior Friday starter who gave the Hawkeyesa chance to win nearly every time he stepped on the rubber.

That’s a lot easier on Iowa than last season’s draft, in which theHawkeyes lost their two best hitters, best starting pitcher, and best reliever.

Iowa also lost seniors Chris Whelan and Mitchell Boe to graduation, which hurts from a leadership and production perspective.

Whelan has served as a reliable force at the plate for the past three seasons, and Boe maintained his position as one of the best second basemen in the conference.

Despite the departures, Iowa is still set up for success next season.

RELATED: McDonald selected by Houston Astros in 15th round of MLB Draft

The Hawkeyes will get Jack Dreyer back on the mound after an injury derailed almost the entirety of his 2019 season.

In his one full season (2018), Dreyer went 5-2 with a 3.69 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 31.2 innings of work.

In two starts spanning 7.1 innings in 2019, Dreyer still showed he had good stuff, finishing with a 2.45 ERA, 11 punch-outs and a 1-0 record.

Grant Judkins will also be back to lead Iowa on the mound. As the team’s Sunday starter, Judkins posted a 2.72 ERA with 65 strikeouts in82.2 innings.

Brendan Sher, who came on strong toward the end of the season andspent valuable time at second base when Boe was injured, will also be a key piece for the Hawkeyes.

In the months of April and May, Sher raised his batting average more than 100 points and finished the year at .301.

In the outfield, Ben Norman, Justin Jenkins, and Connor McCaffery will all return, softening the blow of losing Whelan.

Norman posted a bounce-back season, hitting .251 after suffering through an average of just .189 the previous season. He also finished the season with 6 home runs and a team-high 34 RBIs.

Jenkins served as a reliable center fielder, and McCaffery hopes to find production with a season of experience under his belt.

Iowa will also return a solid core of hitters that ranked among the team’s best in Austin Martin, Izaya Fullard, Zeb Adreon, and Tanner Padgett.

Each hit better than .290, and they showed an ability to step up when the team needed a big hit.

When its season ended, Iowa lost some good players who have played key roles across numerous seasons. But the Hawkeyes are still in a good place.

Now, the majority of their players have experience competing down the stretch with an NCAA Tournament berth at stake. They won’t want thefeeling of letting it slip through their fingers to come back. It’sjust a matter of finding the next wave of leadership and putting it all together for a full season.