Iowa baseball looks for answers to questions surrounding seniors

With questions surrounding this year’s seniors, Iowa baseball is looking to next season with a bit of uncertainty.


Roman Slabach

Iowa catcher Austin Martin tags out Milwaukee catcher Tyler Bordner during the baseball game against Milwaukee at Duane Banks Field on Tuesday, April 23, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Panthers 5-4.

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

There are a lot of unknowns in the Iowa baseball program’s future.

When the NCAA canceled the rest of the college baseball season and later voted to give spring-sport seniors an extra year of eligibility, it sent baseball seniors on a roller coaster of emotions.

While the extra year is widely regarded as a positive development, it throws a wrinkle into the future of baseball programs across the country. That includes Iowa.

Hawkeye head coach Rick Heller and his staff now need to balance a returning senior class with an incoming freshmen class.

“It’s definitely a super positive thing for those guys,” Heller said. “The challenging part for our coaching staff is really not having the ability to plan.”

Part of that is due to the questions surrounding this year’s MLB Draft.

Major League Baseball has yet to announce the conditions for the draft. One of the possibilities is having the draft but shortening it to anywhere from five to 10 rounds.

While the Hawkeyes were expected to have four seniors who likely would have been drafted, the shortened event could prevent them from being picked.

Heller said all but two players have said they will come back to Iowa if they don’t sign pro contracts. But with undrafted free agent contracts being offered, that throws coaches and players for another loop.

“We may not know who’s coming back until late July or possibly even into August the way things are going,” Heller said. “That just makes it very difficult, as you can imagine, from my standpoint.”

Heller further illustrated his point with an example that highlights the unknowns of next season, as well as recruiting this summer.

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“Let’s just say that [senior catcher] Austin Martin and [senior outfielder] Ben Norman don’t come back, but they say they’re coming back, and we plan on them coming back,” he said. “Then, all of a sudden, we don’t have an outfielder and a catcher that we maybe would have went out and recruited in the summer. It’s been a very challenging speculation party. I wish we had a crystal ball because we don’t know.”

With a shortened draft, there’s also a chance that Iowa will have its entire roster returning.

While that’s not a bad thing for the team, it can make it difficult for programs focused on building a culture and a process, like Iowa has done throughout Heller’s tenure.

It would expand the locker room. Add in the uncertainty of returners, and that makes things even more challenging.

“We may end up with a lot of seniors back and a lot of juniors back that we thought might be gone, plus the incoming freshmen class,” Heller said. “I mean, that’s exciting because I think this team has a lot of potential to be really competitive next year, especially if we get some of these guys back. But the lack of being able to plan is the frustrating thing.”

The team also faces another difficult situation without looking toward next year.

The Hawkeyes owned a 10-5 record with three wins over top-20 teams before its season was canceled.

Now, that same team won’t take the field again. After building chemistry throughout the offseason, it will have to wait until next season with a new roster.

“I think the group of guys we had this year, there was something different about it compared to every other team I’ve played for,” Martin said. “We were clicking on all cylinders from day one pretty much. Everyone was on the same page.”