Hawkeye baseball players find success in summer league

Iowa baseball has collegiate players playing in seven different summer baseball leagues around the country.


Casey Stone

Iowa infielder Izaya Fullard catches the ball for an out at first base during the Iowa Baseball game against Illinois on May 15, 2021 at Duane Banks Field. Illinois defeated Iowa 14-1.

Will Fineman, Sports Reporter

The pandemic wiped out many opportunities for Hawkeye baseball players in collegiate summer league play last year.

But in 2021, Hawkeyes are spread out around the country to play in various summer leagues.

Iowa has players in the MLB Draft League, Appalachian League, Northwoods League, Prospect League, Coastal Plains League, Midwest Summer League, and Iowa Valley League.

Senior Izaya Fullard continued his solid spring season into the summer with the Clinton LumberKings in the Prospect league, notching a .338 batting average, 1.009 OPS, and 22 RBIs before he sprained his wrist — sidelining him for the rest of the summer. Fullard played his last game on July 22.

“I felt really comfortable this summer,” Fullard said. “Throughout the [conference] season I struggled a little bit more than I would have liked, and I was a little bit uncomfortable in the box. I think this summer I’ve been able to find that [confidence] again.”

Fullard has decided to return to Iowa for his final season after he was not selected in the 2021 MLB Draft.

“I talked to a few teams about signing after the draft and went through that process, and a team didn’t necessarily give me an offer that I liked, it was more just talks,” Fullard said. “At this point, I just thought that coming back is probably my best decision because I want to continue to play.”

Fullard’s teammate on the LumberKings, Hawkeye sophomore Anthony Mangano, is having a breakout summer with a .308 batting average, .408 slugging percentage, and multiple walk-off hits.

RELATED: Iowa athletics announces contract extensions for nine coaches

Mangano only appeared four times as a pinch hitter in his freshman season with the Hawkeyes in 2020-21 and did not record a hit. But the Lake Zurich, Illinois, native has received consistent playing time and earned LumberKings Player of the Week honors.

The combined batting average of all Hawkeyes playing in the summer leagues is .279.

“I think it’s the consistency of playing,” junior infielder Brendan Sher said. “You’re just out there having fun, and it feels like there’s no stress or anything. You’re just with a bunch of guys having some fun and every day you get to see live pitching and live defense.”

Sher has a .277 batting average and seven RBIs for the Lakeshore Chinooks in the Northwoods League in Mequon, Wisconsin.

Iowa sophomore Andy Nelson has garnered 10 home runs and 33 RBIs with the Illinois Valley Pistol Shrimp — the most of any Hawkeye. Nelson is hitting .308 throughout the summer.

Sophomore Sam Link and senior Brett McCleary are both hitting a few points under .300 in the Prospect League and McCleary is leading the LumberKings with 31 RBIs.

Former Hawkeye center fielder Ben Norman traveled to Trenton, New Jersey, this summer to play in the MLB Draft League. Norman had a .288 batting average with a .969 OPS and 12 RBIs.

RELATED: Advanced analytics and progressive technology power Iowa baseball’s player development

Though he was not selected in the draft, Norman signed with the Great Falls Voyagers of the Pioneer League. The Pioneer League is an independent league that is partnered with MLB.

Fellow Hawkeye Cam Baumann also competed in the MLB Draft League and put up a 2.37 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 12 strikeouts in four starts for the West Virginia Black Bears. Baumann was not taken in the draft.

Iowa pitchers Trenton Wallace and Drew Irvine were both selected in the 20-round 2021 MLB Draft in June. Wallace was selected in the 11th round by the Toronto Blue Jays and Irvine went in the 19th round to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Sophomores Michael Seegers and Tyson James competed in the newly transformed Appalachian League this summer.

The Appalachian League was formerly a part of the MLB minor league system before transitioning to a collegiate summer league in 2021.

“It’s been run pretty smoothly this year,” Seegers said. “I think the food will be better next year. We were in apartments for most of the year but this last week we had to move from the apartments to a hotel that is 20 minutes from the field… because the college that was there uses the apartments.”

Seegers is hitting .295 with a .393 on base percentage for the Bluefield Ridge Runners in Bluefield, West Virginia.