2014 Bloomington Regional Preview


Bart Kaufman Field, Bloomington, Ind. (Host: Indiana)

Sam Travis

Sam Travis (Photo by Chris Howell)

No. 1 Indiana (42-13, 21-3 in Big Ten) Roster | Statistics
Fourth appearance (second straight), automatic, Big Ten Conference regular-season and tournament champion, No. 4 national seed
Top 200 Prospects: C/1B Kyle Schwarber (18), 1B Sam Travis (85)

No. 2 Indiana State (35-16, 14-7 in Missouri Valley) Roster | Statistics
Ninth appearance (last in 2012), at-large, tied for second in Missouri Valley Conference
Top 200 Prospects: None

No. 3 Stanford (30-23, 16-14 in Pac-12) Roster | Statistics
32nd appearance (last in 2012), at-large, tied for fifth in Pac-12
Top 200 Prospects: 3B Alex Blandino (63), RHP A.J. Vanegas (116), OF Austin Slater (141)

No. 4 Youngstown State (16-36, 6-17 in Horizon League) Roster | Statistics
Second appearance (last in 2004), automatic, Sixth place in Horizon League regular season, Horizon League tournament champion
Top 200 Prospects: None

Indiana was our preseason No. 3, but about a month into the season was still struggling at 12-10, which sounded a clarion call to the Hoosiers’ detractors. But IU overcame some important injuries—closer Ryan Halstead, the team’s career and single-season saves leader, was lost for the season to knee surgery after four games, and lefthander Kyle Hart was lost to Tommy John surgery in mid-April—to win 30 of its final 33 games and take first place in the Big Ten.  Ace Joey DeNato has been terrific (12-1, 1.77) and Christian Morris (6-3, 1.82) moved from Sunday to Saturday to replace Hart. Brian Korte (3-0, 2.11) made a smooth transition from the bullpen to the Sunday starter role. Coach Tracy Smith said Morris has lost about 60 pounds since his freshman year, and his physical transformation has helped him take off. He can run his fastball up to 92-93 on occasion, pitching at 89-91 and mixing in an improved breaking ball and decent changeup. Korte has high-80s to low-90s velocity from the left side, and his breaking ball has made huge strides. Meanwhile, hard-throwing Scott Effross (4-2, 1.65, 5 saves) did well in assuming the closer role, and he has a solid supporting cast in junior righthander Luke Harrison (6-0, 1.98) and draft-eligible redshirt freshman righty Jake Kelzer (1-2, 2.15, 43-9 K-BB in 29.1 IP). And don’t give short shrift to the offense. Indiana’s big three of Kyle Schwarber (.340/.450/.623), Sam Travis (.342/.408/.561) and Dustin DeMuth (.381/.455/.541) have hit for average and power, as expected. Another key loss was Casey Smith (Tracy’s son) who was plagued by a condition called reactive arthritis, causing severe pain to flare up in various parts of his body. But Brad Hartong has replaced him in the lineup and provided a major spark, slashing .314/.347/.451, and Tracy credited Hartong’s insertion in the lineup for elevating the team’s play. DeMuth and Schwarber are also two of Indiana’s most improved defensive players, a big reason for the team’s huge turnaround on defense. That area was IU’s Achilles’ heel last year, when the Hoosiers fielded .966 (after playing much better defense down the stretch). This year, they fielded .973.

Indiana State is making its ninth overall NCAA appearance, earning an at-large bid after finishing tied for second place in the regular-season MVC standings in coach Mitch Hannahs’ first season as head coach. The Sycamores are 8-16 in postseason play, including 4-8 since the 1986 team advanced to the only College World Series in program history. Though the Sycamores were 0-2 in the MVC tournament, their RPI ranking of No. 21 made them a sure pick for the field of 64. They also had a horde of players receive postseason league recognition, including senior shortstop Tyler Wampler, who was the MVC defensive player of the year. Wampler, lauded for his range, had a team-high 152 assists and ranked third in the league with 27 double plays. CF Landon Curry (18 SB) is Indiana State’s ignitor, a speed merchant with stellar defensive skills in center field. Lefthanded closer Ryan Keaffaber was freshman of the year in the MVC as he led the league with 11 saves to go with a 2.32 ERA and a .203 BAA, which was third in the conference. Other key players were Jefferson CC transfer Brad Lombard, who was 6-2, 3.51 to earn MVC newcomer of the year, and senior catcher Mike Fitzgerald, who slashed .300/.460/.419, with his OBP the best on the team. Junior lefthander David Stagg is likely to get the opening start after going 7-3, 2.69 with 82 SO in 87 IP.

Stanford was a bubble team that reached its 29th regional in 34 years under Mark Marquess likely because of victories over ranked opponents Washington, Texas and Rice. In fairness, no team played a more daunting nonconference schedule than Stanford, which faced Rice, Texas, Vanderbilt and Kansas in the first four weeks of the season. But the Cardinal won 19 of its final 26 and eight of its last 10 and still sweated out Selection Monday. Marquess said the vital figures in the turnaround were  junior lefthander John Hochstatter and freshman Cal Quantrill. Hochstatter (10-1, 2.62) struggled in the bullpen earlier in the season. But after moving into the rotation, he went 7-0. Marquess said Hochstatter’s fastball velocity has jumped a bit, from 84-85 to 87-88, and he has done a much better job locating it down in the zone than he used to. His changeup has always been his best offspeed pitch, but he has developed another weapon in his cutter, whereas he used to use a slow curveball. Quantrill (5-5, 2.92), the son of former major leaguer Paul Quantrill, was the No. 90 prospect in the BA 500 prospects list for the 2013 draft. His fastball sits in the 89-91 mph range with late life, and he can reach back for 93 when he needs it. Most scouts think he’ll eventually pitch in the mid-90s. He shows good feel for his changeup, which has plus potential. Another key has been the return to health of hard-throwing closer A.J. Vanegas (2-3, 2.16, 7 SV), who battled a back injury last year, then came down with some tendinitis in his arm. The Cardinal has been very cautious with him, but he has gotten stronger down the stretch, flashing mid-90s heat and a wipeout slider. Vanegas and third baseman Alex Blandino are Stanford's highest-profile players, and both have performed. Blandino hit .306/.395/.541 with 11 homers and 37 RBIs. Fellow junior Austin Slater (.349/.400/.497) has blossomed into the team's leading hitter, and football/baseball talent Zach Hoffpauir (.339/.395/.522, 6 HR) has been a pleasant surprise, the latest in Stanford's long line of two-sport contributors.

Youngstown State, which reached regionals in 2004 only to go 0-2, won the Horizon League Tournament after beating No. 1 seed Wright State twice, the No. 3 seed Valparaiso and the No. 4 seed Milwaukee. The Penguins are led by coach Steve Gillispie, who said the team’s struggles in the first half of the season were a result of injuries. Gillispie took over the team two years ago following an 11-44 season and said part of the problem was the team didn’t know how to win, since 16 of the 35 players had not played Division I baseball. The Penguins have the worst record of any team in the Field of 64, but they won 6 of their final 11 games, including, of course, four in a row in the Horizon League tournament. Gillispie said he will start with senior Patrick O'Brien (2-10, 7.23) or freshman Jeremy Quinlan (1-2, 5.00) in the opener Friday against IU. The Penguins have a solid closer in Kevin Yarabinec (2-2, 2.42, 5 SV), who closed out the Horizon title game. Yaribinec can reach 90 mph and features a swing-and-miss breaking ball. But Youngstown has a 6.90 staff ERA, which ranks 290th out of 300 Division I baseball teams, so the Penguins are the heaviest underdog in the NCAA tournament against powerful Indiana. On offense, they’re led by senior Phil Lipari (.322/.415/.489), who has five of the team’s 17 home runs. Lipari is hot, coming off a Horizon League tournament MVP showing.