Leistikow: Iowa's Brody Brecht can throw 100 mph fastball but still has big football plans

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — Brody Brecht is fully aware of the immense upside that others see in his baseball future.

He also possesses the humility to understand that his potential doesn't equate to definite dominance on the diamond.

“God has blessed me with the abilities,” the University of Iowa freshman said. “But I haven’t thrown a college pitch yet. A lot can change. I’ve got a lot to prove.”

That potential?

It’s tantalizing. It’s enormous. There’s a reason that Perfect Game rated him the No. 1 Major League Baseball prospect in the Big Ten Conference in his class of 2024.

And that was before Brecht touched 100 mph on the radar gun recently during a live session at an Iowa practice.

Well, 100.7 mph to be exact. That’s nearly 101 mph. That's rare air for any pitcher in any corner of the world. No wonder Brecht was grinning widely at Thursday’s Iowa baseball media day.

“I was pretty excited. That was always a milestone of mine,” said Brecht, who topped out at 98 mph at Ankeny High School. “But I’ve got to be able to throw strikes with it, got to be able to command it.”

We’ve seen highly hyped freshman talents on Iowa’s campus in recent years — wrestling’s Spencer Lee and basketball’s Caitlin Clark spring to mind.

But Brecht’s story has an extremely unique layer because he’s pairing his elite baseball skills with the goal of playing Power Five football, too. He’s not giving up on winning a starting job for Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes as a wide receiver this fall. He loves football. It's long been a dream of his to catch passes and score touchdowns for the Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium.

The thing is, though, his baseball potential could be worth millions of dollars. That’s something the radar gun validated recently.

Just how good is Brecht at baseball?

“As good as anybody to ever walk through these doors, potential-wise,” Iowa baseball coach Rick Heller said. “I’ve done this 37 years. I’ve never seen anybody throw 100.7 in the batting cage two weeks in. He’s extremely athletic, extremely talented. He has stuff that not many people on the planet have.”

Maybe most incredibly, Brecht increased his velocity without participating in organized baseball activities in the fall. He was fully engaged with the football team and even made one road trip while redshirting. A hand injury suffered during a blocking drill in August training camp hindered his progress in both sports.

Iowa pitching coach Robin Lund was amazed at how diligently Brecht put in work on his own to morph into baseball shape and modify some of his mechanics. He did some throwing for the first time in December and reported to the baseball team in January with remarkably little rust. He was ready to go ... and better than ever.

“He demonstrated some really impressive aptitude — the ability to make changes quick,” Lund said. “With how he is as an athlete, that’s a pretty scary combination.”

Thanks in part to strength training in football, Brecht has added 25 pounds since arriving at Iowa. He now tips the scales at 216 pounds on his muscular 6-foot-4 frame.

That height is one of the reasons his fastball is so powerful. Brecht takes a short stride on the mound and throws over the top.

“When he releases the baseball, it’s really high. It looks like he’s on a stepladder, throwing downhill,” Lund said. “So when the fastball enters the zone, if you measure the angle where it enters the zone, it’s steep. It’s different. It’s unique.”

And that makes Brecht's pitches difficult to hit, because batters rarely see anything like them.

Brecht also has a slider and curve ball, and he’s working on a change-up.

“He just throws those a lot harder than the typical person,” Lund said.

So it’s no wonder that Iowa baseball is excited to see what Brecht can do. Heller was practically giddy wondering how Brecht would perform whenever his first outing comes. Iowa opens the season Feb. 18 against Air Force in Charleston, South Carolina.

“He’s going to have a huge role this year for us,” Heller said.

Iowa freshman Brody Brecht has an undefined role on Rick Heller's baseball team, but he will have a major role. Brecht could be a long reliever, a shut-down reliever or even a starter.

How can football work, too?

As anyone who followed the Hawkeyes’ 10-4 football season last fall knows, the offense needs help. And a position Iowa lacks is that big, productive outside receiver (aka the “X” receiver). Enter Brecht. That’s exactly why he was recruited with classmates Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce IV — who both played significant roles as true freshmen. Brecht can complement those two perfectly with his athletic, big frame.

To understand how he can handle both sports, it helps that Brecht’s adviser is Sam Samardzija. He is the brother of former Notre Dame two-sport star Jeff Samardzija, who pulled off the football-baseball double back in the mid-2000s. Not only did Jeff Samardzija catch 179 passes for 2,593 yards with 27 touchdowns in a remarkable football career for the Irish, he went on to enjoy a 13-year MLB career in which he pitched 1,600-plus innings and struck out 1,449 batters.

That history helps convince Brecht that this ambitious plan is doable, that he could be the next Samardzija.

“I’ve been talking with (Sam) about, ‘How’d Jeff do it? How did he handle the lifting?’ The travel, the classes, whatever,” Brecht said. “He was an all-American receiver. And he’s made millions and millions of dollars in MLB. If I can be even close to what he was, that’d be cool.”

Heller and Ferentz have communicated about handling Brecht with the freshman's best interest in mind. That’s the only way both tracks have a chance to work. Brecht credited Iowa football strength coach Raimond Braithwaite as being extremely helpful in tailoring the content and timing of his workouts to accommodate his desires in both sports. The football strength training has helped, Brecht said, improve the power on his fastball.

But at some point, talent is going to have to win out over hard work. Because there’s no way Brecht can put in as much time with football as his receiver teammates; and he misses all of fall baseball workouts, a key developmental time.

“For this to work really well,” Heller said, “he’s going to have to be good enough to miss the first half of baseball season, miss the second half of football season, and still be able to beat people out — knowing that he’s going to be behind.”

Brecht will attend as many football meetings as he can this spring. It’s possible he’ll be able to sneak over to a few practices, but he’ll be reticent to do any contact work. He doesn’t want to let his baseball teammates down by getting unnecessarily injured.

Brecht’s summer schedule shows how meticulously football and baseball are trying to work together. He’s scheduled to play in the first half of a summer-league season in Clinton, in the Prospect League. That’s close enough in proximity that Brecht can commute back and forth for football training.

This spring, though, he’s laser-focused on the baseball side of things.

“Obviously, I wish I could be out there for spring (football). But baseball’s the priority right now,” Brecht said. “That’s where I’ve got to put most of my focus.”

With the transfer of Tyrone Tracy Jr., Iowa could use an every-down "X" receiver. Could Brody Brecht be that guy despite a spring devoted mostly to baseball?

How will Brecht be used in baseball?

It’s worth pointing out that because of MLB Draft rules, Brecht wouldn’t be eligible to turn pro until the 2024 draft. So he’s got time to test out this two-sport experiment. But certainly, baseball offers big-time upside.

So that leads to the next question: If he's this good, how much of an immediate impact can he make for Heller?

Short answer: To be determined.

Long answer: He'll provide a little of everything.

Heller and Lund feel great about their three-man starting rotation, which doesn't include Brecht. Heller said slated Friday-night starter Adam Mazur, a South Dakota State transfer, “has electric stuff” and can touch 97 mph with his fastball. Saturday starter Connor Schultz, a Butler transfer, has “wiffle-ball” movement on his five pitches and is healthy for the first time in years. And freshman Marcus Morgan has wowed the coaches with his stuff. The Iowa City West product is the slated Sunday starter and has a spin rate on his pitches that Heller said would be elite at the major-league level ... in addition to a slider that “is as good as I’ve ever seen.”

So, Brecht could be a long-relief guy or a closer. Heller thinks Brecht could throw up to 75 pitches in an outing now. Once his endurance increases, he could be a starter — next year at the latest. With Brecht’s ability to strike batters out, he could be a perfect guy in the sixth through eighth innings.

“Hopefully he can get his feet wet early, get some confidence, have some success,” Lund said. “Then we can start unleashing him in tough situations.”

It’s certainly going to be fascinating to watch how Brecht’s story unfolds from here.

And every step of the way, Iowa coaches in baseball and football — not to mention interested Hawkeye fans — will be watching.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.