How will the Iowa baseball lineup — batting and pitching — look in 2016?
Given the roster turnover that's about to occur entering coach Rick Heller's third year, plus the unknown of the upcoming MLB First-Year Player Draft, predicting such a thing could be an exercise in futility.
But it's still fun to try to figure out who might be occupying key seats that will certainly be wide-open to competiton (a key preaching point in the Heller system; jobs are earned, not inherited).
Here are reporter Chad Leistikow's way-too-early predictions, taking an admittedly optimistic approach that the only junior or high school prospect swiped in the draft is high-end pitching prospect Blake Hickman, for the Hawkeyes' 2016 lineup:
- 2B Mason McCoy, junior (bats R/throws R): If McCoy can continue what he did at Illinois Central, swiping a school-record 52 bags in two junior-college seasons and hitting around .390, he could be replace the top-of-the-order speed left behind by Eric Toole while filling Jake Mangler's infield spot. Could also slide to third base or shortstop if incoming freshman Mitch Boe (Naperville, Ill.) emerges.
- RF Joel Booker, senior (R/R): Another speed threat who can handle the bat (team-high eight sacrifice bunts in 2015). He would need to see more pitches to hit this high in the order, but he showed loads of potential at Indian Hills Community College.
- 1B Tyler Peyton, senior (R/R): This is a big "if" because Peyton could turn pro if he gets drafted high enough next week. The third-team all-Big Ten pick was Iowa's leading hitter at .337, and it makes sense to return him to the No. 3 hole.
- DH Grant Klenovich, sophomore (R/R): Suffered an ill-timed knee injury that kept him out of NCAA regionals, but possesses a power bat. He slugged .462 with an on-base percentage of .455 in 14 games (seven starts) in 2015. If Peyton turns pro, Klenovich could seize the regular first-base job.
- SS Nick Roscetti, senior (R/R): A steady 2015 contributor would figure to be put in a position to drive in runs. He led all Hawkeyes with a .391 average in Big Ten play and provided solid defense up the middle, starting 55 of 59 games.
- 3B Austin Guzzo, sophomore (L/R): Third base is wide open with Nick Day's departure, and the versatile Canadian's left-handed bat could be useful here. McCoy, incoming freshman Daniel Perry and junior Corbin Woods are possibilities, too, if they can hit and play defense.
- LF Luke Farley, freshman (R/R): If the Waterloo Columbus product can hit as well as advertised, he is the most likely freshman to crack the regular lineup. He brings a power bat that the Hawkeyes desperately need. Sioux City North's Robert Neustrom (a lefty) also could provide an instant impact.
- C Jimmy Frankos, senior (L/R) or Daniel Aaron Moriel, senior (R/R): They shared time at catcher in 2015 and will likely do so again, depending on matchups. Plus, Iowa has two hot incoming catcher prospects in power-hitting junior Zack Fricke (Waterloo) and freshman Dametri Evans (Hemet, Calif.).
- CF Eric Schenck-Joblinske, senior (L/L): Though he hit .140 last season, the Dike product brings an intriguing speed and power combination. Might have the most pop on the roster, enough to warrant a more extended look.
- Friday: Tyler Peyton, senior (R): A no-brainer if the Grimes product returns for his senior season. Recorded team-highs of 95 innings and 74 strikeouts. By beating Oregon 3-1, Peyton became Iowa's first winning pitcher in an NCAA regional since 1972.
- Saturday: Ryan Erickson, junior (L): The Mason City native was prepared to quit baseball, but Heller brought him into the program as an effective long reliever (4-1, 2.79 ERA) with a low-90s fastball.
- Sunday: Calvin Mathews, senior (R): Performed admirably through shoulder issues, delivering a second-team all-Big Ten season (5-3, 2.45 ERA). The Bloomfield native's consistency gives Iowa a chance to win every series finale.
- Luke Vandermaten, senior (R): Could start, too, but ideally he becomes the new Nick Hibbing. The quirky Fort Dodge native picked up four saves last season while going 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA. His only weakness was plunking 11 batters in 421/3 innings.