IOWA CITY, Ia. — Rick Heller sensed this was coming.
As Iowa baseball continues expanding its brand with on-field success and analytical approaches, the Hawkeyes' head man knew his program — and coaches — would start gaining professional traction. Clubs, now more frequently than before, are dipping into the college ranks for analytical muscle. Coaches such as Heller have seen MLB teams poach their assistants the same way the draft can decimate a roster.
Iowa’s transactions became official this week: Pitching coach Desi Druschel and hitting coach Joe Migliaccio are headed to the New York Yankees in analytical roles, while former 11-year MLB veteran Tom Gorzelanny and Robin Lund slide in as replacements. This shuffling certainly isn’t ideal with just two weeks until the collegiate season opens, but consider these moves another sign of Iowa’s upward trajectory.
Sending two more Hawkeye products to pro ball only accentuates Iowa’s firm ground in the analytical age. On the flip side, adding Gorzelanny’s experience and knowledge is a coveted resource not all college baseball programs have. Lund’s strength and conditioning background will bolster the staff as well.
“You feel like you’re doing the right thing when guys like that get these opportunities,” Heller said Tuesday. "The program is now to a point where we can continue to hire really, really good people. Any time you have good people and people think a lot of your program and how you go about your business, those guys are going to be attractive.”
Druschel had been on pro radars for a while, as he’s pushed Iowa squarely into the analytical movement since arriving in 2014. A peek at Druschel’s Twitter account gives inside looks into how the Hawkeyes have woven various analytical programs into their normal routines.
Druschel said the Yankees’ interest picked up after the American Baseball Coaches Association convention in early January. Arguably baseball’s most storied franchise wasn’t going away on this one.
Consider this the biggest sign. Druschel’s title — manager of pitch development — is a position the Yankees created just for him under the minor league coaching umbrella. New York, Druschel said, wasn’t going to hire anyone else for the role.
“The college ranks are where people can make a more immediate change (with shifts toward analytics),” Druschel, said, "and now, professional baseball is looking like, ‘OK, they’re having success doing this. Let’s get people who have an understanding.’
“But there was no easy decision. I wish there was a better way, because I feel like my work was half-done with what I was doing (at Iowa). I feel like the spring was going to be a lot of fun, but I also feel terrible that I’m leaving just a few weeks before we start. We’ve been working this plan and vision. … But I also think it’s been a good, smooth transition where I could spend time with Robin and Tom. I feel way more comfortable that they’re going to keep going with what we were doing.”
That thought stems primarily from the guys entering. Given the condensed timeline, Heller had to replenish his staff before Iowa’s Feb. 15 season-opener, landing a former big-leaguer right up the road must feel like a win. The familiarity with Lund, a former Northern Iowa assistant under Heller, is a bonus.
Gorzelanny last pitched in 2017 while rehabbing with the New York Mets, but the previous decade-plus was spent as a consistent MLB asset. With more than 300 career games pitched, postseason experience and a wealth of baseball knowledge, Gorzelanny adds a unique element Iowa previously didn’t have.
There will be some learning curves. This is Gorzelanny’s first official coaching job, and baseball’s analytical wave hadn’t erupted yet during his playing years. But all indications are Gorzelanny should blend right into Iowa’s established culture.
“I’ve learned so much throughout the game, and I’ve tried to pay attention to every coach I’ve been around,” Gorzelanny said. “Just having had experienced everything these kids are experiencing or will experience, I want to give them that information and be there for them.
“If these guys want to play beyond here, I’m here as a resource. I’m not a guy who’s going to come in here and try to change everything. I want to adapt to them and what they’ve been doing. Just keep things rolling the way they were.”
That’s the expectation, even with the staff movement.
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.