Rick Heller encapsulates Iowa's 2019 season, which included many positives despite rough finish. Hawk Central
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Coinciding with Iowa baseball’s on-field resurgence under Rick Heller has been added Hawkeye hype surrounding the MLB Draft. It’s been a balancing act for the head coach, who’s had numerous key contributors jump to professional ball early.
It appears this year will be a quieter one for Heller and the Hawkeyes, at least compared to recent ones. In the previous two drafts combined, Iowa had six non-seniors — all big names — leave for the next level. The Hawkeyes may not have one this week.
The 2019 MLB Draft begins at 6 p.m. (CT) Monday with the first two rounds on MLB Network and MLB.com. The draft continues at noon Tuesday with rounds 3-10, and concludes at 11 a.m. Wednesday with rounds 11-40.
Here's a look at how this week might go for several Hawkeyes:
Skinny: Iowa has developed a nice trend of elevating pitchers to Friday-night status, then turning into nice draft picks after one solid season as the Hawkeyes’ weekend ace.
You saw that in 2017 with Nick Gallagher and then last year with Nick Allgeyer. Now, it appears time for Cole McDonald to do the same.
The senior right-hander is Iowa’s most solidified draft pick this week. McDonald went 6-3 with a 3.54 ERA, striking out 83 and walking 29 in 89 innings as Iowa’s most reliable starter. He ended his college career with a bang at the Big Ten Tournament.
Baseball America doesn’t have McDonald inside its top 500 — but the outlet does rank him as the state’s No. 5 overall draft prospect. That list includes JUCO and high school players as well.
As a senior with no financial leverage, McDonald’s signing bonus won’t come close to matching Gallagher’s or Allgeyer’s. But his draft position might. Gallagher went in the 16th round, Allgeyer in the 12th, and McDonald could easily get picked in that range or perhaps a bit earlier.
Decent 2019 figures, coupled with Iowa’s reputation for pitching development, should make McDonald a nice senior sign for someone.
Skinny: Organizational catching depth is always a coveted commodity, and Martin had a decent enough first year in Iowa City to possibly intrigue some clubs.
The Southeastern Community College transfer took over for Tyler Cropley and slashed .294/.369/.396 with 10 doubles and 30 RBIs. His batting average and hit total both ranked second on the team. Martin was reliable behind the plate, too, catching 53 of Iowa’s 55 games.
His plate production did tail off down the stretch, as Martin’s batting average and slugging percentage both dropped 30-plus points in Big Ten games (.264/.365/.356). Thirteen of his 21 walks were drawn in conference play to keep his on-base percentage steady. But only six of Martin’s 23 Big Ten hits went for extra bases. He came off the bench in Iowa’s season-ending loss to Minnesota.
Martin could bounce early if the situation is right. More realistically, though, he follows the Cropley route and returns to Iowa for a second and final year. That paid off immensely for Cropley. It could for Martin, as well.
Year: Redshirt freshman
Skinny: Listen, we don’t expect anything that happens this week to alter McCaffery’s Iowa City trajectory. Barring something totally unforeseen, he’ll be back in Hawkeye colors next season for another dual-sport run.
However, on the same Baseball America list where McDonald ranks fifth, McCaffery is third — ahead of any other Hawkeye. The only players ahead of McCaffery on that list are NIACC pitcher Evan Reifert (BA’s No. 384 overall prospect) and Kirkwood outfielder Levi Usher (BA’s No. 465 overall prospect).
McCaffery’s first attempt at a dual-sport reality generated mixed results on the diamond. The redshirt freshman played in four games while the basketball season was still going, then joined the baseball team full-time starting March 26.
In 84 at-bats, McCaffery slashed .238/.312/.310 with three doubles, one homer and five RBIs. He played in 32 games (22 starts), mostly as a platoon right-fielder. McCaffery didn’t hit much against lefties.
The Iowa City West alum turns 21 on July 13, making him draft eligible after just two years of college. His 6-foot-6, 205-pound frame fits a pro mold — and you could see a club pull the trigger late just on potential alone.
Again, expect McCaffery back in Iowa City until alerted otherwise. But it’s at least intriguing that arguably the most credible MLB Draft outlet has McCaffery on its radar, despite modest college production.
Ben Norman: Iowa’s junior outfielder rebounded from a horrible sophomore season. He hit just .251 in 2019 but led the Hawkeyes in RBIs and doubles. Norman will likely return for his senior year, but the perfect setup could send him to pro ball.
Grant Judkins: His Big Ten Tournament start aside, Judkins took a nice step forward as a junior. He produced a team-best 2.72 ERA among Hawkeyes who made at least 10 appearances. Someone could gobble him up on the third day.
Chris Whelan: One of Iowa’s most pivotal pieces during this recent run will find a baseball home somewhere. If it’s through the draft, the senior outfielder will get called sometime during the third day.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.