4 questions Iowa baseball faces ahead of the 2023 season
IOWA CITY — February carries a familiar tune in college baseball, where optimism runs wild with nothing to derail talks of best-case scenarios at every position.
Rick Heller’s Hawkeyes are no different. Coming off a fourth straight season where Iowa spent chunks of the year in regional discussions before ultimately falling short, the Hawkeyes again believe the pieces are there for a different ending in 2023.
“I think we have a chance to have an excellent team,” Heller said this week during media day.
First pitch arrives at 2 p.m. next Friday against Indiana State, as Iowa again kicks off the season at the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, Florida. The Hawkeyes will wrap up the opening weekend with games next Saturday (10 a.m.) and Sunday (9 a.m.) versus Quinnipiac.
Here are some of the top Iowa baseball storylines to monitor as another season approaches.
How soon can Ty Langenberg show the consistency needed as the weekend anchor?
When it comes to Heller’s multi-year impact on Iowa baseball, setting a Friday night standard on the mound has been maybe the most emphatic development.
Adam Mazur and Trenton Wallace have won the last two Big Ten pitcher of the year awards. Nick Allgeyer is Heller’s first big leaguer at Iowa. Cole McDonald and Nick Gallagher had numerous strong starts before bouncing to pro ball. All of them started their ascension on Friday nights.
Ty Langenberg is next up.
The 6-foot-2 right-hander out of Urbandale enters his third collegiate campaign with plenty of evidence that he can be Iowa’s weekend anchor. It’s been a steady climb from sporadic relief innings (2021) to weekend starter (2022) to now, rotation headliner.
The numbers last season were decent: 7-2 with a 3.71 ERA and 74 strikeouts across 63 innings. Twelve of Langenberg’s 14 appearances were starts, including a nice Big Ten Tournament outing against Penn State with Iowa’s season on the line.
“Obviously, I’m a little bit more confident this year with that experience,” Langenberg said. “With the bullpen sessions (this offseason), we’ve really been focusing on the cutter. It was a pitch we thought there was a lot more potential to, and it’s something we can definitely use to pursue left-handed batters mostly."
Like Langenberg, Iowa’s previous five weekend anchors began their headliner season with no previous experience on Friday nights. Once the action got rolling, Heller hasn't had to yank any of them from that role.
Langenberg doesn’t need to dominate exactly like those who came before him, but at least mirroring their consistency puts Iowa’s pitching staff in the best spot possible.
Can Zach Voelker become Iowa's latest transfer gem?
Iowa hit the transfer-portal golden ticket last year with Mazur, who became Iowa’s highest MLB Draft pick since Heller took over in 2014.
Zach Voelker is the next addition looking to make a giant splash in Iowa City. While it’s a bit unrealistic to expect the same meteoric rise as Mazur, adding Voelker from Long Beach State gives Heller another experienced weapon to compete for weekend starts.
Voelker’s 2022 stats don’t pop off the page — 4-4 with a 6.05 ERA over 14 appearances, including seven starts — but remember, neither did Mazur’s at South Dakota State before joining the Hawkeyes. Voelker also followed his Iowa commitment with a Cape Cod League all-star selection in the summer.
“He’s been in big games. He’s beat really good teams,” Heller said. “Went to the Cape and challenged himself just like Ty did. Was a guy really looking for the pitching program that we have. Wanted to maximize his abilities and felt like if he came here, there were some things he could work on that would help him get better.”
Voelker could get a crack at the weekend rotation at some point early on. The erratic non-conference schedule Iowa endures early on can make it tough to establish routines when looking to establish weekend starters. So the quicker Voelker can show his worth, the better for the Hawkeyes.
Are bounce-back years in store for Marcus Morgan and Brody Brecht?
It goes without question that Brody Brecht and Marcus Morgan dealt with more struggles last season than at any other point in their careers. The two high school stars were in survival mode for most of their freshmen campaigns.
The ceilings, though, for Morgan and Brecht? Still sky-high.
“I feel like last year, I was trying to live up to the hype and meet everybody’s expectations for myself,” Brecht said. “I kind of lost track of how I wanted to do things.
“So for this year, I’m just trying to be the best me. Not really worried about what everyone else thinks. Just trying to do what I can to help the team win.”
Remember, Morgan began last season in the weekend rotation before ever throwing a collegiate pitch. And Brecht’s credentials are as well-documented as anyone’s. If both can settle into productive roles that showcase why their high school hype was so intense, Iowa’s pitching staff could easily reach another level of dominance.
Can Keaton Anthony turn a strong 2022 into elite two-way success in 2023?
Behind the scenes of Keaton Anthony’s Big Ten freshman of the year campaign were bullpen and flat ground sessions that didn’t materialize into actual innings on the hill — but set the stage for Anthony to become Iowa’s latest two-way weapon in 2023.
It’s an ambitious challenge, especially with Anthony being such a pivotal piece on both sides of the ball. His plate prowess is firmly established, and the plan isn’t for Anthony to just throw a few low-stress innings here and there. The 6-foot-4 right-hander could very well be making weekend starts from the jump.
“My recovery days and time periods (are going to be most important),” Anthony said. “Obviously if I’m going to start — whenever my outings are — I’m going to be a little bit more sore the day after. So if I throw on a Friday out of the 'pen, then I’d expect to be a little sore on Saturday and have to do a lot of recovery stuff before that game to hit. So I think just making sure I’m taking care of my body this year in a really good way.”
Anthony said Wednesday that winning Big Ten player of the year is an achievable goal in 2023. Two-way success would be the quickest route to that award.
Dargan Southard is a sports trending reporter and covers Iowa athletics for the Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.