Notes from a meeting with Tracy Smith

Tracy Smith held a post-season meeting with the media this morning to address some end-of-season issues before he heads out for the summer for recruiting purposes. Most of the discussion points were already discussed in previous stories such as this one about Indiana’s desire to keep Smith from other possible suitors and also this story about Indiana’s next steps.  But there were some additional points of intrigue, which follow.

— The Hoosiers expect Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Aaron Slegers, who was taken in the fifth round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Minnesota Twins, to sign with the Twins in the coming days. Slegers was actually in Minneapolis on Thursday for a physical and testing, so that appears to be imminent. Slegers would have two years of eligibility if he decided to return. However, Smith said the Hoosiers are significantly more hopeful about the possibility of keeping junior third baseman Dustin DeMuth and junior closer Ryan Halstead for their final seasons of college eligibility. Both were also taken by the Twins with DeMuth going in the eighth inning and Halstead going in the 26th, but they have told Smith they are leaning toward staying. However, Smith made it clear that there is nothing concrete with those two. The deadline for players to determine whether or not they will sign is July 12, so Smith pointed out that much could still change.

“We’re not going to know anything until the 13th,” Smith said. “I think there’s a good chance that it could happen that they come back, but I’m not going to sit here and say because I’ve seen where organizations, the closer it gets to that deadline, if guys haven’t signed or they have a bunch of money left, who knows? Slegers, it’s a pretty good indication he’s gone. He’s gonna sign and do his deal. But the other guys are still strongly considering returning, but we’re just not gonna know anything until then. We’re like this. (Crosses fingers.)”

Smith has never had a drafted player with eligibility remaining return to school in his time at Indiana, so this would be a landmark moment for the program.

“You’d play teams in the spring time and say, ‘Well that guy’s tearing us up,'” Smith said. “What’s his deal? Well, he was a fifth-rounder last year.’ I’m like, ‘Well why didn’t he sign?’ What was making those guys come back? … If this happens, it’s gonna be nice to see, because we’re going to be able to track your professional career once you start playing and be able to say five years down the road. ‘See look, if you do consider coming back, it doesn’t hurt you because look what happened to Player X or Y and Z.’ Even the fact that guys are considering it is leaps and bounds over where we’ve been before. I think it’s a combination of a great year. I think it’s a combination of the stadium. I think it’s a combination of a statement that Indiana has made toward the baseball program that you guys matter.”

— Indiana will already have one player playing with Team USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team in catcher Kyle Schwarber. First baseman Sam Travis is also getting a tryout for the same Team USA squad. To make a play for that honor, Travis is pushing back surgery to fix the hammate bone in his left wrist. Both he and shortstop Michael Basil opted against surgery that would have cost them six weeks during the season and instead played through the pain. Travis will have surgery if he doesn’t play with Team USA and will sit out the fall or will have the surgery immediately after his tryout if he doesn’t make the team.

“We consulted with doctors, but it was kind of their decision,” Smith said. “‘Do you guys want to take care of this right now and miss six weeks or do you want to play?’ Both of them said they want to play. Well-documented, Sam struggled a little bit offensively, but at the end of the season, it kind of healed. He took off some of the tape and the braces and freed up. It’s one of those things, you get one chance to wear the red, white and blue and put Team USA on your chest. The decision again was his. They were expressing interest. He was scheduled to go home and have surgery and get it fixed. But his thought was, ‘You know what, if I get a chance to play for Team USA, I’ll play for them and then I’ll fix it in the Fall.’ I concurred with that decision because he doesn’t need to come back to me in the fall and prove or earn a spot. He’s already our guy. If he can make the team, we’ll delay the surgery and he can take his time and rest and rehab in the fall.”

— Smith appears to be interested in some experimenting with his pitching staff. If Slegers leaves and Halstead stays as expected. He’ll return three starters and a full bullpen, but all three of his starters are left-handers in Joey DeNato, Kyle Hart and Will Coursen-Carr. His bullpen, meanwhile, is right-hand dominant with Brian Korte being the only left-handed reliever who had any consistent level of experience. Smith’s experience in the College World Series, especially against Mississippi State, suggested to him that he might want to develop a left-handed long reliever who could throw in the mid-80s but could rely on excellent breaking stuff to throw opposing hitters off. Mississippi State rarely kept its starters in the game long, but left-handed relievers Ross Mitchell and Chad Girodo stepped in in the middle innings and were dominant. Girodo struck out 10 Indiana hitters in the Bulldogs win over the Hoosiers in the teams’ second game in the CWS.

“I think John Cohen at Mississippi State is on to a little something I’m a little intrigued about,” Smith said. “I’m always about get a little stronger out of the pen. But that whole lefty thing and being strong at the tail end is good. See what you can get out of your starter. If you can get two or three out of your starter, that. That shortened the game for the anyway whether they get one or two. And he says it openly. Whatever they can get from him. Theyn they have some nastiness coming out of the pen. That’s interesting. Because I look at Will Coursen-Carr going forward. Do we bump him into the starting thing or do we leave that kind of shut down lefty arm in the pen? I think there’s some validity to both.”

— All-American Kyle Schwarber certainly appears to be safe as a starter of some sort after hitting .366 with 18 home runs and 54 RBI this season, but it might not be easy for him to keep his starting job. The Hoosiers are bringing in lots of talent at the spot. Brad Hartong, a junior college All-American at Cypress College in California, joins the mix after having to sit out last season because he hadn’t completed all of the classes needed to start at IU until now. The Hoosiers also add Brett Gibbs from Alton High School in Godfrey, Ill., one of the highest rated catcher recruits in the Midwest, as well as North Central star Demetrius Webb.

Chad Clark, who started the end of the year at second base,  can also catch.

“We’re legitimately going to have five Division I caliber catchers defensively,” Smith said. “Offensively is probably going to be the separator…. It’s going to be interesting. We’re going to have some catchers. I like it.”