Sowers putting finishing touches on IU career

Logan Sowers had questions.

So one of Chris Lemonis’ first assignments as Indiana baseball coach was convincing the state’s top high school player that Bloomington was still the place for him.

Sowers, the 2014 Indiana Mr. Baseball honoree, originally committed to IU and former coach Tracy Smith. But when Smith left for Arizona State in June of that year, Sowers stepped back and examined the situation.

He knew of Lemonis, the former Louisville assistant and tireless recruiter of the Midwest region, but he didn’t know him personally. To feel comfortable in following through on his initial commitment, Sowers needed to learn what Lemonis was all about.

“After talking with him, I said, ‘You know what? This is still gonna be the right fit for me,’” Sowers said.

In four years of Sowers’ time at IU, Lemonis has been glad that was the case.

As his Indiana career draws to a close over the coming weeks, Sowers continues to carve his name into the program’s record books. He’s been an impact bat and under-appreciated outfielder during his four seasons as a Hoosier starter, and so often during his college career, as Sowers has gone, IU has followed.

Now, with Indiana entering a regular season-ending series with Maryland at Bart Kaufman Field this weekend, Sowers is at the heart of IU’s recent turnaround.

He’s hitting .440 (11-for-25) with two home runs and five RBIs across the past six games, helping IU to its current three-game winning streak, as the Hoosiers look to cement their standing in next week’s Big Ten Tournament and continue to update their resume for an NCAA Tournament berth in the days that follow.

“I just can’t think of all the big hits he’s had year in, year out,” Lemonis said. “When we make good runs, he’s always in the middle of it.”

No doubt a streaky hitter at times, Sowers has also done enough to claim a rightful spot in program history.
The Lafayette native enters tonight’s 7 p.m. contest against the Terrapins ranked No. 10 all-time at IU with 49 career doubles and tied for ninth with Kevin Orie with 34 career home runs.

With 224 career hits, Sowers needs only four more to crack Indiana’s all-time top 10, and any additional production this weekend and into the postseason will further establish Sowers’ legacy as both a productive middle-of-the-order bat and a player his teammates have counted on.

“I want to be remembered as a really good player,” Sowers said, “but also as a really good teammate, somebody who was a joy to be around when the guys came to the field, a good friend, good teammate, good leader.”

That Sowers is even with the Hoosiers in 2017 is perhaps the result of a frustrating junior season, when a wrist injury contributed to a slow start. Sowers’ batting average sat at a mere .211 on April 1 last spring before he closed the regular season hitting at a .354 clip across the final 28 games leading into the postseason.

“He was primed to have a good year and about halfway through the year, he took off,” Lemonis said. “I think that’s where his disappointment was, where he knew he played really well over the last half of the season.”

Going undrafted in June was a blow to Sowers, who was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 31st round of the 2014 draft and figured to hear his name called again last summer.

That letdown served as a propellor toward a season of change in 2018.

“When I didn’t get drafted, I took a step back and reevaluated my baseball career and what I needed to do to get drafted this year,” Sowers said. “I changed some things in my game, my two-strike approach, being a little more patient, trying not to miss my pitch and swinging at good pitches. I think that’s worked out this year.”

Indeed, the numbers are on Sowers’ side this spring.

As a slugger with an occasionally long swing, Sowers has struggled with strikeouts in the past. He posted a career-worst strikeout rate of 28 percent, coupled with a career-worst walk rate of 7.5 percent last season.
This year, Sowers has cut that strikeout rate to 20 percent, while walking 16 percent of the time. His on-base percentage of .432 ranks third among IU regulars.

“(That’s) plate discipline,” Sowers said of those improvements, “taking my walks when they’re giving them to me. Coming up to hit and there’s first base open, guy on second, just knowing they’re going to flipping me breaking balls and trying to pitch around me, not giving me a good ball to hit.”

Although the Big Ten has come to know Sowers for his bat, he’s also more than held his own in the outfield, where his strong arm in right field complements the defensive skills of Matt Gorski in left and Logan Kaletha in center.

“One thing people don’t realize about Logan is he’s such a great defender,” Lemonis said. “… He’s just a natural outfielder and for a big-body kid, he moves around and plays (well). He made some great plays at Nebraska this past weekend, but he’s done that his whole career.”

And it’s pleased the Indiana coach that he’s been able to watch it all unfold with Sowers in an IU uniform.

“We had to re-recruit him,” Lemonis said, “but I’m glad he picked us.”