Andrew Wiggins

2024 Season Preview Series: Outfield

The Hoosiers are strong and deep in what is expected to be one of the best outfields in the nation

By Zach Horwitz @HorwitzZach February 6th, 2024 – photo of practice by Zach Greene

The Indiana outfield is anchored by esteemed leaders, impactful transfers, promising newcomers, and dedicated role players, collectively forming its strong backbone.

Jeff Mercer’s squad faced two significant departures after the 2023 season. Hunter Jessee, after a successful four-year tenure at Indiana, returned to his home state as a graduate transfer to join newly appointed head coach Jordan Bischel and the Cincinnati Bearcats. Jessee, a trusted left-handed bat in the Hoosiers’ lineup, appeared in 56 games last season, primarily in the outfield, while boasting a career batting average of .302 at IU. Additionally, the departure of Bobby Whalen, who started 119 games in centerfield over the past two years, leaves a void in the outfield as he transferred to play his final season in the ACC for the Virginia Cavaliers.

While these losses may seem detrimental on the surface, Indiana possesses the talent to step into these roles and excel.

Carter Mathison
Carter Mathison photo by Carl James

The outfield is led by Carter Mathison, who will captain the outfield from centerfield. In his sophomore season, the Fort Wayne native showcased his versatility by appearing in 20 games in the outfield and serving as the designated hitter in 41 others. Despite Jeff Mercer’s initial concerns about the outfield play in the fall, he noted significant improvement, particularly citing Mathison’s contributions. With Mathison still adjusting to his role in centerfield, his formidable power bat adds depth to the lineup. After earning Freshman All-America Honors and setting the Indiana freshman single-season home run record with 19 homers, the 6’2 lefty posted a .311 batting average in his sophomore campaign. Mathison also tied the freshman RBI record at IU with 58, which was then eclipsed by Devin Taylor in 2023, who capped it off with 59.

Taylor, now regarded as a highly touted sophomore, enters the season on the heels of a remarkable year, earning a slew of accolades including first team All-America honors, Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and first team All-Big Ten recognition. Despite his impressive achievements, Taylor maintains a humble perspective, stating, “I’m just playing the game I love… I don’t chase results.” While slashing .315 in 200 at-bats last season, Taylor acknowledges the need for adjustment, recognizing, “You have to know that you’re going to be pitched differently, so you have to approach it differently.” Coach Mercer underscores Taylor’s dedication, noting his commitment to studying game footage, particularly of how pitchers have approached Mathison and Phillip Glasser in the past. Mercer emphasizes, “Devin doesn’t have many holes… and he’s going to have to be willing to take his walks.” Drawing from Taylor’s past experiences, Mercer reflects on his early success, recalling, “As the Cincinnati player of the year at 16 years old playing on an 18-year-old team, it has been a known commodity and he’s been tried to be pitched around.” Expected to bat anywhere in the top four of the lineup, Taylor’s ability to manage situations with runners on base is praised. Furthermore, Taylor looks forward to driving in runs alongside new teammate Nick Mitchell, a transfer from Western Illinois, aiming to boost his RBI numbers this season. (photo by Zach Greene)

Devin Taylor

In this new era of college athletics, the transfer portal emerges as a distinctive avenue for replenishing roster turnover and attracting skilled talent. Jeff Mercer exemplified this strategy. Recognizing the untapped potential in Nick Mitchell, Mercer noted, “During the COVID recruiting shutdown, nobody really saw him.” He elaborated, “So when he went to Western Illinois, the numbers certainly were kind of eye-opening.” Mitchell’s experience with the Leathernecks provided valuable exposure to Big 12, Big 10, and SEC pitching. Mercer emphasized, “When you come to the power five level, it’s a big jump… he played really well against those teams, and so you realize this is a real player who is physically capable of playing at this level.” Expressing gratitude for his network and connections, Mercer credited Mitchell’s friendship between then-fellow classmate Carter Mathison, as well as his own relationships with high school coaches and players he coached at Wright State who were familiar with Mitchell’s talent. (photo by Chris Feeny)

On the diamond, the coaching staff has high expectations for Nick Mitchell. Jeff Mercer linked Mitchell’s skills from the left-handed batter’s box to those of former Hoosier Phillip Glasser, noting, “Phillip read the whole field, didn’t chase, and he didn’t whiff. When you look at a guy like that, that’s exactly what Nick does.” Mitchell, boasting one of the lowest chase rates in all of college baseball last season, finds himself in an ideal position to step into Glasser’s shoes as the leadoff batter for the squad. With 95 games under his belt at Western Illinois and a career batting average of .348, Mitchell is known as a contact hitter with deceptive power, capable of bolstering the lineup behind him. Hailing from Carmel, Indiana, Mitchell makes the journey just an hour south, aiming to leave his mark on the local program.

Barring any changes, it looks to be a starting outfield of Devin Taylor in left field, Carter Mathison in centerfield, and Nick Mitchell in right field to kick off the 2024 season.

The depth pieces for Indiana’s outfield contains two older guys and one rookie who’s strengths will play a factor in a long 60-plus game season.

Not only recognized for his vocal presence in the clubhouse or his musical talents, Freshman Andrew Wiggins also possesses a formidable swing at the plate. Ranked as the 37th best player in the country and the second best in the state of Indiana as a high school senior, Wiggins followed in the footsteps of his sister, a basketball player at Butler University, by staying in-state, as he joins IU. Hitting an impressive .446 during his prep career at Heritage Christian, Wiggins brings a left-handed bat that should see action as the designated hitter or in the outfield during midweek matchups. With chatter circulating that Wiggins has taken on a “little brother” role for Devin Taylor, he could emulate Taylor’s approach by heating up when given the chance. This approach proved valuable for Taylor, who is now highly regarded and a projected top pick in the 2025 MLB Draft. Wiggins can anticipate receiving playing time throughout his freshman season. (photo by Zach Greene)

Andrew Wiggins

Both in their senior seasons at Indiana, Morgan Colopy and Sam Murrison offer substantial bench roles for the team this year. Similarly to last year, Colopy saw action in 46 games, starting 12, while Murrison played 36 games as a substitute. Colopy possesses what could be the biggest potential of raw power on the roster. As a right-handed bench bat, Colopy will get in the batter’s box when seen fit. Murrison, the South Florida native, should be thrown into the field as a defensive change in the outfield.

Assuming no setbacks, the Indiana outfield appears poised to be among the nation’s finest this season, a pivotal factor in their aspirations to claim the Big Ten title and secure the opportunity to host a regional tournament.