MUTKA: Craig Dedelow blooms from Indiana walk-on to part-time starter
By John Mutka email@example.com June 22, 2014 10:44PM
Oilmem's Craig Dedelow grabs a hit by Admiral's Stephen Yant leaving 1 runner on ending the top of the 3rd at Oil City Stadium on June 13, 2014. | Jim Karczewski/Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 24, 2014 6:29AM
Craig Dedelow didn’t expect to set the world on fire going into his freshman year at Indiana University.
“Being a walk-on I didn’t think I’d get much playing time at all,” he said before flaring up with the Northwest Indiana Oilmen last week.
Understandable since he was joining an elite program fresh from its first appearance in the College World Series. Who could blame him for feeling somewhat intimidated?
“I was a little scared at first,” the Munster grad admitted. Fortunately he was embraced by a welcoming committee of coaches and players. “They made me feel like part of last year’s team.”
Outfielders Will Nolden and Tim O’Conner were also supportive, which reduced his stress level during IU’s run to a second straight Big Ten title and super regional appearance.
Having all-Big Ten standouts Dustin DeMuth and Scott Donley as teammates provided an emotional lift because of their Northwest Indiana roots. Even though Dedelow didn’t know them before reporting it hastened the bonding process.
He responded big-time, mostly as a backup left fielder.
Dedelow appeared in 36 games (15 starts) for the Hoosiers, who dominated the Big Ten with a 21-3 record in a 44-win season. Two of those starts came against Stanford in the Super Regional after outfielder Brad Hartong suffered a season-ending spleen injury.
Going 3-for-4 in IU’s season-ending loss boosted Dedelow’s baseball ego. Look for an expanded role with the Hoosiers, who will be hard-pressed to defend their title with the departure of five draftees.
“Being around this group of guys made me a better player,” said Dedelow. “I made a lot of adjustments, mostly mental. A lot of little things. Baseball smarts.”
Physically, he’s also moved forward, tacking 20 pounds on his 6-foot-4, 175-pound frame. It’s not enough. Dedelow wants to return next year weighing over 200.
Assistant coach Ben Greenspan believes his .234 average is just the tip of the iceberg. At this stage Dedelow reminds him of DeMuth, the departing Big Ten batting champ.
“Similar body-types when they were freshmen,” Greenspan said. “Craig’s big, strong, a left-handed hitter. I had a (major league) scout ask me about him. Told me the kid has a chance to be a very good player.”
Indiana will be missing Kyle Schwarber, a No. 4 draft choice of the Cubs, who promoted him from Boise to Kane County after he hit four home runs in his first five games, and Big Ten player of the year Sam Travis, who was drafted by the Red Sox. The lethal sluggers combined for 26 of IU’s 43 home runs.
DeMuth and Donley, both high RBI guys, also chipped in for the Hoosiers, who averaged better than six runs a game. DeMuth batted .374 before signing on with the Brewers. Donley returns, a year removed from leading the league in RBI.
“Scott’s a gap hitter who protected Sam (Travis) in the four-hole,” Greenspan said. “We had three guys in the middle of the lineup who were as good as any in the country. Pitchers really had to work hard to get through them, then they’d have to face Donley and DeMuth.”
Look for the Hoosiers to switch tactics next year, replacing power with manufactured runs, a small-ball approach which the Oakland Athletics have embraced.
“You’ll probably see more stolen bases, more hit-and-run,” Greenspan said. “Tracy (Coach Smith) likes to be aggressive. I think our pitching’s going to have to carry us, though.”
Joey DeNato, who took his 13-1 record and 1.82 ERA to the Phillies (19th round), leaves a void, but the Hoosiers return Luke Harrison (6-0, 2.21 ERA), Christian Morris (6-3, 2.04 ERA), Scott Effross (5-3, 5 saves) and Kyle Hart (3-1, 2.29), who was 8-2 a year ago.
Dedelow concedes the Hoosiers will struggle to three-peat, but is cautiously optimistic.
“I don’t think it’ll be a down year, to say the least,” he said. “We might not be as good, but it should be interesting.”
It will be difficult to match the excitement of playing the Big Ten tournament in Omaha, the annual headquarters for the World Series. The Hoosiers beat Nebraska for the title before 20,000 fans, all but a few hundred rooting for the Cornhuskers.
That’s more than the White Sox were drawing up until a couple of weeks ago, but Dedelow won’t knock the South Siders even though he grew up in a divided household.
“My dad’s side of the family were Cub fans, but I went to a lot more Sox games because my mother’s side were Sox fans,” he said.
Dedelow does have a confession to make. He gradually switched his allegiance to the Tampa Bay Rays. He’s at a loss to explain it.
“I don’t know how that happened,” he said.
Growing up his favorite player was Ken Griffey Jr., a 13-time all-star outfielder who hit 630 home runs in a 22-year career, mostly with Seattle and Cincinnati.
“My brother and I used to pretend we were him, playing catch in the back yard,” Dedelow said.
His personal field of dreams has given way to roaming in IU’s outfield, hoping to attract the attention of scouts by his junior year while pursuing a degree in management.