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Redbird Baseball’s Steve Holm Gives Better Look at Each Position Headed into Spring

Written by on February 6, 2023

Image courtesy of Redbird Athletics

NORMAL, Ill. – The season is right around the corner for the Illinois State Baseball team. As it comes closer and closer, a common thought amongst the ISU community is who is playing where. The team is significantly younger from years past with a new group of freshman and transfers making waves throughout the team.

On Friday, ISU Head Coach, Steve Holm gave the media a better idea of how each position will fare for the upcoming season with it less than two weeks away.

The first guy that was penciled in right away for the Birds was shortstop Luke Cheng. Cheng seems to be taking over the leadership role for this Redbird team after breaking out in 2022. Cheng appeared in 46 games last season hitting .289 and driving in 26 runs, while playing All-Missouri Valley Conference defense at shortstop.

The other player that is taking over as another veteran for this program is Greg Nichols. Nichols primarily played second base for ISU last season, but with Nick Gile out of the picture, Nichols will take over the third base role.

“He’s one of those guys where he gives you the chance to play the best nine guys you can,” said Holm. “His versatility will help us.”

Nichols hit .241 in 2022 with 16 RBI’s and a fielding percentage of .974.

When it came to the right side of the infield, it seems like Holm is unclear who exactly will play those two positions. Holm did name three players that will all be competing for spots over at first and second base.

The player out of those three that Holm said will definitely play is Shay Kubo. Kubo is a transfer they received from Northern Colorado. Last spring Kubo hit .318 with 8 home runs and driving in 37.

“He (Kubo) arguably has our best resume of any returning hitter,” said Holm. “He’s had a very successful career at the division one level, so he will play.”

The other two players competing for that last infield spot will be Shai Robinson and Judah Morris. Robinson is a freshman from Flossmoor, Ill. Robinson was recently just named an impact freshman for MVC by D1 Baseball. Judah Morris is another transfer who is currently a redshirt sophomore.

As for center field, the Redbirds will obviously have a big hole to fill after Ryan Cermak got drafted this past summer. ISU will turn to returning sophomore, JT Sokolove. In 2022, Sokolove hit .254 while scoring 14 runs and had a fielding percentage of .962.

In left field, the Birds will go with another freshman, Daniel Pacella. Pacella is a left-handed hitter from Mundelein, Ill. He was also just recently named as an impact freshman for the MVC by D1 Baseball.

“He’ll roam around, and you don’t want to get in his way when you are out there,” said Holm. “He’s a little like a bull in a china shop.”

Holm then went onto say that Auggie Rasmussen will take over duties in right field. Rasmussen is a left-handed hitting transfer from Iowa Western. Holm raved over the abilities that Rasmussen can bring to the baseball field.

“He (Rasmussen) runs really well, with some really nice bat speed and should be able to put the ball over the wall,” said Holm.

When it comes to catching it seems as if the Birds will go to some what of a catcher by committee to start the season. Holm has multiple options to go in the catching department with Tyler Woltman returning and two transfers, Dylan Swarmer and Nick Strong.

The Redbirds are returning multiple pitchers from their staff in ’22. Holm stated that if the season were to start today, senior Derek Salata would more than likely be their opening day starter. Salata appeared in 13 games in ’22 posting a 4.11 ERA.

One of the best pitchers for the Redbirds last season was Jared Hart. Hart is returning this season in a role that has yet to be determined stated by Holm. Whether Hart is coming out of the bullpen or starting games, he will be one of the Birds go-to guys. Last season, Hart appeared in 23 games posting a 2.45 ERA while striking out 50 batters.

Holm also boasted over the class they brought in of freshman and transfers. He stated that a lot of those players could make big impacts when given the opportunity to do so.

The Redbirds will begin their season on Feb. 17 at Austin Peay. The Redbirds first home game of the season will be versus Eastern Illinois on March 17.