By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Tyler Cropley only played two seasons for the Iowa baseball team, but that was enough time for him to become arguably one of the top catchers in program history and a highly-regarded professional prospect.
The Washington Nationals proved that on Tuesday by selecting Cropley in the eighth round of the 2018 Amateur Baseball Draft and with the 251st pick overall. Cropley was the second Iowa player drafted on Tuesday as junior right fielder Robert Neustrom was taken in the fifth round by the Baltimore Orioles.
Cropley made first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-America as a senior this past season. In addition to being a force on defense behind the plate, the former Sioux City Heelan standout was also a force in the batter's box.
Cropley led Iowa with a .342 batting average and with 50 RBI and 20 doubles this past season
He and Nuestrom, who attended Sioux City North High School, both were instrumental in lifting the Iowa program to Big Ten prominence under current head coach Rick Heller. The Hawkeyes have made the Big Ten Tournament in each of Heller's five seasons as head coch, winning the tournament for the first time in 2017.
Iowa also has won at least 30 games in each of Heller's five seasons as head coach.
"Both great kids and very good people and both captains on this year's team," Heller said of Cropley and Neustrom. "Cropley just doing an awesome job this season of carrying the ballclub offensively and driving in a lot of runs, and giving Robert some well-needed protection.
"Both of those guys mean a lot to the program."
Cropley came to Iowa in 2017 after playing two seasons for Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs. Iowa lost both of its catchers to graduation after the 2016 season, so it was important for Heller to find a replacement.
Heller expected Cropley to be a force on defense and a solid hitter, but Cropley exceeded Heller's expectations as a hitter.
"Tyler came in and filled a really big need for us as a starting catcher and a guy that we really needed to control the running game and take over the defensive side and do a great job with our pitchers," Heller said. "But then to see the development Tyler had with his bat over the course of two years was really fun to watch."
Cropley is the first Iowa catcher to be drafted within the first eight rounds since Jim Sundberg went to the Texas Rangers in the first round in 1973.