Chris Webb

Preseason Notebook

After nearly eight months of offseason, college baseball is back. From the 10 Innings preseason All-Big Ten teams, to the newcomers to know and areas of strength and concerns for clubs, it’s time for games to be played and everything on paper rendered meaningless. Before the first pitch is thrown, here’s a rundown of news and notes from around the Big Ten as teams prepare to play ball.

Iowa’s Whelan ahead of schedule

Iowa junior outfielder Chris Whelan suffered an elbow injury during the team’s scout day in October, injuring the UCL in his right arm, requiring surgery. Without Whelan in the field, Iowa will turn to a left-to-right outfield of Ben Norman, Justin Jenkins and Robert Neustrom. But the nature of Whelan’s injury kept the door open that he could be used as a DH this season, with Rick Heller and staff hoping they could insert the 2017 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player into the lineup at some point. Just this week Whelan was cleared to swing a bat, his rehab ahead of schedule with the door open for a return in mid-to-late March. Iowa is enjoying a run of unprecedented success, seeking a fifth consecutive 30-win season and a third trip to the NCAA Tournament in four years. Having Whelan’s bat in the lineup will be a boon for the program.

Northwestern to utilize tandem system

After finishing a victory shy of the NCAA Tournament, Northwestern is looking to sustain the momentum captured during the second season of the Spencer Allen tenure. As they do so, the Allen will utilize a tandem system for his pitchers to start the season, allowing each pitcher to know his specific role and maximize the depth of the Wildcat staff. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hank Christie will open the season for Northwestern, with senior hander Tommy Bordignon viewed as Friday’s reliever, ideally pitching the last three innings. Freshman right-hander Ryan Bader and classmate southpaw Quinn Lavelle look to round out the rotation, with a respective relief pairings of sophomore left-hander Sam Lawrence and senior right-hander JR Reimer.

Minnesota young guns show promise

Minnesota returns a deep and talented lineup, but enters the season with questions marks throughout the pitching staff. John Anderson must replace Friday starter Lucas Gilbreath and closer Brian Glowicki, both All-Big Ten selections, as well as Sunday start Toby Anderson and key reliever Tim Shannon. The burden of replacing three significant cogs has lessened with the promise a group of freshman have shown in the preseason. left-hander Ryan Duffy and right-handers Josh Culliver, Max Meyer and Sam Thoresen make up a group of rookie hurlers that is considered the best group of incoming talent Anderson and staff have seen in a long time. Each pitcher can reach 90 MPH with their fastball with Meyer and Thoresen able to reach back and hit 94 and 95, respectively. Minnesota has a daunting schedule that will challenge the freshmen, but if the Gophers get through March with momentum, a second Big Ten title in three years is in the picture.

Illness setbacks back Michigan freshmen

Jack Blomgren and Joe Donovan have bright futures ahead of them in Ann Arbor, but both may be just a step back to start this season after mononucleosis infected both this winter. A catcher from Westmont, Ill., Donovan is one of four Wolverines in a heavy battle to take over behind the plate following the graduation of Harrison Wenson. A fall teammate of Donovan on the Chicago Scouts Association scout team, Blomgren is Michigan’s shortstop of the future and is expected to run with the role. In Blomgren’s absence, Ako Thomas, a preseason All-American at second base has filled in. Alongside Thomas, a healthy Blomgren should form one of the Big Ten’s top defensive middle infields.

Ohio State left-hander Seth Lonsway ineligible for the season

Ohio State left-hander Seth Lonsway, one of the Big Ten’s top recruits, will miss the 2018 season, ineligible due to an academic matter from high school. How a course registered with the NCAA Clearinghouse did not meet the conditions needed to establish Lonsway’s initial eligibility. On the first day of preseason practice, Ohio State head coach Greg Beals alluded to Lonsway having no issue in his current courses in Columbus. The university appealed Lonsway’s ineligibility to the NCAA but it was denied. Beals has seen a pitcher sit out a year previously due to academic matters stemming from arrive prior to Ohio State. Former All-Big Ten pitcher Brad Goldberg sat out two seasons after transferring from Coastal Carolina, the first the standard sit-out period, the second due to some credits not aligning with his major at Ohio State. Goldberg helped Ohio State to a second-place finish in 2013 and debuted with the White Sox in 2017, four years after being a 10th-round draft pick.

Bechina ready to go

Michigan State junior third baseman Marty Bechina suffered a broken leg in the fall, but the rehab of the Cape Cod League home run derby participant has been faster than expected. Head coach Jake Boss says Bechina will start the season at the hot corner for Michigan State in a four-game set at Fresno State. How Bechina is used the rest of the weekend will be determined on a day-by-day instance, but having Bechina ready to go from day one is big for the hopes of Michigan State who seek to end a five-year NCAA Tournament drought. Also of note, Bechina’s teammate at St. Rita in Chicago, and in East Lansing, Danny Gleaves is fully healthy after having hip labrum surgery last year.

Indiana Tabbed as Coaches’ Preseason Favorite

Rosemont, Ill. — Indiana was voted the preseason favorite to claim the 2018 Big Ten Baseball Championship as voted on by the conference coaches and announced on Wednesday. The coaches voted on the top six teams and also selected three students from their own squads to a Preseason Honors list. The Hoosiers were followed in the preseason poll by Nebraska in second place, No. 3 Minnesota, Maryland in fourth place, No. 5 Michigan and Iowa in sixth place.

Indiana accumulated a 34-24-2 overall record a year ago and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. Among the Hoosiers’ preseason honorees are Academic All-Big Ten honoree Luke Miller and second-team All-Big Ten selections Matt Lloyd and Logan Sowers. Miller tied for third in the Big Ten in runs (52), tied for eighth in home runs (10), and was 11th in total bases (109) last season. Lloyd was Indiana’s primary closer, tying for fourth in the conference in saves (9), while Sowers led the Big Ten with 19 doubles, was third in total bases (127) and fourth in home runs (13).

The Cornhuskers return as the defending Big Ten Champions. Nebraska posted a 35-22-1 record last year and are led into 2018 by preseason honorees right-handed pitcher/outfielder Luis Alvarado, left-handed pitcher Jake McSteen and outfielder/first baseman Scott Schreiber. Last season, Alvarado saw time in the outfield as well as on the mound as the Huskers’ co-closer with Chad Luensmann, while ranking third on the team in runs scored (39). McSteen played in 22 games as a reliever and posted a 4-0 record for the Cornhuskers to go along with a 2.04 ERA. Schreiber led the Husker offense in most statistical categories, including batting average (.330), slugging percentage (.494), hits (77), RBIs (51), home runs (7) and doubles (15) to earn first-team All-Big Ten recognition.

The Golden Gophers posted a 36-20 record last year and are led into 2018 by preseason honorees infielder Micah Coffey, first baseman Toby Hanson and infielder Luke Pettersen. Coffey, a second-team All-Big Ten honoree, appeared in 51 games for the Gophers, hitting .340 with 69 hits and 46 RBI. Hanson started all 57 games at first base, posting a .319 batting average and leading the team with 57 RBIs, earning him third-team All-Big Ten honors. Pettersen appeared in 56 games in 2017 and led the Gophers with a .354 batting average with 69 hits.

Maryland finished the season with a 37-22 record last year. The Terrapins return junior outfielder Marty Costes, who started all 61 games. Costes, a returning first-team All-Big Ten selection, hit .322 on the year, tied for the team lead with 13 home runs and notched a slugging percentage of .548. Also representing Maryland on the Preseason Honors list are junior infielder Nick Dunn, who batted .261 with a career-high five home runs last season, and sophomore left-handed pitcher Tyler Blohm, who made 16 starts, posting a 3.48 ERA in 75.0 innings pitched a year ago.

The Wolverines finished 2017 with their 23rd NCAA Tournament appearance and a 42-17 overall record. Junior outfielder Jonathan Engelmann ended the 2017 season with a .339 slugging percentage and a .341 on-base percentage, scoring 33 runs and adding 30 RBI. Junior outfielder Miles Lewis started all 59 games in left field for the Wolverines and finished the season with a team-leading 14 doubles. Ako Thomas, a junior infielder for the Wolverines and 2017 first-team All-Big Ten selection, led the team with a .994 fielding percentage and a .354 batting average.

The Hawkeyes claimed their first Big Ten Tournament title last season, finishing the year with a 39-22 overall record. Among Iowa’s preseason honorees are Tyler Cropley, a second-team All-Big Ten and All-Tournament selection who hit .268 with 41 runs and 36 RBIs in 2017, along with right-handed pitcher Zach Daniels, who went 7-3 on the year with a 3.22 ERA in 24 appearances. Outfielder Robert Neustrom, a second-team All-Big Ten honoree who started all 61 games and hit .310 with 79 hits, 41 runs, and 55 RBIs, rounds out the list.

The 2018 Big Ten baseball season is set to begin on Friday, Feb. 16. The preseason poll, featuring the top six teams, and the complete Preseason Honors list can be found below.

2018 BIG TEN BASEBALL PRESEASON POLL (top six teams)
1. Indiana
2. Nebraska
3. Minnesota
4. Maryland
5. Michigan
6. Iowa

2018 BIG TEN BASEBALL PRESEASON HONORS LIST
Michael Massey, INF, So., Illinois
Zac Taylor, OF, Jr., Illinois
Jack Yalowitz, OF, Jr., Illinois
Matt Lloyd, INF, Jr., Indiana
Luke Miller, INF, So., Indiana
Logan Sowers, OF, Sr., Indiana
Tyler Cropley, C/OF, Sr., Iowa
Zach Daniels, RHP/INF, Jr., Iowa
Robert Neustrom, OF, Jr., Iowa
Tyler Blohm, SP, So., Maryland
Marty Costes, OF, Jr., Maryland
Nick Dunn, INF, Jr., Maryland
Jonathan Engelmann, OF, Jr., Michigan
Miles Lewis, OF, Jr., Michigan
Ako Thomas, INF, Jr., Michigan
Riley McCauley, RHP, Jr., Michigan State
Bryce Kelley, OF/LHP, So., Michigan State
Jake Lowery, RHP, Sr., Michigan State
Micah Coffey, INF, Sr., Minnesota
Toby Hanson, INF/OF, Sr., Minnesota
Luke Pettersen, INF, Sr., Minnesota
Luis Alvarado, RHP/OF, Sr., Nebraska
Jake McSteen, SP, Jr., Nebraska
Scott Schreiber, OF, Sr., Nebraska
Hank Christie, SP, So., Northwestern
Jack Dunn, INF, Jr., Northwestern
Alex Erro, INF, So., Northwestern
Dominic Canzone, OF, So., Ohio State
Ryan Feltner, SP, Jr., Ohio State
Seth Kinker, RHP, Sr., Ohio State
Jordan Bowersox, OF, Jr., Penn State
Justin Hagenman, SP, Jr., Penn State
Mason Nadeau, OF, So., Penn State
Tanner Andrews, SP, Sr., Purdue
Ross Learnard, RP, Sr., Purdue
Harry Shipley, INF, Sr., Purdue
Jawuan Harris, OF, Jr., Rutgers
Nick Matera, C, Jr., Rutgers
John O’Reilly, SP, Sr., Rutgers

Newcomers to know

More and more, freshman are entering Big Ten programs ready to produce from day one. Left-hander pitcher Tyler Blohm was a weekend staple for Maryland last year, making 16 starts, a year after Jawuan Harris stole a Big Ten-leading 37 bases as a rookie for Rutgers. Jake Bivens, Chad Luensmann and Logan Sowers are a few of the other players with big debut seasons in recent years.

But freshman aren’t alone as players who have made sizable contributions in their first year on a Big Ten campus.

The Big Ten has seen transfers make immediate marks in recent years. Matt Llyod was a two-way standout for Indiana last year, serving as a power-hitting closer. Purdue reliever Ross Learnard set multiple program records en route to All-America honors, while the accolades were seemingly endless for Jake Adams, the 2017 Big Ten Player of the Year, after the 29-home run season he put together as a driving force behind Iowa’s Houston Regional club.

Here’s a rundown of the players new to the Big Ten you need to know entering the 2018 season.

Freshmen

Maryland outfielder Randy Bednar

Baseball America’s preseason Freshman of the Year, and the publication’s top 2020 Big Ten draft prospect, Bednar was a 27th-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves before arriving in College Park. The Maryland staff believes Bednar can develop into an elite top-of-the-order threat and strong two-way player.

Michigan shortstop Jack Blomgren

Likely sooner than later, Blomgren is expected to emerge as Michigan’s everyday shortstop. Although he hails from Wisconsin, a state with a relatively short high school season and climate not conducive to year-round repetitions, Blomgren arrives in Ann Arbor with advanced defensive skills and a glove that’s college-ready at a premium position.

Michigan outfielder/infielder Jesse Franklin

Michigan saw 11 players drafted from its Chapel Hill Regional team, leaving Erik Bakich’s program with a fill holes to fill. One player who spurned a professional opportunity is Jesse Franklin, a Washington native who said no to more than $1 million from the hometown Seattle Mariners. Franklin will start his career as a first baseman/DH due to a labrum injury from high school, but when healthy, Michigan expects an elite, left-handed, center fielder who can run, throw and hit.

Michigan State catcher Adam Proctor

Few players, regardless of class, may be able to match the raw power Adam Proctor brings to the plate. Joining a program known for physicality and imposing figures, by the time Proctor’s career in East Lansing ends, he may have better numbers than those of former mashers Ryan Krill, Jimmy Pickens, Blaise Salter and company.

Minnesota right-handed pitcher/first baseman Max Meyer

Minnesota produced one of the Big Ten’s best two-way players in recent years in 2016 Big Ten Player of the Year Matt Fiedler. A right-handed pitcher and outfielder, Fiedler is the comp the Minnesota staff places on Meyer, a good athlete with a power fastball and easy stroke, Meyer maky DH and come out of the bullpen as a closer in year one.

Nebraska outfielder Jaxon Hallmark

Jaxon Hallmark left an impressionable mark on the Husker staff in the fall, showing an ability to make an impact with his bat and versatility with his glove. As a senior, Hallmark earned District 3 6A Pitcher MVP and District 3 6A Defensive MVP honors. Media reports out of Lincoln give Hallmark glowing reviews, a likely starter from day one for the reigning Big Ten champions.

Northwestern outfielder David Dunn

Northwestern head coach Spencer Allen was able to head to the Peachtree State to pluck a talented prep. Able to clock a 60-yard spring time of sub-6.5 seconds, Dunn brings an explosiveness to the Wildcat lineup, expected to man center field while using his speed to provide a threat on the bases to compliment his developing hit tool.

Rutgers left-handed pitcher Harry Rutkowski

A 28th-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds, left-handed pitcher Harry Rutkowski looks the part of a big league pitcher with a 6’2, 230-pound frame. He also possess the type of stuff that has Rutgers head coach Joe Literrio envisioning a big role in Rutkowski’s first season. Rutkowski pounds the strike zone with a fastball that touches the low-90s, with an advance feel and mound presence.

JUCO transfers

Iowa right-handed pitcher Brady Schanuel

A two-time MLB draft pick, Schanuel hopes to be the latest impact transfer for Rick Heller. After going 10-3 with a 1.83 ERA as a freshman at Parkland Community College, Schanuel went 10-1 with a 2.13 ERA, striking out 130 batters in 80.1 innings in 2017. Even after two dominant seasons, Schaneul arrives in Iowa City a bit raw, but with a big, mid-90s fastball the right-handed has a high ceiling and will open the season as the Hawkeyes #3 starter.

Maryland third baseman Taylor Wright

A native of Vancouver before attending Colorado Northwestern Community College, Wright enters his third year of college baseball as Maryland’s expected third baseman. With a lean 6’3, 180-pound frame, Wright is a strong athlete with good bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline, in two years at CNCC Wright drew 56 walks against 40 strikeouts.

Michigan State second baseman Bailey Peterson

A big hole was left for Michigan State at second base with the graduation of Dan Durkin. But the pain will be lessen if Bailey Peterson plays up to the potential Jake Boss sees in the Kellogg Community College transfer. Peterson has a bat-first skill set, similar to former Spartan and All-Big Ten selection Jordan Zimmerman, but isn’t a slouch in the field and brings above-average speed to the bases.

Ohio State outfielder Malik Jones

A two-year standout at Weatherford Community College in Texas, the Buckeye staff views Malik Jones as a top-of-the-order table setter, using speed to be a threat on the bases and cover plenty of ground as the everyday center fielder. In two years at Weatherford, Jones stole 47 bases, but also picked up 34 doubles for the Coyotes.

Purdue left-handed pitcher Ryan Beard

Mark Wasikowski knows it’s a tall task to expect a transfer to step in as a weekend starter, but that’s the role left-handed pitcher Ryan Beard will take on. From College of Southern Idaho Junior College, Beard pitched to a 1.04 ERA and .177 batting average against over 69.1 innings in 2017, using a commandable, low-90s fastball to attack hitters.

Division I transfers

Illinois outfielder Zac Taylor

An 10 Innings preseason All-Big Ten selection, Taylor, a native of Downers Grove, Ill., was a impact player in his two seasons at Houston before transferring to Illinois. Taylor stole 32 bases in 38 attempts in two seasons as a Cougar, before exiting the American Athletic Conference with a bang, batting .375 and slugged .813 with six hits and three runs, one triple and two home runs, while driving in four runs during the 2016 conference tournament.

Indiana right-handed pitcher Connor Manous

Indiana returned nearly every pitcher from its 2016 Lexington Regional team, yet a newcomer looks ready to step into the weekend rotation. Right-handed pitcher Connor Manous has shown outstanding stuff to Chris Lemonis in staff in the offseason. A native of Munster, Ind., Manous, the Chicago Post-Tribune 2016 Player of the Year, was a University of Miami recruit out of high school, but returned home after the fall semester last year as a freshman.

Rutgers right-handed pitcher Karl Blum

A graduate transfer from Duke, Karl Blum joined decided to head back to his home state and join younger brother Kevin as a Scarlet Knight over the season. From Toms River, N.J., Blum is expected to be a key reliever out of the Rutgers bullpen for Joe Literrio, a role he performed well in during his time in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In 2017, Blum held a 3.18 ERA in 28.1 innings, striking out 20 batters in 21 outings.

Purdue’s Learnard Named to Stopper of the Year Watch List

West Lafayette, Ind. — Already a part of a pair of preseason All-American teams, Purdue baseball’s relief ace Ross Learnard has also been included on the preseason watch list for the Stopper of the Year Award.

Learnard was one of 52 relievers nationally named to the preseason watch list for the award given to the top relief pitcher at the NCAA Division I level. The Stopper of the Year Award recipient is selected by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. The NCBWA also named Learnard a second team All-American after last season and again this preseason.

The left-hander was credited with six victories and four saves in 2017 while making a team-high 27 appearances on the mound. He was one of four Boilermakers to record at least one save as Purdue had 14 as a team. He was used as more of a super reliever than prototypical ninth-inning closer, taking the ball in high-leverage situations regardless of the inning. He worked more than one frame in 18 of his appearances.

Learnard was among a list of four NCBWA preseason All-American relievers to post a sub-1.50 ERA in 2017. Louisville’s Sam Bordner (0.41 ERA, 16 saves), Learnard (0.58 ERA, 4 saves), Oregon State’s Jake Mulholland (1.20 ERA, 6 saves) and Cal State Fullerton’s Brett Conine (1.39 ERA, 15 saves) all accomplished the feat.

A consecutive scoreless innings streak of 35 2/3 from March 11 through May 14 allowed Learnard to eclipse Purdue’s minimum 30 innings ERA record that had stood since 1965. His .196 batting average and .086 WHIP were equally outstanding after he surrendered just 30 hits and 10 walks in 46 1/3 innings.

Nick Wittgren, Purdue’s all-time saves leader and later big leaguer with the Miami Marlins, was the last Boilermaker on the Stopper of the Year watch list. Wittgren advanced to the midseason list in both 2011 and 2012, helping Purdue compile a combined 82-34 record in those seasons. This year the midseason list will be announced the final week of April.

Around the Big Ten, Nebraska’s Luis Alvarado was also named to the 2018 preseason watch list. Meanwhile, 10innings.com’s preseason All-Big Ten teams featured Learnard as a first-team reliever. Nick Dalesandro, Jacson McGowan, Skyler Hunter and Harry Shipley represented Purdue on the second and third teams.

Learnard and the Boilermakers open their 2018 campaign with a weekend series at Baylor. Friday’s season opener is set for 7:30 p.m. ET. Sunday’s series finale has been officially moved up to 1 p.m. ET.

Illinois Releases Promotional Schedule Released

Champaign, Ill. — The University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics announced a full slate of marketing promotions for Illinois baseball home games at Illinois Field in 2018.
The tenth-annual Bleacher Bum Barbecue, the premier promotion for Fighting Illini baseball, will be held Friday, May 4, when Illinois hosts Ohio State at 6 p.m. at Illinois Field. The event has been a staple on the Illini schedule, as the previous nine editions have drawn average crowds over 3,000 to Illinois Field, including an all-time high of 5,214 in 2009. This year’s event will feature free BBQ for the first 500 fans, (courtesy of Hickory River) and family friendly activities. More details will be released in the coming weeks.

A new promotion for this season is 9 Innings of Winning Night, which will take place on Friday, May 18, when Illinois hosts Nebraska at 6 p.m. One or more prizes will be raffled off each inning. Prizes include a portable speaker, tickets to the 2018 Illinois football home opener, and Illinois baseball memorabilia. A definite list of prizes will be released at the beginning of May.

For the seventh year in a row, the Fighting Illini will wear special commemorative jerseys as part of Honor and Serve Day at Illinois Field. The event, which is designed to honor University of Illinois student veterans and all of America’s military heroes along with serving the Champaign-Urbana community, will be held on Saturday, April 21, when Illinois hosts Grand Canyon at 3 p.m. Full details and this year’s commemorative jerseys will be unveiled at a later date.

The second annual Bark in the Park is a chance for fans to bring their dogs to the field for an afternoon of furry promotions. The event is scheduled to take place on Sunday, April 22, when the Illini host Grand Canyon at 11 a.m. More details and registration will become available soon.

Notable dates:
» Opening Day (March 13)
» Big Ten Opener (March 30)
» Bunny at the Ballpark (March 31, April 1)
» Super Hero Day (April 15)
» Alumnite (April 20)
» Honor and Serve (April 21)
» Bark in the Park (April 22)
» Bleacher Bum BBQ (May 4)
» Hail to the Orange Day (May 5)
» Little League Day (May 5)
» Spring Cleaning Night (May 17)
» 9 Innings of Winning (May 18)

The following concession deals also will be offered throughout the season:
» Thirsty Tuesday (half-priced drinks at every Tuesday game)
» Family Fridays (hot dog, chips and a drink for $6 at every Friday game)
» Nacho Deal ($2 nachos at every Sunday game)

Baseball cards will be given away at the four Big Ten series, and the players featured on each card set will sign autographs postgame on March 30, April 13, May 4, and May 18. Complete details on each event can be found on the Illinois Marketing and Promotions Schedule.

Kids are able to celebrate their birthday at any home game this season. The party deal includes:
» Personalized cupcakes
» Hot dogs
» Sodas
» Popcorn
» Illini prizes
» Birthday card signed by the team
» Birthday message announced at the game

Book your Illinois baseball party here!

All games will be held at Illinois Field. Game dates, times, and promotions are subject to change

Penn State, Lafayette to Meet In Home of IronPigs

University Park, Penn. —  The Lehigh Valley IronPigs of the Triple-A International League will host Penn State and Lafayette in the first-ever NCAA Division I baseball game in Coca-Cola Park, Wednesday, April 25 with the first pitch scheduled for 6:35 p.m.

“We’re excited to welcome Penn State, Lafayette and both teams’ fans and alumni to Coca-Cola Park,” said IronPigs President and General Manager Kurt Landes. “Regardless of where your allegiance falls, it’s a unique opportunity to watch major college baseball in Minor League Baseball’s most visited ballpark since 2008.”

This season is the third in a row that the teams have matched up. Penn State has won the first two games, taking a 20-12 slugfest at Lafayette in 2016 and a 9-2 victory for the Nittany Lions at home in Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. For the 2018 return fixture, the Leopards will be the home team.

Penn State head coach Rob Cooper calls this game an “amazing opportunity,” not only for his players, but also for Lehigh Valley-area Penn State fans.

“The home of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs is one of the premier minor league facilities in the country,” Cooper said. “We are extremely grateful to Kurt Landes and the IronPigs staff for helping this game become a reality. What a great opportunity to play in front of our Lehigh Valley-based Penn State alumni!”

Field-level tickets for this contest are on sale now for $11 (click here to purchase). Fans can also purchase a special $20 package that includes a field-level ticket to both the Lafayette-Penn State game the IronPigs’ Friday, Aug. 24 game vs. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre that is sponsored by Penn State Lehigh Valley. Tickets can be ordered through the IronPigs ticket office online or by phone at 610-841-PIGS (7447), extension 1.
Gates will open one hour prior to the first pitch.

It will be the second of two neutral site games in professional parks in April for Penn State. On April 10, Penn State will meet West Virginia at PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, for a second consecutive year.

Strength and Uncertainties

With 10 Innings’ Preseason All-Big Ten teams, it’s easier to see some teams are spoiled with riches in certain areas. Maryland’s weekend rotation is led by a pair of first team selections, Minnesota has standout talent around the infield, Indiana has potent bats while Purdue has threats on the bases.

After taking a look at who’s expected to standout individually, it’s time to look at which teams will take to the field with areas of strengths, and which teams have sizable holes to fill on their roster.

Starting pitching

  1. Maryland
  2. Indiana
  3. Michigan State

Who has the biggest void to fill: Iowa

Tabbed as 10 Innings’ preseason  FAll-Big Ten first team selections, senior right-handed pitcher Taylor Bloom and sophomore left-handed pitcher Tyler Blohm provided first-year head coach with essentially two aces. Both pitchers started at least 16 games, following suit in the Terrapin rotation behind Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Brian Shaffer, each logging at least 75 innings. Bloom is the command-driven, experienced righty, while is the youngster from the southside with electric stuff. A potent 1-2 punch, the Blohm-Bloom combo will be tough on announcers for another year, as well as on opposing batters.

Indiana’s 4.58 team ERA in 2017 was the definition of pedestrian, finishing seventh out of 13 teams. But Hoosier returning pitchers 100% of its 2017 starts, 32 of their 34 winning decisions, 91% of their strikeouts and 91% of the team’s innings pitched. That’s a full cupboard for pitching coach Kyle Bunn to work with. Michigan State also returns a bevy of pitchers with starting experience, in addition to moving Riley McCauley to the rotation as well as possible Jake Lowery. Whether its veteran and proven arms like Andrew Gonzalez or Ethan Landon, or underclassmen like Mason Erla Chris Mokma allows Jake Boss to have more than a handful of rotation-worthy options.

Not able to have the luxury of starting pitchers set to resume their roles is Iowa. The Hawkeyes lost stalwarts Nick Gallagher and Ryan Erickson, who combined for 17 starts, as well as Cal Eldred, who entered the season as the Friday starter before suffering an injury, a late loss as he signed with the Kansas City Royals as a free agent after the draft.

Bullpen depth

  1. Indiana
  2. Nebraska
  3. Ohio State

Who has the biggest void to fill: Michigan

It’s not just starters who make up the 91% of returning innings and strikeouts for Indiana, the Hoosiers have a deep and versatile bullpen. Lead by preseason All-American two-way player Matt Lloyd, Indiana;s closer, the Hoosier have back six pitchers who racked up at least 25 innings, with making less than seven starts, serving primarily as relievers: Cameron Beauchamp, Cal Krueger, Kade Kryzko, B.J. Sabol and Andrew Saalfrank. IU should be able to mix-and-match dependent on opponent and situation.

The Husker bullpen will lose closer Luis Alvarado to the rotation, but senior right-hander Jake Hohensee will make the opposite transition, where Darin Erstad hopes his power fastball plays up better in short stints. Outside of Hohensee, the Huskers have proven options in Jake McSteen, Robbie Palkert, Reece Edins and Matt Waldron to provide needed innings out of the bullpen, but Nebraska will be without talent reliever Chad Luensmann, who will be out this season following Tommy John surgery.

Ohio State will have a senior-laden bullpen as right-handers Seth Kinker, Kyle Michalik and Yianni Pavlopoulos all return. The trio of pitchers who were instrumental in the Buckeyes run to the 2016 Louisville Regional, a year when Pavlopoulos recoreded 14 saves and Kinker and Michalik respectively held 1.65 and 1.69 ERAs.

Michigan lost two All-Big Ten relief pitchers with the departures of Jackson Lamb and Mac Lozer. The two finished with respective 0.96 and 1.04 ERAs while combining for 54 innings. In addition to the all-conference selections, Michigan’s expected 2017 reliever, Bryan Pall, pitched only 2.2 innings due to injury, but was still a 25th-round draft pick of the Mariners and is no longer a part of the Wolverine ‘pen.

Lineup depth

  1. Minnesota
  2. Maryland
  3. Indiana

Who has the biggest void to fill: Michigan

After falling a game shy of a second straight Big Ten title, Minnesota is in position to make another title run. From a team that led the Big Ten with a .297 average, all but one starter returns for Minnesota, including three 10 Innings preseason All-Big Ten selections: Micah Coffey, Toby Hanson and Terrin Varva.  Luke Pettersen’s .356 average paces returning players, the Gophers return eight regulars starters with at least a .296 average, six of which batted .300 or batter. Though the Gophers finished last in stolen bases, and eight Big Ten clubs bettered their 35-home run output, a veteran team with options from both sides of the plate give Minnesota unrivaled lineup depth.

A handful of players are coming off of strong seasons for Maryland, as the Terps reached the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years. Moving up Maryland’s batting order to the leadoff spot will be Preseason Player of the Year Marty Costes. Having a player with 22 career home runs will set a mighty tone for the Terrapins as Nick Dunn (.261/.345/.381) , Zach Jancarski (.324/.434/.453), AJ Lee (.307/.389/.474), Will Watson (.253/.384/.398) provide support.

Like their pitching, good chunks of the IU offense returns in 2018. Indiana brings back 62% of their runs, 62% of their hits, 61% of their RBI and 59% of their extra-base hits. Leading the pack is a trio among college baseball’s most dangerous in Matt Lloyd (.301/.393/.554), Luke Miller (.272/.331/.464) and Logan Sowers (.291/.356/.536). Moving from first base to center field will be Matt Gorski, after a strong freshman season (.288/.348/.400), with catcher junior catcher Ryan Fineman and sophomore shortstop Jeremy Houston also ready for another year in Bloomington.

Going 42-16, Michigan reached the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid for the first time since 2007. Helping Michigan receive a national ranking and finish one-half game from a Big Ten title was a roster full of upperclassmen, and a lineup that saw draft picks at catcher, first base, shortstop, third base and center field. Whether it’s a rebuild or reload, a lot of holes need filled in Ann Arbor.

Power potential

  1. Indiana
  2. Illinois
  3. Maryland

Who has the biggest void to fill: Iowa

The 29 home runs hit by Iowa first baseman Jake Adams last year set a new Big Ten record while leading the country. The 29 homers were also more than the team totals of Nebraska, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue. The loss of Adams’ power is enough of a void for Iowa to fill, but Iowa also lost shortstop Mason McCoy to graduation after he collected 18 doubles, two triples and five home runs, and are unsure of what, if anything they will get out of outfielder Chris Whelan, after he needed elbow surgery in November. Whelan picked up 11 doubles and seven home runs a year ago.

If it weren’t for Adams, Indiana senior outfielder Craig Dedelow would have set the new Big Ten mark for home runs in the BBCOR era with 19. Like Adams, Dedelow will be in pro ball in 2018. Chris Lemonis would certainly love another year of Dedelow, but Indiana will have no problem stepping to the plate with pop with Lloyd, Miller and Sowers each returning for the 2018 season, after respectively hitting 11, 10 and 13 home runs. The trio also account for 50 doubles, providing a formidable heart of the Hoosier order.

Illinois, with Jack Yalowitz coming off of a 12-home year and Doran Turchin and Michael Massey combining for 14, and Maryland, with a lineup led by Marty Costes’ 22 career home runs, should also have some punch in their lineups.

Base stealing ability

  1. Michigan
  2. Maryland
  3. Purdue

Who has the biggest void to fill: Nebraska

Michigan led the Big Ten with 125 stolen bases on the year, good for third in the country. Leadoff batter Ako Thomas comes off of a 22-stolen bases season, with outfielders Jonathan Engelmann and Miles Lewis returning after combing for 30 stolen bases. Erik Bakich will have another season with a collection of players who are able to put pressure on opposing pitchers and catchers.

En route to stealing 100 bases, Maryland saw five players steal at least 12 bases. Three of them, Jancarski (20), Lee (15) and Watson (14) return, as do Dunn (8) and Costes (5). Headed into the season, Vaughn feels this is Maryland’s best offense he seen in College Park, a team that can do a bit of everything, including swipe bases.

A part of Purdue’s turnaround year was an increase in stolen bases, giving Purdue an element which had been missing. Mark Wasikowski’s club stole 81 bases, good enough for fourth in the Big Ten. Of the 81 stolen bases, 73 were from players returning in 2018, led by 24 from Harry Shipley, with Nick Dalesandro and Evan Warden chipping in 12 and 11.

Nebraska’s 43 team stolen bases were the second-fewest in the Big Ten. Two-way player Jake Meyers, now in the Houston Astros’ system, accounted for almost half of the team total with 20, and graduated players added another eight. Of the Nebraska’s 15 stolen bases among returning players, one-third belong to Luis Alvarado who may see the position-player side of his two-way role limited in a move to the top of Nebraska’s rotation.

Defensive dependability

  1. Minnesota
  2. Indiana
  3. Nebraska

Who has the biggest void to fill: Michigan

Four Big Ten teams finished among the top 24 in the country in fielding percentage in 2018:

Michigan- .983 (2nd)

Indiana- .979 (21st)

Minnesota- .978 (23rd)

Iowa- .978 (24th)

As Michigan lost quite a bit at the plate in returning only three starters, the same holds true in the field with the Wolverines needing to replace their catcher, first baseman, shortstop, third baseman and center fielder. The Wolverines were especially strong up the middle, and may see freshmen at catcher and shortstop, in addition to a first-year starter in center field.

The opposite holds true for Minnesota and Indiana with their veteran teams, John Anderson and Chris Lemonis have few holes to fill, with the Gophers receiving the nod, despite coming in a tick behind in fielding percentage as their only positional loss is in left field. Nebraska posted a solid .977 fielder percentage, though they need to replace Meyers in center and Jake Schleppenbach at second, two critical defensive positions.

Terps Take Top Preseason Honors

Maryland and Minnesota, two programs familiar with All-Big Ten honors in recent years, headline the 10 Innings preseason All-Big Ten teams.

A year after Maryland right-handed pitcher Brian Shaffer was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, fellow Maryland class of 2014 right-handed recruit Taylor Bloom grabs 10 Innings’ Preseason Pitcher of the Year honor. Bloom appeared in 18 games for the Wake Forest Regional participants last year, starting a team-high 17 games in going 7-2. Bloom’s ERA rose to 3.83 after a sterling sophomore season saw him pitch to the tune of  2.46 over 102.1 innings, but still was a steady force behind Shaffer in Maryland’s rotation, logging 89.1 innings. Selected to the 2015 Los Angeles Regional All-Tournament Team as a freshman, Bloom has pitched on the big stage, utilizing strong command issuing just 1.63 walks per nine innings over his 225.1 career innings.

It’s a Terrapin sweep as junior outfielder Marty Costes nets 10 Innings’ Preseason Player of the Year honor. As Rob Vaughn takes over the Maryland program, the first-year head coach will have one of the conference’s most dangerous batters players atop his lineup.  A 25th-round draft pick of the Houston Astros as a draft-eligible sophomore, Costes will slide up to the top of the Maryland batting order, after his power help anchor the heart of the Maryland lineup in 2017. Pacing Maryland with 77 hits in 239 at-bats for a .322 average, Costes tied for the team lead with 13 home runs, adding nine doubles and three triples to slug .548 while reaching base at a .429 clip. Costes earned All-Big Ten first team honors last season, a year after coaches tabbed him for the conference’s All-Freshman Team when he batted .263 with nine home runs.

Joining Bloom and Costes on the preseason first team is sophomore left-handed pitcher Tyler Blohm, last season’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Blohm provided Maryland with a third quality pitcher last year, compiling quite the debut season in College Park. Making 16 starts, Blohm carried a 3.48 ERA for the 2017 season, logging 75 innings. The southpaw nearly struck out a batter per inning pitched, punching out 71 batters against 35 walks, holding the opposition to a stingy .227 batting average.

Minnesota may not have the expected Big Ten player of the year, as they did in 2016 with Matt Fiedler, but John Anderson’s team joins Maryland in featuring three first team selections, nearly sweeping the preseason accolades around the horn. Senior first baseman Toby Hanson received All-Big Ten first team honors last year after batting .319 with 23 extra-base hits. At the hot corner, Micah Coffey returns for his final season in Minneapolis after he was named to the All-Big Ten second team, slashing .340/.396/.493 a year ago. And to Coffey’s left, junior shortstop Terrin Vavra earns a first team selection at shortstop, coming off of a .308/.306/.418 campaign.

A trio of All-Americans also help make up the preseason first team.

At second base, Michigan junior Ako Thomas enters the season as an National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association third team All-American. Thomas was a spark plug atop Michigan’s lineup as the Wolverines earned their first at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament since 2007. Thomas batted .354 with a .469 on-base percentage, helping him steal 23 bases in 28 attempts.

Purdue also enjoyed a turnaround campaign, finishing over .500 for the first time since 2012, winning 10 more conference games than they did in 2016. A big part of the Purdue revival was the dominant effort of left-handed pitcher Ross Learnard. Earned NCBWA All-America second team honors, Learnard went 6-0 with a .58 ERA over 46.1 innings last year, saving four Boilermaker contests. The NCBWA tabbed Learnard a second team All-American to start his senior season.

Learnard was joined on the NCBWA’s All-America second team by Matt Lloyd of in-state rival Indiana. Lloyd enters the season’s as the NCBWA’s second-base utility player, a year after he showed prowess at the plate and at the back-end of the Indiana bullpen. Lloyd batted .301 with 16 doubles and 11 home runs to slug .554 on the season, faring much better than the opposition when he was on the mound, holding opponents to a .241 average as he recorded nine saves over 32.1 innings, holding a 32.1 ERA.

Rounding out the first team are two Iowa Hawkeyes, senior catcher Tyler Cropley and junior outfielder Robert Neustrom. Illinois junior Jack Yalowitz and Nebraska senior DH Scott Schreiber return after collecting All-Big Ten first team honors last year. Michigan State junior right-handed pitcher Riley McCauley grabs the third starting pitching slot on the first team, as he moves into the Spartan rotation after serving as a lights out reliever.

Over the last 10 seasons, six times has a program earned the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year and conference Player of the Year honor in the same season, most recently 2015 when Illinois’ Tyler Jay and David Kerian received top billing.

All three 10 Innings preseason All-Big Ten teams can be found here, a collection of 52 players lead by five players from Maryland and Purdue, and four each from Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota and Nebraska.

10 Innings Preseason All-Big Ten

First Team

Position
Player
Class
School
AVG
OBP
SLG
2B
3B
HR
R
RBI
SB/ATT
C
Tyler Cropley
Sr.
Iowa
.268
.371
.459
8
2
9
41
36
6/10
1B
Toby Hanson
Sr.
Minnesota
.319
.350
.477
14
4
5
35
57
3/3
2B
Ako Thomas
Jr.
Michigan
.354
.462
.396
7
0
0
41
21
23/28
SS
Terrin Vavra
Jr.
Minnesota
.308
.396
.418
8
4
2
36
19
7/9
3B
Micah Coffey
Sr.
Minnesota
.340
.396
.493
15
2
4
35
46
3/4
OF
Marty Costes
Jr.
Maryland
.322
.429
.548
9
3
13
45
46
5/5
OF
Robert Neustrom
Jr.
Iowa
.310
.358
.486
16
1
9
41
55
10/14
OF
Jack Yalowitz
Jr.
Illinois
.335
.409
.590
9
3
12
42
44
10/15
DH
Scott Schreiber
Sr.
Nebraska
.330
.376
.494
15
1
7
45
51
0/0
UTIL
Matt Lloyd
Sr.
Indiana
.301
.393
.554
16
0
11
36
46
1/4
L/R
Pitcher
Class
School
IP
W-L
ERA
SO
BB
BAA
SV
LHP
Tyler Blohm
So.
Maryland
75
8-6
3.48
71
35
.227
0
RHP
Taylor Bloom
Sr.
Maryland
89.1
7-2
3.83
53
25
.289
0
RHP
Riley McCauley
Jr.
Michigan State
25.2
1-0
2.10
49
11
.224
9
LHP
Ross Learnard
Sr.
Purdue
46.1
6-0
0.58
37
10
.196
4
RHP
Matt Lloyd
Jr.
Indiana
32.1
3-2
2.23
20
6
.241
9

Second Team

Position
Player
Class
School
AVG
OBP
SLG
2B
3B
HR
R
RBI
SB/ATT
C
Nick Dalesandro
Jr.
Purdue
.297
.357
.387
8
1
3
38
42
13/14
1B
Jacson McGowan
Jr.
Purdue
.292
.347
.500
15
3
8
24
50
4/5
2B
Michael Massey
So.
Illinois
.330
.360
.483
12
1
6
22
36
4/7
SS
Angelo Altavilla
Jr.
Nebraska
.316
.407
.406
14
1
1
38
39
2/3
3B
Luke Miller
Jr.
Indiana
.272
.331
.464
15
0
10
52
42
2/2
OF
Dominic Canzone
So.
Ohio St.
.343
.390
.458
4
3
3
22
36
13/15
OF
Jawuan Harris
Jr.
Rutgers
.269
.377
.468
9
2
8
39
26
23/30
OF
Zach Jancarski
Sr.
Maryland
.325
.434
.454
17
2
3
50
26
20/30
DH
Logan Sowers
Sr.
Indiana
.291
.356
.536
19
0
13
34
43
2/3
UTIL
Luis Alvarado
Sr.
Nebraska
.283
.324
.381
12
2
2
39
25
5/5
L/R
Pitcher
Class
School
IP
W-L
ERA
SO
BB
BAA
SV
LHP
Nick Allgeyer*
Jr.
Iowa
LHP
Tommy Henry
So.
Michigan
31
3-1
3.19
39
11
.263
1
RHP
Jonathan Stiever
Jr.
Indiana
77.1
4-4
4.31
57
9
.275
0
LHP
Sam Lawrence
So.
Northwestern
47.1
5-3
2.85
24
12
.274
2
RHP
Luis Alvarado
Sr.
Nebraska
15.2
0-0
1.72
15
7
.182
10

Third Team

Position
Player
Class
School
AVG
OBP
SLG
2B
3B
HR
R
RBI
SB/ATT
C
Chris Folinusz
Sr.
Rutgers
.283
.325
.391
9
0
2
21
22
3/3
1B
Willie Burger
Jr.
Penn St.
.280
.333
.409
6
0
5
22
27
2/3
2B
Nick Dunn
Jr.
Maryland
.261
.345
.384
13
1
5
40
32
8/8
SS
Harry Shipley
Sr.
Purdue
.266
.405
.337
9
1
1
42
23
24/31
3B
Marty Bechina
Jr.
Michigan St.
.263
.396
.426
8
1
7
34
29
11/13
OF
Skyler Hunter
So.
Purdue
.323
.355
.388
9
2
0
28
34
8/13
OF
Bryce Kelley
So.
Michigan St.
.353
.416
.436
7
3
0
34
21
13/18
OF
Zac Taylor**
Jr.
Illinois
DH
Chad Roskelly
Sr.
Michigan St.
.324
.427
.463
6
0
3
19
24
2/2
UTIL
Jordan Kozicky
So.
Minnesota
.325
.421
.476
11
1
4
38
28
3/3
L/R
Pitcher
Class
School
IP
W-L
ERA
SO
BB
BAA
SV
LHP
Connor Curlis
Jr.
Ohio State
62.2
5-3
4.02
58
19
.237
0
RHP
Ryan Feltner
Jr.
Ohio State
62.2
1-5
6.32
57
28
.293
0
RHP
Alec Rennard
Sr.
Michigan
65
6-2
4.43
65
15
.251
0
RHP
Jake Hohensee
Sr.
Nebraska
80
7-3
4.39
57
28
.243
0

*Missed the 2017 recovering from Tommy John surgery

**Sat out the 2017 per NCAA requirements after transferring from Houston

10 Things to Look Forward to in 2018

The season is finally here. Yes, college baseball returns this week. The last time we saw the Big Ten in action the conference tied its record for most teams in the NCAA Tournament with five. Though no teams reached a super regional, the conference showed it wasn’t a flash in the pan, the success the conference has enjoyed on a national level can be sustained. Now what’s ahead in 2018? Here’s 10 things 10 Innings is looking forward to this season.

The depth of the conference

A year ago, Northwestern and Purdue were coming off of 2016 campaigns where they went a combined 9-39 in Big Ten play. If there were to be easy weekends on an opposing team’s schedule, it was when they were to square off against the Boilermakers or Wildcats. Northwestern had not finished better than ninth since 2010 and Purdue had back-to-back last place finishes after back-to-back next-to-last finishes. Then the season happened and both made the Big Ten Tournament, Northwestern finished seventh in the conference at 13-11 with Purdue coming in at eighth at 12-12. Say goodbye to the easy weekends. The top of the Big Ten has flourished with the conference sending 13 teams to the NCAA Tournament over the last three years, but there has been a distinct cutoff from the top to the bottom. Now, with nearly every program having a glistening stadium, staffs hitting the recruiting trail and university athletic departments providing the financial resources necessary to compete, coaches are entering the season raving of the depth of the Big Ten where each team, 1-13, poses as threat and there are no gimmes.

The Dairy Queen Classic

There are a few Big Ten-Pac-12 meetings this season, Nebraska has two games opening weekend against Washington State, before the Buckeyes join the Cornhuskers the following weekend when each play two games against Oregon State and Utah for a second year in a row, and Michigan has a four-game series at Stanford a week after they tangle with Arizona in the Tony Gwynn Classic. But there isn’t a inter-sectional meeting on the calendar like this year’s Dairy Queen Classic, which is doubling as a Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge, featuring Illinois, Michigan State and host Minnesota against Arizona, UCLA and Washington. Arizona is two years removed from an appearance in the national championship series, UCLA enters the season as a top-15 team and Washington isn’t a slouch. That three Big Ten teams can play in a tournament of such caliber, take on three solid programs in a home/neutral setting is a boon. And for fans of college baseball, it should be three fun days at US Bank Stadium.

ESPNU Broadcasts

ESPNU will air four games featuring Big Ten teams this spring, providing the conference with more exposure. The quartet of games will spotlight the conference’s regular season and tournament champions from 2017, Nebraska and Iowa respectively, in additional to airing a pair of midweek rivalry games before broadcasting a season finale from Iowa City. Here’s the rundown on games set to air live, nationally, on ESPNU.

Tuesday, April 10, 3 p.m. ET: Notre Dame at Michigan State

Sunday, April 15, 2 p.m. ET: Iowa at Nebraska

Wednesday, April 25, 7 p.m. ET: Indiana at Purdue

Saturday, May 19, 7:30 p.m. ET: Penn State at Iowa

Non-conference intra-conference games

The nationally-televised Indiana-Purdue contest is one of a growing number of intra-conference non-conference games between Big Ten teams. With a nine-week window to play eight opponents, the one-division, 13-team Big Ten conference creates a situation where a team will not play one-third of the conference. This greatly impacts how the standings shape up, winning a title can be more on who you play or don’t play opposed to how good a team is, but it also creates an opportunity. While the Big Ten has garnered more respect on a national level, relative to college baseball’s other power conferences, it still faces the reality of being a conference based in a cold climate. Big Ten teams can be forced to travel for the first month of the season, putting themselves in positions that aren’t beneficial to achieving a high RPI. As Michigan State meets Illinois for two games in Greenville, S.C., and Indiana plays Rutgers in Port Charlotte, on top of the Hoosier-Boilermaker clash in West Lafayette, and Michigan-Michigan State meeting outside of their conference series, Big Ten teams can find a quality opponent in those they are not playing in-conference, while helping the RPI of the conference as a whole.

Michigan’s attempt to reload, not rebuild

Days after Michigan earned its first at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament since 2007, the 2017 MLB Draft saw 11 Wolverines selected. Tying for the most draft picks in the country, in addition to losing closer Jackson Lamb who ended his playing days even though he had a year of eligibility remaining due to a medical redshirt, on paper, it would appear Erik Bakich has a rebuilding effort in front of him. But then again, on paper, Michigan saw quite the influx of talent, bringing in Baseball America’s No. 10 recruiting class, the highest ranked Big Ten recruiting class in Baseball America’s history. How quickly can Michigan’s green but talented newcomers adjust to the speed and skill of college baseball? That answer will go a long way in determining if the Wolverines can earn their third NCAA Tournament berth in four years, or if a 10-year Big Ten title drought will run longer.

Purdue’s attempt to sustain

The last coach to win Big Ten Coach of the Year without guiding his team to the conference crown was Northwestern’s Paul Stevens in 2006. After Stevens led the Wildcats to a second-place finish that season the next 12 seasons saw the conference-winning coach also named its best. But if there was ever a year to break that streak it was last year. A coach whose team finished eighth hardly receives praise, but the job Mark Wasikowski did in reviving the Purdue program was remarkable. Purdue may have only finished 12-12 in Big Ten play, that was a 10-game in-conference improvement over the previous season, and the 12 victories were more than double the six Big Ten games Purdue won in each of the 2013-15 seasons. A year after enjoying the country’s best turnaround, Wasikowski is now tasked with keeping Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament mix, and with the team returning its top seven batters, it’s top-two weekend starters and All-America closer, the sights in West Lafayette are on a bigger tournament.

Minnesota’s grueling schedule

Putting it lightly, the schedule for John Anderson’s club is as tough. The Gophers open the season with a game at Georgia Tech before a doubleheader vs. Kennesaw State, and a weekend-capper at Georgia State. Two weeks later, its the Dairy Queen Classic to kickoff a monster of a March. Minnesota follows the DQC with a series versus Creighton, three games on the road at powerhouse TCU, travel to reigning Big Ten champion Nebraska to start Big Ten play, then host St. John’s for three games during the bye week, a team ranked No. 25 in Baseball America’s preseason poll. The solace that can be found on Minnesota’s schedule is their series against Indiana, Iowa and Michigan State will be played at Siebert Field.

Rob Vaughn molding Maryland

When John Szefc accepted the vacant position as head coach at Virginia Tech, there were few questions on who the next Maryland head coach would be. Those in baseball within the conference and out saw assistant Rob Vaughn as the next leader of the Terps. And so it came to be. Now, after serving as Szefc’s associate head coach, it’s Vaughn’s time to make his mark on a program he has helped transform into a perennial regional threat. Vaughn has been instrumental in recruiting the players necessary to lead Maryland to back-to-back super regionals and three NCAA Tournament trips in four years. One of college baseball’s youngest head coaches, it will now be up to him to lead Maryland to their first Big Ten championship and keep the Maryland momentum moving.

Staff shakeups spur Penn State and Rutgers

Two teams hoping for 2018 turnarounds like the ones experienced in 2017 by Northwestern and Purdue are Penn State and Rutgers. Both Rob Cooper and Joe Literrio are entering their fifth season leading their respective clubs, hoping to take the Nittany Lions and Scarlet Knights to the postseason for the first time in their tenure. Both head coaches experienced staff turnover as Penn State and Rutgers will each have two new assistant coaches this year. Cooper and Literrio have both spoke to the change in culture and environment the programs have experienced this offseason, now it’s time to see how Penn State pitchers respond to the tutelage of Josh Newman, the same for the pitchers at Rutgers under Phil Cundari, and how position players perform with Andre’ Butler’s assistance in State College and Jim Duffy’s in Piscataway.

The return to TD Ameritrade

The 2018 season will be the first of five consecutive seasons where the Big Ten Tournament will be held in Omaha, at TD Ameritrade Park. After setting an NCAA record for single-game conference tournament attendance in 2014, the 2016 tournament made for a solid encore as nearly 10,000 people watched the title game between Iowa and Ohio State. There are still voices out there that believe outside of Creighton home games, the only college baseball games that should be played in TD Ameritrade are those for the College World Series. But for those who are unable to make the trek to Omaha in June, the Big Ten is 2-for-2 in making the final week in May memorable, here’s looking to making it a perfect trifecta.

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