March 2-4 Weekend Preview

Webb's Words: Sit back and enjoy a very big weekend

I planned on being in Palo Alto this weekend for Michigan's series at Stanford. It was after a long debate, I also wanted to be in Minneapolis for the Dairy Queen Classic, and I also wanted to be in San Diego for Indiana's series against USD. Unfortunately I can't be at three places at once, and last month I booked a flight to San Francisco. Wanting to visit northern California for the first time, wanting to walk around Stanford's campus, ideally enjoy good weather, and see a competitive four-game series, tilted the scales in the favor of Michigan-Stanford.

Unfortunately matters at home have kept me from traveling anywhere this weekend. But as I sit back and scan the weekend ahead for the Big Ten, that isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's probably the best possible outcome, this is a weekend to sit back and enjoy what is set to take place in the Big Ten.

From Florida, to the Twin Cities, down to Texas and out to California, there are big games and big series up and down the conference. The Dairy Queen Classic has No. 11 UCLA, a traditional power in Arizona, and Washington taking on Illinois, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Down in Texas, Spencer Allen takes Northwestern to Austin, where the Wildcats can take in an incredible environment and see what it's like to be a college baseball blueblood in No. 21 Texas, as they look to continue building up the program in Evanston. Ohio State has a contest against No. 17 Southern Mississippi in Pensacola, Fla. In California, No. 5 Stanford and No. 30 San Diego respectively await the Wolverines and Hoosiers. Even Nebraska's series at Wichita State, and Iowa heading to UAB, represent quality series.

I cannot remember a weekend where this many big games littered one weekend for Big Ten programs. And as the conference seeks to build off of placing five teams in regionals for the second time in three years, this is a weekend that can go a long way in ensuring another handful of teams are in the field of 64.

Further wetting the appetite for this weekend's games, Northwestern's games against Texas will be on the Longhorn Channel, Saturday's Ohio State-Southern Mississippi will be shown on Cox Sports and Sunday's Michigan-Stanford finale will be on the Pac-12 Network.

It would have been great to see the Golden Gate bridge, hop around Silicone Valley, ride a trolley, and rack up more Delta SkyMiles. But I'll be just fine to sit back, open the laptop, grab the iPad, have too many tabs of Gametracker open, find a television at the appropriate time and enjoy an incredible weekend of Big Ten action.

Wildcats look to sustain momentum, stand against blueblood Longhorns

(Photo courtesy Northwestern Athletics)

Blake Dowson-

Things haven’t gone quite as planned for the Northwestern baseball team so far this season, but an early 2-4 record isn’t anything to panic over.

The Wildcats found themselves in the Big Ten Tournament title game last year, just one win away from the NCAA Tournament. Now the task is for the Wildcats to show they can consistently find themselves in that position, and ultimately end an NCAA Tournament drought that dates back to 1957.

“We have to prove we can be a consistent club,” Northwestern head coach Spencer Allen said. “We want to be one of the top eight teams in the Big Ten every year. It’s a dog fight. There are good baseball teams left out of the Big Ten tournament every year. We want consistency, and to prove that last year wasn’t just a flash in the pan.”

One way to see how you stack up with the top dogs in the Big Ten? Schedule an early-season trip to Austin, Texas to take on the Texas Longhorns. One way to prove you belong at the top of the conference? Come away with a couple wins against the perennial power Longhorns.

Scheduling teams like Texas is important to Allen; he says he’s not into the false confidence a team gets by beating up on a bunch of second-rate programs.

“One, we want to figure out what we’re about,” he said. “I’m not into the false confidence of a great preseason record when you’re not playing anyone. Rutgers is playing miami, Michigan State is going out west. Nebraska always schedules tough. So the conference feels the same way. Two, I want our guys to be excited to go play. They’ll remember this trip. The opportunity to go play at Texas in front of a couple thousand fans is special.”

Allen and the Wildcats will have to try to keep pace with a Longhorn order that produced 20 runs in a three-game series against LSU in Baton Rouge. On the offensive side, it starts and ends with junior Willie Bourbon.

Bourbon, a junior this year for the Wildcats, is off to a great start, hitting .375 with an absurd 1.385 OPS. Bourbon has hit two doubles, two triples, three home runs, and has driven in 10 runs, while no other Northwestern hitter has driven in over three.

“Willie has been a three-year starter now,” Allen said. “As a freshman, I think he struck out 73 times. I’m happy for him because he stayed with it. He kept working.”

Bourbon will need his pitching staff to keep Texas somewhat in check, however, and that’s something the Wildcats have struggled with this year.

Northwestern has given up 51 runs in six games this season, adding up to a team ERA of 7.96 and opponents’ batting average of .333. Those numbers won’t win many games, especially when Northwestern runs into good pitching, like it did against Kansas and again this weekend against Texas and the entire Big Ten season.

This weekend poses a critical opportunity to get the pitching staff back on track against a really good team.

“Number one, we need to get a little bit more quality starts,” Allen said of his staff. “Getting guys into the sixth inning, starting the seventh. We need more consistency out of the bullpen. I think those are a couple things. We just need a little bit more [out of everyone].”

A 2-4 record or not, Allen said he’s happy with where his team is at. He said there is no sense of urgency this weekend to win games, just an urgency to get consistent.

If his team does that, he said they are on the right track.

“It’s everything to do with how we’re playing...Kansas this [past] weekend, they threw two or three second round draft picks. They were really good. I’m looking at how we’re playing. We need to tighten things up on the pitching staff. We’ve been facing some good arms, and I’m happy with where we’re at.”

What to watch for

Pacific Coast series

Three big series will take place in California this weekend, each with a varying degree of importance.

In San Diego, Indiana looks to lend further credence to their stature as one of the country's top teams and potential regional host. The 17th-ranked Hoosiers have a four-game set at No. 30 San Diego, providing Chris Lemonis' club with an opportunity to capture a resume-highlighting series. After dropping their season opener to Oklahoma, the Hoosiers have reeled off six consecutive victories. Wins over Coastal Carolina and South Alabama should hold up nicely as the season progresses, but the weekend set at San Diego was thought to be the non-conference highlight of IU's schedule, and, with USD opening the season 7-2, sweeping through last weekend's Tony Gwynn Legacy with victories over Arizona, Arkansas and Michigan, it is indeed the defining series of Indiana's pre-Big Ten slate. Indiana's powerful offense will be tested by a Torero staff which is holding the opposition to a .221 average.

Up the Pacific Coast Highway, driving through Orange, Los Angeles, and Ventura counties, Penn State has a Saturday through Monday series at UC Santa Barbara. The Nittany Lions head to the Golden State at 3-3, after going 0-3 last weekend in Cary, N.C., falling twice by one run. Looking to turn the tide themselves, Santa Barbara enters the weekend at 2-6 on the young season. The Guachos have allowed at least six runs in eight of their contests and could be the opponent Penn State needs, as the Nittany Lions are batting just .204 on the season. The series may not hold the significance of the clash in San Diego, but it's important Penn State shows an ability to bounce back from a tough weekend if the team is to reach the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2012.

Further north, in the Bay Area, Michigan has a four-game series at Stanford. The Wolverines have dropped four games in a row, sitting at 2-5 on the season, while the fifth-ranked Cardinal have yet to lose a game, looking to build on an 0-8 start. In the offseason, Michigan head coach Erik Bakich turned down an offer to become Stanford's head coach. Any thoughts surrounding a homecoming for the northern California native is secondary to Bakich, as he looks to get his team back on track, while squaring off against on the country's best teams. Stanford holds a 2.12 team ERA, a stinginess that will be tough on Michigan, who enters the weekend with a .219 team average. If Michigan can come away with a pair of victories, they will still have 12 weekends to show this is a reload season, a weekend split at Stanford may be as good of a showing as any conference team. If the Cardinal keep the Wolverines out of the win column and drop the Maize and Blue to 2-9, it's hard to see the 2018 season as anything but a rebuilding season.

Dairy Queen Classic

The stakes are obviously high for Big Ten teams in this week's Dairy Queen Classic which is doubling as second round of Big Ten/Pac-12 challenges.

With U.S. Bank Stadium, Minnesota's second home to Siebert Field, welcoming conference brethren Illinois and Michigan State, and Arizona, UCLA and Washington from the Pac-12, three days of three inter-sectional showdowns will take place. For each Big Ten team, the first weekend of March has the chance to set the tone for the rest of the season.

The Illini are 3-3 on the season, after winning their final two games of last weekend, knocking off Coastal Carolina and VCU. It's been an up-and-down season for Illinois, the offense has been there for a few games, then disappeared. Liekwise, stout pitching will arise for a game then be hard to find the rest of the weekend. Three good-to-very good teams will test Illinois' ability to get all gears going at the same time. Illinois has missed the last two Big Ten Tournaments, on the heels of appearing in two regionals in three years. To get back to their 2011-2015 run, Illinois will need to pitch, field and hit, and all there areas will be tested this weekend.

For the Spartans, an 0-5 start to the season has quickly faded with Michigan State's two wins to cap their weekend at Pepperdine. Now, can Michigan State's momentum continue? Michigan State's weekend rotation of Riley McCauley, Ethan Landon and Mason Erla have been the conference's best rotation out of the gate. The trio have combined to pitch 32 innings, have struck out 41 batters while only walking five hitters. The anchor that has held Michigan State back is a .208 team average, Jake Boss' team has yet to score more than five runs in a game, three contests saw them score just one run, with three others having the production top out at four runs. By comparison, MSU's 20 runs on the season is just one more than how many runs Ohio State's Noah McGowan has driven in. Is this the weekend the Green and White bats get going? It'll be a tall task. UCLA enters the weekend with a 1.88 ERA, Arizona is second in the Pac-12 at 2.01 and Washington checks in at an impressive 2.43.

The host Gophers may be the team best able to take on the Pac-12 trio, and also the one with the most to gain this weekend.

Minnesota's roster is littered with three and four-year starters. Alex Boxwell, Micah Coffey, Toby Hanson, Luke Pettersen, and Terrin Vavra were all key contributors in Minnesota's 2016 Big Ten championship team. With eight of nine starters back, and a schedule that'll give Minnesota many opportunities to capture impressive victories, this was viewed as a season where the elements could line up for the Gophers to reach their first super regional. That quest starts in earnest this weekend. Ranked 11th, UCLA is one of three ranked opponents Minnesota will face in March. In two weeks Minnesota travels to No. 7 TCU. The following weekend the Gophers host reigning Big Ten champion Nebraska to kick off conference play, the following week it's No. 23 St. John's turn to travel to the Twin Cities. Compiling a 7-2 weekend in February, Minnesota is off to a strong start, avoiding troubling losses that can stymie regional hopes before aspirations can take flight. Now, behind an offense batting .327, the Gophers can add quality wins to a stout record, and kick off a daunting month in grand style. Arizona's .221 average and Washington's .257, may provide the kind of opponent, good but not overly powerful, that will help a young Minnesota pitching staff encounter confidence-building success that will pay dividends throughout the month and, ideally for John Anderson, a long postseason.

Feltner back in the spotlight

For a second consecutive weekend, Ohio State junior right-handed pitcher Ryan Feltner will toe the rubber against one of the country's best teams. Joining Ohio State in the Cox Diamond Invitational are Eastern Michigan, Nicholls State and No. 17 Southern Mississippi. A Last week, Feltner pitched six innings against No. 2 Oregon State, allowing four runs off six hits, striking out six batter while issuing two walks. Feltner received a no-decision as Oregon State rallied to a 10-8 victory with six runs in the bottom of the eighth. At 5-3, the Buckeyes have started the season solidly, there isn't a marquee victory, but two of the three losses are likely to a national seed in Oregon State. The game against Southern Mississippi gives the team another opportunity to secure a strong non-conference victory as look to return to the NCAA Tournament, and will have their top prospect on the mound as they do so.

Burke Granger-

After turning heads in the Michigan State bullpen over the past two seasons, McCauley is making the transition to the rotation as a junior. Serving as the Spartan closer last year, McCauley posted a 17.18 strikesouts per nine innings pitched, to go with a 2.10 ERA and nine saves. Carrying that momentum into the Cape Cod League, McCauley earned All-Star honors by continuing to miss bats with a 15.51 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and 1.92 ERA for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.

Undersized, but athletically built, at 5’11” and 205 pounds, McCauley’s frame offers little by way of future projection. In short bursts, McCauley’s fastball is an above average-to-plus pitch at 92-94 MPH, though an AL scout disclosed that the right-hander has trouble maintaining that velocity as a starter.

McCauley’s best pitch is a late-breaking low-80s slider with two-plane break and 10-to-4 movement. Though he’s able to generate swings and misses with both pitches, control has been a challenge throughout his collegiate career, evidenced by a 4.07 walks per nine innings pitched rate. These factors combined with the lack of a third offering were reasons the scout cited for projecting McCauley’s future home in a bullpen as a professional.

A member of our a preseason 10 Innings first-team selection, McCauley’s move to the rotation has provided mixed results thus far. He was brilliant on opening weekend against Fresno State, allowing one run off two hits with 12 strikeouts and two walks, but he was hit hard last weekend against Pepperdine, being struck for five runs off 11 hits in 4.2 innings, striking out six batters and walking two.

As Michigan State looks to build off of their weekend win at Pepperdine, McCauley will take the ball to start the Dairy Queen Classic in Minneapolis this weekend against Washington.

10 Innings' Scouting Grades

Fastball- 55/60

Slider- 60/65

Control- 40/50

After spending three seasons as Iowa's director of baseball operations, Desi Druschel stepped into the role of pitching coach, following the transition of assistant Scott Brickman to a role within the university's Iowa Foundation. At the forefront of the Hawkeyes embracing of technology, which has aided the program's revival, Druschel now leads a pitching unit head coach Rick Heller called the deepest he has had in his time in Iowa City. Here's Druschel in this week's Coachspeak.

In your time on the staff with Coach Brickman, what did you learn from him that you absolutely were going to continue implementing and carry on?

Specific to baseball, Scott was really good with the running game and had some great strategies to contain that critical part of the game. He was also a master at pitch-calling and use of off-speed pitches.

I’m always trying to figure out what makes people successful – what are the traits they possess that are major players in their success. Scott’s biggest trait is he is the ultimate listener. Couple that with his calm demeanor and those are the two things that made him as successful as he was. While we certainly continue with many of his baseball specific attributes it is these more holistic traits that I’ve benefited from the most. Scott is also still in town, knows the staff and is a great resource.

The Hawkeye program has gained national attention for its acceptance and use of technology. How have you personally embraced the continued development of technology, knowing it is an ever-changing, ever-improving field?

Whether it be professional, college, high school or youth baseball, technology is playing a heavy hand in it all. Some form of tech has become affordable for nearly everyone.

At our level and the professional level more expensive technology is now become more common. Through donors and Coach Heller’s willingness to invest, we have had the opportunity to be at the forefront of technological advances with Trackman, Pitchgrader, HitTrax, Senaptec, Rapsodo, BATS!, Synergy and other forms. As director of operations. I spent a great deal of time with the implementation of all of these different pieces of equipment. I got my hands dirty and have learned so much. It’s exciting to be able to implement technology in my current position.

A big thing now is that technology has become so popular that having the knowledge and background to implement effectively is the latest skill sought for programs and organizations. Having an understanding of what the data says and the ability to bring it to the field without sacrificing best skill acquisition practices is where the real challenge lies.

The technology is so good that I’ve come to the point where I’m reliant on it. And there is more coming. Every Power 5 conference team, probably nearly every Division I team will have Synergy next season. I’ve got my eye on a couple things for the offseason too.

I’ve always been interested in this kind of stuff so needless to say I’m enjoying seeing it become a major component of college and professional baseball

Iowa has appeared in two regionals in three years, success not seen in a generation. What steps do you take to not be content with what's already occurred and fight back complacency?

Our entire staff is from Iowa, we understand what the Tigerhawk means in our state. We have all followed the Hawks our entire lives. Personally I feel a great responsibility to all of those Hawk fans out there.

While Coach Heller has resurrected Iowa baseball and breathed life and enthusiasm into the program, I don’t think anybody is satisfied with where were are at. We are certainly proud of what the program has done but have so much more to accomplish. Complacency is a real thing; there is no doubt we have to deal with it on a regular basis. But I don’t think it’s what Coach Heller or the program is about. All of our staff could be described as scrappers and complacency is just not the way we live our lives.

Personally I’ve got a couple people to serve as checks as I don’t ever want to be described as an entitled person or coach. With all of the resources and recent program success it is easy to envision complacency or entitlement.

When you have a weekend rotation that needs entirely replaced, is there excitement in seeing who steps up and fills role or is that overwhelmed by the anxiety of the uncertainty?

All of the above! While there is some anxiety and certainly uncertainty there is also a great deal of excitement. We have probably the deepest pitching staff since Coach Heller took over the program. There have been guys working really hard, more or less waiting in the weeds for a shot. We’ve also had several guys come into the program with serious arm injuries sustained after commitment but before enrollment. Coach Heller stuck with those guys and they have been training diligently, just waiting for an opportunity. Long story short, we have capable guys on staff, 1-15. The early part of the season will determine how the roles are filled for league play.

Your one-sentence, elevator pitch to who you are as a coach:

I think one of the reasons why Coach Heller gave me this opportunity is that we are similar in a lot of ways, player development is what I’m about and what the program is about.

 

10 Innings Extra: Weathering travel curveballs

It’s a tricky thing, navigating an early spring schedule when you play an outdoor sport. Thus is life in college baseball.

That’s why northern teams travel south each weekend for about the first month of the season. However, the south isn’t always a safe haven from nasty late winter and early spring weather, as a number of Big Ten programs have already found out in the early goings of the 2018 season.

Illinois was supposed to fly to Texas to open its season, but because of fog hanging over Chicago’s Midway Airport, on the eve of opening day the team’s scheduled flight didn’t happen. Illini head coach Dan Hartleb didn’t want a wasted weekend, so he got on the phone.

“As soon as we started having trouble with the flight, and we found out we only had a slim chance getting out on Friday, and we already knew there was a possibility of rain in Texas, I called a friend down in the Nashville area who is head coach, asked him about maybe jumping in with them and the other team they were playing,” Hartleb said. “He said they were getting rain and it would be difficult to get everybody involved. But he told me about Austin Peay and South Dakota State, and told me to check with them.”

Austin Peay and South Dakota State, due to forecasted weather altering their schedule with weekend cancellations of their own, agreed to meet in St. Louis to kick their seasons off, and Hartleb asked if his Illinois team could join in at St. Louis University. That plan was OK’d, and the Illini got on a bus. Lucky for them, there was already a field waiting for them. That’s not always the case when teams are trying to get extra games on the schedule after cancellations.

“A lot of things come into play,” Hartleb said. “[If it’s a] neutral site, you have to rent the playing field, get umps, housing. One of our major obstacles was bus availability, and finding a driver who wasn’t already scheduled.”

Purdue was in the same situation as Illinois, trying to fly out of Chicago to get down to Texas. The Boilermakers were scheduled to play an opening weekend series against Baylor.

“It’s not a real fun drill to go to the airport and hang out for a couple hours and find out you can’t get a flight out for several days,” Purdue head coach Mark Wasikowski said. “[The players] were really disappointed. They wanted to play Baylor, they’re a really good program.”

Wasikowski looked for another way to get down to Waco, and when he was on the phone with the Baylor staff, they discussed splitting the costs of a charter flight.

But when pen met paper and they started adding up how much it was going to cost if they chartered a flight, it just didn’t make sense. Wasikowski said it would cost about $75,000 for his team and staff to charter a flight to Texas, and that’s just the cost for a one-way flight down there. Add in the flight home, and Wasikowski’s estimation of another $15,000 for the other legs of the trip, and it’s easy to see why Purdue elected to seek an alternative option.

Northwestern saw its opening weekend in flux as well, due to be unable to fly out of Chicago. Wildcat head coach Spencer Allen said cancelling games is not only hard enough logistically, but it puts some pressure on him to get guys into comfortable positions as they head into the bulk of their schedule.

“[Getting games in] is huge for us,” Allen said. “You want to figure out the pitching rotation, your batting order, everything. I think it’s very important, and that’s why we try to schedule with teams that will do four-game series, to get more games on weekends we can play. Midweek games aren’t really an option for us this early.”

Unlike Illinois and Purdue, Northwestern did ultimately reach its intended destination. Flying out a day later than anticipated and trimming a scheduled four-game series to three games, the Wildcats played Nebraska-Omaha for three games in Glendale, Ariz.

Wasikowski and Purdue were able to play a full complement of three games, finding a weekend opponent in against Western Michigan. The Broncos also had a weekend in Texas nixed and the two met in Emerson, Ga., at the Perfect Game Complex at the LakePoint Sporting Community.

The importance of finding those games for Purdue, and for every program that has early-season games cancelled, is two-fold. First, missing out on one of the first weekends of the season puts a team behind the eight ball at the beginning of the year. Second, as Wasikowski pointed out, it hurts you come NCAA Tournament time.

“You’re only allowed 56 games on your schedule,” he said. “You basically have the first five weekends of year that are non-conference, and if you’re going to leave any of those [unplayed], it can get risky at the end when it comes to getting into the postseason. They look at number of wins as a marker, and you’re looking at a 34-win minimum to be in the discussion. If you’re losing games [on the schedule], you’re at a real disadvantage.”

That’s why head coaches, who start out as meteorologists in predicting weekend weather, turn into journalists when they have games get cancelled, following every lead they get to try to find a couple games to play.

Playing baseball in the northern part of the country has its disadvantages, and this may be one of them. But it’s what the athletes and the coaches of the Big Ten signed up for.

“It can happen anytime,” Hartleb said. “Early, you get cancelled more with cold weather. But teams in the south can be cancelled because of rain. The thing I always tell my players is: good athletes adjust.”

The Weekend 10

The second weekend of the season saw Indiana, Minnesota and Rutgers converge in Port Charlotte, Fla. In games where Big Ten teams didn’t play each other, Indiana and Rutgers tangled on Friday, the conference went 6-1, outscoring the competition 76-28. Helping their teams to 3-0 weekends, Hoosier Pauly Milto was named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, while Gopher Terrin Vavra was named the top player of the week.

Across the Gulf of Mexico in the Lone Star State, Purdue continued it’s strong start, going 3-1 to claim the Alamo Irish Classic. Here are the players that powered the Boilermakers to the title and who else shined in the Big Ten over the final weekend of February.

Northwestern Jr. 1B Willie Bourbon

Borboun dialed up quite a weekend as Northwestern had a three-game series at Kansas. Going 6-14, the Wildcat drove in eight runs, scored six, and connected on two home runs.

Purdue Jr. C Nick Dalesandro

Dalesandro capped a big weekend in the Alamo Irish Classic with the game-tying RBI and scored the go-ahead run in Purdue’s thrilling 8-7 victory over Notre Dame on Sunday, to claim the title. Dalesandro batted a team-best .467 over Purdue’s four games in San Antonio, hitting a double and a home run, adding three stolen bases.

Michigan State Fr. RHP Mason Erla

The 10 Innings Freshman of the Week, Erla helped Michigan State clinch its weekend series at Pepperdine with his first collegiate win. Against the Waves, Erla pitched five scoreless innings, surrended just two hits and struck out four batters without issuing a walk.

Nebraska Fr. 3B/OF Jaxon Hallmark

Hallmark went 6-for-15 with two walks and drove in five runs as Nebraska went 2-2 in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge. Hallmark drove in three of Nebraska’s four runs scored against Oregon State, the No. 2 team in the country.

Purdue Fr. RHP Bo Hofstra

En route to being tabbed the Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Hofstra appeared in two games in the Alamo Irish Classic. The right-hander totaled 4.2 innings over the weekend, allowing one run off two hits and a walk, and recorded a save.

Ohio State Sr. 1B/OF Noah McGowan

After leading the country with 12 RBI over opening weekend, McGowan helped Ohio State score 36 runs in four games in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge, driving in seven runs. Needing just two weekend to match his 2017 RBI total, McGowan, the 10 Innings Player of the Week, batted .450 with three doubles and a home run in Surprise.

Indiana Jr. RHP Pauly Milto

On Saturday, Milto recorded his first career complete game, tossing a four-hit shutout in Indiana’s 4-0 win over Boston College. The right-hander struck out eight batters without issuing a walk, running his scoreless innings streak to 15 innings to start the season.

Ohio State Soph. 3B Connor Pohl

Behind the cleanup-hitting McGowan in Ohio State’s batting order, Pohl put together a strong weekend in his own right. Going 7-for-19 in Arizona, Pohl drove in six runs, cross home twice and hit a pair of home runs against Oregon State, in Ohio State’s 10-8 loss on Saturday.

Illinois Jr. 1B Bren Spillane

The graduation of Pat McInerney left a sizable hole in the heart of the Illini batting. Through two weeks junior Bren Spillan has nicely fill the vacancy. Spillane went 7-for-16 over the weekend, using two doubles, a triple and a home run to drive in seven runs.

Minnesota Jr. SS Terrin Vavra

The Big Ten Player of the Week, Vavra powered a Minnesota that twice scored at least 14 runs in Florida. Vavra recorded three hits in every going, going 9-for-15, with two triples, and scored eight runs. Vavra’s .433 is second in the Big Ten.

Feb. 22-25 Weekend Preview

Vaughn's Ready For His Moment

(Photo courtesy Maryland Athletics)

Blake Dowson-

When John Szefc left Maryland to take the head coaching position at Virginia Tech, he handed the ball to Rob Vaughn, to put it in terms we all understand here on this site.

Vaughn isn’t coming into a six-run lead in the ninth inning, and he’s not in line for a save with his new Terrapin club. But he’s in a good spot, let’s say something like a one-run lead, coming into a clean sixth inning. He credits the transition from Coach Szefc to himself for that.

“Big picture, my goal was to be a head coach by the time I was 35. I didn’t know it would happen at 29,” Vaughn said. "The transition to Coach Szefc leaving, to being in the athletic director's office talking about the job, to getting the job, it happened really quickly and really smoothly."

The lead Vaughn has comes from what Szefc left for the 30-year-old first-time head coach: a roster that includes both the 10 Innings Preseason Pitcher and Player of the Year, Taylor Bloom and Marty Costes, and depth behind them both on the mound and in the field.

"I’ve recruited a lot of these position players, and we're working on more depth at those positions. But when you can roll a No. 1 and No. 2 like Taylor Bloom and Tyler Blohm out there, that’s comforting. We have two very reliable guys to throw out there…guys that have a lot of experience. It’s rare in college baseball to have good, experienced seniors…we have lots of those guys."

Vaughn could blow through the final few innings for a win, if a check in the win column was what he is after. It could be a Big Ten title. His team certainly has the talent. It could be making or hosting a super regional.

But to hear it from him, wins and losses and tournament berths aren’t exactly how he is going to measure success. He wants those things to be a byproduct of something much bigger.

“We have a vision for where we’re going…we have our steps along the way,” Vaughn said. “My goal has nothing to do with the end product. We spend so much time getting [the players] to buy into the process and trusting the results will take care of themselves. We want to play with freedom, unafraid to crash and burn. [Wednesday] night we got beat by a good William & Mary team, but it was one of those things where I thought the energy was great…we just didn’t execute.”

The loss evened Maryland's record on the young season after the Terrapins took two out of three in Knoxville against Tennessee last weekend, a statement series win for Vaughn to open with. Eight months after Szefc handed the ball to him, Vaughn got to hand the ball to Bloom to get the season rolling, a welcoming arm to get his head coaching career started. Bloom did nothing other than strike out nine Volunteers over seven scoreless innings and second baseman Nick Dunn pounded three home runs.

The non-conference slate doesn’t get any easier from here, with series against Bryant and East Carolina coming up, as well as games versus Coastal Carolina and No. 6 North Carolina. And the conference schedule includes Indiana, Michigan, Purdue, and Nebraska.

Vaughn said the most important thing he can do this season is build bonds with his guys, especially the pitching staff, who he hasn’t had a ton of contact with during his time in College Park. After that happens, things start to fall into place.

"I caught in college, I’ve caught professionally, I’ve caught my whole life, so I’ve spent a ton of time working with pitchers,” he said. "…knowing them on an intimate level, talking about things as a staff, knowing pitchers really well, that’s important. [I want to] spend a lot of time just hanging out with them, getting to know them, what makes each guy tick. that’s the root of everything."

It’s a lot to take on in year one for a 30-year-old head coach, but Vaughn is in a good position to succeed. He said himself before the season he wouldn’t have accepted the position if he had felt it wasn’t the right position to be able to succeed.

And so it’s so far, so good. But then again, it’s only the sixth inning for Vaughn. And we all know the later into a game it gets, the harder it is to get outs.

Webb's Words: The Big Ten is a worthy foe to the Pac-12

Chris Webb-

In the summer of 2013, I spoke to Erik Bakich on his experience over his first year in Ann Arbor. I asked whether the season had gone as expected, what the program needed to do to return to its past glory, the state of Michigan recruiting.

Each topic also reflected the state of the Big Ten. Meeting expectations was dependent on the team reaching the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2013 and how the Wolverines stacked up against their conference foes. Returning to the top of the conference would require Michigan bringing in players better than their conference peers. At the time, more and more Big Ten programs were gaining traction in recruiting and finding the right players to make

Indiana captured the attention of the country with their run to Omaha, and the Big Ten produced two NCAA Tournament teams that year, Illinois was the other, for a second straight year. Prior to 2012, the Big Ten only sent multiple teams to the tournament in twice of the previous six seasons.

The conference was getting better and Bakich spoke to how it was becoming a destination for top baseball players throughout the country. His sentiment was reflected in one bold statement, stating he believed the Big Ten not only could be a conference viewed as one of the best, but have a deserved place at the Power 5 table that one wouldn't bat an eye towards. Bakich alluded to the depth of the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences and how they'll have a leg up, he previously coached within both conferences, but stated the Big Ten could and would hold its own against the Pac-12 and Big XII.

That time has come.

When it comes to placing teams in the NCAA Tournament, the ACC and SEC will always be 1-2 or 2-1. Geographically advantages will carry the day, less road games, more time outside in a natural practice element, the excess of state lotteries to aid recruiting, those are all advantages Big Ten programs will never have.

But for the other Power 5 conferences, the Big Ten can and has been an equal, if not better peer. Outside of the ACC and SEC, the Big Ten is the only conference to have at least five teams make in the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three years, sending 13 teams, from eight different programs, to a regional.

This weekend, for a second year in a row, the Big Ten - Pac-12 Baseball Challenge brings Nebraska and Ohio State together to take on #2 Oregon State and Utah, in Surprise, Ariz. In Nebraska and Oregon State, the respective reigning conference champions square off. In Ohio State and Utah, two 2016 conference champions can be found (Ohio State won the 2016 Big Ten Tournament, Utah were the Pac-12 champs.)

As the Big Ten looks to avenge a 2-6 showing last year, the eight games are just 21 games between the Big Ten and Pac-12 over the next two weeks. This year's Dairy Queen Classic doubles as another Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge, with Illinois, Michigan State and host Minnesota taking on #26 Arizona, #12 UCLA and Washington.

Next weekend, after they have their own game this Saturday against Arizona in the Town Gwynn Legacy, Michigan caps their spring break with a trip to Stanford for a four-game set in Palo Alto.

And about the Cardinal, Stanford is the storied Pac-12 program that Bakich declined a summer offer to become their next head coach, following the retirement of legendary coach Mark Marquess, opting to stay in Ann Arbor.

That's what Bakich saw five years ago, a conference going toe-to-toe with a conference like the Pac-12, coming out on top as the place to be.

What to watch for this weekend

Can Penn State and Purdue stay perfect?

Penn State and Purdue opened the season with perfect 3-0 records, respectively sweeping Elon and Western Michigan. The competition picks up in week two, with both heading to tournaments which features at least one tough test.

For Penn State, the Nittany Lions return to North Carolina, headed to Cary and the USA Baseball Complex for games against Maryland-Baltimore County, Monmouth, and St. John's. St. John's, enters the weekend the No. 27 team in the country, coming off a midweek win over  #8 North Carolina. It will be a tall task for Penn State to duplicate it's 3-0 weekend, but a strong showing in Cary will give further credence to a turnaround year in State College.

Like Penn State, Purdue will have an opportunity to showing their spotless opening weekend was a true sign of things to come 2018. In Alamo Irish Classic, hosted by Notre Dame in San Antonio, Purdue will take on Saint Louis, Incarnate Wood and the Irish, with a championship or consolation game on Sunday. Notre Dame is on the outside of this week's NCBWA poll, but the Irish took two of three from then No. 11 LSU in Baton Rogue last weekend. The Boilermakers aligned their rotation so ace Tanner Andrews will be on the bump Saturday against their in-state foe.

Who excels in regional-type field?

Penn State and Purdue aren't alone in preparing to take part in a quality tournament this weekend. Throughout the country, stout competition will put Big Ten teams to the test this weekend, resembling could be found in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

In Myrtle Beach, Illinois will see if it can match Indiana's 3-1 showing in a Coastal Carolina-hosted tournament. The Illini will play the Chanticleers twice, as well as face West Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth in the Brittain Resorts Invitaitonal.

In the All-State Sugar Bowl Baseball Classic, Iowa joins a four-team field alongside Ball State, New Orleans and Virginia Tech, looking to build off of their 3-0 weekend.

Out west, Michigan will face San Diego, Arizona and Cal Poly in the Tony Gwynn Legacy in San Diego.

Can Michigan State rebound?

Michigan State's first trip this season to California was a forgettable one. Last weekend, the Spartans dropped all four contests at Fresno State, three by one run. Michigan State returns to the Golden State this weekend for three games at Pepperdine (2-3), looking to reverse course on the young season. Junior right-handed pitcher Riley McCauley shined in his weekend debut, striking out 12 batters in six innings, allowing only one run off two hits. But timely hits alluded Jake Boss' club. Michigan State batted .203 for the weekend, leaving strong starts by McCauley and senior right-hander Ethan Landon (6.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 9 SO) fall by the wayside.

Burke Granger & Chris Webb-

The Big Ten’s top pitching prospect is set to be under a heavy scouting eye this weekend. Transitioning into the Friday starter role for Ohio State, junior right-handed pitcher Ryan Feltner will square off against #2 Oregon State in the Big Ten/Pac-12 Challenge.

Splitting time between starting and reliever, Feltner was inconsistent in 2017, going 1-5 with a 6.32 ERA. Fortunes turned in the Cape for the 6’4, 195-pound hurler, as the Russ Ford Outstanding Relief Pitcher winner did not allow an earned run, recording eight saves in 13 appearances.

An above-average athlete with projectable frame, Feltner can sit 93-95 with a fastball that garners plus grades for its sheer velocity, though he has yet to show consistent command with it or any of his secondary offerings. As a Buckeye, Feltner has struck out 124 batters in 136.1 innings but has walked 61 batters. Thrown in the low-80s, his best off-speed pitch is a slider with sharp two-plane break, while a mid-80s changeup gives him a useable third pitch.

"His changeup is OK," said an longtime AL scout. "But he needs to get to it," he added, alluding to Feltner's trouble of locating his fastball and falling behind in counts.

While his in-game showings has caused some scouts to take an approach of wait-and-see, one NL cross-checker spoke to the things that are going to show up no matter what as reason to consider Feltner as a potential top-three round pick.

"You look at the body and the arm," the cross-checker said. "He's a good athlete, the arm works, it isn't impeded in his delivery, and the body can probably add on another 10 pounds, and think of what that will do to his ability to pitch with the velocity he has."

Oregon State features three potential top-two round draft picks, led by second baseman Nick Madrigal, who may be the most talented collegiate hitter in this class. A strong showing against the Beavers can cement Feltner’s place as a top prospect in his own right.

"Teams won't forget this game when debating in the draft room," the AL scout said. "If he does well, they'll use it to support why they should take him. If he does poorly, they'll use it to argue why they shouldn't."

10 Innings' Scouting Grades

FB- 60/65

CV- 35/45

SL- 40/50

CH- 45/55

Control- 35/50

 

The Weekend 10

Opening weekend saw its share of strong individual performances, from dominant starts for pitchers to a handful of players who collected multiple home runs on a single day. New this season to 10 Innings is the Weekend Top 10, taking a look at the most impressive individual weekend performances.

Here’s the opening weekend top 10, capped with the weekend’s top pitcher, player and freshman.

Purdue Sr. RHP Tanner Andrews

As Purdue sets out to show the program’s revival in 2017 was not a fluke, senior right-handed pitcher Tanner Andrews put together an opening-weekend performance that shows the Boilermakers have a true ace at their disposal. Andrews scattered five hits from Western Michigan batters in 6.2 innings of scoreless baseball, striking out nine batters without issuing a walk, leading Purdue to a 5-1 victory in their season opener.

Maryland Sr. RHP Taylor Bloom

On expected strength on opponent, and coming in a road win opposed to neutral site, Maryland’s Taylor Bloom squeaks by Andrews as this week’s top pitcher. Bloom had nearly an identical line to Andrews, striking out nine batters without a walk, but pitched seven innings, while scattering six hits, as the Terrapins knocked of Tennessee, 4-0, in the first game under new head coach Rob Vaughn.

Maryland Jr. 2B Nick Dunn

Where Bloom shined on the mound, teammate Nick Dunn provided a potent bat. Dunn connected on two home runs in Friday’s 4-0 victory in support of Bloom, then added his third home run of the weekend in the weekend finale. Helping Maryland take two of three from the Volunteers, Dunn went 4-for-10 with three home runs, four walks and four RBI.

Rutgers Fr. LHP Eric Heatter

A player gets only one collegiate debut, and boy did Rutgers southpaw Eric Heatter make the most of his. On the road at #24 Miami, Heatter tossed four innings of scoreless relief, surrendering only three hits while striking out eight Hurricanes against one walk. Heatter’s dominant relief outing helped Rutgers close the weekend with a 7-5 upset.

Minnesota Soph. INF/OF Jordan Kozicky

Minnesota’s Jordan Kozicky celebrated his birthday on opening day, and did so in grand fashion. Kozicky accounted for both of the Gopher runs in a 3-2 defeat at Georgia Tech, dialing up two home runs. After two games against Kennesaw State and a weekend capper against Georgia State, Kozicky finished the weekend with a .375 average, adding two doubles and a pair of walks next to the two home runs.

Michigan State Jr. RHP Riley McCauley

A coach never knows what exactly he’ll get out of a pitcher in moving him from closer to starter. What Jake Boss received from Riley McCauley is what every coach hopes. In six innings against Fresno State, McCauley held the Bulldogs to one run off two hits and two walks, striking out half of the 24 batters he faced.

Purdue Jr. 1B Jacson McGowan

A Terp edged out a Boilermaker for top pitcher, now it’s time for a Boilermaker to edge out a Terp for top player. Joining Dunn in recording three home runs over the weekend, Purdue’s Jacson McGowan is 10 Innings’ Player of the Week, after batting .538 and slugging 1.308 in Purdue’s three games against Western Michigan. McGowan added a double and three singles to record seven hits in 13 at-bats, posting an opening weekend OPS of 1.846.

Ohio State Sr. 1B Noah McGowan

A transfer from McLennan Community College, Noah McGowan drove in 19 runs last year in his first season as a Buckeye. He might eclipse that total in just two weekends this year. McGowan powered Ohio State’s 3-1 weekend in Port Charlotte with 13 RBI, batting .400 with two home runs.

Indiana Sr. OF Logan Sowers

Indiana faced tough competition in Myrtle Beach over the weekend, taking on two ranked teams in Oklahoma and South Alabama. The setting saw many scouts turn out, as those two opponents each feature a potential first-round talent in the outfield. Of course the Hoosiers have their own talented outfielder in Logan Sowers, who put on a show on his own, picking up two home runs in five hits over 12 at-bats.

Nebraska Jr. C Jesse Wilkening

Nebraska may have started the season cold at the plate, batting .202 over four games, but junior catcher Jesse Wilkening was swung a hot bat in Tempe. Wilkening paced the Huskers with a .429 average in 14 at-bats, picking up a double, a home run, two walks and driving in eight runs to propel Darin Erstad’s club to a 3-1 weekend.

Pitcher of the Week- Bloom

Player of the Week- J. McGowan

Freshman of the Week- Heatter

Feb. 16-18 Weekend Preview

Webb's Words: Hoosier look to leave their mark in Big Ten history

(Photo courtesy Indiana Athletics)

Chris Webb-

The 2018 season marks my tenth year covering Big Ten baseball, 14th overall attending Big Ten games. Since 2005, when I was a freshman at Ohio State, I guess you can say I've seen quite a bit of Big Ten baseball. To sum up how much Big Ten baseball I've seen, there's been 21 different coaches lead a Big Ten program since 2009, with the latest being Maryland's Rob Vaughn.

I've seen stadiums transformed, like Michigan's Ray Fisher Stadium and Minnesota's Siebert Field. Incredible stadiums constructed in Purdue's Alexander Field and Indiana's Bart Kaufman Field. The conference has grown by 30% with Nebraska, Maryland, and Rutgers joining the conference. The conference tournament is no longer on the campus of the conference champion, in fact the conference set an NCAA record with an attendance of 19,965 for the 2014 Big Ten Tournament title game. The winner, Indiana, became the first Big Ten national seeds, then the conference needed one year for its second national seed in the form of Illinois. Oh and a program reached the College World Series ending the conference's 30-year drought.

The too long; don't read version: Big Ten baseball has experienced quite the transformation since 2009.

Now, about that College World Series team...

It was 2008 when Indiana showed signs of becoming a budding program. The Hoosiers reached the Big Ten Tournament in Tracy Smith's third season, ending the regular season sixth in the conference standings after four consecutive last place finishes. Just one year later, the Hoosiers put the end to another postseason drought, extending their season by a weekend. Winning the 2009 Big Ten Tournament, the Hoosiers were in the NCAA Tournament for just the third time in the program's history, the first time since 1996.

Following the 2009 season, do you know how many years it would take for Indiana to rack up three more NCAA Tournament appearances? Six years. By the eighth season, Indiana had played in a regional for the fourth time since the 2009 breakthrough. Oh, and it was Indiana, in 2013, who became the Big Ten's first team to play in Omaha since Michigan in 1984.

The 2013-14 Indiana teams will go down as one of the best dynasties in Big Ten baseball history. Don't forget, the 2012 club finished second in the conference, only one game behind Purdue, or it would have been three straight Big Ten titles, a feat that's been accomplished only by Michigan (2006-08), Ohio State (1993-95), Illinois (1906-08) and the University of Chicago, yes they fielded a mighty Big Ten program winning the conference 1896-99.

At the end of the 2014 season, Smith became the head coach at Arizona State, the program saw the graduation of Dustin DeMuth and Joey DeNato after the respective third baseman and pitcher re-wrote the IU record book, and the drafting of Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis, the famed Bash Brothers who were the respective first and second round draft picks of the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox.

If there was to be an end to Indiana's reign as the dominant Big Ten program, it was to happen with the historical turnover.

But it didn't.

From the second Smith left Bloomington for Tempe, Indiana administrators knew who they waited to take over the program. They didn't have to go far, barely reaching across the Ohio River, to name Louisville assistant Chris Lemonis as the program's new head coach. Though once-a-generation talent had moved to the professional ranks and the architect of the program relocated out west, Indiana didn't miss a beat. In Lemonis' first year, Indiana became the first Big Ten program since Michigan in 2005-08 to reach three straight NCAA Tournaments, appearing in the 2015 Nashville Regional.

Indiana did return to the pack in 2016, although they still finished in a tie for third in the conference, missing the NCAA Tournament. But now the Hoosiers are again coming off of an NCAA Tournament appearance after participating in the Lexington Regional as the No 2 seed.

With a core of players led by Matt Lloyd, Luke Miller, Logan Sowers and Jonathan Stievers, Indiana returns much of its 2017 club and enter the 2018 season as the conference favorite in the eyes of coaches and media alike. Named the coaches' preseason favorite, Indiana has preseason rankings of No. 19 by Baseball America, No. 24 by the NCBWA, and earned the 27th-most points in the USA Today/Coaches preseason poll. It's expected Indiana will again be back in the field of 64, if not hosting if they finish the season near the position Baseball America penciled them in.

If that were to happen Indiana will join exclusive company. The Big Ten programs that have played in five NCAA Tournament in six years are the who's who of dominant eras in Big Ten baseball history. Minnesota reached six regionals in seven years between 1998-2004. Ohio State appeared in six regionals in seven years between 1992-1997. Michigan made seven straight NCAA Tournament appearance between 1983-87. No other programs as Big Ten members will have enjoyed the level of sustain success as Indiana will have.

It may be easier in today's game for such runs of success to take place, and we may see continued runs of NCAA Tournament trips occur regularly, after all the Big Ten has placed 13 teams in the NCAA Tournament over the last three seasons, one more than the combined total of the seven years prior. Even so, if the season unfolds as many expect, what Indiana will have accomplished. It will be a run of sustained success between two coaches, a program lifted by generational talent, but kept at a high standard with an entirely new cast of characters, a program elevated to a level of national esteem.

From someone who's seen a little bit of Big Ten baseball, Indiana and the conference are in a new day, with no signs of going back.

 

New look Huskers ready to reign

(Photo courtesy Indiana Athletics)

Blake Dowson-

The expectations have changed in the Big Ten Conference. Although there were no teams in super regionals in 2017, a record number of teams from the conference made the NCAA Tournament. Recruiting has ramped up, bringing in more talent. Athletic departments are putting more money into baseball programs. There’s momentum here.

But it can’t stop at just getting teams into the NCAA Tournament. The next step is the supers, and ultimately the College World Series.

The two Big Ten team closest to the home of the College World Series, Nebraska, took a step forward last season as the conference champions, reaching the NCAA Tournament for a third time in four years. In a sport where your best talent typically leaves each year and in a conference that makes it difficult to reload each year, Nebraska’s Darin Erstad has work to do in 2018 with a new look squad.

“I don’t roll seasons over,” Erstad said at Nebraska’s media day. “It’s a whole new set of circumstances coming into this year.”

Erstad is tasked with replacing All-American Jake Meyers and Derek Burkamper in the Husker rotation, two who combined to eat up over 150 innings for the Huskers last season. But Erstad isn't without a pitcher coming off of an impressive 2017 season. Senior right-hander Luis Alvarado is back in Lincoln after being drafted in the 13th round last year after a solid year as Nebraska’s closer. He’ll be stretched out after totaling 15.1 innings last year, taking the ball on opening day as Nebraska's Friday night starter. Jake McSteen will be the Saturday starter after being leaned on heavily out of the bullpen last year, nearly reaching 40 innings. Nate Fisher and Creighton transfer Matt Warren will fill out the rotation.

Of Alvarado starting, Erstad said they would adjust as they go.

“You’re going to be patient,” the seventh-year head coach said. “And looking long term as far as building their pitch counts up…I’m sure there will be some bumps there. We want our best arm going out there right out of the gate and let him do his thing.”

Nebraska starts this season without the services of Ben Miller, Meyers, and Jake Schleppenbach, respective multi-year starters at first base, center fielder and second base. Those three combined to make 163 starts and over 600 at-bats.

Luckily, two-time first-team All Big Ten selection Scott Schreiber is back for his senior season. Schreiber hit .330 last year with 55 RBI. His production will be key in Nebraska building on last season’s success, along with All-Big Ten players Angelo Altavilla and Jake Hohensee.

Altavilla, Alvarado, Hohensee, and  Schreiber, along with the likes of third baseman Luke Roskam and left fielder Mojo Hagge gives Erstad a collection of players who have enjoyed success in college baseball. But with sizable holes to fill and expandad roles for many, what we will learn in the coming month is which newcomers will make an impact and who is ready to embrace a bigger role for the reining Big Ten champions, what kind of team Nebraska will be in 2018.

“I think they’re going to be annoying to face,” Erstad said. “We’ve got a bunch of grinders. They’ve had a taste of winning and they want more.”

What to watch for this weekend

Who plays?

Inclement weather saw flights cancelled throughout the Midwest on Thursday, leaving Illinois, Purdue and Northwestern stranded at airports, scrambling for last minute options for travel options and potential new weekend opponents on the eve of the college baseball season. For teams who have reached their destination, weather doesn't look favorable in the southeast, with Maryland's series at Tennessee potential impacted, although Minnesota with a weekend in Georgia against Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State and Georgia State look safe for now. It's the return of the college baseball season, and the return of schedule uncertainty.

Who takes the field for Michigan?

Weather won't be a factor for Michigan when they take the field in Port St. Luice for four games against Army. But there is mystery around the Wolverines this weekend with it being up in the air as to who will start for Erik Bakich. After 11 players were picked in the MLB Draft, Michigan experienced quite the turnover from its Chapel Hill Regional team. Michigan's game notes this week lists five potential starters for the four games, and two options at every position in the field. Illness and injuries have played a role in some of the uncertainty for Michigan, but for Bakich, who likes the depth of the team, it may take a week or two to figure out who gives Michigan the best shot to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years.

Can Feltner become Ohio State's ace?

Ohio State has high expectations for junior right-handed pitcher Ryan Feltner. The Buckeye staff will give the highly-touted prospect, who held a 0.00 ERA as a closer in the Cape Cod League to earn an all-star nod, every chance to show he can succeed as a starter. So far in his career, the result have been unever as a Buckeye, holding a 5.14 ERA over 131.1 innings. To rebound from a 10th-place finish a year ago, Ohio State needs Feltner to harness his stuff, he has a four-pitch arsenal which includes as fastball that can reach 99, and be the pitcher who enters the season as one of the Big Ten's top prospects. If Feltner can be the aces Greg Beals and company hopes he can, Ohio State has the bullpen depth and experience in the weekend rotation to be a contender if the offense takes a step forward.

(Photo courtesy Rutgers Athletics)

Burke Granger & Chris Webb-

A two-sport athlete, Jawuan Harris shines on both the gridiron and the diamond for Rutgers.

As a freshman, he led the Scarlet Knights in receiving, hauling in 39 passes for 481 yards and three scores before transitioning to safety last season. He enters the spring as one of the more intriguing MLB Draft prospects in the conference.

"He's an unique athlete that you typically don't see in college," said a long-time National League scout. "The athleticism can take over the game and match up with anyone in the country."

At 5’9” and 190 pounds, Harris has a compact frame with an athletic, well-proportioned build that offers minimal projection. Though he’s on the smaller end of the scale, Harris displayed power last spring when he led the team in home runs with eight. There is some swing and miss to Harris’ game that he needs to tighten up, evidenced by his career 26.2% strikeout rate.

"The swing-and-miss will cut down with reps," said the scout, noting he believes Harris has the athleticism and aptitude to make the appropriate adjustments.

"He hasn't committed to baseball full-time ever in his, it's exciting to think of the possibilities."

Harris does well to mitigate that deficiency by taking more than his fair share of walks, drawing a free pass 12.74% of the time where he can get on base and showcase his carrying tool. A disruptive and efficient base stealer, Harris has utilized his top of the scale speed to steal 60 bases over the past two seasons while being caught just 14 times.

"It's elite speed," said the vertran scout. "He profiles at center field with the speed, it's a matter of if he's a top-of-the-order bat, by cutting down-on-the-swing and miss."

Harris will attempt to set the table for Rutgers this weekend against what could be his toughest competition of the year in Miami as the Hurricanes are expected to have one of the best pitching staff’s in the ACC.

10 Innings' Scouting Grade

Hit- 35/50

Power- 45/50

Run- 80/80

Throw- 50/50

Field- 55/70

Each week 10 Innings will have a coach step into the batter's box for a round of rapid-fire questions. First up is Penn State pitching coach Josh Newman.

A former All-Big Ten selection at Ohio State, Newman appeared in 14 MLB games between the 2007-08 seasons as a Colorado Rockie and Kansas City Royal, before returning to Ohio State as a volunteer assistant from 2011-13. Now, the ex-big leaguer is looking to help the Nittany Lions find the glory he experienced in Columbus as part of three NCAA Tournament teams.

Now that you're back in the Big Ten, what's the biggest difference since your days on the bump at Ohio State?

I have always held this baseball conference to high regard (this is my 8th year in this conference — four as a player and this will be four now as a coach) but it is now deeper than ever. The Big Ten has evolved into one of the premier baseball conferences in the country.

When Coach Cooper approached you over the summer, what stuck out about the opportunity to be on staff at Penn State?

I have always admired the body of work Coach Cooper has accomplished throughout his coaching career. Coach Cooper exemplifies everything I strive to be — both professionally and personally. His passion for the game and leadership qualities are infectious. The opportunity to join his staff and to do it at such an elite institution like Penn State, is a dream come true to my family and I.

What have you taken from your MLB experience that you've tried to have your pitchers learn from?

This game is extremely difficult. It will humble you in a heartbeat. However, I want our guys to respect that part of it but also I want them to enjoy their time here at Penn State and beyond. There have been so many incredible people that have helped me along my journey in this game and I owe to those people to continue to pay it forward.

The keys to Nittany Lion success on the mound in 2018 are...?

We must take care of today. Today is the most important thing that matters. These guys have fully embraced the expectations of excellence and have made tremendous strides thus far. We must continue to grow every single day.

Three words you want to have your pitching staff describe as?

Prove them wrong!

By the numbers

Last NCAA Tournament appearance

Illinois: 2015

Indiana: 2017

Iowa: 2017

Maryland: 2017

Michigan: 2017

Michigan State: 2012

Minnesota: 2016

Nebraska: 2017

Northwestern: 1957

Ohio State: 2016

Penn State: 2000

Purdue: 2012

Rutgers: 2007

10secondary

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.

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.

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.