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.

10 Innings Preseason All-Big Ten

First Team

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

Second Team

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

Third Team

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

*Missed the 2017 recovering from Tommy John surgery

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

10 Things to Look Forward to in 2018

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

The depth of the conference

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

The Dairy Queen Classic

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

ESPNU Broadcasts

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

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

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

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

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

Non-conference intra-conference games

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

Michigan’s attempt to reload, not rebuild

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

Purdue’s attempt to sustain

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

Minnesota’s grueling schedule

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

Rob Vaughn molding Maryland

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

Staff shakeups spur Penn State and Rutgers

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

The return to TD Ameritrade

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

Around the Horn: Minnesota

This fall, 10 Innings will supplement its fall updates with a question-and-answer series: Around the Horn. Around the Horn will present four questions to a coach, player or local media, getting an inside perspective on the team heading into the offseason.

Winning 36 games for a second consecutive season, Minnesota led the Big Ten in hitting for a second straight year, doing so with the fewest strikeouts in the conference. Overseeing Minnesota’s .306 team average since the start of the 2016 season is assistant coach Pat Casey. Casey was Minnesota’s volunteer assistant from 2014-2016 before being elevated to a full-time assistant position in September 2016. In addition to being the Minnesota’s primary hitting coach, Casey oversees Gopher catchers, a group which has produced the last two All-Big Ten first-team selections at that position, Austin Athmann and Cole McDevitt.

Here’s Casey on the team’s 2017 success, how they define success, the Gophers’ ability to excel with two strikes, touching home with what the Gophers are currently working on to get better.

10 Innings: The team batted .297 last year, with a .370 on-base percentage and .412 slugging mark, scoring 5.8 runs a game. How do you view last season’s offensive production in terms of it being a successful season or not at the plate for the Gophers?

2017 was a good year for us. I wouldn’t call it a ‘great year’ based on the way we performed in March and certain spots throughout the year, but our goal at the beginning of last season was to lead the Big Ten in hitting and that group of guys accomplished it and they deserve all the credit for their hard work, dedication and commitment they’ve put into being a strong offensive unit. We had our up’s and down’s, but ultimately whenever you finish atop of the Big Ten in hitting you’ve got to be pleased. I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that those hitters aren’t satisfied with the way things ended in the Big Ten Tournament (regardless of how well they hit), they feel like they have more to show and more to prove going forward into 2018.

Looking back at the season as a whole, you’ve got to be impressed with how they responded after March and losing Micah Coffey and Alex Boxwell to injury. That group put together a pretty incredible run in April and May while finishing first in the league in least amount of strikeouts and leading the league in average — you can’t not be impressed with the accomplishments of that group.

10 Innings: What benchmarks, or what are the standards established to determine a successful at-bat, a successful game at the plate and ultimately a strong offensive season?

The benchmark for success lies within the tradition of the program itself. Minnesota has always had very potent offensive lineups, going back to the 2000’s, 1990’s and 1980’s, John (Anderson) and Rob (Fornasiere) have always had teams that could hit and execute fundamentally. Our hitters today take a lot of pride in the players who came before them, wore the uniform before them and what those teams accomplished, we (all) have something to live up to in this program with the rich tradition and history of excellence that Golden Gopher Baseball has.

In terms of our own personal ‘benchmarks’ that we use for success — we do a lot of work with analytics, metrics and sabermetrics but our standards ultimately come down to quality at-bats, well-hits and execution in two-strike counts. There’s a lot that goes into our ‘offensive approach’ and gameday planning, but what it all really gets down to is focusing on “are you having quality at-bats and hitting the ball hard”. Baseball is the ultimate game of failure and the only certainty that you can count on is that your going to fail more times than not, especially as a hitter — so how can we go about managing that. You focus on the controllables.

Quality at-bats and hitting the ball hard aren’t failing in our eyes. We try to reward that and focus on the positives, when a hitter moves a runner, executes a pro play, battles in two-strike counts; those are not seen or taken as failures in our offense. We track everything and at the end of every week we go through it and look at ways we can improve and get better as a unit, the mindset is to never be satisfied, always try to grow, learn and develop. If we do those things and stay connected to our values, our approach and our philosophy we’ll have a good year.

10 Innings: Last season, every batter, one through nine, seemed to possess an uncanny ability to foul off pitches until there was a pitch that could be barreled up. What is the foundation of a good two-strike approach?

In my opinion there are three parts to a good two-strike approach: mentality, emotional state and physical adjustments.

Mentally you have to be prepared, and that comes from constant repetition in practice with our pitch recognition training, velocity sequencing, mechanical and video analysis while putting in the work to study your opponent and yourself (you’ve got to know how he’s trying to get you out and understand your own limitations as a hitter).

Emotionally you’ve got to change your thinking to “I don’t want to strikeout” to “I have one more pitch to accomplish my goal,” you’ve got to let go of the fear and welcome the challenge of hitting behind in the count.

And finally, physically, you must make physical adjustments with your body –move up or off on the plate, choke up, more upper-body spine bend to get your eyes closer to the plane of the pitch, restrict lower/upper body movement. Young hitters need to understand that with two strikes a lot is going against you and the numbers (at any level) in those counts are brutal.

I’ve long said that a strikeout isn’t just like any other out, it’s momentum changing, kills rallies and feeds the confidence of a pitcher — how can the best thing for a pitcher not be the worst thing for a hitter? Don’t get me wrong, we’re still trying to hit the ball hard with two strikes but we’ve got to make sure we fine tune that approach and be ready for the challenges.

10 Innings: With eight returning starters back, has there been an overall area of focus this fall with the hitters, where there may not be a lot to teach, but perhaps fine tune things so the team takes the next offensive step?

Stay healthy and look for ways to continually improve, they all need to have a ‘never be satisfied mindset’ and continue to hold each other accountable every single day, on and off the field.

It might sound cliche’ but Boxwell said it best a few days ago, “you never really figure it out” — your always constantly learning and growing as a hitter. Nobody has all the answers and there’s no one way to teach hitting, we all have to be open to learning and challenging our way of thinking. You look at the greatest hitters in Major League Baseball, they’re all still working and searching for ways to improve mentally, emotionally and physically on a daily basis, nobody says “I want to stay the same today.”

Our motto in Gopher Baseball is take every day to get 1% better, step outside your comfort zone and challenge yourself. As far as the lineup goes, we don’t just need to be strong one-through-nine, we need to be strong one-through-17 (with how many hitters we have), we’re only as strong as our weakest link and that’s the expectation among every hitter in our program.

Last year we had a lot of players have great individual years, this year we need to expand on that and take the next step to improve as a unit. With that being said I’m very excited for this years group (both hitters and pitchers alike), we’ve got a lot of experience coming back and a very talented offensive team on hand for the 2018 season.

This is a special group of men capable of great things but rest assured it won’t come easy, the Big Ten is going to very, very good this year and our non-conference schedule will be even more challenging. I’m excited to watch these guys take the next step and accomplish special things as a team next spring.

Fall Update: Minnesota

Getting started

Head coach: John Anderson, 37th season at Minnesota

2017 record: 36-20 overall, 15-8 in Big Ten, third

Key losses: RHP Toby Anderson, LHP Lucas Gilbreath, RHP Brian Glowicki, OF Jordan Smith

Key returners: Sr. OF Alex Boxwell, Sr. 3B Micah Coffey, Sr. OF/INF Toby Hanson, Soph. INF/OF Jordan Kozicky, Jr. C Cole McDevitt, Jr. OF Ben Mezzenga, Jr. RHP Reggie Meyer, Sr. INF Luke Pettersen, Soph. RHP Brett Schulze, Jr. INF Terrin Vavra

New name to know: Fr. RHP/INF Max Meyer

Minnesota rundown

In defense of their 2016 Big Ten championship, Minnesota stormed out of the gate in conference play, sweeping its opening two series, at Ohio State and Michigan State. But the Gophers dropped their next three series, falling to Indiana, Nebraska and Illinois. Minnesota rebounded with 5-0 run against Penn State and Rutgers, to be in control of its destiny entering the final weekend, but a 1-2 showing against Purdue saw Minnesota finish one and one-half game behind the champion Cornhuskers. The series defeat to the Boilermakers was the fifth home series Minnesota lost at home, finishing the season 17-14 between US Bank Stadium and Siebert Field. With the weighted-RPI formula, ironically created to help northern programs who often travel and do not play more than 30 home games, Minnesota finished with an RPI of 72, and did not garner a second consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament.

For many programs, it was a good season, 36 wins, 13 against the RPI top 100, and a third-place finish. But for the Gophers it wasn’t good enough. Those in Minneapolis are determined to return the program to the glory days of the 1990s and early 2000s, where John Anderson had Minnesota routinely atop the Big Ten.

Once again Minnesota will have a chance to bring home the trophy.

Minnesota returns eight players who recorded at least 100 plate appearances in 2017, bringing back every starter around the horn, and losing only Jordan Smith in the outfield. As a team, the Gophers batted .297 on the season, and returns the top four hitters: Pettersen (.354 AVG, .411 OBP, .395 SLG, eight XBH), Coffey (.340, .396, .493, 21), Kozicky (.325, .421, .476, 16), Hanson (.319, .350, .477, 23). Offensively there are few questions for Minnesota this offseason.

In absence of finding who can fill voids, the coaching staff has moved players around seeing who can take on greater roles, creating versatility where lineup maximization can occur. During the team’s scout day, Hanson saw time at first and left field, Coffey played both corner spots in the infield, Pettersen can play either middle infield spot, so too can Vavra, while Kozicky showed his versatility last year, stepping into third base when Coffey went down with a sprained ankle, but also playing in the outfield, at short stop. Minnesota even has depth behind the plate with sophomore Eli Wilson has had a strong fall, giving the coaching staff confidence he can fill in in a pinch for junior Cole McDevitt, the first-team All-Big Ten selection at catcher last year.

Where known commodities litter the field, on the mound Minnesota has a pair of significant holes to fill. Friday starter Lucas Gilbreath and closer Brian Glowicki were respective seventh and tenth round draft picks after outstanding seasons. Gilbreath finished his junior season with 92 strikeouts in 81.1 innings, pitching to a 2.66 ERA. As a senior, Glowicki reset Minnesota’s singles-season saves record with 16, a Stopper of the Year finalist with 39 strikeouts against seven walks in 32.2 innings.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Brett Schulze (4-3, 5.50 ERA, 70.1 IP) is set to return to the weekend rotation, after holding the Saturday role in his debut season, with the coaching staff excited to see him take the next step in his development, Schulze has worked 89-93 this fall, keeping his fastball velocity inline with his spring showings. It will be a boon for Minnesota have junior right-handed pitcher Reggie Meyer pick up where his 2017 season left off. In an elimination game against Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament, Meyer pitched eight innings, surrendering three runs off four hits with seven strikeouts against the eventual tournament champions. For the season, Meyer went 5-1 with a 3.18 ERA, making seven starts in 19 appearances.

Relievers Jeff Fasching, Nick Lackney, Fred Manke and Jackson Rose return, with Lackney a potential starting option to give Minnesota a left-hander in the rotation. A potential key contributor, sophomore Nolan Burchill will be lost for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, following an injury last May against Georgia Southern. But the aforementioned four relievers will be joined by multiple freshman pitchers, a group Anderson believes is his most talented class in a long time, to fill out the pitching staff.

Headlining the freshman haul are right-handers Joshua Culliver and Max Meyer. Culliver arrives in Minnesota from Omaha, a good athlete with a fast arm and loose delivery, albeit a bit raw, where he mechanically can get out of sync. Over his career the staff expects Culliver to blossom and be a star. Meyer has the present stuff to compete now and is expected to contribute in the back of the bullpen. Meyer shows an above-average slider with spin rates in line of the best in MLB, that is a true out-pitch. Complimenting his slider with a commandable fastball and hockey player mentality, Meyer, a two-way player, is likened to Fiedler, a player who has all conference-potential and can step up in tense moments. Left-handed freshman Danny Kapala and Ryan Duffy have also shown flashes this fall.

Minnesota missed opportunities to reach an NCAA Tournament by dropping home series to Long Beach State, Missouri State and Nebraska, all regional teams. This season, Minnesota has a series against TCU, a program with four consecutive College World Series appearances, and host a Big Ten/Pac 12 Challenge, where Arizona, UCLA and Washington come to town. Those, along with playing in a conference where another handful of teams can be expected to be in regional contention, will give Minnesota an opportunity to play itself into the NCAA Tournament. After falling shy last year, the team with 15 upperclassmen, have made it a mission this fall to advance the program to its first Super Regional and continue the process of restoring Minnesota baseball to past prominence.

One lingering question

Who steps in as the closer?

As mentioned, the two biggest voids Minnesota needs to fill are Friday starter and closer, with the latter the tougher to pencil in. Reggie Meyer did finish with a pair of saves last year, but with his feel for secondaries, command and just average fastball velocity (88-91) he is better suited to start. Manke, a senior right-hander, also recorded two saves, doing so over 15 innings in 12 outings, but issuing 12 walks, 7.2/9 innings, to counter his stellar .180 batting average against with just a double as his lone extra-base hit conceded. Max Meyer has shown flashes of possessing the stuff to close, but it is a tall task to do so as a freshman, more so if Meyer is to see time in the field as a two-way player. With Glowicki, Minnesota had a weapon at the back of the bullpen, a bulldog who could give six outs if needed, pounding the strikezone with little fear. Glowicki was everything a staff could dream of as a closer, but in being such leaves the biggest hole for the Gophers to fill.