Notable Big Ten two-sport standouts

The first week of September is here, which means the return of Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte, but also college football. While 10 Innings’ attention throughout autumn is on fall ball, scout days and exhibition games, there wouldn’t be college baseball programs to coverage without the revenue generated by college football.

In an ode to those the gridiron warriors, here’s a look at two-sport athletes, those who starred on Big Ten football field and baseball diamonds.

Minnesota OF/WR Eric Decker (2006-2010)

The Big Ten’s most noteworthy baseball-football athlete of this century is Eric Decker. The former Gopher starred at wide receiver under football coach Glen Mason, while serving as John Anderson’s center fielder for two seasons. Before being a third-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos in 2010, Decker compiled 3,119 receiving yards with 24 of his 229 career receptions going for touchdowns. Between the 2008 and 2009 baseball seasons, Decker picked up 121 hits in 374 at-bats, good for a .324 average. Decker recorded 20 doubles, seven triples and seven home runs, along with 20 stolen bases in the two seasons. Following Minnesota’s 2009 Fullerton Regional season, Decker was drafted in the 29th round by the hometown Minnesota Twins, a year after the Milwaukee Brewers grabbed him in the 39th round.

Rutgers OF/WR Jawuan Harris (2015-present)

Rutgers junior Jawuan Harris is today’s Decker. A top wide receiver target for the Scarlet Knights, Harris’ athleticism provides game-changing ability on the diamond. After redshirting the 2015 football season, Harris’ first taste of the Big Ten came on the diamond, where he led the conference with 37 stolen bases, finishing fifth nationally. In his first season seeing action in football, all Harris did was lead RU in receptions. Harris’ 39 catches yielded 481 yards and three touchdowns, the latter two leading all Big Ten freshman. As a sophomore for Joe Litterio, Harris batted .269, a drop down from his debut season’s .279 average, but picked up nine doubles and eight home runs, including a three-home-run-game against USC-Upstate.

Illinois OF/WR Kyle Hudson (2005-2008)

Kyle Hudson’s two-sport career in Champagne ended in 2008,when the Baltimore Orioles selected the Illini center fielder in the fourth round. The MLB Draft capped an impressive six months for Hudson, a time where he was named an All-American in baseball, after playing in the 2008 Rose Bowl for the football team. Finishing with a career average of .376, Hudson left Champagne with his name littered throughout the baseball program’s record book. His 40 stolen bases during the 2008 season reset Illinois’ single-season record, as did his 25 stolen bases in a single Big Ten season, leading 36 for his conference career, two marks that still stands. In three football seasons, Hudson hauled in 73 catches for 999 yards with five touchdowns. Hudson made his MLB debut for the Orioles on Sept. 4, 2011 and appeared in 14 games that September. Following his pro career, Hudson returned to Illinois as a volunteer assistant, helping the Illini during their Big Ten-winning 2015 campaign.

Indiana OF/WR Andrew Means (2005-09)

The 2006-08 era was a Golden Age for Big Ten outfielders who also played catch at wideout. Joining Decker and Hudson was Indiana’s Andrew Means. Means recorded 102 receptions and 1,272 in Bloomington, becoming for the 14th player in IU football history to join the 100-1,000 club. Finishing third and second in receptions, respectively, in 2007 and 2008 for the Hoosiers, Means meant even more to Tracy Smith’s baseball team. The center fielder batted .301 with 16 stolen bases, and upped the production to a .369 average with 27 swipes in 30 attempts a year later, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2007. Means was named one of the Big Ten’s top three outfielders, grabbing named first-team All-Big Ten in 2008, batting .357 with 33 stolen bases and a conference-best 72 runs. Means was selected in the 11th round by the Cincinnati Reds and played five years in the Reds’ farm system.

Northwestern OF/K Jack Mitchell (2012-2015)

Northwestern’s Jack Mitchell may not have the statistics of his two-sport brethren, but he may have the most noteworthy moment. In 2014, after sending the game to overtime with a 45-yard field goal as time expired, Mitchell kicked a game-winning 41-yard field goal against at Notre Dame, then the N0. 15 team in the country. Mitchell finished third in Northwestern history with 213 kick scoring points, fourth with 41 field goals. In baseball, Mitchell made 73 starts in 102 games, batting .230.

 

Two-sport stars of yesteryear

While it is less common these days, the Big Ten has a history of elite two-sport athletes. Some notables football/baseball players from prior generations include

Michigan State OF/WR Kirk Gibson

All-American wide receiver, 1978 first-round draft pick (Detroit Tigers), 17-year MLB career, 1988 NL MVP.

Michigan OF/QB Rick Leach

Four-year starting quarterback, 1979 first-round draft pick (Detroit Tigers) nine-year MLB career.

 

And of course…

Nebraska P/OF Darin Erstad

Although he didn’t play in the Big Ten, Nebraska head coach Darin Erstad put together an impressive career in three seasons with the program he now leads. But before capping the best baseball career in Cornhusker baseball history, Erstad was a punter under legendary head coach Tom Osborne and a member of Nebraska’s 1994 national championship football team. That spring, Erstad was named a Golden Spikes finalist, earning All-America honors after batting .410 with 19 home runs. The California Angels made Erstad the first pick of the 1995, the club he debuted with in June of 1996, the start of a 14-year MLB career.

Draft picks opt for school

While a handful of draft picks decided to pass on the college experience and sign a professional contract, more top preps decided to attend school, put off professional overtures for now.

In addition to 12 incoming freshman who spurned the pro ranks, five players chose to return to a Big Ten diamond and help their teams pursue another regional bid, while a drafted JUCO transfer hopes to lead his team back to the field of 64.

Here’s a rundown of those who said thanks, but no thanks to MLB teams, and quick hits on the most noteworthy additions or returns to Big Ten teams.

Indiana

Jr. 3B Luke Miller, 31st Round- Minnesota Twins

Indiana third baseman Luke Miller was a draft-eligible sophomore in 2017 and his power made him a popular name on preseason top prospect list. Miller did hit 10 home runs, but scouts were concerned with Miller’s ability to routinely tap into it. The swing-and-miss concerns, likely coupled with requiring a large signing bonus to buyout his remaining two years of eligibility, a potential top 10 round prospect fell until the 31st round. Miller’s return, as well as those of seniors Matt Lloyd and Logan Sowers, gives Chris Lemonis a potent middle of the order, ready to take aim at the program’s fifth regional in six years.

Iowa

Jr. RHP Brady Schnauel, 20th Round- Philadelphia Phillies

After Rick Heller lost ace Nick Gallagher to the pros, a 16th-round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians, though recovering from a partial UCL tear, junior right-handed pitcher CJ Eldred, Iowa’s 2016 Friday starter, signed with the Kansas City Royals as a minor league free agent. Getting right-hander Brady Schnauel to campus helps soften the blow of a depleted weekend rotation as the Big Ten Tournament champions looked to build off of their Houston Regional appearance. Schnaeul heads to Iowa City after being drafted following each of his first two seasons at Parkland College.

Maryland

Jr. OF Marty Costes, 25th Round- Houston Astros

Fr. OF/LHP Randy Bednar, 27th Round- Atlanta Braves

Fr. C Justin Vought, 31st Round- Kansas City Royals

Jr. RHP Ryan Selmer, 31st Round- Seattle Mariners

Fr. RHP Mark DiLuia, 38th Round- Twins

Maryland outfielder Marty Costes was another draft-eligible sophomore on scouts radars, finding a place inside Baseball America’s final top 200 draft prospects. Like Miller, Costes’ power is the tool which draws attention, tying for Maryland’s team lead with 13 home runs in 2017. There is also some swing-and-miss tendency to Costes, 47 strikeouts in 239 at-bats, but Costes’ greatest prospecting concern is the most measurable of measurables: his stature. Costes checks in at only 5’9, a red flag to some evaluators. But Costes’ production dramatically increased between his freshman and sophomore seasons and another season similar to 2017’s .322/.429/.548 will surely see him picked high enough to bring his time in College Park to an end. When that time comes, Maryland will be in a good position to continue their recent success, led by a trio of draft picks who made it to campus this season, joined by do-everything pitcher Ryan Selmer, who can be in the weekend rotation, long relief or back of the bullpen.

Michigan

Fr. C Joe Donovan, 33rd Round- Chicago Cubs

Fr. RHP Jeff Criswell, 35th Round- Detroit Tigers

Fr. OF Jesse Franklin, 37th Round- Mariners

Fr. LHP Angelo Smith, 40th Round- Chicago White Sox

Michigan set a program record with 11 draft picks in June’s draft. The most draft picks of any college program, it’s evident Erik Bakich and staff are recruiting in a manner which will lead to Big Ten championships. But it was bittersweet for Bakich as Michigan will have such an extremer roster turnover after their second regional appearance in three years. On top of losing 11 draft picks, two signed high school recruits opted for profession baseball, Cody Bolton and Jason Pineda, But Michigan’s efforts to reload will be helped by four drafted preps who chose Ann Arbor as their next destination, headlined by hard-throwing right-hander Jeff Criswell and fleet-footed outfielder Jesse Franklin, the latter turned down a reported $1.3-million signing bonus. Joe Donovan is a versatile player, who can catch, play third or first, while Angelo Smith is an athletic southpaw with good feel.

Michigan State

Fr. RHP Jesse Heikkinen, 36th Round- Tigers

Minnesota

Fr. RHP Max Meyer, 34th Round- Twins

Nebraska

Sr. RHP/OF Luis Alvarado, 13th Round- Mariners

Sr. 1B/OF Scott Schreiber, 26th Round- Tampa Bay Rays

Nebraska lost its top recruit to the pros when Los Angeles Angels fourth-round draft pick John Swanda signed for $625,000. Darin Erstad will be without the services of the talented right-hander, but he will have another year with his right-handed closer, Luis Alvarado, as well as his fellow outfielder, Scott Schreiber. In his first year on the mound, Alvarado shined at the back of the Husker bullpen, recording 10 saves in 15.2 innings and pitching to the tune of a 1.72 ERA. At the plate, Alvarado batted .283 with 12 doubles, blossoming as Nebraska’s left fielder. One of a few right field options, Schreiber batted .330 with 15 doubles and seven home runs, a year after hitting .325 with 16 home runs. The returning duo will help the reigning Big Ten champs ease the lost of Swanda and center fielder/left-handed pitcher Jake Meyers, who was draft three picks before Alvarado and signed with the Houston Astros.

Ohio State

Fr. LHP Seth Lonsway, 19th Round- Cincinnati Reds

The highest-ranked Big Ten recruit, checking in at #127 on Baseball America‘s BA 500, left-handed pitcher Seth Lonsway gives Ohio State the potential ace it missed in 2017, following three years of Tanner Tully solidifying the Friday night role. Lonsway shot up draft boards a month out from the draft and had several teams viewing him as a potential third-round pick. But with his commitment to Ohio State and the bonus it would take to pry him away, Lonsway fell to the 20th round, and the Cincinnati Reds were unable to meet his demands. From Celina, Ohio, the Buckeyes secured the state’s top player to lead a strong recruiting haul as they look to rebound from the program’s worst season in 30 years. Lonsway’s fastball runs between 90-94 MPH, while offering a change-up and curveball.

Purdue

Fr. LHP Hayden Wynja, 30th Round- Braves

Rutgers

Fr. LHP Harry Rutkowski, 28th Round- Reds

Five signees opt for pro baseball

As students across the country return to college campuses, it is time to turn the attention to the 2018 season. Already several programs around the Big Ten have held team meetings, setting expectations, goals and plans for the upcoming year.

Before 10 Innings shifts gears to the 2018 season, here’s a look at the players Big Ten programs lost to the professional ranks, a group of five players who signed a National Letter of Intent, but were drafted and signed, opting not to embark on the road to Omaha.

RHP Cody Bolton- Michigan

From Tracy, Calif., Bolton ranked as the 414th best prospect in the Baseball America BA 500. But according to evaluators throughout Northern California, the ranking may be a bit conservative as Bolton was viewed as pitcher capable of stepping into Michigan’s weekend rotation, powered by a mid-90s fastball. Perfect Game ranked Bolton as the 118th overall high school prospect, a position more in line with his sixth-round selection of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bolton signed for $300,000, the assigned slot value for his selection as pick 178 was $255,900.

RHP Xavier Moore- Ohio State

The Wolverines arch-rivals, the Buckeyes of Ohio State, also lost a talented right-handed pitcher to the pro ranks. Though not in the BA 500, Xavier Moore was long on scout’s radar, possessing a fastball which could touch 93-94 MPH from a loose arm on an athletic body. The Rangers nabbed the right-hander from Amherst Steele in Northeast Ohio in the 16th round, and signed him with a bonus of $125,000.

1B Jason Pineda- Michigan

Michigan has appeared in two regionals in three years on the strength of coast-to-coast recruiting. From upstate New York native Drew Lugbauer to Will Tribucher from Southern California, Michigan casts the conference’s widest recruiting net. Unfortunately the 2017 class saw draft loses from the east and west coasts, with first baseman Jason Pineda signing with the San Diego Padres. The National League West club picked Pineda, ranked #465 in the BA 500, in the 17th round and signed him for $125,000.

3B Davis Schneider- Rutgers

Checking in at $463 on the BA 500, Davis Schneider scooted up scout’s follow lists after being named the MVP of Perfect Game’s World Wood Bat Association World Championship, viewed by many as the premier scouting showcase on the amateur circuit, for tournament champion Dirtbags baseball, based in North Carolina. It appeared Rutgers would land an impact player at the hot corner, but the Blue Jays picked the Berlin, New Jersey native in the 28th round and signed him for a bonus of $50,000.

RHP John Swanda- Nebraska

The first Big Ten recruit drafted, John Swanda, was the first to sign. From Des Moines’ Roosevelt High, the right-handed pitcher was set to cross the Missouri River and pitch for Darin Erstad. But the skipper’s former Major League club kept that from happening. The Angels drafted Swanda in the fourth round and with a signing bonus of $625,000, $161,100 above the assigned slot for pick 115, brought him into its farm system. Perfect Game ranked Swanda as the 243rd overall high school prospect, Iowa’s top prep, while the BA 500 penciled in the right-hander at #398.

The next call-up for each Big Ten program

While college baseball has been in recess, there hasn’t been a shortage of news and excitement related to Big Ten programs this summer. In addition to a flurry of coaching changes, several schools have seen former standouts make their big league debut.

Two significant contributors to Indiana’s 2013 College World Series team, Aaron Slegers, the 2013 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, and Sam Travis, the 2014 Big Ten Player of the Year, received the respective call from the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox. The two makes it five former Hoosiers with big league playing time this year, joining Micah Johnson (Twins), Josh Phegley (A’s) and Kyle Schwarber (Cubs). Another significant cog to a dream season, Purdue 2010-2012 third baseman Cameron Perkins debuted with the Philadelphia Phillies on June 20.

There’s been two pitchers from Big Ten programs who have broke into the majors this summer for the Chicago White Sox in Nebraska product Aaron Bummer and former Ohio State Buckeyes Brad Goldberg. And sticking with Chicago, former Northwestern standout Luke Farrell debuted with the Kansas City Royals on July 1.

Currently all six players are back in the minors. But with less than one week until Major League active rosters expand, it’s likely some, if not the entire sextet of players, will be back in a big league uniform. With that in mind, here’s predictions who will be the next player from each school to debut, either this September or down the road.

Illinois

LHP Tyler Jay

The pro career of the 2015 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year has not gotten off to the start he, nor the Minnesota Twins, who drafted him sixth overall in the 2015 draft, would have liked. Multiple injuries and setbacks have limited the southpaw to just 91.1 innings in his first two full seasons. But there is good news. Jay recently returned from the DL to join Advanced-A Fort Myers Miracle and appears set to finish a season healthy for the first time. The stuff Jay possesses has never been doubted, he has 111 strikeouts in 109.2 innings, and at 23 youth is still on his side. If he can start the 2018 season at AA, the level he started the 2017, he should be back on track to being the Illini’s next big leaguer.

Next on the list: RHP Cody Sedlock (Currently in A+, Baltimore Orioles)

Indiana

LHP Joey DeNato

The pro career of the 2014 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year has likely exceeded any expectations. Joey DeNato, Indiana’s most decorated pitcher, continues to turn away naysayers, now one level away from the bigs. Drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 19th round of the 2014 draft, DeNato has pitched at two levels in each of his four professional seasons. At 5’10 and weighing 175 pounds, DeNato is not a hard-throwing pitcher who overpowers batters. But what opposing Big Ten coaches saw four for years is a pitcher who has the head and feel for pitching, and a unmatched pickoff move. Combining DeNato’s knack for just getting outs and the state of the Phillies’ big league team, don’t bet against a fourth player from IU’s Omaha team to make the majors soon.

Next on the list: RHP Scott Effross (A+, Chicago Cubs)

Iowa

OF Joel Booker

It’s no secret the Chicago White Sox are in rebuilding mode. Nearly trading away any big leaguer of value to replenish its farm system, the White Sox are a few years away from winning. That bodes well for Joel Booker. Currently in Advanced-A, 14 months after being a 22nd-round draft pick, if Booker continues to perform in a manner which merits multiple promotions in a year, he’ll soon be on the South side. Though the White Sox have a deep farm system, there isn’t a standout entrenched in the White Sox outfield or upper minors that will block him. Booker brings good speed to the game, stealing 41 bases in 44 attempts over 65 rookie league games last year. But he’s not all speed, before earning a promotion to Advanced-A, Booker batted .312 in the South Atlantic League.

Next on the list: RHP Blake Hickman (A, Chicago White Sox)

Maryland

2B Brandon Lowe

A broken fibula suffered during Super Regional play didn’t deter the Tampa Bay Rays from selecting Maryland’s Brandon Lowe in the third round of the 2015 draft. Over two seasons in College Park, the second baseman showed an ability to routinely meet ball with barrel, one of college baseball’s most advanced hitters. After batting .248 during his debut season, Lowe has wielded a might bat, earning two promotions and set to finish his second season in AA. In 107 games between A+ and AA, Lowe has a .303 average with 39 doubles, three triples and 11 home runs. Lowe is limited to second base defensively, but his ability to rack up hits bodes well for a continue climb up the ranks.

Next on the list: RHP Brian Shaffer (SS-A, Arizona)

Michigan

SS Jacob Cronenworth

There’s a second Big Ten alum on Tampa’s AA roster, as Lowe’s double play partner is former Michigan standout Jacob Cronenworth. The seventh round pick of the Rays in 2015, Cronenworth played all over the diamond for the Wolverines and served as the team’s closer. It was a surprise to many evaluators when the Rays selected on shortstop as Cronenworth’s professional position, the lone of the four infield spots he did not play at Michigan. But he has excelled there, and his versatility enhances his ability to rise the ranks. Cronenworth hasn’t put up the offensive numbers of Lowe, but strong defense up the middle with a .273/.365/.359 slash across two levels has him as Michigan’s best prospect.

Next on the list: OF Michael O’Neill (AA, Texas)

Michigan State

RHP David Garner

The Chicago Cubs drafted Michigan State’s David Garner in the seventh round of the 2013 draft. Out of East Lansing, Garner possessed a mid-90s fastball with an electric slider that racked up strikeouts, strong stuff that made him a top 200 draft prospect, even though he was undersized for a pitcher. Through five professional seasons, Garner’s stuff has carried him through five levels, and he’s now knocking on the door of the big leagues. Currently in AAA, Garner has a 2.90 ERA for the 2017 season, which started at AA. In 195 career innings, Garner has 224 punch outs, a strikeout artist who is still only 24 years old.

Next on the list: LHP Anthony Misiewicz (AA, Tampa Bay)

Minnesota

LHP D.J. Snelten

It wouldn’t surprise anyone in 2013 if you said a Gopher would be on the doorstep of the bigs in 2017. After all, Tom Windle was a second-round pick of the Dodgers, and was viewed as a durable, polished, high-floored left-handed pitcher. But it is Windle’s teammate, D.J. Snelten, a ninth-round pick that year, who is set to continue Minnesota’s tradition of littering big league rosters. Though Snelten was finishing a second consecutive season at A+ a year ago, and doing so with a modest 4.11 ERA, Snelten has shined in 2017. After 21.2 innings of 1.66-ERA baseball at AA, Snelten has been at AAA Sacramento since May 23 for the San Francisco Giants. Snelten has appeared in 33 games, logging 47 innings, with a 1.91 ERA, holding opponents to a .186 average. With the Giants well out of playoff contention, Snelten’s name may be called for an up close big league evaluation.

Next on the list: LHP Dalton Sawyer (A+ Oakland)

Nebraska

OF Ryan Boldt

One of the most ballyhooed Big Ten recruits in the last decade, former Cornhusker Ryan Boldt’s professional career is off to a solid start, showing why he was such a prized prospect out of high school by colleges and professional teams alike. Yet another prospect in the Rays’ system, Boldt started the year at A+ Charlotte alongside Cronenworth and Lowe. While he has not been promoted to AA, his numbers in the Florida State League are strong. Boldt is batting .296 with 22 doubles, five triples and home runs, and 23 stolen bases. With a blending of speed, strong defense and budding power, Boldt should be in Tampa’s plans for years to come.

Next on the list: LHP Kyle Kubat (AA, Chicago White Sox)

Northwestern

INF Alex Erro

With Farrell pitching in two MLB games this year, there isn’t a former Northwestern Wildcat in affiliated baseball that has not appeared in the Majors. The Wildcats have not had a draft pick in either of the two last drafts and there are only four players total in either the majors or minors, Farrell, J.A. Happ (Toronto), George Kontos (Pittsburgh) and Eric Jokisch is in AAA Reno for the Diamondbacks. With Northwestern’s next big league not yet in pro baseball, the current roster yields sophomore Alex Erro as the club’s best bet. As a freshman, Erro batted .275, there was modest pop with 11 doubles and five home runs, but with only 18 strikeouts in 233 at-bats, Erro has a feel for hitting. The Miami native also shined in the field, giving Spencer Allen a rock to build around for at least two more years.

Next on the list: OF Leo Kaplan (Soph. Northwestern)

Ohio State

RHP Brett McKinney

There are five former Buckeyes in AAA. Three of those are on the roster of the Rochester Red Wings, Drew Rucinski, J.B. Shuck and Alex Wimmers, and each has already reached the bigs. The other two are right-handed pitchers Jaron Long and Brett McKinney, teammates under Greg Beals between 2012-2013. McKinney takes a slight edge in projecting whom reaches the big leagues first, due to him believing a reliever and not needing to be on a five-day window, and the respective depth in front of either. While Washington’s rotation looks like a MASH unit, a group headlined by Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer and Stephan Strasburg, when healthy is hard to crack. Long has done well in his second go at AAA, but as a pitcher who thrives on command, execution and feel, the mid-90s-throwing McKinney can easier fill in a role on the fly.

Next on the list: RHP Jaron Long (AAA, Washington)

Penn State

RHP Sal Biasi

The first player from the 2017 draft to make the list is right-handed pitcher Sal Biasi. The 11th-round pick of the Kansas City Royals, Biasi used a fastball capable of reaching 96 MPH to strike out 88 batters in 72.1 innings, posting a 3.48 ERA. Between Kansas City’s Arizona and Appalachian rookie league teams, Biasi punched out 48 batters in 51 innings, to go beside a 2.65. The Royals are using Biasi as a starter, but leading up to the draft some scouts viewed the righty as a reliever due to his arm action and modest, 6′, 190-pound frame. If Biasi eventually takes a bullpen role, that could expedite his rise through the minors.

Next on the list: 3B Jim Haley (A, Tampa Bay)

Purdue

RHP Matt Frawley

The 2016 season was nearly forgettable for Purdue. A 2-22 showing in the Big Ten led to a change of leadership with head coach Doug Schreiber’s resignation. But one of the few bright spots was the emergence and eventual drafting of right-handed pitcher Matt Frawley. The Pittsburgh Pirates picked Frawley in the 17th round, breaking a two-year draft drought for the Boilermakers. Frawley wasn’t a part of the Pirates system for long though, traded to the New York Yankees on June 14. In two months in the Yankees system, the results suggest Frawley has a home. Between the two full-season A-levels, Frawley has allowed six earned runs in 35.1 innings, striking out 40 batters against eight walks.

Next on the list: C Nick Dalesandro (Jr. Purdue)

Rutgers

OF Jawuan Harris

There is only one Scarlet Knight in the minors, Brian O’Grady, a member of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in AA for the Cincinnati Reds. But at 25, and with a career batting average of .234 in 367 minor league games, the prospect status of the former eighth-rounder has waned. And without a draft pick during the 2017 draft, it’s likely Rutgers’ next big league is currently on its roster. Center field Jawuan Harris is Rutgers’ top prospect heading into the 2018 draft, and his tool set is one that can carry him through the minors. Harris possesses true game-changing speed, at least a plus-plus of 70 grade on a scout’s 20-80 scale, with developing power and a feel for hitting, as the two-sport athlete continues to mature as a baseball player. But there is the caveat that Harris is a two-sport athlete and his future as a wide receiver may inhibit his prospect as a baseball player.

Next on the list: O’Grady (AA)

 

Correction: Rutgers has two minor leaguers. RHP Max Herrmann was signed to a free agent contract by the Angels on July 18 and is currently on their Arizona League team.

Take a bow Big Ten baseball

I try to avoid writing in my own voice, to not speak on things from my perspective too often. I’m never the sharpest crayon in the box and believe it’s better to offer facts and look at things objectively where a reader can form their own opinion.  I’m also a terrible editor and realize it’s tougher to have a grammatically correct commentary post. But I suppose I can offer an unique view on Big Ten baseball with the number of games I’ve seen, the relationships with coaches and just being around it for sometime now.

I haven’t figured out a format to wrap up the season in a way I’m comfortable with and one that provides value to take in. But if I don’t start now, it’ll be too late to provide any value at all. So, here I am, starting a look back by looking back at things from my perspective.

It was an interesting year in the Big Ten. Often I was asked was it a good year for the conference, how should the quality of teams be viewed. I still struggled to answer that question. Nebraska were deserving champions, the Cornhuskers were consistent from the start of conference play to the end, they did not beat themselves and they did not simply beat up on the bottom of the conference, playing only two of the five teams that missed the Big Ten Tournament. But Nebraska never had the feel of a dominant team, they were not head and shoulders above the rest, and throughout the season I thought Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota had claims to being the best team in the conference, in a year that finished with Iowa holding that title in my eyes.

That’s seven teams. I think it is fair to say the Big Ten was a balanced conference in 2017. Obviously the tightness of the standings reflect that, and even at the bottom of the conference, Penn State finished the year taking a game against Indiana and Nebraska, when they had just two wins in conference play in the prior 16 games. Heck, Ohio State handled the unquestionable top team in the country and finished with the worst season in 30 years.

It is good the conference was balanced. Some of the competitiveness is skewed with a conference schedule where teams miss one-third of the conference, playing only eight of the 12 teams, I don’t believe the standings, 1-13 reflected the quality of the teams 1-13 (a reminder to do a year-end power rankings), but it is true that you could never go into a weekend assure of a result, at least in my eyes.

The top-to-bottom competitiveness continues the Big Ten’s push forward. There are real discrepancies across the conference that affects competitiveness. There are differences in admission standards throughout, some schools can offer need-based aid where others can’t. Some administrations are tougher than others when it comes handling oversigning. The financial gap was seen first-hand when Ohio State flew a chartered plane to Penn State, it is only a five-hour drive to State College from Columbus, the same weekend Rutgers was unable to fly to Minnesota due to cancelled commercial flights along the east coast. But, with all of that said, every coach in the conference had their team ready to compete week in and week out, were able to field a competitive lineup and played their role in the conference garnering a record-tying five teams to the NCAA Tournament.

I tweeted the Big Ten was joined only by the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences as conferences with five NCAA Tournament teams in two of the last three NCAA Tournaments. The Big Ten has sent 13 teams to the NCAA Tournament since 2015, the same number as the Big XII, one behind the Pac-12.

Just think about that.

Yes, the Big Ten is a Power Five conference alongside the ACC, Big XII, Pac-12 and SEC. But that is a moniker driven by the high-dollar sports of football and basketball. But it genuinely holds true in baseball now, too. I hope that is appreciated.

Even in a year where there wasn’t a dominant team, no 2013-14 Indiana, not a 2015 Illinois team, the Big Ten showed its maturation in top-to-bottom quality. That Northwestern and Purdue could make the Big Ten Tournament as quick as they did in their respective rebuilding process just adds to momentum the conference has. Two programs that have been at the bottom were now among the toughest teams to see in a weekend. With the facilities in Evanston and West Lafayette, with how Spencer Allen and Mark Wasikowski carry themselves, cultures where accountability is the forefront, I can’t see Northwestern and Purdue falling into a period of lacking in competitiveness they have emerged from. And one cannot speak to facilities without showcasing what Rutgers has done with the Fred Hill Training Complex that will surely up their recruiting, development and ability to compete.

I remember heading to Bloomington to watch Michigan take on Indiana sometime in 2008. The Hoosiers played at Sembower Field, a ‘stadium’ that was bettered by several high school fields in Central Ohio. The Wolverines were on their way to winning a third consecutive Big Ten title, becoming a regional host and ranked from start to finish. To anyone that watched it Adam Abraham, Zach Putnam and Nate Recknagel hit missiles all weekend, it was clear there was a barrier between the haves and the have-nots in the Big Ten. If you weren’t Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota or Ohio State you didn’t win a Big Ten championship. It’s a figurative quip, but from 1980 to 2010 only Penn State’s 1996 title did not come from that quartet.

Nebraska became the seventh different team to win a Big Ten championship since 2011, the old days are long gone.

As Northwestern made an incredible run to the Big Ten Tournament title game, it was impossible to not take in the growth of the Big Ten. Smacking you in the face was the night and day difference between Sembower and Bart Kaufman Field, where a College World Series banner hangs in right center. The attention to detail by the Indiana athletic department where a Crimson carpet could have been rolled out with the care the school game the tournament. Seeing the revival of Boilermaker and Wildcat baseball. Watching Jake Adams hitting his way into the record book to lead the continued emergence of Iowa onto the national scene.

And of my final sight from the season, it was leaving a press box that was packed throughout the week in Bloomington. I’ve never been around a conference tournament where there was an interest on what the eight teams were doing each day.

That’s my lasting impression on the Big Ten in 2017, a new time has been cemented. The season saw another year of incredible talent, numerous coaching jobs that deserve recognition, a spotlight on a facility whose quality is reflected throughout the Big Ten and ended with coverage yet before seen.

Take a bow Big Ten, it’s deserved.

Road to Omaha: Houston Regional

After a inspired run through the Big Ten Tournament, the Iowa Hawkeyes are back in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. Although Rick Heller guided Iowa to 38 wins, the Big Ten’s automatic bid was the only way the Hawkeyes could reach the field of 64. Finishing in a tie for fourth in conference play, Iowa hopes their great postseason play continues as the fourth-seed in the Houston Regional, a four-team field with three teams from the Lone Star State. Here’s a look at what Iowa is up against in Houston, Baylor and Texas A&M.

The teams

#1 Houston

Record: 40-19, 15-9 in American Athletic; champions and tournament champions

Head coach: Todd Whitting, seventh season

NCAA Tournament history: 21st appearance, last in 2015

Offense: .290 AVG, 92 2B, 25 3B, 52 HR, .445 SLG, 364 SO, 254 BB, .386 OBP, 80-97 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.37 ERA, 11 SV, 520.2 IP, 134 BB, 420 SO, 1.25 WHIP, 99 2B, 5 3B, 37 HR, .258 BAA, 20 WP, 378 HBP

Defense: .971 fielding percentage, 17 passed balls, 57 stolen bases allowed, 24 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Houston enters the NCAA Tournament without a potential first-round draft pick in Seth Romero. A junior left-handed pitcher, Romero racked up 85 strikeouts in 48.2 innings. But a second suspension this season was a final one as the talented but trouble-plagued southpaw is no longer in the program. The Cougars have handled the blow thanks to Trey Cumbie’s 1.88 ERA in 96 innings, with only 13 walks and a .226 batting average against.

#2 Baylor

Record: 34-21, 12-12 in Big XII; fourth place

Head coach: Steve Rodriguez, second year

NCAA Tournament history: 19th tournament appearance, first since 2012

Offense: .296 AVG, 100 2B, 14 3B, 49 HR, .445 SLG, 349 SO, 230 BB, .382 OBP, 22-40 SB-ATT

Pitching: 4.28 ERA, 13 SV, 483.2 IP, 240 BB, 424 SO, 1.53 WHIP, 84 2B, 10 3B, 43 HR, .272 BAA, 21 WP, 31 HBP

Defense: .973 fielding percentage, two passed balls, 32 stolen bases allowed, 32 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Baylor is pretty comfortable with this regional field. A week after taking down Texas A&M, 6-3, to end the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic in Houston’s Minute Maid Park, Baylor played host to Houston in Waco, taking two of three games from the Cougars. With their spot in the Houston Regional, Baylor is one of three Power Five schools to earn a bowl game/NCAA postseason appearance in football, men’s basketball, women’s basketball, baseball and softball, joining Florida State and Kentucky.

#3 Texas A&M

Record: 36-21, 16-12 in SEC; fourth in SEC West

Head coach: Rob Childress 12th season,

NCAA Tournament history: 19th appearance, last in 2016

Offense: .277 AVG, 96 2B, 20 3B, 45 HR, .419 SLG, 364 SO, 221 BB, .364 OBP, 56-84 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.25 ERA, 12 SV, 502 IP, 186 BB, 491 SO, 1.26 WHIP, 99 2B, 5 3B, 31 HR, .235 BAA, 46 WP, 44 HBP

Defense: .975 fielding percentage, 17 passed balls, 44 stolen bases allowed, 24 caught stealing

Noteworthy: A 16-12 showing in the SEC is usually good enough to lead to something a bit better than a three-seed in a tough regional. But the Aggies 2-8 showing to finish the regular season curtailed a bit of what could have been in a better tournament placement. Texas A&M is led by freshman shortstop Braden Shewmake, a potential Freshman of the Year candidate, after a .344-11-67 season with 17 doubles and 11 stolen bases.

#4 Iowa

Record: 38-20, 15-9 in Big Ten; fourth

Head coach: Rick Heller, fourth season

NCAA Tournament history: Fifth appearance, last in 2015

Offense: .283 AVG, 108 2B, 8 3B, 69 HR, .450 SLG, 395 SO, 258 BB, .377 OBP, 62-92 SB-SBA

Pitching: 4.40 ERA, 14 SV, 517.2 IP, 215 BB, 453 SO, 1.52 WHIP, 93 2B, 17 3B, 36 HR, .288 BAA, 48 WP, 36 HBP

Defense: .979 fielding percentage, five passed balls, 38 stolen bases allowed, 20 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Though they did steal a bid, it’s hard to view Iowa as the typical four seed, after all, the Big Ten did place five teams in a regional and the Hawkeyes finished in a tie for fourth, a game and a half behind Nebraska for the conference title. Either way, Iowa is in and do so playing their best baseball, winning 15 of their final 20 games including the Big Ten Tournament.

Three keys to Hawkeye success

Adams stays within himself

Iowa first baseman Jake Adams enters the NCAA Tournament tied for the nation’s lead with 27 home runs. Setting s new Big Ten single-season record, Adams finished the Big Ten Tournament with a bang, hitting a homer in the semifinal win against Minnesota and two in the title game versus Northwestern. But before the trio of home runs, Adams scuffled in Bloomington, perhaps trying too hard to hit a home run during a week where the ball was jumping out of Bart Kaufman Field. Though Iowa will be seeing a three teams for the time this season, unless you’re living under a rock, you know who Jake Adams is. Opponents will be careful when pitching to the slugger, he may need to take what is giving to him.

Erickson continues storybook finish

Iowa senior left-handed pitcher Ryan Erickson returned to school after a poor showing in last year’s 2016 Big Ten Tournament title game. Falling one game shy of a second consecutive NCAA Tournament, Erickson played a big role in getting the Hawkeyes back into a regional with his strong showing against Nebraska in the Big Ten Tournament. With each outing potentially his last, the former walk-on has the ability to continue a fantasy ending to his career with another strong outing, leading Iowa to even green pastures. But, outside of the feel-good story, it’s imperative Erickson goes long into his start. Iowa can expect a good outing from Nick Gallagher, but after that, the Hawkeyes are short on pitching. If Iowa can get a win behind Erickson, without using too much of their bullpen, it’ll set up nicely for a big weekend when the Hawkeyes can get by with one game of Johnny Wholestaff.

Keep it rolling

Every season there’s a team with the right chemistry that makes an unexpected run, looking as if they’re having more fun than anyone could have playing baseball. That’s Iowa. In appearing in the Springfield Regional championship two years ago, the Hawkeyes know how to handle themselves in a regional. As they take the field without being in awe, the Hawkeyes can be loose, have fun and do everything to keep their run going.

Required reading

Iowa baseball looks to open eyes nationally against Texas trio -Richard Dean, Cedar Rapids Gazette

5 players to watch at UH regional -Joseph Duarte, Houston Chronicle

The story behind each of Jake Adams’ 27 home runs -Dargan Southard, Iowa City Press-Citizen

Zach Mackey calls Hawkeyes’ baseball games like an old pro -Scott Dochterman, Landof10

Bears looking to do some boot-scooting through Houston Regional -Brice Cherry, Waco Tribune

Road to Omaha: Lexington Regional

Headed to their fourth regional in five years, an appearance in the NCAA Tournament is now expected in Bloomington. Garnering a two-seed in the Lexington Regional, Indiana’s road to Omaha starts close to home and figures to be a weekend chock-full of action as there is never any love lost between the Hoosiers and hosts Wildcats if a showdown is in store. Here’s a look at the regional where NC State and Ohio join the IU and UK.

The teams

#1 Kentucky

Record: 39-20, 19-11 in SEC; second

Head coach: Nick Mingione, first year

NCAA Tournament history: Seventh appearance, last in 2014.

Offense: .317 AVG, 138 2B, 9 3B, 66 HR, .495 SLG, 367 SO, 275 BB, .418 OBP, 59-91 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.65 ERA, 14 SV, 515.2 IP, 185 BB, 528 SO, 1.21 WHIP, 91 2B, 3 3B, 56 HR, .228 BAA, 29 WP, 58 HBP

Defense: .971 fielding percentage, eight passed balls, 15 stolen bases allowed, 17 caught stealing

Noteworthy: In his first season as Kentucky’s head coach, former assistant Nick Mingione has the Wildcats back among the elite in college baseball, on the tails of in-state rival Louisville as the Bluegrass State’s premier program. Kentucky has never won a regional, but in boasting a 27-5 home mark, UK has to like its chances. Kentucky’s pitching coach, Jim Belanger was previously at Maryland, so he will know more about Indiana than a typical regional team may. The Wildcats beat the Hoosiers, 5-2, on May 9.

#2 Indiana

Record: 33-22-2, 14-9-1 in Big Ten; sixth

Head coach: Chris Lemonis, third season.

NCAA Tournament history: Sixth appearance, last in 2015

Offense: .266 AVG, 106 2B, 8 3B, 67 HR, .430 SLG, 455 SO, 190 BB, .347 OBP, 55-76 SB-SBA

Pitching: 4.48 ERA, 15 SV, 512 IP, 152 BB, 385 SO, 1.39 WHIP, 118 2B,

Defense: .978 fielding percentage, 11 passed balls, 39 stolen bases allowed, 12 caught stealing

Noteworthy: IU opens the NCAA Tournament with a game NC State, a team that saw some as a top 10 team at the start of the season. If they survive the Wolfpack, a showdown with the host Wildcats await, setting the stage for a raucous evening in Cliff Hagan Stadium. But if any Big Ten is ready for such a setting it is the Hoosiers. Though they finished sixth in the conference, the Hoosiers enter the tournament with the Big Ten’s highest RPI and are the lone program with four appearances over the last half-decade, this is an old hat for them. Indiana picked up series wins against fellow NCAA Tournament participants Maryland and Michigan, the start of a second-half surge that saw Indiana grab a two-seed.

#3 North Carolina State

Record: 34-23, 16-14 in ACC; fourth in Atlantic division

Head coach: Elliott Avent, 20th season

NCAA Tournament history: 29th appearance, last in 2016

Offense: .277 AVG, 130 2B, 10 3B, 58 HR, .444 SLG, 406 SO, 211 BB, .356 OBP, 33-46 SB-SBA

Pitching: 4.01 ERA, 16 SV, 505 IP, 249 BB, 447 SO, 1.42 WHIP, 92 2B, 10 3B, 44 HR, .252 BAA, 30 WP, 46 HBP

Defense: .975 fielding percentage, 11 passed balls, 41 stolen bases allowed, 17 caught stealing

Noteworthy: The Wolfpack are in the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season. NCSU started the season ranked sixth by D1Baseball.com. North Carolina State obviously didn’t have the season on par with such lofty expectations, but they have played their best baseball of late, taking their final three ACC series, going 8-1, with sweeps of Pitt and Boston College before taking two of three against Clemson.

#4 Ohio

Record: 30-26, 13-11 in MAC; tournament champions

Head coach: Rob Smith, fifth season

NCAA Tournament history: 16th appearance, last in 2015

Offense: .277 AVG, 93 2B, 9 3B, 47 HR, .400 SLG, 380 SO, 206 BB, .358 OBP, 36-48 SB-SBA

Pitching: 4.33 ERA, 18 SVs, 522 IP, 240 BB, 477 SO, 1.44 WHIP, 78 2B, 4 3B, 43 HR, .265 BAA, 34 WP, 59 HBP

Defense: .980 fielding percentage, 25 passed balls, 50 stolen bases allowed, 19 caught stealing

Noteworthy: The MAC program most recognizable to many is probably Kent State, after the Golden Flashes went to the 2012 College World Series. But it is their East Division rivals down I-77, Ohio, that have appeared in two of the last three NCAA Tournaments as the MAC representative. The Bobcats were the fourth-seed in the 2015 Champaign Regional, falling to Illinois, 10-3 in the regional open. OU’s ties to the Big Ten don’t stop there, head coach Rob Smith is an IU alum and appeared in the 1996 NCAA Tournament with Indiana under head coach Bob Morgan.

Three keys to Hoosier success

Miller and Sowers can’t swing and miss

They have mighty swings, which can either hit tape-measure home runs or cool off the stands with a forceful breeze from an empty swing. Sophomore third baseman Luke Miller and junior outfielder Logan Sowers have 19 home runs between them, but Miller has 40 strikeouts while Sowers has 72 punch outs on the season. Indiana has an aggressive approach which has led to a Big Ten-best 67 home runs, but with college baseball down to 64 teams, the pitching will pick up in the tournament and the duo need to find ways to make contact and get on base if the Hoosiers have a chance. Craig Dedelow leads IU with 17 home runs, but the offense clicks when Miller and Sowers are locked in, setting the table for Dedelow to really do damage.

Steady Stiever

It’s likely that at some point Jonathan Stiever will have the ball in his hand at the start of a game. Which game is unknown. Stiever has had an up-and-down season, showing flashes of brilliance but also moments of struggles. On April 14, in 4.1 innings against Minnesota, Stiever allowed seven runs off 13 hits. In his next outing against Michigan, Stiever blanked the Wolverines, scattering just six hits. Pauly Milto and Cal Krueger have down well for IU, likely the game one and three respective starters, if IU has a third game. And if so, it’s likely IU will need Stiever to be on.

Bullpen steps up

Indiana’s roller coaster season has been a reflection of the state of its bullpen. Early in the season the IU bullpen struggled, head coach Chris Lemonis couldn’t figure out who could step up in a key situation. When Indiana won back-to-back-to-back series against Minnesota, Michigan and Maryland, the Indiana pitching staff was stable. The most recent look at Indiana saw the Hoosiers give up a 6-0 lead to Minnesota, with a five-run eighth inning by the Gophers send IU home early from the Big Ten Tournament, played at their Bart Kaufman Field. Indiana has plenty of options to turn to, which can be a blessing and a curse. Lemonis can play match-ups, but there still isn’t a true lockdown guy, outside of closer Matt Lloyd that can be relied on.

Required reading

IU baseball has found right formula to NCAA success -Zach Osterman, Indianapolis Star

A guide to the NCAA baseball regional in Lexington -Kentucky.com

Hoosiers excited to ‘prove that we deserve to be in this tournament’ -Fletcher Page, Lexington Courier-Journal

Pack Readies for Indiana -Rob McLamb, Scout.com

Road to Omaha: Corvallis Regional

The Cornhuskers of Nebraska are the closest team in the NCAA Tournament to Omaha, a little more than an hour’s drive west of the home the College World Series. But as the boys from Lincoln take to the tournament in search of a fourth Sollege World Series appearance boys, their path to TD Ameritrade Park may be the toughest, opening the tournament in the Corvallis Regional, hosted by top overall seed Oregon State. Joined by Holy Cross and Yale, here’s a look at the Corvallis Regional.

The Teams

#1 Oregon State

Record: 49-4 overall, 27-3 in Pac-12; conference champions

Head coach: Pat Casey, 23rd season

NCAA Tournament history: 17th appearance, last in 2015, 2006-2007 National Champions

Offense: .289 AVG, 98 2B, 17 3B, 23 HR, .401 SLG, 316 SO, 253 BB, .382 OBP, 57-71 SB-SBA

Pitching: 1.84 ERA, 20 SV, 484 IP, 136 BB, 433 SO, .98 WHIP, 66 2B, 7 3B, 18 HR, .198 BAA, 26 WP, 27 HBP

Defense: .978 fielding percentage, three passed balls

Noteworthy: The Beavers met the Huskers during the second weekend of the season, joining Ohio State and Utah in the Big Ten – Pac-12 Baseball Challenge. Oregon State opened the season with a 10-1 win over Nebraska, then beat the Huskers 5-2 two days later. Oregon State picked up two wins against Indiana the weekend prior, and split their two games against Ohio State in the challenge, going 5-1 against the Big Ten this season. The 2017 season is the 10th anniversary of Oregon State’s last national championship, a year where they advanced to Omaha by knocking off Michigan in the Corvallis Super Regional, a weekend after the Wolverines knocked off overall number one seed Vanderbilt.

#2 Nebraska

Record: 35-20-1, 16-7-1 in Big Ten; conference champions

Head coach: Darin Erstad, sixth season

NCAA Tournament history: 15th appearance, last in 2016

Offense: .282 AVG, 108 2B, 9 3B, 24 HR, .383 SLG, 419 SO, 220 BB, .364 OBP, 41-47 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.64 ERA, 20 SV, 497.1 IP, 165 BB, 371 SO, 1.34 WHIP, 86 2B, 6 3B, 27 HR, .262 BAA, 30 WP, 35 HBP

Defense: .977 fielding percentage, five passed balls, 23 stolen bases allowed, 16 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Nebraska is in the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years, doing so as first-time Big Ten champions. The Huskers have continued to take steps to get the program back to its heyday of the early 2000s when the program made trips to the College World Series in 2001, 2002 and 2005. If the Huskers reach Omaha this year, there will be no questions to Big Red’s returned state of glory, likely needing to topple to tournament’s top seed, at home, in order to advance.

#3 Yale

Record: 32-16, 16-4 in Ivy League; conference champions

Head coach: John Stuper, 25th season

NCAA Tournament history: 5th appearance, last in 1993

Offense: .291 AVG, 97 2B, 7 3B, 40 HR, .433 SLG, 339 SO, 166 BB, .366 OBP, 39-55 SB-SBA

Pitching: 5.51 ERA, 7 SV, 395.1 IP, 187 BB, 300 SO, 1.59 WHIP, 79 2B, 11 3B, 40 HR, .282 BAA, 61 WP, 32 HBP

Defense: ,973 fielding percentage, nine passed balls, 40 stolen bases allowed, 11 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Yale heads to the postseason after a regular season of dominance in the Northeast. The Bulldogs handled their Ivy League foes, winning the conference by four games. Finishing with nine wins in their last 10 games, Yale heads to the postseason with momentum, but it was an early-season showing that draws attention to the Bulldogs. In two midweek games, March 14 and 15, Yale scored 14 runs at nationally-ranked Clemson. The Tigers won both contests, 10-6 and 10-8, but Yale showed they can go toe-to-toe with a top 20 team and has an offense capable of putting up a crooked number or two.

#4 Holy Cross

Record: 23-27, 12-8 Patriot League; tournament champions

Head coach: Greg Dicenzo, 10th season

NCAA Tournament history: 11th appearance, first since 1978

Offense: .257 AVG, 79 2B, 3 3B, 36 HR, .377 SLG, 369 SO, 173 BB, .341 OBP, 19-29 SB-SBA

Pitching: 5.18 ERA, 5 SV, 412 IP, 166 BB, 361 SO, 1.151 WHIP, 82 2B, 8 3B, 46 HR, .280 BAA, 58 WP, 45 HBP

Defense: .964 fielding percentage, five passed balls, 55 stolen bases, 22 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Holy Cross’ non-conference slate included a three-game set at Auburn and a three-game set at Southern California. The Crusaders will enter the weekend knowing what it’s like to play in front of a large audience on a big stage, as well as understand the style of play found out west. Holy Cross will also be quite familiar with one regional participant, having just played a non-conference, two-game set last week at Yale, the fifth and sixth time the two met this spring. But for all that is familiar for Holy Cross, the NCAA Tournament is not, this weekend is program’s first trip in 39 years.

Three keys to Husker success

A quality game one start from Meyers

This is key to every team in every regional, but more so as Nebraska is turning to Jake Meyers for game one. Meyers has been the Sunday starter for Nebraska over the last two seasons, allowing the Huskers to get everything out of him at the plate and in the field before putting him on the mound. In potentially sacrificing a bit of energy from their leadoff batter and center fielder for at least a second game of the regional, its imperative Meyers makes the bump up worthwhile. The left-hander did not pitch in the Big Ten Tournament, so he is the most rested starter, and has been the most consistent starter. With Meyers on the mound, Nebraska has an all-in approach to take down Yale, to worry about a second game when they get there.

Stay true to themselves

Consistency has been the key for Nebraska all season. The Huskers throw strikes, they pick it, they put the ball in play. There isn’t anything overly sexy about the Huskers, they just compete and fins ways to win. That can’t change now. While Ben Miller and Scott Schreiber have power, they have not been power hitters this year. Both have been productive and would do well to keep their sound approach and not get too pull happy. The same for the Huskers on the bases. They run the bases well, but they’re not a base-stealing team. If they were to face Oregon State, the Beavers are no team to give outs to or end innings on the bases. Nebraska has played good baseball this season being methodical and smart, picking times to be aggressive. That will bode well in Corvallis.

Run into one, or a few

BUT it won’t hurt to run into a few long balls. The Oregon State staff is as stingy as a team can be in college baseball, it’s hard to manufacture a run off of them. If Nebraska can run into a few home runs that will help their cause as they are not a team that churns up stolen bases nor has a starter with a slugging percentage of at least .500. Relying on hit-and-runs or going first to third against a team average less than a walk AND hit combined in an inning isn’t ideal.

Required reading

Huskers locked in and ready to face anyone in Corvallis Regional -David Eickholt, HuskerOnline.com

Big challenge awaits Yale baseball -Chip Malafronte, New Haven Register

49-4!?! Oregon State is making it rain in baseball -John Walters, Newsweek

Sweet swings or swoon? Which offense shows up holds key to Huskers’ regional chances -Evan Bland, Omaha World-Herald

Holy Cross not intimidated -Jennifer Toland, Worcester Telegram & Gazette

Road to Omaha: Winston-Salem Regional

A end-of-season slump had Maryland on the bubble come Selection Monday. Now, safely in the field, the Terrapins’ attention turns to Omaha. Though Maryland has struggled away from home, 16-18 in games not played at Bob “Turtle” Thomas Stadium, John Szefc’s team will be in familiar territory and the most postseason-experienced team of the regional. Here’s a Winston-Salem Regional with Maryland-Baltimore County, Wake Forest and West Virginia joining the Terps.

The teams

#1 Wake Forest

Record: 39-18, 19-11 in ACC; second in Atlantic division

Head coach: Tom Walters, eighth season

NCAA Tournament history: 13th appearance, last in 2016

Offense: .308 AVG, 116 2B, 3 3B, 96 HR, .510 SLG, 465 SO, .278 BB, .402 OBP, 38-53 SB-SBA

Pitching: 4.15 ERA, 11 SV, 507.2 IP, 223 BB, 498 SO, 1.37 WHIP, 102 2B, 10 3B, 41 HR, .248 BAA, 62 WP, 63 HBP

Defense: .976 fielding percentage, 15 passed balls, 41 stolen bases allowed, 16 caught stealing

Noteworthy: The Demon Deacons head into regional play at home full of power. Wake Forest’s 96 home runs are the second-most in the NCAA, and five players have at least 12 home runs: Gavin Sheets (20), Johnny Ailleo (18), Stuart Fairchild (15), Bruce Steel (12) and Keegan Maronpot (12). With a .308 team average, Wake doesn’t sell out power, four players have a batting average of at least .350.

#2 West Virginia

Record: 34-24, 12-12 in Big XII; fourth

Head coach: Randy Mazey, fifth season

NCAA Tournament history: 12th appearance, first since 1996

Offense: .288 AVG, 84 2B, 18 3B, 45 HR, .415 SLG, 413 SO, 245 BB, .370 OBP, 72-108 SB-ATT

Pitching: 4.14 ERA, 11 SV, 515.2 IP, 234 BB, 488 SO, 1.35 WHIP, 88 2B, 9 3B, 46 HR, .241 BAA, 35 WP, 52 HBP

Defense: .973 fielding percentage, two passed balls, 48 stolen bases, 26 caught stealing

Noteworthy: The Mountaineers were potentially inline to host a regional, sitting 25-15 with a top 25 ranking on April 28. West Virginia then lost their next two game against Oklahoma, starting a string of three straight Big XII series losses to end the regular season. But with series wins at Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU, the Mountaineers showed they are deserving of their spot in the NCAA Tournament and can beat anyone in the field, a sentiment cemented in a 12-7 victory over Texas Tech in the conference tournament. Unfortunately WVU’s ability to go toe-to-toe with anyone took a hit with Michael Grove (3-1, 2.87 ERA, 61 SO, 47 IP) being lost to Tommy John.

#3 Maryland

Record: 37-21, 15-9 in Big Ten; fourth

Head coach: John Szefc, fifth season

NCAA Tournament history: Sixth appearance, last in 2015

Offense: .275 AVG, 87 2B, 15 3B, 60 HR, .429 SLG, 443 SO, 257 BB, .375 OBP, 101-123 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.86 ERA, 14 SV, 507.2 IP, 169 BB, 476 SO, 1.32 WHIP, 78 2B, 12 3B, 39 HR, .258 BAA, 56 WP, HBP 61

Defense: .969 fielding percentage, 10 passed balls, 45 stolen bases allowed, 18 caught stealing

Noteworthy: This regional should be pretty friendly to Maryland. The Terps met West Virginia on April 11, winning the midweek game, 7-6 and they’re no stranger to Winston-Salem, the home of their former ACC peers Wake Forest. There were questions on Maryland’s spot in the NCAA Tournament after finishing the regular season with four straight losing weekends, but now that they’re in the field, all that matters is what happens going forward. Maryland has the talent to come out on top, as well as the edge in recent history, a regional win is not a long shot here.

#4 Maryland-Baltimore County

Record: 23-23, 11-9 in America East; tournament champions

Head coach: Bob Mumma, sixth season

NCAA Tournament history: Second, first since 1992.

Offense: .294 AVG, 93 2B, 7 3B, 27 HR, .416 SLG, 274 SO, 176 BB, .372 OBP, 44-63 SB-SBA

Pitching: 5.63 ERA, 7 SV, 388.2 IP, 163 BB, 271 SO, 1.57 WHIP, 102 2B, 17 3B, 37 HR, .291 BAA, 35 WP, 17 HBP

Defense: .969 fielding percentage, nine passed balls, 44 stolen bases allowed, 12 caught stealing

Noteworthy: UMBC opened the season 1-9 before finishing 22-14. The Retrievers’ strong finish ended in the America East tournament, where they brought home the tournament title for the first time in program history. The key number for UMBC is six, as the Retrievers are 13-3 when scoring at least six runs.

Three keys to Terrapin success

Blohm plays beyond his years

It was a strong year for freshmen in the Big Ten with Maryland’s Tyler Blohm coming out on top as the conference’s Freshman of the Year. In his first start after receiving the honor, Blohm struck out a career-high 10 batters in Maryland’s 8-5 win over Nebraska to stave off elimination. Maryland will need Blohm to continue his stellar play with elevated stakes. Maryland doesn’t have a true fourth starter to go to in the event the Terps fall into the losers bracket. Juniors Brian Shaffer and Taylor Bloom both have NCAA Tournament experience, helping Maryland to the Charlottesville Super Regional in 2015 as freshmen, and should be ready to go. It’s not Blohm’s turn to be a rookie who caps his debut season in grand style.

Shaffer shining

Perhaps the worst outing of his career, Shaffer, the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, was beat up in Maryland’s Big Ten Tournament opener by Iowa. In 6.1 innings, the Hawkeyes roughed up Shaffer for eight runs, seven earned, off 10 hits. Shaffer has been so dominant that the bloated outing only has his ERA up to 2.18. The reason for the minimal damage is the tournament outing sent Shaffer over 100 innings on the year, now at 103.1. It is the second consecutive season Shaffer has pitched more than 100 innings, creating just a little concern that his arm is starting to tire in front of his 16th start of the season.

Focus on the field

There’s a lot that can draw the attention of the Terrapins away from the field. Head coach John Szefc is in the mix for the open head coach position at Tennessee. Shortstop Kevin Smith is a potential top 75 draft pick in next week’s draft and Shaffer is expected to be drafted by the fifth round. But this is not Maryland’s first rodeo. Before missing last year’s tournament, the Terps appeared in back-to-back super regionals. That history and understanding what it takes to advance in June will help quiet the off-field noise.

Required reading

The Bar Has Now Been Raised for WVU Baseball -John Antonik, msnsports.net

Bob Mumma leads ‘amped up’ UMBC back to NCAA baseball tournament -Callie Caplan, The Baltimore Sun

Brian Shaffer’s baseball career has picked up velocity -Jonas Shaffer, The Balitmore Sun

Marty Costes’ diamond development a key for Maryland -Jonas Shaffer, The Baltimore Sun

Road to Omaha: Chapel Hill Regional

 

The last team in the NCAA Tournament, Michigan will begin regional action for the Big Ten with a 1 p.m. start Friday afternoon against Florida Gulf Coast. As the Wolverines look to reach the College World Series for the first time since 1984, it doesn’t matter if you’re the first team in or the last one. Where Big Ten peer takes on the first team in and the tournament’s top overall seed, Oregon State, Michigan will head to the Chapel Hill Regional hosted by the number two seed, UNC. Here’s a look at UNC, Michigan, Florida Gulf Coast and Davidson who rounds out the field.

The teams

#1 North Carolina

Record: 47-12, 23 in ACC; Coastal division champions

Head coach: Mike Fox, 19th season

NCAA Tournament history: 30th appearance, last in 2014.

Offense: .283 AVG, 105 2B, 19 3B, 55 HR, .437 SLG, 383 SO, 303 BB, .387 OBP, 76-102 SB-SBA

Pitching: 2.96 ERA, 15 SV, 535.2 IP, 218 BB, 513 SO, 1.22 WHIP, 68 2B, 8 3B, 35 HR, .221 BAA, 51 WP, 54 HBP

Defense: .979 fielder percentage, 12 passed balls, 28 stolen bases allowed, 14 caught stealing

Noteworthy: The tournament’s second overall seed, the Tar Heels return to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year absence. Finishing a half-game behind Louisville for the ACC championship, North Carolina is led by junior right-handed pitcher J.B. Bukauskas and shortstop Logan Warmoth, two probable first-round draft picks. But as talented as the Tar Heels are, only one player as NCAA Tournament experience. UNC will be at home, but it’ll be far from a walk in the park with elevated stakes and a fairly deep regional.

#2 Florida Gulf Coast

Record: 42-18, 13-8 in Atlantic Sun; conference tournament champions

Head coach: Dave Tollet, 15th season.

NCAA Tournament history: First appearance.

Offense: .282 average, 100 2B, 16 3B, 54 HR, .427 SLG, 450 SO, 296 BB, .384 OBP, 32-45 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.65 ERA, 23 SV, 533 IP, 170 BB, 515 SO, 1.33 WHIP, 77 2B, 8 3B, 30 HR, .264 BAA, 28 WP, 32 HBP

Defense: .966 fielding percentage, 15 passed balls, 51 stolen bases allowed, 15 caught stealing

Noteworthy: FGCU played host to a pair of Big Ten schools in back-to-back weeks in March. Ohio State salvaged a weekend set, taking the Sunday game, 5-4, after falling 10-9 and 13-1. In the series opener FGCU scored six in the bottom of the ninth against the Buckeyes. The Scarlet Knights were unable to leave Fort Meyers with a win, being swept in the three-game set. The 5-1 showing against Big Ten schools came during a 23-3 start to the season which saw the Eagles crack the top 10 of polls.

#3 Michigan

Record: 42-15, 16-8 in Big Ten; second place

Head coach: Erik Bakich, fifth season

NCAA Tournament history: 23 appearance, last in 2015. 1953 and 1962 National Champions.

Offense: .284 AVG, 93 2B, 18 3B, 34 HR, .404 SLG, 392 SO, 258 BB, .380 OBP, 122-151 SB-SBA

Pitching: 3.26 ERA, 16 SV, 516.1 IP, 184 BB, 551 SO, 1.2 WHIP, 77 2B, 11 3B, 36 HR, .228 BAA, 48 WP, 43 HBP

Defense: .983 fielding percentage, 15 passed balls, 21 stolen bases, 19 caught stealing

Noteworthy: Though they were the last team in the field of 64, for the first time in nine years, Michigan has earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. The most decorated Big Ten program, 42 wins wasn’t enough for the selection committee to view the Wolverines as a top 25 team, although they have been ranked in a poll since mid-March. The Wolverines have an all-around game to win in any way, be it a pitcher’s duel or high-scoring slugfest, and the near-snub may be just what the team needed to put an 0-2 showing in the Big Ten Tournament behind them and take to Chapel Hill with a scorched Earth mentality.

#4 Davidson

Record: 32-24, 13-14 in Atlantic 10; tournament champions

Head coach: Dick Cook, 27th season

NCAA Tournament history: First appearance.

Offense: .277 AVG, 96 2B, 5 3B, 70 HR, .438 SLG, 403 SO, 235 BB, .368 OBP, 17-25 SB-SBA

Pitching: 4.54 ERA, 16 SV, 500 IP, 207 BB, 374 SO, 1.54 WHIP, 106 2B, 5 3B, 47 HR, .283 BAA, 40 WP, 42 HBP

Defense: .967 fielding percentage, six passed balls, 29 stolen bases allowed, 19 caught stealing

Noteworthy: The Wildcats, possibly most famous for being the college of NBA star Steph Curry, are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance and will open play against the tournament’s second-best team. That’s not an easy task, but Davidson can take solace in knowing UNC has a team without much NCAA Tournament appearance and they have shown they can match-up well against the Tar Heels. On May 9, Davidson lost a 10-inning game to North Carolina, 7-6, hitting four home runs off Tar Heel pitchers.

Three keys to Wolverine success

Bullpen bears down

Michigan entered the Big Ten tournament 36-1 when leading after eight innings. The record became 36-2 after a 6-4 loss to Northwestern on Wednesday, and Michigan saw it’s stay in Bloomington end with a 14-inning defeat to Indiana, another game decided late. Two relievers who entered the tournament with perfect 0.00 ERAs, Jackson Lamb and Mac Lozer, combined to allowed five earned runs in the 0-2 showing. At some point every reliever is touched up and for Lamb and Lozer to combine for for 47 appearances without allowing an earned run is incredible. For Michigan to succeed, the rough week in Bloomington needs to only be a hiccup and not a sign of a decline after heavy workloads.

Lugbauer swings the lumber

The Wolverines could use a power eruption from third baseman Drew Lugbauer to carry an offense which has been reliant on station-to-station baseball of late. Lugbauer leads Michigan with 11 home runs, adding 13 doubles, for a power production paired nicely with a .290 average. But the left-handed hitter has been stuck on 11 home runs since Michigan’s 14-4 win over Oklahoma on April 14. Michigan is only slugging .404 on the season entering the tournament, where runs are usually at a premium. There will need to be an ability to drive a run in from first base and nobody can do it better than Lugbauer.

Leverage the chip

Head coach Erik Bakich has not deferred to coachspeak when discussing the edge his team plays with. A May swoon kept the Wolverines out of the NCAA Tournament a year ago, and Bakich does not hide that the bitter ending has not been forgotten. Since the preseason, Bakich has spoke to a commitment to starting and finishing strong, using last year’s collapse as a reminder. Now, as the last team in the field, almost seeing a 40-win season go for naught, there is more fuel to Michigan’s fire. While the Wolverines have the skill to advance through the regional, they can’t be too focus on proving the doubters wrong. Michigan has excelled all year by playing quality baseball, inning to inning doing the small and little things right, that needs to continue.

Required reading

Back from hand injury, Ako Thomas is Michigan baseball’s catalyst -Mark Snyder, Detroit Free Press

Wolverines rested, ready for NCAA tournament -Angelique Chengelis

UNC, back again in NCAA tournament, likes its chances with Bukauskas on mound -Andrew Carter, Raleigh News & Observer