The Ten: Week 1

It didn’t take long for a Big Ten player to grab the national spotlight.

With 11 strikeouts in a six-inning, no-hit outing, Iowa junior right-handed pitcher Grant Judkins received a pair of national accolades in addition to being the conference’s top pitcher over opening weekend. Who else starred to get a new season underway? Here’s the first edition of The 10 this year, rounding up the weekend’s top individual performances.

Michigan St. Sr. 3B Royce Ando

Sliding to the hot corner for his senior season, the Spartan’s swan song got off to a hot start. Racking up five hits in 11 at-bats, Ando picked up a hit of each kind, using two singles, a double, triple and home run to touch 11 bases. Ando’s weekend line finished .455/.500/1.000.

Ohio State Fr. RHP Garrett Burhenn

Burhenn’s collegiate debut was almost perfect, literally. Taking the mound for the Buckeyes on Saturday against Seton Hall, the rookie logged eight innings and pitched to the minimum of 24 batters. Striking out six without issuing a walk, Burhenn surrendered only one hit, then promptly erased the runner with a double play. Burhenn’s effort led an Ohio State staff that allowed just six runs over four games.

Ohio State Sr. OF Brady Cherry

A change of scenery appears to be exactly what Cherry needed. Anchored in Ohio State’s infield for his first three seasons, moving from third to second and even seeing time at first base, now an outfielder, Cherry’s senior season is off to a stellar start. The offensive force in Ohio State’s 4-0 weekend, Cherry recorded seven hits in 14 at-bats, connecting on a pair of doubles and two home runs, to slug 1.071. The 15 bases Cherry touched over opening weekend is already more than one-fourth of his 2018 total of 58.

Nebraska Soph. OF Jaxon Hallmark

Hallmark earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors after using eight hits in 18 at-bats to drive in 10 runs. The sophomore recorded two doubles and a stolen base, to score five runs. For good measure, Hallmark recorded two outs to close out Nebraska’s 10-6 win over UC Riverside on Saturday.

Michigan Jr. LHP Tommy Henry

Stepping into the role of ace for the Wolverines, the junior southpaw gave Erik Bakich and staff exactly what is desired from a leading pitcher. Pitching six innings of shutout baseball against Binghamton, Henry scattered six hits without conceding a run, struck out nine batters while walking just one.

Iowa Jr. RHP Grant Judkins

When you’re the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week, the National College Baseball Writers Association Pitcher of the Week and a Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Week, it’s highly likely you had a dominant performance. Judkins was indeed dominant. Spurring Iowa to a winning weekend in a 10-0 win over Marshall, Judkins did not allow a hit over six innings and struck out 11 batters. Judkins’ 11 strikeouts sets a new career high, while edging teammate Jake Dreyer and Michigan’s Karl Kauffmann for the Big Ten lead after one weekend.

Penn State Soph. RHP Mason Mellott

Penn State pitchers proved mighty tough in their season-opening series against Monmouth. Powering the Nittany Lions to a 3-0 record, PSU hurlers allowed only eight hits and three earned runs. At the forefront of the charge on the mound was Mellott. The sophomore pitched four hitless innings in relief to earn the win in PSU’s 1-0 season opening victory. Then, on Sunday, Mellott logged two innings, allowing one hit and one unearned run, to earn the save in Penn State’s 6-4, securing the weekend sweep.

Indiana Sr. RHP Pauly Milto

It’s a new era in Bloomington as Jeff Mercer takes over the Hoosier program. But, at least for one game, it was more of the same. Pauly Milto continued to add to a dominant career with a gem in Indiana’s season opener. On Saturday, at Memphis, Milto pitched seven innings of scoreless baseball, striking out seven batters. The righty scattered just two hits without issuing a walk, giving Mercer a sign of what he can expect on Friday nights with his new club.

Illinois Sr. OF Zac Taylor

Few players in the Big Ten have the combo of power and speed that Taylor has. As Illinois looks to break a four-year NCAA Tournament drought, Taylor’s dynamic ability was on display, giving Dan Hartleb’s team the type of production needed to replace Big Ten Player of the Year Bren Spillane. In three games, Taylor rapped out six hits, collecting two doubles and a home run, while adding five stolen bases.

Illinois Jr. RHP Cyrillo Watson

As good as Taylor was at the plate and on the bases, Watson was his equal on the mound. Long viewed as the Illini with the best pure stuff and most potential, Watson put it all together in his 2019 debut. Helping Illinois finish the weekend 3-0, Watson logged six shutout innings against Sacred Heart. The junior righty scattered five hits while striking out eight batters, and did not issue a walk over the 90-pitch outing.

 

Freshman of the Week

Burhenn

Pitcher of the Week

Judkins

Player of the Week

Cherry

Trending Topics: Week 1

It was quite the weekend for Big Ten baseball teams, as action spanned the country from Miami, Fla., to Riverside, Calif. There were outstanding individual honors, like pitchers Grant Judkins of Iowa and Ohio State’s Garrett Burhenn, respectively logging a no-hit outing and flirting with perfection. A handful of teams sport spotless records: Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. And there were also a few surprises on the not as pleasant side, such as Minnesota losing to New Mexico and Oregon State by a combined score of 24-2 and Purdue and Rutgers concluding the opening weekend without a win.

Going beyond the scoreboard and box scores, the first of a weekly staple, Trending Topics, looks at five observations from the weekend that are either sending a team to success or holding them back.

Seniors stepping up

It’s hard to quantify, but ask any coach and there is something to draftitis affecting players over their junior year. Players who aren’t slam dunk draft picks, players with premium tools whose stock depends on production, time and time again press and scuffle, ultimately playing their way out of the draft. Then, when seniors, and facing the possibility of playing baseball competitively for the last time, no longer worrying about the draft just embracing the moment, an all-conference season unfolds.

The opening weekend showed there may be a few players who have strong senior seasons after watching their draft stock come and go, relaxed and just having the game come to them. Here’s a look at a few of those players, players who may end up having a significant say in how their team fares with them in the heart of the order.

Illinois OF Zac Taylor: 6-for-13, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5-5 SB-ATT

Indiana OF Logan Kaletha: 4-for-11, 2B

Maryland 3B Taylor Wright: 4-for-11

Michigan 1B Jimmy Kerr: 4-for-13, 2B, HR, 4 RBI

Ohio State LF Brady Cherry: 7-for-14, 2 2B, 2 HR

Buckeyes limit freebies

Although Ohio State went 36-24 and participated in the Greenville Regional last year, the Buckeyes were far from a well-oiled machine.

In 60 games, Ohio State’s defense committed 94 errors, more than 1.5 per contest and a whopping 20 more than the next closet team, leading to a Big Ten-worst .959 fielding percentage. The extra outs the Buckeyes gave the opposition were in addition to Ohio State hurlers hitting 77 batters, the most in the Big Ten, stood alongside surrendering 590 hits, also the most in the conference. A team that gives up a lot of hits, hits a lot of batters and routinely falls to play a clean game is far from the way Greg Beals wants his team to perform, regional or not.

Through the first weekend of the 2019 season, the Buckeyes have cleaned up their act.

Opening 4-0 for just the third time since 2010, Ohio State’s defense committed just two errors, for a .986 fielding percentage. Ohio State pitchers plunked only two batters, while walking just five hitters. As Ohio State breaks in an entirely new rotation, eliminating free passes, extra bases, and forced to record extra outs will go a long way in helping the Bucks reach back-to-back NCAA Tournaments for the first time since 2002-03.

Huskers on the attack

Although Nebraska batted .274 in 2018, good for sixth in the conference, and scored 6.48 runs per contest, there was notable chatter on social media around the Huskers revolved around the offense. It is true Nebraska will no longer have the services of Scott Schreiber and Jesse Wilkening, the team’s two leading batters who combined for 56 extra-base hits and 27 of the team’s 47 home runs. So on paper there is a noticeable void in power, but when looking back at Nebraska’s best teams under Erstad, they were never ones to so much power.

Take 2014, when Nebraska finished second in the Big Ten and participated in a regional. The Huskers batted .293 with only 19 homers. By comparison, Schreiber hit 18 by himself last year.

In 2016, another year in a regional, Nebraska batted .281 with 43 home runs.

Then, in 2017, when the Huskers won the Big Ten, the team held its .281 average but this time with just 25 home runs.

With Erstad leading the way, when Nebraska’s offense is at its best, it’s when every batter, 1-9, has a methodical approach of fouling balls off until one can be barreled, puts consistent pressure on the opponent, are aggressive with dirt ball reads, takes the extra 90 feet and squeezes the life out of the opposition.

In taking three of four games from UC Riverside, it appears Nebraska’s offense is getting back to that.

While it’s unlikely the team will bat .347 for the course of the season, there were 27 walks drawn in four games, 10 doubles, nine stolen bases and the team was able to generate 47 runs without needing to drop a sacrifice bunt, relying on three sac flies.

The key to Nebraska in 2019 isn’t necessarily who replaces the thump of Schreiber and Wilkening, it’s more who becomes the next Chad Christensen, Pat Kelly, Jake Meyers or Michael Pritchard, guys who did all of the little things that added up to a potent offense.

Did Minnesota’s superb defense graduate, too?

Picked by conference coaches to defend their Big Ten title, a lot of Minnesota’s expected success stems from their pitching staff. Last year, Minnesota pitched to a 3.20 ERA, a mark lowered to a conference-best 2.64 in Big Ten games. With the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Patrick Fredrickson back in his Saturday role for his sophomore season, fellow all-american and classmate Max Meyer resuming his closing duties, and many capable high-ceiling arms back, such as Joshua Culliver, Jeff Fasching, Bubba Horton and Brett Schultz, there’s a lot to like about the Golden Gophers on the mound.

But the expected strength of the team falling on the pitching staff was also in part due to the graduation of multiple starters with at least three years of starting under their belt: Alex Boxwell, Micah Coffey, Toby Hanson, Luke Pettersen, and arguably the Big Ten’s best two-way player in Terrin Varva. Any concern regarding Minnesota would be on how John Anderson and staff would replace the key contributors at the plate,

After a rocky opening weekend, the real concern may be how does Minnesota replace the quintet in the field.

In addition to the second-best ERA, Minnesota had the second-best fielding percentage among Big Ten teams. With a .977 fielding percentage, Minnesota committed just 52 errors over 59 games. In 2017 Minnesota had a .978 fielding percentage, committing 47 errors in 57 games, and in 2016 the Gophers fielded at a .980 mark, with 43 errors in 56 games.

In four games in Arizona, Minnesota committed six errors, including four in Saturday’s 11-1 defeat to New Mexico. Each error in Saturday’s game came from a position where Minnesota last a starter, with the weekend’s six errors leading to nine unearned runs.

Now, it was opening weekend. It was Minnesota’s first time being outside on a baseball field since the fall, and young players need time to adjust to the speed of the game. But Minnesota’s pitchers are only as good as the defense behind them, and if too many extra bases and extra outs are provided to the opponents, it won’t matter what the Gophers do or don’t do at the plate.

Hawkkkkkeyes ring them up

When your former pitching coach is hired away by the Yankees for a position called Director of Pitch Development, a position created exclusively for him, chances are your pitchers were working with one of the best in the business as they perfected their craft. The results from Iowa’s three games over opening weekend would support that.

Although Iowa’s former pitcher coach Desi Druschel was behind the plate, taking in Saturday’s games as a bystander and not participant, his work with the Hawkeye pitchers was on display.

Against George Mason, Pitt and Marshall, Hawkeye pitchers were on the mound for 26 innings. In that time, Iowa struck out 41 batters. Jack Dreyer started the parade of eye-popping numbers with a 10-strikeout showing in 5.1 innings on Saturday against the Panthers. Less than 24 hours later, Grant Judkins grabbed the Big Ten lead in punch outs with 11, in six innings against the Thundering Herd. With relievers in tow, Iowa’s game totals for strikeouts were: 10, 15 and 16.

The 41 strikeouts helped Iowa hold the opposition to a .114 batting average, 10 hits in 88 at-bats. The 20 walks are an issue to address, but Iowa’s 14.19 K/9 showing through one weekend is impressive. In case you’re wondering, that would be 795 over a 56-game schedule. The Big Ten record is 549, set by Maryland in 2015.

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