Illinois’ Spillane Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Player of the Year

Champagin, Ill. — Illinois junior Bren Spillane was named the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Player of the Year, the publication announced Thursday. Spillane was the 2018 Big Ten Player of the Year and the national leader in slugging percentage (.903), OPS (1.401), home runs per game (0.46) and weighted on-base average (.569).

Spillane is the first Illini baseball player to earn a national player of the year award and the first Big Ten player to earn Collegiate Baseball’s National Player of the Year in its 35-year history. Recent winners include Andrew Benintendi (Arkansas, 2015), Kris Bryant (San Diego, 2013), Trevor Bauer (UCLA, 2011), Chris Sale (Florida Gulf Coast, 2010), Stephen Strasburg (San Diego State, 2009), Buster Posey (Florida State, 2008) and David Price (Vanderbilt, 2007).

Spillane is the 15th student-athlete in Illinois athletics history to earn a national player of the year award. He joins a list of 10 Illinois Athletics Hall of Famers, including Chuck Carney, Red Grange, Andy Phillip, Dick Butkus, Jim Grabowski, Mary Eggers, Renee Heiken Slone, Tonya Williams, Perdita Felicien and Dee Brown.

Spillane showed a rare combo of power and speed as the only player in the nation to hit 20+ home runs and steal 15+ bases. He became the first player in Illinois history to reach 15 homers and 15 steals in the same season, while also leading the Big Ten in batting average (.389), slugging percentage (.903), on-base percentage (.498), OPS (1.401), home runs (23), RBIs (60) and total bases (158).

The Wheeling, Illinois, native had an incredible .903 slugging percentage, the best mark in the nation since 2009 when Bryce Brentz slugged .930 for Middle Tennessee State. Spillane is the first player in the BBCOR era to slug over .900 and the first Power 5 player to lead the nation at over .900 since Pat Burrell slugged .948 for Miami (Fla.) in 1996.

The .903 slugging percentage is the second-best in the history of the Big Ten Conference behind Illinois Athletics Hall of Famer Darrin Fletcher’s .913 in 1987. It vaulted Spillane’s career slugging percentage to .723, an Illinois record and the top active slugging percentage in the NCAA of players with two or more years of experience.

Spillane put his name all over the Illinois record book in 2018. His single-season Illinois ranks include second in slugging (.903), second in home runs (23), second in Big Ten home runs (10), tied for fourth in total bases (158), tied for fourth in Big Ten total bases (67) and fifth in on-base percentage (.498).

Spillane was also named to the Collegiate Baseball All-America first team as part of the announcement.

Spillane Stats and Notes
• Leads the nation in slugging percentage (.903)
• Leads the nation in OPS (1.401)
• Leads the nation in home runs per game (0.46)
• Leads the nation in weighted on-base average (.569)
• Ranks second in the nation in home runs (23), fifth in total bases (158), ninth in on-base percentage (.498), 14th in RBIs per game (1.20) and 18th in batting average (.389)
• Only player in the nation with 20+ homers and 15+ stolen bases
• Only Division I player in history to slug over .900 in the BBCOR era
• First player in Division I to slug over .900 for a season since 2009 (Bryce Brentz, Middle Tennessee State, .930)
• First Power 5 player to lead the nation in slugging at over .900 since Pat Burrell (.948) for Miami (Fla.) in 1996
• No. 2 in Big Ten history in slugging percentage for a season (Darrin Fletcher, Illinois, 1987, .913)
• No. 1 in the nation in career slugging percentage among active players with two or more seasons (.723)
• No. 1 in Illinois history in career slugging percentage (.723)
• 2018 Big Ten Player of the Year
• 2018 Big Ten regular season triple crown (.407, 22 HR, 57 RBIs)
• 2018 Unanimous First Team All-Big Ten
• First player in Big Ten history to win three straight Big Ten Player of the Week awards (3/19-4/2/18)
• First player in Illinois history to win national player of the week honors twice
• Led the Big Ten in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, OPS, home runs, RBIs and total bases
• Illinois single-season ranks include second in slugging (.903), second in home runs (23), second in Big Ten home runs (10), tied for fourth in total bases (158), tied for fourth in Big Ten total bases (67) and fifth in on-base percentage (.498)

Illinois All-Time National Players of the Year
2018 Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Year: Bren Spillane
2012 USTFCCCA Men’s Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year: Andrew Riley
2011 Soccer News Net Women’s Player of the Year: Vanessa DiBernardo
2009 USTFCCCA Women’s Cross Country Athlete of the Year: Angela Bizzarri
2005 Sporting News Men’s Basketball National Player of the Year: Dee Brown
2003 USTFCCCA Women’s Outdoor Track & Field Athlete of the Year: Perdita Felicien
2001 USTFCCCA Women’s Outdoor Track & Field Athlete of the Year: Perdita Felicien
1996 Track & Field Collegiate News Athlete of the Year: Tonya Williams
1993 NGCA and Golf Week National Player of the Year: Renee Heiken Slone
1988 Honda Award and Broderick Volleyball Player of the Year: Mary Eggers
1965 Sporting News Football Player of the Year: Jim Grabowski
1964 American Football Coaches Association and Sporting News National Player of the Year: Dick Butkus
1943 Sporting News Men’s Basketball National Player of the Year: Andy Phillip
1924 Frank A. Toomey Trophy (pre-Heisman Trophy): Red Grange
1922 Helms Foundation Men’s Basketball National Player of the Year: Chuck Carney
1917 Helms Foundation Men’s Basketball National Player of the Year: Ray Woods

Big Ten Announces Baseball All-Big Ten Honors and Individual Award Winners

Rosemont, Ill. — The Big Ten on Tuesday announced the 2018 baseball individual award winners and All-Big Ten teams, as selected by the conference coaches. Illinois’ Bren Spillane was named the Big Ten Player of the Year, Minnesota’s Patrick Fredrickson earned Pitcher and Freshman of the Year recognition and Minnesota head coach John Anderson was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year.

Spillane becomes the 10th Illinois standout to claim Big Ten Player of the Year honors, and the first since David Kerian in 2015. A first baseman for the Illini, Spillane ranks first in the Big Ten in batting average (.407), slugging percentage (.944), on base percentage (.512), runs batted in (57) and home runs (22).

Fredrickson becomes the third Minnesota hurler to earn Big Ten Pitcher of the Year accolades and the fourth student to capture Big Ten Freshman of the Year plaudits. In all games, the right-handed starter currently leads the Big Ten in opponent’s batting average (.207) and ranks second with a 1.80 ERA.

Anderson was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year for the seventh time, the most in Big Ten history. Anderson, who claimed the award for the first time since 2016, guided the Golden Gophers to their 24th Big Ten Championship this season.

The Big Ten also announced the Sportsmanship Award honorees from each institution. The students chosen are individuals who have distinguished themselves through sportsmanship and ethical behavior. These students must also be in good academic standing and have demonstrated good citizenship outside of the sports-competition setting.

The complete list of All-Big Ten teams and award winners can be found below.

Player of the Year: Bren Spillane, Illinois

Pitcher of the Year: Patrick Fredrickson, Minnesota

Freshman of the Year: Patrick Fredrickson, Minnesota

Coach of the Year: John Anderson, Minnesota

All-Big Ten First Team

C – Tyler Cropley, Iowa

1B – BREN SPILLANE, ILLINOIS

2B – Nick Dunn, Maryland

SS – TERRIN VAVRA, MINNESOTA

3B – Noah McGowan, Ohio State

OF – Matt Gorski, Indiana

OF – Robert Neustrom, Iowa

OF – Jonathan Engelmann, Michigan

SP – Jonathan Stiever, Indiana

SP – Nick Allgeyer, Iowa

SP – Patrick Fredrickson, Minnesota

RP – Max Meyer, Minnesota

DH – Dominic Clementi, Michigan

UTIL – Matt Lloyd, Indiana

All-Big Ten Second Team

C – Jesse Wilkening, Nebraska

1B – Scott Schreiber, Nebraska

2B – Michael Massey, Illinois

SS – Ben Troike, Illinois

3B – Micah Coffey, Minnesota

OF – Jordan Nwogu, Michigan

OF – Ben Mezzenga, Minnesota

OF – Dominic Canzone, Ohio State

SP – Pauly Milto, Indiana

SP – Tommy Henry, Michigan

SP – Reggie Meyer, Minnesota

RP – Seth Kinker, Ohio State

DH – Scotty Bradley, Indiana

UTIL – Kevin Biondic, Maryland

All-Big Ten Third Team*

C – Nick Dalesandro, Purdue

1B – Jacson McGowan, Purdue

2B – Luke Pettersen, Minnesota

SS – Jack Dunn, Northwestern

3B – Luke Miller, Indiana

OF – Doran Turchin, Illinois

OF – Logan Sowers, Indiana

OF – Tyler Cowles, Ohio State

SP – Ben Dragani, Michigan

SP – Karl Kauffmann, Michigan

SP – Tanner Andrews, Purdue

RP – Joey Gerber, Illinois

RP – Ross Learnard, Purdue

DH – Chris Whelan, Iowa

UTIL – Conner Pohl, Ohio State

All-Big Ten Freshman Team*

C – Gunner Hellstrom, Nebraska

1B – JESSE FRANKLIN, MICHIGAN

2B – Drew Ashley, Indiana

SS – Dan DiGeorgio, Rutgers

3B – Zach Iverson, Michigan State

OF – JORDAN NWOGU, MICHIGAN

OF – Jaxon Hallmark, Nebraska

OF – Dillon Dingler, Ohio State

OF – BEN NISLE, PURDUE

SP – Ben Dragani, Michigan

SP – Mason Erla, Michigan State

SP – PATRICK FREDRICKSON, MINNESOTA

SP – Trent Johnson, Purdue

RP – MAX MEYER, MINNESOTA

DH – Parker Hendershot, Penn State

UTIL – Zach Iverson, Michigan State

Sportsmanship Award Honorees

Jackson Douglas, Illinois

B.J. Sabol, Indiana

Austin Guzzo, Iowa

Billy Phillips, Maryland

Harrison Salter, Michigan

Kory Young, Michigan State

Micah Coffey, Minnesota

Mojo Hagge, Nebraska

J.R. Reimer, Northwestern

Adam Niemeyer, Ohio State

Jake Pilewicz, Penn State

Tanner Andrews, Purdue

Kyle Walker, Rutgers

* Additional honorees due to ties

Unanimous selections in ALL CAPS

What to watch for in Omaha

After a year hiatus, the Big Ten Tournament returns to Omaha, where it will be for four more years. College baseball’s grand stage is set to host what many believe will be the Big Ten’s best tournament, as seven teams are in the mix for an at-large berth to next week’s NCAA Tournament.

From potential regional hosts, to Golden Spike Award semifinalists, to record-setting players on nearly every team, here’s the 10 leading storylines to follow this week in Omaha.

The Bren Spillane Show

Illinois’ 10th Big Ten Player of the Year is having a season rivaled by few, if any, in Illinois’ storied history. Spillane finished the regular season as the Big Ten’s Triple Crown winner, batting .407 with 22 home runs and 57 RBI. Regional projections from national outlets have Illinois safely in next week’s NCAA Tournament. But a big week by the Big Ten’s brightest star can make their case a slam dunk, by using his premium power to send a few balls out of TD Ameritrade Park.

Spartan speed

While Spillane has the power to hit home runs in any environment, TD Ameritrade Park is known for being tough on home run hitters. Perhaps better suited for teams with the ability to run, Michigan State enters the tournament as a potential dangerous No. 8 seed, thanks to their speed. The Spartans led the Big Ten in stolen bases and attempts, swiping 98 bags in 125 attempts. Sophomore outfielder Bryce Kelley paced Big Ten players with 31 steals, setting a new Michigan State single-season record.

Luke Miller’s power surge

Three home runs during a weekend sweep over Maryland helped Indiana junior third baseman Luke Miller grab the final Big Ten Player of the Week honor. After missing some time in the middle of the season due to injury, Miller is back being a force in the hear of IU’s lineup. Now leading the Hoosiers with 11 home runs, Miller has the type of bat that change the tide of a game in one swing, and do it again, game after game. Heading to Omaha on a six-game winning strike, IU looks poised to make a deep postseason run, spurred by one of the Big Ten’s most dangerous players getting hot.

Ohio State’s reliance on Seth Kinker

No Buckeye pitcher has appeared in more games over his career than senior right-hander Seth Kinker. No reliever in the eight-year tenure of Greg Beals has been as trusted as Kinker. Leading the Big Ten with a 1.62 ERA, Kinker has been Mr. Reliable for Beals and the Buckeyes, racking up 13 saves and a 6-1 record in 26 appearances. But those 26 outings have resulted in 55.2 innings pitched, as Kinker is more than a one-inning save. With few other Buckeyes showing the ability to close the door or escape a tight jam, how will Beals used Kinker? In past history is any indication, it’s a lot, Kinker pitched in five games during Ohio State’s run to the 2016 tournament title.

Minnesota’s freshmen pitchers

Minnesota has more than enough depth to pitch through the Big Ten Tournament, there isn’t a concern on how often a pitcher will be turned to, and how long he pitches. What is worth keeping in mind with the Big Ten championships is how their first-year pitchers perform in their first taste of postseason baseball. Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, Patrick Fredrickson, and fellow first-team All-Big Ten selection, closer Max Meyer, will be front and center as the pressure cranks up a notch, as too will Jake Stevenson and Sam Thoresen, fellow freshmen who will likely start Minnesota’s third and fourth games respectively, if Minnesota tracks towards their 10 tournament title.

Attendance

A loaded Big Ten Tournament field does not include the team nearest to Omaha. For the first time in their Big Ten history, Nebraska will not participate in the postseason tournament. A part of the return to Omaha was the attendance of the 2014 and 2016 tournaments, in large part due to Nebraska’s presence. Without the Huskers in the field, will Omaha still show up?

Hellerball

One caveat to a potential drop in attendance is Iowa’s making the tournament. Under Rick Heller, the Big Ten Tournament has provided some magical moments. Two years ago, Iowa almost shocked the conference, falling one game shy of winning the tournament as the No. 8 seed. Last year, the Hawkeyes did win the tournament, and reached the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years. It appears the automatic bid is Iowa’s key to the NCAA Tournament again, but it seems Iowa is comfortable fighting with their back against the wall. And if the Hawkeyes reach the weekend, they will undoubtedly have a homefield advantage as Hellerball is running deep in the heart of those in the Hawkeye State.

Who has a fourth starter?

No matter what, in this format with eight teams, a team must play a minimum of four games to win the tournament. The Big Ten experienced some of the worst spring weather in recent memory, seeing games cancelled week after week. As a result, a team may not have a fourth starter as polished as previous seasons, where the ability to play numerous midweek games would help build depth in the rotation. Some teams, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, have more than one option available after their traditional weekend three. Others, Michigan State, and Ohio State, come to mind first, may utilize Johnny Wholestaff if they have a deep tournament run.

Does momentum matter?

The postseason is often called a new season. Starting today, the records reset, all eight teams have a 0-0 record, and there is a clean table. But does the end of the regular season matter? Does a teams form carry over? If so, that’s good news for Indiana and Purdue, who respectively start the tournament on a six-game winning streak and victors in 18 of their last 20, and not so good news for Michigan and Ohio State, teams who finished the regular season in six and four games, respectively.

The out of town scoreboard

Yes, it is true, one should focus on only the things which they can control. For teams in Omaha this week, that means effort, confidence, execution. But for more than a few teams it will be worth finding a way to send positive vibes into the environment, and wish a few teams good luck throughout the country. It appears Iowa, Michigan, and Purdue are on the NCAA Tournament bubble. For them, along with a few wins this week, it would be nice if favorites in other conference tournaments win, that no bids are stolen. There will be enough to watch in Omaha to keep fans interested and engaged through the weekend, keeping track of scores around the country is the cherry on the cake of conference tournament chaos.

The Weekend 10

As the midpoint of the college baseball season nears, while they may still be freshmen by class, this year’s Big Ten newcomers are turning in performances beyond their years. This season has witnessed first-year players spur Michigan’s turnaround and lead the revival of the Scarlet Knights.

This weekend, freshmen turned in some of the most impressive weekends, including the first double-award winner of the season. The Weekend 10 is led by four freshmen who turned in performances that made opposing coaches miserable knowing they have multiple years to come facing them, as well as a handful of sluggers who are making their case to be all-americans.

Ohio State Soph. OF Dominic Canzone

A big weekend in Ohio State’s first Big Ten series showed why Canzone is leads off the conference’ top hitting unit. In three games against Nebraska, Canzone collected seven hits in 14 at-bats, scoring five runs, driving in four and stealing three bases. Canzone has needed just 76 games to reach 100 career hits.

Michigan State Fr. RHP Mason Erla

Erla continues to shine in a season where a cloud has hung over the Spartans. Earl’s latest gem helped Michigan State to its first conference victory, leading the Green and White to a 6-0 win over Rutgers on Sunday. Erla pitched seven innings and allowed four hits, with three walks and six strikeouts. Moving to 4-1 on the year, Erla is responsible for more than half of MSUs seven victories.

Indiana Jr. C Ryan Fineman

Fineman continued a strong season, a junior campaign which has him batting a team-leading .342 through IU’s 20-5 start. In a three-game sweep of Butler, Fineman recorded seven hits in 12-bats, drove in six runs, and through out two Bulldogs on the bases.

Michigan Fr. 1B/OF Jesse Franklin

Michigan enters April with the nation’s longest active winning streak, extending their run to 12 games with a weekend brooming of Delaware. Leading the Wolverines charge against the Blue Hens, Franklin went 5-for-11 with a double and home run, driving in three runs while scoring another three.

Purdue Fr. RHP Trent Johnson

Purdue recorded its first sweep during the opening weekend of Big Ten play since 1985, and Johnson’s gem was the leading act in the clincher. In State College, over five innings, Johnson held the Nittany Lions to one hit, in Purdue’s 6-0 victory. The rookie struck out six batters and walk three, in the 79-pitch effort.

Northwestern Fr. LHP Quinn Lavelle

Lavelle pitched as fine of an outing as any Big Ten pitcher has this season, leading Northwestern to its first Big Ten victory in the Wildcats’ series-opener at Maryland. Tossing a shutout, Lavelle scattered four hits and struck out eight batters to one walk in Northwestern’s 4-0 win. This week’s pitcher and freshman of the week, Lavelle sports a 3-2 record alongside a 2.10 ERA over 34.1 innings.

Ohio State Sr. 1B Noah McGowan

McGowan helped lead a high-powered Buckeye attack to 25 runs in their weekend victory over Nebraska. In Greg Beals’ cleanup spot, the senior notched six hits, drove in five runs, and scored four runs. McGowan picked up a double in each game and ended hit his sixth home run of the season in the finale.

Indiana Jr. RHP Pauly Milto

After Indiana eeked out a 6-5 victory in their series opener against Butler, Milto made sure the Bulldogs had no bite as IU cruised to a 13-0 victory. Over six innings, Milto scatted six hits, issued two walks and struck out three batters. The victory moved Milto to 4-2 on the year and lowered his ERA to 2.25.

Nebraska Sr. 1B Scott Schreiber

A big weekend at the plate from Schreiber wasn’t enough for Nebraska to leave Columbus with a series win, but it was impressive enough for Schreiber to earn this week’s player of the week nod. Schreiber hit a home run in each of the Cornhuskers three games against the Buckeyes as part of an 8-for-14 weekend. The senior first baseman added a double as he drove in six runs and crossed home five times.

Illinois Jr. 1B Bren Spillane

Iowa was the latest team to run into a scorching hot Spillane. Though the Hawkeyes grabbed the weekend series in Champaign, Spillane was hard to contain, picking up two singles, a double, and three home runs over nine at-bats, before drawing four walks in the weekend finale. Spillane added five RBI and six runs to his eye-popping season statistics.

Illinois’ Spillane named NCBWA Player of the Week

Champaign, Ill. –Bren Spillane was named the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Player of the Week, the third Illinois player in program history to earn the prestigious award. Spillane joins Dusty Bensko (April 12, 2005) and J.R. Kyes (May 10, 2005) as the only other Illini to earn the award.

Spillane was also named the NCAA.com Player of the Week and was one of eight named as Collegiate Baseball Newspaper National Players of the Week. He earned his second straight Big Ten Player of the Week award and the Illini’s fourth in a row.
Illinois is up to No. 12 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll. The Illini are No. 22 by Baseball America and No. 25 by D1Baseball.com.

Spillane Weekly Notes

• Led Illinois in average (.643), on-base percentage (.737), slugging (1.500), doubles (3), homers (3), RBIs (10), runs (7), total bases (21), walks (5) and steals (3) during the perfect 4-0 week
• Reached base at least three times in every game of the week
• Two HR against CSUN on Tuesday
• Eight RBIs against CSUN is the most by a Big Ten player this season
• Homered against Northwestern on Friday
• Scored the winning run in extra innings against Northwestern on Saturday
• 3-for-4 in the extra-inning win against Northwestern on Sunday
• At least one extra-base hit in all four games of the week
• 3-for-4 on steals during the weekend against Northwestern

Week 5 Weekend Observations

The final weekend before in-conference play beings was a good one for the Big Ten. There were seven home series, with Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and Ohio State all grabbing weekend sweeps, Penn State captured two of three, and Michigan State and Nebraska split their weekend sets. On the road, Minnesota grabbed national attention with their road victory at TCU and Rutgers picked up a pair of solid victories at Florida Gulf Coast. All told, only two of the 13 teams suffered weekend defeats.

What garnered the most attention from the strong weekend? Here’s the top weekend observations.

Spillane jumps to the front of POTY race

A lot of attention, and rightfully so, had been cast upon the law office-sounding duo of Ohio State’s Noah McGowan and Purdue’s Jacson McGowan. Both first baseman put together impressive first months at the plate, where numbers on pace to shatter school records helped lead their respective clubs to strong starts. But there’s been an offensive eruption over the last three weeks by Illinois first baseman Bren Spillane that has him on track to be Illinois’ third conference player of the year in six years. Following an 8-for-16 weekend, where the series opener at Southern Illinois produced three home runs, before a two-double, 4-for-4 effort capped the Saturday doubleheader, Spillane is second in the Big Ten in hitting (.419), first in slugging (.887), first in doubles (nine), second in home runs (six), second in total bases (55), fifth in on-base percentage (.471), fifth in RBI (21) and fifth in stolen bases (five). Putting himself in line to be an All-American over the first month, the next two months will show if Spillane can follow the feats of former Illini who were named Big Ten Player of the Year, Justin Parr (2013) and David Kerian (2015), and lead Illinois to a regional.

Kaletha is Indiana’s catalyst

With Matt Lloyd, Luke Miller, and Logan Sowers returning, Indiana was expected to have a strong offensive club. And through 19 games, Indiana is batting .286 with 42 doubles and 19 home runs, Chris Lemonis does indeed have a potent team at the plate. But it isn’t Lloyd, Miller, nor Sowers who is the driving force behind the high-powered Hoosiers offense, its newcomer Logan Kaletha. A transfer from John A. Logan College, the junior outfielder led Indiana in runs created heading into last weekend. As Indiana swept Northern Illinois, Kalthea went 5-for-13 with a double, home run, two RBI, three runs, a walk, and a stolen base. Atop Indiana’s lineup, Katleha has settled into being a dynamic leadoff batting, offering with hitting ability (.319 average), power (.580 slugging percentage) discipline (12 walks to 15 strikeouts), grit (12 plunkings) speed (five stolen bases). and for good measure sports a perfect fielding percentage.

Ohio State continues regional trajectory

Indiana has done nothing to dissuade any belief they are the Big Ten’s top team. Checking in at No. 15 in this week’s NCBWA poll, the first five weeks for the Hoosiers have justified their preseason top billing by conference coaches. But the Hoosiers aren’t the top rated Big Ten team by RPI, that would be Ohio State. According to Warren Nolan’s RPI formula, Ohio State’s RPI is 25 heading into Wednesday play. With only one-third of a season’s data in place, the RPI is very fluid and drastic fluctuations are common in March. But at 14-6, if the season ended today, the Greg Beals’ team would be in a regional. Riding a six-game winning streak, Ohio State has not suffered a losing weekend yet, the Buckeyes have picked up a pair of wins which figure to stand out on their resume (Coastal Carolina and Southern Miss), and started their home slate with three wins in three games. A solid win total, grabbing marquee victories as they come, and protecting the home field is the path to the postseason, and with their sweep of Cal State Northridge, the Buckeyes stayed on course.

Rookie Gophers grow up on big stage

Speaking of postseason resumes, Minnesota’s weekend victory at then No. 11 TCU will surely help the Gophers’ case to be in the field of 64 for a second time in three years. For those who have watched Big Ten baseball over the past few seasons, the upset may not have been that shocking. Minnesota is a game from being two-time reigning Big Ten champions, the Big Ten has equaled the Big XII’s 13 teams in a regional since 2015, and Minnesota has a very deep and veteran-laded lineup, But what was eye-opening, and may have a lasting effect beyond May, was the performance of Minnesota’s freshmen pitchers. In a weekend where TCU saw more than 4,000 fans turn out for each game, Patrick Fredrickson, Bubba Horton, Max Meyer, and Sam Thoresen combined to pitch 15.2 innings and allow just seven hits, striking out 17 batters. Minnesota will experience heavy roster turnover following this season with the graduations of Alex Boxwell, Micah Coffey, Toby Hanson, and Luke Pettersen, but those four pitchers, along with classmate Joshua Culliver and Ryan Duffy give the Gophers a foundation to continue the program’s ascend on.

Whelan provides a spark

Iowa had lost five straight games before Evansville came to town. The Hawkeyes started this week on a three-game winning streak. While it would be tough to give him all credit for halting the team’s skid and starting a run, the return of Chris Whelan had to be comforting for Rick Heller. With Whelan back in the lineup, Iowa had a true leadoff batter, something that was missing the first four weeks. In addition to someone who can get on base, Whelan can drive the ball and be a run-producing taking a little pressure off Tyler Cropley and Robert Neustrom. While Whelan’s UCL injury will limit him to just DH duties, his first weekend of action saw little rust. The 2017 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player went 5-for-12, drew two talks and scored four runs.

 

Michigan freshmen find comfort at home

No school in the country produced more MLB Draft picks last year than Michigan did with 11. While a noteworthy accomplishment, having that many players leave a program tends to cause a step back the following season as newcomers and role players are thrust into prominent roles. For the first four weeks of the season, Michigan did scuffle, the Wolverines entered last weekend’s series against Bowling Green at 4-11. But during their first home series, the emergence of a few freshman, part of a recruiting class ranked 10th by Baseball America, spurred a turnaround and should bring optimism to Ann Arbor ahead of conference play. Earning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors, outfielder Jordan Nwogu post a triple-slash of .362/.692/1.097, with a home run, two double and eight RBI. 10 Innings’ Freshman of the Week accolades went to Michigan left-handed pitcher Ben Dragani, after he pitched seven shutout innings on Sunday, striking out six batters without issuing a walk. Another freshman, shortstop Jack Blomgren reached base five times, picked up a double and stole two bases.

The Weekend 10

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

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

Northwestern Jr. 1B Willie Bourbon

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

Purdue Jr. C Nick Dalesandro

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

Michigan State Fr. RHP Mason Erla

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

Nebraska Fr. 3B/OF Jaxon Hallmark

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

Purdue Fr. RHP Bo Hofstra

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

Ohio State Sr. 1B/OF Noah McGowan

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

Indiana Jr. RHP Pauly Milto

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

Ohio State Soph. 3B Connor Pohl

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

Illinois Jr. 1B Bren Spillane

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

Minnesota Jr. SS Terrin Vavra

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

Five primed for breakout seasons

The Big Ten has produced a first-round pick each of the last three seasons, with Kyle Schwarber, Tyler Jay and Cody Sedlock emerging as one of the country’s top talents. Again, the Big Ten is not short of standout individual talent with Maryland’s Kevin Smith and Nebraska’s Jake Meyers receiving preseason All-American honors.

But beyond those two, there are several players ready to step into greater roles, capable of putting together noteworthy seasons. Here’s a look at five players primed for breakout seasons.

Maryland Soph. OF Marty Costes

It might not be fair to list Maryland sophomore outfielder Marty Costes as a player primed for a breakout season, he did lead Maryland with nine home runs, the most by a Big Ten freshman, after all. But if even gradual improvements are seen across the board, Costes has a chance to be the Big Ten’s Player of the Year and an All-American. Costes batted .260 in his freshman year, collecting 10 doubles with a pair of doubles, to reach 21 extra-base hits. The power, a .216 isolated slugging percentage, wasn’t terribly compromised with outrageous strikeouts, 21% of at-bats ended in strikeouts, while 28 walks spurred Costes to a .363 on-base percentage. During the Big Ten Tournament, Costes said he didn’t have the best approach as a freshman, there were times he’d chase bad pitches. With a year under his belt and better knowledge of the game, a banner year may be on deck.

Ohio State Jr. OF Tre’ Gantt

Tre’ Gantt emerged as a dynamic player for Ohio State in the second-half of the 2015 season. Arriving on campus in time for the winter semester, Gantt wasted no time getting up to speed and making an impact for the Buckeyes, batting .311 as a freshman over 74 at-bats. But Gantt had labrum surgery following the 2015 season and a slow start to his sophomore campaign led to a step backward offensive. Gantt did show a little more pop in year two, after collecting just one double and one triple in 2015, the outfielder picked up eight doubles, but he was unable to consistently reach base, finishing the season with a .255 average and .311 on-base percentage. More than a year removed from the surgery, the Buckeyes expect Gantt to excel in 2017, as a switch from right field to his natural center field position to help. Slated to start on opening day for the first time, with the departures of Ronnie Dawson and Trom Montgomery, the opportunity is there for Gantt to assert himself as the leader of the Buckeye outfield.

Indiana Jr. RHP Brian Hobbie

Since he arrived in Bloomington, Indiana junior right-handed pitcher Brian Hobbie has looked the part of a big-time college pitcher. Standing six-foot-seven, weighing 227 pounds, Hobbie is a physical presence on the mound. Long-limbed, the ball seemingly crosses home plate in no time. Hobbie does possess a low-90s fastball, a heavy offering that can continually induce weak contact, so his pitches have enough giddy-up. Hobbie has shown flashes of brilliance but the Hoosiers are waiting for everything to come together. Sporting a 6.27 ERA over 18.2 innings as a freshman, Hobbie took a step in the right direction as a sophomore, lowering his ERA to 2.08 in 8.2 innings. But after striking out 19 batters against six walks in 2015, Hobbie walked five and struck out three in 2016, contributing to a decrease in usage. Hobbie’s best 2016 effort came in the summer, earning Prospect League Pitcher of the Year honors after holding an 0.82 ERA over 54.2 innings. As Indiana needs to replace its entire rotation, the innings will be there for Hobbie to make an impact.

Minnesota Soph. OF Ben Mezzenga

With Dan Motl batting .336, dialing up 19 doubles and playing superb defense, the opportunities for Ben Mezzenga to make an impact for Minnesota were limited. Making four starts, Mezzenga picked up three hits in 21 at-bats. But don’t think Mezzenga didn’t try his best to leave his mark. Mezzenga stole three bases in three opportunities, to help him score seven runs. In the summer, with a full season of reps, Mezzenga showed why the Gophers are high on him heading into the new season. In 34 games with the Eau Claire Express, Mezzenga batted .321, scored 39 runs, and continued his base stealing prowess, swiping 22 bags. Able to run 60 yards in 6.6 seconds, Mezzenga is viewed as one of the best Minnesota athletes since two-sport standout Eric Decker, with a chance to be an impact the game with the bat, his glove and on the bases.

Illinois Soph. 3B Bren Spillane

Those who cover Midwestern high school baseball saw Illinois’ Bren Spillane as one of the most college-ready players in the high school class of 2015. With an advanced feel for hitting and the ability to hit with power, Spillane was viewed as a player capable of stepping in and contributing from day one for an Illini tweet hit hard that June by the draft. But Spillane suffered a concussion towards the end of his final prep season, and the effects lingered throughout his freshman year. Limited to just two starts and five total games, Spillane went hitless in nine at-bats before Illinois opted to hold him out for the rest of the season. With no symptoms, Spillane looks to have a big second season, this past fall proof of what he’s capable of. In Illinois’ intra-squad Blue and Orange series, Spillane had a three-home run game, a second multi-hit contest and capped the week with two RBI. Dan Hartleb and staff expects Spillane to be a force in the heart of the Illini lineup as the team seeks a fourth regional appearance in seven seasons.

 

Five more to watch

Northwestern Jr. RHP Tommy Bordignon

Penn State Soph. INF Connor Klemann

Purdue Soph. C Nick Dalesandro

Michigan State Jr. FHP Andrew Gonzalez

Michigan Jr. RHP Jayce Vance