20 Things to Watch for in 2020, 11-20

With five teams in last year’s NCAA Tournament, including the national runner-up, it’s safe to say Big Ten baseball is reaching new heights in modern college baseball. Entering a new season, and a new decade, there is a lot to look forward to. With new coaches leading three programs, two clubs breaking Baseball America’s preseason poll, and a handful of different players receiving preseason All-America praise, there are endless storylines around the conference as the calendar creeps towards February.

Kicking off 10 Innings’ preseason coverage, here is the first 10 of 20 things to watch through Big Ten baseball in 2020.

20. Northwestern overachieving, again

Let’s get this one out of the way. Spencer Allen’s Northwestern Wildcats will again exceed expectations in 2020. Northwestern painfully finished on the outside of the top eight last year, where a confluence of events, including a lightning delay, occurred on the final day to keep the ‘Cats home for the postseason. At 11-13 in Big Ten play, Northwestern finished one game behind a three-team tie for sixth. Per usual, few outside of Evanston expected Northwestern to hover near .500, they finished 24-27, and so is the case again this year. Perfect Game projects Northwestern to finish 12th, with D1Baseball.com slotting Northwestern 10th in their preseason table. Year over year Northwestern has been a tough out, and they aren’t too far removed from their 2017 Big Ten Tournament runner-up showing. They may still be a year away when it is all said and done, but don’t take the Wildcats as walk-overs, their history under Allen shows they’re anything but.

19. Will the Penn State pitchers get a little support

Focusing on a different breed of cats, will the Nittany Lions find some much-needed potency at the plate? Here’s a fun Did You Know: the Big Ten leader in team-ERA during conference play last season was….Penn State. In their 22 conference games, Penn State hurlers pitched to a 3.38 ERA and held the opposition to a .233 average. Unfortunately, .233 was still .015 better than what Penn State batters did at the plate in conference play. Last in average, PSU had the second-fewest stolen bases and third-fewest extra-base hits. The morbid offense play a significant role in Penn State going 0-8 in one-run conference games, as they were held to two or fewer runs in half of their 22 Big Ten games. Pitching coach Josh Newman has done wonders with the PSU arms. Now it’s time for Penn State to supplement their staff with some punch at the plate.

18. Better January weather = better February records?

The first day of team practice for the spring season came on Jan. 24. For more than a few schools the weather was favorable enough to escape indoor tunnels and facilities to practice outside. So far through the last week of January, the conditions have similarly held up. With the likes of Michigan, Maryland and Rutgers taking advantage and repeatedly practicing outside, will practicing in truer settings lead help them get out of the gates better? Of course, since this is the Big Ten, any reprieve in weather in January will lead to unwelcome conditions throughout April.

17. This year’s JUCO star

Two of the last three Big Ten Player of the Year winners have been players in their first Big Ten season after transferring from a junior college, Iowa’s Jake Adams in 2017 and Michigan’s Jordan Brewer last year. The JUCO ranks have played quite a role in the Big Ten’s upward trend over the last decade with the likes of Matt Lloyd, Mason McCoy, Noah McGowan, Jordan Parr and Tyler Peyton being key players in strong years for their respective clubs. Will there be another player that seemingly comes out of nowhere to take the conference by storm that was playing at a junior college last year? Likely so, but who will it be?

16. Fredrickson’s form

Minnesota right-handed pitcher Patrick Fredrickson didn’t come from the junior college ranks, but he was a newcomer that had a banner season two years ago. Becoming the first freshman named Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, Fredrickson spurred Minnesota to the 2018 Big Ten championship and Corvallis Super Regional appearance. Looking to join Ohio State’s Alex Wimmers as back-to-back Big Ten Pitcher of the Year recipients, Fredrickson battled injury and his stuff backing up last year, en route to a 5.56 ERA with 30 walks in 43.2 innings. The Gopher staff has worked this offseason to tweak Fredrickson’s motion, making it shorter, to increase his command of his offspeed. If Fredrickson can return to his 2018 form, that will go a long way in the Gophers doing the same, and putting their 29-27 season far behind them.

15. Maryland’s ballyhooed freshmen

Per D1Baseball.com, Maryland is home to the #3, #8 and #10 “Impact Freshmen” in the Big Ten, as well as four of the top 16 and five of the top 20. Viewing the freshmen as one, D1Baseball.com and Prep Baseball Report ranked Maryland as having the #7 freshman class in the country. Will the hype turn into a happy College Park? As Fredrickson and classmate Max Meyer showed in 2018, a pair of extremely talented rookies can make quite the impact. It’s worth watching what kind of seasons right-handed pitcher Nick Dean, and outfielders Bobby Zmarzlak and Tucker Flint have with high expectations.

14. Illini arms under Allen

After eight seasons developing and leading Illinois’ pitchers, assistant coach Drew Dickinson moved on to become the pitching coach at Virginia. Illini pitchers experienced tremendous success under Dickinson’s watch, most notably Tyler Jay and Cody Sedlock, respectively the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year in 2015 and 2016. A testament to Dickinson, himself the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year in 2002, neither Jay nor Sedlock, two eventual first-round draft picks, were blue chip recruits before arrive in Champaign and developing under Dickinson’s guidance, nor was Garrett Acton, last year’s Big Ten-leader in saves with 19, tied for the most ever by a Big Ten pitcher. It will now be up to Mark Allen to coach up and deploy Acton and the rest of the Illini staff as he sees fit. Allen arrives in Champaign after serving as the pitching coordinator for the San Francisco Giants, ending a nine-year stay in professional baseball.

13. The 2020 iteration of #Hellerball

Iowa has been at the forefront of learning and implementing data, utilizing enhanced technology and thinking outside of the box in player development. Which might be exactly why nobody can really say what #Hellerball is. Playing off of the name of head coach Rick Heller, #Hellerball doesn’t really represent any style of baseball. And that in itself is probably the Iowa way. The Hawkeyes do an incredible job of creating an identity around the abilities and talents of their players. In years where you have Jake Adams, Mason McCoy and Robert Neustrom, you don’t have to put as much in action, execute every first-to-third perfectly and be terrors on the bases. In years where there isn’t that punch in the lineup, you do need to do all of those things in order to create runs. Every year it seems Iowa finds a way to squeeze as much out of their players as any, continue to refine their process of player development. It’s to be determined what type of outfit Iowa rolls out in 2020, but whatever version of #Hellerball it is, it will likely optimize the talents on the lineup.

12. Big Ten vs. Big XII

There are a few Big Ten vs. Big XII matchups that will be worth watching in 2020. Over the last five years, the Big Ten has produced 22 NCAA Tournament teams to the Big XII’s 23. The conferences are closer in quality than many might assume. These five showdowns will give the Big Ten an opportunity to solidify that sentiment.

Nebraska @ Baylor, Feb. 14-16

TCU @ Minnesota, Feb. 22-24

Iowa vs. Kansas, March 10-11

Maryland @ TCU, March 13-15

Minnesota @ Texas Tech, March 20-22

11. Goff at the helm of the Boilermaker engine

Greg Goff will enter his first season leading a Big Ten program unlike any other in recent years. Purdue is only two years removed from appearing in an NCAA Regional. In recent years when a coach has left a program that so soon removed from a regional, they’ve left the program in a great spot. Coming off of hosting the 2014 Bloomington Regional, Indiana’s Tracy Smith left to go to Arizona State and then Chris Lemonis had the Hoosiers in a regional the following year. Lemonis guided the Hoosiers to the 2018 Austin Regional, before leaving to go head Mississippi State’s program, which led to Jeff Mercer stepping in and doing something Lemonis didn’t in leading IU to a Big Ten title, before he also put IU in a regional. But as Mark Wasikowski left Purdue to be the head coach at Oregon, he is did so after the Boilermakers finished 20-34 and 12th in the conference. For coaches that stepped into a setting where they’re program is coming of such a finish, they are usually an entirely new staff entering an unknown environment. Greg Goff was on Wasikowski’s staff, so too was Cooper Fouts, who Goff retain. So all that said, it’s really hard to know what may change under Goff, whether Purdue needs a rebuild, if they’re more like 2018 or more like 2019. We shall see.

Greg Goff Named Head Coach of Purdue Baseball

West Lafayette, Ind. – Greg Goff is remaining part of the Purdue baseball staff and taking over as the Boilermakers’ head coach, bringing over 450 victories and 14 years of experience to the top position at Alexander Field.

Previously a head coach at four universities, Goff originally joined Purdue as an assistant coach in July 2017. He succeeds his friend and longtime colleague Mark Wasikowski, who returned to the University of Oregon as the Ducks’ new head coach this week.

Goff has previously served as the head coach at Campbell University (2008-14), Louisiana Tech University (2015-16) and the University of Alabama (2017) as well as Division II University of Montevallo (2004-07). He also helped lead the Boilermakers to a memorable 38-win season in 2018, punctuated by the program’s third NCAA Regional bid in program history. Purdue finished second in the Big Ten standings and was also the runner-up at the Big Ten Tournament in Goff’s first year with the program.

“Greg is highly respected by our student-athletes and was an important part of Mark Wasikowski’s staff as we have worked to position Purdue baseball for sustained success,” Purdue vice president and director of intercollegiate athletics Mike Bobinski said. “He is a lifelong baseball person and an experienced and successful head coach who led multiple programs to their highest level of success. Greg understands Purdue and our expectations for academic and athletic success.”

As a head coach, Goff’s teams won over 40 games six times. Campbell was one of only eight Division I programs to win 40-plus games for three straight years from 2012 to 2014, posting 131 total victories during that span. He also won 42 games in his final season at Louisiana Tech, helping lead the Bulldogs to an NCAA Regional bid. Montevallo was a DII College World Series qualifier under his guidance.

“It is an absolute privilege to lead the Baseball program at Purdue,” Goff said. “I take the responsibility of representing Purdue, our alumni and our players very seriously and gratefully. I am humbled to be a part of what Purdue is and what it means to be a Boilermaker. We are committed to build on the winning tradition that coaches such as Alexander, Schreiber and Waz have built.

“My family and I look forward to great things and to contribute to our Purdue baseball mission with great citizens, successful student-athletes, commitment to the community and of course, competing for championships at the national level. I want to thank Mike Bobinski and Dr. Ed Howat for their trust and confidence. My family and I appreciate and embrace this opportunity. Boiler Up!”

Along with bringing an upbeat personality to the dugout and contagious energy to his role as the first-base coach, Goff has helped numerous Boilermakers develop offensively the last two years. He has played a leading role in coaching the base running and outfield defense. He also filled in as the program’s pitching coach for a few games during a 2018 home sweep of Michigan while Steve Holm was with his wife for the birth of their second child. Purdue has compiled a 28-15 record at Alexander since Goff joined the coaching staff, headlined by a program-record 13-game home win streak to close the 2018 campaign. That represents Purdue’s best two-year mark at home since 2011 to 2012.

Goff has coached nine future big leaguers and over 50 MLB Draft picks, highlighted by Cy Young award winner Brandon Webb while he was the pitching coach at Kentucky (2000-03). Longtime big leaguer and World Series champion Joe Blanton also pitched for Goff at Kentucky.

In Goff’s final season at Campbell (2014), the Camels qualified for their first NCAA Regional in 24 years. Two years later, he led Louisiana Tech to its first Regional bid in 29 years. The 2014 Camels and 2016 Bulldogs both won at least one game in their Regionals, with La Tech coming through the loser’s bracket to reach a Regional final at Mississippi State.

Goff’s teams have had a losing record only five times in his 14 years as a head coach. Four of those five seasons were his first at a respective university. He has led his teams to some impressive turnarounds. In just two seasons, Louisiana Tech went from 15-35 the year before Goff’s arrival to 42-20 in 2016, ending a 29-year NCAA Regional drought in the process. At Campbell, he inherited a team that was 11-45 in 2007. But under Goff, the Camels posted a winning record (27-24) in his second season and won 40 games by his fifth year (2012). Purdue’s win total also jumped from 29-27 in 2017 to 38-21 in Goff’s first year on the staff in 2018.

Along with his years as the pitching coach at Kentucky, Goff served as an assistant at Southeast Missouri State (1998-99) and his alma mater Delta State (1994-97) before becoming a head coach for the first time in the summer of 2003 at Montevallo. It was at SEMO in the late 1990s where he first worked with Wasikowski. They helped lead the RedHawks to an NCAA Regional in 1998.

“I would like to thank Coach Wasikowski for providing the opportunity for my family to come to West Lafayette and be a part of the Boilermaker baseball program. I know the entire program from players to staff to the administration wish Mark and his family well. In my time at Purdue, I have grown extremely attached to an institution that is recognized academically as one of the finest in the world. I regard the leadership and administrators of the University and Athletics Department as the finest I’ve had the honor of working with in my career.”

In his two years at Purdue, Goff helped develop and organize new community events for the program like the preseason fan fest and first pitch dinner. Both events proved very popular and helped generate preseason interest going into the last two campaigns. He has also served as the director of Purdue baseball camps.

Goff was named the South Central Region Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association at both Louisiana Tech (2016) and Montevallo (2006). He was the 2013 Big South Coach of the Year at Campbell after leading his team to a school-record 49 wins and a conference title. Montevallo won a combined 100 games over his final two seasons, posting a new single-season record both years.

Montevallo finished third at the 2006 Division II College World Series as the Southeast Region champions. It was the program’s first appearance at the DII World Series. In his four years at Montevallo, he compiled a 152-84 record.

During the 2016-17 school year, Alabama’s 3.259 team grade-point average established a program record.

A Jackson, Tennessee, native, Goff played collegiately at both Delta State and Jackson State Community College. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from DSU. He and his wife, Tina, are the parents of four daughters: Kara, Kiley, Kolby and Kenzie. Kara plays softball at LSU.

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