Terps Take Top Preseason Honors

Maryland and Minnesota, two programs familiar with All-Big Ten honors in recent years, headline the 10 Innings preseason All-Big Ten teams.

A year after Maryland right-handed pitcher Brian Shaffer was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, fellow Maryland class of 2014 right-handed recruit Taylor Bloom grabs 10 Innings’ Preseason Pitcher of the Year honor. Bloom appeared in 18 games for the Wake Forest Regional participants last year, starting a team-high 17 games in going 7-2. Bloom’s ERA rose to 3.83 after a sterling sophomore season saw him pitch to the tune of  2.46 over 102.1 innings, but still was a steady force behind Shaffer in Maryland’s rotation, logging 89.1 innings. Selected to the 2015 Los Angeles Regional All-Tournament Team as a freshman, Bloom has pitched on the big stage, utilizing strong command issuing just 1.63 walks per nine innings over his 225.1 career innings.

It’s a Terrapin sweep as junior outfielder Marty Costes nets 10 Innings’ Preseason Player of the Year honor. As Rob Vaughn takes over the Maryland program, the first-year head coach will have one of the conference’s most dangerous batters players atop his lineup.  A 25th-round draft pick of the Houston Astros as a draft-eligible sophomore, Costes will slide up to the top of the Maryland batting order, after his power help anchor the heart of the Maryland lineup in 2017. Pacing Maryland with 77 hits in 239 at-bats for a .322 average, Costes tied for the team lead with 13 home runs, adding nine doubles and three triples to slug .548 while reaching base at a .429 clip. Costes earned All-Big Ten first team honors last season, a year after coaches tabbed him for the conference’s All-Freshman Team when he batted .263 with nine home runs.

Joining Bloom and Costes on the preseason first team is sophomore left-handed pitcher Tyler Blohm, last season’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Blohm provided Maryland with a third quality pitcher last year, compiling quite the debut season in College Park. Making 16 starts, Blohm carried a 3.48 ERA for the 2017 season, logging 75 innings. The southpaw nearly struck out a batter per inning pitched, punching out 71 batters against 35 walks, holding the opposition to a stingy .227 batting average.

Minnesota may not have the expected Big Ten player of the year, as they did in 2016 with Matt Fiedler, but John Anderson’s team joins Maryland in featuring three first team selections, nearly sweeping the preseason accolades around the horn. Senior first baseman Toby Hanson received All-Big Ten first team honors last year after batting .319 with 23 extra-base hits. At the hot corner, Micah Coffey returns for his final season in Minneapolis after he was named to the All-Big Ten second team, slashing .340/.396/.493 a year ago. And to Coffey’s left, junior shortstop Terrin Vavra earns a first team selection at shortstop, coming off of a .308/.306/.418 campaign.

A trio of All-Americans also help make up the preseason first team.

At second base, Michigan junior Ako Thomas enters the season as an National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association third team All-American. Thomas was a spark plug atop Michigan’s lineup as the Wolverines earned their first at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament since 2007. Thomas batted .354 with a .469 on-base percentage, helping him steal 23 bases in 28 attempts.

Purdue also enjoyed a turnaround campaign, finishing over .500 for the first time since 2012, winning 10 more conference games than they did in 2016. A big part of the Purdue revival was the dominant effort of left-handed pitcher Ross Learnard. Earned NCBWA All-America second team honors, Learnard went 6-0 with a .58 ERA over 46.1 innings last year, saving four Boilermaker contests. The NCBWA tabbed Learnard a second team All-American to start his senior season.

Learnard was joined on the NCBWA’s All-America second team by Matt Lloyd of in-state rival Indiana. Lloyd enters the season’s as the NCBWA’s second-base utility player, a year after he showed prowess at the plate and at the back-end of the Indiana bullpen. Lloyd batted .301 with 16 doubles and 11 home runs to slug .554 on the season, faring much better than the opposition when he was on the mound, holding opponents to a .241 average as he recorded nine saves over 32.1 innings, holding a 32.1 ERA.

Rounding out the first team are two Iowa Hawkeyes, senior catcher Tyler Cropley and junior outfielder Robert Neustrom. Illinois junior Jack Yalowitz and Nebraska senior DH Scott Schreiber return after collecting All-Big Ten first team honors last year. Michigan State junior right-handed pitcher Riley McCauley grabs the third starting pitching slot on the first team, as he moves into the Spartan rotation after serving as a lights out reliever.

Over the last 10 seasons, six times has a program earned the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year and conference Player of the Year honor in the same season, most recently 2015 when Illinois’ Tyler Jay and David Kerian received top billing.

All three 10 Innings preseason All-Big Ten teams can be found here, a collection of 52 players lead by five players from Maryland and Purdue, and four each from Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota and Nebraska.

10 Innings Preseason All-Big Ten

First Team

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

Second Team

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

Third Team

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

*Missed the 2017 recovering from Tommy John surgery

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

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

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