Rutgers Releases 2019 Schedule

Piscataway, N.J. –Under the direction of sixth-year head coach Joe Litterio, Rutgers baseball released its 2019 schedule on Tuesday. The Scarlet Knights have 53 games listed, including 19 at Bainton Field and 24 in Big Ten play.

“I am happy with how the schedule came together for this season,” Litterio said. “The difficult early-season games will prepare us for league play in the competitive Big Ten Conference.”

The Scarlet Knights will open at Miami for the 10th time in 11 seasons with a three-game set beginning Feb. 15 against the Hurricanes. Next up, RU will take part in a tournament at New Orleans that will also feature games versus Butler and Chicago. Succeeding non-conference weekends will at Old Dominion and at USC Upstate. The spring break trip to Florida starts with a series at Florida Gulf Coast before playing Harvard midweek in Port Charlotte and wrapping up against Indiana State in a neutral weekend at City of Palms Park in Fort Myers.

The home opener at Bainton Field is scheduled for Feb. 26 versus Wagner, which would once again be the earliest home contest in program history. Ohio State, Michigan State, Purdue and Northwestern will all visit Piscataway during Big Ten play. The conference road trips will be to Iowa, Michigan, Penn State and Indiana. The top eight teams in the conference standings will qualify for the Big Ten Tournament in Omaha.

The Scarlet Knights are finishing up fall practice after improving by six wins in 2018. RU had a streak of six-straight series wins, winning seven-of-eight weekends during a stretch into mid-April. That included a 6-1 spring break trip in Florida that propelled the team to 12 victories in March, the most since 2001, and later to as high as seven games over .500 for the first time since 2012. The pitching staff lowered its season ERA from 6.11 to 4.82 and the gloves led the Big Ten with 50 double plays. At the plate, the Scarlet Knights picked up 111 RBIs with two outs for an average of more than two per game.

Click here for the full 2019 schedule.

Rutgers Hires Tom Conley as Assistant Coach

Piscataway, N.J. –Rutgers baseball head coach Joe Litterio has announced the hiring of Tom Conley as an assistant coach. A four-year starter at catcher for Massachusetts, he spent the last two seasons on the coaching staff at Harvard. The Quincy, Massachusetts, native will work with the Scarlet Knight catchers among other duties.

“We are excited to welcome Tom to our staff,” Litterio said. “He brings with him a ton of knowledge and experience at the catching position.”

“My fiancée, Amelia, and I are excited to join the Rutgers University community,” Conley said. “I want to thank coach Litterio and the Rutgers administration for giving me this opportunity. I’m looking forward to working with the coaching staff and helping in any way that I can to get our guys better and achieve our goals.”

In his second year at Harvard in 2018, Conley saw success with the Crimson as he accompanied a successful team to a Beanpot Championship title — its first since 2014 and fifth in program history — and its most wins since 2005 with a 22-20 overall record. Harvard tied for third in the conference with a record of 12-9, with contribution from seven All-Ivy players and four NEIBA All-New England selections.

Conley was a part of the coaching staff that helped Noah Zavolas and Simon Rosenblum-Larson become 2018 MLB Draft picks for the Seattle Mariners and Tampa Bay Rays, respectively. In addition, the team was recognized for the NCAA Academic Progress Rate Public Recognition Award, with 21 players recognized by the ECAC for academic accomplishments.

Conley previously spent three seasons at Trinity. During his tenure with the Bantams, Conley helped the team improve its conference record in each of his three seasons, working with the catchers and hitters. The team finished second in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Championships in 2016. Conley mentored five players who earned NESCAC All-Conference honors, including 2016 NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year Scott Cullinane at catcher.

As the head coach for the Pittsfield Suns of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, Conley assisted the Suns in reaching the playoffs in the past three seasons with the team winning its first playoff game in franchise history in 2014. He served as a mentor to four players selected in the Major League Baseball draft while in Pittsfield.

Conley served as an assistant coach at Bryant University during the 2012-13 season, and supported the team to the NEC Conference Championships. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts in 2012, where he played catcher, Conley later received his master’s degree from Trinity College in 2016.

Conley joins a Rutgers staff that also includes pitching coach Phil Cundari, assistant coach Jim Duffy, director of player development Peter Barron and senior advisor to the head coach Glen Gardner.

The Scarlet Knights are in the midst of fall practice after improving by six wins in 2018. RU had a streak of six-straight series wins, winning seven-of-eight weekends during a stretch into mid-April. That included a 6-1 spring break trip in Florida that propelled the team to 12 victories in March, the most since 2001, and later to as high as seven games over .500 for the first time since 2012. The pitching staff lowered its season ERA from 6.11 to 4.82 and the gloves led the Big Ten with 50 double plays. At the plate, the Scarlet Knights picked up 111 RBIs with two outs for an average of more than two per game.

Ten thoughts from the summer II

It’s time to close the book on summer thoughts, news and notes.

Here’s the second part of ten thoughts from the summer, as we get ready to shift gears to fall practices and the 2019 season.

Top prospects heading to campus

The MLB Draft was pretty kind to Big Ten programs this year. Across the conference, from Minnesota to New Jersey, top prep players with pledges to Big Ten programs spurned professional overtures.

A few players did sign a contact. Michigan lost Drew Rom, a Kentucky prep left-handed pitcher, to the Baltimore Orioles, after the American League organization picked him in the fourth round. Ohio State saw recruit Keegan Fish, a catcher and 13th-round pick from southwest Ohio, sign with the Miami Marlins. And Iowa-signee Korry Howell, a JUCO transfer picked by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 12th round.

But more players who were the highlights of respective recruiting classes will arrive on campus.

A few noteworthy players:

Illinois

Catcher Jacob Campbell- 36th round, Chicago Cubs

RHP Aidan Maldonando- 38th round, Milwaukee Brewers

Michigan

RHP Steven Hajjar- 21st round, Brewers

Michigan State

OF Zaid Walker- 36th round, Cincinnati Reds

Nebraska

SS/RHP Spencer Schwellenbach- 34th round, Cleveland Indians

Rutgers

C- Peter Serruto- 22nd round, Reds

Worth noting, a player picked in the 30th+ rounds may not seem overly impressive, outside of the impressiveness of being draft in the first place, but each of the above player’s talent merited being selected earlier. They were drafted in the final quarter of the draft due to their respective commitments to their school. Professional clubs viewed them as unlikely to sign, but the talent each possessed warranted selecting them, just in case there was a change of heart, or a signing bonus of $125,000, the maximum a club can offer without it counting against its allotted pool to sign players drafted in the first 10 rounds, would be a enough.

Prep Baseball Report ranks Maldonado, Schwellenbach and Walker the respective number two players in Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois, players who have a chance to standout on campus over the next three years before their time comes again to be picked by a professional club.

Midwest vs. West

Players like Hajjar and Serruo heading to campus is another example of the Big Ten providing a great product on the field, alongside the world-class education the student-athletes receive. How good that product is might surprise the casual fan, but more and more there is proof the Big Ten is an elite baseball conference.

I remember five years ago, after his first season in Ann Arbor, Michigan head coach Erik Bakich told me there was no reason the Big Ten would not only be a true Power 5 conference in baseball, but would be on par, if not better than the Pac-12 and Big XII. The depth of the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences, along with the geographic advantage will likely have those two be 1-2 in some order for the foreseeable future. But Bakich had no doubt the Midwest could be the Big Ten’s and level to those on the Pacific coast.

Looking at NCAA Tournament participants, since 2015, the Big Ten has placed 17 teams in a regional, with the Pac-12 one ahead at 18. Last year, the Big Ten and Pac-12 split 24 regular season games.

The Pac-12 has done a better job of advancing teams through the NCAA Tournament, and of course have the reigning national champion in Oregon State, who knocked out Minnesota in the Corvallis Regional, but not before the Gophers twice beat UCLA to win the Minneapolis Regional. Now, as schedules begin to trickle out, the 2019 season will offer more opportunities for to two conferences with Rose Bowl ties to square off on the mind.

In touching base with coaches around the conference, what’s known so far in Big Ten-Pac 12 showdowns:

Arizona will travel to Penn State during the final weekend of the regular season, the start of a home-and-home series which has Penn State traveling to Tucson in 2020.

Michigan State has a three-game series at Arizona State, followed by a midweek game at Arizona.

Minnesota will see Oregon State in back-to-back weekends to open the season, the two participating in a pair of tournaments.

Michigan will participate in the Dodger Stadium/Dodgertown College Baseball Classic with USC, UCLA and Arizona. Two years ago the Wolverines were in the field with USC, UCLA and San Diego.

Lengthy droughts continue for Michigan and Ohio State

I started blogging on Big Ten baseball matters 10 years ago, taking over the Ohio State-centric Buckeye Nine. One, I have no idea how that turned into this. Two, it’s a bit scary to think a decade has passed.

Nonetheless, to say the Big Ten of 2018 is not the Big Ten of 2008 is an understatement. Forget recruits, facilities, head coach salaries, just look who has won the Big Ten this decade.

Since 2010, Minnesota has three titles (2010, 2016, 2018) and Illinois has two (2011, 2015). Those two have been historically strong programs, their championships would cause someone to bat an eye in 2008. But Michigan State (2011), Purdue (2012), Indiana (2013-14), Nebraska, hello realignment, (2017) certainly would. But perhaps more than who has won the conference crown is who hasn’t.

The 2019 season will be the ten-year mark since the Buckeyes last won the Big Ten. But even then, they will have a more recent championship than their arch-rival, Michigan last winning the conference championship in 2008. To know just how rare this is, the last time neither Michigan nor Ohio State won a Big Ten championship in a nine-year window would be 1908-1916. A period when the University of Chicago found themselves Big Ten baseball champs.

For the conference as a whole, it’s a good thing the Big Ten isn’t dominated by Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State, as was the case for four decades from 1980-2010. More teams winning means more depth, more depth means more teams in the NCAA Tournament, more teams in the NCAA Tournament increases the odds of having a representative in Omaha.

But it is a bit surprising two of collegiate athletics most recognizable names, programs with storied histories, have gone so long without winning the conference.

Wisconsin baseball isn’t coming back

With the team they have returning, losing only one underclassman to the draft, many view Michigan as a preseason Big Ten favorite, a club ready to end that aforementioned drought. While certainly possible, if not probably, we know for certain one Big Ten institution that’s not winning a baseball championship any time soon: Wisconsin.

The baseball-less Badgers are the lone Big Ten university without a varsity baseball program. As Big Ten baseball continues to make strides, as well as Wisconsin producing top baseball talent (Campbell is a Wisconsin native, as was Minnesota All-American shortstop Terrin Vavra), it’s entertaining to think is the time coming for Wisconsin to revive its baseball program.

I don’t think it’s happening.

In June, the Detroit News revealed the University of Michigan will receive $52.1 million in Big Ten conference distributions, stemming from the television rights the conference has with ABC/ESPN, FOX, and its own Big Ten Network.

There would be Title IX matters to resolve in terms of scholarship equality between female and male students, as well as figuring out where games will be played. But if living in a day and age where Big Ten universities are receiving more than $50 million a year from television rights doesn’t create the landscape for Wisconsin to bring back a program, one that many believe would have more than a shot to compete for conference championships and regional bids when brought back, I can’t see when the time will be right.

Joe Healy’s appreciated work

Wrapping up everything that crossed my mind over the summer, I cannot go without shining a light on the work done by College Baseball Central’s Joe Healy and his podcast series, especially in the absence of myself producing any content. Throughout the summer, Healy spoke to people throughout the media, often beat writers, to dig into ongoings regarding programs around the country. Many of Healy’s podcast covered Big Ten teams, and here you can listen to insights, news and opinion on:

Indiana

Iowa

Nebraska

Purdue

Joe was the lone national writer to cover the Big Ten Tournament this past year, and is a great reference and source for news and content covering the Big Ten.

Fitzpatrick & Liu Added to Rutgers’ Recruiting Class

Piscataway, N.J. –Both Brian Fitzpatrick and Tom Liu have signed to compete for Rutgers baseball, head coach Joe Litterio announced. The duo will join the Scarlet Knights this fall and make it 12 signings in the latest recruiting class.

NOVEMBER SIGNINGS | MAY SIGNINGS

Brian Fitzpatrick

LHP | 6-6 | 220 | L/S

Port Jefferson, N.Y./St. Anthony’s High School

Notes: A two-year varsity letterwinner at St. Anthony’s High School … from Long Island … played travel baseball for the Long Island Titans … son of Mary and John Fitzpatrick … father played basketball at the University of Buffalo … has four older sisters who competed in Division I athletics: Katelyn (volleyball at Cornell University), Julie (rowed crew at Cornell University), Megan (rowed crew at Indiana University) and Kelly (volleyball at University of Buffalo) … intends to major in business economics.

Tom Liu

RHP | 6-0 | 165 | R/R

San Dimas, Calif./San Dimas

Notes: Competed four years at San Dimas High School … school is in the San Gabriel Valley just outside of Los Angeles … named Scholar Athlete for holding a GPA over 3.0 … played travel baseball for the Socal Bombers from 2015-18 … also participated with SGV Arsenal from 2014-16 … son of Kelly Li and Russell Love … born in China … set to become first person in family to take part in collegiate athletics.

Rutgers-Michigan State Series Schedule Altered

East Lansing, Mich.– Due to inclement weather in the forecast for the weekend, Michigan State baseball’s weekend schedule with Rutgers has been altered with a doubleheader on Friday and a single game on Saturday at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field.

The Spartans and Scarlet Knights will now play a doubleheader on Friday at 12:05 p.m., with a single game scheduled for Saturday at 1:05 p.m.

MSU opened a 12-game homestand at McLane Stadium at Kobs Field on Wednesday, and this weekend is the Spartans’ first full Big Ten series at home.

Any further schedule updates will be announced on www.MSUSpartans.com.

March 15-18 Weekend Preview

Rutgers in position to turn the corner

Rutgers is off to a 9-6 start, even though top prospect Jawuan Harris has been limited to 10 games.  (Noah K. Murray/Rutgers University)

Blake Dowson-

Last season, as they had in seven of the previous eight years, Rutgers flew down to Miami to start its season against a very good Hurricane team. The Scarlet Knights dropped the first two games before rolling to a 17-6 victory in the Sunday finale.

But any momentum established from the romp in Coral Gables was short lived, Rutgers went 5-7 in their next 12 games following opening weekend, before finishing the non-conference portion of their schedule at 10-14.

This season, Rutgers again started its season at Miami, and again grabbed the Sunday finale after dropping the first two games of the series. The difference, though, has been the Scarlet Knights’ resiliency this season. Following the Miami series Rutgers has bounced back, going 8-4 since.

“So far, we’re playing okay,” Rutgers head coach Joe Litterio said. “That’s the best way to say it. We’re up and down. Our record’s pretty good. There were a couple games out there that we left out there. So our record should actually be much better. It’s been a process.”

The couple of games Litterio referred to were a Feb. 25, 11-6 loss to Boston College, where the Eagles scored seven runs in the ninth inning, and another last-inning lost, on March 4, when Rutgers couldn't hold a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the ninth, falling to Old Dominion 4-3.  But, on the heels of a four-game winning streak, those tough defeats are the thing of the past, with Rutgers' biggest weekend to-date on hand.

Rutgers is staring at a series against Florida Gulf Coast, a team that contributed to the Scarlet Knights’ rocky non-conference season a year ago by sweeping their three-game set. The Eagles outscored the Scarlet Knights 26-9 last season.

If Litterio and his squad want to completely flip the script from a season ago, a strong showing against FGCU will go a long way.

The thing about that is, strong showings against the Eagles have been hard to come by this year. They sit at 13-3, having won nine of 10 at home thus far.

“They’re a good ball club. It’ll be a good test for us heading into conference season,” Litterio said. “Going in on a Friday night and playing on someone else’s field is always a tough test. I’m excited to see how we compete.”

Compete is exactly what Rutgers has done this season, according to its head coach. Litterio said a deep lineup has been able to cover up any one struggling spot in the order.

If one or two guys are slumping, four or five other guys have come up with multi-hit games to level out the production. More of that this weekend will lead to success, Litterio said.

“Our lineup is deep,” he said. “I think our guys are firing together and when we do that, it gets real deep. We have some key guys struggling, but other guys are picking them up.”

That deep lineup has seen 13 different guys pick up at least two RBI, including four that have reached double-digit runs batted in, and three more that have contributed seven. Five regulars are hitting above .300, led by Kyle Walker (hitting .515 in 33 at-bats) and Luke Bowerbank (.340 in 53 at-bats).

However, the Rutgers lineup has its work cut out for it this weekend, facing a Florida Gulf Coast staff that boasts three weekend starters who have all logged over 20 innings, and all sport an ERA of 2.74 or better.

All of that can be daunting, considering this is one of Rutgers’ biggest series in years.

Although the team has been in Florida for the last week, on spring break, the wear and tear of the travel a northern team faces over the first month can lead to tired bodies, haphazard and inconsistent play. And in some years, that would most likely be the case, according to Litterio.

“[Getting on so many planes] usually does take a toll, but I think this year it’s going too fast, because we’re playing good baseball,” Litterio said. “Everyone is getting along. There are no grumpy faces on the bench. We finished up practice [on Thursday], and everyone had high energy, they were focused. Usually this time of year, it’s a grind. We feel good with where we’re at right now.”

Win a couple games against FGCU, and Rutgers will feel really good heading into Big Ten play.

 

Webb's Words: Statement weekend round two

I often try to avoid putting too much stock into one weekend. First, baseball is a weird game, more than any sport, anyone can beat anyone. But more importantly, one three-game weekend is barely 5% of a 56-game college baseball season. A football fan wouldn't punt on a season after just one game, so I try to remind others that one weekend doesn't make or break a season.

But it's fair to say some weekends are bigger than others.

The first weekend of March saw high-profiled contests take place throughout the country. Michigan had a four-game series at Stanford, Indiana went to San Diego for another four-game set, Texas welcomed Northwestern and the Dairy Queen Classic saw Arizona, UCLA, and Washington take on Illinois, Michigan State and host Minnesota in a de facto Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge. Across those 21 games, the Big Ten went 10-11, lead by Illinois sweeping the DQ field and Indiana taking three games from San Diego. The weekend allowed Indiana to cement their position as a top team, and cause many to take notice of the Illini.

It's time for another significant weekend for the Big Ten.

In addition to Rutgers' series at Florida Gulf Coast, the conference has two more tough road series, Maryland travels to No. 18 East Carolina, while No. 11 TCU hosts Minnesota.

Both Maryland and Minnesota have appeared in the NCAA Tournament within the last two years, and each team has a roster which should put them in position to contend for a spot in another regional. Expectations were high entering the season, with the Gophers and Terrapins predicted to finished third and second, respectively, by D1Baseball.com.

Unfortunately neither team has really lived up to their billing. Minnesota went 1-2 in the DQ Classic, before suffering another 1-2 weekend last week at home against Creighton, to stand a respectable, but not too mighty, 12-7 on the year. Maryland has as many losses as Minnesota, but three less wins, their 9-7 record the result of a very uneven start to Rob Vaughn's tenure in College Park.

But any unfulfilled promise from the first month can be wiped away this weekend. In fact, this weekend is just the beginning of what could still shape up to be a special March, a month that stands tall come May.

Following Minnesota's trip to Texas, the Gophers open Big Ten play at reigning champion Nebraska, then welcome St. John's a preseason ranked team, to Minneapolis during their bye week. Maryland starts conference play in two weeks, but not before Stetson makes a trip to town, a team that is 13-1 and checks in as the No. 28 team in this week's NCBWA poll.

So this week this is a big week, but it won't make or break the season for Maryland, Minnesota, or Rutgers, but it's a weekend that can go a long way in starting something big, and provide another testament to the growth of Big Ten baseball, that Maryland and Minnesota are perennial regional threats, or that Rutgers is just the latest team to take a step forward.

 

Required reading

Former Illinois Coach Augie Garrido Dies -Matt Daniels, Champaign/Urbana News-Gazette

Punxsutawney natives bring lifelong friendship to Penn State -Matthew Knaub, Daily Collegian

Matt Warren appreciating his extra innings for Huskers -Evan Bland, Omaha World-Herald

What to watch for

Avoiding the letdown

What may be most impressive about Indiana's season so far is the Hoosiers ability to avoid a stretch of bad play. The bats may not have been out in full force last week against Pacific, but the pitching was stingy and powered a series victory. Any slight hiccup that may have occurred with a midweek loss to Cincinnati and dropping the first game to Pacific, 2-1, has been swept to the side by three straight victories.

At 12-4 and with a handful of quality victories, IU looks the part of a potential regional host.

A lot was expected of Indiana this season, the coaches' preseason conference favorite, and a veteran team has kept a steady ship.

Now it's time to see how a couple of teams, who many didn't think much of in the preseason, react with the attention upon them growing.

Illinois cracked this week's Baseball America poll at No. 24, and Ohio State caught the eye of DIBaseball.com after a midweek swept of UNC-Wilmington after splitting two games against Coastal Carolina. At 8-4 and 11-6, respectively, Illinois and Ohio State may be the contenders Indiana must fend off, opposed to Maryland and Nebraska, whom received the bulk of the preseason attention.

After picking up quality wins away from home, both the Buckeyes and Illini are playing baseball in their home state this weekend. As Illinois travels to Southern Illinois and Ohio State hosts Cal State-Northridge, but Big Ten teams are favored to win, and taking care of business against the teams they should, will help both sustain their momentum heading into conference action, with a growing eye on the NCAA Tournament.

Whelan's return

With all of Iowa's star power last year,  Jake Adams, Tyler Cropley, Mason McCoy, and Robert Neustrom, helping the Hawkeyes to the Houston Regional, it may take a peak at the Big Ten record book to remember Chris Whelan was selected as the Most Outstanding Player of the Big Ten Tournament.

After starting out 8-2, Iowa has dropped five consecutive games, in part due to an offense batting just .248, the absences of McCoy, to graduation, and Adams, the nation's home run leader, have certainly been felt. But this weekend Rick Heller and the Hawkeyes hope to get a shot in the arm and turn around their recent ways with the return of Whelan.

Coming off of a campaign where he batted .307 with 11 doubles and seven home runs as a sophomore, the outfielder has missed the first four months of the season after sustaining an UCL injury in his throwing elbow, which required surgery. Whelan has been medically cleared to swing and returns to the Iowa lineup as the team's DH this weekend against Evansville.

With only 21 extra-base hits, the fewest in the Big Ten, a bat like Whelan's returning one week before Iowa hosts Indiana to start Big Ten play is exactly what Iowa needs, as it seeks a fifth consecutive 30-win season.

Michigan, the new Florida?

It may be spring break for many teams around the Big Ten, but the action isn't heavy in Florida this weekend, only Rutgers is playing in the Sunshine State. Instead, no state has more Big Ten teams playing in it this weekend than Michigan.

Michigan and Michigan State have kicked off their home slates this week, continuing action on campus this weekend with the Wolverines hosting Bowling Green and the Spartans welcoming Niagara. An hour north of East Lansing, Central Michigan plays host to Northwestern.

There may be a little shifting of schedules in the three series, as Friday temperatures won't break the mid-30s throughout the state, but Saturday and Sunday will be sunny, climbing into the 40s and 50s. As the temperatures rise, all three teams hope they catch fire, Michigan, Michigan State, and Northwestern have struggled to 4-11, 5-10 and 5-7 starts so far.

 

By the numbers

.156- Already a two-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week, Mason Erla is holding the opposition to a .156 batting average.

.333- Opponents have a 33% success rate in stolen base attempts against Indiana, stealing a Big Ten-low five bases in 15 attempts.

0- The Wolverines are the lone Big Ten yet to record a save this season.

1.32- The combined era over 47.2 innings between Purdue starters Tanner Andrews and Gareth Stroh, who respectively rank first and third in the conference.

51- Ohio State senior first baseman Noah McGowan has touched 51 bases this year, 10 more than any other Big Ten player.

203- Minnesota leads the Big Ten in hits with 203, for the conference's best average (.308), while having the best walk-to-strikeout ratio with just 107 strikeouts to 93 walks.

Week 4 Weekend Observations

The fourth weekend of the college baseball season is in the books. Yes, just like that, a month has already passed. With each team having a dozen games under their belts, any rust for winter practices confined to indoor facilities should be gone by now. As conference play grows nearer, the cream is starting to rise from the crop. And here’s what was observed from the past weekend as the picture becomes more and more clear as to the form teams really are.

Illini aren’t going away

Checking in at No. 24 in this week’s Baseball America poll, Illinois becomes the second team in the Big Ten to be ranked this year. The number next to their name comes on the heels of a seven-game winning streak that was stopped Sunday by Michigan State. Before the Spartans picked up a 4-2 win, Illinois had been clicking on all cylinders.

Between Feb. 24 and March 4, Dan Hartleb’s team had a run of six consecutive games without committing an error. Over the seven game winning streak, which included a sweep of the Dairy Queen Classic field, Illinois scored less than five runs just once, while allowing more than five runs just once.

A rotation of Quinn Snarskis, Andy Fisher, and Ty Weber holding a combined ERA of 3.19, a team doing a bit of everything offensively with a triple-slash of .261/.366/.438 with 17 stolen bases, and the Big Ten’s top fielding unit, Illinois hasn’t showed a true weakness. That’s a scary thought for future opponents as Jack Yalowitz (.222) and Zac Taylor (.189) have yet to get going.

Scarlet Knights make a statement

It might not have been the most attention-grabbing weekend, no ranked teams were defeated, wins weren’t gathered in a hostile environment, and there wasn’t a no-hitter or outrageous score were to carry the headline. But Rutgers’ weekend should make some take notice.

Rutgers played Army in Fort Myers, Fla., the third Big Ten opponent the Black Knights have faced this weekend. After splitting the first six games, going 1-2 against Michigan, a week before picking up a pair of wins at Maryland, Army was unable to grab a victory in three games against Rutgers. With the weekend sweep, Rutgers is off to a solid start at 8-6, a record which includes a pair last-inning stunning defeats to Boston College and St. Bonaventure.

When considering a close 7-6 loss to Indiana, and Rutgers’ run differential against Army of 17, compared to nine for Michigan and -1 for Maryland, more and more evidence is gathering that Rutgers will be in the mix for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament, that the desired offseason culture change is taking place.

Maryland remains a mystery

It’s been a season of streaks for Maryland. The Terps opened the season winning their first two games before dropping the next four. That skid was followed by a five-game winning steak. Maryland’s winning ways were stopped by back-to-back defeats, before picking up consecutive wins to grab the home series against Bryant. At 9-6, Maryland’s up-and-down season hasn’t derailed postseason dreams, but it has made it tough to gauge how good Rob Vaughn’s team is.

Is Maryland the team that 14 runs in its first two games at Tennessee, or closer to the team that scored 13 over the next four? Maryland beat Ball State 13-1, to run their winning streak to five games, then came up flat, falling 7-1 to Delaware. Mirroring the up/down nature of Maryland’s season is the performance of the expected top two contributors.

Junior second baseman Nick Dunn is batting .358 with five doubles and five home runs, pacing the club. Classmate outfielder Marty Costes, is off to a .151/.309/.264. As was the case this weekend, Dunn can carry the team to victory. But he can’t continually do it all by himself at the plate, getting Costes going will surely stabilize the Terrapins.

Indiana’s depth shows

The Hoosiers may have only scored eight runs in their 2-1, series victory over Pacific, but a detailed look at the box scores shows why Indiana is the Big Ten’s top-ranked team and favorite to win the conference title.

On Friday, in a 2-1 loss, Indiana received a 4-for-4, three-double game from first baseman/second baseman Matt Lloyd. On Saturday, each of Colby Stratten’s two hits were doubles. Then, on Sunday, Logan Sowers had a 3-for-4 day with three doubles, driving in three runs. Three different players with multi-extra-base games, which didn’t include top hitter Logan Kalthea or Luke Miller, who are 1-2 in slugging percentage at .577 and .574, respectively, shows how much of a headache the Indiana lineup can be.

Then, Indiana throws a very deep bullpen at opponents. Hoosier relievers combined to toss nine innings without allowing an earned run against Pacific, as four relievers who have appeared in at least three games continue to have a spotless 0.00. The depth at the plate and options on the mound backs up head coach Chris Lemonis’ assertion this is his deepest Indiana team.

Ohio State: Very Good O, Very Bad D

If you’re eighth-year head coach Greg Beals, there’s a lot to like about the 2018 Ohio State outfit. But there is also a very concern area.

After a .295/.364/.541 weekend at the Chanticleer Classic, Ohio State has a season triple-slash of .301/.388/.450. The Buckeyes’ slugging percentage is tops in the Big Ten, spurred by a conference-leading 16 home runs. Of the team’s 15 games, the Bucks have scored at least six runs 10 times, averaging a Big Ten-best 7.53 runs per game. Seniors Tyler Cowles and Noah McGown give Beals a potent 1-2 punch in the heart of the lineup.

The best in the Big Ten at plating runs, the Buckeyes are the worst in the field, helping the opposition score more unearned runs than any team. With 28 errors and a .951 fielding percentage, the Buckeye nine is the conference’s worst fielding unit, one that has allowed 26 unearned runs, almost two a game, to score. Ohio State has had only one error-less game, while 10 contests have seen the Bucks commit at least two errors. Most damaging, the Buckeyes allowed Oregon State, the top-ranked team in the country, to score six unearned runs on Feb. 23, in a 10-8 loss, before allowing #28 Coastal Carolina to score three unearned runs on Saturday, in another 10-8 defeat.

Minnesota can’t cash in at U.S. Bank

The construction of U.S. Bank Stadium, the home of the Minnesota Vikings, and use of the facility to play baseball games was to give Minnesota an asset. Instead of traveling to all parts of the country over the first month of the season, Minnesota could play games at home, in Minneapolis. Unfortunately the Gophers showing inside of the home of Super Bowl XVII have been troublesome than rewarding.

Through 10 games, Minnesota is 6-4 at home. Considering two of the four losses are to UCLA and Washington, the record isn’t that bad. But Minnesota’s offense has produced only four games where the team has scored more than three runs. Before Sunday’s 15-1 triumph over Creighton, the team averaged 3.1 runs per game, while allowing four runs per contest to the visitors.

The next eight games for Minnesota come on the run, including three at No. 11 TCU and three at reigning Big Ten champion Nebraska. The stretch of eight games will go a long way in determining Minnesota’s postseason fate, and considering the team’s struggles inside spacious U.S. Bank Stadium, it may be beneficial they come on the road, especially with the weight RPI formula.

Feb. 16-18 Weekend Preview

Webb's Words: Hoosier look to leave their mark in Big Ten history

(Photo courtesy Indiana Athletics)

Chris Webb-

The 2018 season marks my tenth year covering Big Ten baseball, 14th overall attending Big Ten games. Since 2005, when I was a freshman at Ohio State, I guess you can say I've seen quite a bit of Big Ten baseball. To sum up how much Big Ten baseball I've seen, there's been 21 different coaches lead a Big Ten program since 2009, with the latest being Maryland's Rob Vaughn.

I've seen stadiums transformed, like Michigan's Ray Fisher Stadium and Minnesota's Siebert Field. Incredible stadiums constructed in Purdue's Alexander Field and Indiana's Bart Kaufman Field. The conference has grown by 30% with Nebraska, Maryland, and Rutgers joining the conference. The conference tournament is no longer on the campus of the conference champion, in fact the conference set an NCAA record with an attendance of 19,965 for the 2014 Big Ten Tournament title game. The winner, Indiana, became the first Big Ten national seeds, then the conference needed one year for its second national seed in the form of Illinois. Oh and a program reached the College World Series ending the conference's 30-year drought.

The too long; don't read version: Big Ten baseball has experienced quite the transformation since 2009.

Now, about that College World Series team...

It was 2008 when Indiana showed signs of becoming a budding program. The Hoosiers reached the Big Ten Tournament in Tracy Smith's third season, ending the regular season sixth in the conference standings after four consecutive last place finishes. Just one year later, the Hoosiers put the end to another postseason drought, extending their season by a weekend. Winning the 2009 Big Ten Tournament, the Hoosiers were in the NCAA Tournament for just the third time in the program's history, the first time since 1996.

Following the 2009 season, do you know how many years it would take for Indiana to rack up three more NCAA Tournament appearances? Six years. By the eighth season, Indiana had played in a regional for the fourth time since the 2009 breakthrough. Oh, and it was Indiana, in 2013, who became the Big Ten's first team to play in Omaha since Michigan in 1984.

The 2013-14 Indiana teams will go down as one of the best dynasties in Big Ten baseball history. Don't forget, the 2012 club finished second in the conference, only one game behind Purdue, or it would have been three straight Big Ten titles, a feat that's been accomplished only by Michigan (2006-08), Ohio State (1993-95), Illinois (1906-08) and the University of Chicago, yes they fielded a mighty Big Ten program winning the conference 1896-99.

At the end of the 2014 season, Smith became the head coach at Arizona State, the program saw the graduation of Dustin DeMuth and Joey DeNato after the respective third baseman and pitcher re-wrote the IU record book, and the drafting of Kyle Schwarber and Sam Travis, the famed Bash Brothers who were the respective first and second round draft picks of the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox.

If there was to be an end to Indiana's reign as the dominant Big Ten program, it was to happen with the historical turnover.

But it didn't.

From the second Smith left Bloomington for Tempe, Indiana administrators knew who they waited to take over the program. They didn't have to go far, barely reaching across the Ohio River, to name Louisville assistant Chris Lemonis as the program's new head coach. Though once-a-generation talent had moved to the professional ranks and the architect of the program relocated out west, Indiana didn't miss a beat. In Lemonis' first year, Indiana became the first Big Ten program since Michigan in 2005-08 to reach three straight NCAA Tournaments, appearing in the 2015 Nashville Regional.

Indiana did return to the pack in 2016, although they still finished in a tie for third in the conference, missing the NCAA Tournament. But now the Hoosiers are again coming off of an NCAA Tournament appearance after participating in the Lexington Regional as the No 2 seed.

With a core of players led by Matt Lloyd, Luke Miller, Logan Sowers and Jonathan Stievers, Indiana returns much of its 2017 club and enter the 2018 season as the conference favorite in the eyes of coaches and media alike. Named the coaches' preseason favorite, Indiana has preseason rankings of No. 19 by Baseball America, No. 24 by the NCBWA, and earned the 27th-most points in the USA Today/Coaches preseason poll. It's expected Indiana will again be back in the field of 64, if not hosting if they finish the season near the position Baseball America penciled them in.

If that were to happen Indiana will join exclusive company. The Big Ten programs that have played in five NCAA Tournament in six years are the who's who of dominant eras in Big Ten baseball history. Minnesota reached six regionals in seven years between 1998-2004. Ohio State appeared in six regionals in seven years between 1992-1997. Michigan made seven straight NCAA Tournament appearance between 1983-87. No other programs as Big Ten members will have enjoyed the level of sustain success as Indiana will have.

It may be easier in today's game for such runs of success to take place, and we may see continued runs of NCAA Tournament trips occur regularly, after all the Big Ten has placed 13 teams in the NCAA Tournament over the last three seasons, one more than the combined total of the seven years prior. Even so, if the season unfolds as many expect, what Indiana will have accomplished. It will be a run of sustained success between two coaches, a program lifted by generational talent, but kept at a high standard with an entirely new cast of characters, a program elevated to a level of national esteem.

From someone who's seen a little bit of Big Ten baseball, Indiana and the conference are in a new day, with no signs of going back.

 

New look Huskers ready to reign

(Photo courtesy Indiana Athletics)

Blake Dowson-

The expectations have changed in the Big Ten Conference. Although there were no teams in super regionals in 2017, a record number of teams from the conference made the NCAA Tournament. Recruiting has ramped up, bringing in more talent. Athletic departments are putting more money into baseball programs. There’s momentum here.

But it can’t stop at just getting teams into the NCAA Tournament. The next step is the supers, and ultimately the College World Series.

The two Big Ten team closest to the home of the College World Series, Nebraska, took a step forward last season as the conference champions, reaching the NCAA Tournament for a third time in four years. In a sport where your best talent typically leaves each year and in a conference that makes it difficult to reload each year, Nebraska’s Darin Erstad has work to do in 2018 with a new look squad.

“I don’t roll seasons over,” Erstad said at Nebraska’s media day. “It’s a whole new set of circumstances coming into this year.”

Erstad is tasked with replacing All-American Jake Meyers and Derek Burkamper in the Husker rotation, two who combined to eat up over 150 innings for the Huskers last season. But Erstad isn't without a pitcher coming off of an impressive 2017 season. Senior right-hander Luis Alvarado is back in Lincoln after being drafted in the 13th round last year after a solid year as Nebraska’s closer. He’ll be stretched out after totaling 15.1 innings last year, taking the ball on opening day as Nebraska's Friday night starter. Jake McSteen will be the Saturday starter after being leaned on heavily out of the bullpen last year, nearly reaching 40 innings. Nate Fisher and Creighton transfer Matt Warren will fill out the rotation.

Of Alvarado starting, Erstad said they would adjust as they go.

“You’re going to be patient,” the seventh-year head coach said. “And looking long term as far as building their pitch counts up…I’m sure there will be some bumps there. We want our best arm going out there right out of the gate and let him do his thing.”

Nebraska starts this season without the services of Ben Miller, Meyers, and Jake Schleppenbach, respective multi-year starters at first base, center fielder and second base. Those three combined to make 163 starts and over 600 at-bats.

Luckily, two-time first-team All Big Ten selection Scott Schreiber is back for his senior season. Schreiber hit .330 last year with 55 RBI. His production will be key in Nebraska building on last season’s success, along with All-Big Ten players Angelo Altavilla and Jake Hohensee.

Altavilla, Alvarado, Hohensee, and  Schreiber, along with the likes of third baseman Luke Roskam and left fielder Mojo Hagge gives Erstad a collection of players who have enjoyed success in college baseball. But with sizable holes to fill and expandad roles for many, what we will learn in the coming month is which newcomers will make an impact and who is ready to embrace a bigger role for the reining Big Ten champions, what kind of team Nebraska will be in 2018.

“I think they’re going to be annoying to face,” Erstad said. “We’ve got a bunch of grinders. They’ve had a taste of winning and they want more.”

What to watch for this weekend

Who plays?

Inclement weather saw flights cancelled throughout the Midwest on Thursday, leaving Illinois, Purdue and Northwestern stranded at airports, scrambling for last minute options for travel options and potential new weekend opponents on the eve of the college baseball season. For teams who have reached their destination, weather doesn't look favorable in the southeast, with Maryland's series at Tennessee potential impacted, although Minnesota with a weekend in Georgia against Georgia Tech, Kennesaw State and Georgia State look safe for now. It's the return of the college baseball season, and the return of schedule uncertainty.

Who takes the field for Michigan?

Weather won't be a factor for Michigan when they take the field in Port St. Luice for four games against Army. But there is mystery around the Wolverines this weekend with it being up in the air as to who will start for Erik Bakich. After 11 players were picked in the MLB Draft, Michigan experienced quite the turnover from its Chapel Hill Regional team. Michigan's game notes this week lists five potential starters for the four games, and two options at every position in the field. Illness and injuries have played a role in some of the uncertainty for Michigan, but for Bakich, who likes the depth of the team, it may take a week or two to figure out who gives Michigan the best shot to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years.

Can Feltner become Ohio State's ace?

Ohio State has high expectations for junior right-handed pitcher Ryan Feltner. The Buckeye staff will give the highly-touted prospect, who held a 0.00 ERA as a closer in the Cape Cod League to earn an all-star nod, every chance to show he can succeed as a starter. So far in his career, the result have been unever as a Buckeye, holding a 5.14 ERA over 131.1 innings. To rebound from a 10th-place finish a year ago, Ohio State needs Feltner to harness his stuff, he has a four-pitch arsenal which includes as fastball that can reach 99, and be the pitcher who enters the season as one of the Big Ten's top prospects. If Feltner can be the aces Greg Beals and company hopes he can, Ohio State has the bullpen depth and experience in the weekend rotation to be a contender if the offense takes a step forward.

(Photo courtesy Rutgers Athletics)

Burke Granger & Chris Webb-

A two-sport athlete, Jawuan Harris shines on both the gridiron and the diamond for Rutgers.

As a freshman, he led the Scarlet Knights in receiving, hauling in 39 passes for 481 yards and three scores before transitioning to safety last season. He enters the spring as one of the more intriguing MLB Draft prospects in the conference.

"He's an unique athlete that you typically don't see in college," said a long-time National League scout. "The athleticism can take over the game and match up with anyone in the country."

At 5’9” and 190 pounds, Harris has a compact frame with an athletic, well-proportioned build that offers minimal projection. Though he’s on the smaller end of the scale, Harris displayed power last spring when he led the team in home runs with eight. There is some swing and miss to Harris’ game that he needs to tighten up, evidenced by his career 26.2% strikeout rate.

"The swing-and-miss will cut down with reps," said the scout, noting he believes Harris has the athleticism and aptitude to make the appropriate adjustments.

"He hasn't committed to baseball full-time ever in his, it's exciting to think of the possibilities."

Harris does well to mitigate that deficiency by taking more than his fair share of walks, drawing a free pass 12.74% of the time where he can get on base and showcase his carrying tool. A disruptive and efficient base stealer, Harris has utilized his top of the scale speed to steal 60 bases over the past two seasons while being caught just 14 times.

"It's elite speed," said the vertran scout. "He profiles at center field with the speed, it's a matter of if he's a top-of-the-order bat, by cutting down-on-the-swing and miss."

Harris will attempt to set the table for Rutgers this weekend against what could be his toughest competition of the year in Miami as the Hurricanes are expected to have one of the best pitching staff’s in the ACC.

10 Innings' Scouting Grade

Hit- 35/50

Power- 45/50

Run- 80/80

Throw- 50/50

Field- 55/70

Each week 10 Innings will have a coach step into the batter's box for a round of rapid-fire questions. First up is Penn State pitching coach Josh Newman.

A former All-Big Ten selection at Ohio State, Newman appeared in 14 MLB games between the 2007-08 seasons as a Colorado Rockie and Kansas City Royal, before returning to Ohio State as a volunteer assistant from 2011-13. Now, the ex-big leaguer is looking to help the Nittany Lions find the glory he experienced in Columbus as part of three NCAA Tournament teams.

Now that you're back in the Big Ten, what's the biggest difference since your days on the bump at Ohio State?

I have always held this baseball conference to high regard (this is my 8th year in this conference — four as a player and this will be four now as a coach) but it is now deeper than ever. The Big Ten has evolved into one of the premier baseball conferences in the country.

When Coach Cooper approached you over the summer, what stuck out about the opportunity to be on staff at Penn State?

I have always admired the body of work Coach Cooper has accomplished throughout his coaching career. Coach Cooper exemplifies everything I strive to be — both professionally and personally. His passion for the game and leadership qualities are infectious. The opportunity to join his staff and to do it at such an elite institution like Penn State, is a dream come true to my family and I.

What have you taken from your MLB experience that you've tried to have your pitchers learn from?

This game is extremely difficult. It will humble you in a heartbeat. However, I want our guys to respect that part of it but also I want them to enjoy their time here at Penn State and beyond. There have been so many incredible people that have helped me along my journey in this game and I owe to those people to continue to pay it forward.

The keys to Nittany Lion success on the mound in 2018 are...?

We must take care of today. Today is the most important thing that matters. These guys have fully embraced the expectations of excellence and have made tremendous strides thus far. We must continue to grow every single day.

Three words you want to have your pitching staff describe as?

Prove them wrong!

By the numbers

Last NCAA Tournament appearance

Illinois: 2015

Indiana: 2017

Iowa: 2017

Maryland: 2017

Michigan: 2017

Michigan State: 2012

Minnesota: 2016

Nebraska: 2017

Northwestern: 1957

Ohio State: 2016

Penn State: 2000

Purdue: 2012

Rutgers: 2007

10secondary

Preseason Notebook

After nearly eight months of offseason, college baseball is back. From the 10 Innings preseason All-Big Ten teams, to the newcomers to know and areas of strength and concerns for clubs, it’s time for games to be played and everything on paper rendered meaningless. Before the first pitch is thrown, here’s a rundown of news and notes from around the Big Ten as teams prepare to play ball.

Iowa’s Whelan ahead of schedule

Iowa junior outfielder Chris Whelan suffered an elbow injury during the team’s scout day in October, injuring the UCL in his right arm, requiring surgery. Without Whelan in the field, Iowa will turn to a left-to-right outfield of Ben Norman, Justin Jenkins and Robert Neustrom. But the nature of Whelan’s injury kept the door open that he could be used as a DH this season, with Rick Heller and staff hoping they could insert the 2017 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player into the lineup at some point. Just this week Whelan was cleared to swing a bat, his rehab ahead of schedule with the door open for a return in mid-to-late March. Iowa is enjoying a run of unprecedented success, seeking a fifth consecutive 30-win season and a third trip to the NCAA Tournament in four years. Having Whelan’s bat in the lineup will be a boon for the program.

Northwestern to utilize tandem system

After finishing a victory shy of the NCAA Tournament, Northwestern is looking to sustain the momentum captured during the second season of the Spencer Allen tenure. As they do so, the Allen will utilize a tandem system for his pitchers to start the season, allowing each pitcher to know his specific role and maximize the depth of the Wildcat staff. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hank Christie will open the season for Northwestern, with senior hander Tommy Bordignon viewed as Friday’s reliever, ideally pitching the last three innings. Freshman right-hander Ryan Bader and classmate southpaw Quinn Lavelle look to round out the rotation, with a respective relief pairings of sophomore left-hander Sam Lawrence and senior right-hander JR Reimer.

Minnesota young guns show promise

Minnesota returns a deep and talented lineup, but enters the season with questions marks throughout the pitching staff. John Anderson must replace Friday starter Lucas Gilbreath and closer Brian Glowicki, both All-Big Ten selections, as well as Sunday start Toby Anderson and key reliever Tim Shannon. The burden of replacing three significant cogs has lessened with the promise a group of freshman have shown in the preseason. left-hander Ryan Duffy and right-handers Josh Culliver, Max Meyer and Sam Thoresen make up a group of rookie hurlers that is considered the best group of incoming talent Anderson and staff have seen in a long time. Each pitcher can reach 90 MPH with their fastball with Meyer and Thoresen able to reach back and hit 94 and 95, respectively. Minnesota has a daunting schedule that will challenge the freshmen, but if the Gophers get through March with momentum, a second Big Ten title in three years is in the picture.

Illness setbacks back Michigan freshmen

Jack Blomgren and Joe Donovan have bright futures ahead of them in Ann Arbor, but both may be just a step back to start this season after mononucleosis infected both this winter. A catcher from Westmont, Ill., Donovan is one of four Wolverines in a heavy battle to take over behind the plate following the graduation of Harrison Wenson. A fall teammate of Donovan on the Chicago Scouts Association scout team, Blomgren is Michigan’s shortstop of the future and is expected to run with the role. In Blomgren’s absence, Ako Thomas, a preseason All-American at second base has filled in. Alongside Thomas, a healthy Blomgren should form one of the Big Ten’s top defensive middle infields.

Ohio State left-hander Seth Lonsway ineligible for the season

Ohio State left-hander Seth Lonsway, one of the Big Ten’s top recruits, will miss the 2018 season, ineligible due to an academic matter from high school. How a course registered with the NCAA Clearinghouse did not meet the conditions needed to establish Lonsway’s initial eligibility. On the first day of preseason practice, Ohio State head coach Greg Beals alluded to Lonsway having no issue in his current courses in Columbus. The university appealed Lonsway’s ineligibility to the NCAA but it was denied. Beals has seen a pitcher sit out a year previously due to academic matters stemming from arrive prior to Ohio State. Former All-Big Ten pitcher Brad Goldberg sat out two seasons after transferring from Coastal Carolina, the first the standard sit-out period, the second due to some credits not aligning with his major at Ohio State. Goldberg helped Ohio State to a second-place finish in 2013 and debuted with the White Sox in 2017, four years after being a 10th-round draft pick.

Bechina ready to go

Michigan State junior third baseman Marty Bechina suffered a broken leg in the fall, but the rehab of the Cape Cod League home run derby participant has been faster than expected. Head coach Jake Boss says Bechina will start the season at the hot corner for Michigan State in a four-game set at Fresno State. How Bechina is used the rest of the weekend will be determined on a day-by-day instance, but having Bechina ready to go from day one is big for the hopes of Michigan State who seek to end a five-year NCAA Tournament drought. Also of note, Bechina’s teammate at St. Rita in Chicago, and in East Lansing, Danny Gleaves is fully healthy after having hip labrum surgery last year.

Newcomers to know

More and more, freshman are entering Big Ten programs ready to produce from day one. Left-hander pitcher Tyler Blohm was a weekend staple for Maryland last year, making 16 starts, a year after Jawuan Harris stole a Big Ten-leading 37 bases as a rookie for Rutgers. Jake Bivens, Chad Luensmann and Logan Sowers are a few of the other players with big debut seasons in recent years.

But freshman aren’t alone as players who have made sizable contributions in their first year on a Big Ten campus.

The Big Ten has seen transfers make immediate marks in recent years. Matt Llyod was a two-way standout for Indiana last year, serving as a power-hitting closer. Purdue reliever Ross Learnard set multiple program records en route to All-America honors, while the accolades were seemingly endless for Jake Adams, the 2017 Big Ten Player of the Year, after the 29-home run season he put together as a driving force behind Iowa’s Houston Regional club.

Here’s a rundown of the players new to the Big Ten you need to know entering the 2018 season.

Freshmen

Maryland outfielder Randy Bednar

Baseball America’s preseason Freshman of the Year, and the publication’s top 2020 Big Ten draft prospect, Bednar was a 27th-round draft pick of the Atlanta Braves before arriving in College Park. The Maryland staff believes Bednar can develop into an elite top-of-the-order threat and strong two-way player.

Michigan shortstop Jack Blomgren

Likely sooner than later, Blomgren is expected to emerge as Michigan’s everyday shortstop. Although he hails from Wisconsin, a state with a relatively short high school season and climate not conducive to year-round repetitions, Blomgren arrives in Ann Arbor with advanced defensive skills and a glove that’s college-ready at a premium position.

Michigan outfielder/infielder Jesse Franklin

Michigan saw 11 players drafted from its Chapel Hill Regional team, leaving Erik Bakich’s program with a fill holes to fill. One player who spurned a professional opportunity is Jesse Franklin, a Washington native who said no to more than $1 million from the hometown Seattle Mariners. Franklin will start his career as a first baseman/DH due to a labrum injury from high school, but when healthy, Michigan expects an elite, left-handed, center fielder who can run, throw and hit.

Michigan State catcher Adam Proctor

Few players, regardless of class, may be able to match the raw power Adam Proctor brings to the plate. Joining a program known for physicality and imposing figures, by the time Proctor’s career in East Lansing ends, he may have better numbers than those of former mashers Ryan Krill, Jimmy Pickens, Blaise Salter and company.

Minnesota right-handed pitcher/first baseman Max Meyer

Minnesota produced one of the Big Ten’s best two-way players in recent years in 2016 Big Ten Player of the Year Matt Fiedler. A right-handed pitcher and outfielder, Fiedler is the comp the Minnesota staff places on Meyer, a good athlete with a power fastball and easy stroke, Meyer maky DH and come out of the bullpen as a closer in year one.

Nebraska outfielder Jaxon Hallmark

Jaxon Hallmark left an impressionable mark on the Husker staff in the fall, showing an ability to make an impact with his bat and versatility with his glove. As a senior, Hallmark earned District 3 6A Pitcher MVP and District 3 6A Defensive MVP honors. Media reports out of Lincoln give Hallmark glowing reviews, a likely starter from day one for the reigning Big Ten champions.

Northwestern outfielder David Dunn

Northwestern head coach Spencer Allen was able to head to the Peachtree State to pluck a talented prep. Able to clock a 60-yard spring time of sub-6.5 seconds, Dunn brings an explosiveness to the Wildcat lineup, expected to man center field while using his speed to provide a threat on the bases to compliment his developing hit tool.

Rutgers left-handed pitcher Harry Rutkowski

A 28th-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds, left-handed pitcher Harry Rutkowski looks the part of a big league pitcher with a 6’2, 230-pound frame. He also possess the type of stuff that has Rutgers head coach Joe Literrio envisioning a big role in Rutkowski’s first season. Rutkowski pounds the strike zone with a fastball that touches the low-90s, with an advance feel and mound presence.

JUCO transfers

Iowa right-handed pitcher Brady Schanuel

A two-time MLB draft pick, Schanuel hopes to be the latest impact transfer for Rick Heller. After going 10-3 with a 1.83 ERA as a freshman at Parkland Community College, Schanuel went 10-1 with a 2.13 ERA, striking out 130 batters in 80.1 innings in 2017. Even after two dominant seasons, Schaneul arrives in Iowa City a bit raw, but with a big, mid-90s fastball the right-handed has a high ceiling and will open the season as the Hawkeyes #3 starter.

Maryland third baseman Taylor Wright

A native of Vancouver before attending Colorado Northwestern Community College, Wright enters his third year of college baseball as Maryland’s expected third baseman. With a lean 6’3, 180-pound frame, Wright is a strong athlete with good bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline, in two years at CNCC Wright drew 56 walks against 40 strikeouts.

Michigan State second baseman Bailey Peterson

A big hole was left for Michigan State at second base with the graduation of Dan Durkin. But the pain will be lessen if Bailey Peterson plays up to the potential Jake Boss sees in the Kellogg Community College transfer. Peterson has a bat-first skill set, similar to former Spartan and All-Big Ten selection Jordan Zimmerman, but isn’t a slouch in the field and brings above-average speed to the bases.

Ohio State outfielder Malik Jones

A two-year standout at Weatherford Community College in Texas, the Buckeye staff views Malik Jones as a top-of-the-order table setter, using speed to be a threat on the bases and cover plenty of ground as the everyday center fielder. In two years at Weatherford, Jones stole 47 bases, but also picked up 34 doubles for the Coyotes.

Purdue left-handed pitcher Ryan Beard

Mark Wasikowski knows it’s a tall task to expect a transfer to step in as a weekend starter, but that’s the role left-handed pitcher Ryan Beard will take on. From College of Southern Idaho Junior College, Beard pitched to a 1.04 ERA and .177 batting average against over 69.1 innings in 2017, using a commandable, low-90s fastball to attack hitters.

Division I transfers

Illinois outfielder Zac Taylor

An 10 Innings preseason All-Big Ten selection, Taylor, a native of Downers Grove, Ill., was a impact player in his two seasons at Houston before transferring to Illinois. Taylor stole 32 bases in 38 attempts in two seasons as a Cougar, before exiting the American Athletic Conference with a bang, batting .375 and slugged .813 with six hits and three runs, one triple and two home runs, while driving in four runs during the 2016 conference tournament.

Indiana right-handed pitcher Connor Manous

Indiana returned nearly every pitcher from its 2016 Lexington Regional team, yet a newcomer looks ready to step into the weekend rotation. Right-handed pitcher Connor Manous has shown outstanding stuff to Chris Lemonis in staff in the offseason. A native of Munster, Ind., Manous, the Chicago Post-Tribune 2016 Player of the Year, was a University of Miami recruit out of high school, but returned home after the fall semester last year as a freshman.

Rutgers right-handed pitcher Karl Blum

A graduate transfer from Duke, Karl Blum joined decided to head back to his home state and join younger brother Kevin as a Scarlet Knight over the season. From Toms River, N.J., Blum is expected to be a key reliever out of the Rutgers bullpen for Joe Literrio, a role he performed well in during his time in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In 2017, Blum held a 3.18 ERA in 28.1 innings, striking out 20 batters in 21 outings.

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