It was a good 2017 season for the Big Ten in the sense that they sent five teams to the NCAA Tournament. However, none of them hosted a regional and none of them moved on to the super regionals. I think they have a chance to get five teams in again, but Maryland and Indiana have a shot to really make some noise in the postseason.
Illinois (2017 Record: 23-28, 9-15)
Illinois won 14 games out-of-conference last year, but really struggled in Big Ten play and only managed nine conference wins, missing the cut for the Big Ten Baseball Tournament.
Right fielder Jack Yalowitz returns after leading the team with a .335 average last year to go along with 42 runs scored, 12 home runs, 44 RBI and 10 stolen bases. Second baseman Michael Massey was second on the team with a .330 average, as well as 6 home runs and 36 RBI. Illinois will lean on those two heavily at the top of the lineup again in 2018.
Joey Gerber led the team with a 4.26 ERA last year in 33 innings pitched with 43 strikeouts and 8 saves. Ty Weber threw the most innings for Illinois last year with 78.1 to go along with a 5.51 ERA and 53 strikeouts. The pitching staff was very young in 2017 and it showed, but Head Coach Dan Hartleb is hoping that experience will help them grow in 2018. They have a couple of transfer pitchers that will be eligible this year in Sean Leland and Andy Fisher that should help the pitching staff.
“We need to improve on the mound. There’s no question we have a lot of talent but we need more consistency this season.” – Head Coach Dan Hartleb
Indiana (2017 Record: 34-24-2, 14-9-1)
The Hoosiers won 32 regular season games last year, but went 1-2 in the Big Ten Baseball Tournament as well as the Lexington Regional.
Head Coach Chris Lemonis said they have 7-of-9 starters in the field coming back in 2018. That group will be led by third baseman Luke Miller who hit .272 last year with 52 runs scored, 15 doubles, 10 home runs and 42 RBI. Matt Lloyd hit .301 with 11 home runs and 46 RBI, while Logan Sowers hit .291 with 13 home runs and 43 RBI.
Indiana is pretty set on the pitching staff as coach Lemonis said they return their entire rotation as well as their bullpen. Jonathan Stiever had a 4.31 ERA in 77.1 innings pitched with 57 strikeouts. Pauly Milto had a 3.92 ERA in 78 innings pitched with 65 strikeouts, while Tim Herrin posted a 3.91 ERA in 53 innings with 38 strikeouts. Matt Lloyd was solid out of the bullpen with a 2.23 ERA in 32.1 innings pitched with 20 strikeouts. Cal Krueger had a 2.82 ERA in 60.2 innings with 37 strikeouts.
“We have almost our whole team back from a team who was a 2-seed last year,” said Head Coach Chris Lemonis. “We have to solidify our bullpen. We have a talented, mature team but we need to be more consistent than last year.”
Iowa (2017 Record: 39-22, 15-9)
Last season was an exciting year for the Hawkeyes as they blasted their way to a Big Ten Baseball Tournament championship led by Jake Adams’ 29 home runs. Iowa was invited to the Houston Regional where they beat host Houston in their first game, but lost the next two and were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.
It will be tough replacing Adams’ 29 home runs this year, but Iowa does have a solid group coming back led by junior right fielder Robert Neustrom. He hit .310 last year with 41 runs scored, 9 home runs, 55 RBI and 10 stolen bases. Neustrom also had a good summer in the Cape Cod League and in the world games. Tyler Cropley should be back behind the plate after hitting .260 a year ago with 41 runs scored, 9 home runs and 36 RBI. Head Coach Rick Heller added that he is “one of the best all-around defensive catchers in the Big Ten, and will hit in the middle of the order as well.” Ben Norman was a Freshman All-American in the outfield last year after hitting .296 with 34 runs scored, 1 home run, 20 RBI and 14 stolen bases.
Right-handed pitcher Brady Schanuel has twice been selected in the MLB Draft, but instead will pitch for Iowa in 2018 after spending two years at Parkland College where he had a 1.83 ERA as a freshman and a 2.13 ERA as a sophomore. Coach Heller said he should be one of Iowa’s top starting pitchers in 2018 with a fastball in the upper 90s. Nick Allgeyer is expected to be a weekend starter after missing last season to Tommy John surgery. Coach Heller said Zach Daniels should return as one of the top closers in the Big Ten. He had a 3.22 ERA in 50.1 innings last year with 55 strikeouts.
“Last year was a special season. We lost a lot of key players to the draft and to graduation. We were a strong offensive team last year with a lot of power. This year we will need to find ways to score runs in a different way. I think we have solid pitching depth, but unproven arms starting on the weekend will need to throw well. We have had an All-Big Ten shortstop the last four years, so finding someone to solidify that position defensively will be a big key to this team as well.” – Head Coach Rick Heller
Maryland (2017 Record: 38-23, 15-9)
It was a solid year for Maryland in 2017, but they really struggled against good competition going 3-8 against teams that were ranked when they played them. They lost the first game of the Big Ten Tournament to the eventual champs in Iowa, but fought back to the semi-finals where they lost to Northwestern. The Terps advanced to the Winston-Salem Regional where they lost to West Virginia twice.
Outfielder Zach Jancarski is back after hitting .325 a year ago with 50 runs scored, 17 doubles, 3 home runs, 26 RBI and 20 stolen bases. Another outfielder, Marty Costes, also returns after hitting .322 with 45 runs scored, 9 doubles, 13 home runs and 46 RBI. He was taken in the 25th round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the Astros, but didn’t sign. Third baseman AJ Lee is also back after hitting .307 last year with 36 runs scored, 8 doubles, 8 home runs, 36 RBI and 15 stolen bases. Will Watson and second baseman Nick Dunn will also return to this lineup. They lose their top hitter from last year, but this should be a very good offense in 2018. Freshman Tommy Gardiner (INF) and Randy Bednar (OF) both had good summers and could contribute right away. Same for junior college transfer Taylor Wright who could earn some time on the infield.
Tyler Blohm and Taylor Bloom will be a solid 1-2 punch in the weekend rotation. Blohm had a 3.48 ERA in 75 innings pitched with 71 strikeouts, while Bloom had a 3.83 ERA in 89.1 innings pitched with 53 strikeouts. Ryan Hill led the team in appearances last year with 29, while posting a 5.01 ERA in 46.2 innings pitched with 55 strikeouts. He could take over as the team’s closer or move into the rotation. John Murphy had a 1.71 ERA in 31.2 innings pitched last year with 27 strikeouts.
Even though their top hitter, pitcher, and head coach from 2017 are gone, pretty much everyone else is coming back and they should compete for the Big Ten title.
Michigan (2017 Record: 42-17, 16-8)
It was a great regular season for the Wolverines, but they flopped in the postseason going two-and-out in the Big Ten Tournament and in the Chapel Hill Regional.
Second baseman Ako Thomas is back after leading the team with a .354 average last year to go along with 41 runs scored and 23 SB. Outfielder Miles Lewis is also back after hitting .296 with 41 runs scored, 14 doubles, 1 home run, 33 RBI and 19 stolen bases. Outfielder Jonathan Engelmann played 57-of-59 games last year and hit .259 with 33 runs scored, 7 doubles, 2 home runs, 30 RBI and 11 stolen bases. Jimmy Kerr should have a bigger role in the offense after hitting .275 a year ago in just 102 at-bats. Michigan loses four of its top six hitters from last year, so expect the offense to take a step back.
They lose 43-of-59 starts from the pitching staff. Alec Rennard returns with the most starting experience after posting a 4.43 ERA in 65 innings pitched (10 starts) last year with 65 strikeouts. Jayce Vancena started five games last year and had a 3.00 ERA in 39 innings pitched with 28 strikeouts. I expect both of them to get a shot to start on the weekend. William Tribucher also made a start last year and posted a 2.63 ERA in 37.2 innings pitched with 43 strikeouts. Tommy Henry was solid out of the bullpen last year with a 3.19 ERA in 31 innings pitched with 39 strikeouts.
This team could take a step back on offense, and even though they lost a lot of innings in the pitching staff as well, I think their pitching will be fine.
Michigan State (2017 Record: 29-23, 10-14)
The Spartans started the season 9-1 overall and then won their first three Big 10 games, but it was pretty much downhill from there as they failed to make the Big 10 Baseball Tournament.
Outfielder Bryce Kelley led the team in hitting as a freshman last year with a .353 average to go along with 34 runs scored, 21 RBI and 13 stolen bases. Chad Roskelly hit .324 last year with 3 home runs and 24 RBI, and should return at catcher and DH. Shortstop Royce Ando is back after hitting .281 last year with 32 runs scored. Outfielder Dan Chmielewski hit .280 last year with 4 home runs, 25 RBI and 12 stolen bases. First baseman/DH Zack McGuire was second on the team with 7 home runs to go along with 32 RBI and a .279 average. Third baseman Marty Bechine hit .263 with 7 home runs, 34 runs scored, 29 RBI and 11 stolen bases. Newcomers Adam Proctor (freshman catcher) and Bailey Peterson (JC Transfer, INF/OF) are expected to have an immediate impact on the lineup.
Jake Lowery had a 3.71 ERA in 51 innings pitched last year with 70 strikeouts and should get a shot in the rotation. Riley McCauley was solid as the team’s closer with a 2.10 ERA in 25.2 innings pitched with 49 strikeouts and 8 saves. Mike Mokma had a 3.20 ERA in 25.1 innings pitched with 15 strikeouts. And Ethan Landon is expected to be a key contributor in the pitching staff as well.
Michigan State will have a young, talented group that will have a lot of first-year players contribute. They expect to be deep positionally. And even though there will be some changes in the pitching staff, they expect to be stocked with talented arms.
Minnesota (2017 Record: 36-21, 15-8)
The Gophers had a solid 2017 season winning 15 conference games and finishing as the three seed in the Big Ten Tournament. There they made it all the way to the semi-finals, but lost to the eventual champion Iowa. Unfortunately, they didn’t do enough to earn an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament.
Second baseman Luke Pettersen returns after leading the team with a .354 average last year to go along with 33 runs scored, 8 doubles and 30 RBI. He also had a solid summer in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. Micah Coffey also had a good summer, but in the Cape Cod League where he hit .282. Last spring he hit .340 with 35 runs scored, 15 doubles, 4 home runs and 46 RBI. Jordan Kozicky was third on the team last year with a .325 average in 166 at-bats with 38 runs scored, 11 doubles, 4 home runs and 28 RBI. He can play multiple positions for Minnesota. First baseman Toby Hanson also returns after hitting .319 a year ago with 35 runs scored, 14 doubles, 5 home runs and 57 RBI. That’s their top four hitters from last year, which should be the foundation for one of the best lineups in the Big Ten.
Reggie Meyer is back after posting a 3.18 ERA last year in 56.2 innings pitched (7 starts) with 32 strikeouts. Fred Manke and Jackson Rose were both solid out of the bullpen last year. Nolan Burchill made eight starts as a freshman last year posting a 4.23 ERA in 27.2 innings pitched with 16 strikeouts. Brett Schulze was also a freshman last season, but made 14 starts and posted a 5.50 ERA in 70.1 innings pitched with 58 strikeouts. Nick Lackney was a big part of the bullpen last year with a 5.85 ERA in 32.1 innings pitched with 28 strikeouts.
Had this team not lost so much in the pitching staff I think they would be a clear favorite atop the conference. But as it is, they’ll need some young pitchers to step up in their sophomore seasons for this team to compete and possibly earn an at-large bid.
Nebraska (2017 Record: 35-22, 16-7-1)
If I’m being perfectly honest, I didn’t think Nebraska deserved an NCAA Tournament spot last year. Their best win of the season was a lone win over Arizona. Still, they made the NCAA Tournament and went two-and-out losing to Yale and Holy Cross.
Outfielder Scott Schreiber returns after being drafted in 26th round in the 2017 MLB Draft by the Tampa Bay Rays. He hit .330 a year ago with 45 runs scored, 15 doubles, 7 home runs and 51 RBI. Shortstop Angelo Altavila hit .316 last year with 38 runs scored, 14 doubles, 1 home run, and 39 RBI. Outfielder Luis Alvarado also returns after hitting .283 last year with 39 runs scored, 12 doubles, 2 home runs and 25 RBI. Outfielder Mojo Hagge and catcher Jesse Wilkening should also have a big impact on the 2018 lineup.
Jake Hohensee should be back in the starting rotation after going 7-3 with a 4.39 ERA last year in 80 innings pitched with 57 strikeouts. Matt Waldron is also back after making six starts last year with a 4.09 ERA in 55 innings pitched with 43 strikeouts. Those two will try to replace Jake Meyers and Derek Burkamper who were their top two starters last year. Jake McSteen was solid out of the bullpen last year with a 2.04 ERA in 39.2 innings pitched with 28 strikeouts. Same for Robbie Palkert who had a 2.61 ERA in 41.1 innings pitched with 39 strikeouts. Chad Luensmann was the team’s closer last year with a 3.74 ERA in 43.1 innings pitched with 33 strikeouts with 8 saves.
This will be a solid bullpen, but the starters will need to step up to repeat last year’s numbers. The offense returns its top two hitters from last year and should be really good if they can find some depth early.
Northwestern (2017 Record: 27-30, 13-11)
Northwestern got off to a slow start losing their first seven games. Of course, 12 of their first 13 games were on the road. However, they also lost nine of their first 13 home games, starting the season 8-20. They picked things up late and made a run in the Big Ten Baseball Tournament but lost to Iowa in the championship game.
Second baseman Alex Erro hit .275 last year with 36 runs scored, 5 home runs, 25 RBI and 7 stolen bases. Jack Claeys returns at catcher after hitting .256 a year ago, while Connor Lind is back at third base after hitting .255 with 26 runs scored, 3 home runs and 31 RBI. Jack Dunn hit .231 with 31 runs scored and 11 stolen bases last year. Freshman David Dunn could get some time in center field this year, while fellow freshman Jack Kelly could get some time behind the plate.
Hank Christie returns with the most starting experience. He had a 4.01 ERA in 83 innings last year with 53 strikeouts. Josh Levy had a 4.95 ERA in 36.1 innings with 35 strikeouts, while Sam Lawrence returns after leading the team with a 2.85 ERA in 47.1 innings pitched and 24 strikeouts. Freshman left-handed pitcher Quinn Lavelle is a newcomer to keep an eye on in the pitching staff this year.
“We need to start off better in our pre-season,” said Head Coach Spencer Allen. “Balance 1-9 in our lineup. We need to improve our on-base-percentage and replace some power numbers lost from last year.” Allen also mentioned, “establishing 3-4 starters on the pitching side.”
Ohio State (2017 Record: 22-34, 8-16)
The Buckeyes were solid on offense in 2017, but struggled to find consistency in the pitching staff. They only won eight conference games and missed out on the Big Ten Baseball Tournament.
Their leading hitter from 2017 returns in outfielder Dom Canzone. He hit .343 last year with 22 runs scored, 3 home runs, 36 RBI and 13 stolen bases. Second baseman Brady Cherry hit .260 with 23 runs scored, 4 home runs and 26 RBI. Third baseman Connor Pohl was second on the team last year with a .325 average in just 80 at-bats. Several newcomers should get immediate playing time in 2018 including center fielder Malik Jones, shortstop Kobie Foppe and catcher Dillon Dingler.
Ryan Feltner struck out 57 batters last year in 62.2 innings pitched with a 6.32 ERA. Connor Curlis also threw 62.2 innings, but had 58 strikeouts and a 4.02 ERA. Seth Kinker had a 2.95 ERA in 58 innings pitched with 54 strikeouts and 7 saves.
Head Coach Greg Beals said he would like to see his team reduce strikeouts, be better defensively on the infield and win close games.
Penn State (2017 Record: 18-37, 4-19)
Penn State was one of the worst teams in the Big Ten last year winning just four conference games. They’re hoping for some improvement in 2018.
Outfielder Braxton Giavedoni led the team in hitting last year as a freshman with a .287 average to go along with 30 runs scored, 10 doubles, 3 home runs and 18 RBI. Second baseman Conlin Hughes is also back after hitting .255 with 29 runs scored, 4 home runs, 19 RBI and 7 stolen bases. Outside of those two, there isn’t much to get excited about on this offense coming back. They’ll need some players to grow up quick, and hopefully find some newcomers that can step in and elevate this offense.
Penn State loses its best starter from last year, but Justin Hagenman does return after posting a 5.49 ERA in a team-high 80.1 innings pitched with 75 strikeouts. Myles Gayman made six starts as a freshman last year and could get a look in the starting rotation. Nick Distasio was good out of the bullpen last year with a 4.96 ERA in 45.1 innings pitched with 50 strikeouts and 4 saves.
There are some big contributors coming back on this team, but it’s hard to see them making a dramatic improvement in the Big Ten.
Purdue (2017 Record: 29-27, 12-12)
The Boilermakers had a mediocre 2017 season, but they did manage to make the Big Ten Baseball Tournament where they went two-and-out.
First baseman Jacson McGowan returns after hitting .292 last year with 24 runs scored, 8 home runs and 50 RBI. Nick Dalesandro is a versatile player who can play catcher and in the outfield. He hit .297 a year ago with 38 runs scored, 3 home runs, 42 RBI and 13 stolen bases, and shows good arm strength behind the plate and from the outfield. Harry Shipley is one of the best defensive shortstops in the Big Ten. He hit .266 with 42 runs scored and 24 stolen bases. Outfielder Skyler Hunter led the team in hitting as a freshman with a .323 average. A couple of junior college transfers, Nick Evarts and Braden Giroux, could have an immediate impact on the lineup. Evarts could start at second or third, while Giroux has a chance at a corner outfield spot. Freshman Ben Nisle also has a chance to start in the outfield.
Tanner Andrews had a 4.52 ERA in 83.2 innings pitched last year with 57 strikeouts, and is expected to be their Friday night starter. Gareth Stroh had a 3.89 REA last year in 90.1 innings pitched and 53 strikeouts. Ross Learnard was great out of the bullpen last year with a 0.58 ERA in 46.1 innings pitched with 37 strikeouts. He had a stretch last year where he pitched 35 consecutive scoreless innings. Dalton Parker was solid as a freshman picking up 6 saves in 16 appearances with a 4.60 ERA in 43 innings pitched with 43 strikeouts. Freshman Cory Brooks has a chance to be a weekend starter, while junior college transfer Ryan Beard has the same expectations.
Purdue is looking for more consistent production on offense in 2018, as well as in the pitching staff, which should be much deeper this season. With their first two Big Ten series on the road, Purdue hopes to be ready to go for conference play, and then take advantage of a long home stretch in late April.
Rutgers (2017 Record: 19-34, 7-16)
Rutgers failed to win 20 games last year and only won seven conference games, which wasn’t good enough to make the Big 10 Baseball Tournament.
Shortstop Kevin Welsh hit .246 last year with 23 runs scored, 20 RBI and 8 stolen bases. Jawuan Harris should be back in center field after hitting .269 with 39 runs scored, 9 home runs, 26 RBI and 23 stolen bases. Nick Matera should be back at catcher after hitting .293 with 5 home runs. Redshirt freshman Dan DiGeorgio should have an impact on the lineup in 2018.
Rutgers returns most of their innings from 2017 with Serafino Brito, John O’Reilly and Joe Neglia. Brito and O’Reilly both threw over 74 innings, but both also had an ERA over 4.80 with less than 48 strikeouts. Neglia had a 1.64 ERA in just 11 innings with 12 strikeouts. Freshman pitchers Harry Rutkowski and Eric Heatter could have an immediate impact on the pitching staff.
Head Coach Joe Litterio said he hopes his team improves their team defense in 2018.
2018 All-Big Ten Preseason Team
C: Tyler Cropley (Iowa)
1B: Toby Hanson (Minnesota)
2B: Ako Thomas (Michigan)
SS: Angelo Altavila (Nebraska)
SS: Harry Shipley (Purdue)
3B: Micah Coffey (Minnesota)
OF: Logan Sowers (Indiana)
OF: Robert Neustrom (Iowa)
OF: Marty Costes (Maryland)
DH: Scott Schreiber (Nebraska)
SP: Pauly Milto (Indiana)
SP: Brady Schanuel (Iowa)
SP: Tyler Blohm (Maryland)
SP: Taylor Bloom (Maryland)
SP: Ryan Feltner (Ohio State)
RP: Riley McCauley (Michigan State)
RP: Ross Learnard (Purdue)
RP: Zach Daniels (Iowa)
1B: Jacson McGowan (Purdue)
2B: Luke Pettersen (Minnesota)
2B: Michael Massey (Illinois)
2B: Nick Dunn (Maryland)
3B: Luke Miller (Indiana)
3B: AJ Lee (Maryland)
OF: Zach Jancarski (Maryland)
OF: Jack Yalowitz (Illinois)
OF: Bryce Kelley (Michigan State)
OF: Dam Canzone (Ohio State)
DH: Matt Lloyd (Indiana)
SP: Jonathan Stiever (Indiana)
SP: William Tribucher (Michigan)
SP: Cal Krueger (Indiana)
RP: Seth Kinker (Ohio State)
RP: Matt Lloyd (Indiana)
RP: Joey Gerber (Illinois)
RP: Chad Luensmann (Nebraska)
RP: Tommy Henry (Michigan)
Predicted Order to Finish:
- Michigan State
- Ohio State
- Penn State