Wednesday, February 28, 2007

BTH Interview

One of the hundred or so things I'd like to do on this blog is interview the people around college baseball. To that end, I asked Tom of the excellent blog, The Baseball Zealot, to participate in a little email question and answer session. In addition to following his beloved Cubs, Tom is a fan of the Illinois baseball program. Tom graciously agreed and here are the highlights of our Q & A.

BTH: How long have you followed Illini baseball?

Tom: Off and on, I’ve followed the team about 5 years and I’ve followed them more intensely the last three years. I also enjoy keeping track of the Illini alumni such as they go on to better things. I was very pleased to see that former Illini catcher Chris Robinson was traded to the Cubs organization. Word from the Illini camp is that he will start out in Cubs’ spring training and will most likely play in Single A Daytona.

BTH: Last year was Coach Hartleb's first at the helm at Illinois . While it's premature to make too many assessments based on a single campaign, what impressions did his initial season leave with you?

Tom: Hartleb was hired as head coach on the heels of a Big Ten championship and the retirement of Itch Jones, who had been head coach for 15 years.

Those were some big shoes to fill, in my opinion. On top of that, many from that 2005 championship team graduated, leaving the 2006 team with some inexperienced players.
That all said, I thought Hartleb did a fantastic job. They played .500 ball and made the Big Ten tournament.

Hartleb will be the first to share any success his team has with his coaching staff as well as his players. That seems to be how he operates. He’s not a micro-manager rather he will delegate his coaching duties to his staff. I get the sense from the players that they like that about him.

I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that 2006 was a “rebuilding” year but 2007 will definitely build on the successes of last year.

BTH: Are you pleased with the direction of the program?

Tom: Overall, I am pleased with the direction with the program. They are competitive in the Big Ten and have an eye for the future.

In addition, the Baseball program at the University of Illinois has a commitment to the local community. I see that during the off-season with their baseball clinics all the way to the last game when they call the kids on the field for a little wiffleball after the game. I don’t think that building community can ever be underestimated for any college team and I think Illinois knows that. Anyone who had any interaction with the players knows that when they meet with the public, they represent the team (and for that matter, the University) and they act accordingly. They’re a great bunch of guys.

The only thing left (other than a College World Series title, of course), is to fill more seats.

BTH: What should be the team's strength in 2007?

Tom: Coach Hartleb stresses the fundamentals. The team is full of speed (four players over ten steals in ‘06), solid defense, and they have the ability to get on base. Once they get a runner on, they know how to get him to scoring position and get him home. Call it small ball, I guess but it works for this team.

All three third-team All-Big Ten players are returning from last year, shortstop Shawn Roof, outfielder Ryan Snowden and secondbaseman Ryan Hastings. Also, thirdbaseman Mike Rohde, who always seems to find a way to get his name in the news for all the right reasons will be back.

BTH: Their potential weakness?

Tom: Losing Brian Blomquist and Matt Whitmore has got to hurt the Illini’s pitching staff a little but I’ve heard from a player that a few of the pitchers replacing them have good stuff so hopefully they know something I don’t.

Last year, power was a bit of an issue. Especially homerun power (23 to opposing 35). Losing 2006 homerun leader Dave Schultz (who will be a volunteer assistant coach in 2007) won’t help either.

BTH: Are there any newcomers we should watch for? How about returning players you anticipate having a breakout season?

Tom: Outfielder Nick Stockwell who had 7 at-bats all of last year, led all players in hitting in this fall’s Orange-Blue series. I don’t think that guarantees him a starting spot but it doesn’t hurt his chances for more playing time.

Kyle Hudson who played half the season last year but hit .375 may get more playing time in 2007. Hudson is on the Illinois football team, by the way.

Freshman catcher Joe Mercurio probably won’t steal any playing time from regular backstop Lars Davis but he’s someone to watch in the future. I sat behind home plate during the Orange-Blue Series in the fall when Mercurio was behind the plate. He’s an intense player and quick behind the plate.

BTH: What are your expectations for this year?

Tom: With a large graduating class in 2005, the 2006 team had very few returning starters and still managed to play pretty much .500 ball even in conference play. With all that, we can expect the 2007 team to be stronger and more experienced.

Will they compare with the perennial powerhouses of Michigan and Ohio State ? Time will tell. But I’m sure they’ll have fun and will give it their best shot.

BTH: I think I know the answer to this one, but I'll ask anyway. What would be a bigger thrill: The Cubs in the World Series or the Illini in Omaha ?

Tom: Let me answer this delicate question this way. My perfect season would be this: The Illini would win the College World Series, Shawn Roof would be drafted by the Cubs (where he would eventually join former teammate Chris Robinson) and the Cubs would win the World Series.

One thing is for sure. If either team made it to their respective World Series, I’d be there.

Thanks for opportunity to talk about the Illinois Baseball program and Go Illini!!

I'd like to thank Tom for participating in my very first interview. He's a great fan of the game both pro and college. The Baseball Zealot is an insightful baseball blog and Tom and the lads crank out TBZ Radio, as well. I encourage you to check out their multi-media empire. Again, thanks, Tom.

Central Florida Drops Michigan, 7-6

It took ten innings, but Central Florida slipped past Michigan, 7-6 Tuesday night. UCF's Shane Brown had a couple of RBI to lead the offense. Kyle Sweat grabbed the win pitching the final stanza. Michigan's Adam Abraham took the loss.

U of M LF Zach Putnam continued his hot start by collecting three hits including his first homerun of the year. Putnam also paced the Wolverines with three RBI. C Doug Pickens also went yard for the first time in 2007. SS Jason Christian, who has taken over the position from injured Leif Mahler, went 3 for 4.

Michigan outhit UCF, 15-10, but Wolverine pitchers also plunked a modestly amazing five UCF batters. The Wolverines fell to 3-1. Central Florida is now 5-7.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Thoughts From The Weekend

This is the first of what I hope will be a weekly post here at BTH. It's the run-of-the-mill weekend review feature. If this works out, I'll probably give it a better name, but I'll wait to see where the concept goes and if I can pull it off before committing to a snappy title. I'd love to hear any feedback you may have on this post including a potential name. (Sorry, Ramblings of an Idiot was already suggested.)

Kicking The Ball Around
What did we learn from this weekend's action? Well, the first thing that caught my attention was how rusty the teams were defensively. Big Ten teams committed a ton of errors this weekend. I know one of them managed seven in a game. Seven. Don't make me go look up which team had that misfortune. Just trust me. It was seven. That poor program wasn't alone by any stretch of the imagination. I seem to recall a six and plenty of four and three error games, as well. That simply isn't going to win many games on any level. I'm thinking fielding practice will be high on most coaches "To Do" list this week.

Kids On Campus
About the only thing in equal quantity to fielding mistakes in the conference this past weekend was the number of freshmen on the scene. We knew Indiana was going to play a bevy of fresh faces (2B Evan Crawford is leading the early charge, but C Josh Phegley and Brian Lambert are getting AB's, too) with so many on the roster, but the Hoosiers are far from alone in playing first year athletes.

Northwestern is trotting out three most days -- 1B Jake Goebbert, 3B Kenneth Avila and C Chad Noble. They also have frosh pitchers Matt Diedrich and Cole Livermore taking the hill. Ohio State is giving both SS Cory Rupert and OF Ryan Dew plenty of game action thus far.

MSU coach David Grewe is writing OF Eli Boike and SS Chris Roberts on his lineup card regularly. Minnesota IF Derek McCallum is off to a solid start for the undefeated Gophers. Illinois has gotten production from first year 3B Brandon Wikoff. Coach Hartleb has also given Michael Giller some early season at bats.

I'm sure there are more (and my apologies to anyone I may have overlooked), but it felt like the I typed the word freshman quite a bit the last three days. These players are a big reason for that.

Players of the Week?
My guess is that the conference will name Purdue's Ricky Heines Pitcher of the Week. Tossing a shutout at Georgia in Athens would make almost anyone their conference's POTW. The offensive player is a bit harder to figure. I'm leaning towards Michigan's Zach Putnam who had two hits in each of the Wolverines three games plus earned a victory in the first contest. The W should not count towards his work with the bat, but it might. (Update: As I post this a day after I wrote this segment, we find the Gophers' Mike Mee claimed POTW honors, not Putnam.)

The All-Weekend Team
As part of my weekend review feature, I've been pondering the inclusion of an All-Weekend Team. Let me give it a try and see how it goes. Heines and Putnam would both be on the pitching staff. (Putnam would see OF action, too.) Indiana's Tyler Tufts would get a spot on the pitching staff, as well. Michigan State's John Dwan and Northwestern's Ryan Myers round out the rotation. Michigan's Ben Jenzen and Minnesota's Josh Oslin are the bullpen.

Michigan's Adam Abraham is the thirdbaseman (and middle reliever). Shortstop goes to Iowa's Jason White, secondbase belongs to Ohio State's Jason Zoeller, firstbase is the domain of Michigan's Nate Recknagel. Catcher is Ohio State's Eric Fryer. My All-Weekend DH is Wes Freie of Iowa.

The outfield would consist of Putnam, Northwestern's Caleb Fields and Minnesota's Mike Mee.

I'm not sure I'll be taking on that task again. Too darn difficult. Feel free to criticize these choices or offer some of your own. You can find my email address in the sidebar and there's always the option of leaving a comment.

Last At Bat
To close this first weekend review, here's my favorite line of the weekend:
Michigan State         IP  H  R ER BB SO AB BF
Nolan Moody......... 1.2 0 0 0 0 4 4 5
The Michigan State junior faced the last five batters of the game and struck out four of them. No runs, no walks, no hits, four K's.

BTH Preview 2007: 10 Pitchers You Should Know

Yes, I've finally gotten around to posting my 10 Pitchers You Should Know. Like the hitters list, it's in no particular order. It's your basic introduction to some of the better pitchers in the Big Ten. At least, in my opinion, which is based on two things. 1) Whatever I've seen in person. 2) Whatever information I've been able to acquire. The latter being in short supply, but that's why I started this blog.

1. Dan DeLucia, Ohio State - Collegiate Baseball’s choice as pre-season Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. On the Roger Clemens Award watch list. OSU’s Friday starter went 10-2 last year with a 3.25 ERA. The senior lefty also fanned 69 while yielding only 25 walks. A first team All-Big pick in 2006.

2. Zach Putnam, Michigan - A second team All-Big Ten performer as a freshman. Putnam was 6-2 with a 2.51 ERA in his first year of collegiate ball. Considered the best pro prospect in the conference by Baseball America. Projected as the 2007 Big Ten Player of the Year by both Collegiate Baseball and Baseball America.

3. Cory Luebke, Ohio State - The OSU lefthander was named a pre-season all-conference selection by Baseball America which also considers Luebke the fourth best pro prospect in the Big Ten. The junior finished 10th in the conference in strikeouts (65) and tied for fourth in wins (7). Luebke was named third team All-Big Ten after the 2006 season.

4. Chris Fetter, Michigan - Named to the pre-season Clemens Award watch list. A conference leading 2.22 ERA combined with a 5-2 mark earned Fetter a first team All-Big Ten nod in his initial campaign in Ann Arbor. The righthander struck out 48 while walking only 14. Opposing batters hit .246 against Fetter, which was the fourth best mark in the Big Ten.

5. Rory Meister, Ohio State - Tired of seeing these Buckeye hurlers, yet? Well, the OSU closer is just as good as their heralded rotation. Meister is on the pre-season Stopper of the Year watch list. The Ohio State star finished tied for third in saves (6) and paced the Big Ten in appearances (29).

6. Ben Jenzen, Michigan - Tired of seeing these Wolverine hurlers, yet? Michigan’s closer also made the pre-season Stopper of the Year watch list. The righthander earned pre-season all-conference recognition from Baseball America. Last year, Jenzen was 2-0 with a 2.86 ERA and had six saves.

7. Dustin Braebender, Minnesota - Yeah, I had to break up the Michigan/Ohio State thing eventually. Last year, Braebender held opponents to a .229 batting average which was third best in the conference. He went 6-5 with a 3.96 ERA in ‘06. Baseball America lists the Gophers’ righthander as the fifth best pro prospect in the Big Ten. Braebender will probably slide into the Friday starter’s role this season.

8. Josh Lindblom, Purdue - The transfer from Tennessee enters the season as perhaps the most hyped newcomer in the Big Ten. Baseball America has the RHP listed as the second best pro prospect in the conference trailing only Putnam. May move straight into Friday starter's spot.

9. Jake Toohey, Illinois - Toohey is one of the conference’s best closers. He tied for sixth in the Big Ten in saves in ’06. The Illini righthander had a very strong summer in the Northwoods League and probably should have been added to the Stopper of the Year pre-season watch list.

10. J.B. Shuck, Ohio State - Another Clemens Award watch list member. The Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year and Freshman All-America in 2006. Shuck went 8-5 with a 2.51 ERA as the Buckeyes fourth starter. A pre-season All-Big Ten pick by Baseball America.

Here’s ten more that we should keep an eye on. Jake Hale, Ohio State; Tanner Roark, Illinois; Ricky Heines, Purdue; Doug Fleenor, Indiana; Dan Sattler, Purdue; Gary Perniar, Minnesota; Craig Clark, Penn State; Craig Brookes, Michigan State; Tyler Tufts, Indiana; and instead of me flipping a coin for the last spot, I’ll just stop here. Hey, cut me some slack. I gave you nineteen names for a top ten list.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Late Saturday And Sunday Results

Louisiana-Lafayette swept Illinois by taking the final game of their weekend series today, 10-7. ULL designated hitter Scott Hawkins drove in four runs on two hits, including a homerun. RF Kolin Taylor also went yard for ULL. Justin Robichaux won the game in relief.

For the Illini, Ben Reeser got roughed up early and lasted only three innings. 1B Mike Rohde tripled and drove in two. OF Ryan Snowden also knocked in a pair behind a two hit performance.

Late Saturday night, Indiana beat Georgia Southern, 5-1, to earn their first win of the year. IU starter Tyler Tufts pitched a complete game six hitter. Tufts walked only one batter and struck out three. Freshman leadoff man Evan Crawford had two hits and two RBI. 3B Tyler Cox had a hit, run scored and RBI.

In another late Saturday score, Michigan State got beat by Auburn, 11-6. MSU freshman Chris Roberts went 3 for 4 in his debut. Spartans C Sean Walker hit his first homer of the season. Auburn backstop Josh Donaldson went 3 for 4 with a homer, three runs scored and three RBI.

Minnesota remained undefeated by beating Virginia Tech, 7-3. Mike Mee was 2 for four with a RBI and run scored. Tyler Oaks won the game for the Gophers and Marcus McKenzie posted his first save.

Purdue split a Saturday night doubleheader with Georgia. Ricky Heines shutout the Bulldogs in the first game, 5-0. Heines pitched a complete game, five hitter and fanned five UGA batters.

Game two went to Georgia, 2-0. Three UGA pitchers combined to toss a three hit shutout. Bulldogs 3B Ryan Piesel drove in both runs.

Update: More Sunday Scores
CF Eric Rose hit a homerun in the 13th inning to power Michigan past Bethune-Cookman, 7-6. LHP Mike Wilson earned the win in relief. The Wolverines used seven pitchers on the day. 3B Adam Abraham had three hits and Zach Putnam had two, giving him two hits in each of the first three games.

Seton Hall slipped past Ohio State, 6-5. The Pirates plated three in the eighth and two more in the ninth to top their comeback victory. J.B. Shuck went eight innings before tiring. OSU 2B Jason Zoeller hit his first homer of the year.

Iowa reached the winner's column by defeating Arkansas-Little Rock, 9-6. Hawkeyes' 1B Wes Freie went 3 for 4 with a homer and four RBI. C Dusty Napoleon drove in two. SS Jason White and 3B Kevin Hoef each scored a pair of Iowa runs. Nick Erdman grabbed the win in relief. Mike Schurz collected the save.

Michigan State doubled up Jacksonville, 4-2. MSU starter John Dwan went six innings allowing only three hits while walking one to earn the W. Dwan also fanned four and yielded but a single run. Nolan Moody picked up the save in dominant fashion by striking out four of the final five batters in the game. CF Dennis Jones had two hits, two RBI and stole a base for the Spartans. It was Michigan State's first triumph of the season.

Update 2:
I'm not quite sure how this one snuck past me, but Northwestern beat Creighton Sunday, 4-3. Ryan Myers allowed six hits, one earned run, two walks and struck out five to post the win for the Wildcats. David Jensen worked three innings to get his second save of the year. LF Caleb Fields had two hits and freshman catcher Chad Noble hit his first college homerun.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Saturday Scores

Kansas State 5 Ohio State 4 (Game 1)
Kansas State 5 Ohio State 2 (Game 2)
In the first game, Ohio State LHP Cory Luebke allowed only four hits, three runs, only one earned run and fanned five over seven innings, but the Buckeye bullpen couldn't hold onto the lead. C Eric Fryer and OF J.B. Shuck had two hits a piece, CF Matt Angle and 2B Jason Zoeller each had a hit, run scored and a RBI.

The nightcap saw KSU SS Eli Rumler go yard and drive in two. Josh Barrera started for OSU. He worked 5.2 innings yielding eight hits and two runs, only one of which was earned. Barrera got a no decision. Shuck led the offense, again, with a hit and two RBI.

Arkansas State 8 Northwestern 5 (Box)
ASU's five run first was too much for the Wildcats. NU CF Aaron Newman banged out three hits and scored three times. LF Caleb Fields had three hits, as well, and drove in three of the Wildcats five runs. RF Antonio Mule drove in the other two NU tallies. Keeping with the theme this weekend, NU managed to make six errors.

Minnesota 6 The Citadel 3 (Box)
3B Nate Hanson hit his second homerun in as many days to led the Gophers attack. 2B Derek McCallum went 4 for 4 with a RBI and a stolen base. Mike Mee, Matt Nohelty and Kyle Baran each had two hits. Dustin Braebender notched win number two of the year for Minnesota. Josh Oslin posted his second straight save.

Michigan 9 Bethune-Cookman 3 (Box)
1B Nate Recknagel went yard for the first time this year, drove in four runs and scored two more to pace Michigan's offense. Brad Roblin, Adam Abraham and Zach Putnam each had two hits a piece. Abraham also pitched four innings of one hit, no run relief to post the victory. Chris Fetter started for Michigan. He struck out six in five innings allowing three runs, one earned.

Southern Mississippi 15 Indiana 4 (Box)
A five run first inning doomed IU today. Indiana SS Keith Haas went 3 for 3 with two RBI. OF Andrew Means had a couple of hits and Evan Crawford continued his strong start by collecting a hit, a run and a RBI. Southern Miss is undefeated at 7-0. RF Jody Blount went 4 for 6 with two runs scored and two RBI for USM.

Louisiana -Lafayette 7 Illinois 6 (Box)
Freshman 3B Brandon Wikoff moved to the leadoff spot and responded with a three hit performance. SS Shawn Roof also had a three hit game. Mike Stankiewicz started for the Illini, but got a no decision. ULL 3B Devery Van De Keere went two for three with a pair of runs scored and a pair of RBI. John Zorich pitched eight innings of relief, yes, relief, to earn the win.

Iowa's game was postponned due to rain. The other Saturday results were not available as I type.

Friday Night High And Low Lights

Illinois fell to Louisiana-Lafayette, 13-5. ULL OF Nolan Gisclair went 4 for 6 with three RBI. Hunter Moody posted the victory. Illinois' Scott Shaw took the loss. Freshman 3B Brandon Wikoff had a pair of hits for Illinois.

Troy snuck past Indiana, 4-3 in extra innings. Freshman 2B Evan Crawford had a two hits in his collegiate debut for IU. Fellow first year players Brian Lambert and Josh Phegley each had RBI. Doug Fleenor started and went six innings, but did not factor in the decision. Hoosier reliever Chris McCombs took the loss. Like Illinois, Indiana opened the season with a three error performance.

Arkansas-Little Rock put a hurt on Iowa, 8-2. Brian Burmester and Matt Wooldrik had two hits a piece. David Conroy started but lasted only two innings. Scott Brune took the loss for Iowa in relief.

Zach Putnam led Michigan to an opening day win versus Bethune-Cookman, 5-3. The sophomore pitched 5.1 innings while striking out six to earn the win. Putnam also had two hits, including a triple, drove in a run and scored another. OF Brad Roblin also had a pair of hits. Ben Jenzen posted his first save.

Michigan State fell to South Alabama, 5-1. 2B Steve Gerstenberger and C Kyle Day each had two hits on opening day.

Lamar pounded Northwestern, 16-2. NU's Antonio Mule went 2 for 3 and drove in a run. In what appears to be a trend for Big Ten schools yesterday, the Wildcats committed four errors.

Georgia shutout Purdue, 9-0. The Boilermakers managed to make three misplays themselves Friday. RHP Josh Lindblom had a tough start lasting only 4.2 innings. Spencer Ingaldson's two hits were the highlight for Purdue.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Gophers Beat UNC-Asheville, 7-5

Minnesota won it's first contest of 2007 with a 7-5 triumph over UNC-Asheville. Minnesota's Gary Perniar started and struck out eight batters in his four innings. Perniar allowed three hits and one earned run. Bill Johnson got the win in relief. Josh Oslin picked up save number one. Minnesota 3B Nate Hanson hit his first collegiate homerun and drove in three to lead the Gophers' offense. Catcher Jeff DeSmidt also went yard for Minnesota. 1B Mike Mee had three hits and a RBI.

UNC-Asheville DH Edmond Locklear had two hits, including a homer, and two RBI.

OSU drops JMU, 8-6

Ohio State senior Dan DeLucia worked six innings, striking out six and walking only one to lead the Buckeyes past James Madison, 8-6. DeLucia allowed three earned runs and six hits. Rory Meister came in to work 1.2 innings to notch his first save of the new year.

Offensively, JMU star Kellen Kulbacki homered and went 3 for 3 with four RBI. Mitchell Moses collected two hits and the other two Dukes RBI. The Buckeyes countered with a three RBI afternoon from freshman RF Ryan Dew. 3B Tony Kennedy had three hits while CF Matt Angle, DH Jacob Howell, 1B Justin Miller and C Eric Fryer each had pair of hits.

BTH Preview 2007: Illinois

Head Coach: Dan Hartleb
2006 Record: 29-29 (15-17 in Big Ten)
2006 RPI: 138
Projected 2007 Big Ten Finish:
Baseball America: 7th
Collegiate Baseball: 5th

At The Plate: Illinois can hit. Second team All-Big Ten OF Ryan Snowden (.342/1/28 RBI) leads the Illini attack. Snowden gets plenty of support, though. 2B Ryan Hastings (.3191/35) and SS Shawn Roof (.333/0/22) were third team all-conference choices in 2006 and comprise the best middle infield in the Big Ten. C Lars Davis (.307/5/38), 3B Mike Rohde (.315/3/38), CF Kyle Hudson (.375), OF Joe Bonadonna (.352 in Big Ten action) and IF Dominic Altobelli (.289) are proven hitters, as well.

Two hitters to look for this year are Nick Stockwell and newcomer OF Daniel Webb. Stockwell saw time mostly as a defensive replacement in his first season, but had a strong fall. Stockwell could end up at 3B. Webb, who appears to be the Illini RF, is a JUCO transfer who could become a significant piece to the Champaign Hit Parade.

On The Mound: Tanner Roark (4-0, 4.99) and Ben Reeser (3-3, 6.42) are Illinois’ top two starters. Scott Shaw (2-2, 5.71) and Aaron Martin will probably comprise the back-end of their weekend rotation. Closer Jake Toohey (3 wins, 6 saves) is amongst the best in the conference. He is also coming off an outstanding summer league.

The Schedule: The 2007 slate isn’t quite as bad as I thought. Of course, visiting Louisiana-Lafayette for three is not easy. Nor are three more at UT-Arlington, but this is not the toughest non-conference schedule the Illini have ever played. In conference, Ohio State and Minnesota will visit Champaign. (As will, IU and MSU, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned every Big Ten series in any of the other previews.) The road highlights are trips to Ann Arbor, West Lafayette and Evanston.

Bottom Line: Illinois is my dark horse choice in the Big Ten. Coach Hartleb returns a balanced ball club -- they can run, hit, catch and pitch. I would certainly expect Illinois to qualify for the conference tournament. It will be difficult to overtake both Michigan and Ohio State, but if a couple of players step-up, Illinois might be in the running for the top spot overall.

BTH Preview 2007: Indiana

Head Coach: Tracy Smith
2006 Record: 22-34 (11-21 in Big Ten)
2006 RPI: 218
Projected 2007 Big Ten Finish:
Baseball America: 10th
Collegiate Baseball: 10th

At The Plate: A year ago, I dubbed Indiana the Go-Go Hoosiers. Coach Smith’s nine was running at every opportunity and finished 2006 with three of the top eight leaders in stolen bases in the conference. The leading returnee is second team All-Big Ten 2B Keith Haas. Haas swiped twenty-four bases in 2006 while hitting .353.

Another part of IU’s track meet will be OF Andrew Means. Means, a sophomore, hit .301 and stole 16 bases in his freshman campaign. I would expect veteran players like Josh Richardson, Jon Fixler and Ben Greenspan to be part of IU’s lineup throughout 2007. However, experience is in short order in Bloomington this spring. IU features an underclassman dominated roster, including 18 freshmen. One first year player that might see plenty of time is last year’s Mr. Baseball in Indiana, catcher Josh Phegley.

On The Mound: At least Indiana does have some experience on the mound. Junior Doug Fleenor was 4-3 with a 2.57 ERA last year. Sophomores Tyler Tufts (2-1, 3.73 in Big Ten action) and Joe Vicini also return to battle for spots in the rotation. Vicini lead IU with five wins and tied for the team lead with three saves. Chris McCombs and freshman Matt Bashore are in the mix for a regular turn on the mound, as well.

The Schedule: A three game visit to Florida State dominates the IU non-conference schedule. In the Big Ten, the Hoosiers don’t play Michigan, but do have to travel to Ohio State, Purdue and Illinois. Minnesota comes to Bloomington.

Bottom Line: Indiana is so very young this year, it’s difficult to imagine them in the conference tournament field. However, they will be fun to watch. And you had best watch closely, because they will not be standing around. Overall, things are on the upswing in Bloomington. In addition to having some intriguing young players, the administration has made a financial commitment to Coach Smith’s program. The baseball facilities are going to be upgraded which will only help in the recruiting process. Indiana baseball looks to be on the rise even if this year ‘s won-loss record doesn’t reflect that.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Thursday Night Links

The Michigan site at takes a stab at U of M's lineup. Their projected lineup seems right except everything I've heard and read indicates that Zach Putnam will get plenty of at bats. I'm presuming at DH.

Southern College Sports has a article about Ohio State sophomore star J.B. Shuck.

Jason Grodsky at the Daily Illini gives us a preview of Dan Hartleb's Illinois squad.

Then we have Sports Information Departments hard at work. As this is the first weekend of play for a majority of the conference, Northwestern and Penn State already have games under their belts, we've got press releases from those in action. Let's take them in reverse alphabetical order.

Purdue looks ahead to their series with Georgia. (All three games will be on the internet. Nice work, Boilers.)

Ohio State gets to host their own tournament, the Buckeye Baseball Classic.

Northwestern takes the field in Texas, again.

Minnesota opens 2007 in Charleston, South Carolina.

Michigan State is in Alabama as part of the Coca-Cola Classic.

Michigan begins their campaign versus Bethune-Cookman in Florida.

Iowa takes on Arkansas-Little Rock.

Indiana finds itself in Alabama as part of the Wiregrass Baseball Classic.

Illinois is in Cajun Country against Louisiana-Lafayette.

And, yes, IU and Illini fans, my preview of your program is coming. So, too, is my list of Ten Pitchers You Should Know. You didn't think I was going to just do a hitters list, did you? However, there are only so many hours in a day and this blog isn't exactly paying my internet bills (or any bills, for that matter) so other things do take precedence.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

BTH Preview 2007: Iowa

Head Coach: Jack Dahm
2006 Record: 23-33 (12-20 in Big Ten)
2006 RPI: 179
Projected 2007 Big Ten Finish:
Baseball America: 6th
Collegiate Baseball: 9th

At The Plate: As the Hawkeyes probably won’t hit too many homeruns, Jack Dahm’s side will be aggressive on the base paths. Leading that charge will be CF Travis Sweet (.304/1/27/22 SB) and SS Jason White (.308/0/24/18 SB). Sweet was named as Baseball America’s pre-season All-Big Ten 2B, one of many positions (2B, OF, P) he played a year ago. White garnered all conference consideration two years ago when he played at second.

C Dusty Napoleon (.248/2/34), 1B Wes Freie (.261/0/15), DH Brian Burmester (.280/2/11) and 3B Kevin Hoef (.295) will be counted on to drive these leadoff hitters in.

On The Mound: The top spot in Iowa‘s rotation‘s falls to David Conroy. He will be followed to the hill by Steve Turnbull and Nick Erdman. This is an untested group that between them posted only a single victory in 2006. The biggest story amongst Hawkeye hurlers is the return of Casey O’Rourke from cancer. O’Rourke missed all of last season.

The Schedule: The Hawkeyes, like much of the Big Ten this year, have a pretty interesting non-conference schedule. Iowa will play Nebraska twice, Fresno State four times and have Stetson and Notre Dame on the docket. Iowa’s conference slate is no picnic, either. They get Ohio State, Purdue and Minnesota on the road, while Illinois and Michigan visit Iowa City.

Bottom Line: The Hawkeyes might be able to hit and run their way into conference tournament participation, but their fate lies in the hands (and arms) of their pitching staff. It’s a mostly unproven unit that will need some unexpected success in order to claim on of the top six spots in the Big Ten. Coach Dahm appears to be taking Iowa in the right direction, although the results might not be visible as quickly as either he or Iowa’s fans might like.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Penn State Pair Win Weekly Awards

Penn State 2B Matt Cavagnaro and P/SS Scott Gaffney each earned weekly honors from the Big Ten Conference. Cavagnaro was named the conference's Player of the Week, while Gaffney earned Pitcher of the Week.

Here is the Big Ten's official press release. Penn State issued their own, as well.

Coach Todd Hits The Airwaves

Ohio State Head Coach Bob Todd's weekly radio show will return in 2007. WBNS-AM 1460, The Fan in Columbus will be the home of Coach Todd's program.

BTH Preview 2007: Michigan

Head Coach: Rich Maloney
2006 Record: 43-21 (23-9 in Big Ten)
2006 RPI: 50
Projected 2007 Big Ten Finish:
Baseball America: 1st
Collegiate Baseball: 1st
National Rankings:
Baseball America 40th
Collegiate Baseball 38th
PG Cross Checker 43rd

At The Plate: Potentially, Michigan has the most dynamic offense in the Big Ten. 1B Nate Recknagel hit .372/8/41 while garnering second team All-Big Ten honors a year ago. First team All-Big Ten CF Eric Rose hit .329 while driving in 44 runs and stealing 32 bases. C Doug Pickens hit at a .302 mark, went yard seven times and drove in 47. Freshman All-America Adam Abraham moves to 3B, a year after hitting .304/6/31.

The X factor in Michigan’s lineup could be another 2006 Freshman All-America, Zach Putnam. Putnam was a second team All-Big Ten pitcher last year, but will now get regular at bats as both a DH and OF.

On The Mound: In Putnam and Chris Fetter, a first team All-Big Ten choice in ‘06, Michigan has as good a 1-2 combination as anyone in the conference. In Big Ten action, Putnam went 4-1 with a dazzling 1.88 ERA. All Fetter did in his first year was go 5-2 with a conference leading 2.22 ERA.

The questions for the Wolverines begin with their number three starter. Andrew Hess, Michael Powers, Abraham (?) or a freshman, quite possibly New Jersey prep star Eric Katzman, will battle for the remaining spots in the rotation. Ben Jenzen, Michigan’s closer, is on the the pre-season list for Stopper of the Year.

The Schedule: Michigan has a very RPI-friendly schedule this season. The non-conference opposition comes in the form of Troy (two games), Mississippi State, San Diego, San Diego State, Oklahoma and East Carolina (three games). There are also annual contests with Notre Dame and Central Michigan, who is one of the favorites in the MAC this year.

Their conference slate is favorable with the notable exception of their weekend series in Columbus versus the OSU side considered to be the next best team in the Big Ten. I’ve also heard there is something of a rivalry between these two programs. Who knew?

Bottom Line: Michigan should be the pre-season favorites in the conference. The Wolverines, who captured the regular season and conference tournament championships last year, have the most impressive lineup in the Big Ten, a solid front end of the rotation and a very good closer. Of course, they have questions, but Michigan has more than enough talent to win the conference and make some noise in the NCAA Tournament.

Monday, February 19, 2007

PSU Splits Last Two Games

Penn State posted its first win of 2007 by beating Centenary, 7-6, Sunday. Scott Gaffney, normally the Nittany Lions' SS, started for the first times since Little League and led PSU to the win. OF Rick Marlin went 3 for 4 with a homerun. 3B Mike Deese also collected three hits and two RBI.

The Nittany Lions, unfortunately, dropped the bottom half of their Saturday doubleheader. Kansas State prevailed in that affair, 4-1. Cory Wine, Matt Cavagnaro and Deese each had a pair of hits in the loss. Chase Bayuk, KSU's starter, fanned six in six innings of work allowing the only PSU tally.

Coach Wine's squad is off until March 2 when they travel to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina in a three game set.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

BTH Preview 2007: Michigan State

Head Coach: David Grewe
2006 Record: 26-30 (13-19 in Big Ten)
2006 RPI: 148
Projected 2007 Big Ten Finish:
Baseball America: 4th
Collegiate Baseball: 7th

At The Plate: Sophomore catcher Kyle Day will lead Michigan State’s offense. Day, a Freshman All-America last season, hit .315 with three homeruns, drove in thirty-three, scored 52 runs and stole ten bases. He was named as Baseball America’s pre-season All-Big Ten catcher. 1B Steve Gerstenberger will also be a vital part of Coach Grewe’s offense. Gerstenberger hit .331/4/30, was tenth in slugging percentage (.518) and led the conference in triples (7).

Michigan State has one of the Big Ten’s top recruits in freshman SS Chris Roberts. Baseball America has Roberts listed as the second highest rated newcomer in the conference.

On The Mound: The Spartans return a veteran pitching staff. Mike Monterey (7-5, 4.70), John Dwan (2-5, 6.33), Mark Sorenson (3-4, 5.87) and Craig Brookes (2-4, 4.56) all return and will most likely comprise MSU’s rotation in 2007. If they can improve on last year’s numbers, MSU’s staff could be it’s strong point in 2007.

The Schedule: A three game set at Oklahoma and a game against Auburn highlight the non-conference portion of MSU‘s slate. There is also a contest against MAC favorite Central Michigan. In Big Ten play, the Spartans have to hit the road to play Ohio State and Minnesota plus have their annual home and home series with Michigan. From a strictly scheduling standpoint, it’s going to be an uphill battle for MSU.

Bottom Line: Rightly or wrongly, I’ve generally perceived the Spartans to be a team that always hit pretty well, but didn’t have the pitching to compete for a conference championship. This year, things appear to be reversed. I expect MSU’s pitching staff to be better with another year of experience, but only Day and Gerstenberger have proven they can produce with the bat. If the Spartans can find some offensive support for their big two hitters, MSU should contend for a conference tournament slot.

BTH Preview 2007: 10 Hitters You Should Know

1. Antonio Mule, DH, Northwestern - Hit .357 with 11 homers and 47 RBI in 2006. Had an OPS of 1.009. Was a first team All-Big Ten in the regular season and the post-season. Launched a majestic shot during the conference tournament at Michigan’s Ray Fisher Stadium that has still not landed.

2. Nate Recknagel, 1B, Michigan - Reckagel’s .372 batting average is the highest figure amongst returning regular players in the Big Ten. Also knocked out eight homers, driving in 41 runs and had an OPS of 1.017 (also tops amongst returning players in the conference). Was a second team All-Big Ten selection during the regular season and was picked as conference’s All-Tournament 1B.

3. Ryne White, OF/1B, Purdue - A fabulous freshman last year, White hit .352/6/42. Tenth in the Big Ten in total bases (105) and on base percentage (.430) and ninth in slugging percentage (.536). White was a second team All-Big Ten choice in 2006 and was named to the Freshman All-America side.

4. Matt Angle, CF, Ohio State - A unanimous first team All-Big Ten choice. His .369 batting average is the second highest amongst returning Big Ten regulars. He paced the conference in runs scored (63) and was fourth in stolen bases with 25. Played summer ball in the prestigous Cape Cod League.

5. Eric Rose, CF, Michigan - Rose’s 32 stolen bases are the top mark amongst returning Big Ten regulars (it was good enough for second last year). Although, Michigan’s leadoff hitter, he was tenth in the conference in RBI with 44. A first team All-Big Ten pick and also was tabbed for the All-Tournament team.

6. Eric Fryer, C, Ohio State - A second team All-Big Ten performer in ‘06. The Buckeyes’ backstop hit .368 which was fifth best overall in the conference. He also posted the seventh best slugging percentage (.542) and on base percentage (.442) in the Big Ten.

7. Kyle Day, C, Michigan State - Baseball America’s choice as pre-season first team All-Big Ten catcher. As a freshman in 2006, the Spartans’ receiver hit .315/3/33. Day also managed to steal 10 bases and hit five triples. Day was another member of the Big Ten selected as a Freshman All-American.

8. Ryan Snowden, OF, Illinois - Snowden was eighth in the Big Ten in both on base percentage (.435) and hits (76), fourth in runs scored (53) and first in doubles (20). Snowden also hit .342 with 103 total bases. The Illini OF was named to the All-Big Ten second team in 2006.

9. Adam Abraham, 3B/OF, Michigan - Yet another Big Ten first year star named to the Freshman All-America team in 2006. He was the Big Ten tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and was named to the post-season team both as a pitcher and DH. Abraham hit .304/6/31 a year ago which earned him third team All-Big Ten consideration.

10. Doug Pickens, C/2B/OF, Michigan - Pickens, the Wolverines cleanup hitter in ‘06, hit .302 with seven homeruns and forty-seven RBI. He also collected 107 total bases. While primarily a second baseman last season, Pickens moves behind the plate full-time for Michigan this year.

Here's ten more offensive players to watch because I had a tough time just picking ten and 'cause it's my blog. Zach Putnam, OF/DH, Michigan; Kyle Baran, OF, Minnesota; Matt Nohelty, OF, Minnesota; Jacob Howell, OF, Ohio State; Jason Zoeller, 2B, Ohio State; Steve Gerstenberger, 1B, Michigan State; Travis Sweet, OF/2B, Iowa; Mike Rohde, 3B, Illinois; Matt Cavagnaro, 2B, Penn State; Caleb Fields, OF/3B, Northwestern.

(Update 2/23): How in the Wide World of Sports did I manage to leave off J.B. Shuck of Ohio State and Lars Davis of Illinois? Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

A New College Baseball Site

I'm always pleased to report that I've found another new college baseball website. Today, I provide you with the link to Ping! At Ping! (I wonder where they got the name from?) they look at the entire world of college baseball.

If you click on the tab to their third team All-Ping! squad you'll find Ohio State SP Dan DeLucia and Michigan CF Eric Rose.

Look for a link to Ping! Baseball in the BTH sidebar shortly.

Sneak Peek At Iowa

Paul Kazmierczak of The Daily Iowan provides us with a glimpse of the mood around the Iowa baseball program heading into the new season.

PSU Preview

I gave a brief preview of Penn State's weekend series a few days ago, but Chris Agostini of the Daily Collegian provided this look at the Nittany Lions opening series.

BTH Preview 2007: Minnesota

Head Coach: John Anderson
2006 Record: 34-26 (17-14 in Big Ten)
2006 RPI: 87
Projected 2007 Big Ten Finish:
Baseball America: 3rd
Collegiate Baseball: 3rd
National Rankings:
PG Cross Checker 80th

At The Plate: While the Gophers might appear to lack a dominant bat, they have a number of solid offensive players in the lineup. Sophomore sensation Matt Nohelty (.361/23 SB) leads the charge that includes Mike Mee (.291/3/37), Kyle Baran (.340/1/27), Dan Lyons (.274/3/30), Nate Hanson (.294) and Chris Herbert (.370).

Nohelty was a Freshman All-America last year and a member of the All Big Ten third team. Baran and Lyons both captured spots on the Big Ten All-Tournament team. I believe this is an improving offense that might be better than some expect.

On The Mound: Minnesota’s going to have to rebuild their rotation in 2007. The renovation begins with junior Dustin Braebender (6-5, 3.96). Braebender should move into the Friday’s starter role and is considered on of the conference‘s better pro prospects. Kyle Carr should get a turn on the hill, as well. After that, well, it’s less clear. (Technically, it just less clear to me. I’m sure the Minnesota staff knows where this is going.) Let’s go with the safe assumption that returning players will be given a look, but that freshman may find themselves in the weekend mix. Gary Perniar, another junior, will be Coach Anderson’s closer.

The Schedule: The non-conference portion of the Golden Gophers schedule features: The Citadel, Mississippi, Arkansas, two at UC-Santa Barbara, three at Pepperdine. In conference, UMN is the first Big Ten opponent to play a series at Penn State’s new field and there are three more at Michigan. Ohio State, the other conference favorite, does visit Siebert Field in May. Home or away, this doesn’t look like a cakewalk to me.

Bottom Line: I have a theory about Minnesota -- never, ever count them out. They had a disappointing regular season in 2006, then came within a game of capturing the Big Ten tournament title. This year, the Gophers pitching staff doesn’t look as strong as usual, but I just can’t see them not in the conference tournament. By then, Coach Anderson should have his team playing their best baseball of the year.

BTH Preview 2007: Northwestern

Head Coach: Paul Stevens
2006 Record: 26-33 (21-11 in Big Ten)
2006 RPI: 149
Projected 2007 Big Ten Finish:
Baseball America: 8th
Collegiate Baseball: 6th

At The Plate: The Wildcats return a number of hitters from their miraculous 2006 squad. However, the leader of the NU offense is unquestionably Antonio Mule. Mule, the ’Cats DH, hit .357 a year ago and paced the Big Ten in homers with 11. Mule is one of two returning Big 10 stars to have an OPS over 1.000 and is a leading candidate to be conference player of the year. Second team All-Big Ten 3B Caleb Fields returns (although, he appears to be an OF in 2007) as does third team All-Big Ten catcher, Geoff Dietz. OF Aaron Newman, 2B Jake Owens, SS Tommy Finn, and OF Max Mann are also returning starters for Coach Stevens.

If the first two contests of 2007 are any indication, freshmen will play a big role in the Northwestern offense this season. 3B Kenneth Avila and 1B Jake Goebbert have already made an impact on the Wildcats’ run production.

On The Mound: NU lost most of their pitching staff from a year ago, most notably Big 10 Pitcher of the Year, Dan Brauer. The burden of leading a very young pitching staff appears to have fallen upon senior Dan Schwartz. Schwartz should be the Wildcats Friday starter. After Schwartz, freshmen may be asked to step into the void.

The Schedule: The ‘Cats didn’t fare well in non-conference action a year ago, but don’t have any of college baseball’s super powers on this year’s docket, either. Interestingly, their non-conference schedule does have Ohio State on it. They won’t play the Buckeyes in Big Ten action this season. Overall, the schedule is rather favorable for NU.

Bottom Line: It’s hard to imagine the very young Wildcats repeating last year’s remarkable Big Ten regular season. Offensively, they should be solid with Mule and a number of veterans back in the fold, but the pitching staff seems to be in the hands of mostly unproven underclassmen. If a number of inexperienced players make waves, then NU might find itself back in the race. The guess here is that NU gets enough help from the freshman class that they battle for a conference tournament berth.

Centenary Drops PSU, 7-6

Centenary beat Penn State, 7-6, in the first game of a doubleheader for the Nittany Lions. Gents' OF Matt Webb continued his torrid start by going 3 for 3 with two RBI. Webb also swiped a pair of bases running his early season total to an impressive ten. Brandon Fulenchek ran his record to 2-0 with the win.

PSU starter Mark Wyner didn't last long today, taking his first loss of the year. 2B Matt Cavagnaro went 3 for 5 with a pair of RBI. CF Garrett Field also had a trio of hits plus two RBI.

The Lions are taking on K-State this evening to round out their twinbill today. Centenary will be PSU's opposition when the weekend series concludes tomorrow.

Friday, February 16, 2007

K-State 5 Penn State 0

Penn State opened their 2007 season with a 5-0 loss to Kansas State. Wildcat 2B Brett Scott had a pair of hits, two stolen bases, scored once and drove in another run. Sophomore sensation CF Byron Wiley had two hits, a RBI, a run scored and stole a base, as well. KSU's Brad Hutt went 6.2 IP to earn the win. He fanned five and walked two. Jason Linn worked the last 2.1 innings to earn his first save.

Craig Clark started for PSU. Clark fanned seven in five innings, but also walked six. He took the loss. Six Nittany Lions each collected a hit.

Penn State continues their opening weekend tomorrow with a doubleheader. K-State and Centenary will be the opposition.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

How Many New Faces In Bloomington?

Indiana University continues to post profiles of the newcomers to the Hoosier baseball team. I owe an apology to any new players I may have missed, but I just figured they would eventually run out of new faces to feature. Oh, how wrong I was. At this rate, Coach Smith may have to hand out those nifty "Hello, My Name Is" badges before practice. Regardless, here are the most recent entries.

J.T. Larson

Josh Phegley

Danny Rosenbaum

Joey O'Gara

Justin Morales

Kipp Schultz

Illinois Battery Preview

The University of Illinois has begun a series previewing their 2007 squad. Their first feature looks at the pitching staff and the catchers.

BTH: On The Air

Tomorrow night I'm scheduled to be on WCBN radio in Ann Arbor with the voice of Michigan baseball, Steve Schuster. Yes, I'm surprised, too. Not surprisingly, Steve has invited me on to talk about the 2007 Michigan baseball team and the Big Ten in general. If you are curious, listen in around quarter after seven tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

You Cannot Be Serious

Eric Sorenson came out with his Hope List for 2007. Amongst the items the CSTV baseball guru hopes for:

- I hope some of the officials who decided to jack with the baseball season
start date are forced to sit at a regional in Baton Rouge or Austin when the
temperature and humidity are both hitting 100, while up in South Bend it's a
pleasant 80 degrees; then, think about who has the biggest weather disadvantage.

Say it ain't so, Eric.

Oh, how this pains me. I'm a Sorenson fan. No, not the "Eric-needs-a-restraining-order" kind of fan. I just enjoy his work. He combines humor and insight with a true passion for the game. Yet, E, could not be more looney tunes for suggesting any northern school has a weather advantage under any circumstance.

I realize that the climate in Baton Rouge and Austin might not be ideal for baseball in June. I'm down with that. However, as intolerable as the heat and humidity are in the south in June, the cold and snow make it impossible to play the national pastime in February, the month the schedule makers are cutting, in the north. Note I said impossible not difficult or unpleasant. February in the snowbelt can be simply hazardous. And March isn't all that favorable, either.

To suggest that a week (or two) of play in exhausting heat is somehow worse than the cold and snow that eliminate a month's worth of potential home games is a stretch, from where I sit. Of course, where I sit, we just received about eight inches of the white stuff with temperatures that haven't been above freezing in weeks. So, my opinion is clearly biased.

There is also the issue of a northern school even hosting a regional. Let's face it, that doesn't happen much. Yes, the committee does go to great pains to give us in the north an obligatory regional. Sometimes we even get two! Yippee! However, that's a rare occasion. And hosting a super-regional? You've got to be kidding.

We could rectify some of this problem if even a few of college super powers had the courage to show up for a non-conference series north of the Mason-Dixon line in March. (Minnesota's Dairy Queen Classic, aside. Domes don't count.) Alas, pigs will fly before southern or western schools make habit of scheduling road series with northern schools in March. Or April. Or May.

The the implication in Eric's statement that no one is getting "jacked" under the current scheduling format. Northern schools facing a month to six week long road trip to open each season get jacked. They get jacked out of home games. They get jacked out of potential gate receipts. They get jacked out of a true opening day. They get jacked out of return visits from college baseball's elite.

My hope is that those who oppose the universal start date are forced to either a) sit in the ballparks in Columbus, Evanston or Ann Arbor every weekend in February, b) sit through every inning of every home date at those venues in March or c) shovel my drive in both months while their favorite (undoubtedly southern or western) program plays home games; then re-think who really has the biggest weather advantage.

Penn State's Weekend Opposition

The Penn State Nittany Lions are about to open their season with four games. Robbie Wine's side will have two games against Centenary and two more against Kansas State.

Centenary has already played seven games this season. Their record as of tonight is 3-4. Their leading hitter is 3B Cameron Penny who has collected 12 hits in 29 at bats. That's a .414 clip. RF Matt Webb is slugging a mere .750 with two double, a triple and a homerun. And, unless I'm reading it incorrectly (which is possible), Mr. Webb has also walked 10 times. That an OPS of 1.356. Not bad even if it is only seven games. Catcher Alex Moldonado leads the Gents with seven RBI.

Brandon Fulenchek is 1-0 with a 2.77 ERA in 13 innings pitched. Will Kaage (0-0, 4.76) and Jeremy Sheehan (1-1, 5.56) have each tossed 11.1 innings in '07. The lone save of the year was credited to Aaron Bronson. Freshman Dakota Robinson has pitched in only four innings, but has one of the Gents wins and a loss, as well.

The Nittany Lions first opponent will be KSU. The Wildcats, just like PSU, have yet to play a game this season. KSU lost six of its top seven hitters from a year ago, so they will lean heavily on sophomore OF Byron Wiley. As a freshman, Wiley started 44 games while hitting .297 with five homers, 10 doubles and 27 RBI.

On the mound, Chase Bayuk and Brad Hutt both return. Bayuk, a LHP, was 7-2 with a 3.52 ERA in '06. Hutt, a junior RHP, went 7-4 with a 4.01 ERA.

PSU Quotes From Media Day

Penn State head coach Robbie Wine and shortstop Scott Gaffney were part of the university's spring sports media day. has posted some quotes from the event from both men.

Two things I found interesting. Coach Wine's preview of the team is certainly a must read. As a fan of the conference and college baseball, in general, I was very intrigued to see that there is a movement to have the Big Ten switch to three game weekend series from the current four game format. It would be a great move, if the conference embraced such a transition.

Two Wildcats Claim Weekly Honors

The Big Ten Conference announced its first set of Player of the Week Award winners. Northwestern's Dan Schwartz was named the Pitcher of the Week and Wildcats' 1B Jake Goebbert claimed the top hitter honors.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Tech Too Much For NU

I apparently cannot read quite as well as I thought I could. Northwestern did have another game this past weekend. So much for the cold forecast and my reading skills. Unfortunately, NU lost to Texas Tech, 4-3. Red Raiders SS Kyle Martin drove in a pair of runs and C Matt Smith homered to lead the TT attack. Colt Hynes earned his first victory of '07 for Tech.

For the boys from Evanston, Matt Diedrich took the hill. A Wildcat frosh, Dierich went five and two-thirds allowing all four Texas Tech tallies. Another NU freshman, 1B Jake Goebbert, continued the hot start to his collegiate career. Goebbert had two more hits in the loss. Goebbert went 7 for 14 over the weekend. LF Caleb Fields, 2B Jake Owens and SS Tommy Finn also collected two hits a piece.

Northwestern is now 1-2 while Tech is 2-3. (Although, the NU boxscore indicates the 'Cats are 1-3. Win vs. Tech Friday. Loss to WIU Saturday. Loss to Tech yesterday. With my reading ability in question, perhaps I'm missing something here, as well.)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Big MAC Love For EMU

Congratulations to Eastern Michigan. The Eagles downed Tennessee today, 6-3. A very big road win for EMU.

For further reading, here's the UT analysis (distributed via CSTV, thus making it appear like a national news recap). For extra credit, note what the Volunteers' review doesn't mention.

WIU Beats NU, 13-9

Western Illinois beat Northwestern, 13-9, in the Wildcats second contest of the new season. Antonio Mule and Jake Goebbert each had three hits to pace the NU attack. NU freshman Cole Livermore started going five innings while yielding only two hits and one earned run. Livermore also fanned five, but walked four.

The rest of Northwestern's scheduled games this weekend have been cancelled due to the cold. The Wildcats (1-1) will return to the field February 23 to face Lamar.

Northwestern Downs Tech, 13-9

Northwestern opened the 2007 campaign by dropping Texas Tech, 13-9. Aaron Newman, Jake Owens, Caleb Fields and freshman 3B Kenneth Avila each collected three hits. Antonio Mule knocked in three runs, while Owens, Fields and another freshman, 1b Jake Goebbert, had two RBI each.

Dan Schwartz notched win number one for the 'Cats. He went six innings, fanning three and walking three. The senior lefty allowed four runs, only two earned. Freshman David Jensen earned his first collegiate save.

BTH Preview 2007: Ohio State

Ohio State Buckeyes
Head Coach: Bob Todd
2006 record: 37-21 (19-12 in conference play)
2006 RPI: 99
Projected 2007 Big Ten Finish:
Baseball America - 2nd
Collegiate Baseball - 2nd
National Rankings:
Collegiate Baseball - #40
PG Cross Checker - #30

At The Plate: In spite of losing the enormous contributions of Big Ten Player of the Year 3B Ronnie Bourquin and SS Jedidiah Stephen, Ohio State will still have a solid offense in 2007. CF Matt Angle (.369) should lead the OSU hit parade. A consensus first team All-Big Ten selection in 2006, Angle spent his summer playing with the big boys in the Cape Cod League. 2B Jason Zoeller (.337/5/27) was, like Angle, a first team All-Big Ten selection last year. C Eric Fryer (.368/5/52) and a nice season with the bat and managed a second team all-conference selection. OF Jacob Howell battled injuries for most of the year and yet still found himself on the All-Big Ten third team.

On The Mound: OSU simply has the best pitching staff in the Big Ten. All four weekend starters -- Dan DeLucia, Cory Luebke, Jake Hale and J.B. Shuck -- return. DeLucia, heading into his second full season as the Buckeyes’ Friday starter, doesn’t get much respect from the national college baseball media, but does register lots of wins. Luebke is considered the best pro prospect of the quartet and Shuck is coming off a season where he earned the Big Ten Freshman of the Year Award and was named a Freshman All-America. Ohio State also has closer Rory Meister back in the fold for 2007.

The Schedule: This may be Ohio State‘s biggest obstacle this year. The Buckeyes lack any non-conference games of substance. Combine a weak RPI non-conference slate with the traditionally poor Big Ten RPI ranking and the Bucks may find themselves in a position to have to win the conference tournament in order to secure a NCAA berth. OSU will need to win early and often this season or win the tournament to capture a NCAA berth.

Bottom Line: Ohio State should be pretty darn good. They return an experienced pitching staff and have a lineup featuring a number of veteran standouts. Yet, the word I keep hearing out of Columbus is “defense”. I think the Buckeyes believe that their “D” hurt them last year and have made it a focus of this off-season. If they get good pitching, hitting and defense, what’s left? Just winning. The Buckeyes should contend for the Big Ten title. Even if they don’t, I believe they will beat the majority of the teams on their schedule and make the NCAA’s.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

BA's Fitt Talks Midwest Baseball

In response to a reader's inquiry, Baseball America's Aaron Fitt recognizes some of college baseball's midwest powers. Specifically, he mentions both Michigan and Ohio State. (He also gives love to Notre Dame and some MAC programs.)

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

BTH Preview 2007: Penn State

Penn State Nittany Lions
Head Coach: Robbie Wine
2006 record: 20-36 (13-29 in conference play)
2006 RPI: 174
Projected 2007 Finish:
Baseball America - 8th
Collegiate Baseball - 8th

At The Plate: 2B Matt Cavagnaro (.292/4 HR/31 RBI) should be in the mix for an all-conference selection. After posting good numbers during the regular season last year, Cavagnaro had a strong summer in the Texas League. 1B Corey Wine has the highest batting average (.306) amongst the returning starters and should begin to exhibit some long ball power this year. OF Brian Ernst finished a point behind Wine in batting average a year ago and should hold down one of the corner outfield spots. Some of the folks in Happy Valley are intrigued by a pair of junior college transfers -- C Rob Yodice and 3B/OF Mike Deese.

On The Mound: This might be the Nittany Lions strength heading into the year. PSU returns three of its starters from a year ago -- Mark Wyner (3-8, 4.46), Seth Whitehill (2-3, 3.33) and Craig Clark (3-8, 5.50). Another JUCO product, Ryan Stobart could grab a weekend slot, as well. Coach Wine also has a number of veteran arms returning to his bullpen. If the staff can take the next step in the maturation process, PSU could have a solid pitching staff in 2007.

The Schedule: I can sum up Penn State’s schedule in one word. That word is difficult. The highlights of their non-conference action are three at national runner-up North Carolina and another three game set at Wichita State. Did I mention that Oral Roberts also appears on their pre-conference slate, too? Their Big Ten journey concludes with back-to-back weekend series at Michigan and at home versus Ohio State.

Bottom Line: It’s all about the new ballpark at PSU this spring. Medlar Field at Lubrano Park is the Nittany Lions new home. If it can create some additional interest and revenue for the baseball program, this season should probably be considered a success. However, you are looking for a prediction, aren’t you? Well, as usual, your guess is as good as mine. Probably better. I could make a case that PSU could finish anywhere between fourth and ninth. Not a very bold statement, I admit. But, I just can’t get a feel for this year’s club.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Friday, February 02, 2007

Meister, Jenzen On Stopper List

The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association has released its Stopper of the Year watchlist. Included on this pre-season list of the nation's top closers are two members from the Big Ten Conference. Michigan's Ben Jenzen and Ohio State Rory Meister are amongst those the writers felt merited early consideration for the annual award.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

BTH Previews

Since the blog began, I've been wanting to do team previews before the start of each season. Well, this is the year. I'm going to begin my pre-season previews this evening. In these capsules of each program, I'll be providing a basic primer. I'm going to look at offense, pitching, schedules and conclude with my "bottom line". These previews are by no means definitive and are certainly not comprehensive, so if you care to share any information about your school, I encourage you to email me or add something in the comments section.

My goal, other than trying to learn something about each team myself, is to provide the non-baseball fans an introduction to the names and faces around the conference and to shine some light on those players overlooked by the national media. (Let's not get me started down that road, yet. We've got all season to pursue that subject.)

In addition to looking at each of the ten teams, I'll probably toss in various lists and any other subjects I feel merit both our attention. I don't really have a schedule for posting them, but you can count on two things. First, I will be previewing the teams in reverse alphabetical order. (That means I begin with Purdue.) Second, I have every intention of having the whole series of previews on the blog by February 23. I think nearly every Big Ten baseball club will be in action by that day.

Thanks, as always, for tagging along. I appreciate the time you invest in this blog and hope you enjoy the Big Ten Hardball Previews.

BTH Preview 2007: Purdue

Purdue Boilermakers
Head Coach: Doug Schreiber
2006 record: 31-27 (15-17 in conference play)
2006 RPI: 104
Projected 2007 Finish:
Baseball America - 5th
Collegiate Baseball - 4th
National Rankings: PG Cross Checker #100

At The Plate: The Boilermakers return one of the Big Ten’s top hitters in sophomore 1B/OF Ryne White. In his debut season, White hit .352 with six homers and forty-two RBI. His numbers, including an OPS of .966, landed him on the Freshman All-America squad. He’s also on the short list for Big Ten Player of the Year consideration in ‘07. White will get help from OF/C Spencer Ingaldson. Ingaldson, like White, was a second team All-Big Ten choice in 2006. The red shirt senior hit .327 a year ago with 22 RBI. He also led the Boilers in sacrifice bunts.

The Boilermakers will probably need returnees OF Alex Jaffee, OF Jordan Comadena and 2B Eric Osborn to improve on last season’s numbers, if their offense is going to be consistent. I’ve also told been to watch for contributions from 1B Andy Preston.

On The Mound: Purdue should have a very strong rotation in 2007. RHPs Ricky Heines (5-3, 4.16) and Dan Sattler (5-7, 3.14) were both third team All-Big Ten last year. Expect both to improve on their ‘06 totals. The Boilers also have a couple of new faces that could make a big impact. RHP Josh Lindblom transferred to Purdue from Tennessee. Lindblom is a West Lafayette native with a low 90’s fastball. Baseball America considers Lindblom the top newcomer in the Big Ten. Another pitcher that might provide immediate dividends is Tony Sedlmeyer. Sedlmeyer (RHP) originally signed to play at LSU before changing his mind and opting for Purdue.

The Schedule: Coach Schreiber usually offers his ball club one of the best non-conference schedules amongst Big Ten programs. This year is no different. The highlights are three games at #19 Georgia and three more contests at Auburn. There is also a road game at Notre Dame. In conference action, Purdue gets to travel to Michigan, but hosts Ohio State. It’s another tough slate for the Boilermakers in 2007.

Bottom Line: If their starters can pitch close to their potential, I think the Boilers will be a better pitching team in 2007 than in 2006. Finding a dependable closer would help greatly. However, I think their offense might not be quite as good this year as last. In the end, Purdue should make the conference tournament in 2007. A finish between fourth and sixth is most likely.