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.