Sunday, February 17, 2008

2008 BTH Preview: Michigan State

Michigan State
Head Coach: David Grewe
2007 record: 25-26 overall; 15-16 in Big Ten
2007 RPI: 113
2008 Projected Big Ten Finish:
Collegiate Baseball - 7th
Rivals - 8th

At The Plate: Almost the entire everyday lineup returns for Michigan State. The most potent bat amongst the returnees is Steve Gerstenberger, a second team All-Big Ten selection in 2007. The senior hit .368 (the eighth best mark in the conference) and had 100 total bases. Gerstenberger is getting some preseason all-conference nominations heading into the new campaign.

Incumbent 1B Evan Friedland (.312/0/28), SS Brandon Doherty (.310/2/26) and 3B Justin Potes (.275/0/16) join Gerstenberger in the infield. This group could be usurped by Jonathon Roof, a hotshot freshman shortstop out of Paducah, Kentucky, and A.J. Shindler, a JUCO transfer. Both could find themselves in the starting lineup forcing a re-shuffling of the group.

The catching duties belong to Kyle Day. Day hit .295 with three homers and twenty-six RBI in 2007. Day also stole 14 bases and has to be the best running catcher in the Big Ten. In spite of not having the kind of season he would have liked in ‘07, Day is still considered a pro prospect. A rebound year in 2008 would not be unexpected.

Sophomore outfielder Chris Roberts appears ready to have a breakout season and garnered some all-conference consideration, as well. In his first year, Roberts hit .331 with two homers and twenty-seven RBI while spending quite a bit of time in the heart of MSU’s order. The other two outfield roles should be occupied by sophomore Eli Boike (.270/2/20) and senior Dennis Jones (.322/1/36/15 SB).

Here again, a freshman may push for a starting role. Don’t be surprised if freshman Tyler Newsome (Palos Heights, IL) pushes is way into a starting outfield spot before too long. Depending on how many changes are made in the infield, both Day and Potes could see time in the outfield, too.

On The Mound: The entire Spartans pitching staff is one giant position battle. Rumors out of East Lansing indicate that Mike Monterey, their closer in 2007, will be given every opportunity to join the starting rotation this season. One would suspect that sophomore Kyle Corcoran (2-1, 6.87 in 36.2 IP) will also be given a shot at a weekend start, as would junior Mark Sorenson (1-2, 7.59 in 10.2 IP). The thought here is that sophomore Scott Heitshusen and freshmen A.J. Achter, Kurt Wunderlich and Newsome might be vying for those prized Big Ten starts, as well.

If Monterey (2-2, 5.33, 8 saves) moves to the rotation, that means a battle for the closer’s role would be underway. The guess is that, perhaps, junior Anthony Dunn or freshman Seth Williams might get the call.

Now, remember that everything above is based on an educated guess or wild speculation. There’s little difference in this case.

The Schedule: Stetson. Missouri. LSU. Western Carolina. Rice. These are just some of Michigan State’s non-conference opponents in what some have ranked as the toughest schedule in the Big Ten. In conference action, the Spartans host Illinois, Ohio State, Iowa and Indiana plus the Saturday doubleheader of their weekend series with Michigan. On the road, the Green and White visit Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue and Michigan (on the Friday and Sunday portion of that series).

Bottom Line: While Michigan State has a number of familiar faces returning in 2008, it could be a transition season for Coach Grewe’s side. After finishing outside the conference tournament a year ago, Baseball America’s best recruiting class in the Big Ten appears ready to push their way into the Spartans lineup and play a large role on the pitching staff, as well.

It’s hard to place the Spartans in the conference tournament field in ’08 with so many questions about pitching. However, MSU only finished outside the top six by a game last year. If the frosh class can contribute immediately, MSU could be the surprise in the Big Ten.