Monday, February 18, 2008

2008 BTH Preview: Northwestern

Head Coach: Paul Stevens
2007 record: 18-36; 9-23 in Big Ten
2007 RPI: 215
2008 Projected Big Ten Finish:
Collegiate Baseball - 9th
Rivals - 10th

At The Plate: 2B Jake Owens is coming off a record-setting 2007. Last year, Owens posted career highs in batting average (.385), hits (85), doubles (12), RBI (39), total bases (102), slugging percentage (.462), on base percentage (.432) and stolen bases (18). His 85 hits set the school record. His stats were good enough to yield a second team All-Big Ten selection. Owens has also started 142 consecutive games at second.

1B Jake Goebbert quietly had one of the better freshman campaigns in the Big Ten. Goebbert started all 54 games and posted a .335 average. He was twice voted as Big Ten Player of the week and paced NU in doubles with 14. If Goebbert makes normal progress, he might be amongst the better hitters in the conference by season’s end.

Filling out the Wildcats infield are sophomore catcher Chad Noble (.250, 3 HR, 16 RBI), junior shortstop Tommy Finn (.287) and sophomore 3B Kenneth Avila (.233). Avila will be challenged at the hot corner by freshman Chris Lashmet.

The NU outfield will have senior Mike Kalina (.304/1/34) in left, senior Aaron Newman (.300, 13 steals) in center and either senior Max Mann (.275/4/28) or freshman Nate Roberts in right. The designated hitter role is still up in the air. Junior Tony Vercelli could take the at bats as could either Mann or Roberts, if they aren’t in the field.

On The Mound: The first three in Northwestern‘s rotation are all lefties. Sophomore Joe Muraski (4-4, 6.25), freshman Eric Jokisch and sophomore David Jensen (1-4, 7.71). Unfortunately, NU will be without sophomore Cole Livermore (2-9, 6.45) this year due to an injury. Livermore would have been in the weekend mix, as well.

At this point, it’s unclear who will land the start on Sundays. Although, we do know that Bo Schultz (0-2, 8.82) will be the Wildcats closer.

The Schedule: Plenty of three game roadies for the Wildcats. They include series at Cal State Northridge, South Florida, CWS-participant Louisville, and UIC (in mid-March no less. Dress in layers, boys and girls.) NU will also head to Bradenton, Florida for six games before opening Big Ten play. In conference, Northwestern will visit Purdue, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan. At home, NU gets Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Indiana.

Overall: The optimist in me believes that Northwestern could have some of their sophomores mature and get immediate impact from their freshman class and find themselves vying for a Big Ten Tournament position. The pessimist in me believes it’s asking too much for that kind of improvement from so many youthful performers and that NU will miss the post-season in 2008. In light of missing three of their four starters from a year ago, the latter notion seems much more realistic, as well.

Look for Northwestern to finish outside the top six, but watch for Owens and Goebbert to continue to hit and for improvement from the underclassmen.