Monday, February 16, 2009

2009 Preview: Michigan State

Michigan State Spartans
Head Coach: Jake Boss
2008 Record: 24-29 (12-18, eighth in Big Ten)

At The Plate: Leading the Spartans’ bats is junior Chris Roberts. Roberts, a second team All-Big Ten selection last year, hit .363 with 32 RBI and seven triples. The expectation is that Roberts will move onto the list of the conference’s elite hitters in 2009. The Wisconsin native will be moving from the OF to 3B this season.

Roberts does have some help returning. Senior catcher Eric Roof is coming off a season where he hit .308 with three homers and thirty-three RBI. Eric’s brother, Jonathan, is the Spartans’ shortstop. In his freshman season, Roof hit .299 with two dingers and 25 RBI while starting in 53 games.

Sophomore Jeff Holm looks to have claimed the first base job. Holm saw limited action last season (14 starts in 16 appearances), but show some promise hitting .385. Junior college transfer Ben Vrobel could also see time at first and might end up pushing Holm into the outfield. Rounding out the infield is senior 2B A.J. Shindler. There’s also a chance freshman Jared Hook could see at bats at second, as well.

Defensive stalwart Brandon Eckerle mans centerfield for MSU. In 2008, Eckerle (.278) did not commit an error. JUCO transfer Bo Felt looks like the choice in leftfield. Felt hit .430 last season. Junior Eli Boike looks to be the starter in right field. Although, as mentioned earlier, Holm could also get at bats in RF.

On The Mound: Senior Nolan Moody is the most likely number one starter. Moody was 2-4 a season ago, but has not been a starter in his MSU career. The number two guy is sophomore A.J. Achter. Achter (1-3, 5.88) made eight starts last year. Junior Kyle Corcoran and freshman Tony Bucciferro are both vying for the final weekend spot in the rotation.

Bucciferro was an Illinois prep standout. He went 21-1 in his two years on the varsity squad. Corcoran, a 6’ 6” lefty, tossed just 24.1 innings in ‘08. If not in the rotation, Corcoran could be the Spartans’ closer. JUCO transfer Kyle Frymier is also looking to claim the stopper’s role.

Regardless of their roles, expect sophomores Kurt Wunderlich and Seth Williams to also see plenty of time on the mound in 2009.

The Schedule: A two game series at nationally ranked Clemson highlights the non-conference portion of MSU‘s schedule. There’s also four games in three days at UNC-Wilmington., a trip to Daytona Beach and an extended stay in Greenville, SC in addition to the Big East/Big Ten Challenge. Of course, like much of the Big Ten, MSU will have a number of MAC schools as midweek opposition.

In Big Ten play, the Spartans will travel to Illinois, Ohio State, Iowa and Indiana, in addition to visiting Ann Arbor for the Friday and Sunday games of their series. The Green and White will host Michigan on the Saturday of their series, plus have Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue come calling.

Bottom Line: While a new coach and a newly renovated ballpark (which is supposed to be ready for the home opener) should help generate some enthusiasm for Spartans baseball in 2009, the MSU faithful shouldn’t expect miracles from Coach Boss.

While he did manage to guide Eastern Michigan into the NCAA Tournament a year ago, his first season in Ypsilanti, it’s difficult to envision a repeat performance in East Lansing this year. With so many untested arms in the rotation, just a trip to the Big Ten Tournament should be warmly embraced.