Thursday, February 19, 2009

2009 Preview: Purdue

Purdue Boilermakers
Head Coach: Doug Schreiber
2008 Record: 30-24 (21-10, second in the Big Ten)

At The Plate: Last year, the Boilers came out of the gate 0-9. The Purdue offense made a dramatic change when Coach Schreiber batted 2B Ben Wolgamot behind leadoff man Brandon Haveman. The Boilers offense, and the team, never looked back. Wolgamot earned first-team All-Big Ten honors by hitting .368 and finishing third in the conference in on-base percentage at .479. Leadoff man Haveman also earned all-conference attention. He was tenth in batting average (.379), fifth in runs scored (60), sixth in hits (83), tied for fifth in doubles (16) and tied for fourth in triples (5). The Boilers’ senior table-setters return to the fold in ‘09.

The thunder in the Purdue lineup is provided by 3B Dan Black. The junior was second in the conference in homers (18) and RBI (70), third in total bases (131) and slugging percentage (.675). Black also hit a Big Ten record five homeruns in the conference tournament. He’s on the Wallace Award watch list and is on everybody’s preseason All-Big Ten team.

The remainder of the Boilers’ lineup is veteran laden, as well. Senior Eric Nielsen (.288, 3 HR, 26 RBI in 45 starts) returns behind the plate. Senior Jon Cummins (.279 in 86 AB) takes over at first base. Senior Jonathan Moore (.321, 31 RBI and 11 steals in 56 starts) and junior Jonathan Lilly (.425, 21 RBI in 87 at bats) will hold the final two outfield spots. Senior Alex Jaffee is also expected to see action in the Boilers’ outfield.

Junior Nick Overmyer (.280, 22 RBI in 52 starts) returns to shorstop. However, Overmyer is being pushed by freshman sensation Barrett Serrato. The high school standout from West Chicago is considered one of the top five newcomers in the Big Ten by Baseball America.

On The Mound: Friday starter Matt Bischoff returns to anchor the Boilers’ rotation. Bischoff went 6-3 with a 3.96 ERA in ‘08. The righthander also held opposing batters to a .247 average (5th in the Big Ten), worked 77.1 innings (5th) and started 14 games (tied 1st).

Junior Matt Jansen was a third -team All-Big Ten choice last season going 4-3 with a 5.44 ERA. The lefty looks to be the number two starter in ‘09. Sophomore Kyle Cook (5-3, 4.65), junior Connor Sestak (1-3 with 20 K’s in 22.2 IP) and sophomore Matt Morgan (1-0 with 19 K’s in 23.1 IP) are in line to complete Purdue’s rotation.

The Boilers' set-up man should be Drew Wurdack. Wurdack, a junior righthander, went 2-0 with a save and struck out 15 in 20.1 IP. Another junior righthander looks to become Purdue's closer. Kevin Cahill was 3-0 with a 4.28 ERA in 2008. He also fanned 22 in 27.1 IP.

The Schedule: Apparently, just playing Cincinnati, South Florida and Notre Dame wasn‘t quite good enough, the Boilers get a non-conference look at Michigan during the Big East/Big Ten Challenge, as well. Amongst others on the non-conference slate are nationally ranked Louisville, two at Illinois-Chicago , a UIC visit to West Lafayette, four games at both SE Missouri State and Texas State.

The Boilermakers open the Big Ten campaign at Northwestern and will travel to Penn State, Minnesota and Michigan State. Purdue’s home series are Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana and Illinois.

Bottom Line: Is anyone in the Big Ten better on paper than Purdue? They return almost their entire lineup and two all-conference starters from a team that finished second in the Big Ten in both the regular season and conference tournament. The pitchers lost are being replaced by guys with very good K/IP marks, albeit in limited duty.

Of course, looking good on paper in February counts for very little. And, as we know, the Boilers have a habit of making my predictions look bad. (Although, I think they did live up to my expectations in ‘08.) Nonetheless, Purdue has to be considered amongst the favorites to win the Big Ten in 2009.