College Preview

2006 Big 10 Conference Preview




HOW THEY'LL FINISH




Conference

Overall


W
L
W
L
1. +Ohio State
17
12
40
20
2. Purdue
17
11
27
30
3. Minnesota
17
15
32
30
4. Michigan
17
12
42
19
5. Iowa
19
13
29
28
6. Northwestern
14
18
26
28
7. Illinois
20
12
33
23
8. Penn State
13
19
28
27
9. Michigan State
10
18
22
31
10. Indiana
9
23
26
30
(2005 records listed; 2006 national ranking in parentheses)
+ 2005 conference tournament champion; NCAA regional participants in boldface

Projected NCAA Teams (2): Ohio State, Purdue.
Conference Schedule: 32 games. Schedule begins March 31.
Conference Tournament: Six teams, May 25-28 at home of No. 1 seed.

PLAYERS TO WATCH
* 2005 conference leader

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM
C—Jeff Kunkel, Sr., Michigan (.384-3-45). 1B—Andy Hunter, Sr., Minnesota (.324-8-47). 2B—Alan Cattrysse, Sr., Michigan State (.282-2-22). 3B—A.J. Scheidt, Sr., Michigan (.297-4-39). SS—Mitch Hilligoss, Jr., Purdue (*.404-4-37). OF—Ryan Basham, Jr., Michigan State (.358-8-43); Reggie Watson, Sr., Indiana (.340-1-18); Anthony Wycklendt, Sr., Northwestern (.311-10-52). DH—Ryan Parker, Sr., Indiana (.340-5-51). P—Bryan Blomquist, Sr., Illinois (*10-3, 3.53); John Gaub, Jr., Minnesota (2-1, 2.08, 39 IP/65 SO); Cory Luebke, So., Ohio State (4-2, 3.55). RP—Chris Toneguzzi, Sr., Purdue (2-2, 1.43, 6 SV, 38 IP/38 SO).

Player of the Year: Mitch Hilligoss, ss, Purdue.
Pitcher of the Year: John Gaub, lhp, Minnesota.
Freshman of the Year: Zach Putnam, rhp/3b, Michigan (38th round/Tigers ’05).

Top Newcomers: 1. Zach Putnam, 1b/rhp, Michigan. 2. Dan Lyons, ss, Minnesota (.435-13-48 at Iowa Central CC). 3. Lars Davis, c, Illinois (So., Tr.--Prairie Baseball Academy/Lethbridge, Alta.).

PROJECTED TOP PROSPECTS, 2006-07 DRAFTS

1. John Gaub, lhp, Minnesota.
2. Mitch Hilligoss, ss, Purdue.
3. Cory Luebke, lhp, Ohio State.
4. George Kontos, rhp, Northwestern.
5. Jeff Kunkel, c, Michigan.

BEST TOOLS
Best Pure Hitter—Mitch Hilligoss, Purdue. Best Raw Power—Anthony Wycklendt, Northwestern. Best Strike-Zone Discipline—Andy Hunter, Minnesota. Best Athlete—Mitch Hilligoss, Purdue. Fastest Runner--Reggie Watson, Indiana. Best Baserunner—Mitch Hilligoss, Purdue. Best Defensive Catcher—Jeff Kunkel, Michigan. Catcher/Best Arm—Jeff Kunkel, Michigan. Best Defensive First Baseman—Eric Wolfe, Purdue. Best Defensive Second Baseman—Josh Richardson, Indiana. Best Defensive Third Baseman—Shawn Roof, Illinois. Best Defensive Shortstop—Mitch Hilligoss, Purdue. Infielder/Best Arm—Mitch Hilligoss, Illinois. Best Defensive Outfielder—Eric Rose, Michigan. Outfielder/Best Arm—Anthony Wycklendt, Northwestern. Best Fastball—Zach Putnam, Michigan. Best Breaking Ball--Dan Brauer, Northwestern. Best Control—Bryan Blomquist, Illinois.

SHORT HOPS

• The Big 10 had a major shakeup in the coaching ranks, with assistant Dan Hartleb taking over for the retired Richard “Itch” Jones at Illinois, ex-Miami (Ohio) coach Tracy Smith moving in at Indiana for Bob Morgan and former Notre Dame assistant David Grewe stepping in for Ted Mahan at Michigan State. Meanwhile, John Anderson, the new dean of Big 10 coaches, begins his 25th year at Minnesota.

• Illinois won the Big 10 regular-season title in 2005 but may be hard pressed to repeat that feat as the Illini must replace six of the eight players who were named to the first- or second all-Big 10 teams. Among the departed players is C Chris Robinson (.353-8-37), a third-round pick of the Tigers and the highest Big 10 pick in last year’s draft. Robinson will be replaced behind the plate by sophomore Lars Davis, who spent his freshman year at the Prairie Baseball Academy based in Lethbridge, Alberta.

• Purdue made a run at the Big 10 title a year ago and should be right in the hunt again as it returns six of its top seven hitters, including junior SS Mitch Hilligoss (.404-4-37), the reigning Big 10 batting champion, and senior RHP Jay Buente, who set a Northwoods League record with 100 strikeouts last summer thanks to a 90-92 mph fastball.

• Minnesota plans to move junior LHP John Gaub (2-1, 2.08), the conference’s top prospect, to the rotation after two years in the bullpen where he went a cumulative 4-2, 1.99 with nine saves. In 63 innings, Gaub fanned 102 batters—an average of 14.5 per nine innings. Gaub, whose fastball has been clocked from 90-94, was drafted in the 25th round by the Twins in 2003 out of a St. Paul high school. Meanwhile, junior transfer Dan Lyons, who hit .435-13-48 at Iowa Central CC, steps in at shortstop for Matt Fornasiere (.335-4-40), the team’s leading hitter in 2005 and the son of longtime Gophers assistant Rob Fornasiere.

• Minnesota, which has won four Big 10 regular-season titles since 2000, will play 24 of its 26 home games this spring at the Metrodome, which it shares with the Twins, beginning with the 22nd annual Dairy Queen Classic. Arizona, Nebraska and Notre Dame will join the Gophers in the four-team, round-robin tournament.

• Michigan earned a rare at-large bid to the NCAA tournament by a Northern school in 2005, even as it failed to win either the regular season or conference tournaments. The Wolverines must replace all six players that were selected to the Big 10 all-conference teams, but will get a two-for-one special with the addition of RHP/3B Zach Putnam, one of the more highly-touted high school players to enroll in a traditional Northern school in years. Putnam, a product of Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High, went 10-1, 0.45 on the mound as a senior while hitting .548-17-73. Though he wasn’t drafted until the 38th round by the hometown Tigers, Putnam had made it clear to all major league clubs that he would go to college. His older brother Dylan, previously an assistant at Michigan State, became the new head coach this year at nearby Oakland University.

• OF Ryan Sontag, who won Big 10 freshman of the year honors in 2005 after hitting .349-1-17 at Michigan State, transferred to Arizona State.

• Junior RHP George Kontos (5-4, 5.43), who was named the 26th-best prospect in the Cape Cod League last year after going 3-2, 3.00 with 69 strikeouts in 57 innings for Harwich, will be joined in the Northwestern rotation by junior LHP Dan Brauer, who was selected a Cape Cod League all-star in 2004 after going 6-2, 1.90 with 65 strikeouts in 47 innings for Harwich before missing last season with arm surgery.

• The Stidfole twins, Alan (6-4, 4.58) and Sean (6-3, 3.89), who posted near identical junior seasons as the 1-2 starters in the Penn State rotation, will be split up this year. Sean, who was drafted in the 14th round by the Blue Jays, left for pro ball, leaving Alan to head up the Nittany Lions rotation.

• Ohio State has won three of the last four Big 10 tournament titles and will lean on an experienced pitching staff, led by junior LHP Dan DeLucia (6-5, 2.92) and draft-eligible sophomore LHP Cory Luebke (4-2, 3.55), as it seeks another crown.

• Iowa will be without junior RHP Casey O’Rourke (2-5, 5.56), who was diagnosed with testicular cancer and had surgery in December. The Hawkeyes were counting on a big season from O’Rourke, who went 9-1, 1.56 last summer to lead the Northwoods League in wins. Meanwhile, Indiana senior 1B Ryan Parker (.340-5-51) was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease near the end of the 2005 season and continued to play while going through chemotherapy. An Academic All-American the last two years, Parker has full expectations of playing this season. St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen visited Parker this fall and spent a day with him as he continued his recovery.