Big Ten Conference Preview
Team to Beat: Indiana.
The Hoosiers went 34-24-2 last year and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in three years under coach Chris Lemonis. Indiana gets several key pieces back from that team including infielder/righthander Matt Lloyd (.301/.393/.554, 11 HR), third baseman Luke Miller (.272/.331/.464, 10 HR) and outfielder Logan Sowers (.291/.356/.536, 13 HR), three big bats in the middle of its order who could have moved on to pro ball. The pitching staff returns largely intact, led by Lloyd (3-2, 2.23, 9 SV) and junior righthanders Jonathan Stiever (4-4, 4.31) and Pauly Milto (6-3, 3.92). Indiana has brought in back-to-back strong recruiting classes that have added depth to the roster. With their talent and experience, the Hoosiers enter the season ranked No. 20 and are ready to take a step forward this season.
Player of the Year: Robert Neustrom, OF, Iowa.
Neustrom was one of Iowa’s top hitters last season, batting .310/.358/.486 with nine home runs and 10 stolen bases for the Big Ten Tournament champions. He carried that momentum into the summer, when he earned all-star honors in the Cape Cod League and then led the Hawkeyes in hitting at the World University Games. Neustrom, a lefthanded hitter, has a solid combination of power and speed and could be Iowa’s highest draft pick since Wes Obermueller was picked in the second round in 1999.
Pitcher of the Year: Jonathan Stiever, RHP, Indiana.
Stiever had a solid sophomore season for the Hoosiers and is in position to take a jump as a junior. He throws his fastball in the low 90s, touching 95 mph, and pairs it with a good slider. But Stiever’s best tool is his control. He posted a 57-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 77 innings last spring and followed that up in the Cape Cod League with a 25-to-2 mark in 28.1 innings, which was the best in the circuit. His strike-throwing ability combined with his pure stuff makes him tough to beat on Friday nights.
Freshman of the Year: Randy Bednar, OF, Maryland.
Bednar stood out for his bat speed and athleticism in high school and ranked No. 270 on the 2017 BA 500. He was drafted in the 27th round by the Braves but chose to uphold his commitment to Maryland. He has a powerful bat and has the skillset to take over in right field for the Terrapins. Bednar also figures to see some action the mound, where he throws his fastball in the upper 80s and mixes in a slider and changeup.
Top 25 Team: Indiana (20).
Other Regional Teams:
Maryland: The Terrapins enter a new era this season, as first-year coach Rob Vaughn takes over the program following John Szefc’s move to Virginia Tech. Maryland made the tournament three times in the last four years under Szefc and will look to keep that run going with Vaughn, who has spent the last five years as an assistant coach at Maryland and, at 30, becomes the youngest head coach at a Power Five conference school. Vaughn inherits a talented group at Maryland, including outfielder Marty Costes (.322/.429/.548, 13 HR) and second baseman Nick Dunn (.261/.345/.384), both of whom figure to be high draft picks this June. A solid group of seniors including righthander Taylor Bloom (7-2, 3.83) and center fielder Zach Jancarski (.325/.434/.453, 20 SB) add veteran leadership and should ease Vaughn’s transition. If exciting, but still developing righthanders Tyler Blohm (8-6, 3.48) and John Murphy (2-0, 1.71) can make a jump on the mound, the Terrapins figure to be dangerous in the postseason.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers broke through last season to win the Big Ten regular-season title, their first conference title since they won the Big 12 in 2005. Nebraska brings back some key pieces from that team including outfielder/first baseman Scott Schreiber (.330/.376/.494, 7 HR), its leading hitter, and righthander/DH Luis Alvarado (0-0, 1.72, 10 SV; .283/.324/.381), who will move from the bullpen to the rotation this spring. Alvarado and Schreiber both elected to return for their senior seasons after being drafted last year – Alvarado in the 13th round by the Mariners, Schreiber in the 26th round by the Rays – and will be heavily counted on this spring. The Huskers have some key holes to fill, as All-American lefthander/center fielder Jake Meyers has moved on to pro ball and relief ace Chad Luensmann (3-4, 3.74, 8 SV) is out for the year following Tommy John surgery. But Nebraska has the talent on its roster to make its fourth regionals trip in five years under coach Darin Erstad.
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Michigan put together a strong year in 2017. It finished a half-game behind first-place Nebraska in the regular-season standings, won a conference-best 42 games and advanced to regionals for the second time in three years. But after a program-record 11 players were drafted and all signed, the Wolverines will have a different look this spring. Second baseman Ako Thomas (.354/.462/.396, 23 SB) and outfielder Miles Lewis (.296/.381/.384, 19 SB) are back at the top of the order, but Michigan will need others such as outfielder Jonathan Engelmann (.259/.341/.339, 11 SB) to step up behind them in the order. Michigan has several talented options on the mound, but will have to find a reliable rotation from a group that includes Tommy Henry, Karl Kauffmann, Alec Rennard, Will Tribucher and Jayce Vancena. Rennard (6-2, 4.43) has the most experience as a starter, but all figure to pitch significant innings this spring. Michigan also landed this fall the 10th-ranked recruiting class in the country, the highest rated recruiting class ever in the Big Ten. That exciting group of newcomers is headlined by outfielder Jesse Franklin, who may start the season as a DH while he recovers from offseason surgery, but figures to eventually take over in center field. It may take the Wolverines some time to find their best roles, but they should improve as the season continues and be playing their best baseball down the stretch.
Iowa finished last season on an impressive run and won the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in program history. The Hawkeyes’ eventful year continued in August when they represented the U.S. in the World University Games in Taiwan and won a gold medal, Team USA’s best-ever finish in the event. Coach Rick Heller has turned Iowa into a consistent winner, and the Hawkeyes have won at least 30 games in each of his four seasons in Iowa City and advanced to regionals twice. This season they must replace their top two hitters in first baseman Jake Adams, who last season led the country in home runs with 29, and shortstop Mason McCoy, and their top two pitchers in Ryan Erickson and Nick Gallagher. Neustrom and senior catcher Tyler Cropley (.268/.371/.459, 9 HR) will be key to the offense, while lefthander Nick Allgeyer, who missed 2017 due to Tommy John surgery, and righthander Brady Schanuel, a junior college transfer, will take on big roles in the rotation. For another magical year of #HellerBall, however, Iowa will need some new faces to step up.
After winning the Big Ten regular-season title in 2016, Minnesota came up a game shy last season of repeating as champions. The Golden Gophers will have a veteran lineup this spring as they look to get back to the league’s summit. Their projected lineup figures to be made up entirely of players who have been in the program three or four years, including their top four hitters from a year ago. Seniors Luke Petterson (.354/.411/.395) and Micah Coffey (.340/.396/.493) are back this spring after they were the Gophers’ top two hitters in 2017. Minnesota is not as experienced on the mound, however, and it will be up to coach John Anderson to find some reliable arms to support what should be a potent offense.
Top 20 2018 Draft Prospects
1. Jawuan Harris, OF, Rutgers
2. Robert Neustrom, OF, Iowa
3. Ryan Feltner, RHP, Ohio State
4. Nick Dunn, 2B, Maryland
5. Luke Miller, 3B, Indiana
6. Marty Costes, OF, Maryland
7. Brady Schanuel, RHP, Iowa
8. Jonathan Stiever, RHP, Indiana
9. Riley McCauley, RHP, Michigan State
10. Will Tribucher, LHP, Michigan
11. Nick Dalesandro, C/OF, Purdue
12. Jonathan Engelmann, OF, Michigan
13. John Murphy, RHP, Maryland
14. Luke Shilling, RHP, Illinois
15. Chad Luensmann, RHP, Nebraska
16. Luis Alvarado, RHP/2B, Nebraska
17. Marty Bechina, 3B, Michigan State
18. Scott Schreiber, OF/1B, Nebraska
19. Logan Sowers, OF, Indiana
20. Matt Lloyd, RHP/2B, Indiana
Top 10 2019 Draft Prospects
1. Tyler Blohm, RHP, Maryland
2. Cal Krueger, RHP, Indiana
3. Karl Kauffmann, RHP, Michigan
4. Paul Tillotson, RHP, Nebraska
5. Matt Gorski, OF, Indiana
6. Michael Mokma, RHP, Michigan State
7. Dante Biasi, LHP, Penn State
8. Michael Massey, 2B, Illinois
9. Cam Beauchamp, LHP, Indiana
10. Dominic Canzone, OF, Ohio State
Top 10 Freshmen
1. Jesse Franklin, OF, Michigan
2. Randy Bednar, OF, Maryland
3. Jeff Criswell, RHP, Michigan
4. Danny Zimmerman, RHP/1B, Michigan
5. Jack Dreyer, RHP, Iowa
6. Isaiah Paige, RHP, Michigan
7. Max Meyer, RHP/2B, Minnesota
8. Elijah Dunham, OF, Indiana
9. Ryan Kutt, RHP, Illinois
10. Adam Proctor, C, Michigan State
Best Pure Hitter: Nick Dunn, Maryland
Best Power Hitter: Logan Sowers, Indiana
Best Strike-zone Discipline: Ako Thomas, Michigan
Best Athlete: Jawuan Harris, Rutgers
Fastest Runner: Jawuan Harris, Rutgers
Best Baserunner: Ako Thomas, Michigan
Best Defensive Catcher: Ryan Fineman, Indiana
Best Defensive Infielder: Jeremy Houston, Indiana
Best Infield Arm: Luke Miller, Indiana
Best Defensive Outfielder: Jawuan Harris, Rutgers
Best Outfield Arm: Marty Costes, Maryland
Best Fastball: Ryan Feltner, Ohio State
Best Breaking Ball: Ryan Feltner, Ohio State
Best Changeup: Taylor Bloom, Maryland
Best Control: Jonathan Stiever, Indiana