2019 Big Ten College Baseball Preview

Image credit: Michigan outfielder Jesse Franklin (Photo by Tomaso DeRosa)

Projected Standings
(2018 records)

1. Michigan (33-20, 15-8)
2. Minnesota (43-15, 18-4)
3. Indiana (40-19, 14-9)
4. Illinois (32-20, 15-9)
5. Nebraska (24-28, 8-14)
6. Iowa (29-20, 13-9)
7. Ohio State (36-24, 14-10)
8. Maryland (24-30, 9-14)
9. Michigan State (20-32, 11-12)
10. Purdue (38-21, 17-6)
11. Northwestern 15-32, 6-18)
12. Rutgers (25-25, 7-16)
13. Penn State (15-34, 3-21)

Team to Beat: Michigan

The Wolverines last season came on strong in the second half with a young team but just missed the NCAA Tournament. Now a year older, Michigan enters the season with high expectations and eager to break through for its first Big Ten Conference title since 2008. The Wolverines return sophomore center fielder Jesse Franklin, a Freshman All-American, and senior second baseman Ako Thomas, a catalyst at the top of the lineup, and starters Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffman. Michigan has impressive athleticism offensively and a deep pitching staff. The Wolverines should this spring be ready to for a breakout campaign.

Player of the Year: Jesse Franklin, OF, Michigan

Franklin last year earned Freshman All-American honors after hitting .327/.379/.588 with 10 home runs. He was limited to first base as he recovered from labrum surgery but will now be able to return to his natural position of center field. Franklin this spring will play a pivotal role for the Wolverines and could put himself on the map as a potential high pick in the 2020 draft.

Pitcher of the Year: Patrick Fredrickson, RHP, Minnesota

The Big Ten’s reigning pitcher of the year will be hard pressed to match his 2018 season, when he went 9-0, 1.86 and earned Freshman All-American honors. Fredrickson doesn’t overpower hitters but has above-average control and understanding of his craft. Having him pitching on Friday nights will be a big advantage for the Gophers.

Freshman of the Year: Spencer Schwellenbach, 3B/SS, Nebraska

A native of upstate Michigan, Schwellenbach brings an exciting set of tools to Lincoln. He’s expected to take over a spot on the left side of the infield, where his athleticism and feel for hitting stand out. He’s a big talent on the mound as well, but his first contributions for the Huskers are expected to be as a hitter.

Top 25 Teams: Michigan (20), Minnesota (24)

Other Projected Regional Teams

Indiana: Since their College World Series appearance in 2013, the Hoosiers have become a consistent regional team, missing the NCAA Tournament just once in the last six years. That run began when Tracy Smith was leading Indiana and continued after Smith was hired away by Arizona State and Chris Lemonis replaced him as head coach. Now, the Hoosiers will look to maintain their success with another new coach, as Jeff Mercer takes over the program. The 33-year-old has deep Indiana roots and impressed in two seasons as head coach of Wright State. He inherits a strong team, despite the loss of some big bats from last year’s team. Indiana brings back several key players, including junior outfielder Matt Gorski (.356/404/.554, 8 HR), its leading hitter, infielder/closer Matt Lloyd (.275/.356/.458, 9 HR; 4-2, 1.54, 7 SV) and senior righthander Pauly Milto (8-2, 2.03). Indiana has the talent and depth to make Mercer’s first season in Bloomington a special one.

Notable Storylines

Illinois last year just missed the NCAA Tournament field after going 33-20 and finishing in fourth place in the Big Ten. The selection committee listed the Illini as the second team out, behind only Arizona. The Illini this year will try to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since their magical 2015 campaign when they reached super regionals. To do so, however, Illinois will have to find replacements for Big Ten player of the year Bren Spillane (.389/.498/.903, 23 HR) and closer Joey Gerber (1-1, 3.14, 14 SV), who were the team’s anchors. Illinois brings back the double-play combination of second baseman Michael Massey (.326/.369/.514) and shortstop Ben Troike (.299/.402/.403, 10 SB), who will keep it strong up the middle. Righthanders Quinn Snarskis (6-1, 2.84) and Ty Weber (4-3, 3.84) and lefthander Andy Fisher (6-3, 2.96), who last season combined to make 41 starts, are all back as well. Illinois added a Top 25 recruiting class featuring catcher Jacob Campbell and righthander Aidan Maldonado, who can provide instant impact. Illinois must fill the hole Spillane leaves in the heart of the order, but it should be in the mix at the top of the conference again.

Ohio State (36-24) and Purdue (38-21) were two of the most improved teams in the country last year, and they both earned NCAA Tournament bids. Both the Buckeyes and Boilermakers have some key pieces to replace, but they have enough talent on hand that they should be able to avoid taking a significant step back. Ohio State returns outfielder Dominic Canzone (.323/.395/.447), one of the better draft prospects in the league, and gets a boost as redshirt freshman lefthander Seth Lonsway is ready to go this spring after missing last year due to academic issues from high school. Purdue brings back outfielders Skyler Hunter (.333/.385/.427) and Ben Nisle (.304/.368/.495, 7 HR) to lead its offense, but will have a new look on the mound after losing starters Tanner Andrews and Gareth Stroh and closer Ross Learnard.

Nebraska won its first Big Ten title in 2017 but in 2018 stumbled to a 24-28 record and a 10th place finish in the standings. It was the Huskers’ worst season since 2009, but they should bounce back quickly. Nebraska’s pitching staff was bitten hard by the injury bug and should this season be deeper as righthander Chad Luensmann and lefthander Connor Curry work their way back from Tommy John surgery and some talented newcomers work into the mix. The pitching will be improved, but Nebraska must find answers for the losses of Jesse Wilkening and Scott Schreiber, its two leading hitters. Sparkplug Mojo Hagge (.275/.369/.376) returns, as does Luke Roskam (.269/.373/.425), who will this season move behind the plate. Schwellenbach headlines a strong recruiting class that will be asked to quickly deliver results. Nebraska’s revitalized pitching staff should ease the burden on the lineup, but the Huskers will need to play better in all phases of the game as they look to get back into contention.

Maryland also last year took a step back after making three NCAA Tournament appearances in four years. The Terrapins went 24-30 and finished in ninth place in the Big Ten in coach Rob Vaughn’s first year at the program’s helm. Now, Maryland must replace its four leading hitters, including second baseman Nick Dunn, a fifth-round pick. The Terrapins do return senior righthander Hunter Parsons (5-2, 3.44) and lefthander Tyler Blohm (5-2, 4.10) in the rotation and senior righthander John Murphy (1-3, 4.26) at the back of the bullpen. That experienced pitching staff will be critical to the Terrapins’ success as they look to get back to the postseason.

Top 20 2019 Draft Prospects

1.Matt Gorski, OF, Indiana
2. Michael Massey, 2B, Illinois
3. Tommy Henry, LHP, Michigan
4. Tanner Gordon, RHP, Indiana
5. Eli Wilson, C, Minnesota
6. Karl Kauffman, RHP, Michigan
7. Dominic Canzone, OF, Ohio State
8. Chad Luensmann, RHP, Nebraska
9. Mason Erla, RHP, Michigan State
10. Tyler Blohm, LHP, Maryland
11. Jeremy Houston, SS, Indiana
12. Michael Mokma, RHP, Michigan State
13. Matt Lloyd, RHP/INF, Indiana
14. Ako Thomas, 2B, Michigan
15. Ryan Fineman, C, Indiana
16. Indigo Diaz, RHP, Michigan State
17. Brett Schultze, RHP, Minnesota
18. Connor Curry, LHP, Nebraska
19. Jordan Kozicky, SS, Minnesota
20. Jack Dunn, SS, Northwestern.

Top 10 2020 Draft Prospects

1.Max Meyer, RHP/OF, Minnesota
2. Jesse Franklin, OF, Michigan
3. Patrick Fredrickson, RHP, Minnesota
4. Seth Lonsway, LHP, Ohio State
5. Joe Donovan, C, Michigan
6. Jack Dreyer, LHP, Iowa
7. Jeff Criswell, RHP, Michigan
8. Eli Dunham, OF, Indiana
9. Randy Bednar, OF, Maryland
10. Ben Dragani, LHP, Michigan

Top 10 Newcomers

1.Jacob Campbell, C, Illinois
2. Steve Hajjar, LHP, Michigan
3. Tanner Gordon, RHP, Indiana
4. Aidan Maldonado, RHP, Illinois
5. Spencer Schwellenbach, 3B/SS, Nebraska
6. Zack Raabe, INF, Minnesota
7. Willie Weiss, RHP, Michigan
8. Bo Blessie, RHP, Nebraska
9. Sean Burke, RHP, Maryland
10. Chase Stanke, C, Minnesota

Best Tools

Best Pure Hitter: Michael Massey, Illinois
Best Power Hitter: Jesse Franklin, Michigan
Best Strike-zone Discipline: Ako Thomas, Michigan
Best Athlete: Matt Gorski, Indiana
Fastest Runner: Christian Bullock, Michigan
Best Baserunner: Ben Mezzenga, Minnesota
Best Defensive Catcher: Ryan Fineman, Indiana
Best Defensive Infielder: Jeremy Houston, Indiana
Best Infield Arm: Marty Becchina, Michigan State
Best Defensive Outfielder: Ben Mezzenga, Minnesota
Best Outfield Arm: Dominic Canzone, Ohio State
Best Fastball: Max Meyer, Minnesota
Best Breaking Ball: Max Meyer, Minnesota
Best Changeup: Pauly Milto, Indiana
Best Control: Patrick Fredrickson, Minnesota

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