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2022 Big Ten College Baseball Preview

The Big Ten last year played a conference-only schedule, as it did in most sports. It made for a unique season with teams playing 44 games and a difficult task for the selection committee to evaluate Big Ten schools.

But three Big Ten teams still made the NCAA Tournament (Nebraska, Maryland and Michigan) and both the Cornhuskers and Terrapins advanced to regional finals. The schedule is back to normal this year and the conference will hope that also means it can put four or five teams into regionals, as it did annually from 2017-19.

The standings in the conference are almost always tight and 2022 should be no different. Competition both at the top of the standings and for the spots in the Big Ten Tournament figure to be fierce.

Award Picks

Player of the Year: Clark Elliott, OF, Michigan

Elliott last year had a solid season, hitting .270/.403/.428 with five home runs and eight stolen bases. He followed that up with a breakout summer in the Cape Cod League, where he hit .344/.464/.478 to win the batting title. He returns to Ann Arbor with high expectations for his third season of college baseball. The lefthanded hitter controls the strike zone well, makes a lot of contact and can make things happen on the bases thanks to his speed.

Pitcher of the Year: Nick Dean, RHP, Maryland

Dean last season in his second year at Maryland went 3-1, 2.87 and ranked fourth in the Big Ten in ERA. He’s been a member of the Terrapins rotation throughout his career and attacks hitters with a fastball-curveball combination. He isn’t overpowering, running his fastball up to 93 mph, but has a good feel on the mound.

Freshman of the Year: Carter Mathison, OF, Indiana

Mathison last season was named the player of the year in Indiana after leading the state in home runs (16). The lefthanded hitter has a strong build and knows how to get to his power and has above-average speed. He projects to step right into the outfield for the Hoosiers and his combination of speed and power can make an impact this spring.

Predicted Order of Finish (2021 record)

1. Nebraska (34-14, 31-12)

The Cornhuskers last year won the Big Ten, finishing 3.5 games ahead of Maryland for their second title since joining the conference. They then pushed Arkansas to the brink in the regional final, an impressive showing against the No. 1 overall seed. Now, Nebraska enters the 2022 season as Big Ten favorite. From last year’s team it must replace All-American shortstop/reliever Spencer Schwellenbach, ace Cam Povich and leading hitter Jaxon Hallmark, but still returns plenty. Third baseman Max Anderson (.332/.386/.500, 7 HR) impressed as a freshman and Griffin Everett (.287/.370/.410) gives Nebraska an experienced hand behind the plate. With four pitchers who are in at least their fourth year of college baseball expected to pitch in key roles—righthanders Dawson McCarville and Shay Schanaman and lefthanders Jake Bunz and Kyle Perry—Nebraska will have no shortage of experience on the mound. The Huskers also brought in the Big Ten’s top-ranked recruiting class this fall, further deepening their roster. Nebraska has never won back-to-back conference titles, but it will have expectations of doing so this year.

2. Michigan (27-19, 27-17)

Michigan last season was in Big Ten title contention until the final two series, when it lost to Nebraska and Maryland, the two teams that ultimately finished ahead of it. The Wolverines still reached regionals, but an 0-2 showing in South Bend brought a quick end to the season. Now, Michigan will again take aim at a Big Ten title and an NCAA Tournament berth. The Wolverines lost ace Steven Hajjar as a second-round draft pick but still have the makings of a strong pitching staff. Righthander Cameron Weston (7-4, 2.81) will move to the front of the rotation and can be one of the best pitchers in the Big Ten thanks to a fastball that gets up to 95 mph and a strong slider. Closer Willie Weiss (4-2, 2.63, 5 SV) returns to anchor the bullpen and lefthanders Jacob Denner (4-4, 4.35), Jack White (0-0, 4.50) and Logan Wood (0-0, 2.38) will all pitch in significant roles. Offensively, outfielder Clark Elliott (.270/.403/.428, 8 SB) is coming off a breakout summer in the Cape Cod League, where he won the batting title. With leading hitters Ted Burton (.342/.434/.667, 7 HR) and Tito Flores (.325/.429/.552, 7 HR) back, as well as leading power threat Jimmy Obertop (.275/.361/.556, 11 HR), Michigan has a strong core in the lineup. The Wolverines will have a new look up the middle, as Obertop will take over full-time behind the plate and Alex Fedje-Johnson, a graduate transfer from Davidson, will step in at shortstop. The pieces are all there for Michigan to mount a title challenge.

3. Maryland (30-18, 28-16)

The Terrapins are coming off a second-place finish in the Big Ten and their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2017. Maryland saw righthander Sean Burke and shortstop Benjamin Cowles, who led the Big Ten in home runs, get drafted in the top 10 rounds, leaving a couple big holes on the roster. Even without Burke, however, the Terrapins may have the best rotation in the conference. Righthander Nick Dean (3-1, 2.87) is ready for Friday nights and righthander Jason Savacool (7-3, 5.97) returns to the rotation after a solid freshman season. Lefthanders Ryan Ramsey (5-0, 1.67, 2 SV), who is ready to move to the rotation from the bullpen, and freshman Andrew Johnson give Maryland two more strong options. Righthander Nigel Belgrave, who missed last season due to injury, has a big arm and can pitch at the back of the bullpen. Offensively, Maryland will be led by second baseman Matt Shaw (.332/.408/.543, 7 HR, 7 SB), who led the team in hitting as a freshman, and veterans Chris Alleyne (.306/.409/.561, 8 HR, 22 SB) and Maxwell Costes (.310/.512/.483). Sophomore Kevin Keister (.098/.245/.098) will step in at shortstop, where he’s a solid defender. Maryland took a big step forward in 2021 and will again be tough this spring.

4. Iowa (26-18)

The Hawkeyes last season just missed out on the NCAA Tournament, as they finished just a game behind Michigan in the standings. It was the latest near miss for the Hawkeyes, who haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2017. That drought could well end this spring, however. Iowa must replace Big Ten pitcher of the year Trenton Wallace, but has a deep, veteran pitching staff. Righthander Dylan Nedved (4-1, 4.19, 9 SV) is set to move from the back of the bullpen to the rotation and Iowa added righthander Adam Mazur as a transfer following an impressive summer in the Cape Cod League. Junior college transfers Casey Day and Ben DeTaeye figure to be key arms coming out of the bullpen. Offensively, Iowa must replace leading hitter Ben Norman, but welcomes back veteran infielders Izaya Fullard (.296/.395/.444) and Peyton Williams (.295/.470/.582, 6 HR). The Hawkeyes have a lot of youth around the diamond and may go through some early growing pains, but their pitching will ease some pressure.

5. Ohio State (22-20)

The Buckeyes had high hopes for 2021 but missed the NCAA Tournament after finishing sixth in the Big Ten. Ohio State had a trio of starting pitchers drafted in the top 11 rounds and, as a result, will have a new look on the mound in 2022. The good news is that closer TJ Brock (0-1, 2.08, 9 SV) is back and gives Ohio State arguably the best closer in the Big Ten. Fifth-year lefthander Griffan Smith (1-0, 5.79) is expected to move to the front of the rotation with promising sophomores Isaiah Coupet (0-3, 3.63) and Nathan Haberthier (0-1, 14.04) in the mix as well. Freshman lefthander Gavin Bruni headlined Ohio State’s recruiting class and could pitch in a key role. Offensively, outfielder Kade Kern (.325/.391/.438, 9 SB), who led the team in hitting as a freshman, shortstop Zach Dezenzo (.302/.382/.550, 9 HR) and fifth-year senior catcher Brent Todys (.267/.329/.382) return to lead the lineup. Slugger Hank Thomas, a transfer from Georgia Tech, could give the Buckeyes lineup a boost.

6. Indiana (26-18)

The Hoosiers had made six of the previous seven NCAA Tournaments before falling short last spring. They were on track for a regional bid much of the season before losing eight of their last 11 games and finishing fourth in the standings, just behind Michigan. Now, IU is looking to bounce back, but has several key pieces to replace after losing six players in the draft. The Hoosiers brought in a strong recruiting class that ranked just outside the Top 25 and freshmen like third baseman Evan Goforth, righthander Luke Hayden and outfielder Carter Mathison will have a chance to make an immediate impact. They also brought in several key transfers, including righthanders Bradley Brehmer (Wright State) and Jack Perkins (Louisville) and infielders Tyler Doanes (West Virginia) and Phillip Glassner (Youngstown State). Much will be riding on how well all the newcomers do for the Hoosiers, but there are important returners in Bloomington as well. Outfielders Morgan Colopy (.274/.315/.459) and Bobby Whalen (.071/.071/.071) have some big raw tools and will be asked to take on bigger roles in 2022. On the mound, righthander John-Biagio Modugno (3-1, 2.09) will move to the rotation after leading the team in appearances in 2021, with Brehmer and Perkins filling in behind him. Righthanders Nathan Stahl (3-0, 1.80) and Braydon Tucker (0-1, 4.09, 2 SV) will be key players to watch in the bullpen. IU has clear upside, but with so much new, there’s a wide range of outcomes for the Hoosiers this spring.

7. Rutgers (21-23)

The Scarlet Knights made noise midway through the season when they won back-to-back road series at Michigan and Nebraska and went into May with a chance to make regionals. They hit a swoon in May, however, going 4-10 down the stretch to finish with a losing record and eighth in the standings. Rutgers gets most of that team back, especially in the lineup. Leading hitter Mike Nyisztor (.351/.456/.440) returns, as do Chris Brito (.302/.396/.527, 10 HR), Ryan Lasko (.231/.339/.474, 11 HR) and Richie Schiekofer (.316/.403/.404). The key for the Scarlet Knights will be how they reload on the mound after losing their top three starters. Lefthander Brian Fitzpatrick (3-2, 6.11) has the raw stuff to lead the rotation and is coming off a strong summer on the Cape (1-0, 1.93). Lefthander Justin Sinabaldi (1-1, 6.39) is ready to take a step forward as a sophomore, while transfers Sam Bello (Maryland), Nathan Florence (Hartford) and Jared Kollar (Seton Hill, Pa.) add to the staff. Closer Dale Stanavich (1-0, 3.13, 5 SV) is back to anchor the bullpen. The Scarlet Knights haven’t made the Big Ten Tournament since joining the league in 2015 but should be in position to end that drought this spring.

8. Illinois (22-22)

With a .500 record in 2021, Illinois finished in the middle of the pack and will aim this spring to push back toward the top of the conference standings. An experienced lineup will look to lead the way. First baseman Justin Janas (.391/.506/.449) last season won the Big Ten batting title and returns along with shortstop Braden Comia (.323/.457/.445) to lead the lineup. After losing Jackson Raper, who led the team in home runs, Illinois will need to find some more pop, but Kellen Sarver (.287/.362/.535, 8 HR) and outfielder Jacob Campbell (.299/.369/.546, 6 HR) both have potential. On the mound, Illinois is replacing its top starters Andrew Hoffmann and Nathan Lavender, who were both drafted. Lefthander Cole Kirschsieper (3-4, 5.82, 3 SV) had a breakout summer pitching for Team USA and will move from the bullpen to the rotation, joining righthander Riley Gowens (2-5, 6.08), who returns. Finding some additional answers on the mound will be critical for Illinois, which ranked 12th in the Big Ten in team ERA (6.45) last season.

9. Northwestern (15-21)

The Big Ten’s lone coaching change this summer came at Northwestern, where Spencer Allen stepped down after six seasons as head coach and Josh Reynolds was promoted as interim head coach. Reynolds was the Wildcats pitching coach throughout Allen’s tenure and now will get his chance as head coach. Northwestern brings back some key players as it takes aim at its first Big Ten Tournament berth since 2017. The Wildcats’ lineup will be led by infielder Anthony Calarco (.295/.379/.564, 9 HR) and slugger Stephen Hrustich (.270/.400/.609, 11 HR) and should have solid power. On the mound, top starter Mike Doherty (1-4, 3.69) returns and righthander Ben Grable (0-1, 4.08) figures to pitch in a key relief role. Graduate transfer righthander Mike Farinelli (Middlebury, Vt.) and freshman lefthander Sean Sullivan both can step into important roles. Northwestern lost both shortstop Shawn Goosenberg and catcher Michael Trautwein in the draft and finding replacements—likely sophomore Tony Livermore (.242/.314/.339) at shortstop and graduate transfer JC Santini (Saint Mary’s) at catcher—will be critical to improving a defense that last season ranked last in the Big Ten (.960). If the Wildcats do improve their run prevention, they could surprise this spring.

10. Penn State (18-24)

The Nittany Lions last season finished ninth in the Big Ten standings, their best finish since coming in third in 2012. While PSU still finished with a losing record, it was still an important step forward. Now, after seeing four players drafted—the most in a single year for the program since 2007—PSU must reload. Catcher Matt Wood (.295/.384/.468) and outfielder Johnny Piacentino (.284/.350/.525, 8 HR) will anchor the lineup. On the mound, PSU is replacing its whole rotation. Righthander Mason Mellott (2-1, 4.60, 4 SV) returns after leading the team in appearances (17) and righthander Steven Miller (0-1, 3.29) will return in a key role. The Nittany Lions brought in a strong group of newcomers including transfers in righthander Travis Luensmann (South Carolina) and lefthander Jordan Morales (La Salle). PSU will need those newcomers to step up if it is to build on last year’s momentum.

11. Minnesota (6-31)

The Golden Gophers had a 2021 to forget as they struggled through one of the worst seasons in program history. Very little went right, and Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring (3.76 runs per game) and team ERA (8.09). For a program as proud as Minnesota, a second year like that seems unimaginable. But to avoid that, the Gophers will need newcomers—including five transfers—and returners alike to step up. Righthander Sam Ireland (0-3, 4.10) and lefthander Jack Liffrig (2-4, 4.36) return to the rotation and power righthanders J.P. Massey (0-4, 10.80) and Aidan Maldonado (Illinois) have the talent to join them but will need to better harness their stuff. Righthanders Richie Holetz (Nebraska-Omaha) and Will Semb (Iowa) give the Gophers two more promising arms. Minnesota lost leading hitter Zack Raabe and will look to outfielder Easton Bertrand (.295/.364/.505) and first baseman Ronald Sweeny (.228/.323/.500, 9 HR) to anchor the lineup. Minnesota should take a step forward in 2022, the question is how big of a step it will be.

12. Purdue (16-26)

After last season finishing 12th in the standings, Purdue brought in a big recruiting class that was heavy on junior college transfers who will look to make an immediate impact in West Lafayette. The lineup will be almost entirely new, with newcomers like second baseman CJ Valdez and outfielder Curtis Washington Jr. bringing exciting tools. One key returner will be outfielder Mike Bolton Jr. (.269/.452/.346, 17 SB), who has premium speed. It’s a similar story on the mound. Lefthander Calvin Schapira (2-6, 4.96) returns to the rotation and righthander Eric Hildebrand (2-1, 4.19) will again be a key figure in the bullpen. They’ll be joined by newcomers including righthander Wyatt Wendall, a junior college transfer, and freshmen Khal Stephen and Troy Wansing. With so much new, Purdue has a wide range of possibilities for the season. If it all clicks, however, the Boilermakers could have a fun spring.

13. Michigan State (17-27)

The Spartans finished 11th in the Big Ten standings and return several key young players in 2022. Michigan State returns its double-play combination of shortstop Mitch Jebb (.276/.330/.362) and second baseman Trent Farquhar (.272/.381/.371), as well as outfielder Zaid Walker (.308/.367/.420, 7 SB), its leading hitter in 2021. On the mound, Michigan State must replace ace Mason Erla, but does return promising lefthander Nick Powers (4-2, 4.87). Michigan State brought in several newcomers on the mound, and it will need a couple of them to step up. If the Spartans can find the answers on the mound, their solid defense and athletic lineup give them upside.

Tracy Smith (Andrew Woolley Four Seam Images)

Michigan Hires Tracy Smith As Next Coach

Michigan tabbed Tracy Smith as its next baseball coach.

Top 20 2022 Draft Prospects

1. Clark Elliott, OF, Michigan
2. Adam Mazur, RHP, Iowa
3. Cameron Weston, RHP, Michigan
4. Cole Kirschsieper, LHP, Illinois
5. TJ Brock, RHP, Ohio State
6. John-Biagio Modugno, RHP, Indiana
7. Brian Fitzpatrick, LHP, Rutgers
8. Bobby Zmarzlak, OF, Maryland
9. Nick Dean, RHP, Maryland
10. Jacob Denner, LHP, Michigan
11. Dale Stanavich, LHP, Rutgers
12. Jimmy Obertop, C/1B, Michigan
13. Willie Weiss, RHP, Michigan 
13. Shay Schanaman, LHP, Nebraska
14. Peyton Williams, 1B, Iowa
15. Morgan Colopy, OF, Indiana
16. Maxwell Costes, 1B, Maryland
17. Griffan Smith, LHP, Ohio State
18. Phillip Glasser, SS, Indiana
20. Curtis Washington Jr., OF, Purdue

Top 10 2023 Draft Prospects

1. Jason Savacool, RHP, Maryland
2. Max Anderson, 3B, Nebraska
3. Kade Kern, OF, Ohio State
4. Ryan Lasko, OF, Rutgers
5. Matt Shaw, 2B, Maryland
6. Logan Wood, LHP, Michigan
7. Brice Matthews, SS, Nebraska
8. Justin Sinibaldi, LHP, Rutgers
9. Ben Grable, RHP, Northwestern
10. George Klassen, RHP, Minnesota

Top 10 Freshmen

1. Brody Brecht, RHP, Iowa
2. Drew Christo, RHP, Nebraska
3. Gavin Bruni, LHP, Ohio State
4. Tommy Molsky, RHP, Penn State
5. Travis Garnett, LHP, Maryland
6. Luke Hayden, RHP, Indiana
7. Marcus Morgan, RHP, Iowa
8. Carter Mathison, OF, Indiana
9. Brayden Lybarger, LHP, Michigan
10. Cody Hultnik, 1B, Michigan

Best Tools

Best Pure Hitter: Justin Janas, Illinois
Best Power Hitter: Jimmy Obertop, Michigan
Best Strike-Zone Discipline: Maxwell Costes, Maryland
Best Athlete: Brody Brecht, Iowa
Fastest Runner: Mike Bolton Jr., Purdue
Best Baserunner: Michael Bolton Jr., Purdue
Best Defensive Catcher: Griffin Everitt, Nebraska
Best Defensive Infielder: Trent Farquhar, Michigan State
Best Infield Arm: Branden Comia, Illinois
Best Defensive Outfielder: Chris Alleyne, Maryland
Best Outfield Arm: Zaid Walker, Michigan State
Best Fastball: TJ Brock, Ohio State
Best Breaking Ball: Willie Weiss, Michigan
Best Changeup: Cole Kirschsieper, Illinois
Best Control: Nick Dean, Maryland

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