2023 Big Ten Conference College Baseball Preview

Image credit: Maryland RHP Nick Dean (Photo courtesy of Maryland)

Last year was an unusual one in the Big Ten. The top of the standings looked different, as Maryland and Rutgers finished as a somewhat unlikely 1-2–it was the Terrapins first conference title since joining the league and the Scarlet Knights’ best finish as Big Ten members–while stalwarts Indiana, Nebraska and Ohio State all finished in the league’s bottom half. The conference also only received two bids to the NCAA Tournament, its least since 2014.

Following the season, three schools had coaching changes–Michigan, Ohio State and Northwestern–and the conference itself made stunning realignment news, announcing Southern California and UCLA will join the league in the summer of 2024.

All of that sets the stage for what should be an exciting 2023. The conference has prominent draft prospects like Maryland’s Matt Shaw, Michigan State’s Mitch Jebb and Rutgers’ Ryan Lasko, standard-bearer programs trying to fight back to the top of the standings, new coaches finding their footing and a potential juggernaut in Maryland looking to repeat as champion. There’s no shortage of intrigue on the diamond around the Big Ten.

Preseason Awards

Player of the Year: Matt Shaw, SS, Maryland. Shaw has been a key contributor for the Terrapins since arriving in College Park, starting nearly every game over the last two years. Now, as a junior, he is set to become the focal point of the Maryland lineup. He last year hit .290/.381/.604 with 22 home runs and 12 stolen bases. Thanks to his combination of power, speed and defense up the middle, he projects to be the first Terrapin drafted in the first round since 2002 and perhaps the highest drafted player in program history.   

Pitcher of the Year: Jason Savacool, RHP, Maryland. Savacool last year earned All-American honors after going 8-3, 2.93 with 123 strikeouts and 28 walks in 107.2 innings. The junior is back to anchor what should be a standout rotation for the Terrapins. Savacool isn’t the most overpowering pitcher in the conference, but the 6-foot-1, 210-pound righthander has an advanced feel on the mound that has made him a stalwart for the last two years. His fastball works around 90 mph, and his slider is a weapon that last year helped him lead the Big Ten in strikeouts.

Freshman of the Year: Maximus Martin, SS, Rutgers. Martin was a highly regarded prep player in New Jersey and ranked No. 130 on the 2022 top 500 draft prospects list, which included all draft-eligible players. He arrived at Rutgers with plenty of expectations and tools. He’s a premium athlete with power potential and above-average speed—tools that should help him contribute right away.

Predicted Order of Finish (2022 record)

1. Maryland (48-14, 18-5)

Maryland last year had its most successful regular season ever. It won a program-record 48 games, hosted a regional for the first time and won the Big Ten title, its first conference championship since 1971. While the Terrapins ultimately were upset in a thrilling College Park Regional final by Connecticut, they now return the bulk of that team and can look to build on 2022’s success.

Offensively, six regulars return for the Terrapins. They’re led by catcher Luke Shliger (.353/.495/.602, 12 HR) and the double-play combination of second baseman Kevin Keister (.317/.420/.582, 11 HR) and shortstop Matt Shaw (.290/.381/.604, 22 HR). Shliger last season led the team in batting and Shaw was voted a Preseason All-American by MLB scouting directors, giving the team star power. Maryland does have to replace All-American outfielder Chris Alleyne, who hit 24 home runs and stole 24 bases, as well as first baseman Maxwell Costes and outfielder Troy Scheffler Jr. Maryland’s high-octane offense will turn to transfers as it looks to reload, including outfielder Matt Woods, who last season was named Northeast Conference player of the year at Bryant.

On the mound, Maryland returns starters Nick Dean (6-2, 4.57) and Jason Savacool (8-3, 2.93) and top reliever David Falco Jr. (7-1, 2.84). The Terrapins were a little short on depth on the mound a year ago, but star power is certain not to be a problem in 2023. The combination of Dean and Savacool, as well as the addition of highly regarded freshman lefthander Kyle McCoy gives Maryland a strong advantage in the rotation.

2. Iowa (35-18, 17-7)

The Hawkeyes made the NCAA Tournament twice in three years from 2015-17 but haven’t been back since, despite some close calls. This year might be their best chance yet to challenge for the Big Ten title and get back to regionals.

The Hawkeyes are led by Keaton Anthony (.361/.455/.678, 14 HR), the 2022 Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He last season led the team in batting, OPS (1.133), slugging, doubles (22) and home runs and he’s perhaps the biggest middle-of-the-order presence in the conference. Iowa will be without veterans Izaya Fullard and Peyton Williams, its second- and third-leading hitters, but still has the makings of a solid lineup around Anthony. The Hawkeyes added transfers Brennan Dorighi (Wofford) and Chase Mosely (junior college), who can provide an immediate boost. Veterans Sam Hojnar (.273/.363/.352) and Kyle Huckstorf (.284/.390/.443) are primed to take a step forward and shortstop Michael Seegers (.286/.375/.339) is coming off a strong summer in the Northwoods League, where he swiped 29 bases.

On the mound, Iowa lost ace Adam Mazur, Duncan Davitt and Dylan Nedved to the draft. Righthander Ty Langenberg (7-2, 3.71) will move from Sundays to the front of the rotation after a solid summer in the Cape Cod League. Righthander Zach Voelker, a transfer from Long Beach State, is also ready to slot into the rotation, while talented, power-armed sophomores Brody Brecht (1-4, 3.18) and Marcus Morgan (0-0, 7.63) have the ability to take on larger roles this spring. Anthony, who made just one appearance on the mound last season, is also expected to pitch more this spring and can run his fastball up to 93 mph.

3. Rutgers (44-15, 17-7)

The Scarlet Knights last year won a program-record 44 games, finished second in the Big Ten and were the runners-up in the Big Ten Tournament, losing to Michigan in the championship game. Despite all of that—and a top-50 RPI—Rutgers was left out of the NCAA Tournament. Even without a regional bid, Rutgers showed impressive progress in year three under coach Steve Owens. Now, the Scarlet Knights are taking aim at their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2007.

Rutgers lost three of its four leading hitters from a season ago, but does return outfielder Ryan Lasko (.349/.431/.643, 16 HR, 13 SB), who could this year be the program’s highest drafted player since Todd Frazier went 34th overall in 2007. Also back is Chris Brito (.317/.443/.635, 16 HR), who set the program’s RBI record (74) in 2022, as well as regulars Evan Sleight (.310/.408/.469), Tony Santa Maria (.303/.402/.539, 10 HR) and Josh Kuroda-Grauer (.299/.365/.416). Rutgers had a high-flying offense a year ago, averaging 9.58 runs per game, and it should be strong again.

The Scarlet Knights are resetting on the mound this spring. Starters Nathan Florence and Jared Kollar and closer Dale Stanavich are all gone, leaving a lot of innings to replace. Righthander Sam Bello (6-2, 3.30) threw 43.2 innings in 21 games last season, tops among returners. He, along with righthanders Wyatt Parliament (5-1, 3.15) and Sam Portnoy (3-1, 3.20), gives the Scarlet Knights a key piece to build around.

4. Indiana (27-32, 10-14)

The Hoosiers last season took a rare downturn, finishing with a losing record for the first time since 2007, the second season of Tracy Smith’s tenure. Indiana should be able to bounce back in 2023, however, as the 2022 team was very young. The Hoosiers had four players named to the Big Ten’s all-freshman team a year ago and they’re back with more experience.

Indiana’s top seven hitters return, including outfielder Hunter Jessee (.355/.467/.494), shortstop Phillip Glasser (.346/.442/.479), outfielder Carter Mathieson (.273/.393/.608, 19 HR) and catcher Matthew Ellis (.271/.398/.564, 18 HR). Indiana’s offense projects to be one of the Big Ten’s best.

The Hoosiers’ pitching staff doesn’t have the same level of continuity. Lefthander Ty Bothwell (3-2, 4.47), in his fifth season in Bloomington, is set to take over at the front of the rotation, where his pitchability should play. Indiana will turn to some newcomers for other key roles, including lefthanders Nathan Ball (Youngstown State) and Ben Seiler (Sienna) and righthanders Gabe Levy (Davidson) and Seti Manase (junior college). After the Hoosiers ranked last in the conference in team ERA (7.04), improvement on the mound is a must.

5. Illinois (30-22, 17-7)

The Illini had a solid 2022, finishing tied for second in the Big Ten, 1.5 games behind Maryland. They went a quick 0-2 in the Big Ten Tournament, however, bringing their season to an end. Illinois has a few key holes to fill as ace Cole Kirschsieper and OPS leader Justin Janas have both moved on to pro ball.

Illinois does return fifth-year players Cam McDonald (.363/.413/.561) and Branden Comia (.323/.419/.523) to lead the offense. With those veterans, as well as leadoff hitter Danny Doligale (.340/.438/.467, 18 SB), back in the fold, the Illini offense will have a familiar look. On the mound, veteran righthanders Riley Gowens (5-4, 4.86) and Jack Crowder (3-1, 6.13) will be asked to take the lead. Crowder took a step forward and if he can carry that into the spring, the Illini have the makings of a strong rotation.

6. Nebraska (23-30, 10-14)

Nebraska in 2021 won the Big Ten title in coach Will Bolt’s first full season but took a step back in 2022, missing the conference tournament. To bounce back in 2023, the Cornhuskers will have to improve on an offense that averaged 5.85 runs per game (196th nationally). Nebraska returns its top four hitters, but none of them had an OPS better than .900. The Cornhuskers were much better on the mound in 2022, ranking third in the Big Ten with a 4.70 team ERA, and they return their top two pitchers by innings pitched.

Lefthander Emmett Olson (3-3, 2.86) returns to lead the rotation and righthander Shay Schanaman (2-8, 4.44) will pitch in a crucial role. Offensively, the middle infield combination of Max Anderson (.299/.349/.513, 10 HR), who’s moving to second base from third base, and shortstop Brice Matthews (.261/.379/.446, 12 SB) will be critical among the Cornhuskers’ returners. Nebraska has some key newcomers, including righthander Jace Kaminska (Wichita State) and freshman third baseman Dylan Carey, who could provide an immediate spark.

7. Michigan (34-28, 12-12)

The Wolverines had an eventful start to the summer. First, they got hot at the end of May, took momentum into the Big Ten Tournament and then won the event for the second straight time, defeating Rutgers in the championship game. The Wolverines nearly made another NCAA Tournament run but lost to host Louisville in the regional final. After the season, head coach Erik Bakich and associate head coach Nick Schnabel were hired away by Clemson after a decade in Ann Arbor. Michigan hired Tracy Smith, who previously coached Arizona State and led Indiana to the College World Series, as its new head coach.

Michigan also must contend with losing its top four hitters from last season, as well as its best pitcher. The Wolverines do have an experienced roster as 15 of their players are in at least their fourth year of college baseball. Michigan will have to find some new answers in the lineup and newcomers like freshman Jonathan Kim and third baseman/righthander Mitch Voit will be critical.

On the mound, the Wolverines last year had five pitchers account for three-quarters of the season’s total innings. Chase Allen (7-2, 4.01), Cameron O’Halloran (5-4, 5.44) and Noah Rennard (6-2, 5.27) all return to give the staff a solid core. For Michigan to take a step forward this season, the rest of the staff will need to show improvement after its 7.00 team ERA ranked 244th nationally.

8. Ohio State (21-30, 8-14)

Ohio State last year posted its first losing record in a full season since 2011 and it finished a disappointing 11th in the Big Ten standings. Following the season, Greg Beals was fired after 12 years as the Buckeyes head coach and Bill Mosiello was hired to replace him. Mosiello comes to Columbus after nine seasons as associate head coach at Texas Christian and has one of the most extensive coaching resumes in the sport, including seven years as a minor league manager.

Mosiello is known as one of the best offensive minds in college baseball and he has some intriguing pieces to work with this spring. Leading hitter Marcus Ernst (.337/.441/.452) returns and exciting outfielders Nate Kern (.298/.354/.529, 11 SB) and Trey Lipsey (.293/.461/.482, 14 SB) give the lineup upside. The Buckeyes do have to replace catcher Archer Brookman and shortstop Zach Dezenzo, who both moved on to pro ball, and will turn to newcomers to do so. Cole Andrews, a transfer from Miami (Ohio), will take over behind the plate, while freshman Henry Kaczmar is slated to step in at shortstop.

Ohio State is not as experienced on the mound. Lefthander Isaiah Coupet (5-5, 5.85) is back to lead the rotation, but it will have to find some new pieces to fit around him. Newcomers Justin Eckhardt (Texas), Josh Timmerman (junior college) and freshman Landon Beidelschies are likely to quickly take on important roles.

9. Penn State (26-29, 11-13)

Penn State last year took a step forward to finish sixth in the Big Ten standings and make the conference tournament for the first time since 2012. Now, the Nittany Lions will look to build on that success. Penn State has an experienced roster with 14 players who are in at least their fourth year of college baseball, including its top power threat, Josh Spiegel.

The Nittany Lions must replace catcher Matt Wood, their leading hitter and a fourth-round draft pick, but they do bring back Jay Harry (.333/.414/.469) for his third year as starting shortstop and Spiegel (.300/.374/.546, 10 HR), who ranked second on the team in OPS (.920). Transfers Thomas Bramley (Mount Saint Mary’s) and Bobby Marsh (Florida Atlantic) will help bolster the lineup. On the mound, ace Travis Luensmann (2-3, 4.52) is back to lead the staff. Veteran relievers Steven Miller (3-4, 6.35) and Jordan Morales (3-0, 3.64) are back after leading the team in appearances in 2022.

10. Purdue (29-21, 9-12)

The Boilermakers started last season on a 15-game winning streak and were 18-2 when the calendar flipped to April. But as the schedule stiffened in the second half, they were unable to keep pace at the top of the conference, but they still made the Big Ten Tournament for just the third time in 10 years.

Purdue returns shortstop Evan Albrecht (.365/.452/.470, 22 SB) and DH CJ Valdez (.324/.432/.472), its top two hitters, as well as top power threat Cam Thompson (.292/.424/.607, 13 HR) and speedster Mike Bolton Jr. (.276/.445/.442, 28 SB). Newcomers Cooper Cornblum (Wichita State) and Lukas Cook (junior college) add to the mix of what should again be a fast, dynamic lineup. Purdue has more questions to answer on the mound after losing its top three starters. Righthanders CJ Backer (2-2, 7.08) and Khal Stephen (3-4, 8.29) will be asked to take on bigger roles this season. Purdue could get a boost later in the season from lefthander Calvin Schapira, who missed last season due to Tommy John surgery. He was the team’s top starter in 2021 and if he’s able to recapture that form, the Boilermakers would benefit from his experience.

11. Northwestern (23-27, 10-14)

Northwestern last year played under interim head coach Josh Reynolds, who was appointed to the position following Spencer Allen’s resignation at the end of the 2021 season. The Wildcats missed a Big Ten Tournament appearance due to a tiebreaker and following the season the school conducted a full coaching search, eventually hiring Jim Foster away from Army. Foster comes to Northwestern after leading the Black Knights to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

The Wildcats last season had a solid offense but now must replace their top four hitters. Outfielder Stephen Hrustich (.208/.311/.488, 10 HR) gives the lineup a power threat and first baseman Alex Calarco (.219/.292/.219) is ready to step into a bigger role as a sophomore. Several newcomers will get a chance to make an immediate impact, including exciting freshmen Mike Elko and Owen McElfatrick. Northwestern last year ranked No. 223 nationally in team ERA (6.53) and improving on that mark will be critical. Righthander Michael Farinelli (6-5, 4.43) is back to lead the rotation and righthander Grant Comstock (0-4, 5.19) showed promise a year ago as a freshman. An X-factor for the staff is righthander Ben Grable, who has a powerful arm but missed last season due to injury.

12. Michigan State (24-30, 8-16)

The Spartans haven’t had a winning record since 2017 and last season finished 12th in the conference standings. But there’s reason for excitement for their 2023 season, starting with shortstop Mitch Jebb (.356/.448/.511, 20 SB). The junior is coming off an all-star summer in the Cape Cod League, where he hit .356/.429/.490 with 26 stolen bases, and is a projected top three rounds draft pick. If he goes that high, Jebb would be the program’s highest drafted position player since Kirk Gibson went 12th overall in 1978 and the program’s highest drafted player since Mark Mulder went second overall in 1998.

Beyond Jebb, Michigan State returns outfielder Casey Mayes (.306/.329/.468, 11 SB) and second baseman Trent Farquhar (.271/.392/.420) to lead the lineup. Kyle Bischoff and Conner Tomasic, the team’s most reliable pitchers last season, are both gone. Lefthander Nick Powers (3-7, 6.29) and righthanders Wyatt Rush (3-3, 4.33) and Ryan Szczepaniak (4-3, 6.17) return to anchor the pitching staff.

13. Minnesota (16-36, 6-18)

The Golden Gophers have been in a funk the last two years, going a combined 22-67 and twice finishing in the Big Ten cellar. The team will have a new look in 2023, especially in the lineup, which will have several new starters.

Leading hitter Jack Kelly is gone, but center fielder Brett Bateman (.312/.386/.363, 21 SB) returns. Minnesota tapped into the junior college ranks for Brady Jurgella and Ike Mezzenga, who both bring exciting hittability to the lineup. Look for slugger Riley Swenson (.319/.353/.532) and second baseman Brady Counsell (.200/.283/.320) to step into bigger roles this spring. On the mound, Minnesota lost its whole rotation, but it does have perhaps the conference’s most electric pitcher in righthander George Klassen (0-2, 14.09). He has a big fastball but hasn’t been able to harness his stuff. Sophomores Tucker Novotny (1-1, 3.86) and Sam Malec (0-0, 9.88) will also be asked to step up in the rotation this season. There’s upside on the mound for the Gophers, but they need their young arms to make a jump.

Top 20 2023 Draft Prospects

  1. Matt Shaw, SS, Maryland
  2. Mitch Jebb, SS, Michigan State
  3. Max Anderson, 2B, Nebraska
  4. Ryan Lasko, OF, Rutgers
  5. George Klassen, RHP, Minnesota
  6. Luke Shilger, C, Maryland
  7. Ty Langenberg, RHP, Iowa
  8. Kade Kern, OF, Ohio State
  9. Keaton Anthony, RHP/OF, Iowa
  10. Jason Savacool, RHP, Maryland
  11. Brice Matthews, SS, Nebraska
  12. Evan Sleight, OF, Rutgers
  13. Isaiah Coupet, LHP, Ohio State
  14. Nick Dean, RHP, Maryland
  15. Jack Crowder, RHP, Illinois
  16. Matt Ellis, C, Indiana
  17. Brett Bateman, OF, Minnesota
  18. Drew Conover, RHP, Rutgers
  19. Connor O’Halloran, LHP, Michigan
  20. Ben Grable, RHP, Northwestern

Top 10 2024 Draft Prospects

  1. Brody Brecht, RHP, Iowa
  2. Drew Christo, RHP, Nebraska
  3. Marcus Morgan, RHP, Iowa
  4. Carter Mathison, OF, Indiana
  5. Josh Kuroda-Grauer, 2B, Rutgers
  6. Tommy Molsky, RHP, Penn State
  7. Cade Obermueller, LHP, Iowa
  8. Gavin Bruni, LHP, Ohio State
  9. Drew Tibbets, 1B, Indiana
  10. Josh Pyne, 3B, Indiana

Top 10 Freshmen

  1. Maximus Martin, SS, Rutgers
  2. Greg Pace Jr., OF, Michigan
  3. Cade Obermueller, LHP, Iowa
  4. Kyle McCoy, LHP, Maryland
  5. Donovan Zsak, LHP, Rutgers
  6. Devin Taylor, OF, Indiana
  7. Jake Dresselhouse, OF, Michigan State
  8. Julius Sanchez, RHP, Illinois
  9. Joseph Dzierwa, LHP, Michigan State
  10. Henry Kaczmar, SS, Ohio State


Best Tools

Best pure hitter: Mitch Jebb, Michigan State
Best power hitter: Keaton Anthony, Iowa
Best strike-zone discipline: Mitch Jebb, Michigan State
Best athlete: Brody Brecht, Iowa
Fastest runner: Michael Bolton, Purdue
Best baserunner: Evan Albrecht, Purdue
Best defensive catcher: Luke Shliger, Maryland
Best defensive infielder: Kevin Keister, Maryland
Best infield arm: Branden Comia, Illinois
Best defensive outfielder: Ryan Lasko, Rutgers
Best outfield arm: Ryan Lasko, Rutgers
Best fastball: Brody Brecht, Iowa
Best breaking ball: Isaiah Coupet, Ohio State
Best changeup: Nick Dean, Maryland
Best control: Emmett Olson, Nebraska

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