It is less than two weeks until the start of college baseball. Looking back at the 2015 baseball season, the Big Ten had a record setting year, sending five teams to the NCAA Tournament. This year the Big Ten is considered to be wide open, and has the potential to be one of the most exciting conferences.
While no games have been played, there are three different tears of teams that appear equally talented.
Top Tier: Michigan, Maryland, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa.
All five of these teams made the NCAA Tournament last year, and look poised to do it again this season. The common theme is that many of these teams have solid if not elite arms stocked in the rotation and the bullpen.
Michigan will return Ryan Nutoff, Evan Hill, Brett Adcock, and Carmen Benedetti as they look to build off a Big Ten Tournament title. They will be solid on the mound, and should have enough offense to carry them to the top half of the league. Some will be concerned that there pitching is heavy on left handers.
Maryland will lose a majority of its offensive contributions from the 2015 season, but returns two of the Big Ten’s best pitching weapons in Mike Shawaryn and Robert Galligan. Galligan and Shawaryn could be almost unstoppable against the Big Ten. If Maryland finds a way to even score a few runs, look out.
Illinois posted the best record in school history last season, but will be hard pressed to do it again. Losing Tyler Jay, a first round draft pick will hurt. Still Illinois had three draft eligible players from last year’s team that did not sign, led by Jason Goldstein. Goldstein is a legitimate power threat every time he steps to the plate. Combine that with return pitcher Nick Blackburn, Illinois has a chance to be in title contention the last week of the season.
Indiana is no stranger to being a player in the Big Ten title race. Indiana looks to have the pieces of a solid rotation. Returning are Evan Bell, Jake Kelzer, and Kyle Hart. A trio of above average pitchers is led by Hart who posted a 1.21 ERA last season. Offensively, Indiana could be a rollercoaster of great and mediocre. Losing players such as Scott Donley and Brad Hartong will hurt, but Logan Sowers should continue tearing up the Big Ten.
Iowa was somewhat of a revelation last season. Calvin Matthews, Tyler Peyton, and Nick Roscetti should form a trio of senior leaders who could carry the Hawkeyes to the NCAA Tournament for back to back years. Matthews, the Sunday starter from last season, is an excellent pitcher who could transition to the Friday starter. Peyton, a two way player allows versatility for Iowa all over the diamond. Roscetti is a talented shortstop not only with the bat, but also defensively.
Middle Tier: Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan State
The middle tier has teams that if they find the right combination of players could possibly surprise and make the Big Ten race even more interesting.
Nebraska was expected to dominate the league when they first joined, but so far there have been no regular season, or tournament titles to show. This year looks to be no different, as Nebraska returns an elite talent in Ryan Boldt, but may struggle due to injuries piling up in the bullpen. Both Jake Hohensee and Nate Fischer are out for the season, and Nebraska may have to rely on true freshmen for challenging situations. The weekend rotation looks to have a combination of Colton Howell, Derek Burkamper, and either Garett King or Max Knutson.
Ohio State returns a large chunk of a middle of the pack Big Ten team from last season. Returning are Tanner Tully and Jake Post to lead the pitching staff, while Ronnie Dawson looks to be a man child in the outfield. Similar to Nebraska, Ohio State does have questions about the pitching staff as it has been known to have trouble closing out games. If Ohio State can find a consistent bullpen answer, they could surprise a few of the top teams.
Michigan State was supposed to put it all together last season with a senior laden lineup, and a talented pitching staff. Gone are the top five hitters in the Spartans lineup. The good news is that Michigan State does return Cam Vieaux, a Detroit Tigers 19th round draft pick. If Michigan State can’t find offense, a trip to Omaha for the conference tournament may be in jeopardy.
Bottom of the Pack: Purdue, Penn State, Minnesota, Rutgers, Northwestern
Purdue is still trying to rebuild the program. They are finally getting some solid pieces, but look for another year of gaining experience.
Penn State is similar to Purdue, except that the ceiling may be a little bit higher.
Minnesota is just unbearable to watch. Painful offense, painful defense, painful pitching.
Rutgers might be worse at baseball than basketball. Let that sink in.
Northwestern has a new coach, and a renovated field. Those are the two best things about Northwestern.