As conference season begins, renewed hope springs for a few teams struggling compared to last year, while other teams are hoping their strong non-conference can continue on and springboard them into just barely missing the NCAAs, a la Rutgers last year. Kidding aside, the league did have some big wins over ranked opponents from some recently middle of the pack teams, while the upper echelon didn’t do as well as expected. So its hard to see if the NCAA will penalize the league as they did last year or not.
A couple trends compared to last year to look at. Slugging percentages are down for most teams, while OBP is up. So more walks and singles are factoring in for teams instead of living by doubles and home runs. Granted if this is your SB Nation website of choice, chances are the team you are rooting for is doing the exact opposite this year.
Anyways, lets have a look at all
fourteen sigh… thirteen teams!!
Illinois Fighting Illini
2022 Record: 31-22
2023 Record (all through 3/23): 10-7
Players to watch: CF Cam Johnson, RHP Riley Gowens
Illinois finished tied for 2nd in the B1G last year, but were given the 4th seed due to tiebreakers and went 0-2 in the B1G Tourney. The Illini have had a good start to the season, only losing 1 weekend series, to #6 Wake Forest, but including a win at #18 Southern Miss. They are led once again by OF Cam Johnson. The super-senior is fresh off his 2nd team All-B1G season in which he set the Illinois reached base record of 63 games. Louisville transfer, 1B Drake Wescott has also been off to a good start, hitting .286 with a team leading 6 HRs.
After being near the top of the conference in pitching and defense last year, Illinois is in the bottom half of the league so far this year. Thought they improved drastically in league play last year vs non conference. Friday night starter Riley Gowens has kept them in most games he’s pitched, with little to show for it, record-wise. He has struck out 39 in 27+ innings in his 5 starts, but has only a 1-0 record. Joe Glassey, whose best game was a pivotal comeback win over Nebraska in 2022, is their go-to bullpen arm, with 17 Ks in 17 innings pitched.
2022 Record: 27-32
2023 Record: 14-7
Players to Watch: SS Philip Glasser, RHP Luke SInnard
After a disappointing regular season that left them barely sneaking into the B1G Tourney as an 8 seed, Indiana had a good showing in Omaha before hitting the Rutgers buzzsaw in the semifinals. This year they have beat the teams they should beat, and lost to the teams they should probably lose to (Auburn, Texas, Kentucky).
After hitting .346 last year, Leadoff hitter and SS Phillip Glasser is off to an even better start in 2023. He leads the league in hits and his batting average is 4th at .434. 1B Brock Tibbitts was a big part of last years talented freshman class. The freshman All-American is tied for the team lead with 20 RBIs and has 8 extra base hits.
Indiana struggles on defense, leading the conference in errors so far, and their pitching has been middle of the pack. Remember, they have had a decent schedule so far. One pleasant surprise has been 6’8” sophomore and Western Kentucky transfer Luke SInnard. After an ok freshman year, he has burst on to the scene and stolen a few Sunday games. He is 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA and 39 Ks over 27 innings. Yet another sophomore, Ryan Kraft has locked down the closer role with 5 saves and a 1.72 ERA.
2022 Record: 36-19
2023 Record: 15-3
Players to Watch: CF Kyle Huckstorf, RHP Brody Brecht
After finishing tied for 2nd in the B1G last year, Iowa is off to a blistering start in 2023, with only a series loss to Texas Tech, and a 6-0 loss to Sam Houston as blemishes on their record. And while Iowa has played a fairly weak schedule, they do own the best win by a B1G team in 2023, a 12-4 beat down of then #1 LSU.
Per usual is all about pitching and defense for them, but they do have a couple guys off to outstanding starts on offense too. After an average year at the plate in 2022, sophomore CF Kyle Huckstorf is sitting at 5th in the conference with a .429 average, and has 5 home runs already. Watch out, because reigning B1G Freshman of the year Keaton Anthony has yet to really erupt like we know he’s capable of doing. As for pitching, Brody Brecht has gone from bullpen stopper, to Saturday starter, and has excelled. While only 1-1 in 5 starts, he boasts a 2.74 ERA and 36 Ks in 22+ innings.
2022 Record: 48-14
2023 Record: 12-8
Players to Watch: 3B Nick Lorusso, RHP Nigel Belgrave
The preseason favorite and only ranked team going into the season, Maryland has played the toughest non-conference schedule of any B1G team. A rough back to back weekend of losing a series to #4 Ole Miss and being swept at the same Cambria Classic that Nebraska played in knocked them out of most rankings. 1st team All-B1G 3B Nick Lorusso is picking up right where he left off. The Villanova transfer put himself in the top 10-15 of Maryland season records last year, and already has 8 HRs and 32 RBIs.
The pitching staff has struggled at times, other than ace Jason Savacool. This is partially due to some high powered offenses that have been on the schedule. One relief pitcher who has starred early on is sophomore Nigel Belgrave. He leads the bullpen in ERA at 2.25, and has struck out 19 of the 44 batters he’s faced in the 12 innings he’s thrown so far. I would expect their numbers to return closer to where they were last year, as they face more, shall we say, “lower powered” offenses in the Big Ten.
2022 Record: 34-28
2023 Record: 9-11
Players to Watch: C Joe Longo, LHP Connor O’Halloran
The reigning Big Ten Tournament Champions have struggled in 2023, that was to be expected as not only did coach Erik Bakich leave for Clemson, but he took a couple impact players with him in the portal, and the Wolverines lost a ton of production to the draft. All in all, 5 of the top 6 position players had to be replaced. Coach Tracey Smith returns to the Big Ten from Arizona St, and brings with him maybe the top recruiter in the country, so don’t expect years like this to stack up.
The top returning player, catcher Jimmy Obertop, has yet to play in 2023 due to injury. His replacement, sophomore Joe Longo has taken his opportunity and run with it. He is hitting .354 with 2 doubles and 2 HRs. Ace Connor O’Halloran has really elevated his game, after cooling off once he got to league play last year, he has started hot again, with a 3-1 record and 1.62 ERA. He cracked the top 10 season strikeouts list for Michigan with 104 last year, and seems destined to repeat that feat with 44 so far. Noah Reynard is once again the closer/stopper, and has thrown 20 innings already with 24 Ks and only 3 BBs.
Michigan State Spartans
2022 Record: 24-30
2023 Record: 11-7
Players to Watch: 2B Trent Farquhar, 1B Brock Vradenburg
After finishing above only Minnesota last year, the Spartans are off to an improved start to the 2023 campaign. A dominating season opening victory over the hated Wolverines along with a win over now ranked Grand Canyon got them off to a hot start, before cooling down the past couple weeks. Coach Jake Boss has always built his team on defense, and this year is no different, as they are behind only Nebraska in the conference.
MSU is led by one of the best defensive 2B in the country in Trent Farquhar. He led the conference in double plays a year ago. This year he is batting .418 and lead the conference with 11 doubles. 1B Brock Vradenburg is also knocking the cover off the ball, leading the B1G with a .455 batting average, and adding 6 HRs and 28 RBIs. Pitching is what has let the Spartans down, as they seem to be trying to figure out roles still, other than closer. Wyatt Rush has 3 saves on the year and 18 Ks in 12 innings, but his 3.55 ERA and .327 batting avg against are high for a closer.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
2022 Record: 16-36
2023 Record: 4-18
Players to Watch: SS Ike Mezzenga, RHP Richie Holetz
John Anderson is back for year 41 at the helm of the Gopher program. The team that was competing for and winning championships as little as 5 years ago has been at or close to the bottom of the league for the last 3-4 years. They boast a top 3 defense in the league, but one that is tested constantly, as their pitching has fallen from a staff that had top of the draft talent year in and year out, to a bottom 3 in terms of ERA under current pitching coach Ty McDevitt.
Former Omaha Mavs pitcher Richie Holetz has statistically been their most successful pitcher from the Sunday slot. While his W-L record is obviously not great with a 4 win team, he leads the team with a 2.67 ERA. JUCO transfer Ike Mezzenga has provided some pop in the struggling lineup, hitting .305 with 8 doubles and a home run.
2022 Record: 23-30
2023 Record: 11-7-1
Players to Watch: SS Brice Matthews, RHP Jace Kaminska
After a 2022 to forget in almost all 3 phases, the 2023 version of the Huskers is much improved. They have been top 10 in fielding % (.984) the majority of the season. They are hitting a ridiculous .326 at the plate as a team, led by Max Anderson at .449 and Brice Matthews at .414. Matthews also lead the team in home runs with 7, RBIs with 29 (as a leadoff hitter), and leads the B1G in OPS with a crazy 1.327.
Pitching has been the question mark for the Huskers so far. Friday starter Emmett Olson is cruising along at the same pace he ended 2022 with, sporting an ERA of 3.34 and batting average against of .192. Wichita State transfer Jace Kaminska has been as good as advertised too. He leads the team with a 4-0 record and 1.86 ERA. Beyond those two, it still seems as if roles are in flux on a weekly basis, other than Shay Schanaman coming in to be the stopper when the starters falter in a close game. If they figure out a 3rd starter, look for the staff to round into form and jump closer to the top third of the B1G.
2022 Record: 24-27
2023 Record: 1-14
Players to Watch: C/1B Stephen Hrustich, RHP Matt McClure
If you haven’t seen what’s happened to the Northwestern baseball team since last season, grab some popcorn, head to the googles, and have yourself a time. After a mass exodus of almost all of their top players over the last 2 offseason via the transfer portal, they lost all their paid assistant coaches in solidarity on a road trip 3 weeks into the season.
Of the players left, Stephen Hrustich is leading the team offensively. The senior who has stuck around through it all is hitting .292, but has a nice .916 OPS, helped by his 18 walks/HBPs. On the mound, the results are even worse. Loyola Marymount transfer Matt McClure is the most consistent starter, but his 7.56 ERA and .293 batting average against tell you the story about the struggles of the rest of the team.
Ohio State Buckeyes
2022 Record: 20-30
2023 Record: 12-7
Players to Watch: CF Kade Kern, LHP Isaiah Coupet
The team that has exceeded expectations the most so far compared to 2022 is OSU. New coach Bill Mosiello came to Columbus after being the one of the top assistants in the country at TCU the past 9 years, including 4 straight CWS trips. He also brought with him former Texas pitching coach Sean Allen, who won the award for being the top assistant coach in 2021. So its easy to see why the Buckeyes have turned things around.
Offensively, Miami (OH) grad transfer Cole Andrews is pacing the team with a .391 avg. and 18 RBIs. 2nd team All B1G center fielder Kade Kern returns and is having another good season, hitting .324, with 4 doubles, 4 HRs, and 17 RBIs. As you’d expect with the new staff, the pitching has made a big improvement. Isaiah Coupet is back as the Friday night starter, and dominating with a 1.08 ERA and 38 Ks in 25 innings. True freshman Landon Beidelschies has taken over the closer role, with a 2.77 ERA and 3 saves so far in his career.
Penn State Nittany Lions
2022 Record: 26-29
2023 Record: 12-5
Players to Watch: 2B Kyle Hannon, RHP Daniel Ouderkirk
The surprise team record of the year is Penn State. Much like Purdue last year, most of their wins have been piled up against lesser competition, though they did open up the season with a win at Miami. The biggest part of their turn around is pitching, they are currently 2nd in the B1G in team ERA. Friday night starter and West Virginia grad transfer Daniel Ouderkirk (all 6’9” 245 lbs of him) is leading the resurgence, with a 3.04 ERA and 41 Ks over 23+ innings in 5 starts. Travis Luensmann is also back and has a 4-0 record in 5 appearances.
The offense has climbed up into the top half of the league as well, they don’t have any one guy that is wow-ing anyone with their stats at the plate, they are all somewhere around .300 average with 8-12 RBIs. 2B Kyle Hannon is hitting .302 and has 3 doubles and 5 HRs. For Hannon though, a single is almost the same as a double, as he is tied for the B1G lead with 13 stolen bases on the year.
2022 Record: 29-21
2023 Record: 9-10
Players to Watch: SS Evan Albrecht, RHP Khal Stephen
Purdue was the last team in the country to lose a game in 2022, but fell back to earth quickly once conference play started. After their tarp aided (#NeverForget) back door entry into the Big Ten Tournament, followed by being the first to exit, they stated strong in 2023, but have lost 6 of their last 7 heading into conference play. The offense has some good top end talent, and loves to run on the base paths, leading the B1G with 50 steals in 56 attempts.
Super Senior SS Evan Albrecht led the team last year with a .365 avg, and is bettering that with a .424 average this year. 2B Paul Toetz provides a lot of the pop, and has exploded with 8 HRs and 31 RBIs, after hitting 4 HRs and 31 RBIs last year. Reliever turned Friday starter Khal Stephen has had a good year, though a disaster at Ole Miss (8 earned runs in 2 innings) has made his numbers look less than stellar.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
2022 Record: 44-15
2023 Record: 12-8
Players to Watch: OF Trevor Cohen, RHP Ben Gorski
The regular season and tournament runners up in the B1G got off to a very rough start in 2023, but have since won 9 of their last 10 heading into conference play, including a sweep at 2022 regional host Georgia Southern. Rutgers was seen as the final team left out of the NCAA tournament last year, and obviously have that one goal in 2023. After leading the conference in hitting a year ago, they have a few of their main returning stars off to incredibly slow starts on the season, including Chris Brito and Ryan Lasko.
While the power numbers are nothing special, they do have a trio of every day players hitting over .360, led by true freshman outfielder Trevor Cohen, hitting at a .381 clip. The pitching staff is trying to replace a lot of starting production from last year, and relying on the bullpen a lot, which is preforming admirably. It is led by new closer Ben Gorski, who has 3 saves in 7 appearances with 18 Ks over 12 innings.
Hate America because they still have no baseball team.
Big Ten Tournament Update
After last years tournament being affected by weather on day 1, and causing the rest of the tournament to be squeezed into 4 days and leading to some games being over after 2am, the Big Ten has announced a new format for the tournament to allow for more flexibility when bad weather shows up.
The tournament will now start on Tuesday, May 23rd, instead of Wednesday and have a 3-2-3-2-4-1 format in terms of the amount of games played per day. The Saturday with 4 games includes the 2 “if necessary” games.
Corn Nation will be there covering, hopefully with a more hometown flavor this year.
Brutus’s Ballsy Breakdown
Well, after the travesty of Rutgers being left out of the NCAA tournament, it’s harder to predict what will happen with regard to the NCAA selection committee, so lets take a look at where I think the teams will play out with respect to making it to Omaha in May for the Big Ten Tournament, in various tiers.
Sure Things: Iowa, Maryland, Rutgers
Next Tier: Indiana, Nebraska
Middle of the Pack: Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State
Missing the Tournament: Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin
The shock value there is that I think Michigan is going to be the last team out, barring a few young guns coming out of nowhere. They have a couple good to great pitchers, but I don’t think that’s enough. With the recruiters they have on board, I expect this to be a singular blip on their programs recent success. Michigan State and Ohio State have impressed me enough in multiple aspects of the game to be in. Not entirely sold on Illinois, but taking their recent track record over the other potential suiters.