2014 College Preview: Big Ten

BA breaks down the Big Ten Conference, including our projections for regional teams, player of the year, pitcher of the year and top prospects.

1. Kyle Schwarber, c, Indiana
2. Sam Travis, 1b, Indiana
3. Josh Dezse, rhp/dh, Ohio State
4. Aaron Bummer, lhp, Nebraska
5. Dustin DeMuth, 3b, Indiana
6. Jimmy Pickens, of, Michigan State
7. Austin Darby, of, Nebraska
8. Pat Kelly, 2b, Nebraska
9. Lance Thonvold, rhp, Minnesota
10. Trent Szkutnik, lhp, Michigan
1. Evan Hill, lhp, Michigan
2. Scott Effross, rhp, Indiana
3. Travis Maezes, ss, Michigan
4. Will Coursen-Carr, lhp, Indiana
5. Cam Gibson, of, Michigan State
Big Ten Conference

Baseball Members (First Year): Illinois (1896), Indiana (1906), Iowa (1906), Michigan (1896), Michigan State (1950), Minnesota (1906), Nebraska (2012), Northwestern (1898), Ohio State (1913), Penn State (1992), Purdue (1906).

Checking out: None.

Conference Tournament: Six teams, double-elimination. May 21-25 at TD Ameritrade Park Omaha.

Team to Beat: Indiana.

Coming off a run to Omaha, the Hoosiers look like a legitimate national championship contender thanks to an elite offense and veteran pitching staff.

Player of the Year: Kyle Schwarber, c, Indiana.

Ultra-physical but also very disciplined in his offensive approach, Schwarber has a strong case as college baseball’s best hitter and most powerful slugger.

Pitcher of the Year: Joey DeNato, lhp, Indiana.

A dogged competitor who works in the 86-88 range but mixes four pitches effectively, DeNato is 24-8, 2.90 in three years as IU’s ace

Freshman of the Year: Ryan Boldt, of, Nebraska.

Regarded as a potential first-round pick if he hadn’t injured his knee last April, Boldt has plus-plus speed, a quick bat, a patient approach and excellent defensive skills.

Other Projected Regional Teams:

Nebraska: The Cornhuskers would have been a regional team last year had they won one more game at the end of the season (the Big Ten title game) or at any point during the season (to finish above .500 overall, making them eligible for an at-large spot). Hard-nosed Jr. 2B Pat Kelly sets the tone for a team that takes after coach Darin Erstad’s famously aggressive style of play. Veteran corner outfielders Michael Pritchard and Austin Darby bring some physicality and offensive upside to the middle of the lineup. But the strength of the team should be the strike-throwing rotation, composed of deceptive Jr. LHPs Kyle Kubat and Aaron Bummer along with gritty Sr. RHP Christian DeLeon.

Notable Storylines: The Big Ten has been strong over the last two years, and it looks deep again in 2014. Illinois must replace five players from last year’s starting lineup, but the pitching staff is loaded with experience, led by So. LHP Kevin Duchene (9-1, 2.79), the Big Ten freshman of the year in 2013. He’s a competitor with three good pitches, and his velocity jumped into the high 80s this fall. Two-way talent Reid Roper and quick-armed lefty Tyler Jay give the Illini two power options at the back of the bullpen. The anchor of the lineup is Jr. 1B David Kerian, a smooth-swinging switch-hitter with good athleticism and speed . . . Michigan battled its way into the Big Ten tournament with a young team in coach Erik Bakich’s first year, and its strength is its talented sophomore class. The lineup is built around SS Travis Maezes and 1B/RHP Jacob Cronenworth, who both have athleticism, physicality, toughness and savvy. Cronenworth also can run his fastball into the low 90s and anchors the bullpen. Projectable So. LHP Evan Hill continues to get stronger and refine his cutter and curveball, and he has a chance to be an outstanding Friday starter . . . Indiana’s physicality is impossible to match, but Michigan State also has an imposing heart of the order in Jr. OF Jimmy Pickens (.303/.377/.528, 9 HR), Jr. DH Blaise Salter and Jr. 1B Ryan Krill, all of whom should hit for more power this year. And Jr. RHP Mick Van Vossen is a bulldog atop the rotation . . . Minnesota must replace its entire outfield and its top two starters from a year ago, but the Gophers should still be strong defensively up the middle and have intriguing arm strength on the mound. Sr. RHP Alec Crawford slides into the No. 1 starter slot, and he looks primed for a big year after showing 90-93 velocity and a good hard slider in the fall. Lanky Jr. RHP Ben Meyer, a sinker/slider specialist, and funky, quick-armed So. LHP Dalton Saywer figure to join him in the rotation. The pick to click is redshirt So. RHP Lance Thonvold, who touched 95 in the fall and could win the closer job if his secondary stuff continues to develop.

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