The 2009 Big Ten Championship was won by Ohio State, which broke a streak of three straight Michigan regular season championships. Will the 2010 season see the Maize and Blue back in contention? Will the Buckeyes repeat? Does Minnesota, Illinois or Indiana have what it takes to jump to the top? Continue reading for our take on the projected finish and initial list of the conference’s top 10 prospects.
Player of the Year: Ryan LaMarre, JR OF, Michigan
Pitcher of the Year: Alex Wimmers, JR SP, Ohio State
Conference Champion: Ohio State
Big Ten Conference (in order of projected finish)
1. Ohio State – Ohio State brings back talented RHP Alex Wimmers (9-2, 3.27 ERA) and defending Big Ten Player of the Year in catcher Dan Burkhart (1.018 OPS, 39-60 SB/SBA). They have the Big Ten’s murder’s row in seniors Ryan Dew (.388 AVG, 41 RBI), Zach Hurley (.346 AVG, .421 OBP), Michael Stephens (.346, 14 HR), Cory Kovanda (.341 AVG, .431 OBP), and Matt Streng (.308 AVG, 8 HR). The big loss for the Buckeyes was sure-thing closer Jake Hale, which will expose their lack of pitching depth in the bullpen and make it difficult for them to defend their championship. Improvement from the rest of their rotation is key, as in 2009, #2 and #3 starters Eric Best and Woloslansky went a combined 18-6 despite ERA’s of 5.95 and 6.05 respectively.
2. Minnesota – Minnesota is led by a foursome of previously drafted players including pitchers Seth Rosin (7-1, 4.21 ERA), Cullen Sexton (4-0, 5.16 ERA), and Scott Matyas (2.22 ERA, 15 SV), and OF/C Mike Kvasnicka (.341 AVG, 10 HR, 65 RBI). Senior backstop Kyle Knudson throws out over 40% of runners and will handle arguably the best overall pitching staff in the Big Ten in 2010. Key losses of offensive catalyst Derek McCallum (.409 AVG) and staff ace Tom Buske (9-4, 3.57 ERA) won’t be enough to slow down the Gophers.
3. Michigan – Michigan will say good-bye to 6’7″ ace pitcher Chris Fetter, and 2B Kevin Cislo, but not much else. Junior OF Ryan LaMarre is our prediction for Conference Player of the Year in 2010 coming off a .344/.453/.599 stat-line and solid summer in the Cape Cod League. Offensively, Michigan will be counting heavily on 1B Mike Dufek (17 HR, 59 RBI) to provide the pop and 2B Anthony Toth (.313 AVG, .410 OBP) to set the table – Diamondbacks 10th round draft pick, freshman shortstop Derek Dennis, should have an immediate impact. On the mound, the Wolverines depth will help them contend in 2010 with returning starters Eric Katzman (7-4, 3.53 ERA) and Travis Smith (6-5, 4.50 ERA), along with hard throwing reliever Matt Miller (3.70 ERA, .208 OAV) who might challenge for a shot in the rotation. Talented closer Tyler Burgoon (4 saves, 4.86 ERA) and swing-man Kolby Wood (5.97 ERA) also return as prospects to watch.
4. Illinois – The Illini return all but two of their top hitters in 2010 including OF Pete Cappetta (.384 AVG, .475 OBP), catcher Aaron Johnson (.333 AVG, 10 HR, 52 RBI), and an extremely talented pair of sophomores in SS Josh Parr (.337 AVG, .972 FLD) and OF Willie Argo (1.072 OPS). However, the pitching staff will have a tough time replacing the innings left open by the departures of Ben Reeser (3.22 ERA, 11 starts), Aaron Martin (3.25 ERA) to graduation, and Phil Haig (7-3, 16 starts), who was kicked off the team in the off-season. The two non-returning members of their lineup were lost to the MLB draft – infielders Brandon Wikoff (.373 AVG, 25 BB and just 7 K), Dominic Altobelli (1.097 OPS)
5. Indiana – Indiana will need a year to recover after being decimated by the MLB draft in 2010, which claimed JR pitchers Matt Bashore (7-5, 4.07 ERA) and Eric Arnett (12-2, 2.50 ERA), speedster Evan Crawford (.323, 27 SB), as well as first-round catcher Josh Phegley (1.089 OPS, 17 HR). There will be a lot of pressure on Big Ten Freshman of the Year and Pre-Season All-American OF/DH Alex Dickerson (.370, 14 HR) and First-Team All-Big Ten OF Kipp Schultz (.392 AVG, .442 OBP) if the Hoosiers have any chance to compete in 2010.
6. Purdue – Purdue will have a lot of offense to replace in 2010, losing Brandon Haverman (.422), John Cummins (.400), and Alex Jaffee (.336) to graduation and C/1B Dan Black (15 HR, 1.185 OPS), their only true power threat in 2009, to the MLB draft. They two of their weekend starters back in Matt Morgan (4-5, 4.75 ERA), and Matt Bischoff (4-5, 5.54 ERA) as well as 2B Eric Charles, who emerged onto the Big Ten scene in a big way by putting up a .371/.461/.503 line as a redshirt freshman.
7. Iowa – Iowa returns a lot of key players including talented INF Justin Toole (.346 AVG, .952 FLD), OF Ryan Durant (.370 AVG, .429 OBP), and OF Phil Keppler (.338/.403/.529), although they’ve have to replace slugger Wes Freie (.931 OPS, 44 RBI). A very young pitching staff took some bruises in 2009, but returns a talented trio of sophomore starting pitcher in Phil Schreiber (2-2, 4.57 ERA), Jarred Hippen (3-4, 4.87 ERA), Nick Brown (2-4, 6.35 ERA).
8. Michigan State – MSU will have to replace team leader and catcher Eric Roof (.345/.440/.525) as well as weekend starter Nolan Moody (4.53 ERA), but return their other two weekend starters, Tony Bucciferro (5-2, 3.55 ERA) and AJ Achter (3-6, 3.76 ERA).
9. Northwestern – The Wildcats didn’t have a single hitter with a .300 average in 2009 and won just 14 games, but will return just about their entire team in 2010 and couple be a team to watch as their talented group of underclassmen continue to gel together. Their pitching staff will be led by LHPs Joe Muraski (3-5, 5.31 ERA) and Eric Jokisch (4-7, 5.48 ERA).
10. Penn State – The Nittany Lions return three of their top four run producers in Jordan Steranka (.365 AVG, 42 RBI), Blake Lynd (.356 AVG, .442 OBP), Mike Deese (.304 AVG, 40 RBI). However, the innings that will need to be filled by the departure of starters TJ Macy, Scott Kelley, and Mike Lorentson, who started 35 of Penn State’s 51 games, will be too much to overcome in 2010.
Top 10 Draft-Eligible Prospects
1. Alex Wimmers, JR SP, Ohio State
2. Ryan LaMarre, JR OF, Michigan
3. Dan Burkart, JR C, Ohio State
4. Scott Matyas, JR RHP, Minnesota
5. Zach Hurley, SR OF, Ohio State
6. Matt Miller, JR RHP, Michigan
7. Mike Kvasnicka, JR OF/C, Minnesota
8. Seth Rosin, JR RHP, Minnesota
9. Justin Toole, SR INF, Iowa
10. Michael Stephans, SR OF, Ohio State