College Baseball Countdown: 16 Days to Go- The Big Ten’s Encore Performance

Carmen Benedetti

In movies, there is always more pressure to create a worthy sequel after the original has become a big hit. Everyone involved in the film doesn’t want to let down the fans who loved the original, and there’s always the push to try to overcome the stigma that sequels are just so rarely as good or better than the first film in the series.

I’m sure head coaches in the Big Ten don’t really think of their league in that way collectively, but there’s no doubting that the Big Ten’s 2015 season was college baseball’s version of a Hollywood blockbuster.

The league got five teams into the NCAA Tournament, and it was individual milestones for those teams that made it even more impressive.

There was a team that set a program record for wins with 50, while also hosting their first-ever regional and super regional (Illinois). There was a team that proved that its success wasn’t just tied to one standout class of players and their previous head coach (Indiana). There was a team making its first regional appearance since 1990 (Iowa). There was a team making back-to-back super regionals after not having made it into the postseason since 1971 before that (Maryland). Finally, there was one of the Big Ten’s most storied baseball programs (Michigan), whose run into a regional in 2015 could serve as a springboard to bigger things in 2016.

That’s one heck of a story to follow, and at least on paper, it looks like the league has a shot to do so this coming season.

Led by two-way star Carmen Benedetti and a pitching staff that features veterans Evan Hill, Brett Adcock, Ryan Nutof, Mac Lozer, and Bryan Pall, the Wolverines come into the season as, at the very least, co-favorites in the Big Ten and with a chance to be really special.

Maryland waved goodbye to to a number of players who are now in pro baseball - Brandon Lowe, Jose Cuas, Kevin Martir, LaMonte Wade, Alex Robinson, Jake Drossner, Kevin Mooney, and Zach Morris. But it says a lot about the level of the program now that they still boast more than enough talent to compete in the Big Ten. Mike Shawaryn is an ace as good as any in the nation, and Tayler Stiles, Brian Shaffer, and Taylor Bloom are proven commodities on the pitching staff. They’ll have some rebuilding to do on offense, but Kevin Smith and Anthony Papio provide a talented nucleus.

Illinois won’t be the juggernaut they were a year ago, but they’re not going to go away. Jason Goldstein and Adam Walton return after being drafted to lead the offense, and the pitching staff will return veterans like Nick Blackburn (who also returns after being drafted), J.D. Nielsen, and Cody Sedlock, who could be the heir apparent to Tyler Jay in terms of electric arms on the Illini staff.

Iowa returns a two-way star of their own in Tyler Peyton, along with a solid core of pitchers in Calvin Mathews, Luke Vandermaten, Nick Gallagher, and Ryan Erickson. If some offensive contributors come along to help Peyton along the way, they very well could be as good as they were a year ago.

The Hoosiers get back a potential staff ace in Jake Kelzer, along with an established offensive star in Craig Dedelow. A big season from Logan Sowers, who had an up and down season as a freshman in 2015, will be a key for them to get back to regionals.

And those are just the teams who were in regionals a year ago. Nebraska has the talent, led by big-time draft prospect Ryan Boldt, to get back into a regional. Ohio State and Michigan State, both teams who came close to earning regional berths a year ago, will have some re-tooling to do, but each has a cornerstone player to build around in Ronnie Dawson and Cam Vieaux, respectively. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see those teams work their way back to the top of the conference as the level of play in the league continues to rise.

Beyond those teams, it will also be interesting to follow things like Spencer Allen’s first season as the head coach at Northwestern and Penn State’s improvements under Rob Cooper.

Perhaps the Big Ten won’t be as top-heavy as it was last year and won’t feature the elite teams it did a year ago, but it very well could be deeper and even more fascinating to follow in 2016.

About the Author

Joseph Healy
Growing up in Houston, Joe Healy was introduced to college baseball at a young age, and it was love at first sight. Like most good love stories, that love has only grown throughout the years. When he's not at the ballpark, he enjoys tacos, college football during the fall, and the spectacle that is American politics. He holds a B.A. in political science from Sam Houston State University and a Master's in Public Administration from Southern Illinois University- Edwardsville.