The DQ Classic is back!
Well, technically it came back last year after a four-year hiatus, but that just felt like a test balloon, an attempt to dip their toes in the water at a new facility for the event, US Bank Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.
The hosting Minnesota Golden Gophers, Oral Roberts, Iowa, and Hawaii put on a pretty good show, but that’s just an opening act for the 2018 event, which is set up as something of a Big Ten/Pac-12 challenge. The Rose Bowl of baseball tournaments, if you will.
Participating teams from the Big Ten are Minnesota, Michigan State, and Illinois, to be joined by UCLA, Washington, and Arizona from the Pac-12, which promises to make this particular weekend of baseball in Minneapolis a lot of fun.
In the hosting Gophers, the event has a veteran club that looks the part of a Big Ten title contender. In particular, an offense returning Luke Pettersen, Micah Coffey, Jordan Kozicky, Toby Hanson, Terrin Vavra, and Alex Boxwell will be among the most physical and productive in the conference. Look for them to put up runs in bunches throughout the weekend and for the entire season, for that matter.
The Spartans were disappointed to just miss out on the Big Ten Tournament a year ago, but with proven commodities like Bryce Kelley, Chad Roskelly, Royce Ando, Dan Chmielewski, Zack McGuire, and Marty Bechina back in the fold on offense, to go along with Riley McCauley, Jake Lowery, and Andrew Gonzalez on the mound, there’s reason for optimism that MSU could have some upward mobility within the Big Ten in 2018. One addition to watch for this team is new, yet returning, pitching coach Mark Van Ameyde, who served in that role at the school for five years before leaving to become the head coach at Eastern Michigan in 2015. Losing pitching coach Skylar Meade to South Carolina was a blow, but getting Van Ameyde back will mitigate that.
Illinois has had its struggles since their banner 2015 season, but with more experienced depth on the roster, 2018 promises to be a big improvement. Between Louisville transfer Sean Leland, Doug Hayes returning from an injury that cost him all of 2017, Ty Weber, Cyrillo Watson, and Eastern Illinois transfer Andy Fisher, head coach Dan Hartleb and pitching coach Drew Dickinson probably won’t have to worry about finding quality starts the way they did for much of 2017 no matter which three of those pitchers they choose to throw on weekends. And with just about everyone coming back on offense, including potential Big Ten Player of the Year contender Jack Yalowitz, plus the addition of Houston transfer Zac Taylor as a table-setter for the lineup, the Illini should be able to win some games with their bats as well.
The Pac-12 teams are just as intriguing.
UCLA, even with an incredibly young roster, was able to work their way into a regional in 2017. Now, with all of that talent back, the Bruins will be looking to make a bigger splash on the national stage. They still don’t possess an offense that you expect to wow you with monster home runs or eye-popping numbers, but they will be bringing back some guys with pop like Michael Toglia (the team’s leading returning home run hitter), Chase Strumpf, and Kyle Cuellar (the team’s leading returning hitter in terms of batting average). The also simply boast impressive depth in the field with returners like Daniel Rosica, Daniel Amaral, Ryan Kreidler, Jeremy Ydens, Jack Stronach, and Jake Pries all having played quite a bit. The team’s bread and butter is still pitching and even with Griffin Canning and relief ace Scott Burke gone, Jon Olson, Jake Bird, Kyle Molnar (fully healthy after Tommy John surgery), and Brian Gadsby should give the Bruins enough to continue that tradition.
Despite missing out on the postseason in 2017, Washington has elevated itself over the last several years and will look to continue that trend in 2018. With Joe DeMers, Chris Micheles, and Jordan Jones, the Huskies are in really good shape when it comes to weekend starters, even as they lost veteran starter Noah Bremer after last eason. Offensively, they don’t strike you as the most explosive unit, but Willie MacIver, Levi Jordan, and A.J. Graffanino provide a veteran core around which to build. Certainly this is an area where UW will need some new faces to contribute right away or some returning players to step into bigger roles.
The first two seasons of the Jay Johnson era at Arizona have gone extremely well, and there isn’t much to lead you to believe that things will slow down in 2018. Offensively, Cal Stevenson, Alfonso Rivas, Cesar Salazar, Nick Quintana, and Mitchell Morimoto are a formidable quintet in the Wildcats’ order, and Cody Deason, Tylor Megill, Michael Flynn, Randy Labaut, and Robby Medel, all quality contributors last season, appear ready to carry the torch on the mound.
Honestly, though, the best thing about the DQ Classic is that it allows there to be college baseball in Minnesota in early March. That’s huge for the Gophers, it’s huge for the Big Ten, and it’s huge for college baseball as a whole, as the sport works to become more of a national phenomenon.