Rosemont, Ill. – Indiana was the unanimous choice by the conference coaches as the preseason favorite to claim the Big Ten Championship, it was announced on Wednesday. The conference’s coaches voted on the top six teams and also selected three players from their own squads to a Players to Watch list. The Hoosiers were followed in the preseason poll by No. 2 Nebraska, No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan State, with Illinois and Michigan tied for fifth.
The Hoosiers return seven of their nine All-Big Ten honorees from last year’s College World Series squad, including third baseman Dustin DeMuth, catcher Kyle Schwarber and first baseman Sam Travis, who were named Big Ten Players to Watch. The trio each earned Preseason All-America accolades from various outlets, with Schwarber being a unanimous pick from Baseball America, College Baseball Newspaper and the National College Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA).
Nebraska was picked to finish second after advancing to the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game last season. Starting pitcher Aaron Bummer, second baseman Pat Kelly and outfielder/designated hitter Michael Pritchard were named Big Ten Players to Watch. Kelly was a 2013 All-Big Ten first-team pick and Pritchard was a second-team choice.
Ohio State welcomes back 13 letterwinners from last season, while also getting back Big Ten Player to Watch choice Josh Dezse, who missed last season due to injury. Other Players to Watch for the Buckeyes include Preseason All-America reliever Trace Dempsey, who was named to the NCBWA Preseason Stopper of the Year Watch List, and outfielder Patrick Porter.
Michigan State is coming off its fourth straight 30-win season after earning 33 victories last season. Outfielder Jimmy Pickens, who was a second-team All-Conference choice a year ago, outfielder Cam Gibson, who earned a spot on the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team, and pitcher Justin Alleman were tabbed Big Ten Players to Watch.
Illinois advanced to NCAA Tournament play a season ago, finishing the year with 35 victories. Starting pitcher Kevin Duchene, a 2013 All-Conference second-team pick, and reliever Ronnie Muck are two of the Illini’s 15 returning pitchers, while first baseman David Kerian was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2013. The three were named Players to Watch.
Michigan was part of the Big Ten Tournament field in 2013 and returns six of its eight position players from last year’s team. Each of the Wolverines three Big Ten Players to Watch this season, infielder/reliever Jacob Cronenworth, starting pitcher Evan Hill and shortstop Travis Maezes, were named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team a season ago.
The top-six preseason poll and complete Players to Watch list can be found below.
2014 BIG TEN BASEBALL PRESEASON POLL (top six teams)
3. Ohio State
4. Michigan State
CAPS denote a unanimous selection
2014 BIG TEN BASEBALL PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kevin Duchene, So., SP, Illinois
David Kerian, Jr., 1B, Illinois
Ronnie Muck, Sr., RP, Illinois
Dustin DeMuth, Sr., 3B, Indiana
Kyle Schwarber, Jr., C, Indiana
Sam Travis, Jr., 1B, Indiana
Sasha Kuebel, Jr., SP, Iowa
Eric Toole, Jr., CF, Iowa
Jake Yacinich, Jr., SS, Iowa
Jacob Cronenworth, So., IF/RP, Michigan
Evan Hill, So., SP, Michigan
Travis Maezes, So., SS, Michigan
Justin Alleman, So., SP, Michigan State
Cam Gibson, So., OF, Michigan State
Jimmy Pickens, Jr., OF, Michigan State
Alec Crawford, Sr., SP, Minnesota
Matt Halloran, Sr., C, Minnesota
Ben Meyer, Jr., SP, Minnesota
Aaron Bummer, Jr., SP, Nebraska
Pat Kelly, Jr., 2B, Nebraska
Michael Pritchard, Sr., OF/DH, Nebraska
Brandon Magallones, Jr., SP, Northwestern
Matt Portland, So., SP, Northwestern
Kyle Ruchim, Sr., IF, Northwestern
Trace Dempsey, Jr., RP, Ohio State
Josh Dezse, Jr., P/DH, Ohio State
Patrick Porter, Jr., OF, Ohio State
James Coates, So., OF, Penn State
Alex Farkes, Sr., C, Penn State
Greg Guers, So., OF, Penn State
Sean McHugh, Sr., 3B/C, Purdue
Jordan Minch, So., SP, Purdue
Kyle Wood, So., SP/1B, Purdue