PARK RIDGE, Ill. â€“ Fresh off winning its first Big Ten regular-season title in 32 years last season, the Michigan State baseball team has been named the preseason favorite to win the 2012 Big Ten Championship, the conference office announced Tuesday afternoon.
The conferenceâ€™s baseball coaches voted on the top six teams and also selected three players from their own teams to a Players to Watch List. Following the Spartans on the coachesâ€™ preseason top six list are No. 2 Purdue, No. 3 Minnesota, No. 4 Nebraska, No. 5 Ohio State and No. 6 Illinois.
Michigan State returns 25 players from last yearâ€™s squad, including Players to Watch Torsten Boss, Tony Bucciferro and Ryan Jones. All three were first-team All-Big Ten honorees last season, while Boss has earned preseason All-America accolades from Louisville Slugger. The Spartans are led by Jake Boss Jr., who was named the 2011 Big Ten Coach of the Year.
Purdue welcomes back 27 letterwinners from last yearâ€™s team that advanced to the programâ€™s fourth straight Big Ten Tournament. The Boilermakers are led by catcher Kevin Plawecki, third baseman Cameron Perkins and reliever Nick Wittgren. Plawecki was a first-team All-Conference honoree a season ago, while Wittgren was named to the second team, and Perkins received third-team honors. Wittgren is one of 45 players named to the Stopper of the Year award watch list.
Minnesota is coming off its 13th Big Ten Tournament appearance in the last 14 years and welcomes back pitchers TJ Oakes and Tom Windle as well as third baseman Kyle Geason. Oakes earned third-team All-Big Ten accolades as a starter last year, while Windle was honored with a spot on the Big Ten All-Tournament Team.
Big Ten newcomer Nebraska returns 19 letterwinners from last yearâ€™s team, including eight position starters. The Huskers are led by first baseman/designated hitter Kash Kalkowski, who earned honorable mention All-Big 12 last year, as well as starting pitchers Travis Huber and Tom Lemke. Nebraska is led by first-year head coach and former MLB All-Star Darin Erstad.
Ohio State welcomes back 15 letterwinners from last yearâ€™s squad that advanced to the Big Ten Tournament for the 14th time in the last 15 years. The Buckeyes are led by last seasonâ€™s Big Ten Freshman of the Year Josh Dezse, a reliever and first baseman, as well as starting pitcher Brett McKinney and shortstop Kirby Pellant.
Coming off a share of the Big Ten title, the conference tournament championship and its first NCAA Championship appearance since 2000, Illinois returns 10 letterwinners from last yearâ€™s squad. Center fielder Willie Argo earned third-team All-Big Ten recognition a season ago and was named to last yearâ€™s Big Ten All-Tournament team. Argo is joined on the Players to Watch list by third baseman Brandon Hohl and starting pitcher Kevin Johnson.
Overall, the Big Ten Players to Watch list includes 17 members of last yearâ€™s All-Big Ten teams, including first-team selections Boss, Bucciferro and Jones from Michigan State and Purdueâ€™s Plawecki. The list also features the conferenceâ€™s Freshman of the Year, three All-Freshman Team selections and three All-Tournament honorees.
Michigan State will leave for the Big Ten/Big East Challenge this Thursday, Feb. 16 before facing No. 11 St. Johnâ€™s the next day. The Red Storm went 36-22 last season and earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.
2012 BIG TEN BASEBALL PRESEASON POLL (top six teams)
1.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Michigan State
2.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Purdue
3.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Minnesota
4.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Nebraska
5.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Ohio State
6.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Illinois
2012 BIG TEN BASEBALL PLAYERS TO WATCH
Willie Argo, Sr., CF, Illinois
Brandon Hohl, Jr., 3B, Illinois
Kevin Johnson, Jr., SP, Illinois
Micah Johnson, Jr., 2B, Indiana
Chad Martin, Sr., SP, Indiana
Dustin DeMuth, So., SS, Indiana
Jared Hippen, Sr., SP, Iowa
Matt Dermody, Jr., SP, Iowa
Mike McQuillan, Sr., 2B, Iowa
Patrick Biondi, Jr., OF, Michigan
Michael Oâ€™Neill, So., OF, Michigan
Brandon Sinnery, Sr., SP, Michigan
Torsten Boss, Jr., CF/3B, Michigan State
Tony Bucciferro, Sr., SP, Michigan State
Ryan Jones, Jr., 2B, Michigan State
Kyle Geason, Sr., 3B, Minnesota
TJ Oakes, Jr., SP, Minnesota
Tom Windle, So., SP, Minnesota
Travis Huber, Jr., SP, Nebraska
Kash Kalkowski, Jr., 1B/DH, Nebraska
Tom Lemke, Jr., SP, Nebraska
Zach Morton, Jr., UT, Northwestern
Paul Snieder, Sr., 1B/P, Northwestern
Trevor Stevens, Sr., IF/OF, Northwestern
Josh Dezse, So., 1B/RP, Ohio State
Kirby Pellant, Jr., SS, Ohio State
Brett McKinney, Jr., SP, Ohio State
Steve Hill, Jr., SP, Penn State
Elliot Searer, Jr., SS, Penn State
Jordan Steranka, Sr., 3B, Penn State
Kevin Plawecki, Jr., C, Purdue
Cameron Perkins, Jr., 3B, Purdue
Nick Wittgren, Jr., RP, Purdue