After winning a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1979, Michigan State has been selected by the conference coaches as the favorite to win in 2012, the Big Ten office announced on Tuesday. The conference’s baseball coaches voted on the top six teams and also selected three players from their own squads to a Players to Watch list. Following the Spartans on the coaches’ 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 26 players from last year’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. 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 year’s team that advanced to the program’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 20 letterwinners, including 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 17 letterwinners from last year’s team, including seven 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 year’s squad that advanced to the Big Ten Tournament for the 14th time in the last 15 years. The Buckeyes are led by last season’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 appearance since 2000, Illinois returns 10 letterwinners from last year’s squad. Center fielder Willie Argo earned third-team All-Big Ten recognition a season ago and was named to last year’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 year’s All-Big Ten teams, including first-team selections Boss, Bucciferro and Jones from Michigan State and Purdue’s Plawecki. The list also features the conference’s Freshman of the Year, three All-Freshman Team selections and three All-Tournament honorees.
The complete top-six preseason poll can be found below.
2012 BIG TEN BASEBALL PRESEASON POLL (top six teams)
1. Michigan State
5. Ohio State