PARK RIDGE, Ill. -- Projected to play prominent roles for Purdue baseball this spring, Sean McHugh, Brad Schreiber and Kyle Wood have been highlighted among the list of Big Ten Players to Watch for the 2013 season.
For the Boilermakers to have a successful 2013 campaign on the heels of their Big Ten championship season of a year ago, McHugh, Schreiber and Wood will likely have to be among the team's top contributors. McHugh is moving to third base and the heart of the lineup after being a part-time starter at catcher and designated hitter as a sophomore last season. Schreiber and Wood both return from injury and are projected stalwarts of the weekend rotation. Wood is likely to be a full-time two-way player, who will be regular among the batting order on days he does and does not start on the mound.
McHugh and Wood were both part of successful summer league teams as well as the Big Ten champion Boilers in 2012. McHugh helped his Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox summer team reach the championship series of the prestigious Cape Cod League. Wood teamed with current Boilers Brandon Krieg and Bennett Oliver to help the Northwest Indiana Oilmen win the Midwest Collegiate League title.
Around the conference, Wood was one of three two-way players among the Big Ten Players to Watch.
The league coaches also voted in a preseason poll and the conference office released the six teams projected to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament at Target Field in May. After losing 15 seniors to graduation and three juniors to the MLB First-Year Player Draft from the 2012 team, Purdue was not picked to finish among the top six. Yet, with the Boilers having made the Big Ten Tournament in eight of the last nine years, history is on Purdue's side even if the preseason projections are not.
The Boilermakers' five consecutive Big Ten Tournament berths represent the longest active streak in the league as well as the top stretch in program history. Dating back to 2008, Purdue is a Big Ten best 172-110 overall and 75-51 in Big Ten play.
In 2011, the Boilers were predicted to place eighth in preseason poll. Purdue finished that season with a league-best 37 overall wins and took third in the standings at 14-10, just one game behind the league's co-champions (Illinois and Michigan State).
Indiana was selected the 2013 preseason favorite after its underclassman-laden team finished second to Purdue in the 2012 standings and was also the runner up at the Big Ten Tournament. Tabbed second through sixth respectively, Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Illinois complete the projected six-team tourney field. Of those six teams, Illinois is the only team not predicted to finish higher in the standings than it did a year ago. Minnesota and Illinois missed out on the 2012 Big Ten Tournament after coming out on the short end of a quirky three-way tiebreaker with Ohio State.
McHugh maximized his opportunities in 2012, batting .317 with 10 extra-base hits, 24 RBI and a.549 slugging percentage. He was Purdue's regular catcher in midweek action and made five starts at designated hitter in the final three weeks of the season, including two of the NCAA Regional games. He played a starring role in two of the Boilers' most dramatic moments of 2012: the 10-run ninth inning rally in the comeback win at UCLA and the Lambert Field finale against Indiana State in which he hit the game-tying home run as a pinch hitter with two outs in the ninth inning.
Had they been healthy in 2012, it's possible Schreiber and Wood would have been part of Purdue's weekend rotation. Both players redshirted after having Tommy John surgery. While they were out, the Purdue pitching staff still managed to post new school records for ERA, WHIP and fewest walks per nine innings. So while Purdue lost its four All-Big Ten pitchers from last season, getting Schreiber and Wood back from injury gives the rotation a nice boost.
Schreiber was the Boilers' most consistent pitcher for the first half of the 2011 season, helping Purdue win six of his eight starts. He sported a 4-0 record, 3.80 ERA and was leading the Big Ten with 50 strikeouts and a .209 batting average against when he suffered an arm injury in the April 2011 series at Penn State.
Wood was a two-time all-state honoree at St. Laurence High School on the suburban edge of Chicago's South Side. He batted .538 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI at the plate and went 7-2 with 73 strikeouts and a 1.72 ERA on the mound to win Catholic League MVP honors as a junior. The redshirt-freshman was 8-for-18 as a hitter in Purdue's five-game Black and Gold Series at Alexander Field in the fall.
The Boilermakers open their new season this weekend at the Big East/Big Ten Challenge, taking on Connecticut at 4 p.m. Friday in Dudedin, Fla.
Probable Pitching Matchups: Schreiber vs UConn LHP Marzi, Minch vs USF RHP Lovecchio, Wood vs UofL RHP Ruxer & Ramer vs UConn LHP Ward.