PARK RIDGE, Ill. - Big things are expected of Purdue baseball in the Big Ten Conference this season, headlined by Baseball America selecting the Boilermakers as the preseason favorites in the 11-team league.
Released Tuesday, the Big Ten preseason coaches poll featured Purdue predicted to finish second in the standings behind defending co-champion Michigan State. The Boilermakers host MSU the weekend of April 27-29.
Nationally, the Boilermakers were receiving votes in Collegiate Baseball's Top 40 preseason poll and have been ranked as high as 33rd in the country in Perfect Game USA's Preseason Top 100.
Purdue is garnering much of its preseason praise thanks to a stacked lineup that features returning starters at every position. The opening day lineup is expected to be comprised entirely of juniors and seniors. The roster is dominated by upperclassmen, including as many as 15 seniors.
But it is juniors Cameron Perkins, Kevin Plawecki and Nick Wittgren - all pro prospects and likely MLB draftees in June - that are receiving most of the preseason publicity. Together they represented half of Purdue's six All-Big Ten honorees in 2011 and have been highlighted as the Boilermakers' Players to Watch as the new season begins. Along with the unveiling of the top six teams in the Big Ten preseason poll, the conference office also highlights three players from each team.
CollegeBaseballInsider.com, which picked the Boilers to win the Big Ten, also tabbed Perkins, Plawecki and Wittgren as Honorable Mention Preseason All-Americans. Baseball America ranked all three players among the Top 10 prospects in the Big Ten, with Plawecki and Perkins being one-two among those eligible to be drafted this year. Plawecki was also 46th among Baseball America's Top 50 juniors nationally.
Wittgren was a Third Team relief pitcher on the Preseason All-America lists released by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association and represented the Big Ten on the Stopper of the Year Preseason Watch List. He was also on College Baseball Daily's Preseason All-America First Team this week.
Not only did the Boilers tie the program record with 37 overall wins in 2011 but their 58 Big Ten victories over the last four years are also tops in the conference. Purdue is the only Big Ten team to reach the league tournament in each of the last four seasons. With his experienced upperclassman-laden roster in place this season, 14th-year head coach Doug Schreiber opted to beef up the nonconference portion of the schedule. When the opportunities arose, he did not shy away from playing road series at annual NCAA Regional participants Wichita State and UCLA. Four-team tournaments at East Carolina and Auburn will also present opportunities for résumé-building wins early in the season.
Meanwhile, Schreiber said it best when asked about how his team would deal with the lofty expectations. "Pressure is when those on the outside have greater expectations than you do," the former Purdue second baseman said.
Along with Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State and Illinois were also predicted to qualify for the six-team Big Ten Tournament by the league coaches. The Boilermakers travel to Nebraska and Ohio State and host Illinois, but do not play Minnesota during the regular season this year.
College baseball's uniform start date is Friday, Feb. 17. Opening day for Purdue features a neutral-site game against Cincinnati at Jack Russell Stadium in Clearwater, Fla., the first of three games at the Big Ten/Big East Challenge. The Boilermakers will also take on two-time defending Big East Champion Connecticut and in-state rival Notre Dame during their season-opening weekend.
Big Ten Preseason Poll Top Six 1. Michigan State
5. Ohio State