Although replicating the success of 2012 isn't going to be easy next season, Coach Doug Schreiber isn't yet ready to concede.
The Boilermaker baseball team, which won a program-best 45 games, its first Big Ten title in 103 years and its first game in NCAA Tournament history, will have to replace the heart of its lineup, plus its top four pitchers, on next season's squad. But talent, particularly in the pitching staff, does return, giving Purdue hope that it can stay one of the league's most consistent teams, as it's been over the last half decade.
"Every year, I think we want to put ourselves in a position to compete for a Big Ten Championship," said Schreiber, who will enter his 15th season at Purdue. "It's hard to just say that all we're going to shoot for is the Big Ten Tournament (as one of the league's top-six teams), but we'd like to think in a down year, that's what we're getting. I'm not going to say next year is going to be a down year, because a lot of these kids are talented."
But they're inexperienced, too. Schreiber welcomes in 15 newcomers, who will help to replace 15 departed seniors, plus junior draftees Kevin Plawecki, Cameron Perkins and Nick Wittgren. The Boilermakers' biggest addition, however, is a returnee; junior right-hander Brad Schreiber, who was 4-0 with a 3.80 ERA in eight starts in 2011, is slated to return to the mound after Tommy John elbow surgery.
The power pitcher, who likely would have been Purdue's No. 1 this season, will anchor the staff, which very likely will be the Boilermakers' strength. Sophomore Conner Podkul (2-3, 3.84 ERA), who was a part-time weekend starter as a rookie, could be penciled into the weekend rotation; he was excellent at times last season, throwing six no-hit innings vs. ranked Louisville, before fatiguing late in the year. Senior Robert Ramer (6-1, 2.86), the mid-week starter, could get more weekend innings.
Redshirt freshman Kyle Wood, Purdue's top recruiting in 2011, is an expected contributor after sitting last year while rehabbing from Tommy John.
"We feel like our pitching staff is going to be the strength of our team," Doug Schreiber said. "We've just got to figure out who will pitch at the end of a ballgame.
We've got some younger guys in the program. That's our foundation and strength and we've still got to figure things out. But from there, we've got a lot of new names and faces on the offensive side, but that (pitching) is our starting point."
Among its 15 signees, almost half are pitchers. That includes Indiana natives Isaac Sampen, a 6-foot-1 right-hander from Brownsburg, and Jordan Minch, a 6-3 lefty from Highland. Sampen is ranked as the No. 6 player overall in Indiana, according to Prepbaseballreports.com, while Minch is second.
"Jordan Minch is one of the higher-regarded recruits we brought in from the state of Indiana," Schreiber said. "He's kind of a got a power arm, has to work on command."
Right-handers Kyle Johnson, one of three signees from California, and Chicago's Eddie De La Riva, are also pitching prospects, although the latter is rehabbing from elbow soreness.
"We're bringing in some young arms who will also be able to come in (and compete)," Schreiber said. "They'll all have a chance to get in that rotation."
Purdue's lineup, however, has far more questions. Only first baseball Angelo Cianfrocco, left-fielder Stephen Talbott and back-up catcher/designated hitter Sean McHugh are the only returning regulars, leaving plenty of holes to fill.
Brandon Kreig is a possibility at second, where he started a game in place of Eric Charles during the NCAA Tournament. He's excellent defensively, and a threat on the bases, but isn't a proven hitter. Fellow Sophomore Bennett Oliver is a possibility at shortstop, where he started a game this season, and third base, where Purdue loses the production of Perkins, perhaps the Big Ten's best offensive player.
Freshman Mike Mullen is a second baseman, and potential middle infielder, who could play into the picture next year. Solidifying the left side of the infield, whether it be a combination of Oliver and Mullen, or another freshman, is a key.
"That left-side of the infield?" Schreiber said. "Is it Bennett Oliver? Does Kreig or Mullen have to slide over? Does Oliver play third base?"
Only Talbott returns to the outfield. But Conner Hudnail, a transfer from Glen Oaks CC in Michigan, will have a chance to earn a corner outfield spot.
"We're going to look for him to be somewhere in the middle," he said. "He's kind of like a Perkins; he doesn't strike out much."
Replacing Plawecki, a first-round pick of the Mets in June, will be no easy task. McHugh had 24 RBI with a .317 average last season, and is a likely middle-of-the-order hitter now, likely combining with Cianfrocco in the heart of Purdue's order. But freshman Josh Estill of San Diego and Jack Picchiotti of Illinois are possibilities behind the place, as is returning backup Kyle Upp.
"All four are pretty talented," Schreiber said. "Maybe not to the Kevin Plawecki level, but they're all very talented. You've got to expect one of those guys to step up. And the nice thing is all four of those guys can bounce around to other positions. Whether it be a corner infield or corner outfield."
Purdue has pieces, but putting them together will take time. With the Boilermakers moving into Alexander Field, their new multi-million dollar home, Schreiber says he doesn't want next season to turn into a transitional year.
"The exciting thing is we feel like we're bring in some talented players as freshman who are probably going to have to do something along the same lines as Perkins and Plawecki and that group, as far as playing right away," he said. "And hopefully by sophomore and junior year, they're putting themselves in the same position we were in this year."
Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.
GoldandBlack.com Mobile for your iPhone | GoldandBlack.com Mobile for your Android
Check out GoldandBlack.com on | |
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now for a FREE Trial