PARK RIDGE, Ill. – After winning the Big Ten’s regular-season and tournament titles last season, Minnesota has been named the conference favorite for 2011, the Big Ten announced on Tuesday. For the first time in conference history, the Big Ten baseball coaches voted on the top six teams and also selected three players from their teams for a Players to Watch list. Also among the top six projected finishers for the season were No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Indiana, No. 4 Michigan State, No. 5 Iowa and No. 6 Ohio State.
The Golden Gophers return 24 players from last year’s team that advanced to the program’s 30th overall and second consecutive NCAA Championship. Among the returnees are Players to Watch Justin Gominsky, Scott Matyas and TJ Oakes. Matyas and Oakes were third-team All-Big Ten honorees as relief and starting pitchers, respectively. Minnesota is led by 2010 Big Ten Coach of the Year John Anderson.
Michigan finished second in last year’s conference standings and is led by a trio of sophomores in center fielder Patrick Biondi, pitcher Bobby Brosnahan and shortstop Derek Dennis. All three were named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team last season, and Brosnahan earned a spot on the 2010 All-Tournament Team.
Last year’s Big Ten Player of the Year Alex Dickerson headlines Indiana’s returners, having already been named to several preseason All-America teams. Look for Dickerson, as well as senior first baseman Jerrud Sabourin and freshman starter Joey DeNato to lead the Hoosiers, who tied for fifth in the 2010 standings.
Michigan State tied for seventh in last year’s conference standings and welcomes back reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ryan Jones at second base. Also set to lead the Spartans are senior first baseman Jeff Holm and sophomore Torsten Boss at third. Jones and Boss were second-team All-Big Ten honorees last year, while Holm earned a spot on the third team.
Iowa tied for third in the 2010 Big Ten standings and advanced to the championship game of the tournament. The Hawkeyes are led by starting pitcher Jared Hippen, third baseman Zach McCool and reliever Kevin Lee. Hippen was named to last year’s All-Big Ten second team and the All-Tournament Team, while McCool held a spot on the third team.
Ohio State tied for seventh in last year’s standings and will be led by first-year head coach Greg Beals in 2011. On the field, the Buckeyes will look to senior outfielder Brian DeLucia, freshman first baseman/reliever Josh Dezse and senior starter Drew Rucinski.
Overall, the Big Ten Players to Watch list includes 12 members of last year’s All-Big Ten teams, including first-team selections Dickerson and Northwestern third baseman Chris Lashmet and reliever Paul Snieder. The list also features last year’s conference Player and Freshman of the Year and nine members of the 2010 Big Ten All-Freshman Team.
The complete Players to Watch list and top-six preseason poll can be found below.
2011 BIG TEN BASEBALL PRESEASON POLL (top six teams)
4. Michigan State
6. Ohio State
2011 BIG TEN BASEBALL PLAYERS TO WATCH
Willie Argo, Jr., CF, Illinois
Adam Davis, Jr., C, Illinois
Kevin Johnson, So., SP, Illinois
Joey DeNato, Fr., SP, Indiana
Alex Dickerson, Jr., OF, Indiana
Jerrud Sabourin, Sr., 1B, Indiana
Jarred Hippen, Jr., SP, Iowa
Kevin Lee, Sr., RP, Iowa
Zach McCool, Sr., 3B, Iowa
Patrick Biondi, So., OF, Michigan
Bobby Brosnahan, So., SP, Michigan
Derek Dennis, So., SS, Michigan
Torsten Boss, So., 3B, Michigan State
Jeff Holm, Sr., 1B, Michigan State
Ryan Jones, So., 2B, Michigan State
Justin Gominsky, So., OF, Minnesota
Scott Matyas, Sr., RP, Minnesota
TJ Oakes, So., SP, Minnesota
Chris Lashmet, Sr., 3B, Northwestern
Paul Snieder, Jr., RP/DH, Northwestern
Trevor Stevens, Jr., IF/OF, Northwestern
Brian DeLucia, Sr., OF, Ohio State
Josh Dezse, Fr., 1B/RP, Ohio State
Drew Rucinski, Sr., SP, Ohio State
Joe DeBernardis, Jr., 1B, Penn State
Heath Johnson, Sr., SP, Penn State
Jordan Steranka, Jr., 3B, Penn State
Cameron Perkins, So., 3B, Purdue
Kevin Plawecki, So., C, Purdue
Brad Schreiber, So., SP/DH, Purdue