5 Most Irreplaceable Players
October 15, 2012 1 Comment
Two weeks ago we took a look at the five biggest voids programs across the Big Ten face. Five areas around the diamond determined the toughest to fill heading into the 2013 season following graduation and the draft.
Now we look at the five players most irreplaceable in the Big Ten. Five players, given their contribution and talent combined with the roster composition of the program, if removed from their team’s lineup you can bet there would be a big void there.
Illinois Sr. RHP Kevin Johnson
Drafted in the 31st round by the New York Yankees, right-handed pitcher Kevin Johnson spurned the opportunity to enter professional baseball this summer for one last go with the Illini. With Johnson’s return, coach Dan Hartleb enters the 2013 season with the rare ability to pencil in the same Friday-starter for a third-consecutive season.
Since arriving in Champaign-Urbana, Johnson has been a staple in the weekend rotation. Appearing in every possible weekend series in his career, Johnson’s 43 appearance have all been by way of start. With a 4.55 ERA over 267.0 innings and 164 career strikeouts under his belt Johnson enters his final season the active Big Ten leader in punchouts. No pitcher has more starts while Johnson trails Penn State’s Steven Hill in innings by 3.1.
During Illinois’ 2011 championship and regional season, taking the mound 16 times, Johnson racked up 103.0 innings, averaging a start that reached the seventh inning, pitching into the eighth on eight occasions. For 2012 Johnson averaged 6.1 innings per start. That consistency, and improvement as Johnson has shaved more than .5 of a run off his prior season’s ERA, is what will make Johnson a tough act to follow when his time ends for Illinois.
Ohio State Jr. RHP Jaron Long
Ohio State right-handed pitcher Jaron Long only has one season in the Big Ten, but his sophomore season in Columbus was enough to show why he is key to Ohio State’s hopes of a program revival.
Garnering First-team All-Big Ten honors, the lone Buckeye to do so in the last two seasons, Long finished the 2012 season with a 2.66 ERA over 101.1 innings. As he appeared in 16 games, 13 of which were starts, Long struck out 63 while carrying a WHIP of 1.19 (108 hits, 13 walks). Long’s season was in line with the likes of former Friday starters the Buckeyes have trotted out including recent first-round draft picks Cory Luebke and Alex Wimmers.
It is yet to be seen where Long is drafted as he enters his junior season. But it is clear he is a rock the Buckeyes need in their rotation.
While Ohio State has depth in pitching, it has question marks. None know how Josh Dezse will perform as a starter opposed to his closer role. While Brad Goldberg has starred in fall practice he will be three years removed from last pitching in a regulation college game. Former weekend starters Greg Greve and Brett McKinney have been moved between midweek, weekend and bullpen duties the last two seasons, and with Dezse’s transition Ohio State will break in a new closer.
With all of the moving pieces it has to comfort the Ohio State staff they have a pitcher that completed at least six innings in all but one start, had 10 starts of at leat six innings while allowing two earned run or less, and seven of at least seven innings with one earned run or less.
Michigan Jr. OF Michael O’Neill
It isn’t hard to see what Michigan outfielder Michael O’Neill means to his team. All one has to do is look back at last season.
On April 3 Michigan moved to 13-17 with a 7-3 win over Central Michigan. Later that week O’Neill suffered a hand injury that would sideline him for 15 games. During that span Michigan went 4-11, scoring 4.1 runs a game. As O’Neill had six home runs prior to the injury, a number he would not add upon after returning to finished tied for 12th in the Big Ten on the season, the Wolverines averaged a full run more with his presence.
O’Neill’s injury wasn’t the lone reason Michigan finished ninth in the Big Ten at 8-16 and 22-33 overall, but the blow was a mighty one for the Maize and Blue. During his Freshman season, O’Neill’s .307 average made him the lone Wolvering to bat north of .300 in 2011. As he upped it to a team-leading .329, the 18 extra-base hits tallied finished one behind Coley Crank’s who appeared in every game. Not only was O’Neill missed at the plate. Through two seasons, O’Neill already is seventh in the Michigan recordbook with 49 stolen bases. The 30 recorded in 2011 set a Michigan record for msot by a freshman in a season, his 19-24 2012 campaign was the fifth-most in the Big Ten.
With unrivalved speed and a bat that brings pop while hitting for average, with five tools, O’Neill, the only Big Ten player to finish in the top six in stolen bases and slugging, has and ability to impact the game in every aspect isn’t one that is readily duplicated in the Big Ten.
Northwestern INF/RHP Kyle Ruchim
Northwestern two-way player Kyle Ruchim doesn’t have eye-popping numbers. He didn’t finish near the top of any offensive category, didn’t finish in an individual top-ten for that matter, and hasn’t made a start on the mound. But this is a rundown of the players a program can least go without, not value. For that reason it is why Ruchim is here.
Ruchim heads into the 2013 season as one of two returning Wildcats who batted at least .280. As a team, Northwestern collect 80 extra-base hits with Ruchim repsonsible for 17 of them with 12 doubles, two triples and three home runs. Accounting for 21% of the teams XBH, no 2013 Wildcat came within nine extra-base hits of Ruchim, he led the Wildcats with a .412 slugging percentage, the next closet at .375, and paced the club with a .373 on-base percentage. Ruchim also carried the torch on the bases by stealing 10 bags in 13 attempts, while the rest of the team finished 16-33 in stolen bases.
Wins were tough to come by for Northwestern, but when they had a lead Ruchim was there to secure the win. With identical numbers to his freshman season with a 3.38 ERA in 18.2 innings pitched, Richim saved seven of Northwestern’s 18 wins, striking out 24 while walking just five.
As Northwestern looks to improve from a last-place 2012 season, it isn’t a pretty picture imaging progression without Ruchim.
Purdue OF Stephen Talbott
The 2012 Purdue team was dubbed the Dream Team. With a school-record 45 wins, the program’s first NCAA Regional apperance in 25 years and its first conference championship in 103 seasons, it’s certainly reasonable to understand why. Well, the dream is over. As Purdue enters the 2013 season they will do so without the 2012 Big Ten Pitcher and Player of the Year, eight All-Big Ten selections, their top-two starters and relievers and seven of the top eight hitters.
The lone returnee is senior outfielder Stephen Talbott.
While Purdue had unprecedented success in 2012, the Boilermakers established themselves in the upper-half of the Big Ten prior to. The 2012 Big Ten Tournament marked Purdue’s fifth-consecutive trip to the postseason, the only team to be able to say that, on the strength of depth and quality recruiting. No Purdue team will have experienced the turnover the current club has, which makes Talbott the centerpiece of the next stage of Boilermaker baseball.
Not only will Talbott provide needed experience and leadership, he enters 2013 with 401 at-bats over 129 games and 109 starts, accounting for 40% of all combined starts on the team, he does it as a quality player. Batting .347 a year ago, Talbott heads into his final season with a career mark of .322 and OPS of .831. On the bases Talbott has stolen 37 in 42 attempts, including a perfect 17-17 2011 season.