Offseason Notebook: Purdue

With less than 10 weeks until first pitch, the college baseball season is inching closer and closer.

Before the preseason coverage commences, we catch up with coaches around the conference to see where there program stands after fall practice before the calendar turns to 2013.

Here’s highlights of our conversation with Purdue’s Doug Schreiber.

It’s done.

A championship drought that rivaled those of the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs is over. For the first time in 103 years, Purdue enters the season as reigning conference champions.

In more than one way the Boilermakers enter a new era. Gone is a senior class that won a Big Ten-best 75 conference games the last four seasons and the program is without several juniors, headlined by 2012 Big Ten Player of the Year Kevin Plawecki a first-round pick by the New York Mets. With the completion of the near-$11 million Alexander Field, the program has on-site facilities that includes lockerrooms, batting cages, a player’s lounge and more. The stadium also features lights, and as a result crowds reached into triple-digits for fall intra-squad scrimmages, support that has led to upwards of 450 season tickets already being sold.

So there is a buzz and excitement within the Purdue community and baseball program. Now for Schreiber and the players the task is how do they continue, the coach says as exciting as last year was it was not the pinnacle, more work is to be done.

The Boilermakers are aware of what they lost, but they know matter if they go on to win 10 games or 40, they enter the season with a target on their back, play in games the opposition has circled. The championship means they will not sneak up on anyone. And though not a favorite in the eyes of many, it may be premature to exclude them from a list of potential contenders the coach feels.

Schreiber speaks to the fact the Boilermakers won its championship without the services of its top two pitchers. Both red-shirt junior Brad Schreiber and red-shirt freshman Kyle Wood were sidelined for the season as they recovered from respective Tommy John surgeries. Prior to being shutdown midway through the 2011 season, Schreiber was carrying a 3.80 ERA through 47.1 innings while recording 50 strikeouts against 16 walks with a 1.09 WHIP. Wood enrolled at Purdue as one of the top arms among Midwest pitchers in the class of 2011.

When you add a highly-recruited pitcher in freshman lefty Jordan Minch alongside the two fully-recovered pitchers, Purdue looks to have a strong 1-2-3. Schreiber, no relation to the pitcher, mentions he will be able to have a weekend rotation with three arms that can dial 90 and above, a something none of the starters from 2012 could do. The potential of what the Boilermaker staff has is encouraging to supporters as what they lost on the mound will be tough to replace.

Joe Haase (3.26, 102.0 IP, 21 BB, 59 SO) was named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, Lance Breedlove (3.33, 97.1, 16, 76) was a second-team All-Big Ten selection. The Boilermakers lost both to graduation, and they will be without their #3,  sophomore Connor Podkul (4.84, 44.2, 9, 28) will miss the season with an elbow surgery of his own.

As a lot was lost on the mound, more was lost at the plate. But similarly, Schreiber feels there are parts that returned plus the addition of players that will lessen the blow and help Purdue contend.

Sliding over to center field will be Stephen Talbott, the lone returning player among Purdue’s top-five hitters. Talbott has 109 starts under his belt and enters his final season in West Lafayette a career .322 hitter with 37 stolen bases in 42 attempts. Joining Talbot as the lone returnees with at least 40 games played is Angelo Cianfrocco. Schreiber feels better days are ahead of the first baseman as Cianfrocco was not 100% in 2012 as he played following labrum surgery in 2011. Cianfrocco slashes .235/.296/.427 after he started 2011 .308/.394/.473. Sean McHugh anchors a trio of contributors from 2012 that will comprise the core in 2013. McHugh would be the third baseman and three-hole hitter in the season started today according to Schrieber ans brings a bat that will help ease the departure of Cameron Perkins and his .355/.401/.529 that included 15 doubles and nine home runs. In fact, McHugh slugged a high percentage in 2012 than Perkins, .549, off the strength of four doubles, three triples and three home runs in 82 at-bats that produced a .317 average and .404 on-base percentage.

After those three, Purdue will have Brandon Kreig and Bennett Oliver anchor the middle of the diamond at shortstop and second base respective. Conner Hudnall, a JUCO transfer from Glen Oaks Community College, lead the bats this fall and is expected to be one of the corner outfield spots. Freshman Kyle Johnson is talented outfielder built like Perkins says Schreiber, and while he may not compare with a 6.6 60-yard time, he does possess a 90+ arm. Another freshman is mentioned in the same breath as a talented departure as catcher Jack Picchiotti is coming off an outstanding fall and is a player expected to contribute within the program in the likes of Plawecki.

A lineup for Schreiber could be penciled in as C- Picchiotti, 1B- Cianfrocco, 2B- Krieg, SS- Oliver, 3B- McHugh, RF- Johnson, CF- Talbott, LF-Hudnall. DH-Wood.

The biggest question mark concerning Purdue is the relief pitching. Purdue will be without Blake Macarello (1.86, 72.2, 12, 49) and Nick Wittgren (1.76, 41.0, 12, 39), respective second and third-team all-conference selections that shortened games. Returning is senior right-handed pitcher Robert Ramer to fill a mid-week role as Purdue enters the season riding a 17-game mid-week winning streak. Ramer’s presence (2.86, 50.1, 2, 30) will help lessen the load for a green pitching staff. Purdue has converted Kyle Upp from catcher to pitcher and he pitched at 86-90 this fall while throwing up to 93.

There are questions but there are parts within the program, which for the first time in his 15-year tenure includes the same staff in consecutive seasons. What is yet to be known for Schreiber is how the players are mentally. What made the 2012 team special, in addition to its talent, is the team played with a chip on its shoulder said Schreiber. Will the players be satisfied the program ended the drought or will they go for two? He expects them to compete.

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