ROSEMONT, Ill. (Purdue Sports) – Projected to play prominent roles for Purdue baseball this spring, Sean McHugh, Jordan Minch and Kyle Wood have been highlighted among the Big Ten players to watch for the 2014 season.
For the Boilermakers to have a bounce back season and return to the winning ways that saw the program qualify for five consecutive Big Ten Tournaments from 2008-12, McHugh, Minch and Wood will likely have to be among the team’s top contributors. A year ago, the trio accounted for the team leaders in batting average, hits, RBI and slugging percentage (McHugh); strikeouts, wins and games started (Minch); and home runs and runs scored (Wood). All three have experienced a summer playing for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the prestigious Cape Cod League. McHugh spent the summer of 2012 on the Cape while Minch and Wood were teammates there last summer.
McHugh looks to close out his career on a high note as the program’s only current four-year letter-winner. He was part of some of the most dramatic moments of the 2012 Big Ten championship season before moving to third base for the first time as a Boilermaker last year. The Kansas City-area native went on to win team MVP honors after starting 50 of the 51 games. He’s expected to see action at the hot corner and behind the plate this year.
Minch and Wood represented Purdue on the 2013 Big Ten All-Freshman Team. They’re both draft-eligible sophomores this season. Minch established new Purdue freshman records for strikeouts (63), games started (14) and innings pitched (81 1/3) while taking the ball every weekend of 2013. The Boilermakers went 6-8 when he started, 11-26 when any other pitcher did. The lefty from the Northwest Indiana was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice, following impressive starts against Evansville and Nebraska.
Wood remains Purdue’s top two-way player. Around the country, he is one of about 30 players projected to begin the season as a full-time starter in the lineup as well as a part of the weekend pitching rotation. He was a constant in the middle of the lineup in 2013, but only made seven starts on the mound after a forearm strain kept him off the mound for much of the first half of the season. The Chicagoland-area native led the team with five home runs and 32 runs scored while establishing a new Purdue freshman record with 14 hit by pitch. Minch and Wood give the Boilers two lefties in the weekend rotation.
Around the conference, Wood was one of three two-way players among the Big Ten players to watch.
The league coaches also voted in a preseason poll and the conference office released the top six teams. After finishing 10th in the standings a year ago, Purdue was not picked to finish among the top six. Yet, with the Boilers having made the Big Ten Tournament in eight of the last 10 years and the tourney field expanding to eight this season, history is on Purdue’s side even if the preseason projections are not.
The Boilermakers’ five consecutive Big Ten Tournament berths from 2008-12 represented the longest active streak in the league as well as the top stretch in program history. Ohio State’s three-year run of tourney appearances is now the top active streak. From 2007-12, six different teams won the Big Ten Tournament.
Indiana was selected the unanimous 2014 preseason favorite after welcoming back numerous starters from its 2013 Big Ten championship and College World Series team. Tabbed second through tied for fifth, respectively, was Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois and Michigan. Of those six teams, only Michigan State failed to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament a season ago even though the Spartans were receiving at-large consideration for an NCAA Tournament berth. Indiana and Illinois represented the league in the NCAA Tournament. With Purdue and Michigan State going to Regionals in 2012, the Big Ten has had multiple teams earn bids in back-to-back years for the first time since 2000 and 2001.
The Boilermakers open their new season this weekend in Knoxville, Tenn., where they are scheduled to play defending Summit League champion Nebraska-Omaha as well as the University of Tennessee twice apiece. Friday’s opener against UNO is set for a noon first pitch.