2014 Illinois Baseball Season Preview
Feb. 7, 2014
Pitching Returns, Holes to Fill in the Field
On the other hand, UI's pitching staff, which posted its lowest ERA (3.76) in 37 years, is back in full force with its weekend rotation returning sophomore Kevin Duchene, junior John Kravetz and sophomore Ryan Castellanos. Only a pair of pitchers were lost to graduation in four-year starter Kevin Johnson, who was sidelined at the end of 2013 due to an arm injury, and closer Bryan Roberts, who wrapped up his career tied for the third-most saves in school history.
By the numbers, here is a breakdown of what Illinois will return in 2014. The Illini return 81.2 percent of their innings pitched (399 of 491), 77.8 percent of their strikeouts (246 of 316) and 74.2 percent of their wins (26 of 35). While the majority of the pitching production is back, less than half of the Big Ten's second-ranked offense will take the field in 2014. Illinois will bring back 44 percent of its hits (251 of 571), 43.2 percent of its runs (145 of 336), 40.7 percent of its total bases (320 of 787) and 15.6 percent of its home runs (5 of 32).
A Closer Look at the Starting Staff
Duchene Continues His Friday Night Role: Sophomore Kevin Duchene, who broke the school record for wins by a freshman with nine last season, will lead the staff heading into 2014. The Joliet, Ill., native assumed the Friday night role for the final month of 2013 when Kevin Johnson went out with an arm injury. His final six starts were as the No. 1 starter and featured a career-best 11-strikeout, two-hit shutout against Penn State that propelled him to Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. After becoming just the second ever Illini to win the award and being named second-team All-Big Ten, the southpaw capped his stellar rookie season with a quality start in UI's victory over Georgia Tech in the NCAA Nashville Regional. Duchene, who was named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball, NCBWA, Baseball America and Perfect Game, finished 9-1 with a team-best 2.79 ERA in 2013.
Kravetz Provides the Experience: Junior John Kravetz will be the most experienced starting pitcher in the rotation, as he enters the year back in the No. 2 spot. The Lansing, Ill., native boasts a 13-6 overall record and a team-best 178.1 IP in his first two seasons. The right-hander has been a workhorse for the Illini, making all 29 starts since entering the rotation. During his sophomore season in 2013, he lowered his ERA (4.72 to 4.27) and increased his strikeouts (45 to 52) while finishing with a 5-3 record. He broke the school record for most wins by a freshman with eight in 2012 before Duchene surpassed the mark last year.
Reliever Drasen Johnson Moves into Rotation: Redshirt-junior Drasen Johnson will transition from the bullpen to the starting rotation in 2014. The Chillicothe, Ill., native has made five starts in his career, while the majority of his work has come out of the bullpen with 31 appearances. Last season, he finished 3-1 with a 3.07 ERA in 20 appearances (one start) and totaled 12 strikeouts. In his final 12 appearances, he only allowed one run and 11 hits over 17.2 IP (0.51 ERA) while picking up three wins.
Depth in the Rotation: Sophomore Ryan Castellanos and freshman Cody Sedlock will provide depth for the starting rotation along with being available for long relief. Castellanos won his first two collegiate starts as a freshman and finished 3-2 with a 5.04 ERA in 55.1 IP. He won his first career start at No. 16 Indiana, snapping IU's NCAA-best 18-game winning streak at the time and handing the College World Series-bound Hoosiers their first Big Ten loss of the season. The Davie, Fla., native also started for the Illini at the NCAA Nashville Regional and received a no-decision. Sedlock, who is a freshman from Alleman HS, was ranked the No. 9 player and the No. 5 pitcher in the Class of 2013 in Illinois by Perfect Game USA. He recorded an 8-1 record with 76 strikeouts and a 1.57 ERA in his senior season.
Playing the Match-Ups in Relief: Outside of Illinois' starters and closer, UI boasts eight right-handed pitchers and five left-handed pitchers, which will allow for situational match-ups throughout the year. Sophomore southpaw Tyler Jay will be an option in the set-up role after posting a 3.10 ERA in 18 games as a freshman. Fellow veteran left-handers Luke Joyce and Rob McDonnell battled arm injuries last season but both will be back in 2014 and expected to contribute along with the other two lefties: junior Anthony Milazzo and sophomore J.D. Nielsen. Among the right-handers, sophomore Nick Blackburn, who went 2-1 in 10 games last year, and redshirt-sophomore Andrew Mamlic, who allowed one run in 10 innings last season, will be options in relief along with newcomers Matthew James and Ike Greenspon.
Three Position Players Back on the Diamond
Roper Still at Second: Redshirt-junior second baseman Reid Roper is back for his third year at the position. The Harrisburg, Ill., native played in 49 games and hit .266 with three home runs, 21 runs and 22 RBI in 2013. The utility player, who was a Freshman All-American in 2012, also is an option at third base, which would open the door for junior Michael Hurwitz or sophomore Adam Walton at second base.
Behind the Dish: Sophomore Jason Goldstein is back at catcher after being named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team in 2013. The Highland Park, Ill., native was the first true-freshman to start at Illinois since 1992. He started 42 games in his debut season and led the Big Ten in caught stealing in conference games with 11. He hit .231 with 18 runs and 11 RBI. Redshirt-junior Kelly Norris-Jones is also in the mix at the position after making 13 starts and playing in 23 games in 2013.
Filling in the Holes
Corner Outfield Options: Both corner outfield options will be filled by new faces. Freshman Pat McInerney and sophomore Ryan Nagle are expected to compete for the job in left field, while juniors Chase Hainline and Casey Fletcher will vie for the starting job in right field. McInerney earned IHSA Class 3A all-state honors at Benet Academy after hitting .381 with eight home runs and 38 RBI as a senior. Nagle made six starts at first base in 2013, but was primarily used as a pinch-hitter, collecting six hits and five RBI in 22 games. Hainline has come off the bench during his first two seasons, going 5-for-9 in 10 career games as a pinch-hitter. Fletcher was a two-time NJCAA All-American at Kankakee Community College and transferred to Illinois with two seasons of eligibility remaining. He played multiple positions at KCC as an outfielder, second baseman and pitcher.
Left Side of the Infield: Illinois will have to replace first-team All-Big Ten shortstop Thomas Lindauer and four-year starter at third base Brandon Hohl. A pair of redshirt-freshmen could patrol the left side of the infield in shortstop Zack Kolakowski and third baseman Richie Gorski. Freshman Ryne Roper, the 2013 Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year, also will compete for the spot at shortstop, meaning brothers Reid and Ryne could play up the middle for the Illini.
No More Parrs, but Two Ropers
Beginning with Josh in 2009, the Illini had a Parr on the lineup card for 270 of a possible 271 games over the past five years. The only time a Parr did not play in a game for the Illini was when Josh missed the second game of a doubleheader on April 4, 2009.
All three brothers had standout careers at Illinois and were taken in the MLB Draft. Josh, the oldest brother and a two-time All-Big Ten selection at shortstop, lettered from 2009-11 before being drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 12th round following his junior year. Justin lettered from 2011-13, playing one season (2011) with Josh and two seasons (2012-13) with his twin brother, Jordan. Justin was a first-team All-American and the Big Ten Player of the Year as the UI center fielder during his senior season in 2013 before being drafted in the eighth round by the Philadelphia Phillies. Jordan lettered from 2012-13 and was a second-team All-Big Ten selection before being drafted in the 15th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks following his redshirt-junior season in 2013. Despite not playing with each other at Illinois, Josh and Jordan were reunited when they both played for the Hillsboro Hops (Diamondbacks Short-Season A affiliate) in the summer of 2013.
Casey Continues Fletcher Family Tradition
Uniform Number Changes in 2014
Illini Face Challenging Schedule in 2014
Illinois, which is coming off its most wins (35) under ninth-year head coach Hartleb, will hit the road for the first five weekends of the season. After the season-opening GSU series, UI heads to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for Caravelle Resort's Baseball at the Beach Tournament, where it will face a pair of 2013 NCAA Tournament participants. The Illini will play George Mason on Feb. 21 followed by games against NCAA qualifiers Coastal Carolina and Wichita State the next two days.
The next weekend boasts four games in three days in Gainesville, Fla. Illinois will play both Florida Gulf Coast and host Florida on Feb. 28 followed by a Saturday game against FGCU on March 1 and one final game against Florida on March 2. The Illini leave the state for the final time until the middle of April when they head to Bowling Green, Ky., for a three-game series at Western Kentucky (March 7-9).
Illinois will travel to Carbondale, Ill., for the fourth consecutive year for a three-game set against the Salukis from March 14-16. The Illini then return home for the first time, where they will play eight of their next nine games at Illinois Field. The 2014 home slate begins on March 18 against Indiana State. The Illini then play two games each against EIU and Xavier in Champaign from March 21-23 and a road tilt at Illinois State on March 25 before beginning Big Ten play.
The Illini will host their conference-opening series against Purdue from March 28-30, followed by a non-conference tilt against Missouri at Busch Stadium on April 2 and a trip to Northwestern from April 4-6. After a midweek road contest in Mattoon, Ill., against Eastern Illinois on April 8, Illinois will welcome Michigan for a series from April 11-13. The Illini remain at home for their second game of the season against Illinois State on April 15 before traveling east to Penn State from April 18-20.
The Orange and Blue will begin an eight-game home stand when they play Eastern Illinois for the fourth time on April 22 at Illinois Field. That will be followed by a visit from Indiana (April 25-27), which reached the 2013 College World Series and is ranked in the Top 10 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll. Illinois will face Southern Illinois for a fourth time on April 29, followed by its final home series against Michigan State from May 2-4. The Illini will hit the road for the last two weekends of Big Ten play with a series at Iowa (May 9-11) and Nebraska (May 15-17).
The Big Ten Tournament expands to eight teams and moves to TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., in 2014, and will run from May 21-25. The NCAA Tournament begins with the regional round on campus sites May 30-June 1, the super regional round runs June 6-9, and the College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park lasts from June 14-25.