Head coach Dan Hartleb and the Illini will open the 2013 season with a three-game series at Tennessee Tech from Feb. 15-17.
Feb. 11, 2013
Familiar Faces Return for Illini in 2013
Several familiar faces will sport the orange and blue for eighth-year head coach Dan Hartleb in 2013. Illinois, which finished 28-25 overall and 11-13 in the Big Ten (T-6th) a year ago, returns seven offensive starters and two weekend members of its staff from 2012. The only loss among position players came from the graduation of four-year starter Willie Argo, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays. Argo, who started all four years and spent the past three seasons in center field, finished among the best in school history in several categories, including as the all-time leader in stolen bases. His void will most likely be filled by shifting left fielder Justin Parr to center field and moving Jordan Parr from first base to left field.
With nearly everyone back on the roster, the Illini return the majority of their offensive production. In all, the Orange and Blue return 79.7 percent (401 of 503) of their hits from last season and 78.0 percent of their runs (241 of 309). The Illini also return 84.1 percent of their extra-base hits (95 of 113) and 65.4 percent of their stolen bases (51 of 78). Illinois also brings back a strong contingent of its pitching staff from a year ago, including 85.7 percent (24 of 28) of wins from 2012, 76.2 percent (353 2/3 of 464) of innings pitched and 69.7 percent (202 of 290) of strikeouts.
Johnson, Parr Back after Being Drafted
A pair of Illini, Kevin Johnson and Jordan Parr, were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft following the 2012 season, but elected to return to school for the 2013 campaign. Parr was drafted in the 26th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers, while Johnson was picked in the 31st round by the New York Yankees. Parr led the team in hitting last season, turning in a .348 average, and shared the team lead with five home runs. Johnson was a workhorse for the Illini in 2012, making 14 starts, tossing a team-high 88 1/3 innings pitched and winning a career-high seven games.
Around the Horn
Hohl Still at Third: For the fourth-straight season, senior Brandon Hohl will man the hot corner for the Illini. The Mokena, Ill., native started all 53 games in 2012 and has made 157 career starts at third base. The sure-handed fielder has only 29 errors in his career, giving him a .937 fielding percentage. He tied for the team lead in home runs with five and knocked in the second-most RBIs (38) in 2012.
Double Play Combo Back Up the Middle: The nation's leading double play combination from a year ago is back up the middle in shortstop Thomas Lindauer and second baseman Reid Roper. Illinois led the nation in double plays per game (1.3) and ranked second nationally in total double plays turned (69) in 2012. Offensively, Lindauer tied for the second-most runs scored (37) on the Illini and hit .279 last season. Roper was third on the team with a .293 average, while earning Louisville Slugger and freshman All-American honors as a multiple position player.
Who's on First?: With Jordan Parr expected to move to the outfield this season, first base becomes the only position in the infield without a returning starter. Sophomore David Kerian and freshman Ryan Nagle competed throughout the fall for the starting position and continued to do so at the start of practice. Kerian made four starts at second base a year ago, but is a capable first baseman and also a switch hitter at the plate. Nagle has been solid defensively at the position along with being ranked as one of the top two left-handed hitters and a top-5 overall hitter in the class of 2012 in Illinois by Prep Baseball Report.
Veteran Outfield Patrol
Despite losing former center fielder Willie Argo, the Illini outfield will boast a plethora of experience with two seniors and a redshirt-junior slated to start.
Senior Davis Hendrickson will start in right field for the third year in a row. He started 49 games in right field in 2012 and has made 105 career starts at the position. He tallied a career-high 32 RBIs, 11 stolen bases and nine doubles in 2012 to go along with a .980 fielding percentage after committing only two errors.
Senior Justin Parr will start the season in center field, moving from left field where he started all 53 games in 2012. The Chillicothe, Ill., native was named to the All-Big Ten third team and hit .290 with three home runs and 38 RBIs on the season. He also tied for third in the Big Ten in triples with four.
Redshirt-junior Jordan Parr is expected to start in left field, shifting from first base where he started all 53 games in 2012. The Chillicothe, Ill., native led the Illini with a .348 average, 45 RBIs, 13 doubles and shared the home run lead with five last season. He also led the team in hitting with runners in scoring position (.397) and with two outs (.424), and had a team-best 22 two-out RBIs. His 70 hits and 45 RBIs were the most by an Illini since 2009.
Starting Pitcher Breakdown
Illini Ace: Senior Kevin Johnson will headline the returning pitchers on staff for 2013. The Midlothian, Ill., native will serve as Illinois' No. 1 starter for the third-straight season after posting a 7-5 record and 3.97 ERA in 2012. He has made all 24 possible Big Ten starts in his career with five complete games and his 93 career strikeouts in conference play rank sixth in school history. He also holds the school record for innings pitched in Big Ten play with 153 2/3 innings.
Top Freshman Winner A Year Older: Sophomore John Kravetz will toe the mound for the Illini after breaking the school record for wins by a freshman with an 8-3 mark as the No. 2 starter. Kravetz finished less than an inning behind Johnson for the most innings pitched in 2012 with 87 2/3 innings. He also posted the second-most strikeouts with 45 behind only Matt Milroy, who had 65 punchouts and was drafted by the Miami Marlins in the 11th round.
McDonnell Back from Injury: Redshirt-sophomore Rob McDonnell will be back in the mix for a rotation spot after being shut down in 2012 due to arm soreness after making two appearances on the season as Illinois' No. 2 starter.
Newcomers Vie for a Spot: Freshmen Nick Blackburn and Kevin Duchene will compete with Kravetz and McDonnell for spots in the weekend rotation. The left-hander Duchene was listed as the No. 6 overall prospect in the class of 2012 in Illinois by Prep Baseball Report, while the right-hander Blackburn came to Illinois ranked No. 21 in the state.
Coming on in Relief
Illinois' bullpen will feature quite a bit of depth this season, including five left-handers, which will allow for several situational match-up options.
Redshirt-sophomore Reid Roper will again fill the closer role following his time on the field at second base. Last season, Roper tied for the team-lead in saves (three) with junior Ronnie Muck, who figures to take over the set-up role. Muck threw 33 innings in 2012 and finished with a 2-1 record and three saves.
Redshirt-sophomore Drasen Johnson will be one of many pitchers slated to come on in middle relief along with junior Luke Joyce and sophomore Anthony Milazzo, who are both lefties and combined for 30 appearances in 2012. Redshirt-senior Bryan Roberts is also back and will look to contribute after being sidelined the majority of the past two seasons due to arm injuries.
Checking in Behind the Plate
The Illini return two experienced catchers in redshirt-sophomore Kelly Norris-Jones and redshirt-junior Alex Lincoln. Those two backstops started all but one contest in 2012 and are in the mix for the starting spot along with freshman Jason Goldstein. Goldstein was ranked as the No. 4 catcher in the country and the No. 71 prospect nationally in the class of 2012 by Perfect Game. All three catchers on the Illini roster could see time behind the plate in 2013.
A Pair of Parrs Again on the Roster
For the third-straight season, the Illinois roster will include a pair of Parr brothers. Twin brothers Jordan and Justin are both back for the second-straight season and are expected to start in left and center field, respectively. Last season, Jordan started all 53 games at first base, while Justin started every game in left field. The two combined for 74 runs and 130 hits in the middle of the Illini lineup.
Justin played his first season as an Illini in 2011 with older brother, Josh, who was a shortstop drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks after that campaign. Justin will enter his third and final season for Illinois after transferring from Parkland College, while Jordan, who also previously played at Parkland College, will enter his second season with Illinois, but has two years of eligibility remaining because he redshirted in 2010.
Illini Face Competitive Schedule in 2013
Illinois' 2013 schedule includes a three-game series at 2012 NCAA Tournament super regional participant Baylor and 14 games against teams that reached last year's NCAA Tournament, as the Orange and Blue look to make an NCAA Regional for the second time in the last three years. The Illini open the season Feb. 15 at Tennessee Tech and begin the home schedule - and a seven-game home-stand, the season's longest - March 22 against Nebraska, the Huskers' first trip to Champaign since 1905.