Center fielder Willie Argo has earned preseason All-Big Ten honors from Baseball America and Perfect Game.
Feb. 14, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - In anticipation of Friday's season opener at the BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge, FightingIllini.com is previewing the 2011 Illinois baseball team. Last week's first part of the preview focused on the pitchers and catchers, leaving the position players and schedule for part two.
Illinois returns an experienced group of position players including junior outfielder Willie Argo, senior outfielder/infielder Pete Cappetta, senior first baseman Matt Dittman, senior outfielder Casey McMurray, junior shortstop Josh Parr and sophomore third baseman Brandon Hohl, and blends with it a talented and athletic crop of rookie position players.
Who's Back: Illinois returns three infield starters from 2010 in first baseman Matt Dittman, shortstop Josh Parr and third baseman Brandon Hohl. Dittman had an incredibly hot start to 2010, hitting .500 over Illinois' first 14 games and earning Big Ten Co-Player of the Week honors on March 15 before suffering a season-ending wrist injury. Parr earned third-team All-Big Ten honors after leading all conference shortstops in batting average during Big Ten play. And Hohl was a rock at third base, making only six errors, while hitting .278 and starting all but two games.
Senior Pete Cappetta, who earned All-Big Ten second team honors in 2009, will challenge for starting spots at both second base and right field. Cappetta struggled at the plate in 2010, hitting .262 in 38 starts, but settled in late in the season when he went 10-for-22 over the final six games. Sophomore Bill Charvat also will push for playing time at first base or designated hitter in 2011.
"We have a very athletic group of infielders who can move around and play different positions," Hartleb said. "Having an experienced and established left side of the infield gives your entire team confidence. They know what they're doing in all situations and are a very steady group. When you play good defense, you have an opportunity to win every time out."
Who's Not: Mike Giller graduated following a 2010 season in which he filled in admirably at first base after Dittman's injury. Giller hit .273 with four homers and 31 RBIs in 45 starts last season. Christian Cummins is no longer with the Illini after transferring to John A. Logan College following the 2010 season. He hit .204 in 30 starts at second base a year ago.
Who's New: Sophomore Justin Parr, and freshmen Thomas Lindauer and Reid Roper join the Illini infield in 2011. All three promising newcomers will push for playing time in the middle infield. Parr spent 2010 at Parkland College, where he hit .378 with a .439 on-base percentage and .535 slugging percentage. Lindauer was the No. 15 prospect in the state of Illinois according to Prep Baseball Report and Roper hit .504 with 10 home runs while going 12-0 on the mound with a 0.84 ERA in 2010.
Who's Back: Left fielder Casey McMurray, a 2008 Freshman All-American, and Willie Argo, who earned 2009 Freshman All-American honors while serving mostly as Illinois designated hitter, anchor a solid group of outfielders for the Illini. Senior Pete Cappetta and sophomore Davis Hendrickson also could see time in the outfield.
"In the outfield, we are very athletic and should be very, very strong," Hartleb said. "McMurray has been a mainstay in left field his entire career and Argo is very experienced in center field. Cappetta has played well in the outfield the past two years and Hendrickson is one of the best athletes on the team. Parr also brings a lot of athleticism and can play any outfield spot."
McMurray led Illinois in nearly every offensive category last year, hitting .348 with six home runs, 39 RBIs and 14 doubles, while Argo broke the school record with 41 stolen bases and hit .318 despite playing the last half of the season with a broken wrist. Cappetta scuffled at the plate in 2010 while playing second base, but took off shortly after being moved to the outfield, hitting .455 with three home runs and nine RBIs over the season's last six games. Sophomore Doug Schumacher and senior Pat Sheehan will provide depth in the outfield.
Who's Not: Craig Lutes, who had a career year by hitting .305 with three home runs and 27 RBIs in 51 starts in right field, graduated following the 2010 season.
Who's New: Sophomore transfer Justin Parr also could see time in the outfield, as his athleticism gives the Illini coaches a variety of options regarding where to play Parr in the field.
Illinois will be tested early and often by a challenging schedule in 2011. The season starts with three games at the BIG EAST/Big Ten Challenge, where the Illini will face Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and West Virginia. Pittsburgh was ranked No. 30 in Collegiate Baseball's preseason poll, while Eric Sorenson of College Baseball Today ranked Cincinnati and West Virginia among the nation's top 135 teams. The following weekend, Illinois travels to three-time reigning Atlantic Sun champion Florida Gulf Coast for a three-game series.
Then, the Illini head to Stetson's Bright House Invitational, where they'll face the host Hatters, Columbia and Central Michigan. CMU and Columbia also are in Sorenson's top 135. Illinois then travels to Western Kentucky for a three-game series with the Hilltoppers, who have reached the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three years, the next weekend.
The Illini will stay in state for their Spring Trip for the first time since 1986 when they travel to Carbondale, Ill., to face Northern Illinois, Saint Louis and host Southern Illinois in a tournament. Illinois also will square off with the Huskies at Rent One Park on Thursday, March 17, before the tournament gets underway the next morning.
The Orange and Blue then return home for a three-game series with Indiana State March 25-27 before heading to Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo., for the second-straight year of the "Battle at Busch" against Missouri on March 29. Illinois returns home to face Illinois State before opening Big Ten play at Penn State April 1-3.
Illinois then travels to Bradley on April 5 before hosting Iowa April 8-10. The Illini face Eastern Illinois at Peterson Park in Mattoon, Ill., on April 12 before hosting Southern Illinois the next day.
A three-game series at Michigan April 15-17 is next, followed by a visit to Illinois State on April 19. The Illini then return to Illinois Field for their longest home-stand of the season, a five-game stand, starting with Eastern Illinois on April 20. Michigan State then comes to Champaign April 22-24, and Illinois hosts Bradley on April 27.
The Illini head to Evanston, Ill., to face Northwestern in a three-game series April 29-May 1, before facing SIU at Rent One Park on May 3. Illinois hosts Ohio State May 6-8, visits Purdue May 13-15, and welcomes Indiana to Illinois Field in the final Big Ten series May 19-21. The Big Ten Tournament returns to Huntington Park, the home of the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, in Columbus, Ohio, from May 25-28.