It hasn't been 24 hours since the greatest season in Purdue baseball history ended. As I said last night, however, the key for the program going forward is to not have this be the pinnacle. Instead, it needs to be a springboard to something bigger. Even with the likely loss of 17 players, there is plenty of hope for the future that Purdue can at least stay in the top six in the Big Ten.
Staying in the top six is critical because it means you reach the Big Ten Tournament and have a legitimate shot at postseason play. Purdue currently has the longest active streak in the conference of reaching the tournament. Next year teams like Indiana, Ohio State, and Nebraska will still be very good and challenge for our title. That said, here is what we have coming back:
Brad Schreiber (Career: 6-1, 3.77 ERA, 2 saves, 70 K's in 25 appearances)
Robert Ramer (Career: 13-1, 3.70 ERA, 1 save, 70 K's in 35 appearances)
Connor Podkul (Career: 2-3, 4.84 ERA, 28 K's in 12 appearances)
The starting pitching will likely be the strength of our team next season. Schreiber was supposed to be the No. 1 guy this year before arm surgery sidelined him for the season. Joe Haase stepped in and was dominant as a No. 1, as Purdue was 15-1 in games started by Haase. Those are big shoes to fill, but if Schreiber comes back at 100% he can fill them.
Ramer should move from the weekday starter into the weekend rotation. In fact, he did in the postseason. Ramer threw very well in getting a no decision in the Big Ten championship game. Yesterday he was cruising before the huge error in center field unraveled everything in the fourth. If that error doesn't happen who knows what happens yesterday. Instead, Ramer got his first career loss.
Podkul was a freshman that got roughed up a little this season, but he started nine games and was the No. 3 guy for most of the Big Ten season. That will pay off in the long run. Gaglianese started one game as a freshman this year, while Gannon made nine relief appearances with a 1.35 ERA. He started three games in 2010 as a freshman, so he might be an option in the midweek.
Nick Wittgren (Career: 5-3, 2.54 ERA, 22 saves, 94 K's in 92 IP)
Brett Andrzejewski (Career: 1-0, 4.72 ERA in 13 appearances)
Jack DeAno (Career: 2-1, 4.02 ERA in 10 appearances)
Joe Eichmann (Career: 0-0, 0.00 ERA in four appearances)
The big question mark here is Wittgren, who is probably a 50/50 chance at being gone depending on where he is drafted. If he does return for his senior season Purdue will have a key stopper at the end of games and suddenly everyone else will be better. The graduation of Blake Mascarello, who was 8-1 out of the pen with a sub-2 ERA is a big loss, but DeAno pitched well in place of Lance Breedlove on Saturday. Eichmann was a freshman that was used sparingly, but was effective. Andrzejewski was pretty solid as well.
This is a group that will likely be supplemented by some freshmen that come in. Losing 14 players means that freshmen will have to be ready from day one. And before you ask, I have no idea what our baseball recruiting looks like. Here is a list of commits per Perfect Game.
Stephen Talbott (Career: .322, 5 HR, 57 RBI)
Kevin Plawecki (Career: .348, 17 HR, 139 RBI)
Cameron Perkins (Career: .348, 25 HR, 148 RBI)
Angelo Cianfrocco (Career: .265, 6 HR, 57 RBI)
Sean McHugh (Career: .286, 5 HR, 30 RBI)
Before we get too excited, Plawecki is almost certainly gone as the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year. He is very likely going to get drafted in the first 2-3 rounds, which means he's gone. Honestly, I don't blame him for going either. He has nothing left to prove at this level. Perkins has said he is returning, but he also could go as a very high draft selection. Both are top 250 prospects on most draft boards, and that means first six rounds in a 50 round draft. It would not surprise me if Perkins left, and it would shock me if Plawecki returned.
The way the MLB Draft works is this: You can be drafted as a high schooler, but if you choose to go to college instead you must wait until after your junior season or until you're 21. You can then be drafted again and choose to take that position or return. Plawecki, Wittgren, and Perkins are in this boat. I'd rate it a 99% chance that Plawecki is gone, 60% that Perkins gets drafted high enough to go, and 50% on Wittgren. Obviously, what happens with them will have a huge impact on next year.
Talbott gives us a quality outfielder and Cianfrocco is a first baseman that can pitch if needed. McHugh will likely slide from DH into the every day catcher's spot for Plawecki, but we cannot underestimate the defensive loss of Plawecki, who was calling games for his pitchers behind the plate. Part of the reason are pitching staff was so good this year was because of Plawecki.
If Perkins returns third base is set. Krieg started two games, including the Valpo game when Eric Charles was suspended, so the freshman will likely slide into Charles' spot at second. Jake Hansen, a junior this past year that played sparingly, will likely move into the open spot at short in place of David Miller. He's a career .250 hitter with 40 ABs.
Oliver is a utility infielder that got 22 at bats as a freshman this year and hit .227. Upp is another freshman that can likely play third base is Perkins is gone. The infield looks set, but the outfield, other than Talbott, is up in the air. The only returning players we have listed as outfielders are DeAno, Cianfrocco, Kyle Wood, and Talbott. This is where a freshman or two will have to emerge. Jack Amaro, Kyle Johnson, and Karson Bender are listed as committed outfielders.
Obviously, this is very much up in the air. We know we're getting three Big East games to start the year in the Tampa area. We know that the likely Big Ten home opponents will be Ohio State, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Iowa with road series against Michigan, Michigan State, Illinois, and Penn State (a reverse of this year). Other than that, who knows.
If this program is going to continue moving forward it has to schedule aggressively just as it did this year. I keep pushing the idea of the Big Ten/Pac-12 in season challenge where the teams on respective byes from conference play each week play each other in a two year home and home three game series. That would mean UCLA could return our trip out there this season by coming to Alexander Field for a marquee series. That raises the profile of the conference as a whole, which is needed.
The reason Purdue was in a position to host came from it building a stellar RPI against an aggressive schedule Next year the true-road win RPI boost goes into effect. That can only help us as we'll likely play the first 15-20 games away from home and we might only have 20 games total at home.
Clearly, there is something to build on, but it will likely be a stretch to expect another 45 win season. Still, with luck, Purdue can stay at the top of the Big Ten thanks to what should be a solid pitching staff. A return to the NCAAs would be a very nice bonus. I trust coach Schreiber, who is building a solid team that is competitive year after year. As long as he is around I trust it won't be another 25 years before we reach the NCAAs and 103 before we win the Big Ten again.