There is very little question that this baseball season was an unmitigated success. Yes, it hurt to blow a 4-0 lead yesterday in the regional (even though we probably lose to North Carolina in the evening game anyway, as they beat Houston 19-11), but the year itself was far from disappointing. Purdue won 38 games, the second most in any single season. It reached the NCAA Tournament for only the third time ever. The 14-4 win over North Carolina A&T was only the second win in our NCAA history (now 2-6 in three appearances). For a team that was picked to finish 11th in the conference and was 10-44 just two years ago, it was an enormous step forward.
The last time Purdue made the NCAA baseball tournament it also went 1-2, beating 4-seed Valparaiso but losing to Kent State and Kentucky. That team had an incredible run to a program best 45-14, but it came at great cost. That season was a multi-year buildup to a Big Ten championship around a core group that had come close, but didn’t break through. A record seven players were drafted from that team, with Sean McHugh joining them two years later. Three of those players (Kevin Plawecki, Nick Wittgren, and Cameron Perkins) eventually made the Major Leagues, while other key contributors like Joe Haase, Tyler Spillner, Blake Mascarello, and David Miller were seniors.
In short, we basically lost everything. Our top two starters and top two relievers were gone. All but one position player was gone. We dropped form 45-14 to 17-34 in just one season. The good news is that the 2019 team shouldn’t drop off so much.
What We Lose
Tanner Andrews – Andrews will be the biggest loss, as he has anchored the top of the rotation the last two seasons. He won 15 games in the process and was excellent on Friday nights. He ended up throwing 188 innings in the last two seasons alone. Those are numbers you do not replace easily. As we saw in the Big Ten Tournament against Ohio State, when he is on, it is ground ball after ground ball.
Ross Learnard – Learnard was a two-time Third Team All-American, a rarity in West Lafayette for baseball. He established a new single season saves record with 15 and of the 13 earned runs he gave up, 10 were in either the 16-6 loss to Ohio State on May 13th or yesterday’s game against Houston. For the most part he was lights out for two years out of the bullpen. Those two bad outings accounted for 10 of the 16 earned runs he gave up in his two year career. He only gave up 6 earned runs in his other 54 appearances combined.
Alec Olund – Olund had the team’s best batting average at .336, but missed 16 games. He was still key to getting the back half of the lineup going.
Harry Shipley – Shipley batted only .288 in the leadoff spot, but earned 29 walks and was hit by pitches 20 times, so he was adept at getting on base. He had an OBP of .415 and stole 16 bases, all while turning 40 double plays at short.
Evan Kennedy – Kennedy platooned as the DH and batted a solid .254 with a home run and 15 RBI.
Cam Williams – Williams was a reliable bullpen arm with 15 appearances and a 2-2 record over 20 2/3 innings pitched.
The following guys either have their degree in hand already, but have some eligibility remaining, or they stand a decent shot of being drafted this week. If drafted, they can choose to return to school or they can take their chance and start playing pro almost immediately in short season A ball.
Mike Kornacker – Kornacker received his degree with the above six seniors, but he was a redshirt junior this year and has a year left. He has made 30 appearances and 14 starts in his career with a 2-5 record and a save, so he is a valuable type of player that can spot start or go in long relief.
Gareth Stroh – This will be a big one because everyone loves left handed pitching. Stroh has been 10-6 the last two years as a reliable No. 2 starter and has a save in his only career relief appearance. Should he return he is likely going to be Purdue’s top starter.
Jacson McGowan – He was Purdue’s top home run hitter and RBI man this season, batting .304 in the process with a team high .442 OBP. He stands to be the lynchpin of the offense if he returns.
Nick Dalesandro – An excellent defensive catcher that threw out 21 runners stealing, he also batted second and had an OBP of .400. He stole a team high 27 bases too. If Dalesandro and McGowan both return it greatly eases the offensive dropoff.
Those are 10 key contributors, six of which are definitely gone and the other four may or may not be gone. The good news is we do get quite a bit back:
Ryan Beard – He did not pitch in the regional, but he likely would have thrown against North Carolina had we held on to beat Houston. Beard was 5-3 in 11 starts as a JuCo transfer and will probably be in the weekend rotation next year.
Andrew Bohm – The redshirt freshman really pitched well late in the season and it is telling that Wazikowski gave him the ball for the second game against Houston with the season on the line. He gave 4 1/3 strong innings, and was 2-0 with a 4.50 ERA in 12 appearances, 5 of them starts. He will also be in the mix for the weekend rotation.
Trent Johnson – Johnson made the Big Ten all-freshman team and finished 3-1 with a 1.76 ERA in 18 appearances, 9 of them starts. He was also officially the winning pitcher against North Carolina A&T. He spent much of the Big Ten season as the No. 3 starter and will be a big factor in the rotation again.
Dalton Parker – Parker was last year’s closer with 6 saves and I would say he goes back into the role with Learnard gone. He finished this year 5-0 with a 3.21 ERA in 18 appearances while teams batted .190 against him.
Bo Hofstra – Hofstra was often the first man out of the bullpen with 28 appearances. He went 5-3 with a 3.61 ERA and a save as a freshman this year. He’ll be one of the most used arms out of the bullpen.
Trevor Cheaney – Cheaney often served as Learnard’s setup man. He led the team with 29 appearances and ended up throwing 40 innings in relief.
Skyler Hunter – The sophomore had a big year as the No. 3 hitter and was second on the team with a .333 average.
Ben Nisle – The freshman was named to the All-Regional team yesterday, the only Purdue player to earn such an honor. He set a freshman record with 7 home runs and locked down the 5th spot in the order. As long as Dalesandro and McGowan are back, Nisle and Hunter give Purdue the same 2-5 in the batting order.
Evan Warden – Warden was a gritty third baseman that was hit by 30 pitches a year ago. He will be back for his senior season and he performed well at the back of the lineup.
Tyler Powers – This freshman really came on late in the season and caused a lot of damage from the 9 spot in both the Big Ten Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.
Nick Evarts – Evarts often platooned at the DH spot, but batted .250.
Yes, college baseball has recruiting rankings, and coach Waz has Purdue at a respectable 42 nationally according to Perfect Game, up from 99 last year. Here is the full list of commits, but he has hit the state of Indiana hard. The only player I know anything about is Kokomo’s Kyle Wade. He quarterbacked their football team to its first state finals appearance ever, played basketball for three years, but helped the baseball team to a national preseason ranking. He is a solid addition as a righthanded pitcher.