West Lafayette may have several inches of snow on the ground, but baseball is just around the corner. Purdue baseball kicks off the 2022 season next Friday in Sugar Land, Texas with a four game series against South Dakota State. It is expected to be the first “normal” season in three years after the 2020 season was cancelled after 14 games and last year was a Big Ten-only season due to COVID-19.
All of that means it is hard to gauge where the team is headed into 2022. Like in other sports, players are able to take advantage of another year of eligibility and come back. Purdue has a few of those as lineup stalwarts that were around in 2018 when the Boilers made the NCAA Tournament. There are also plenty of newcomers.
Expectations are not high, either. Purdue was 7-7 after a difficult slate of games in 2020. Last year the Boilers finished 16-26, 12th in the 13 team Big Ten ahead of only Minnesota, who had a dismal 6-31 campaign. Still, there is some returning talent. Let’s take a look at the top returnees.
Tyler Powers – INF – Powers is a fifth year senior that has been around a while and decided to use his COVID year to come back. He is coming off of a career year where he batted a team best .352. His bat is needed at the top of the lineup, as Purdue is definitely a small ball team that does not hit a lot of home runs. The Boilers hit just 26 as a team last year, and the top power generators in Miles Simington, Ben Nisle, and Zac Fascia (combined 15 HR) are gone.
Mike Bolton Jr. – OF – Bolton was a Third Team all-Big Ten selection last season and is expected to be a major contributor after batting .269. He’ll also be at the top of the lineup, and his speed is a major asset. He was 17 for 17 on stolen base attempts, so Purdue’s offense will rely on him getting on base and causing havoc.
Evan Albrecht – INF – Albrecht is a fourth year senior that is another long time contributor. He had a rough year batting only .180 last season, but in the abbreviated 2020 season he was at .364 with 14 RBI. If he can produce even remotely close to that over a full season it will help tremendously.
Ryan Howe – INF – Powers and Albrecht are expected to play up the middle, while Howe will likely start at third base. He batted .239 last season and even had one of those rare home runs that are all the rage. He is a fourth year guy with a lot of experience.
Cam Thompson – OF/1B – Thompson didn’t get many at bats last year with entrenched starters in his place, but he could take a big jump this season. He had just 56 at bats, but batted .214 with a pair of home runs and 14 RBI. On paper he projects as the main power hitter.
Jack Firestone – OF – Firestone’s brother recently agreed to come to Purdue as a preferred walk-on for football as a talented receiver. The baseball Firestone only had 25 at bats a season ago as a freshman, but has a lot of promise.
Curtis Washington Jr. – OF – A transfer in from Wabash Valley Junior College, Washington started his career at national power Arkansas, where he played two seasons and was a top pinch hitter. Last year he batted .412 with 46 stolen bases, so he projects as a top of the lineup guy.
Paul Toetz – INF – Toetz has switched sides in the rivalry, and that is a good thing for Purdue. Toetz was injured in 2020, but led the Big Ten in doubles last season with 18 and was a freshman All-American according to Collegiate Baseball. He played mostly second base for the Hoosiers.
Troy Viola – INF – Viola is a grad transfer from San Jose State, where he was an all-Mountain West Conference selection in the abbreviated 2020 season. He had a good summer season batting .327 in the Texas Summer League.
Pablo Lanzarote – C – Purdue needs a catcher, so it dipped into the JuCo ranks and picked up the Venezuelan from Hinds Community College. He played three years for the school in Raymond, Mississippi, batting an impressive .365 in 296 at bats. He was a two-time MVP and had 23 home runs, so he can also provide some much-needed power.
Overall the lineup should be interesting. Lanzarote and Thompson project as the power hitters, while Toetz will be a big bat with Big Ten experience as a transfer in. The early season schedule will give this lineup plenty of opportunity to gel, too. Unlike past seasons where Purdue has had some challenging road trips to start the year, Purdue has 16 games to start the year with mostly low major programs. This includes four games against Princeton, whose games against Purdue in the second weekend will be their first since going 0-7 in the abbreviated 2020 season.
The tools are there to get off to a hot start. Later this week I will take a look at the pitching situation.