Indiana named Big Ten preseason favorite

Defending champion Indiana was unanimously named conference favorite in the preseason Big Ten baseball poll. The Hoosiers were followed in the poll by No. 2 Nebraska, No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan State. Illinois and Michigan were picked fifth. Also, catcher Kyle Schwarber, first baseman Sam Travis and third baseman Dustin DeMuth were named Players to Watch. The release from IU follows.

ROSEMONT, Ill. – Indiana was the unanimous choice by the conference coaches as the preseason favorite to claim the Big Ten Championship, it was announced on Wednesday. The conference’s coaches voted on the top six teams. The Hoosiers were followed in the preseason poll by No. 2 Nebraska, No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan State, with Illinois and Michigan tied for fifth.

The Hoosiers return seven of their nine All-Big Ten honorees from last year’s College World Series squad, including third baseman Dustin DeMuth, catcher Kyle Schwarber and first baseman Sam Travis, who were named Big Ten Players to Watch. The trio each earned Preseason All-America accolades from various outlets, with Schwarber being a unanimous pick from Baseball America, College Baseball Newspaper and the National College Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA).

Nebraska was picked to finish second after advancing to the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game last season. Starting pitcher Aaron Bummer, second baseman Pat Kelly and outfielder/designated hitter Michael Pritchard were named Big Ten Players to Watch. Kelly was a 2013 All-Big Ten first-team pick and Pritchard was a second-team choice.

Ohio State welcomes back 13 letterwinners from last season, while also getting back Big Ten Player to Watch choice Josh Dezse, who missed last season due to injury. Other Players to Watch for the Buckeyes include Preseason All-America reliever Trace Dempsey, who was named to the NCBWA Preseason Stopper of the Year Watch List, and outfielder Patrick Porter.

Michigan State is coming off its fourth straight 30-win season after earning 33 victories last season. Outfielder Jimmy Pickens, who was a second-team All-Conference choice a year ago, outfielder Cam Gibson, who earned a spot on the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team, and pitcher Justin Alleman were tabbed Big Ten Players to Watch.

Illinois advanced to NCAA Tournament play a season ago, finishing the year with 35 victories. Starting pitcher Kevin Duchene, a 2013 All-Conference second-team pick, and reliever Ronnie Muck are two of the Illini’s 15 returning pitchers, while first baseman David Kerian was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2013. The three were named Players to Watch.

Michigan was part of the Big Ten Tournament field in 2013 and returns six of its eight position players from last year’s team. Each of the Wolverines three Big Ten Players to Watch this season, infielder/reliever Jacob Cronenworth, starting pitcher Evan Hill and shortstop Travis Maezes, were named to the Big Ten’s All-Freshman Team a season ago.

1. Indiana
2. Nebraska
3. Ohio State
4. Michigan State
T-5. Illinois
T-5. Michigan