|Photo from SpartanNation.com via MSU SID|
Easton Baseball released their predictions for each of the major collegiate baseball conferences and has Michigan State repeating as the Big Ten champions in 2012. The Spartans took control of the Big Ten last season and won their first conference title since 1979.
2011 saw Michigan State win more than 30 games for the second year in a row and maintain the highest batting average in the Big Ten (.318). Despite losing several players to the MLB draft the Spartans are returning seven starters, four of which posted batting averages of .300+.
The bad news for Michigan State is that they lost Brandon Eckerle, who hit .379 last season, Jeff Holm a .376 hitter and ace-pitcher Kurt Wunderlich who went 10-2 with a 3.19 ERA. With their top two hitters having left the banks of the Red Cedar the Spartans will look to players like Torsten Boss, .370 in 2011, and Ryan Jones, .344, to pick up the slack and propel them back to the championship.
Michigan State could have fielded an all "Gold Glove" team in 2011 with a .976 fielding percentage. The Spartans will again field Boss at 3B, Justin Scanlon at SS, Jones at 2B and the nearly perfect Joel Fisher. Behind the plate Fisher was only credited with one error during the 2011 season and will be managing an experienced pitching rotation.
The pitching rotation is highlighted by Tony Bucciferro (8-3, 3.38 ERA), Andrew Waszak (4-3, 4.79 ERA) and David Garner (5-4, 4.62 ERA). The top Spartan pitchers will need to maintain their output from last season in order to give their team a chance to get back to the Big Ten title game and beat Illinois for the outright Big Ten title.
Top Spartan relievers Tony Wieber (5-0, 3.64 ERA, 8 SV) and Bryce Jenney (0-1, 4.58 ERA, 5 SV) are returning and will be joined by a solid group of incoming players that will fortify the bullpen for Coach Jake Boss.
The highlights of Coach Boss' recruiting class are C Blaise Salter, 1B Ryan Krill, OF Jeremy Pickens and RHP Mick Van Vossen. All four were drafted, Slater, Krill and Pickens by the Detroit Tigers and Van Vossen by the Texas Rangers but decided to head to East Lansing instead of the minors.
This season could prove whether or not Michigan State was a fluke last year or if Coach Boss is truly building something special in East Lansing. With the amount of skill the Spartans possess, they should have no trouble reaching 30 wins once again, but it will take special effort by several players to get Michigan State back to where they were last season.