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U of I baseball ready to take the field

It’s been a long winter and while Major League pitchers and catchers are beginning to report to spring training, Illinois is just about ready to start their college baseball season. Opening day is February 15 when they travel to Cookesville, Tennessee to play the first of three games against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles. The location is a little bit of a change; normally the first games of the season are played in the Deep South or in Texas.  Given the mild weather we’ve been having, they should be able to get the games in. 

Here in Central Illinois, even in the cold weather, the players have been getting ready.  They have been using the Irwin Indoor Practice Facility to get their swings in.  In fact, both Coach Dan Hartleb and Jordan Parr took timeout from their practice at Irwin to give interviews to Illini Productions.  You can see both interviews of Hartleb and Parr on YouTube. 

For my initial 2013 article, I’ll take a quick preview of the Illini roster and a summary of the 2013 Illinois Baseball schedule. 

2013 Roster Preview

The Illinois Baseball team will be looking to improve on last year’s 11-13 Big Ten record.  Though they tied for sixth place in 2012, an obscure conference tie-breaking rule kept them at home. This year, I’m sure they’re hoping to participate in the Tournament rather than watch from home. 

The 2013 team is quite young. Last I looked, only ten players on the entire roster were upperclassmen. Take a look at the roster for yourself. That bodes well for the future in my opinion.  The good news is that as young as the team is, they still didn’t lose too many impact position players from last year. There is one big exception, of course.  Willie Argo graduated and went on the Tampa Bay Rays minor league organization. 

You will see a pretty experienced crew in the outfield. From left to right, we’ll find veterans Jordan Parr, Justin Parr and Davis Hendrickson. Jordan Parr is making the move to the outfield from first base while Third team All-Big Ten selection Justin Parr is inching over from left to center. 

On the hot corner, we’ll find slugger Brandon Hohl who tied for the team lead in homers with 8.  Thomas Lindauer and Reid Roper will return at short and second respectively.  By the way, the Lindauer and Roper keystone combination turned 69 double plays in 2012 which was second in the entire nation. 

Of all the positions, first base and catcher seem to be the biggest question marks.  That’s not to say there isn’t talent at either position rather there isn’t a fixed starter yet.  Indeed at catcher, both Kelly Norris-Jones and Alex Lincoln are quite capable of handing the Illini pitching staff. Don’t forget freshman Jason Goldstein either. He comes highly touted and could see some time, too.

First base is even more in flux. With Parr’s move to the garden, the position is wide open. The most viable candidates are David Kerian and Ryan Nagle. 

You won’t see too much change in the Friday and Saturday starting pitching slots.  Yankee draftee Kevin Johnson will be returning and will most likely take on the Friday slot. Johnson, by the way, already has the Illini record for innings in conference play with 153 2/3.  It helps that he’s pitched every one of his possible 24 starts. The Saturday slot will go to John Kravetz. A sophomore, Kravetz broke the freshman record for wins last year, going 8-3. The final spot in the rotation is up to few qualified arms on the Illini squad.  Those on the short list are Robby McDonnell (who missed most of 2012 due to injury), and freshman Kevin Duchene and Nick Blackburn. 

Reid Roper will continue to see double duty as he will see time as the Illini closer in addition to his role as the secondbaseman.  Ronnie Muck will play a key role as set-up man.  Others who will be vital out of pen will be Anthony Milazzo, Drasen Johnson, Josh Ferry and Luke Joyce. 

A big question is what role Bryan Roberts will play. Roberts has been a solid pitcher but has been injured for over a year. He could be a dark horse who might prove to be valuable come Big Ten season. 

A look at the 2013 schedule

The Illini Baseball program is touting this year’s schedule as “competitive”. As well they probably should. The Illini will be playing fourteen games against NCAA tournament teams including three against Baylor who made the super regional. Hopes are high that this will put the team in the spotlight and boost their all-important RPI. 

The Illini have been invited to two tournaments in 2013.  On February 21-24, they will participate in the Keith LeClair Classic in Greenville, North Carolina. One week later on March 1, they will play another four game set at the UTA Hilton Invitational in Arlington, Texas. 

March 22nd will be a big day for the Illini. That marks both the Illini home opener and the day the Big Ten conference season begins. They’ll be taking on the Nebraska Cornhuskers and welcoming them into the Big Ten. 

This year’s annual Battle at Busch occurs on April 2nd when Illinois travel to Busch Stadium in St. Louis to play Missouri. Speaking of playing at MLB stadiums, the venue for the 2013 Big Ten Baseball Tournament has changed. This year’s tourney will take place at the Minnesota Twins’ stadium, Target Field. I’m sure that’s not lost on the players; it’s a nice incentive to play at pro ball venue. 

You can find the Illini schedule here at the website.

Some quick news hits

Go Illini!  

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