The Michigan State Spartans will take the field for the first time this season today at 4 p.m. Seeing as it is mid February and baseball in Michigan would be no bueno, the Spartans are traveling to Texas for a four game series played over three days — a double header is scheduled for Saturday — against Abilene Christian.
Michigan State is coming off a year where they had the hottest start in school history, and ended up finishing with 36 wins on the year. They had a record of 13-11 in the conference and managed to get by Maryland in the 2016 Big Ten tournament before ultimately falling short against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Jake Boss enters his ninth year as the Spartan manager and is just 11 wins shy of getting his 300th win as a manager in college baseball.
Spartan baseball will look to start the season strong against Abilene Christian but before that it’s time to prepare fans for Michigan State’s upcoming series.
The Abilene Christian Wildcats
In 2016 the Wildcats finished the year with an overall record of 16-37, and finished 8-21 in conference play. For those who do not know, Abilene Christian plays in the 13 team Southland conference. In 2017, they have been given a less than desirable prediction as some analysts have picked the team to finish 12th in the conference.
The Wildcats do have some key starters returning that the Spartans will definitely need to keep an eye on throughout the series.
- Russell Crippen (Senior): Avg- .306, 56 hits, 15 doubles, 3 HR, 19 RBIs, SLG% .448
- Hunter Markwardt (Sophmore): Avg- .213, 34 hits, 4 doubles, 7 RBIs, 21 SB
- Aaron Draper (Senior): Avg- .253, 44 hits, 5 doubles, 1 HR, 16 RBIs, SLG% .299
- Mark Pearson (Sophmore): Avg- .258, 49 hits, 7 doubles, 8 RBIs, SLG% .295
Abilene Christian will gladly welcome in some productive pitching, Austin Lambright will be making his return to the team after missing last season with Tommy John surgery. While Brandon Lambright (yes he is Austin’s brother) will be in competition to become the teams closer.
In every collegiate sport recruiting is a huge deal and that is what the Wildcats did here as they went out and added a much needed catcher in Luis Trevino. He will most likely be the starter from day one as the only other catchers on the team are freshmen.
Let’s shift gears here and get to know your Spartans.
Michigan State Spartans
The Spartans have six returning starters back from the 2016 season which should pay huge dividends in 2017. After coming extremely close to being in the finals of the Big Ten Tournament the returning starters intend to finish the job this time around.
Beginning with the players who returned for another year of Spartan baseball we have Matt Byars, the senior catcher for Michigan State. Behind the plate he threw out 12 runners and his numbers at the plate weren’t bad either, where he posted a .284 batting average, 58 hits, 16 doubles, and 26 RBIs.
Matt was drafted in the 24th round by the Minnesota Twins in the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft, but chose to Michigan State for his final season (other Spartans drafted in the same year feature Cam Vieaux, Jordan Zimmerman, and Dakota Mekkes).
The Spartans also return Dan Durkin — who was first-team All-Big Ten in 2016 — who led all Big Ten second basemen with a .324 batting average, 67 hits, 9 doubles, 32 RBIs, and a slugging percentage of .454.
Michigan State’s pitching staff and rotation aren’t bad either. Ethan Landon will most likely be the ace of the team with Vieaux gone. In 2016, Landon posted a 2.75 ERA, 8 wins, 85.0 innings pitched, and 59 strikeouts.
Ethan may be the ace but the Spartans also have Alex Troop, who could develop a solid number two for Michigan State. Prior to a season-ending hand injury last year, he posted a 3-0 record, 14 strikeouts, and a 1.64 ERA. Troop isn’t limited to his pitching abilities, as a RS Freshman in 2016 he ended his season with a .372 batting average, 16 hits, and 13 RBIs.
Other key players Spartan fans should keep an eye include:
- Dan Chmielewski (RS SO): Avg- .308, 20 hits, 3 doubles, 5 RBIs, SLG% .354 (*only played in 23 of 56 games as a RS Freshman, but productive at the plate*)
- Brandon Hughes (Junior): Avg- .303, 63 hits, 11 doubles, 31 RBIs, SLG% .404
- Marty Bechina (Sophmore): Avg- .260, 56 hits, 11 doubles, 23 RBIs, SLG% .340
In 2016, Michigan State was a good baseball team that came up two wins shy of 38, which would have been the most wins ever by a Jake Boss led team.
The six returning starters will make this team even better in 2017. Their rotation may be deeper than it’s ever been and the lineup will turn out to be one of the most reliable squads the Big Ten has to offer.
The experience and talent of Michigan State will ultimately be too much for a Abilene Christian team that finished 16-37 in 2016, which is why I have Michigan State winning this series 3-1, the one loss coming from a doubleheader.