Written by CBBSN Scout, Reagan Gropp
(Photo via the Nebraska Baseball website, Scott Bruhn)
The Big Ten has struggled to send a team to Omaha over the past few years, but with the conference tournament heading back to T.D. Ameritrade in 2018, we can rest easy knowing that the Big Ten will send eight there in May. One of the Big Ten teams heading into spring with high expectations is the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Huskers are coming off a solid 2017 campaign which saw a regular season conference championship brought back to Lincoln and granted the boys in red their second straight regional appearance. However, for the second straight year, the post-season results were disappointing.
The 2018 Nebraska squad will have to do without a major piece in Jake Meyers this year, who was a standout two-way star during the 2017 campaign. Although Meyers was one of the best hitters on the team when placed in the outfield, his impact will feel most lost this season because of what he did on the mound. The southpaw was able to provide reliable outings week in and week out, and led the team in innings pitched, putting up an ERA of 3.43 as a starter. The Huskers pitching staff will also lose a good starting right hander, Derek Burkamper, who was able to show out in fifteen starts, the most on the team. Jake Hohensee, who had many impressive performances as the Friday night starter 2017, will be moving to the bullpen this season. The right hander tossed 80 innings, spitting out a 4.39 ERA and was able to record 57 strikeouts featuring a dangerous fastball-changeup combination. With two starters gone and one going to the pen, Nebraska will need to have good production out of the young guys who are asked to fill the void.
To fill the Friday night role, the Cornhuskers plan to employ Luis Alvarado. The senior out of the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy is looking to follow up his impressive 2017 campaign in Lincoln as a part-time reliever, with a switch to the ace role. His low-to-mid-90’s fastball with good carry should aid him in the transition, but questions are still posed about how he will fare with a higher workload. Alvarado, once a solid outfield piece for the big red, will likely pitch full time in 2018. The rest of the rotation is still up for grabs, but we can best guess junior righty Matt Waldron to start some. Waldron had an admirable year in 2017 working out of the pen and starting occasionally, but he’ll need to cut down on the hits, as he recorded the second most hits per nine innings on the team last year. Matt Warren, a Creighton transfer, and senior right-handed pitcher, could earn starts as well. He was able to post an ERA under 3 at Creighton, and features a four-pitch mix including two breaking balls, a changeup, and a fastball with good movement.
By far the most exciting factor returning on offense is outfielder Scott Schreiber. The back-to-back All-Big Ten First Team selection chose to forego an opportunity at professional baseball to return for his senior season. Schreiber led the team in nearly every offensive category, but was left unsatisfied with the poor showing of the team in postseason competition. He’s lost around 25 pounds coming into 2018, in hopes that he’ll return to his power-hitting ways of 2016. This will be essential for the Huskers, who were one of the worst power-hitting teams in all of baseball in 2017.
Shortstop Angelo Altavilla will return for his junior year, coming off a scorching sophomore season that saw him hit for a .316 average, and showed off an impressive defensive skill set. Altavilla also may have the arm strength to cover some innings at third as well. The left side of the infield is filled out by sophomore Luke Roskam, who was able to hit for a good average as a freshman. He knocked four out of the stadium last season, but I look for that number to improve as he continues to improve at squaring up college pitching. I think he’s got hidden power in his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame, it’s just a matter of time until it shows up.
In the outfield, complimenting Schreiber, will be fan favorite and native son, Mojo Hagge. The walk-on standout from 2017 will return to his rightful spot in the outfield for his sophomore season looking to improve on a breakout campaign that sent the state of Nebraska in a frenzy. The left-handed hitter out of Omaha will want to cut down on the strikeouts and generate some gap power, but the future is bright for Mojo in Lincoln.
Jesse Wilkening will return at the catcher position, and they’ll look for him to improve his numbers offensively. Wilkening is a good receiver with solid defensive instincts, and he is very natural at the position. As a veteran, he’ll be looked on to lead the team from behind the plate.
Success will be determined for this Cornhusker squad by depth. If they can fill the pitching voids, and stay healthy, this is a team that could sneak up on college baseball come June. Will postseason failures haunt them, or drive them to reach that next level? Only time will tell.