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Illinois players make list of top MLB prospects

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Illinois players make list of top MLB prospects

Illinois second baseman Michael Massey throws the ball to first for a double play during the exhibition game against Indiana State at Illinois Field on Sept. 22. The Illini tied 5-5. Massey was placed in the top-10 Big Ten Division I MLB Prospect list with several other Illini players.

Illinois second baseman Michael Massey throws the ball to first for a double play during the exhibition game against Indiana State at Illinois Field on Sept. 22. The Illini tied 5-5. Massey was placed in the top-10 Big Ten Division I MLB Prospect list with several other Illini players.

Illinois second baseman Michael Massey throws the ball to first for a double play during the exhibition game against Indiana State at Illinois Field on Sept. 22. The Illini tied 5-5. Massey was placed in the top-10 Big Ten Division I MLB Prospect list with several other Illini players.

Illinois second baseman Michael Massey throws the ball to first for a double play during the exhibition game against Indiana State at Illinois Field on Sept. 22. The Illini tied 5-5. Massey was placed in the top-10 Big Ten Division I MLB Prospect list with several other Illini players.

By Meghan Rest, Assistant sports editor

Big Ten predictions, off-season rankings

Illinois is projected to finish fourth behind Michigan, Minnesota and Indiana respectively in the Big Ten according to D1Baseball.com’s preseason rankings.

The site also projected junior second baseman Michael Massey and junior right-handed pitcher Cyrillo Watson in the top-10 on 2019’s top Division I MLB Draft Prospects list in the Big Ten. The same list, which only includes juniors and seniors, also ranks junior shortstop Ben Troike at No. 12 and senior outfielders Zac Taylor and Jack Yalowitz at No. 33 and No. 40 respectively.

Freshmen Jacob Campbell, Aidan Maldonado and Branden Comia make up D1Baseball.com’s fourth, fifth and sixth spots, respectively, on the list of impact freshmen. Freshman right-handed pitcher Caleb Larson also made the list at No. 25.

The Illini also received a No. 34 national ranking from the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Preseason Top 40. On top of that, the CBN Preseason All-American list featured seven Illini, including Massey, Yalowitz, Troike, Taylor, senior third baseman Grant Van Scoy, and DH Michael Michalak.

2019 practice begins

The Illini began regular-season practice on Jan. 26, kick-starting the program’s 140th season.

After finishing last season fourth in the Big Ten and reaching the conference tournament semifinals, the Illini are returning a majority of the 2018 roster that went 15-9 in the Big Ten and 33-20 overall.

According to fightingillini.com, Illinois returns “97 percent of its pitching wins, 98 percent of its pitching starts, 91 percent of its innings pitched, 75 percent of its hits, 69 percent of its runs and 48 percent of its home runs from last year.”

Those statistics are encouraging, especially given the Illini narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament in 2018. After being eliminated by Purdue in the Big Ten tournament, Illinois may have missed out on a trip to Omaha, but the season was still notable.

The Illini had a 5-4 against the RPI top 30, were 7-7 against the RPI top 50, 13-13 against the RPI top 100, had a No. 2-ranked overall strength of schedule among Big Ten Tournament teams and went 22-14 against teams from the top six conferences or regional hosts, per fightingillini.com.

Bren Spillane update with the Reds

Last year, Illini junior right fielder and National Player of the Year Bren Spillane was drafted in the third round of the MLB Draft, with the 82nd overall pick, by the Cincinnati Reds at a $716,000 value.

Since then, Spillane has played for the Billings Mustangs, the Reds rookie-ball affiliate. In 2018 with Illinois, he notched 22 RBIs, nine doubles, three triples and five home runs in 148 at-bats over 48 games. Spillane is hitting .236 in his first minor league season. However, Spillane was not invited to 2019 Spring Training.

@meghan_rest

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