Feb. 2, 2012

Nine Innings with Kash Kalkowski

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Purdue poised for championship season

By Phil Stanton

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

Phil@collegebaseballinsider.com @RoadToOmaha


Which Big Ten program has had the most conference wins over the past four seasons?


You might think Ohio State, Illinois, Minnesota, maybe Michigan or Indiana. It’s Purdue with 58.


But the Boilermakers have yet to win a title and earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament. It’s been a while for each at Purdue. Its only Regional appearance came in 1987, and its last Big Ten championship came more than 100 years ago, in 1909.


This could be the year that both streaks come to an end. Doug Schreiber (pictured above) hopes his 14th season as head coach of the Boilermakers brings a title to West Lafayette, Ind.


‘Last year we tied for third, but we were one win away,” Schreiber said. “We can look back and easily say there’s one play here or one play there and we’re Big Ten champs. But that’s about the third time since I’ve been coaching here that we’ve been one win away from winning the Big Ten so we have to find a way to get the job done.”


Schreiber will have a veteran group to work with, especially among the position players.


“From an offensive standpoint we’ve got every starter back,” Schreiber said. “You expect to make fewer mental mistakes, be a little bit more aggressive and be able to handle adversity a little bit better. We hope it will lead to some additional wins.”


Two of the biggest bats belong to a pair of juniors, third baseman Cameron Perkins (left) and catcher Kevin Plawecki.


After hitting .338 as a freshman with 17 doubles, eight homers and 34 RBI, Perkins followed that up by batting .349 a season ago with 15 doubles, eight homers and 53 RBI.


“I think he’s a very talented kid with a great baseball IQ,” Schreiber said. “He is a hitter. He’s very similar to Vladimir Guerrero in the fact that he’s a bad-ball hitter, he’s ultra aggressive. He’s a great eye-hand guy. He’s got some power being 6-5. He’s got above-average speed so he’s looking to steal some bases and run.”


Plawecki has been consistent during his collegiate career. He batted .343 as a freshman and .341 in 2011 with two homers and 39 RBI.


“My main focus has been having an approach going into every game, trying to get into a little routine,” Plawecki said. “My work with Coach [Jeff] Duncan over the past two years has really calmed me down a lot at the plate and given me a lot of confidence. And that’s the most important thing that a player needs is confidence.”


Incredibly, Plawecki (right) struck out just 11 times during his freshman season and only 10 times a year ago.


“I hate striking out more than anything.” Plawecki said. “I’d rather have a dribbler to the third baseman or the shortstop, actually make them make a play to get me out than swing and miss or watch a ball go right down the middle. I’d rather have the defense get me out instead of me getting myself out.”


It impresses his head coach as well.


“For a guy that hits in the middle of the order to strike out 10 times in over 250 plate appearances is really unheard of,” Schreiber said, “and still to hit in the mid-.300s is great.”


The Boilermakers batted .309 as a team last year, but used 229 walks and 108 hit batsmen to post an on-base percentage of .402 with just 281 strikeouts.


Other key returning bats include senior second baseman Eric Charles (.351, 17 2B, 3 HR, 39 RBI, 11-15 SB), senior centerfielder Tyler Spillner (.328, 17 2B, 4 HR, 33 RBI, 11-17 SB), senior utility player Barrett Serrato (.313, 12 2B, 2 HR, 42 RBI) and junior leftfielder Stephen Talbott (.301, 13 2B, 2 HR, 32 RBI, 17-17 SB).


Plawecki not only contributes at the plate but also behind the plate. The team ERA was 4.31 with 147 walks and 419 strikeouts in 503 innings. And opponents stole just 34 times in 51 attempts, with Plawecki throwing out 15 of 42.


“I work with the pitchers quite a bit,” Plawecki said. “I call my own game, so we have to be on the same page. I have a pretty good relationship with all the pitchers, and I think they have a pretty good relationship with me. They trust me, and I trust them. That’s where most of our success comes from; it’s just trusting one another.”


Schreiber knows how valuable it is to have Plawecki behind the plate.


“Defensively he’s one of the best catchers that I’ve had an opportunity to coach,” Schreiber said. “He catches the low ball, he blocks as well as anybody that I’ve ever had. Halfway through his freshman year I let him call all his pitches. He’s in tune with the pitchers. He knows hitting from his standpoint, from his viewpoint, and I think that helps him call the game.”


Purdue lost starter Matt Morgan to graduation. He went 6-2 in 13 starts with a 4.12 ERA. The Boilermakers will also be without junior Brad Schreiber, who will miss the 2012 season due to offseason elbow surgery. The right-hander was 4-0 in eight starts in 2011 with 50 strikeouts in 47.1 innings. Senior right-hander Joe Haase (6-4, 3.39) will anchor the rotation. Junior righty Nick Wittgren will return as the closer. He was 2-3 a season ago with 12 saves and a 3.18 ERA.


The schedule will be challenging as well. The first 20 games will be away from home, with contests against Connecticut, East Carolina, Auburn, Southern Miss and Missouri State.


A four-game series at Wichita State comes the weekend before the start of conference play. And during their Big Ten off-weekend in early May, the Boilermakers will play a three-game set at UCLA.


“We had some other teams scheduled early and they had to bow out due to changes in their conference scheduling,” Schreiber said. “I was able to schedule both of these teams late. Knowing the type of team that we had coming back, it was an easy decision for me to have an opportunity to play those types of teams. The UCLA trip is right at the end of our finals toward the end of our Big Ten season, but I think these guys will be able to handle it and are looking forward to the experience.”


Purdue is having a new stadium built on campus, Alexander Field. The Boilermakers had hoped to move in early in April, but construction of the $10.3 million project is behind schedule and might not be ready this spring. But it will be another boost for recruiting.


“It’s the book cover to your program,” Schreiber said. “The recruits are going to look at it and if it has a shiny gloss cover, they’re going to open the book and look inside a little more. We feel we do a good job of recruiting and selling the program. We have a great indoor facility. Our outdoor facility was outdated and way behind. So it’s going to help no doubt about it. But at the same time you have to make sure you get the right guys. It will give us an opportunity to look at a few more.”


So it could be that once that next championship and next regional appearance come, it could be the first of many for Purdue program.


(photos courtesy of Purdue Media Relations Office)