Jan. 25, 2004

(Note: with the 2004 ND baseball media guide off to the presses, the countdown to opening day can resume full swing, with the Irish set to face San Diego State in less than a month. Today’s feature provides a look at Notre Dame’s 2004 opponents and Baseball America’s annual comprehensive ratings of college baseball).

A glance through Baseball America’s annual college preview issue shows many accolades for the Notre Dame baseball program while highlighting the many challenging opponents that await the Irish in 2004.

BA picked the Irish to win their fifth BIG EAST regular-season title, with senior second baseman Steve Sollmann, junior first baseman Matt Edwards, sophomore outfielder Cody Rizzo and junior righthander Chris Niesel each named to BA’s preseason all-BIG EAST team (Sollmann was projected as the player of the year).

BA’s list of the league’s top-10 prospects include three ND juniors: RHP Grant Johnson (2nd), 3B/SS Matt Macri (4th) and Niesel (5th). Macri also was rated as the nation’s #41 prospect among true juniors. Johnson has two years of eligibility left and was slotted by BA as the #12 prospect for the ’05 draft, along with current sophomores/second-year juniors (an earlier Oct. ’03 projection by BA had him rated as college baseball’s No. 24 draft-eligible prospect for the ’04 draft, with Macri 33rd, Niesel 39th and junior RHP John Axford 44th, prior to his season-ending elbow surgery). Macri is the fourth 2B, SS or 3B on the junior prospects list, behind Georgia Tech 2B Eric Patterson, Clemson 3B Brad McCann and Arizona State SS Dustin Pedroia.

Notre Dame second baseman Steve Sollmann is 12th on BA’s list of the top senior prospects while sophomore righthander Ryan Doherty is 47th on BA’s list of the nation’s top sophomore prospects (he is the 20th pitcher and 15th RHP on that list) while freshman RHP Jeff Manship is the nation’s No. 3-rated freshman prospect, UNC lefthander Andrew Miller and Southern California RHP/OF Ian Kennedy. Another Irish RHP – Derik Olvey – checks in at #22 on the freshman prospects list, with ND joining UNC (1/9) and Tulane (16/24) as the only schools with multiple players among the top 25 on that list. Manship and Olvey were rated 1-2 among BA’s list of the BIG EAST’s top five newcomers.

BA’s list of “top tools” among BIG EAST players includes Sollmann as the league’s “best baserunner” and “best defensive 2B” while Macri is cited as the “best defensive 3B” and “best infield arm.”

The BIG EAST was listed seventh among BA’s rankings of the nation’s top conferences, behind the SEC, ACC, Pac-10, Big 12, C-USA and Big West. The BIG EAST also owned the seventh-most alumni currently in the Major Leagues (19) on BA’s top conferences chart.

Here’s a look at how BA rates Notre Dame’s 2004 opponents (national ratings for “top tools” and other categories have yet to be released but will be added to this information at a later date):

USC Classic (Feb. 20-22)

San Diego State (29-32 in ’03, 2nd in Mountain West at 18-12; return 15 of 26 letterwinners) – picked to finish 2nd in MWC, behind UNLV … former ASU righthander Ryan Schroyer is dubbed the nation’s top transfer (also MWC’s top overall newcomer and #2 prospect) … predicted all-conference picks include Schroyer (nation’s #5 senior prospect), C Jordan Swayden and OF Jake McClintlock … 3B Chad Corona rated MWC’s #3 prospect and nation’s #32 senior prospect (also “best raw power in MWC”) … SS James Guerrero is MWC’s #7 prospect, RHPs Scott Shoemaker (#3) and Brett Douglas (#3) are among the top newcomers and Rielly Embrey is rated the “best defensive 1B” … Aztecs hoping to a “return to form” from McClintlock and Corona in ’04.

USC (28-28 in ’03, 5th in Pac-10 at 11-13; return 15 of 27 LWs) – picked 28th in BA preseason top 50 (5th in Pac-10) … predicted all-conference picks include C Jeff Clement (2nd team AA, nation’s #5 sophomore prospect, Pac-10’s #2 prospect for ’05 draft and “best raw power,” played with Team USA in ’03), 1B Joey Metropoulos (3rd team AA, nation’s #45 junior prospect, #7 in Pac-10) and RHP Ian Kennedy (projected Pac-10 rookie of the year, top newcomer, rated nation’s #2 freshman prospect) … OF Daniel Perales is listed 49th among top freshman prospects.

Louisville (34-23 in ’03, 7th in C-USA at 14-15, 2-2 at C-USA Tour.; return 19 of 27 LWs) – future BIG EAST team is picked 7th in C-USA … senior OF Mark Jurich, son of the Louisville AD and a teammate of ND’s Grant Johnson on the 2002 Team USA squad, is projected for all-conference honors in ’04 (also dubbed “best baserunner” and nation’s #11 senior prospect) … RHP Travis Ingle (Oklahoma State) is rated nation’s #3 transfer …Ron Braun is the league’s top returning hitter (.363, 7 HR, 41 RBI).

Florida Atlantic Classic (Feb. 27-29)

Winthrop (35-22 in ’03; 1st in Big South at 15-4, 1-2 at BS Tour.; return 20 of 24 LWs) – picked to finish 2nd in Big South behind Coastal Carolina … predicted all-conference players include 2B Matt Matkovich, 3B David Skogin and OF Daniel Carte (#3 prospect, best pure hitter) … C Chris Leroux (Big South’s #6 prospect, best catcher’s arm) also is slated to be the team’s closer … team returns all of its regulars and is a proven fielding team, with 1B Bennett Stapf, 2B Matkovich and SS Matt Repec each rated the Big South’s top defensive players at their positions (Carte was cited for “best OF arm”) … Matkovich led the league in ’03 with a .377 batting avg. (8 HR, 34 RBI) while Carte (.340, 13 HR, 53 RBI) was the BIG South HR leader and MVP of Great Lakes League in the summer of ’03.

FAU (47-16 in ’03, 1st in Atlantic Sun at 25-7, 1-2 at NCAA Miami Reg.; return 15 of 25 LWs) – picked to repeat as A-Sun champs (#23 in BA preseason poll) … all-conference picks include 1B Derek Brown, 3B Jeff Fiorentino (player of year, #1 prospect, “best pure hitter”), OF Rob Horst and LHP Randy Beam (pitcher of year, 1st team AA, nation’s #50 senior prospect) …four FAU players – C Robbie Orton, 1B Brown, 2B Derek Hutton and SS Evan Brannon – each were cited as the Big South’s best defensive players at their positions …RHP Mike Crotta is predicted to be rookie of the year (#2 newcomer, nation’s #13 freshman prospect) … Fiorentino (league’s top hitter in ’03, at .382 with 15 HR, 49 RBI) and Brown provide big bats in middle of lineup, Beam (top pitcher at 2.39, 13-1) noted for Crafty approach and stellar control (17 BB in 102 IP in ’03) … FAU is leaving for the Sun Belt after ’04.

Minnesota (40-22 in ’03, 1st in Big Ten at 24-6, 1-2 at NCAA Long Beach reg.; return 17 of 24 LWs) – checked in at 30th in BA preseason top 50, picked to win fourth Big Ten regular-season title in last five years … projected all-conference players include LHP Glen Perkins (best fastball, best control, #2 prospect, nation’s #24 sophomore prospect), 1B Andy Hunter, 3B David Hrncirik (“best defensive 3B”) and OF Sam Steidl (“best pure hitter” and “best defensive OF”) … the Gophers have welcomed three of Big Ten’s top newcomers: OF Sean Kommerstad (2nd), RHP Josh Oslin (3rd) and LHP John Gaub (4th).

Alamo City Irish Baseball Classic (March 6-9)

Southern Illinois (30-25 in ’03, 3rd in MVC at 17-13, 3-2 at MVC Tour.; 17 of 21 LWs returning) – picked to finish 2nd I MVC, behind Wichita State … projected all-MC players include 1B Logan Sorenson and 2B Greg Andrews (“best def 2B”) … P.J. Finigan is rated the MVC’s “best defensive SS” … teams also will play at SIU on March 20-21.

Texas-San Antonio (29-27 in ’03, 6th in Southland at 12-15; 14 of 25 LWs returning) – picked to finish 8th in Southland.

Penn State (29-28 in ’03, 3rd in Big Ten at 17-15, 3rd at Big Ten Tour.; 19 of 26 LWs returning) – picked to finish 5th in Big Ten … RHP Clay Hamilton is league’s #7 prospect, Matt Harter “best catchers arm” … ND and PSU also will meet in Round on March 11.

Round Rock Classic (March 11-14)

Arizona (35-23 in ’03, 4th in Pac-10 at 13-11, 0-2 at NCAA Fullerton Reg.; return 18 of 28 LWs) – 16th in preseason poll, picked to finish 2nd in Pac-10 behind Stanford … 3B Brad Boyer (“fastest runner” and “best defensive 3B”) is projected for all-Pac-10 honors while OF Jeff Van Houten (won ’03 Pac-10 batting title at .413, 11 HR, 72 RBI, then was Valley league MVP after batting .391 in summer of ’03) is touted as a 1st team All-American … SS Jason Donald is rated league’s #3 newcomer and nation’s #12 freshman prospect (OF D.J. Lewis is 42nd) … OF Trevor Crowe (16th) and #35 C Nick Hundley (35th) are rated among the nation’s top sophomore prospects … UA ranked 9th in the nation in runs and 2nd in SBs in ’03 but could feature an entirely new pitching rotation in ’04.

Texas Tech (30-25 in ’03, 9th in Big 12 at 8-19; return 14 of 21 LWs) – picked to finish 7th in B-12 … Cody Fuller cited as league’s “fastest runner.”

Illinois (27-26 in ’03, 8th in Big Ten at 12-19; return 14 of 23 LWs) – picked to finish 4th in Big Ten … OF Drew Davison projected as all-conference player, C Chris Robinson #8 prospect, Eric Eymann “best defensive SS.”

Home Opener – Central Michigan (3/23; 25-28 in ’03, 9-15 in MAC West) – picked to finish 4th in MAC West … LHP Jayson Ruhlman is rated league’s #5 prospect.

Detroit (3/24; 15-32, 6th in Horizon at 8-12, 0-1 at Horizon Tour.; return 14 of 22 LWs) – picked to finish 7th in Horizon League.

West Virginia (3/27-28; 36-19, 2nd in BE at 18-6, 1-2 in BET; 16 of 23 LWs returning) – picked to finish 4th in BE … projected all-conference players include DH Kurtis Clinton (led BE with 13 HRs in ’03) and LHP Zac Cline (#6 prospect, “best control,” led league in ’03 with 12 wins, 101 Ks, 10 CG) … SS Grant Psomas is rated the BE’s #9 prospect, OF Tim Edmeads the #5 newcomer.

Western Michigan (3/31; 25-26 in ’03, 4th in MAC West at 16-12; return 10 of 17 LWs) – picked to finish 5th in Mac West … SS Adam Rosales is league’s #10 prospect … Fred Decker, dean of MAC coaches, is set to retire after the ’04 season (his 29th).

Villanova (4/3-4; 14-32 in ’03, 8th in BE at 12-13; 16 of 28 LWs returning) – Picked to finish 10th in BE … RHP Kevin Mulvey is rated league’s #4 newcomer

Chicago State (4/6; 10-46 in ’03, 6th in Mid-Con. at 4-16; return 15 of 26 LWs) – picked to finish 7th in Mid-Con.

Valparaiso (4/7; 23-32-1 in ’03, 4th in Mid-Con at 10-10, 3rd at MC Tour.; return 11 of 23 LWs) – picked to finish 6th in Mid-Con.

Boston College (4/10; 33-21in ’03, 5th in BE at 13-11; 19 of 22 LWs return) – checked in at 38th in preseason top 50 … picked to finish 2nd in BE, led by predicted pitcher of the year and 3rd team All-American Chris Lambert (top prospect, “best fastball” and :best breaking ball,” nation’s #11 junior prospect) … CF Drew Locke (“best pure hitter”) also was tabbed for all-BE honors while LHP Kevin Shepard is the league’s #10 prospect.

St. John’s (4/12; 29-27 in ’03, 7th in BE at 12-14; 14 of 28 LWs return) – picked to finish 7th in the BE … Mike Rozema (“best defensive SS,” led BE with .408 batting in ’03) is forecasted as an all-league player … RHP Joe Reid is listed 35th among nation’s top senior prospects.

Oakland (4/14; 20-34 in ’03, 5th in Mid-Con at 7-13; return 21 of 24 LWs) – picked to finish 5th in Mid-Con., with DH Will Tollison earning all-league honors … RHP Kyle Boehm is league’s #3 prospect.

Georgetown (4/17, 14-33 in ’03, 11th in BE at 4-22; 20 of 23 LWs returning) – picked to finish 11th in BE.

Purdue (4/20; 29-26 in ’03, 7th in Big Ten at 13-18; return 14 of 29 LWs) – picked to finish 7th in B-10, with Simon Klink cited for having league’s “best infield arm.”

Toledo (4/21, 22-29 in ’03, 7th in Mac West at 8-19; return 19 of 27 LWs) – first-year coach Cory Mee is former ND player (’92) and assistant … picked to finish 7th in MAC West, with OF Sean Dobson forecasted for all-conference honors … lost C Mitch Maier from ’03 squad (#30 overall pick in MLB draft).

Seton Hall (4/23; 22-24, 8th in BE at 11-15; return 20 of 27 LWs) – picked to finish 9th in BE, with Rob Shepard taking over as coach in place of his retired father Mike … RHP Chris Noonan was dubbed the league’s all-conference relief pitcher … lost C Lou Santangelo (rated nation’s #7 transfer, to Clemson).

Pittsburgh (4/25; 36-20, 13-13 in BE; return 15 of 23 LWs) – picked to finish 6th in BE, with Tom Cashman dubbed league’s “best defensive 1B” while RHP Nick Evangelista was listed as nation’s #39 senior prospect.

Ball State (4/27, 36-21 in ’03, won Mac West at 7-10, 0-2 at Mac Tour.; return 18 of 25 LWs) – picked to finish 2nd in MAC West (behind EMU), with Kyle Dygert (“best defensive 2B”projected for all-conference honors … LHPs Michael Johnston (6th) and Ben Snyder (8th) rated among MAC’s top prospects (Snyder also dubbed top newcomer) … Marc Franz cited as MAC’s “best defensive 3B” … must replace OF Brad Snyder (#18 overall pick in ’03 draft).

Cleveland State (4/28; 13-39 in ’03, 7th in Horizon at 4-18; return 17 of 24 LWs) – picked to finish 6th in Horizon.

Connecticut (5/9-10; 24-23 in ’03, 9th in BE at 10-15; return 13 of 18 LWs) – picked to finish 8th in BE, under first-year coach Jim Penders (former UConn assistant) … Mike Leonard cited as BE’s “best defensive C” while former Clemson OF/RHP Jeff Hourigan is rated league’s #3 newcomers and nation’s 11th-best transfer.

IPFW (4/30; 16-30-1 in ’03, no conference; return 19 of 21 LWs)

Michigan (5/12; 30-27 in ’03, 3rd in Big Ten at 16-14, 4th at Big Ten Tour.; return 17 of 26 LWs) – picked to finish 2nd in Big Ten … Chriz Getz (“best defensive 2B”) rated league’s #4 prospect and top newcomer, plus nation’s 5th-best transfer (Wake Forest) … deep staff includes LHP Drew Taylor (league’s #10 prospect).

Rutgers (5/15-16; 37-22 in ’03, 1st in BE at 19-6, BET runner-up, 1-2 at NCAA FSU Reg.; return 21 of 26 LWs) – picked to finish 3rd in BE … OF Jeff Frazier projected as 3rd team All-American and all-BE player (“best raw power, best defensive OF, best OF arm,” league’s 2nd-best prospect., nation’s 16th-rated junior prospect) … LHP Shaun Parker is nation’s #35 senior prospect … 2B Graig Badger returns after edging ND’s Steve Sollmann for the 2003 BIG EAST lead in stolen bases (41-38).

Central Florida (5/18-19; 31-25 in ’03, 9th in A-Sun; return 17 of 33 LWs) – picked to finish 34d in A-Sun behind FAU and Stetson … projected all-conference players include OF Dee Brown and Clay Timpner (“best baserunner” and “best defensive OF”) … Drew Buters (“best C arm”) rated league’s #4 prospect, with RHP Kyle Bono 5th … will leave for Sun Belt after ’04 season.

Virginia Tech (5/21-23; 34-23 in ’03, 4th in BE at 18-10, 0-2 at BET; return 18 of 23 LWs) – picked to finish 5th in BE, led by all-conference players Wyatt Toregas (“best C arm” and #7 prospect) and 3B Chris Stanton (“fastest runner”).