Choosing the unofficial Herald-News NCAA Division I Baseball Player of the Year usually contains a certain degree of difficulty.
This season, however, Indiana junior first baseman Sam Travis (Providence) erased the mystery in a hurry.
Travis is the winner of our award for the second straight spring and there never was a doubt. He began the season on fire and was consistent throughout.
He finished with a .347 batting average for the Hoosiers (44-15) en route to being named Big Ten Player of the Year. He had 16 doubles, two triples, 12 home runs and 58 RBIs to go with a .576 slugging percentage and .415 on-base percentage for a .991 OPS.
The former Herald-News Player of the Year while at Providence was named a second-team All-American by Perfect Game and was a second-team pick on the Louisville Slugger All-America Team by College Baseball Magazine.
And now comes the professional side of his story. Travis was selected in the second round, 67th overall, by the Boston Red Sox in the draft early this month. He began playing this week with the Lowell Spinners in the Class A Short Season New York-Penn League and was 0-for-4 in his debut Wednesday.
Others who might have contended for the unofficial H-N Division I Player of the Year award in different seasons, or under different circumstances, were Illinois State senior catcher Mike Hollenbeck (Joliet Township), Iowa junior designated hitter Dan Potempa (Iowa), Eastern Illinois junior pitcher Matt Borens (Peotone), Illinois sophomore left-handers Tyler Jay (Lemont) and Kevin Duchene (Joliet Catholic) and Central Michigan junior left-hander Matt Trowbridge (Providence).
Hollenbeck, who was selected by the White Sox in the 23rd round, signed and is with the Sox’s team in the Arizona Rookie League, where he is scheduled to make his pro debut Friday. He hit .338 with 18 doubles, two home runs and 41 RBIs for ISU (33-22). He also walked 28 times while striking out only 22.
Potempa, an outfielder by trade, spent most of this season as the designated hitter for Iowa (30-23) and finished at .330 with 13 doubles, three homers and 40 RBIs. He was a third-team All-Big Ten selection.
Borens, who was drafted by the Yankees in the 11th and has signed, went 6-4 with a 3.39 ERA for EIU (22-33-1), He struck out 100 in 109 innings to become the second EIU player to have 100 strikeouts in a season. The first was former major league All-Star Marty Pattin.
Jay, a second-team All-Big Ten choice, became the closer for the Illini (32-21) and was 10-for-10 in save opportunities. He finished 4-1 with a 1.94 ERA. He struck out 47 in 412⁄3 innings and held opponents to a .190 batting average.
Duchene began the season as the No. 1 starter for Illinois, but missed more than six weeks with an arm issue. He did make nine starts in all, however, including a few at the end of the season, and finished 4-1 with a 1.80 ERA. In 55 innings, he allowed 43 hits and 11 walks, struck out 35 and limited opposing hitters to a .215 average.
Trowbridge also was somewhat limited with an arm issue but still was a 13th-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles. He went 2-2 with a 2.59 ERA for Central Michigan (35-23). In 16 appearances, he pitched 311⁄3 innings and allowed 17 hits and 24 walks while striking out 43.
Among other area players who competed on the Division I level this spring, Notre Dame sophomore outfielder Zak Kutsulis (Providence) and Northern Illinois sophomore infielder Tommy Hook (Lockport) both hit well much of the season before tailing off a bit toward the end. Kutsulis finished at .255 with nine doubles and 18 RBIs for the Irish (22-31) while Hook hit .257 with three doubles, two triples and 10 RBIs for the Huskies (17-36-1).
IN PRO BALL
A few pro baseball updates of note:
• Tanner Roark (Wilmington) continues to impress as a member of the Washington Nationals rotation. He is 3-1 with a 1.38 ERA in four starts in June and is 6-4 with a 2.85 ERA for the season. He has allowed 77 hits and 20 walks while striking out 69 in 881⁄3 innings.
• Outfielder Joe Benson (Joliet Catholic) continued his hot streak at Jacksonville, Miami’s Double-A affiliate, and early this week, the Marlins moved him to Triple-A New Orleans. He left Jacksonville with a .277 average, 10 doubles, two triples, five home runs and 31 RBIs. He was 0-for-3 in his first three games at New Orleans.
• Left-hander Dietrich Enns (Lincoln-Way East) is pitching well for the Yankees’ Class A-Advanced affiliate at Tampa in the Florida State League. He is 3-2 with a 1.42 ERA. In 13 games covering 251⁄3 innings, he has yielded 16 hits and 10 walks while striking out 26.