Northwestern’s Baseball MVP: Stephen Hrustich
By Jordan Eisen
Michael Schill announced that Jim Foster was indefinitely suspended: a fitting conclusion to the Wildcats’ 2023 baseball season. Finishing last in the Big 10 with a 4-20 conference record and a 10-40 overall record, Northwestern disappointed even considering their already-low expectations heading into the season. Most players dwindled in Foster’s first and final season, but one excelled far above the rest: Stephen Hrustich.
The senior slashed .325/.441/.518, leading the team in all three categories. In fact, the outfielder led the ‘Cats in runs (31), hits (54), triples (1), RBI (31), total bases (86), walks (27), hit by pitches (9), and steals (9); That’s every offensive category besides doubles (he placed second with 12) and home runs (also placed second with 6). With a blend of contact, power, and speed, the veteran provided the Wildcats with hope anytime he came to the plate or was on the basepaths.
Hrustich’s stats are gaudy relative to his Northwestern peers, and although they don’t stand out in the Big 10 leaderboards in the same way, he was still very respectable. In the Big 10, Hrustich placed top 20 in batting average and on-base percentage as well as top 30 in slugging.
The outfielder’s bat is certainly where he shines brightest, but he was an above-average fielder in 2023 as well. Although he didn’t necessarily excel with his glove, Hrustich had 118 chances and capitalized with a .966 fielding percentage and 106 putouts while only committing 4 errors. More importantly, Hrustich is a viable first baseman and very adequate corner outfielder – although he can also play center.
Early in the season, Foster utilized this flexibility between first base and outfield to cycle through different players and explore their skills. Eventually, Bennett Markinson supplanted himself as the primary starting first baseman, but Hrustich continued to play all three outfield positions, allowing for Foster to shuffle the lineup and allow occasional rest days for various players.
And what’s more vital to an MVP case than winning? Although Hrustich can’t boast a great team record and was unable to single handedly win any games, he was instrumental in Northwestern’s second win against Illinois.
To secure the Wildcats’ only in-conference series win of the season, Hrustich went 2-3 with a walk, 3 RBI, and 2 runs. His three-run home run came in the first inning, which gave the ‘Cats a commanding 2-run lead. Although the Illini did tie the game in the 4th inning at 3 runs apiece, Northwestern ultimately won 7-4 with Hrustich’s homer as the difference-maker.
Next season, Hrustich will continue his Big 10 baseball career but will don maize and blue instead of the purple he has worn for his last four seasons. As a fifth-year player for Michigan, he’s unlikely to make a major impact, but he will provide good depth and a veteran presence for a competitive team.
For Northwestern, with another head coach change and administrative turmoil, they will project at the bottom of the Big 10 standings once again in 2024 … but this time they won’t even have their MVP.