Hello there, Michigan faithful:
I hope we’re all recovered from the beating Wisconsin gave us in basketball yesterday. I figured I’d make my first post a baseball-related post, and seeing as Michigan baseball just finished their first series of the 2014 season, the timing works out pretty well.
Anyways, follow me after the jump to see how Coach Bakich’s team fared over the weekend, as well as some general “scout-y” thoughts on the team.
Michigan traveled to San Marcos, Texas to take part in the Texas State Invitational over the weekend. While there, they played 4 game against the likes of Texas State, Washington (twice), and Air Force. They finished the weekend with a record of 1-2-1, which, all things considered, isn’t so bad.
You have to understand that northern schools are at a huge disadvantage when it comes to baseball. Southern schools can play outdoors, all year long (for the most part); whereas northern schools are stuck inside from November through March (or April). I don’t know with 100% certainty, but I’d guess that when the Michigan baseball team took the field for batting practice on Friday, it had been the first time they had been outside since fall practice concluded in October.
Michigan played a double header on Friday, and they dropped both games in extra innings. They lost to Texas State 8-7 in 10, then followed that with an 8-6 loss to Washington in 10 innings. On Saturday, Michigan beat Air Force 8-2, and on Sunday the Wolverines tied with Washington 7-7. (Colleges have travel curfews on Sundays, so they are able to get back to school in enough time to not miss any class, get enough sleep, etc. The reason there was a tie on Sunday is because they played up against the travel curfew, and play had to stop to accommodate it.)
I spent two years working as the undergraduate assistant on the Central Michigan University baseball staff, so I have a decent idea of what northern schools go through in the early parts of the season. The defense lags behind, as guys haven’t taken ground balls off of an actual infield in many months. Pitchers have been throwing, obviously, but game situations are a bit different than throwing bullpens inside or pitching simulated games against your own hitters. In many ways, it’s the same thing that pros experience during spring training. Everyone is a little rusty, but instead of playing a month of exhibition games like pros, college teams jump right into games that count against the overall record.
I will say that I was quite encouraged by the amount of offense that Michigan was able to generate. Obviously, the hitters had been taking swings and seeing live pitching for many weeks now, but it’s not uncommon for hitters to struggle at first as they readjust to actually hitting outside in game situations.
Ok. This post has dragged a bit as I tried to explain some stuff, but now let’s get to some stats:
As evidenced by scoring 31 runs in about 3 2/3 games, Michigan did a great job of putting the bat on the ball this past weekend. Several guys stood out:
DH Kyle Jusick: 4 Games, 7-14, 3 RBI, 3 R, 1 BB, 0 K.
Jusick is pretty much the everyday designated hitter (DH) at this point, hitting in the middle of the lineup. In my opinion, the most impressive part of Jusick’s gaudy stat line is the zero strikeouts. No, he didn’t collect any extra base hits, but consistent contact with a steady eye at the plate is an excellent combination for anyone.
CF Jackson Glines: 4 Games, 8-20, 1 3B, 4 RBI, 4 R, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 SB.
Glines is a JuCo transfer from Fresno City College, and he has stepped into the void left by Patrick Biondi, playing center field and hitting leadoff. He’s not expected to produce the same amount of stolen bases that Biondi did with his plus-plus speed, but as long as he’s hitting and getting on base at a good clip, I don’t think Bakich is going to complain.
C Cole Martin: 4 Games, 4-12, 1 2B, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, 3 BB, 2 K.
Martin is a switch-hitting senior, and will catch the bulk of the games for Michigan this season. He’s solid behind the plate, and does a good job of leading the pitching staff (which will have several young guys contributing this season). Anything he provides with the bat will be huge, and if he keeps hitting like he did this past weekend, it will be a huge boost to Michigan.
OF Jackson Lamb: 3 Games, 5-9, 3 2B, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 3 R, 1 BB, 1 K.
Lamb is one of the most highly-touted recruits to come to Michigan in the past several years, and his performance this past weekend justifies his lofty praise (albeit in a small sample size). He was considered a legitimate pro prospect out of high school as both a pitcher and an outfielder, and currently the plan is for him to both play left field and pitch out of the bullpen for Coach Bakich. If there’s one Wolverine you keep an eye on for the next 3 years, it’s Jackson Lamb.
The Wolverines struggled for the most part (with Ballantine being the obvious exception) on the mound, but there is a lot of promise with this staff.
Ben Ballantine: 1 GS, 7 IP, 1 H, 1 R (0 ER), 3 BB, 5 K.
Ballantine will be an anchor to the staff in 2014. A senior, he has been around for a long time and understands what it takes to be successful at the major college level. At this point, he’s probably the Saturday starter (#2 starter in college terms), and will be able to mentor the young guys on the staff while performing pretty well for himself. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he’s a good “pitchability” guy.
Trent Szkutnik: 1 GS, 4 2/3 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K.
Szkutnik started the 2nd game of the doubleheader on Friday, which leads me to believe that he will pitch out of the bullpen mostly this season (although I reserve the right to be wrong).
If I had to guess, the weekend rotation will look something like Borque-Ballantine-Evan Hill, but that is subject to change. Both Szkutnik and Logan McAnallen have starting experience, and both could be called on to pitch out of the bullpen, as starters on the weekend, or start on weekdays. Evan Hill performed really well last season as a true freshman, and arguably has the highest ceiling of any Michigan pitcher (with the exception of maybe Jackson Lamb).
The staff in general has a nice combination of experience and youth, and the bullpen will feature a shutdown reliever in Jacob Cronenworth, who will presumably serve as the team’s closer. Cronenworth will also start at third base and hit in the middle of the order (he hit .313/.450/.500) over the weekend. Also pitching out the bullpen will be guys like Jake Balicki, Brett Adcock, Mac Lozer, and Keith Lehmann (in addition to the aforementioned Lamb, McAnallen, Szkutnik, and others).
On offense, we already mentioned Jusick (DH), Lamb (LF), Glines (CF), Cronenworth (3B), and Martin (C). Sophomore Trevor Maezes will start at SS, looking to build off an excellent freshman season. Freshmen Hector Gutierrez, Ramsay Romano, and Trey Miller will all see time at 2B and 3B (when Cronenworth is pitching), and it looks like Kendall Patrick is the starter at 1B. Martin will take the bulk of the catching time, but freshman Harrison Wenson will also see time behind the dish.
I expect Michigan to have a good season, and to make it to the B1G Tournament. I have them around 4th or 5th in the conference, behind Indiana (national power), Nebraska (they’re pretty good, folks), and Michigan State. Some would argue Illinois is better, but I think they’re pretty even with Michigan. All in all, I would expect Michigan to finish with an above .500 record both in conference and overall, positioning themselves to potentially make a strong tournament run.
Note: Any and all stats were pulled from MGoBlue.com, the official Michigan athletics website.
As always, you can follow me on twitter @B_Sakowski_PG.