The 150th edition of Michigan baseball kicks off (baseball doesn’t really ‘kick off’, though) February 19th, and expectations for this particular set squad are higher than they have been for Michigan baseball in a number of years. Posting their highest win total since 2008 when Michigan won the Big Ten, 4th year head coach Erik Bakich and his team are poised to make another run into the postseason. Before we look ahead to what this season has in store, let’s take a look at how the past season went.
A Magical Season
Michigan began the season out west against Long Beach State, a solid team that usually makes a run in the tournament, and was the home to current Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. After dropping 2 of 3 against the 49ers, the Wolverines traveled to the Atlantic for a few games in Georgia and Florida before the Coastal Carolina Invitational. It was here where Michigan had its longest win streak of the season, winning 7 in a row over Siena, Stetson, UMBC, Toledo, and host Coastal Carolina. After winning one of three on a road trip to visit the Kansas Jayhawks, Michigan was swept in Nebraska to open Big Ten play. Then they traveled back to Ann Arbor for their first slate of home games, taking two of three against Maryland as well as beating Toledo and Bowling Green.
The team struggled to find a rhythm throughout the season, posting a 4-5 record in February, followed by a solid 11-7 March and even better 12-5 April, but scuffling to finish the regular season with a 6-6 May, despite very nice victories over #16 Iowa and #13 Oklahoma State. Ending conference play tied for third in the Big Ten at 14-10, Michigan would have to win the Big Ten tournament to receive a bid to the postseason. They did just that, going undefeated against Indiana, #19 Iowa, #4 Illinois, and Maryland for their first tournament victory since 2008. They ended the season on a five game win streak, the 2nd longest of the season. Their next step in the postseason was the Louisville Regional Tournament.
Grouped with Morehead State, Bradley, and 9th ranked Louisville, Michigan began the double-elimination tournament with a bang, beating Bradley 10-5. Senior catcher Kendall Patrick led the way, exploding for 2 home runs, a double, and 5 RBIs. Sophomore first baseman Carmen Benedetti also added a double, a walk, and a run scored. In the second regional game against Louisville, Michigan pushed across two runs in the 8th inning to tie the game at 3 after a walk, error, walk, and clutch pinch hit 2-run single from senior Kyle Jusick. Louisville manufactured a run of their own in the top of the ninth to take the lead and eventually the win, 4-3.
Facing elimination, Michigan met Bradley again in a much more low scoring affair than Game 1. 7 Michigan players collected hits, and although Bradley scored a run in both the 8th and the 9th inning, Benedetti came in to pitch the final two outs of the game and get a clutch 4-3 win, sending Bradley home and Michigan to the regional final against Louisville. The magic ran out on that final day of May in 2015, though; Louisville flexed their muscle and put up 13 runs on Michigan. After allowing two runs in the first, the Cardinals responded with 13 runs of their own over 6 innings. Michigan responded with a run in the 8th and 9th but it would not be enough to overcome the deficit, and the curtains closed on an exceptional 2015 campaign.
Big Spikes to Fill
Michigan said goodbye to a number of key contributors after their run to the regional final in 2015. Graduating seniors included Eric Jacobson, who started 39 games and played in 57 overall; Kevin White, a solid outfielder who appeared in 51 games (37 starts) and posted a .410 OBP his senior year; relief pitcher Donnie Eaton who threw in 16 games his senior season, and Kyle Jusick, who could play just about anywhere in the field and came up with some timely hits. In addition to those seniors, Michigan also saw 4 players take the next step into professional baseball.
IF/P Jacob Cronenworth was the heart and soul of the team throughout his career at Michigan.
In 2015 for the Wolverines, he had one of the best single seasons in program history, playing his way to the All Big Ten Second Team, the Big Ten Tournament Team, and Tournament MVP honors. He led the team in total bases, steals, walks, and runs scored, was second on the team in doubles and RBIs, and was third on the team in average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He ends his career high in the record books in saves, holding the single season record with 12 (set in 2014) and 2nd all-time in career saves with 27. He holds the single season record for at-bats (set in 2015 with 209), the 3rd highest single season hit total with 91, and 13th in career hits, as well as the 2nd highest hit total of anyone to leave after his junior year with 211. Had he stayed for his senior year, he undoubtedly would have set the record. His careers splits of .312/.400/.436 are staggering, and his grit and leadership will be missed moving forward. Drafted by the Rays in the 7th round, Cronenworth began his professional career at Short Season Hudson Valley where he continued to do Cronenworth things, hitting .291/.399/.398. His average and on-base percentage led the team among qualified hitters.
Senior OF Jackson Glines also had an incredible offensive year for Michigan, finishing first on the team in on-base percentage with .440, second on the team in batting average (.349), runs scored (55), and hits (83), and third on the team in slugging percentage (.492). Like Cronenworth, Glines was named to the Big Ten Tournament Team as well as First Team All Big Ten. Playing in more than 60 games in back to back years, Glines led the team in batting average in 2014 and ends his career batting an absurd .341/.442/.478 with 32 doubles and 154 hits. The White Sox selected Glines in the 10th round, sending him to Rookie affiliate Great Falls in Montana. In 45 games for the Voyagers, Glines hit .240/.349/.336.
SS/3B Travis Maezes also left after his junior season, drafted by the Royals. The Ann Arbor native was named to the 2013 All Big Ten Freshman team, as well as All Big Ten Third Team in both 2014 and 2015. His 2015 season brought a dip in production, even though his .297/.389/.382 in 48 starts was stellar. He ends his Michigan career with a .305/.400/.427 split, an amazing display of offensive consistency. He did not play for in the minor leagues in 2015 despite his draft position.
Senior C Kendall Patrick also had a banner year in 2015. Catchers are not
known for their offense, especially at the collegiate level, making his senior season for Michigan all the more impressive. In addition to a .990 fielding percentage in 52 games (47 starts) and throwing out 30% of runners, Patrick led the team in home runs and was second to Benedetti in slugging percentage. His splits were bonkers in 2015, posting a .265 (okay)/.405 (holy cow)/.503 (are you kidding?). He was named Academic All Big Ten his senior year as well as to the All-Regional Team. Catchers are the quarterbacks of the baseball field; they are not only asked to but are required to see things in their pitchers and opposing hitters in order to gain any edge they can, and his absence will be one of the story lines for 2016. Patrick’s rise did not go unrecognized; he signed with the Traverse City Beach Bums of the Frontier League (no major league affiliate), with whom he .212/.264/.303 in 20 games.
Michigan stole the Big Ten show last season and looks to build on 2015’s momentum this season. They led the Big Ten in team batting average (.296), on-base percentage (.386), runs scored (400), hits (646), doubles (133), and RBIs (366). In Part II of the Team 150 preview, I look at how Michigan can repeat a tremendous offensive season despite losing 8 contributors and how a heartbreaking recruiting story will set a tone of duty for Erik Bahkich’s 4th season. Thanks for reading.
Header photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune.