There is an undeniable buzz about Team 150. As you read in my Part I Preview, Team 149 couldn’t pull the rabbit out of the hat in the Louisville Regional against 9th ranked Louisville, but the Wolverines take that momentum into 2016 to a fair amount of preseason love.
Meet the 2016 Michigan baseball team aka Team 150:
Individually, Mr. Do-It-All junior Carmen Benedetti was named to the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper All America First Team, Perfect Game’s Third Team All America, D1 Baseball’s Third Team Preseason All-American list, both as a hitter and a pitcher, and to Baseball America’s Top 100 Draft Prospects.
As a squad, the Wolverines enter the 2016 as the 23rd ranked team according to Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and Perfect Game, and 15th according to Baseball America; the highest of any Michigan baseball team since 2008. They are the highest ranked Big Ten team according to all 3 services despite finishing 3rd in the Big Ten regular season last year.
Last year, Michigan was an offensive juggernaut that led the Big Ten in multiple categories, and they look to continue that dominance at the plate despite losing some of their most consistent hitters to the draft.
- Benedetti had one of the best seasons in program history at the plate, leading the team with a .352 average and a .541 slugging percentage, as well as leading the Big Ten with 25 doubles and 71 RBIs on his way to a Big Ten First Team selection and a John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Watch.
- Entering likely his final season at Michigan, Benedetti is playing like a first round draft pick.
- Bivens, likely to take over the shortstop role with Maezes now in the minors, is coming off 5 different freshman All-America honors including Big Ten Freshman of the Year.
- Last year, Bivens hit .319/.435/.352 in 63 games (62 starts) and a staggering .368 in conference play.
- Bruder, a former JUCO transfer, started every game last year either in the outfield or at DH, hitting a smooth .308. Newcomers Jonathan Englemann and Matt Ramsay will supply plenty of depth in the outfield, allowing Bakich a healthy rotation with junior Johnny Slater and the aforementioned Bruder.
- Englemann was named to the First Team All-State in California his senior year and chose to attend Michigan despite being drafted by the Twins this past summer, a huge testament to the program Bakich is building in Ann Arbor.
- Ramsay hit .359 at Wofford last year before choosing to transfer to Michigan for his senior season; perhaps he can go full Rudock and have the season of his life.
On the infield, freshman Ako Thomas and George Hewitt are pure hitters that will see a lot of playing time if not a lot of starts on a crowded diamond. Thomas hit .397 his senior year in high school on his way to being named first team All-State in Illinois. Hewitt is a tall switch hitter with a good baseball frame that will likely be Benedetti’s understudy at first base.
- Saline native RHP Ricky Karcher went 9-0 his senior year with a .41 ERA and a .152 batting average against.
- California LHP William Tribucher, a 2014 Yankees Area Code Games selection, threw a 1.7 ERA his senior season, which earned him Third Team All-State honors (he also hit .358 his senior year, making him a viable offensive option as well).
- Other names to remember:
The bullpen also has lots of depth, despite losing its closer Jacob Cronenworth. With 3 saves as a freshman, sophomore Bryan Pall will take over the closer role with Benedetti as a set-up man or just a generic lockdown arm. Pall was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team and was a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American with a 2.97 ERA in 33.1 innings in 2015. Benedetti was also lights out himself, posting a 1.82 ERA in 14.2 innings.
Other notable returners include:
- Senior LHP Evan Hill, who has a 3.57 ERA in 36 career starts
- Sophomore catcher Drew Lugbauer, who will likely take over as the starting catcher and will follow up a nod to the Big Ten All-Freshman team
- Junior infielder/pitcher Hector Gutierrez, a sure handed defender who will be valuable in the late innings
- Junior RHPs Mac Lozer and Cam Wysocki who are capable of eating up innings without allowing runs in the event of a spot start or need of a lengthy relief appearance.
Michigan will begin the season in Florida against Canisius and then make a trip out west to California where they will face a serious test in a single game series against Cal Berkeley.
After a trip to Hawaii for Spring Break, they will slowly make their way back to Ann Arbor with a 3-game series against Oklahoma State, from whom they took 2 of 3 games in 2015.
The Wolverines open Big Ten play against Northwestern on April Fool’s Day in Chicago as well as a quick stop in South Bend for a rivalry game with Notre Dame.
That’s when the season really takes off:
- Michigan has a friendly two week homestand with series against Minnesota and Nebraska as well as single game visits from CMU and Toledo before they visit Iowa City for a tough three game series against Iowa.
- As April turns to May, the Wolverines will partake in home-and-homes with in-state rival MSU and neighbor EMU.
- They will round out the season with a brutal road trip to Columbus for 3 games against OSU and 3 games against Illinois, who finished 2015 as the highest ranked Big Ten team, and had the most wins in the Big Ten with a 50-10-1 record.
It is a difficult schedule, but Michigan has evolved greatly as a team under Bakich while many of their opponents did not reload as well as Michigan did in the offseason and through the recruiting cycle. Working in their favor is the noticeable absence of Maryland in the regular season schedule, who is to many pundits, the #2 team in the Big Ten.
I put Michigan winning anywhere from 37-42 games, depending on how the starting pitching and travel patterns will pan out.
Despite the excitement surrounding Team 150, they won’t have as much a chip on their shoulders as they will a bruise on their heart.
The centerpiece of the 2015 recruiting class was shortstop Charlie Donovan, who was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Illinois in 2015 and drafted by the Brewers. Donovan chose to turn down the Brewers offer and attend Michigan; with Travis Maezes and Jacob Cronenworth in the draft, combining Freshman of the Year Bivens with Donovan was going to create a Trammell-Whitaker-esque combination on the infield for the Wolverines. They were expected to rule the Big Ten.
Donovan had to delay his enrollment until the spring semester because of a bout of mono that struck him in the summer. All was well; Donovan would still arrive on campus in time for practice to start and would see the field plenty not only his freshman year but throughout his whole career. In November of 2015, however, Donovan passed away at only 18 years old.
A graduate of Westmont High School, Donovan’s potential was irresistible. He hit .484 with 7 home runs and 42 steals his senior year of high school.
There is an undeniable buzz about Team 150, sure. For the tradition; baseball is the longest tenured varsity sport at Michigan, and celebrating the sesquicentennial with such a talented team is really special. For the talent; entering the season ranked as high as 15th brings an excitable hope to Michigan fans after years of rebuilding. But for Charlie, there is a completely different buzz; the sobering buzz of a stark and serious reminder not only to the team but to all of us readers, followers, and fans, that life is a fragile thing. That the 150th edition of Michigan baseball is met with such high expectations is almost too good to be true, but I can guarantee you this: Michigan will be playing for a lot more than just wins this season.
Rest in peace, Charlie.
Photo Credit: grfx.cstv.com