2018 Michigan Baseball Season Review

Before we dive into another edition of Michigan Baseball Alumni Tracker, please accept my apology for falling off the face of the earth with your baseball coverage regarding Team 152 and its future prospects – I got married back in May and have been wading through a very busy summer at my full-time place of employment (follow me on Twitter and you’ll understand), so between those two major components, I have not had nearly as much time to write as I would have liked. But I’m back!

The MLB draft is behind us and the College World Series is set to wrap up shortly as well – if Omaha can ever get a three-hour window without rain, that is. Michigan had three draftees this cycle; LHP William Tribucher in the 14th round to the Rockies, RHP Jayce Vancena in the 31st round to the Tigers, and OF Jonathan Engelmann in the 31st round to the Indians. It was not nearly the haul as last year’s 11 draftees, but you’ll remember that the baseball team followed the football team’s footsteps regarding massive roster attrition and fighting through some growing pains for future success.

Season in Review

Youth was the headline entering this season. Aside from some stellar upperclassmen in certain positions, namely 2B Ako Thomas, Engelmann, and OF Miles Lewis, Michigan was starting someone new nearly everywhere. Unlike 2017, the 2018 squad got off to a very slow start, losing 10 of 12 games after an opening series at Army, including a loss to NAIA Lawrence Tech at home. You could argue that that slow start was simply because of youth adjusting to a higher level of talent, because what came next was special: 20-straight wins, the 3rd longest in program history, including a 26-4 3-game sweep of MSU and a 2-game sweep of Maryland (2 games were cancelled on account of weather).

The loss against Lawrence Tech came on March 14th and they would not lose again until April 29th at Iowa. Michigan ran into a scorching hot Purdue team to round out conference play, losing 3 games by 7 runs. A 3-seed in the conference tournament, Michigan would eke out a 10-inning win over Iowa before running into the eventual tournament runner-up Purdue and Ohio State.

Michigan did not receive an at-large bid into the major tournament, and even though they were 12 games above .500 at 33-21, I can understand the logic. As exciting as the 20-game win streak was, Michigan was unable to defeat a powerhouse by the likes of San Diego, Arizona, or San Diego State, and went 1-3 against Stanford in their 4-game series. A couple more headline wins (like when they beat USC in their place last year and won the Tony Gwynn Classic) like that could have put them in.

Regardless, there were many bright spots in what was definitely a transition year. The pitching staff looked magnificent, specifically the designated starting trio of Karl Kauffmann (3.08 ERA in 79 innings, .224 batting average against), Tommy Henry (3.09 ERA in 81 innings, .235 batting average against), and true freshman Ben Dragani (2.76 ERA in 75 innings, .217 batting average against), who was named to the Freshman All-American team by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. Out of the bullpen, fellow true freshmen Angelo Smith threw 23.2 innings at a 1.14 ERA and Jeff Criswell threw 32.1 innings, posting a 2.23 ERA and a .168 batting average against.

At the plate, the team hit in spurts, but still saw four players slug over .500 (Fr. IF Jesse Franklin, .588; Soph OF Dominic Clementi, .574; Fr. OF Jordan Nwogu, .571; Engelmann, .521), and five players hit more than 10 doubles. Last year’s mainstays Miles Lewis and Ako Thomas were not as consistent at the plate, but Thomas still posted a .371 OBP, walking 28 times and stealing 15 bases in 17 attempts. The outfield will be very crowded next year, but if Nwogu, Clementi, and junior Christian Bullock (.677 OPS in 44 starts and 18 steals in 23 attempts) continue this growth, then look out.

Alumni Tracker

2018 Draftees

  • OF Jonathan Engelmann (Indians): Assigned to short season Arizona League, Engelmann is off to a hot start, posting a 1.125 OPS with 3 doubles in 6 games.
  • P Jayce Vancena (Tigers): In the Florida Gulf Coast League, Vancena has allowed 2 earned runs through 6 innings pitched, striking out three and walking one.
  • P William Tribucher (Rockies): In the short season Pioneer League, Tribucher has pitched two scoreless innings for the Grand Junction Rockies.

2017 Draftees

  • P Oliver Jaskie (Mariners): In Low-A Clinton, Jaskie has struggled, posting a 6.23 ERA and a 1.8 WHIP. He is striking batters out at a respectable 9.3 K/9, however. He is the Mariners #24 prospect according to MLB Pipeline.
  • P Mac Lozer (Mets): For short season Brooklyn, Lozer has yet to allow a run in 3.1 innings pitched.
  • C Harrison Wenson (Angels): In Low-A Burlington, Wenson has not seen the same success he saw in short season last year. Through 32 games, his OPS is .428. He has caught 12 of 20 potential base stealers behind the plate.
  • P Ryan Nutof (Reds): In Low-A Dayton, Nutof has pitched nicely, posting a 3.18 ERA and a 1.538 WHIP as well as 10.7 K/9.
  • C/1B Drew Lugbauer (Braves): Like Wenson, Lugbauer has seen a dip in power numbers, but has posted a solid .713 OPS for Low-A Rome.
  • P Ricky Karcher (Reds): Karcher has gotten off to a rough start in the short season Appalachian League, allowing 6 runs in 5.2 innings across 2 starts.

2016 Draftees

  • P Brett Adcock (Astros): Adcock has gotten better and better as his minor league career has gone on. So far this season: A 2.91 ERA and 1.044 WHIP in 52.2 innings. He is listed as the Astros #27 prospect according to MLB Pipeline.
  • P Evan Hill (Tigers): Hill has not seen much action in 2018, but has been effective in that action: 2.79 ERA and 1.241 WHIP in 8 appearances for High-A Lakeland.
  • OF Carmen Benedetti (Astros): Still one of my favorite prospects and a legend coming out of Michigan, but Benedetti hasn’t been named such yet by any of the major sources. At AA Corpus Christi, he is slashing .289/.369/.409 for an OPS of .778.

2015 Draftees

  • 2B/SS Jake Cronenworth (Rays): Cronenworth hasn’t been performing at the plate at the same rate he was the last few years in the Rays system. So far this year, he has played 52 games at AA Montgomery and was at AAA Durham for 6 games, and has posted an OPS of .586.

2014 Draftees

  • P Trent Szkutnik (Tigers): Szkutnik was called up to AA Erie in late May, and has posted a 1.118 WHIP in 17 innings.
  • P James Bourque (Nationals): Bourque has been quite good at High-A Potomac, posting a .987 WHIP in 25.1 innings this season.

2013 Draftees

  • OF Michael O’Neill (Rangers): O’Neill began the 2018 season at AAA Round Rock but was sent to AA Frisco before the end of April. Since then, he has an OPS of .789 with 9 home runs.
  • OF Patrick Biondi (Mets): At AAA Las Vegas this season, Biondi has posted a .520 OPS in 54 games. Tebow is breathing down his neck.

In the Pros

  • OF Ryan LaMarre: LaMarre has bounced from team to team and in between AAA and the show since 2015. Originally drafted by the Reds in the 2010 draft, LaMarre has found a home with the Twins in centerfield. He is slashing .263/.321/.313/.634 thus far, and is still seeking his first professional home run.
  • P Clayton Richard: The 34-year old is enjoying one of his best pro seasons, where he sits 7-6 with a 3.87 FIP and 1.210 WHIP for the Padres.
  • P Rich Hill: Fighting through some minor injuries, Hill sits at a 5.30 ERA through 8 starts for the Dodgers in 2018.

Other Michigan Connections

  • OF Ramsey Romano transferred from Michigan to Long Beach State after the 2014 season. He is slashing .150/.190/.200/.390 for Low-A Eugene in the Cubs system.
  • C Kendall Patrick returns to the Traverse City Beach Bums for another year of independent ball, where his teammate is Donald Glover (not that Donald Glover).
  • 2017 36th-round St Louis draft pick Michael Brdar was back in Ann Arbor for the 2018 season working as a team assistant.

Photo Credit: UMichBaseball/Twitter

Bill Getschman