If only some of the softball’s success had trickled across Wilpon Complex to the baseball team. No more than a few hours after the Michigan softball team scored 4 runs in the 7th inning to beat Missouri and advance to the Women’s College World Series, 5th-seeded Ohio State defeated 8th-seeded Iowa for the Big Ten Tournament championship and an automatic bid to the postseason regionals.
Come noontime on Memorial Day, Michigan’s spirits dropped even further when it was announced that they did not receive an at-large bid to the regional round, ending their 2016 season.
After losing to Ohio State in the opening round, Michigan was relegated to the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination style tournament, where they would face top-seeded Minnesota. Minnesota had beaten Michigan twice already in 2016, and had led the Big Ten in mostly every offensive category, which would make it a tough battle for Michigan’s pitching staff. Sophomore lefty Oliver Jaskie got the ball for the Wolverines, and pitched a gem in which he went seven innings, allowing four hits and one run. After entering the home half of the 8th trailing 2-1, Michigan pushed across a pair of runs to give them a 3-2 lead, a score which they would hold, eliminating the Gophers and setting up another date with Ohio State.
After bouts with Mother Nature and some stadium maintenance problems pushed the start time back, Michigan scored two early runs in the top of the first to get an early lead on OSU, something they had not felt all season. The early success was short lived, as Ohio State lashed back for 5 runs in the first inning on six hits of their own. More inclement weather entered the area, forcing the game to postponed and resumed the following morning, where Ohio State picked up right where they left off offensively. Every time Michigan would score or even threaten, Ohio State would answer loudly, ending the game with 11 runs, the most they’ve scored since Tax Day when Rutgers visited Columbus.
Michigan’s 5th loss of the season to OSU meant fate was no longer in their hands; it would be up to the selection committee if their season continued.
Three Big Ten teams are going regionals, but Michigan will not be one of them. Ohio State won the automatic bid, entered the Top 25 for the first time all season, and will be placed as a 2-seed in the Louisville Regional with host and 7th-ranked Louisville, MAC champs Western Michigan, and Wright State. Regular season champs Minnesota got an absolutely brutal draw, grouped as a 2-seed with number one overall Texas A&M, Wake Forest, and Binghamton, and Nebraska (last 3 in) finds themselves a 3-seed with ACC champ Clemson, Oklahoma State, and Western Carolina.
Michigan swept Nebraska in Ann Arbor during the regular season and is still a better team than the Huskers if you ask me. In fact, their RPI sits at 38th according to D1Baseball, three spots behind OSU and well above both Nebraska (47th) and Minnesota (50th), but in the “what have you done for me lately” nature of college sports, Michigan’s 2-9 finish won’t compare to Nebraska’s 11-4. Michigan will go back to Ann Arbor with a final 36-21 record, 5th in the Big Ten.
What Lies Ahead?
Michigan remains in good shape for the 2017 season. Between an already young roster and excellent recruiting class, the starting lineup that takes the field won’t be too different from one position to the next.
Quick overview of the rules: teams may draft players that are:
- high school graduates (these players may choose to sign with colleges and turn down the contract, which is what Engelmann did)
- juniors or seniors from four-year colleges
- players who are 21 or older
- or any players from Junior College
- OF Cody Bruder
- After transferring from Orange Coast College, Bruder made a name for himself by hitting…well everything. Bruder found himself near the top of every offensive leaderboard in the Big Ten, playing his way to a unanimous All Big Ten First Team selection, and now could find himself near the top of some draft boards. Bruder is an excellent situational hitter but does not boast a lot of power; his .485 slugging percentage came from 18 doubles compared to only 2 home runs. He’s a low-risk, high-reward player for any organization that likes dependable outfielders.
- MLB comparison: Johnny Damon, even though he’s retired
- OF Matt Ramsay
- Many point to Ramsay’s injury as the turning point of Michigan’s season, but what he displayed until that point was impressive. A knack for contact and a cerebral approach to reading pitchers and the game, Ramsay led the team in steals and fielding percentage, as well as finished second on the team in runs scored and walks, despite missing the final ten games of the season. Ramsay’s approach to the game is already advanced far beyond most collegiate ballplayers, and I think there is a good chance he could see his name called on Draft Day.
- MLB comparison: Josh Reddick, but right-handed
- P Brett Adcock
- Having just completed his junior season, the All Big Ten second teamer will need an attractive contract offer to pull him away from Michigan – and it isn’t out of the question. Adcock tends to be wild and walks a lot of batters, but he has an extremely durable arm and raw talent that a professional club would love to get their hands on – next year. With another year of eligibility, especially as Michigan’s number one weekend starter, Adcock’s name will come up a lot more in 2017 than it will in 2016.
- MLB comparison: Rich Hill, but shorter
- P Evan Hill (no relation to Rich)
- The senior did a little bit of everything throughout four years at Michigan, making starts when asked to and coming out of the bullpen for the rest of the way. Being the jack-of-all-trades pitcher is not an easy role to tackle mentally, though Hill did it well, posting a 4.26 ERA and a nice 1.50 WHIP in 63.1 innings pitched in 2016. Hill pitches to contact and doesn’t boast necessarily a lights out array of pitches, but I think there is a good chance he gets his name called on Draft Day.
- MLB comparison: CJ Wilson, but not as gorgeous
- C Harrison Wenson
- Wenson enjoyed a career year in all aspects of the game, hitting .289 in 57 games, en route to a .491 slugging percentage, and team best 8 home runs and 56 runs batted in. After his first full season as Michigan’s starting catcher, pro teams might take a risk on the raw and burly Wenson, but they might also might be watching more closely during his senior season to prove that his excellent 2016 wasn’t a fluke.
- MLB comparison: Evan Gattis, but doesn’t strike out as much
- 1B/P/OF Carmen Benedetti
- Benedetti is an incredibly talented player, batting .326/.465/.492 in 54 games as well as a 2.45 ERA from the bullpen in 14.2 innings pitched. The man can do it all, earning himself All Big Ten 3rd Team honors after his remarkable junior season for the Wolverines. Benedetti was ranked 77th on the D1 Baseball Preseason 300 Prospects for the 2016 Draft and is a semifinalist for the John Olerud 2-Way Player of the Year award; his versatility and athleticism are attractive to any team though he will be asked to specialize on one aspect of his game moving forward, likely his bat.
- MLB comparison: Joey Votto, but American and therefore automatically better
Michigan returns a lot of solid pieces and will build around them with a good recruiting class. Here is my projected starting lineup looking at 2017:
|Jake Bivens, 3B|
|Ako Thomas, 2B|
|Drew Lugbauer, 1B|
|Harrison Wenson, C|
|Jonathan Engelmann, CF|
|Jimmy Kerr, DH|
|Johnny Slater, RF|
|Michael Brdar, SS|
|Christian Bullock or Dominic Clementi, LF|
Other than losing senior Hill, Michigan will only add pitchers – never a bad thing. Adding huge recruits Kauffmann and Weisenburger makes Michigan a lethal defensive team next year, something they never could use as intimidation this season.
All in all, Michigan underachieved given the talent on their roster, but is poised to be deep on the mound next season, which which will cure the rose in their side from 2015 – tired arms. There was also a lot of positive growth this season, which is what you want when your two best players (Bruder, Benedetti) are on their way out of Ann Arbor. They leave the program disappointed but in good hands – and who knows, maybe this sensation of unfinished business will lure Benedetti back for his senior season?
The MLB First Year Player Draft is on June 9. Be watching for Team 150 alumni!
Header photo courtesy of mgoblue.com