Team 151’s season is over, and much earlier than anyone had hoped. For the second straight season, Michigan baseball stumbled at the end of the season to put an abrupt and uncharacteristic end to an extremely successful regular season. Despite winning 40 games for the first time since 2008, Michigan ended the season on a 4-game losing streak, back to back losses to exit the Big Ten Tournament as the 2-seed and again back to back losses in the Chapel Hill regional.
I owe this team a bit of an apology. Given the new faces in the batting order making up for the major losses of Carmen Benedetti (who has an .811 OPS for Low A Quad Cities in the Houston organization) and Matt Ramsay, and the new weekend ace making up for Brett Adcock (who was recently promoted to the High A Carolina League after a 1.14 ERA in 5 starts for Low A Quad Cities), I did not think that they would be as successful as they were, especially given the tough tournament schedule to begin the season. A few new faces, like North Dakota transfer Miles Lewis and JUCO transfer Nick Poirier allowed Michigan to hardly miss a beat on offense and Oliver Jaskie took the ace role by the horns, leading the Big Ten in strikeouts. Here are a few things we learned over the course of the season.
Ako Thomas is Going to be a Star
I can’t say enough about this kid. He started at second base last year as a defense-first, take-what-you-get offensively that offered speed on the basepaths. He got hot at the end of the year and became one of the best hitters in the Big Ten. He led Michigan in regular season batting average (.354), on-base percentage (.462!), fielding percentage (.994), and was 2nd in steals (23) to Jake Bivens‘ 24. His full season batting average of .368 and on-base percentage of .479 were best in the conference, and he will be the cornerstone of the team’s success next year.
Michigan is Finding a New Identity
Last season, with sluggers Benedetti, Ramsay, Harrison Wenson, and Drew Lugbauer, Team 150 was the Big Ten’s best offensive team and often won games via shootouts rather than via pitching and defense. Even though Lugbauer and Wenson still slugged with the best of the best and Michigan led the conference in runs scored, Michigan relied on pitching much more effectively this season. Their pitching staff led the conference in ERA (3.26), opponent batting average (.228), strikeouts (551), hits allowed (436), and runs allowed (211), and the team boasted the best fielding percentage, a mark of .983. Their runs and wins came via manufacturing and moving runners station to station rather than the Earl Weaver method of “pitching, defense, and the three-run home run). Last year’s two top recruits, both Michigan locals Karl Kauffmann and Jack Weisenburger pitched beautifully in small relief roles and will likely see more innings next season.
The starting rotation of Jaskie-Hendrickson-Nutof-Rennard (all juniors) is likely to stay in-tact for next season, barring any major jumps on draft day for Jaskie, who has a very high ceiling. Senior Mac Lozer was consistently the first arm out of the bullpen and allowed only 3 runs in 25 appearances, leaving a big opening for a new shutdown arm. Similarly, senior closer Jackson Lamb, who was drafted last season but chose to return to school, saved 12 games and only allowed 3 earned runs in 28 innings, a sterling ERA of .96. The closer position will be open as well.
It’s Time to Make a Run
Last season ended too early. This season ended way too early. After being the best regular season team in the Big Ten, Michigan lost leads in both regional games before ultimately being eliminated after the first weekend. They lose some key pieces next season but the core is there and I think a Big Ten title / Super Regional appearance should be the minimum expectation.
Looking to Next Year
The Biggest Losses
- Senior Michael Brdar really blossomed into a star this season, batting .310 (2nd on the team) and slugging .409 while playing some solid defense. He graduates this year and leaves big shoes to fill, likely by Nick Poirier (.286 hitter in 54 starts). or Jimmy Kerr (.275 hitter in 38 games).
- I mean…..
Best shortstop in the league?
You know our vote… pic.twitter.com/QDR6zr6Zxa
— Michigan Baseball (@umichbaseball) April 16, 2017
- Catcher / Third Base
- Harrison Wenson took a big step back offensively this season, but he was still an incredible defender. Michigan got two great catcher commits in 2016, Marcus Chavez and Harrison Salter, but I would imagine Lugbauer takes over behind the dish. Should he move to catcher, you can expect his slugging numbers will take a dip and then whoever doesn’t take the start at shortstop (Poirier or Kerr) will likely take third. Brock Keener, a rising redshirt senior who came off the bench to catch, hit .429 in 11 games and could start at catcher as well if Lugbauer sticks to third.
- In 2016, when Jackson Lamb missed most of the season due to injury, Bryan Pall did a wonderful job filling in. Lamb came back to be virtually unhittable in 2017, and Pall only appeared in 2 games. With Lamb graduating and likely to be a high draft pick, Pall could compete for the closer role again, or rising junior William Tribucher (2.63 ERA in 37 innings) could make sense at the back end too.
- Right Field
- Senior Johnny Slater was absolutely huge for Michigan this year, hitting .299, slugging .493, and stealing 15 bases in 15 attempts across starting 58 games for the Wolverines. After newcomer Miles Lewis had such an incredible season in left field and Jonathan Engelmann‘s stranglehold on the center field spot, right field will be the biggest competition going into next season. Freshmen Dominic Clementi and Christian Bullock are the front runners who are currently on the roster; Clementi hit .409 in 18 games (3 starts), Bullock only .067 – take those stats with a grain of salt; the sample sizes are far too small to make any determination at this time.
Michigan has a huge recruiting class coming in – 14 players from all across the country (5 from California, 2 from Wisconsin, 2 from New York, 2 from Illinois, 2 from Michigan, and 1 from Washington) and of all different positions (3 shortstops, 6 pitchers, a catcher, and 2 outfielders) that will make the internal position battles extremely competitive. Headlined by first baseman Danny Zimmerman (baseball name if I’ve ever heard one) and Pioneer graduate Jordan Nwogu, this class is all about speed, power, and size. Zimmerman measures 6′ 4″ and 235 pounds and has raw power with a lengthy swing but can run into some baseballs. Nwogu runs a 6.61 60-yard dash (bruh) with quick hands at the plate, measuring near the top of the class in bat speed and time to impact at the last Perfect Game showcase in February. I’ll do a more in-depth recruiting post later this summer.
Who Gets Drafted?
The MLB first-year player draft requires college players to have completed at least their junior season to be eligible for drafting. Michigan has many eligible candidates, though not all of them will hear their name called.
- Jackson Lamb was drafted in the 35th round last season after hardly appearing in the 2016 season. After this season, though, his draft stock is higher than ever. Working against him, however, is that not many teams will draft a pitcher that has already been pigeonholed into the closer role; I think he’s proven that he has the stuff, though.
- Shortstop Michael Brdar had a great season, but last year wasn’t nearly as good. That leaves scouts to ponder whether it was a fluke or has he really made the proper adjustments to last at the next level? If he is drafted, it won’t be until the later rounds.
- Catcher Harrison Wenson was drafted in the 39th round after an incredible 2016 campaign but chose to return to school for his senior season. An honorable move for sure, but after three years of starting at catcher, Wenson’s incredible 2016 season seems to be the exception rather than the rule. He might not get called earlier than where he was last year.
- Pitcher Mac Lozer had an incredible season and will likely be a middle round pick. Teams always need pitching.
- Like Brdar, outfielder Johnny Slater put it all together this season after some forgettable numbers as an underclassman. The question remains – was this a fluke or is this who he is now? Either way, no better time than your senior year to hit .300 and never get caught stealing. You can’t teach speed.
- Starting pitcher Oliver Jaskie is probably the most likely of anyone on the team to get drafted. Left-handed pitcher that dodges contact constantly and keeps his walks to a minimum. He could be a top 20 round pick if scouts ever look north of the Ohio River.
- Drew Lugbauer put up crazy power numbers last year but because he’s a corner infielder, he’ll get lost in the shuffle compared to any SEC or ACC product. If he is drafted, it will be far enough down that he won’t be offered much of a bonus and he’ll likely return to school.
- Similarly, 1B Jake Bivens still gets on base at an unbelievable pace, but his shoulder injury last summer has restricted him to playing first base only, a huge red flag for pro teams. He’s an excellent fielder and student of the game, leading the team in steals, but to be a first baseman drafted out of the Big Ten, you have to have absolutely jaw-dropping numbers like Benedetti last season.
I look at it this way, If Carmen Benedetti, a program legend, can only get drafted in the 12th round after some video game statistic seasons, I don’t expect many of the eligible players on Team 151 to hear their name called before the 20th round, save maybe Lamb.
All in all, it was a fun season if not a disappointing one. Michigan won the season series against both OSU and MSU and swept Oklahoma before conference play began. Many players put up career numbers and all of the pieces appeared to be there, but it just wasn’t in the cards come postseason. Next season should be a lot of fun given that Thomas and Lewis will lead the offensive charge. If Lugbauer and Jaskie return, the sky is the limit.
At least we still have Nike jerseys.
Header photo: MGoBlue.com