The Michigan baseball team’s run was nothing short of magical. From being down to their last out in the loser’s bracket of the Big Ten baseball tournament, to bouncing back from a dismal late against Creighton in Corvallis, to crushing Texas Tech to make the finals, the post-season provided an unprecedented spotlight to a sport that doesn’t typically receive as much attention at Michigan.
While Ako Thomas, Jordan Nwogu and the Wolverines will be back to try to prove Michigan really belongs in the same sentence as baseball’s elite, for five members of the College World Series team the dream continues with tiny ballparks and wood bats. Michigan had five draftees in the most recent MLB Draft, and four of them had at least a cup of coffee in the minors after the College World Series was over.
Let’s take a look at how the Wolverines’ new minor leaguers did in their limited action. If you followed the College World Series closely, you won’t be surprised which less-heralded player turned heads in his first season. A word of caution when interpreting anything here: none of these guys are really expected to have gone deep or broken out in their first minors season. Their seasons next year are far more critical (and I promise, we’ll check in again then).
Tommy Henry, P
Drafted: Competitive Balance Round B (Between Rounds 2 and 3), Pick 74, Arizona Diamondbacks
Minor League Team: Hillsboro Hops (Class A-Short Season, Northwest League)
Tommy Henry was the first Wolverine drafted (the same night Michigan beat Creighton to qualify for the CWS), but after 20 appearances (19 starts) in the college season, the Diamondbacks sought to limit his innings. They did give him a chance to show what he’s got, pitching 3 innings in three separate appearances, all starts. He first started on July 23rd, and in his first at bat recorded a strikeout but the player reached on a wild pitch. A one-out triple got that guy home, but Henry was able to strand him at third with a second strikeout and a fly out. He recorded two runs, two hits, and another two strikeouts in his next outing. In his final inning on August 2nd he didn’t get a strikeout, but it only took him 10 pitches to get out of the inning, and he did not give up any runs. He was shut down after that, with Hillsboro manager Javier Colina citing the big club’s desire for him to “save his arm and build him up for next year.”
Karl Kauffmann, P
Drafted: Competitive Balance Round B, Pick 77, Colorado Rockies
Minor League Team: Asheville Tourists (Class A, South Atlantic League)
Kauffmann signed a minor league contract with the Rockies and was assigned to Asheville, but never actually made an appearance. Kauffmann led the Wolverines in innings pitched at 130, and it is not surprising that he was never given game action. While it was initially suggested he was headed to the Rockies’ Rookie team in Grand Junction, hopefully his assignment to Asheville shows the Rockies think he’ll immediately be ready to play at a higher level next season.
Jordan Brewer, OF
Drafted: Round 3, Pick 106, Houston Astros
Minor League Team: Tri-City ValleyCats (Class A-Short Season, New York-Penn League)
The last of Michigan’s first night draftees, Brewer was getting a decent amount of work with Tri-City, before being shut down with an injury. Making his debut on July 27th, Brewer started his career 0-for-13, before scoring in his first at-bat of his fifth game. While that sparked a four-game hitting streak, he had an uneven first season. Ultimately Brewer went 7-for-54, good for a .130 average. He did avoid strikeouts, only succumbing to six. Brewer’s best game came on August 12th, when he went 2/4 and hit his first career homer, his only one of the season. Brewer was hurt on a headfirst slide into home on August 15th, and went back to Houston for testing, and never returned. Despite the offensive struggles, he played in 15 of the 20 ValleyCats games between his debut and his injury, indicating the patience the Astros organization has to let him get his sea legs in the minors. Other than the home run, his season highlight was likely his turn on the tarp crew, trying to play faster after a long rain delay:
Here’s ValleyCats OF Jordan Brewer, Astros third-round pick, working on the tarp crew before tonight’s game: pic.twitter.com/4t5nLbsmvA— Mark Singelais (@MarkSingelais) July 28, 2019
Jack Weisenburger, P
Drafted: Round 20, Pick 614, Oakland A’s
Minor League Team: AZL Athletics Gold (Rookie, Arizona League)
While Weisenburger may not have been a major contributor to the Wolverines’ World Series run, he did have an overall impressive career at Michigan and got himself drafted. As he had only pitched 29 innings in the college season, the A’s let him pitch, and he made 11 appearances for one of their two Arizona League teams*. Weisenburger pitched well, giving up just 7 hits over 15 innings, and racking up four saves. In his second game as a pro, Weisenburger closed a combined no-hitter, with four shutouts and no walks in two innings. Weisenburger pitched 28 total strikeouts, including six in two innings on August 19th. While his College World Series use may have been limited, it looks like Weisenburger might be a fun player to follow on his journey through the minors.
Jimmy Kerr, 3B
Drafted: Round 33, Pick 982, Detroit Tigers
Minor League Team: GCL Tigers West (Rookie, Gulf Coast League)
Jimmy Kerr was one of the most fun players to watch at the College World Series, belting seven home runs during the NCAA Tournament, including 2 in the game that sent Michigan to the Finals. Kerr was assigned to one of the two Tigers GCL teams*, where he was able to continue the power hitting he had shown during the college season. Kerr hit six homers, good for the second most on GCL Tigers West (it’s still second if you add GCL Tigers East to the picture). Kerr knocked in 19 RBIs and compiled a .278 average. A .924 OPS landed him 11th in the league (min. 50 ABs). With Kerr working his way through the system of Ann Arbor’s closest ball-club, hopefully Michigan fans get the opportunity to see him in person again one day.
*I am fascinated by this. After the 2015 season the Venezuelan Summer League shut down, and a bunch of the MLB teams that had VSL affiliates responded by just stashing a second team in either the AZL or GCL. In the GCL the Tigers, Yankees, and Phillies all just label them “East” and “West” despite sharing stadiums, but in the AZL the Cubs and Padres label them “1” and “2”, the A’s and Indians label them team colors (ie. A’s Green and A’s Gold), and, my personal favorite, the Dodgers label them “Dodgers Lasorda” and “Dodgers Mota.”