Michigan Baseball kicks off its 2020 campaign on Friday night in Arizona against Vanderbilt to start a weekend that will also see them play Cal Poly and Connecticut in the MLB4 Collegiate Tournament, as well as an extra game in Tempe against Arizona State.
The Wolverines are expected once again to be near the top of the rankings this season, but have no shortage of big pieces to replace in both the lineup and the pitching staff. Gone is outfielder and Big Ten Player of the Year Jordan Brewer (.329/.389/.557 w/ 12 HR, 59 RBI), infielder Blake Nelson (.297/.391/.390 w/ 1 HR, 39 RBI) and first baseman Jimmy Kerr (.269/.364/.500 w/ 15 HR, 64 RBI), as well as Ako Thomas and Miles Lewis.
That said, Michigan still feels confident about what they have with a good core of players returning from last season mixed with some budding prospects and freshmen stepping into the fold.
Here is how the lineup is projected to look this year with the caveat that Jesse Franklin is out until mid-March with an injury.
|C||0||Joe Donovan (So.)||R/R||63-60||.236||209||12||0||9||37||.421||.314||20||0-2|
|1B||9||Matthew Schmidt (R-Sr.)||R/R||14-1||.167||12||1||0||0||2||.250||.389||2||2-2|
|2B||12||Riley Bertram (So.)||S/R||18-3||.385||26||4||0||0||7||.538||.515||4||1-1|
|SS||2||Jack Blomgren (Jr.)||R/R||70-70||.314||242||8||2||3||47||.401||.417||35||7-11|
|3B||10||Cam Hart (So.)||R/R||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--|
|LF||42||Jordan Nwogu (Jr.)||R/R||64-64||.321||246||14||4||12||46||.557||.435||44||16-18|
|CF||7||Jesse Franklin (Jr.)||L/L||68-68||.262||260||15||1||13||55||.477||.388||51||4-4|
|RF||5||Christian Bullock (Sr.)||L/L||46-31||.263||118||7||2||2||14||.407||.385||22||14-16|
|DH||8||Jimmy Obertop (Fr.)||R/R||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--|
|OF||13||Doninic Clementi (Sr.)||L/R||38-17||.185||87||4||1||1||6||.299||.276||9||2-2|
|INF||3||Ted Burton (Fr.)||R/R||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--||--|
The game notes ahead of this weekend show Christian Bullock moving over to center field with Dominic Clementi playing right field. Ted Burton is not listed in the probable starters section but is at third base in the diagram in the release, as we wrote on Sunday.
The pitching has some similar questions to it with both Karl Kauffman (12-7. 3.03 ERA) and Tommy Henry (12-5, 3.27 ERA) now in MiLB pitching for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks organizations, respectively. Michigan still has an ace to turn to, however, with junior Jeff Criswell expected to be the team’s Friday pitcher this season.
And here’s a look at Michigan’s projected pitching staff, per the game notes.
|17||Jeff Criswell (Jr.)||Right||2.58||7-1||21-17||101||82||37||29||47||109||17||.228||3|
|27||Steve Hajjar (R-Fr.)||Left||Medical redshirt in 2019|
|21||Ben Dragani (R-So.)||Left||Medical redshirt in 2019|
|Projected Bullpen (Guys we have stats for)|
|14||Benjamin Keizer (R-Sr.)||Left||4.30||4-1||34-0||44||31||23||21||21||48||11||.196||2|
|20||Willie Weiss (So.)||Right||2.97||2-2||27-0||39.1||25||15||13||32||50||9||.180||9|
|25||Isaiah Page (R-So.)||Right||2.75||4-1||26-5||52.1||43||22||16||16||33||15||.218||1|
|35||Walker Cleveland (Jr.)||Left||4.23||4-3||15-3||38.1||30||20||18||15||19||12||.219||0|
|40||Angelo Smith (Sr.)||Left||4.60||1-0||23-4||31.1||34||22||16||20||39||11||.271||0|
Behind Criswell is a lot of unknown factors at the moment, especially with redshirt sophomore Ben Dragani returning after missing last season in rehab from Tommy John surgery. He started 11 games in 2018 with a 6-2 record and 2.76 ERA in 75 innings pitched. Redshirt sophomore Isaiah Page gave the Wolverines some good innings last season, so it would not be a shock to see him factor in, as well.
Odds and Ends
- Michigan has the task of replacing 30 home runs from key contributors last year (and more while Franklin is out). It’s going to be interesting how they are able to replace that in the lineup via the new guy stepping in, the current guys taking a step forward or a combination of the both.
- The pitching staff outside of Criswell is going to be something to keep an eye on. Dragani may need some ramping up in his workload before fully taking control of a stater’s share of work. Tommy John surgery can be brutal to return from. Freshman Cameron Weston is among the names to watch for someone to get some extra work during these weekend four-game sets.
- Both true freshmen in Jimmy Obertop and Ted Burton seem primed for key roles with the team. Obertop can catch and also play some first base in addition to potentially playing DH, while Burton is at third base in the game notes.
- Head coach Erik Bakich said on Sunday that he plans on Nwogu continuing to lead off this season, as he likes what he brings as a tone-setter and cited the desire to get him as many guaranteed at-bats as possible this year. It seems he will primarily play the outfield this year after spending the last two seasons as a DH.
- Nwogu and Criswell are considered the team’s top two MLB Draft prospects this season. Franklin (when healthy) and Jack Blomgren are also considered guys that could crack the top five rounds in the right conditions. Dragani and Joe Donovan are also potential players to keep an eye on. Franklin (37th round, Seattle Mariners in 2017) and Donovan (33rd round, Chicago Cubs in 2017) were previously MLB Draft picks before heading to Michigan instead coming out of high school.
No. 13 Michigan kicks off the 2020 baseball season on Friday night in Scottsdale, Arizona in a College World Series final rematch with No. 2 Vanderbilt with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. ET. That game will be broadcast nationally via MLB Network.
The Wolverines will play a pair of games on Saturday with a game against Cal Poly at 3 p.m. ET followed by a bus trip to Tempe to take on No. 9 Arizona State at 8 p.m. ET. They will close out the weekend on Sunday in Scottsdale with a showdown with Connecticut at 12 p.m. ET. We will have recaps of all the games here at Maize n Brew throughout the season.