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Michigan Baseball Opening Weekend Preview

The Wolverines open their season with a rematch of last year’s finals against Vanderbilt followed by games against Cal Poly, Arizona State, and UConn.

College World Series - Michigan v Vanderbilt - Game Three Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Last year, Michigan Baseball had its best season since 1962, falling one game short of a national championship. After beating the top seeded UCLA Bruins in the Super Regionals, the Wolverines fell short to the heavily-favored Commodores in the finals, ending their historic run.

Now, despite losing some of their top players, the Wolverines are hungry to make a return to the CWS, rolling with a “One More” mantra, representing the team being one game away from a national championship last season.

The No. 13 Wolverines play four games this weekend, starting in Scottsdale, Arizona with No. 2 Vanderbilt on Friday night at 7 p.m. ET on MLB Network. Saturday, the Wolverines play a double-header, featuring a matchup with Cal Poly at 3 p.m. ET and then a prime time matchup against No. 9 Arizona State at 8 p.m. ET. Michigan wraps up the weekend on Sunday against the Connecticut Huskies at 12 p.m. EST.

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For your Wolverines: The starter for Friday night is junior righty Jeff Criswell. Criswell, who posted a 2.58 ERA last season, was officially named the ace by Coach Erik Bakich last weekend. The rest of the rotation isn’t a sure thing following the departures of Karl Kauffman and Tommy Henry to the MLB. The likely starters for the Saturday and Sunday games this weekend, in no order, are redshirt sophomores Ben Dragani and Isaiah Page and redshirt freshman Steve Hajjar.

In the lineup, the Wolverines return about half of their starters. Junior outfielder and designated hitter Jordan Nwogu was the spark plug for team last year from his leadoff spot in the lineup. Other key returners include senior outfielder Christian Bullock, junior shortstop Jack Blomgren, and junior catcher Joe Donovan. The experience and leadership these three bring will be an important asset to the offense all year.

One newcomer to keep an eye on is freshman Jimmy Obertop. Obertop played behind the plate in high school, but he will probably find more playing time at first base and designated hitter. A preseason candidate to win Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Obertop should be a valuable part of this lineup.

Vanderbilt: The season kicks off tonight where Michigan seeks revenge against the reigning national champs, the Vanderbilt Commodores. The Commodores are ranked behind only Louisville to start the 2020 year at No. 2.

Junior shortstop Austin Martin very well may be the best player in the country. Last year, he led the team in batting average at a .392 clip. Nearly the consensus No. 1 pick in the upcoming 2020 draft, the Detroit Tigers have the first shot at selecting the star middle infielder.

As far as the rotation goes, Vanderbilt has as strong of a 1-2 punch as any team. Junior right-hander Mason Hickman is the starter for tonight against Michigan. Hickman was the winning pitcher in Game 3 of the College World Series where he twirled six innings of one run ball. His 2.05 ERA ranked fourth in the SEC last year. The second punch of their rotation is phenom Kumar Rocker. If you didn’t know him before his 19 strikeout no-hitter against Duke last year, you know him now. Rocker has an electric fastball and a devastating slider. Currently a sophomore, Rocker has the potential to be the top pick in the 2021 draft.

Cal Poly: Baseball is unique because smaller schools in smaller conferences are very capable of competing with larger schools in Power 5 conferences. We saw this in 2016 when Coastal Carolina won the national championship. The Cal Poly Mustangs take on Michigan Saturday afternoon at 12 p.m. ET. Last season, the Mustangs finished 28-28, but with a solid conference record of 17-7.

The Mustangs return 10 position players who started 20 or more games last season. They are led by junior corner infielder Tate Samuelson. As the power threat in the middle of the lineup, he paced the team in home runs and RBI’s each of the last two seasons.

The guy the Wolverines can expect to see on the bump is Andrew Alvarez, a junior southpaw. He pitched mostly out of the bullpen last year, but has earned a job in the starting rotation this season. He posted a 1-3 record and a 5.10 ERA last season.

Arizona State: All eyes are going to be on the Michigan versus Vanderbilt matchup this weekend - and deservedly so since it is a rematch of last year’s championship and once again features some elite talent. But Vanderbilt isn’t the only top 10 team that Michigan will see this weekend.

The No. 9 Sun Devils finished with a 38-19 record and made the NCAA tournament before dropping two of their three games in the NCAA Regionals. Junior first baseman Spencer Torkelson is one of the best power hitters in the country. Last season, he hit .351 with 23 home runs. He is a projected top five pick in the 2020 MLB Draft.

Michigan will likely see either junior Boyd Vander Kooi, who threw 95 innings last season as part of the rotation, freshman Cooper Benson, or Saint Mary’s transfer Tyler Thornton. Last season, pitching was the weakness of the Sun Devils so it will be interesting to see if this group can make the next step to complement the dynamic offense.

UConn: The matchup with UConn is Michigan’s final game of the weekend. The Huskies present another tough matchup for the Wolverines.

Connecticut finished the 2019 season with a solid 39-25 record, good enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament. UConn won three games in their regional before they were finally sent home by Oklahoma State. Freshman first baseman Reggie Crawford adds some serious pop to the lineup for the Huskies. Returning outfielders Ben Maycock and Chris Winkel are also looking to build off solid 2019 campaigns.

Junior rigth-handers Joe Simeone and Colby Dunlop are throwing the first two games of the weekend for the Huskies. The two combined made 38 appearances, but only 15 of those were starts. The starter for the Sunday matchup with the Wolverines has not been announced yet.