Last season, the Michigan Wolverines baseball team managed to pull off a near impossible feat — despite finishing the regular season with a 12-12 conference record and an RPI ranking in the mid 90s, the Wolverines won the Big Ten Tournament and took NCAA Regional hosts Louisville to an all-or-nothing final game.
Headed into 2023, fans are undoubtedly wondering a similar question: can it happen again?
While there’s certainly a fair share of talent on this year’s squad, the Wolverines’ offseason churn — both in the roster and the coaching staff — has first-year head coach Tracy Smith focusing on their long term potential rather than immediate successes.
“This is the fourth time I’ve done this with a program — when you have change, you’re instituting a whole new system,” Smith said during the team’s media day. “Been a lot of success at the University of Michigan prior to me coming, so I’ve been really pleased with the guys buying into the new things we’re talking about. Execution, I think we need to get better on that, but we’ll see that when we start playing someone in another uniform.”
Pre-season tidbits from Smith
Expect experimentation - “Well it’s gonna have to be an all hands on deck situation I think. It’s been well documented that there’s a little bit of shortness in the roster piece and the things that happened there, but everybody’s willing to contribute to the overall success of the team. We may ask you if you haven’t played at this position, hey you might do it this year, you haven’t pitched since high school. Well guess what, you might have to give us some innings this year.”
Several freshmen are expected to be major contributors - “Mitch Voit at third base has been really, really solid for us. He’s also gonna be our closer starting out of the gate. Greg Pace has been really solid for us in center field as of late.”
Jimmy Obertop won’t be active to start due to injury - “Hopefully we’re gonna get him back at some point during the year, but he’s been engaged every day in practice. Right now he’s gonna be coaching first base for us just to keep him involved, and he’s been really attentive on that.”
Despite being short staffed, the pitching is improving - “I think that’s a little bit of our challenge initially is to figure out with the limited number of arms just on the roster how we put that formula together. I think Michigan did a really good job late of figuring out how to win a weekend, and we’re gonna try to call upon that history to see what that formula was. But also, guys are improved from last year, they’ve grown up. I think what (pitching coach Brock Huntzinger) has done with the pitchers has worked. I talked to guys who watched last year’s team and watched the scrimmages and they said, ‘Hey you guys are throwing more strikes.’”
State of the Big Ten
Last season, the Big Ten was dominated by three teams — the regular season champion Maryland Terrapins, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and the Iowa Hawkeyes. While the Hawkeyes may see a slump this season, the Terrapins and Scarlet Knights are still the teams to beat in the conference.
Dates to circle
Feb. 17-19, MLB Desert Invitational, Scottsdale, AZ - The Wolverines’ curtain raiser tournament sees matchups against Fresno State, UC San Diego, Grand Canyon University and a non-conference game against Michigan State.
March 3-5, Shriners College Classic, Houston, TX - In an opportunity to score some revenge from last year, Michigan faces off against Texas Tech and Louisville at Minute Maid Park, as well as a game against the TCU Horned Frogs.
April 21-23, vs. Michigan State - With the Ohio State series in Columbus, Michigan State is the lone rivalry matchup at Ray Fisher Stadium this season.
April 28-30, vs. Oklahoma State - In a rare late out-of-conference weekend, the Wolverines face off against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, who were the seventh overall seed and a regional host in 2022.