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Getting to know Michigan baseball: 2014 edition

Allison Farrand/Daily
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By Ben Fidelman, Daily Sports Writer
Published March 25, 2014

After playing 24 games in five different states, the Michigan baseball team made its home debut this week. The team got off to a frustrating 2-8-1 start to the season, but it has rebounded of late and is trending upward moving into Big Ten play. The Daily broke down the team, position by position.

Outfield

Led by junior center fielder Jackson Glines, the Wolverines’ outfield has provided a solid footing for the lineup on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the starting trio of Glines, freshman right fielder Jackson Lamb and junior left fielder Kyle Jusick combine for a .300 batting average and make up just under half of the team’s runs batted in.

This is a new combination for the team — it’s Glines’ first year at Michigan after transferring from Fresno City College, Lamb is fresh out of high school and Jusick was primarily a first baseman and designated hitter in the 2013 season. The three have big shoes to fill, including accounting for the absences of former outfielders Michael O’Neil and Patrick Biondi, who are now playing minor league baseball.

Often, when a group of players pack such a punch on offense, there is skill conceded on defense, but not here. All three see significant time in the field and have only committed one total error. Not only are they consistent, but they also come through when it counts. In the third game of the Indiana series, Lamb made a game-saving catch in the eighth inning that is an early candidate for Big Ten defensive play of the year. One of the team’s major focuses is defense, and this is one position area that has shown tremendous consistency all year.

Glines was named the Big Ten Player of the Week on March 9, after going 9-for-17 with eight RBI in the Wolverines’ Spring Break trip in Florida.

Infield

Michigan is loaded with young and versatile infielders, many of whom are raising eyebrows throughout the Big Ten.

Freshman Ramsey Romano and sophomore Jacob Cronenworth have proven to be flexible when it comes to positioning — both have split time evenly between second and third base.

Cronenworth is coming off a 2013 campaign that yielded a .320 batting average, 41 RBI and a Freshman All-American Team selection. Though he’s overcoming early-season struggles at the plate, he posted a .416 batting average in the Wolverines’ opening Big Ten series at Indiana.

As one of two freshmen regularly starting for the squad, Romano went through some expected early-season turbulence. His average is a modest .247, but he has proven to be a key role player at the bottom of the lineup.

Perhaps the most well-rounded player on the Michigan roster is sophomore shortstop Travis Maezes, whose average has been sitting in the low .300s for much of the year but has undergone a recent uptick. The lefty showed power when he pounded two home runs in the same day against the College of Charleston.

With a tremendously young infield, senior catcher Cole Martin provides a breath of leadership where it’s most desperately needed. Perhaps his greatest strength this season has been durability. Multiple times, Martin has held his post behind the plate for three or four games in a weekend — a physical toughness that not all catchers can offer. Though he is putting up a miserable .176 batting average, his worth is well-covered by his defense and leadership.

Two other offensive forces reside at first base in Jusick and junior Kendall Patrick. The duo usually fills the four and five holes in the batting order, with one or the other at designated hitter. Patrick has two home runs on the season — one of just three players on the team to hit a single dinger this year.

Starting Pitching

The starting rotation has given a mixed bag of results so far this season. Many expected more stability from a rotation that returned every arm that started a game in the 2013 season, but that dependability is hit or miss. The group is led by fifth-year senior right-hander Ben Ballantine, who carries a 2.81 earned-run average through six starts this season and has tentatively been named the team’s ace. Ballantine’s ERA was among the best in the Big Ten until his start Friday against the Hoosiers, when he was roughed up for three runs in 1.2 innings pitched.

The combination of sophomore left-hander Evan Hill and junior left-hander Trent Szkutnik have combined for a shaky tail-end to the weekend rotation. Though they only have one combined win, their strikeout numbers are among the best in the Big Ten. Power pitching is one of the staff’s goals, and these pitchers perfectly fill that role.

Bullpen

The story of the season so far has been the young bullpen’s highs and lows. It’s the area that the team lives and dies with — when playing in so many close games, having reliable arms in the late innings is key.

Junior right-hander Donnie Eaton, senior right-hander Alex Lakatos, freshman right-hander Mac Lozer and freshman right-hander Keith Lehmann are pitchers who have emerged as being most dependable.

Cronenworth acts as the closer and is considered one of the best in the country. Offseason labrum surgery kept him off the mound through the first few weeks of the season, but he has rebounded well enough to maintain an 0.96 ERA while racking up a Big Ten-best five saves.