Entering the 2017 season, the Michigan baseball team has a daunting task ahead of it: the Wolverines must figure out how to move forward after losing players to both the MLB Draft and graduation.
Roster turnover proves particularly difficult in sports like baseball, where college athletic careers of core players are often cut short due to the MLB draft. Michigan is no exception as it faces the lofty obstacle of replenishing its roster after several significant departures.
The Wolverines lost three key talents to the 2016 MLB Draft – junior pitcher Brett Adcock, junior first baseman Carmen Benedetti and senior pitcher Evan Hill. In addition to the draftees, Michigan graduated four seniors – including 2016 batting average leader outfielder Cody Bruder, stolen base leader outfielder Matt Ramsay and team captain catcher Dominic Jamett.
Led by the eventual draftees and now graduated seniors, the Wolverines found moderate success in 2016, finishing with a Big Ten record of 13-10 and an overall record of 35-19. Their consistent play earned them the fifth seed at the Big Ten tournament, where they were eliminated by Ohio State in the first round.
Losing significant starters may be detrimental to the production of both the offense and the pitching staff this season. However, Michigan is used to this sort of turnover. In 2015, Michigan had three players drafted and graduated seven seniors. Michigan coach Erik Bakich recognizes that constant rebuilding is just a part of the sport.
“[The MLB Draft] is the nature of the beast in quality programs,” Bakich said. “You try to build the best program that you can build. One of the impacts of that is the players have opportunities to move onto professional baseball.”
Even with some players gone, junior infielder Jake Bivens is confident that Michigan can fill these voids.
“We lost some key contributors,” Bivens said. “Definitely guys have to step up. But we have a great group that can step right into those roles and fill those spots immediately.”
While the production of those players and their positions in the lineup can be replaced, the elements that don’t show up in the box score — experience, chemistry and locker room leadership — are harder to replicate.
The Wolverines must overcome losing the experience of seven veterans and the leadership of a trusted captain in Jamett. Continuing these intangibles will be necessary for Michigan to continue its success and elevate to the next level.
Drew Lugbauer isn’t worried, though. The junior infielder feels the closeness of the current roster will carry the team.
“[The team’s chemistry] is probably the best since I’ve been here,” Lugbauer said. “Everyone’s really tight. We all get along with each other. It’s a good locker room.”
Junior pitcher Oliver Jaskie added: “There’s not one guy on this team that I wouldn’t call a best friend or a brother.”
In order for the team to succeed this season, the Wolverines’ chemistry and new leadership will prove vital. Michigan will look for leadership from senior catcher Harrison Wenson and senior pitcher Jackson Lamb, both of whom were selected in the 2016 MLB draft, but elected to stay at Michigan for their senior seasons.
In addition to these returners, the Wolverines will look for production from their newcomers. Coach Bivens is excited about Michigan’s five college transfers. The Wolverines will look for North Dakota State transfer, outfielder Miles Lewis – 2016 WAC freshman of the year – to bolster the lineup. Furthermore, Michigan will look for Santa Rosa Community College transfer Alec Rennard – 2016 Junior College First Team All-American— to bring what Coach Bivens calls a “winners mentality,” to the rotation.
Despite losing seven players total, the Wolverines return 12 upperclassmen. With the returning players’ experience and talent, Michigan expects a strong season.
“There’s high expectations,” Jaskie said. “But we’re ready for it. We’re just focused on going out there and playing as hard as we can.”