The 2018 season for Michigan baseball was a roller-coaster.
After losing 11 players to the MLB draft, many freshmen and inexperienced players were thrown into important roles. After a 4-11 start last season, the Wolverines followed by going on a 20-game win-streak. After accomplishing such a great achievement, Michigan subsequently crashed — a disappointing Big Ten Tournament and a poor finish for the regular season resulted in the Wolverines getting left out of the College World Series.
This season couldn’t be more different.
Michigan coach Erik Bakich and this team entered the season with high expectations — and so far they seem to be on track. The experience gained by those young and untested players has already paid dividends as they have led the Wolverines to a 14-4 record.
Michigan has used only two newcomers extensively in its lineup thus far. Junior outfielder Jordan Brewer who transferred in 2018 after two seasons at Lincoln Trail Community College (Illinois) and freshman right-hander Willie Weiss. Brewer has been a consistent starter all season while Weiss has seen opportunities in a relief role.
The Wolverines’ defense and pitching were expected to be their strengths this season and have been as advertised with a team ERA of just 2.56 and a team fielding percentage of .974. But their hitting has also been impressive. Michigan has put up five or more runs in 11 of its first 18 games. As a team, the Wolverines average over seven runs per game and have a healthy batting average at .281.
The Daily breaks down the team position-by-position:
Someone with two first names is usually subject to a plethora of jokes.
But junior Tommy Henry’s season has been no joke.
The left-handed ace has been dealing this season. His 0.51 ERA and a 5-0 record puts him atop the team and the Big Ten in both categories. He leads the team in innings pitched, has the fewest walks, earned runs and batting average.
Henry has a strong supporting cast of starters in junior right-hander Karl Kauffman and sophomore right-hander Jeff Criswell. Kauffman would be the headliner if not for the outstanding performance of Henry. Kauffman has an ERA of 1.06 and a 4-1 record. He holds his opponents to a batting average of .164. Criswell rounds out the rotation with a 3.51 ERA. Criswell's role has increased after pitching in relief last season. The loss of sophomore left-hander Ben Dragani to season ending Tommy John surgery seems to have pushed Criswell into a larger role.
Sophomore Joe Donovan grabbed the starting position in the offseason and hasn’t looked back. Donovan has been a steady presence behind the plate thus far. His defensive prowess — with a .993 fielding percentage — and his vocal leadership have made Donovan a key player for Michigan. Freshman Casey Buckley and redshirt sophomore Harrison Salter are the primary reserves for Donovan. Combined, they’ve played in 12 games and started four. Unlike last season, catcher is a known quantity and should continue to be a strength for the Wolverines.
Junior Jordan Brewer was a bit of an unknown coming into the season. Bakich raved about his athleticism, but Brewer’s batting has been the highlight of this season. Against Manhattan, Brewer had the bases loaded with two outs and an 0-2 count. He crushed the ball into left field for a grand slam adding to his collection of highlights this season. He has started all 18 games and has the third best batting average on the team at .368. But Brewer is more than just a slugger. His fielding percentage is an incredible .986. At first base, Michigan is solid both defensively and offensively so don’t expect many opportunities for the reserve players.
Last season, senior Ako Thomas suffered a wrist injury derailing a promising junior campaign. This season, he is looking to reach the All-Big Ten First Team form he enjoyed in his sophomore season. Thomas looks healthy again and, while his early season batting average is lower than last season, he has plenty of time to rectify those issues. Thomas’ defense has been top-notch again this season with a fielding percentage of .982. Additionally, his base-running skills are something that the Wolverines will look to utilize. Over his sophomore and junior seasons Thomas stole 38 bases — an impressive tally considering his junior season was shortened due to the aforementioned injury. Thomas has split time this season with senior Blake Nelson. Nelson brings an added element of batting with an impressive .452 average in 11 games this season. But, the added power comes with a tradeoff as Nelson has accrued six errors this season compared to Thomas’ one.
Sophomore Jack Blomgren has retained his starting position from last season. Blomgren appears to have made a significant jump since then, hitting .339 as compared to .216 last season. Blomgren already has 13 RBI this season compared to last season’s tally of 18 in less than half of the games. Blomgren’s fielding has improved vastly as well, with just one error this season.
Senior Jimmy Kerr is the veteran leader of this team. Kerr returns as starter this season and, while his batting has not been exceptional, his defense appears to have improved since last season. Kerr has built on his fielding percentage from last season, going from .893 to .923. Kerr is a steady presence on both the field and in the dugout. His teammates have a lot of respect for the player who embodies Michigan baseball. Kerr’s father and grandfather played at Michigan as well. Kerr has started every game this season.
After starting the past two seasons in left field, redshirt senior Miles Lewis has been shifted over to right field. Lewis has been a solid hitter this season at .292 — a marked improvement over .230 last season. His two home runs this season nearly equal last season’s total of three. Lewis has once again been a pillar of Michigan’s defense with a 1.000 fielding percentage.
Sophomore Jesse Franklin has risen to take the reins at center field after the departure of Jonathan Engelmann. Franklin has had a ho-hum start to the season at the plate batting just .218, but he’s added two home runs and 13 RBI. Franklin has also been first-rate defensively on par with his outfield teammates with a .978 fielding percentage and a single error.
Sophomore Jordan Nwogu began this season hot, starting 12 games at left field and splitting time with junior Christian Bullock. Nwogu’s hitting prowess has been notable — he has the team’s second-best batting average at .391 and boasts an on base percentage of .462. Nwogu has been perfect statistically with zero errors on the season.
Bullock brings a different skill set to left field. He has the second most stolen bases on the team with seven. His batting and on base percentage are lower, but his athleticism makes Bullock an important piece of this team.
Junior Dominic Clementi has started since his freshman year at designated hitter. He has shared some time with Nwogu this season, but Clementi for now appears to be the preferred choice at the position. He has also been a pinch hitter this season. Clementi is struggling this season with a .189 batting average and no home runs. It remains to be seen whether or not Bakich will make a more permanent change at DH.