Michigan baseball position-by-position breakdown
At the end of last season, Michigan lost 11 players to the MLB Draft — pitcher Oliver Jaskie, infielder Drew Lugbauer, catcher Harrison Wenson and infielder Michael Brdar. Jaskie was the team’s ace and was drafted in the sixth round. Lugbauer led the team in slugging percentage, home runs and runs batted in. With such significant roster turnover heading into this season, some minor growing pains were to be expected. Whether a current 4-11 record can be called “minor,” though, really depends on how well Michigan fares in conference play going forward.
A recruiting class ranked tenth nationally was supposed to plug the remaining holes in the roster. But the youthful Wolverines have struggled so far to do so.
At times, Michigan has shown that it is capable offensively. Through 15 games, the Wolverines have recorded 107 hits and taken 65 walks. On the flip side, a .221 team batting average and 4.13 runs per game average have let them down.
The pitching staff has also proved to be inconsistent thus far, posting a cumulative earned-run average of 4.66. Defensively, Michigan has recorded 27 errors with a fielding percentage hovering around .950.
As the Wolverines begin a five-game homestand with a three-game series against Bowling Green beginning Friday, The Daily breaks down the team position-by-position:
Though Michigan lost Jaskie, senior Mac Lozer and others to the draft, the team does return many from last year’s pitching staff. Seniors Alec Rennard and Jayce Vancena have starting experience from last year, but have stepped into the spotlight as two of the main starters. Rennard has pitched 16 innings thus far with an ERA of 3.38 and 13 strikeouts. Vancena is still regarded as one of Wolverines’ top pitchers, despite an 0-3 record, and a 9.35 ERA through 8.2 innings.
Sophomore Karl Kauffman, who pitched a total of 13 innings last year, has really come on in his second season. With Vancena’s struggles early on, Kauffman has staked his claim to become the No. 2 behind Rennard. Kauffman has posted a 2-2 record with a 4.64 ERA. He had stellar outings against Army and Stanford, letting up only a single run between the two.
Another sophomore fighting for a starting position, left-hander Tommy Henry, has put up impressive numbers as well. Against Stanford, Henry went seven scoreless innings and has a 2.74 ERA in 23 innings.
In the bullpen, junior William Tribucher and freshman Ben Dragani have been the go-to guys. Tribucher has an ERA of 2.53, while Dragani has allowed just six hits and four runs in 13 innings of work. Junior Troy Miller and freshman Jeff Criswell are also set to see a lot of time in relief going forward.
The position battle that received the most attention this offseason was behind the plate. Senior Brock Keener may have seemed destined to fill the void left by Wenson, but three younger guys have also been in the mix for the job. Sophomore Harrison Salter, redshirt freshman Marcus Chavez and freshman Joe Donovan have all seen time at the position this season. Keener has been the most productive offensively of the four, recording a .280 batting average, while Chavez and Salter have performed well defensively. Altogether, expect it to be somewhat of a revolving door behind the plate, with all four seeing playing time going forward, especially if the team continues to struggle.
In the sixth inning of Michigan’s first game of the season, fifth-year senior Hector Gutierrez powered a grand slam to right field to give the Wolverines a nine-run advantage against Army. “Guti” as he’s been christened by his teammates, is one of the team’s best hitters and as a result has alternated between first and third base in order to get at-bats.
Keener and talented freshman slugger Jesse Franklin have also seen time at first. All three can be offensive weapons on their day, so expect to see a lot of rotation here throughout the season.
When the bottom of the first inning rolls around at any Michigan home game this year, the first song is T.I.’s “Bring Em’ Out” — junior Ako Thomas’ walkout music. One of the best all-around players on the team, Thomas burst onto the scene last year as an All-Big Ten First Team selection. Symbolic of the Wolverines’ struggles so far, Thomas, who helped solidify one of the best defensive teams in the nation last year, leads the team with seven errors.
His .224 batting average this season also hasn’t been on par with the offensive numbers he put up a year ago. And yet, if the Wolverines are going to turn the tide, Thomas will most likely be the one to lead them.
The departure of the sure-handed Michael Brdar left a gap at the shortstop position coming into the season. Freshman Jack Blomgren has stepped up to fill that void. Blomgren, another member of this record-breaking recruiting class for the Wolverines has struggled at times this season. Blomgren has recorded six errors and a .154 batting average. Despite this, the coaching staff appears content on having the freshman press on.
As has been a theme at other positions this year, no one has excelled at third base. Junior Jimmy Kerr is widely considered the starter at the position, but only has a .880 fielding percentage and a .125 batting average. Kerr is a respected veteran on the team though, and despite his struggles, he will remain a fixture in the starting lineup.
As a redshirt sophomore, Miles Lewis started every game in left field for the Wolverines. Now a year later, Lewis should do the same barring injury. The current clubhouse leader in RBIs and home runs with 12 and two respectively, Lewis typically hits in the two-hole. In addition to hitting for power, the hulking 6-foot-1, 200-pounder is quite capable of getting on base and getting into scoring opportunities, having recorded 29 walks and 19 stolen bases last year. A 1.000 fielding percentage this season also speaks to what a great all-around player Lewis is.
To the right of Lewis is another powerful junior, Jonathan Engelmann. Typically Michigan’s cleanup hitter, Engelmann currently is hitting at a rate of .237 with a team-high 14 hits. Like Lewis, the young Wolverines look to Engelmann for not only an offensive spark but also as a source of leadership.
Sophomore right-fielder Christian Bullock rounds out the outfield and leads the team with four stolen bases. The speedster has been capable of getting on base as well, hitting .250 and reaching base on four walks.
The outfield as a whole has been fairly consistent defensively, with Bullock owning the only error, which occurred at the top of the 7th inning against Lawrence Tech on Wednesday.
Sophomore Dominic Clementi has been a major contributor this season as a designated hitter, though he could also play in the outfield. As a freshman he finished last season with a .409 batting average through 18 games. Thus far, Clementi has been hitting at a significantly lesser rate of .242. As the season goes on though, Clementi could be a valuable offensive weapon for Michigan.