After 30 games, Keener has secured starting catcher role
For the Michigan baseball team, no position was more of a question mark coming into the season than catcher. Last year’s team had a program-high eleven draft picks, and one of them was senior catcher Harrison Wenson, who started 126 games over the course of his Wolverine career.
The departure left a clear void in the lineup. Senior Brock Keener, sophomore Harrison Salter, redshirt freshman Marcus Chavez and freshman Joe Donovan battled for the position through the fall and winter. Teammates and coaches alike were impressed with all four players in the offseason.
“Harry, last year, was a fantastic catcher,” said senior pitcher Alec Rennard. “After he left, what I saw in the three guys that are returning — Brock, Harry Salter, Marcus and then the new kid, Joe Donovan — was just an absolute fire was lit from day one with them. I’ve just seen them all putting their best foot forward every day. I just think they’re pushing themselves to compete at their highest level.”
The competition lasted well into the start of the season. During the team’s spring break tour, they all saw time behind the plate, but Chavez was given the start in the first game of the season against Army.
“We had that pre-determined that Marcus was going to catch the first two and Salter was going catch on Sunday,” said head coach Erik Bakich at the time. “And Joe Donovan’s had mono for pretty much the entire preseason and Brock Keener (was) out for over a week with an illness as well.”
Bakich would continue to rotate through all four prior to returning to Ann Arbor. Chavez started six of the first 14 games, while Donovan and Salter started five and three, respectively. Keener, on the other hand, had seen ample time at first base during the trip, but had yet to make a start at catcher. The matchup against Lawrence Tech was that opportunity.
The senior, who may have been favored for the starting position coming into the offseason, has relinquished the position just twice since then.
Early on, Keener struggled defensively. He leads the other catchers in passed balls with nine and has the third-most errors on the team with four. Gradually, though, he became more comfortable behind the plate. His blocking has considerably improved as the season continues.
Offensively, Keener has also grown into his own. Of the four catchers, Keener’s .276 batting average is second only to Salter’s .314. He is also tied for third on the team in doubles and runs scored with four and 18, respectively.
Though it’s safe to say Keener has secured the starting spot for now, the other three catchers will certainly play a role as the season progresses.
Salter seems to be the go-to, second-string catcher during busy portions of the schedule. But if we know anything about this team, it’s that the coaching staff is willing to throw young players into the mix if necessary. The idea of playing the two promising freshmen, Chavez and Donovan, will not be abandoned entirely.
“I’d tell you that we have four legitimate catchers that could start at a lot of Division I programs,” Bakich said. “And instead of having competition where we are just going to pick one, we’re going to ask all four of them to contribute and add value every time their number is called.”