Lugbauer’s surge powers Michigan’s offense

Wednesday, April 5, 2017 - 10:35pm

Junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer has been on a tear, hitting .403 with six home runs and 24 RBI.

Junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer has been on a tear, hitting .403 with six home runs and 24 RBI. Buy this photo
Katelyn Mulcahy/Daily

Entering the season, expectations for junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer were high, and deservingly so. After a sophomore season in which he hit .294 and slugged .483 with seven home runs and 47 runs batted-in, the preseason Big Ten Player to Watch had established himself as a left-handed power source in the heart of Michigan’s lineup. 

Through the 15 games of the season, however, that version of Lugbauer was nowhere to be found. Leading up to the Wolverines’ first home game, he possessed a .164 batting average and had struck out 21 times in 55 at-bats.

But a return to Ray Fisher Stadium was seemingly all that was needed for Lugbauer to find his form.

Since blowing open Michigan’s home opener against Northern Illinois with a two-out grand slam, the third baseman has been on a tear, hitting .403 with six home runs and 24 RBIs  good for a slugging percentage of .807. He was recognized by the Big Ten as the Conference Player of the Week for his performances last week against Toledo, Central Michigan and Penn State.

But with Lugbauer, it hasn’t just been about the raw statistics. It’s about how he records them.

Power is the defining characteristic of Lugbauer’s game. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, he’s a prototypical middle-of-the-order slugger with the ability to drive the ball out of the park in any direction.

Last week, that was on full display. Even though the contest had been effectively decided in the Wolverines' favor, Lugbauer provided the defining moment of Wednesday’s game against Central Michigan. In the seventh inning, he hit a deep shot to right field that finally landed on the roof of the neighboring indoor track and field building, a hit that Michigan coach Erik Bakich described as an “absolute bomb”.

“Farthest ball I’ve ever seen hit, for us or against us, in the five years I’ve been here,” Bakich said.

That’s not the only extraordinary feat Lugbauer has proven himself capable of. Against Penn State on Saturday, he swatted two opposite-field home runs, including a first-inning blast that landed in the outfield of the adjoining Alumni Field and a fifth-inning drive down the line that cleared the 25-foot-high left-field wall.

“I don’t care who you are, that’s really hard to do as a hitter,” Bakich said. “To not only hit the ball the other way but hit it with such authority you clear the fence.

“He’s showing line to line power, and he’s really elevating himself as one of the best power hitters in the conference. He’s a kid who works extremely hard and has created this for himself.”

But even when Lugbauer struggled to find his rhythm at the plate, he was able to make his moments count. Despite his subpar batting average and slugging for the first month of the season, he still was tied for second on the team in RBIs with 10 — a testament to Lugbauer’s work ethic and his ability to remain focused.

“Even when the hits weren’t falling for him, he prepared the same way and invested just as much time,” Bakich said. “He’s not going to do anything different.”

Certainly, Lugbauer draws the most attention for the barrage of home runs he launches into the stratosphere. But in the same fashion as his training, there’s nothing different about his approach at the plate, whether the end result is a line-drive single up the middle or a towering blast to right field.

“I just try to put a good swing on it,” he said. “My swing is kind of more geared towards (power), so I just try to find a good pitch to hit and get super selective in doing that.”

But with the way Lugbauer has been batting lately, there’s a good chance he won’t be seeing nearly as many good pitches to hit in the future.