Michigan baseball draft update
Before the 2017 season began, Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich pointed to the five Wolverines selected in the previous year’s MLB Draft as emblematic of the long-term success and culture he has aimed to create.
“That’s the nature of the beast in quality programs, (you) try to build the best program you can,” Bakich said in February. “One of the impacts of that is that the players are going to develop and get drafted to professional baseball.”
After Michigan’s first 40-win season since 2008 and its second NCAA Tournament bid under Bakich, the 2017 MLB Draft served as an even stronger representation of Bakich’s efforts to build the quality program he has envisioned. The Wolverines had a school-record 11 players selected in the MLB Draft last week, which also tied for the most of any college program.
It’s also significantly more than the five that were drafted last season, and also includes seven underclassmen, who have the option to forego signing a professional contract and return to school. Depending on how many of those 11 players actually sign with major league teams, the 2018 season could be the greatest test for Bakich’s potential dynasty, in terms of the rebuilding necessary for sustained success.
The Daily looks at Michigan’s 2017 draftees and breaks down which players have signed professional contracts, which players have not and what these decisions, along with the departure of the Wolverines’ seniors, mean for next season.
Junior left-hander Oliver Jaskie (Seattle Mariners, sixth round), junior right-hander Bryan Pall (Mariners, 25th round) and senior centerfielder Johnny Slater (Mariners, 28th round):
The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash. reported last Sunday that the Mariners had agreed to terms with 26 of their 40 draft picks, including all three Wolverines. As Michigan’s No. 1 starter, Jaskie went 8-3 with a 3.77 earned-run average while tying a school record with 119 strikeouts, and Slater hit .299 with five home runs and 47 RBIs in a breakout senior season. Pall missed most of the 2017 season due to injury, but recorded seven saves and a 3.18 ERA in his college career.
Junior third baseman/catcher Drew Lugbauer (Atlanta Braves, 11th round):
Lugbauer had been drafted out of high school in Arlington, N.Y. — by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 21st round — but elected to attend Michigan instead. This time, however, he signed with the Braves after a junior season in which he hit .290 with 11 home runs and slugged .518.
“It’s a dream come true,” Lugbauer told the Poughkeepsie Journal. “This is something you’ve fantasized about since you were a little kid, and now you’re seeing it start to become real.”
Junior right-hander Ryan Nutof (Cincinnati Reds, 16th round):
Nutof told the Elgin Courier-News in his hometown of South Elgin, Ill. that he planned to visit the Reds’ Goodyear, Ariz. training facility and sign with the organization while there. In his final season as a Wolverine, Nutof was 6-2 with a 4.27 ERA.
Junior first baseman Jake Bivens (Detroit Tigers, 27th round):
Bivens officially signed with the Tigers organization last week. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2015, he hit .273 with a .436 on-base percentage this season, and finished his Michigan career with a .318 batting average and 46 stolen bases.
“I just talked it over with my family and decided this is the right decision for me and my baseball career,” Bivens told the Battle Creek Enquirer.
Senior catcher Harrison Wenson (Los Angeles Angels, 24th round), senior right-hander Mac Lozer (New York Mets, 33rd round) and senior shortstop Michael Brdar (St. Louis Cardinals, 36th round):
Wenson and Brdar have both signed with their respective teams. Wenson was a focal point of Michigan’s success on defense this season and helped guide the Wolverines’ pitching staff to a 3.46 ERA as a team, which ranked 18th in the country. He struggled to make contact at the plate, hitting just .191, but provided power with nine home runs. Brdar contributed in every facet of the game this season, with a .310 average, 37 RBIs, 19 stolen bases and a .988 fielding percentage at shortstop.
Lozer, who compiled a 1.00 ERA and averaged almost 1.4 strikeouts per inning as a senior, has not signed yet, but intends to do so.
Junior left-hander Michael Hendrickson (Cleveland Indians, 28th round) and redshirt sophomore left-hander Grant Reuss (Detroit Tigers, 29th round):
The two left-handers are the only two who have yet to decide whether they will return to Michigan or turn professional. Hendrickson broke out as part of the Wolverines’ rotation this season, posting a 6-3 record and 4.06 ERA while holding opponents to a .236 average. Reuss struck out 11 batters in six innings in his redshirt sophomore season.
How do these decisions impact Michigan’s outlook for 2018?
With the departures of Bivens and Lugbauer made official as well as that of Brdar, the Wolverines’ defensive infield — one of the best units in the nation this season — is now down to only one returning starter — sophomore second baseman Ako Thomas. Sophomore Jimmy Kerr, who filled in for Thomas after he suffered an injury against Indiana, has shown the ability to play all across the infield, and likely will have a permanent role in 2018. Redshirt freshman Joe Pace and freshman Dominic Clementi should see expanded roles as well, and sophomore Nick Poirier, who spent most of the season as the designated hitter, is also capable of playing third base. But replacing three-fourths of Michigan’s defensive bedrock won’t be an easy task.
Neither will it be easy to rebuild the Wolverines’ starting rotation, which will be without a proven ace for the first time since 2014. Hendrickson, if he returns, and junior right-hander Alec Rennard were both capable last season, and it’s possible that soon-to-be sophomores Karl Kauffman and Tommy Henry, both of whom showed flashes of their immense potential out of the bullpen last season, could claim starting spots as well. Henry recorded a 3.18 ERA and struck out 39 batters in 31 innings last season, while Kauffman had an ERA of 2.08 in 10 innings.
Overall, this will be a much different team next season, at least relative to the limited turnover between the 2016 and 2017 squads, where Michigan returned seven regular starters. Another factor to keep an eye on is the role of the Wolverines’ incoming freshman class, which is again ranked as the best class in the Big Ten. Last season’s freshman found it hard to obtain regular playing time on such an experienced team, with Henry being the main exception. But with a wide-open infield and pitching staff, that may not be the case this season.