Position-by-position preview: Roster turnover no problem for Michigan
Like your typical pastry shop, turnover is the name of the game for the No. 17 Michigan softball team this year.
Out goes right-hander Megan Betsa and one of the most accomplished senior classes in program history. In comes a freshman class with two top-10 recruits and another player inside FloSoftball.com’s Top 100. The Wolverines are also looking to turn over a new leaf after falling to Michigan State in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and losing to Washington in the NCAA Regional last season.
Here is The Daily’s position by position breakdown of the 2018 Michigan softball team:
Although the Wolverines lost Betsa, it would be a mistake to confuse Michigan’s youth movement in the circle for a complete rebuild.
Freshman ace and left-hander Meghan Beaubien — who boasts a 15-2 record — is not short on talent by any means. Beaubien comes to Ann Arbor with an already-rich pedigree: the former Saint Mary Catholic Central pitcher led her high school to three consecutive Michigan state championships from 2015-17 while compiling 1,442 strikeouts.
And so far, Beaubien looks like everything one would expect the No. 6 prospect in the country to look like. In her first career start, the freshman tossed a no-hitter and has not allowed more than five hits in any game that she pitched seven or more innings. Beaubien boasts a 0.91 earned-run average. She has been the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week three times already this season.
While right-hander Sarah Schaefer (2-3) might not be as consistently dominant at Beaubien, the other freshman in the Wolverines’ rotation has been productive as well. Schaefer has a 1.45 ERA, and in her most recent start against Robert Morris, notched a perfect game in five innings. Schaefer, though, has only pitched one complete game, as Hutchins often opts to take her out of the circle in jams.
With a veteran like senior right-hander Tera Blanco (5-1), however, Hutchins has that luxury. Although Blanco and Schaefer have a similar amount of innings pitched, Blanco gives Michigan another steady hand and a veteran presence for the two freshmen. Blanco spent more time at pitcher last year than she ever did before, and posted career-highs in most categories.
When Blanco isn’t pitching, the senior often starts at first base. Although her numbers took a dip last year in comparison to her breakout sophomore year, Blanco’s hitting this year is trending towards the latter. She is currently batting .325 and has a .587 slugging percentage. When Blanco is in the circle, senior Aidan Falk slides in from the outfield to first base, and both are backed up by freshman Lou Allan, the former-No. 8 prospect in the country. As a positional unit, the first basemen have provided stability for the Wolverines on defense, giving up only one error so far this season.
Junior Faith Canfield broke out in a big way last year and remains the leader for Michigan at second base. She is not only the most consistent hitter for the Wolverines, but has also established herself as the batter most likely to catch fire in a given series. At the Judi Garman Classic last month, Canfield not only hit .579/.859 over the course of five games but piled on hits in eleven consecutive at-bats.
So far, the junior paces the team in hits, at-bats, home runs, batting average, runs batted in, runs and total bases. Look for Canfield, who has already been named National Player of the Week honors this season, to earn a spot on the All-Big Ten First Team for the second consecutive year, and perhaps even an All-American nomination.
The Wolverines have a few established players on the left side of the infield, but Hutchins rotates a whole crew of players through third base and shortstop. Sophomore Madison Uden’s 12 games last season as Michigan’s designated hitter has helped her to become the second leading hitter for the Wolverines with a .383 batting average. Most notably, Uden’s plate presence saw her draw a walk-off walk against Ball State. Uden shifts between both infield positions, alternating with freshmen and Puerto Rico junior national team member Natalia Rodriguez at shortstop, and freshman Taylor Bump, junior Alex Sobczak and senior Taylor Swearingen at third base.
Junior Katie Alexander earned the starting role at catcher last season and should be a strong veteran presence for Michigan’s two young pitchers. Alexander caught three no-hitters last season and has guided the pitching staff to two already this year, including a perfect game. Sobczak also had 18 starts last season at catcher, has more RBI than Alexander and boasts a .998 fielding percentage. But besides for RBI, she has lower hitting stats across the board than the starting Alexander.
The group of players guarding the fences out deep in Alumni Field is the most experienced positional unit as a whole. Along with Falk and her 19 RBI, Michigan returns junior All Second Team Big Ten outfielder Natalie Peters, who had 17 multi-hit games last year, and 42-game starter junior Courtney Richardson. The outfielders have committed just two errors on the year.