The No. 18 Michigan softball team leapt out to a hot 10-0 start before cooling down and arriving at a 15-8 record. Entering their first series in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines will look to reacquire their early season success, starting with Ball State on Saturday.
A relatively inexperienced roster has led to shuffling at every position and a lineup that has not fully settled in. For Michigan to make a run similar to the 33-3 one it had after returning home in 2019, it will have to rely on all levels of its roster.
The Daily breaks down the Wolverines’ lineup by position for an in-depth look at where they have found stability and where they haven’t so far, as they look to replace last year’s graduated starters and reclaim the Big Ten title.
Michigan’s pitching success, along with the success of the entire team, stops and ends with its returning top two: junior left-hander Meghan Beaubien and sophomore right-hander Alex Storako.
Beaubien is coming off of a year where she posted a 1.87 ERA and finished with a 30-6 record — a seemingly strong sophomore performance that, in reality, was seen as a regression from her first team All-American freshman campaign in which she touted a 1.16 ERA and 0.67 WHIP. This year, Beaubien has performed at a high level game after game, and although her statistics are not quite those of her first year, she holds an impressive 1.52 ERA and 0.86 WHIP. In Beaubien, the Wolverines have found consistency, a rare commodity so far this season.
Storako, the second punch in Michigan’s pitching attack, does just that — attack. Storako throws strikeouts at a high clip, dishing out 141 so far and averaging 1.88 per inning. At the same time, Storako’s punishing approach has led to 34 walks and a 2.43 ERA. Developing more consistency and control will be key to whether Storako can reach her ceiling as a lethal pitcher by eliminating walks and big plays.
In the early stages of her development is freshman right-hander Chandler Dennis. While currently posting a 7.00 ERA in just four appearances and one start, it’s hard to tell to what degree Dennis will be involved in the rotation as the season progresses. Despite the glaring ERA, Michigan coach Carol Hutchins believes Dennis is “capable of some great things.” Expect to see Dennis more involved as a relief pitcher as the season progresses, with a possibility that she makes it into a limited role in the starting rotation.
Sophomore Hannah Carson has claimed the catcher position as her own. After filling a backup role in her freshman year behind now-graduated two-year captain Katie Alexander, Carson has started behind the plate every game this season for the Wolverines, and she hasn’t shown any signs of relinquishing the position. Carson is currently batting .284 and at the top of the team with 10 RBI.
Backup responsibilities, if Carson were to fall to an injury, are assumed to go to senior Abby Skvarce, who is currently nestled in at the designated player spot.
First base has proved to be a shared position thus far, being split between juniors Lou Allan and Taylor Bump. Allan, coming off of freshman and sophomore years plagued with injuries, has seen the majority of starts at first. It’s difficult to argue with her .403 slugging percentage and team-leading 10 RBI that she shouldn’t get them. Allan’s drawbacks stem from her lack of speed on the basepath, not helped by her previous injuries.
Bump, while sometimes getting the start, fills her role at first more often than not midway through the game — usually after Allan is pulled for a pinch runner. Bump, holding a .171 batting average and .310 on-base percentage while also having the range to play multiple positions, slots herself as a versatile infield utility player but not a consistent starter. This can place her on either of the corners, leading to playing time split between first and third.
For two years, junior Natalia Rodriguez has been Michigan’s starting shortstop. Through 14 games this season, that remained true. Then, Hutchins did something unexpected and switched Rodriguez with freshman second baseman Julia Jimenez. Through the past nine games, it has remained like that — Jimenez at shortstop and Rodriguez at second.
Rodriguez has struggled at the plate, holding on to a lowly .188 batting average, but the slap-hitter has never been in the starting lineup because of her batting. It was her fielding that held her there, and it’s not like Hutchins has removed Rodriguez from the batting order by shifting her over to second.
The freshman, Jimenez, has been impressive so far. Starting all 23 games this season — 14 at second, nine at shortstop — she’s racked up 12 runs, seven doubles, seven RBI and a home run while holding a .263 batting average. Three weeks ago, she was moved into the leadoff spot for her performance at the plate.
Rodriguez and Jimenez have similar fielding statistics and only one error each. Hutchins hasn’t answered why the switch took place, but in her world, no position is permanent. Currently, Jimenez is the starting shortstop and Rodriguez the starting second baseman, but it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Rodriguez won her spot back and the two swapped positions again.
Third base, like first, has been a shared position for Michigan.
Bump, who plays first and third, along with senior Madison Uden, have been the two Wolverines holding down the hot corner. Both are hitting on the lower end, and their overall offensive production is best described as lackluster. But so is the majority of the team’s — Michigan holds a collective .258 batting average — so although both are below the team average, neither are out of range of starting. The only player either is likely to lose playing time to is the other.
Uden has gotten the majority of the starts as of late, and part of this can be attributed to Bump’s ability to fill in for Allan at first base, but the rest lends itself to on-field performance. In the past Uden has shown an ability to be electric at the plate that Bump has not. As a sophomore, Uden finished the season batting .357 and was third on the team with 35 RBI. An offensive spark by Uden akin to her second year could be a large difference maker for the offensively beleaguered Wolverines.
While Uden is the apparent starter now, third base could easily be one of the least defined positions in the Michigan roster. An offensive breakout by either Bump or Uden could secure the position for either of them.
Left and center field are two positions that appear to be locked down, the keys belonging sophomore Lexie Blair and senior Haley Hoogenraad, respectively.
After an outstanding freshman season by Blair a year ago in which she boasted a team-leading .406 batting average and 54 RBI along with six home runs and 22 doubles, Blair encountered an uncharacteristic cold streak at the beginning of her sophomore year. Over the past few series, she has clawed her way back to a .293 average and is back up to second in the batting order. Barring an injury, nobody should expect Blair to be gone from the lineup at any time this season.
In center, Hoogenraad has been a solid piece for the Wolverines. Batting .250 in the seventh slot, Hoogenraad has been a consistent contributor on both sides of the ball, a presumably large reason for her starting every game this season.
Right field has been a revolving door for Michigan. It appears Hutchins slots in the best bat that day, which has lent itself to many different faces playing on that side of the green. Among them are senior Thais Gonzalez, sophomore Morgan Overaitis, freshman Lauren Esman and freshman Lexi Voss. More consistency may come in right field as the season progresses, but expect it to remain mostly fluid, especially entering opening weekend.
Typically, the designated player position usually borrows the best hitter from other positions. But so far, senior Abby Skvarce has made it her home. Batting .297 and holding a .405 slugging percentage in the cleanup slot, Skvarce is hitting as well as anyone on the team. To utilize these skills while remaining the backup catcher, Skvarce holds the designated player position most games. Sometimes the spot will be filled by other solid bats such as junior Lou Allan and sophomore Morgan Overaitis, but currently Skvarce is the one to watch for the start.
After going through all the details, this is the starting lineup that The Daily determined is most likely heading into opening weekend against the Ball State Cardinals.
1 Julia Jimenez (SS)
2 Lexie Blair (LF)
3 Lou Allan (1B)
4 Abby Skvarce (DP)
5 Hannah Carson (C)
6 Madison Uden (3B)
7 Haley Hoogenraad (CF)
8 Natalia Rodriguez (2B)
9 Lauren Esman (RF)
P Meghan Beaubien