While the Michigan baseball team lost some firepower from last year’s offense that won the Big Ten Tournament, there is still considerable talent on the roster. Below, the Daily breaks down the 2016 Michigan squad.
The departure of center fielder Jackson Glines, who was a 10th-round pick in June, leaves big shoes to fill from last year’s offense. Glines finished the 2015 season with a .369 batting average, an on-base percentage of .440, five home runs, 83 hits and 34 runs batted in — the latter two were both good for third best in the Big Ten.
But there is a returning starter from last year to fill the vacancy: senior center fielder Cody Bruder, who has taken up residence in the fifth spot in the Wolverines’ batting order. Bruder is currently hitting .353 with 24 base hits and 15 RBIs. He possesses the third-highest batting average on the team, the third-highest hit total and the second most RBIs.
Junior right fielder Johnny Slater has also seen significant playing time of late. Though he recorded nine multi-hit games in 2015, and came up with several clutch at-bats during Michigan’s late-season run, he has been struggling at the plate so far this season. His batting average is sitting at .185 and he has mustered just 10 hits.
Beyond the returning starters, there are some newcomers to the outfield, most notably senior left fielder Matt Ramsay, who arrived in Ann Arbor this year as a transfer from Wofford College. Ramsay has been productive in the second spot, with a .294 batting average, 20 hits and 14 runs scored. He hit .359 last year with Wofford, which suggests that his batting average has room to grow during Big Ten play. Ramsay also has speed, which he has demonstrated with nine stolen bases in 10 attempts this year.
Freshman right fielder Jonathan Engelmann has also seen some game time, but he has started just five contests. In 22 at-bats, he is hitting .273 with six hits and four RBI. His first RBI came off a single in Michigan’s 5-1 victory over then-No. 9 California.
Any assessment of the Wolverines’ infield must take into account the departure of first baseman Jacob Cronenworth to the Tampa Bay Rays. He started in each of Michigan’s 64 contests last year, when he posted a batting average of .338, hit 18 doubles and three triples, smacked six home runs, drove in 48 runs and was the Big Ten Tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Junior first baseman Carmen Benedetti has been tasked with filling Cronenworth’s role. And Benedetti is ideally suited to do so, having hit .353 last year with a Big-Ten-leading 71 RBI and conference-best 25 doubles. While Benedetti’s 2016 batting average is only .298 at the moment, history suggests that number may climb during Big Ten play after hitting .398 over the conference season last year.
Another player who has been asked to fill big shoes is senior catcher Harrison Wenson, who is taking over for Kendall Patrick, Michigan’s home-run leader last season. Wenson has embraced the role so far, as he has posted a .386 batting average, hit three home runs, driven in 16 runs and manufactured 22 base hits. His stats earned him possession of the cleanup spot in the Wolverines’ batting order.
Sophomore Jake Bivens — who was moved from second base to third base this season — has been a force in the leadoff spot thus far for the Wolverines. He leads Michigan with a .389 batting average, 28 hits, 16 RBI and a 1.062 OPS (the sum of on-base percentage and slugging percentage). His speed has also shown with four stolen bases so far, which is nearly half of his total of nine in 2015.
Freshman Ako Thomas has taken over Bivens’s old spot at second base for 2016. A graduate of Mount Carmel High School (Ill.), he was named to the Daily Southtown’s First Team All-Area team and the Chicago Catholic League All-Conference team last year. Though he is hitting .209 so far this season, he has five RBI, including a one-run single in the Wolverines’ 4-2 win over Oklahoma State on Mar. 20.
Junior shortstop Michael Brdar rounds out Michigan’s starting infield. He spent the last two seasons at Diablo Valley College, where he was team captain, leading his team in both doubles and fielding percentage. He has not been able to put up his Diablo Valley batting numbers so far for the Wolverines, though, with just a .173 average in 52 at-bats.
Sophomore Drew Lugbauer is Michigan’s starting designated hitter. Lugabuer’s hitting has improved greatly from last year, and he has already driven in four more runs than his 2015 total before the start of conference play.
Lugbauer was highly touted for his raw power when he came to Michigan, and he is showing that much more this season than he did last year.
The Wolverines boast a deep, experienced starting rotation this year as all four starters played a significant role in Michigan’s 2015 Big Ten Championship squad. Three of the four starters are left-handed, which will pose a major challenge for opposing left-handed hitters.
Sophomore left-hander Oliver Jaskie has been the strongest starter so far for the Wolverines. He is 3-1 in four starts while compiling a 1.69 earned-run average, striking out 21 and giving up 13 hits in 21.1 innings. Jaskie’s performance earned him Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors twice during non-conference play on Feb. 22 and March 7. Jaskie’s strength comes from the fact that he is capable of pitching a solid fastball, changeup, curveball and slider.
Junior Brett Adcock came into 2016 as the pitcher with the most hype after being named to the College Sports Madness Preseason Big Ten First Team. While his record sits at 1-2, his stats tell a different story. Adcock has tallied a 2.89 ERA and 32 strikeouts, holding opposing hitters to a .103 batting average. He struck out 12 against Hawaii on Mar. 11, but he did not earn the victory as the bullpen squandered a 4-1 lead in the ninth inning before Michigan won the game, 5-4, in the tenth.
Senior left-hander Evan Hill has played a much bigger role on the team this year after being sidelined for the first two months of last season with an injury. Hill’s 2016 record stands at 3-1, and his earned run average is 2.84 through 19 innings.
Sophomore right-hander Ryan Nutof has improved on an already strong 2015 by compiling a 2-1 record and a 2.18 ERA. Last season, he was the winning pitcher in the Wolverines’ 8-5 victory over Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament, proving he can handle a high-stakes environment.
Sophomore Bryan Pall is 1-0 as Michigan’s primary closer so far this year with two saves. In 9.1 innings pitched, he has given up three earned runs and six hits while striking out 16. His lone blemish came in the form of a blown save on Mar. 11 against Hawaii, when he gave up three runs in the ninth inning.
Junior Keith Lehmann is a veteran presence delivering in Michigan’s bullpen and has yet to give up a run in 6.2 innings.
One newcomer has logged significant innings for the Wolverines: freshman William Tribucher. In 13 innings this year, he compiled a 2.08 ERA, surrendered three runs and eight hits and struck out 17.
Unlike 2015, when Michigan was buoyed by a high-powered offense and wins and losses depended on the pitching performance, the 2016 Wolverines are anchored by their pitching staff and their five losses are attributable to an up-and-down offense.