Ako Thomas walks up to the plate. The senior infielder pauses as he tightens his batting gloves. He steps into the batter’s box, sinking into a shallow crouch. He drags his bat through the dirt, tapping it against the plate, before swinging it over his shoulder.
There’s a tense moment brimming with expectation. Thomas readjusts his grip on the bat; it twitches on his shoulder. The pitcher turns the ball in his hand, takes a deep breath and then – finally – releases it.
Thomas’ reaction is instantaneous. The bat leaves Thomas’ shoulder, upright in the air for a split second as his left foot kicks up. Then, moments later, the bat comes whistling through the air as Thomas sends all his pent-up energy towards the baseball hurtling at him.
The crack of the ball meeting bat echoes through the air.
The ball goes flying.
This is a typical at-bat for Thomas, one of Michigan’s biggest offensive threats. He hit leadoff in both 2017 and 2018, will very likely be an instrumental part of Michigan’s offensive performance this season. In 2017, Thomas led the Wolverines in batting average at .354 and on-base percentage at .462 and had the team’s second-best OPS at .858.
The Michigan baseball team’s offense had a prolific season last year – averaging 6.2 runs a game – and they don’t show any signs of slowing down this year. The Wolverines’ returning hitters, now a year stronger, will look to fill out what will be a dangerous lineup for opposing pitchers to stare down. An offseason of training has only made Michigan’s bats more dangerous.
“We have a lot of individual hitters that did a very good job of adding some size, some strength and some explosiveness in the weight room, and that has translated with more bat speed and exit velocity amongst our hitters,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “I see a group of kids who’ve gotten stronger, who’ve become more physical, so I would like to think we’re capable of hitting for more power this year.”
Among the Wolverines’ most potentially dangerous batters is junior outfielder Dominic Clementi, who hit .409 his freshman season, and led the team last year with a .368 average. Though his average dropped sophomore year, partly due to an increase in playing time – he went from playing in 18 games as a freshman to 44 games as a sophomore – his slugging percentage went up from .409 to .574 between seasons. Now another year stronger, Clementi is an intimidating prospect for any pitcher.
Also looking to have a productive season of at-bats is Jordan Brewer. The junior outfielder is a recent transfer from Lincoln Trail Community College in Robinson, Ill., and hit for an average of .368 over his two years playing for the Statesmen. He throws left-handed and hits right-handed, and Bakich called him one of the team’s “most explosive athletes” and a “very dynamic player.”
The nine months of offseason training have brought back a team that looks to hit the ball even harder this year. Many returning players who have not been particularly powerful hitters in past seasons could be serious threats at the plate in 2019.
One such player is senior utility infielder Jimmy Kerr, who will likely start the season at either first or third this year. After a productive offseason, Kerr will look to put out numbers close to the .375 average he put up in his freshman year after down years the last two seasons.
“He’s put on a lot of size, a lot of strength and a lot of explosiveness,” Bakich said. “He’s hitting the ball with a lot of juice in the bat, so it’s really good to see.”
With Thomas returning to the top of the order, strength from players like Clementi and Brewer adding power in the middle of the lineup and added sparks from hitters like Kerr, Michigan will be putting an intimidating group of hitters up to bat in 2019.
Opposing pitchers beware.