In 2021, no new addition had more hype for the Michigan baseball team than graduate third baseman Matt Frey. Coming off a stellar senior season when he was arguably the best hitter on Davidson, Frey only improved through preseason training.
He became the front-runner to start at third base for the Wolverines after hitting the best on the team “by a landslide” according to Michigan coach Erik Bakich. However, the potential of Frey’s fifth year was quickly cut short.
In the last official fall practice he tore his ACL and didn’t play for the entire 2021 season. For most players a season-long injury means a waste of a year.
Not for Frey.
“He’s a guy that traveled with us every single away series, because it was very clear from the beginning how valuable he was as a teammate,” Bakich said. “ … It’s created a very seamless transition for him this year for a guy who hasn’t played in a full year.”
After that season on the bench, Frey was joined by his Davidson teammate, graduate second baseman Alex Fedje-Johnson. Both were attracted to Michigan because of its culture, recent success and academics.
“I think academics played a huge role,” Bakich said. “ … They both are excellent students and had very specific goals in terms of wanting to get into the Ross School and wanting to pursue business later in life. And they both happen to have a year of eligibility remaining and wanted to play at the highest level possible while still earning a great education.”
Fedje-Johnson entered his fifth year with sky high expectations. Coming off of a dominant senior year with Davidson, in which he slashed .303/.450/.500, he was expected to be a plug-and-play piece in the lineup.
Fedje-Johnson’s hitting has been far below his Davidson peak to start the year. He has been by far the least efficient hitter among batters with at least 20 plate appearances. Slashing .149/.333/.170, he’s had more strikeouts than hits or walks.
The Wolverines are traditionally much better at integrating transfers. Just last year, Griffin Mazor, Christian Molfetta and Benjamin Sems all vastly improved from their pre-Ann Arbor forms and were each selected in the 2021 MLB draft.
The season is very young, but Fedje-Johnson will need to be more patient at the plate to fend off bench players from seizing his spot in the lineup.
“He plays our best defensive second base, and we need to get there defensively as well,” Bakich said. “We’re at the point now, we’re 15 games into it where it’s not about time. … I would expect that we’ll see some simplification to his swing into his approach this week, just to allow him to be a little bit more consistent and productive for us in the lineup.”
On the flip side of the coin, Frey has been elite.
After a slow start with only four hits through the first six games, he broke through with a four-hit, three-RBI game against FIU on March 2 and never looked back.
He leads the starting batters with 17 walks while maintaining the lowest total strikeouts at nine and slashing .305/.456/.441. Michigan has depended on him as one of the most consistent hitters on the team.
“He’s one of our he’s one of our most patient hitters,” Bakich said. “He’s got some of our best plate discipline and he very rarely chases. When he swings the bat, he’s got a propensity to make hard contact. … He’s just an older mature hitter.”
Moving to a new place can be difficult, especially when you feel like you need to swing hard and prove yourself. Frey and Fedje-Johnson have shown through their results that patience is one of the most important parts of baseball.
If Fedje-Johnson stops forcing it at the plate, success like Frey’s will follow.