From the minute he set foot on campus, junior Harrison Wenson expected to start at catcher. Cracking the starting lineup was not a far-fetched prospect, and he was the frontrunner for the job in each of his first two seasons. But each time, Wenson couldn’t maintain his status as a starter.
He graced the lineup early in the season as a freshman in 2014 but soon dropped out of the everyday rotation. After playing in just 22 games that year, he saw even less time in his sophomore campaign — appearing in just 12 contests.
In a year when fellow underclassmen Jake Bivens and Carmen Benedetti helped lead the team to a Big Ten Championship, Wenson couldn’t carve out a spot in the lineup, frustrated by inconsistency, both at the plate and behind it.
But it wasn’t his size and strength that kept him off the field.
Wenson came in as a 6-foot-3, 220-pound 18-year-old, plenty big enough to compete for a spot as the starting catcher. He was drafted by the Detroit Tigers out of high school — one of just three players in his graduating class in the state of Michigan to be selected. Physically, the pro scouts thought he was ready, and so did Michigan coach Erik Bakich.
“Harrison’s a guy who has always had an outstanding physical skill set,” Bakich said.
In addition to an impressive build, Wenson had the intensity needed for the job.
“His motor never stops pumping,” said fifth-year senior outfielder Matt Ramsay. “He’s always hitting in the cage super early, and if you’re not, he’s going to give you grief about it.”
Wenson has dedicated himself both in the cage and in the weight room, gaining 20 pounds in the last two years.
To him, life is about competition, which speaks to an innate drive he doesn’t expect to slow down. Wenson has always been an intense competitor — a trait instilled by his father, Paul, a Michigan baseball legend who played from 1984 to 1986 — so his work ethic was not the problem, either.
Instead, the biggest challenge was between his own ears.
“If you think too much, it’s gonna bite you right in the butt,” Wenson said. “In baseball, you’ve got to have consistency, and I didn’t have that whatsoever.”
To gain the mental consistency he was lacking, Wenson took a page out of fifth-year senior catcher Dominic Jamett’s book.
“Dom, throughout the last three years, has really helped me out. I’ve never really had a big brother, but I can definitely look at him like a big brother,” Wenson said. “Baseball’s about consistency, and Dom brings consistency in everything he does.”
Added Jamett: “We’ll be doing a blocking drill, and we’ll constantly try to one-up each other. There’s a lot of trash talking that goes on between us, but at the end of the day, we’re just happy to be teammates.”
Through a steady approach on the field and endless work ethic this season, Wenson has avoided the mental peaks and valleys, which has taken his game — both offensively and defensively — to the next level.
And with a consistent mindset has come consistent playing time. Wenson has started every game thus far for the 12-5 Wolverines, impressing his coaches with his bat and his prowess as a defensive catcher. Bakich has seen Wenson’s development and rewarded it — he moved Wenson into the cleanup spot, and Wenson has no intention of giving it up.
Wenson has stepped up at key moments this season in the middle of the order. He leads the team with a .596 slugging percentage and has knocked in 16 runs — good for second in the Big Ten.
Against Hawaii, the Wolverines relinquished a three-run lead in the ninth and were on their heels heading into extra innings. Wenson came to bat in the 10th with Ramsay in scoring position, and smashed a single to score Ramsay and put the Wolverines ahead for good, 5-4.
In that game, and throughout the first stretch of the season, Wenson has provided an essential big bat behind Benedetti, a preseason All-American. But the Farmington Hills, Mich., native has added much more than power to the Wolverine lineup.
In the series against No. 22 Oklahoma State, with runs hard to come by, Wenson proved he was an exception. With two outs in the fifth, Wenson worked the count full. He laid off the final pitch of the at-bat, drawing his 11th walk of the year. This set the table for the Wolverines to score a run, which ended up being the game-winner.
“If he’s starting an inning, he does a great job of drawing a walk and seeing pitches for the rest of the guys hitting behind him in the order,” Ramsay said. “He does an absolutely wonderful job of setting the table when he needs to and driving in runs when he needs to. Having someone like that in the middle of the lineup is crucial.”
And beyond his patience and toughness in the batter’s box, Wenson has proven himself a leader.
His coaches, as well as his teammates, have recognized a huge step up in his voice within the locker room. His desire to succeed extends beyond himself, and Ramsay pointed out that Wenson is always trying to push his teammates to their full potential.
“He’s always got your back,” Ramsay said.
Wenson has always had a strong personality, and now, as an upperclassman, he is making that strong voice heard. His leadership, along with a clear mind and a hot bat, bodes well for Michigan. The Wolverines hope Wenson’s growth will eventually translate into improvement for the team in the postseason — which means building on a 2015 Big Ten Tournament title.
The last time the Wolverines went to the College World Series, it was 1984 and Harrison’s father was on the roster. It took 30 years for another Wenson to join the roster and two more for him to get comfortable. But now, as Harrison Wenson hits his stride, he’ll hope to help Michigan recapture the same success his father had.