When the Michigan baseball team walked off the field heartbroken following its loss to Louisville in the 2022 NCAA Baseball Tournament, few could have imagined the overhaul the program was about to endure.
The loss of coach Erik Bakich to Clemson set into motion the subsequent departure of key contributors. The Wolverines lost outfielder Clark Elliott to the MLB Draft and shortstop Riley Bertram among others to the transfer portal. As a result, new Michigan coach Tracy Smith scrambled to stabilize the program.
But Smith is no stranger to these situations, with the Wolverines serving as his fourth Division I head coaching job.
“When you have change — this is the fourth time having done this with a program — you’re instituting a whole new system,” Smith said at Media Day Feb. 9. “There has been a lot of success at the University of Michigan prior to this, so I’ve been really pleased with the guys buying into the new things we’re talking about.”
But buy-in and culture can only take a team so far, and Smith recognizes that. Replacing so many vital positions through recruiting and the transfer portal in a single offseason is not easy.
With the current roster, Smith and his coaching staff — led by associate head coach and recruiting coordinator Ben Greenspan and pitching coach Brock Huntzinger — have had to employ a comprehensive approach to managing the full nine innings.
“It’s gonna have to be all hands on deck,” Smith said. “I think it’s been well-documented, a little bit of shortness to the roster piece, things have happened there … everybody’s willing to contribute to the overall success of the team. We may ask you if you’ve not played this position, you might do it this year, or you’ve never pitched since high school, you might have to give us some innings this year.”
Based on those roster constraints, young players like freshman third baseman Mitch Voit will have to play multiple positions to alleviate weak spots.
Voit was recruited to Michigan as a third baseman, hitting .566 with a 1.431 OPS in high school. However, he also pitched in high school, ranking as the third-best RHP in Wisconsin by Perfect Game and recording a 0.52 ERA in 53.2 IP.
After the Wolverines’ subpar pitching situation last season — with the team posting a combined 7.00 ERA last year — Voit is in line to be the team’s closer this year in addition to his third base duties.
“Obviously a great opportunity,” Voit said. “A lot of work. … I’ve been doing this my whole life.”
As Voit embraces his dual role, the entire pitching staff will have to similarly adapt. The team will depend on the development of pitchers like junior right-hander Chase Allen and left-hander Connor O’Halloran to put less pressure on the Wolverines’ bats.
The coaching staff is taking a cautious approach to solving the pitching conundrum, but they are confident they can make it work.
“I don’t want to make a determination (on our pitching) until I see us perform,” Smith said. “It’s going to be a little challenging. I’ve done this in 2021 when we lost our first three starters at ASU, we were able to put together with probably less stuff and talent than we have here. So it can be done.”
Regardless of their personnel challenges, Michigan is eager to see warm temperatures and different jerseys on the opposing foul line to embark on its 2023 campaign.
“It’s always this time of year when everyone’s getting tired of the same thing,” Smith said. “Good to compete against somebody else … being excited would be an understatement to get out there.”
As the Wolverines inch closer to the first game of the season on Feb. 17, their trust in one another to execute their ‘all hands on deck’ strategy will be crucial to their success.