Beach balls.

That’s how former Michigan outfielder Jordan Brewer excitedly described the pitches coming toward him when he launched a grand slam over the left field wall as the Wolverines trounced Manhattan College, 23-2, last March. His description speaks to a mentality that drove Brewer toward consistent dominance at the plate last season as Michigan utilized its offensive power to make a World Series run.

But Brewer won’t be back in Ann Arbor this year.

As the 2020 season begins with higher expectations than ever before, the team has lost many key hitters, particularly on the front end of last year’s lineup. 

Brewer, in the three-hole last year, went on to be drafted by the Houston Astros in the third round of last June’s MLB draft. Jimmy Kerr, whose eight postseason home runs were crucial in the Wolverines’ run to Omaha, was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 33rd round. And junior outfielder Jesse Franklin, who batted second and posted a .477 slugging percentage with 13 home runs and 55 RBI, will miss at least the first two weeks of the season due to a collarbone injury sustained while skiing. 

But Michigan’s lineup isn’t without options. Their leadoff hitter, junior outfielder Jordan Nwogu, appears prepared to stay in that position in the lineup. 

“I like the tone it sets, having that strapping dude walking up to the plate to lead off the game with a double or a homer,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said. “He’s done well in that role and he poses a totally dynamic speed-power threat, so I like him up there in the top of the order.”

Nwogu, who was named to the Preseason All-America first team by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, doesn’t seem too worried about the team’s ability to adapt.

“I don’t see my role changing this year,” Nwogu said. “We have a lot of great guys that came in, as well as guys who have been here and stepped up –– like Danny Zimmermann and Jimmy Obertop –– who are power guys, so I don’t think we’re really going to feel too much of a loss from last year.”

Nwogu’s mention of Obertop, a freshman catcher expected to start at designated hitter in Michigan’s College World Series rematch against Vanderbilt on Friday, underscores how much attention he has drawn during the preseason for his hitting ability. 

“Jimmy can hit, and he hits the ball just as hard as Nwogu and Franklin,” Bakich said “He’s got big juice in his bat and can put in a double or extra base hit at any time, so he really put the charge into the ball which is really impressive for a young kid.”

Bakich seemed confident in the team’s offensive dynamism, but noted how hard it is to predict how the offense will settle.

“We had so many different guys perform so well at various times throughout the year, but remember offense is (different) than pitching,” Bakich said. 

Hitting indeed requires a different approach than pitching. A team can do a lot right at the plate and still not have much to show for it.

Michigan has long crafted its at-bats to allow scoring quickly, early and often, as well as crafting a versatile lineup that can sustain a range of pitchers. This strategy doesn’t seem destined to change in spite of its personnel losses. In yesterday’s intrasquad scrimmage, the coaching staff’s emphasis on inflicting quick damage was clear. 

Despite the losses, Bakich isn’t worried about how his team will craft its offensive identity. Last year, there were plenty of questions coming in, too, and he saw how that ended up.

“There were a lot of lumps that we took,” Bakich said. “But in doing so, we got better because of it and we got back up every time.”

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