After a tumultuous off-season, Michigan has found the key pieces it needs for next season. Sarah Boeke/Daily. Buy this photo.

Despite the transfer portal deadline looming and recruits committing elsewhere, Michigan coach Tracy Smith assembled a team that filled the Michigan baseball team’s apparent holes.  

After two fall ball exhibition games, which were purposefully 18 innings and 17 innings, respectively, it became apparent that the Wolverines in 2023 will be a lot different than they were in 2022. With the departure of the entire coaching staff, eight players leaving through the transfer portal, and another three starters being drafted by MLB teams, Michigan needed a full makeover under the new staff. 

Four of these new players earned a spot in the starting lineup Saturday against Dayton. Already, they are making a difference.

The Daily breaks down the takeaways from the Wolverines fall ball game:

Transfers:

Former Michigan shortstop Riley Bertram was one of the first players to follow former coach Erik Bakich to Clemson, so finding a shortstop to replace him was imperative. Graduate transfer shortstop Cody Jefferis fills that role. 

Jefferis played four years at the University of San Diego, making an appearance in 167 games and starting 160 of them, batting .270 in his time with the Toreros.

In his second game with the Wolverines, Jefferis went 2-for-4 and notched the first hit of the game for Michigan with a single to right field in the third inning. 

“Cody is a guy that’s competed at a high level and, in fact, was the starting shortstop on USD’s regional team,” Smith said. “He comes with some experience that I think we need. I was very pleased with the way he played this fall and probably, more importantly, how he blended in with the culture and with the guys on the team.”

Jefferis only hit one home run last season, but his ability to reach base consistently could help the team greatly. He also has a .973 fielding percentage in four seasons at San Diego, which came through on Saturday as he turned four double plays and did not commit an error.

Jefferis wasn’t the only transfer that started, though. Junior catcher Gabe Sotres played the first nine innings of the game with senior catcher Jimmy Obertop out due to an injury. Sotres came from Michigan State where he played in 35 games over two seasons and started 29 games at catcher.

Sotres was a highly touted prospect out of high school, winning the Perfect Game Player of the Year in Michigan in 2018. At Michigan State, he hit .248 with 13 runs and RBIs, and holds a .976 fielding percentage. Sotres made an even quicker impact than Jefferis against the Flyers when he threw out a runner stealing second in the first inning. 

“For Sotres, we didn’t know how that would play out and how valuable an addition that would be because we did not predict Jimmy Obertop would be hurt,” Smith said. “With Gabe here and able to step in, we feel like we got a really good option while we navigate the injury of Jimmy.”

Even when he returns healthy, Obertop is also useful as a designated hitter. Having an experienced backup catcher in Sotres is big for the short term, especially for depth purposes, but could prove also to have an impact long-term once Obertop graduates. Not to mention, the Wolverines have good success with Spartan transfers with the likes of former center-fielder Joe Stewart getting drafted in 2022.

Freshmen:

In addition to transfers, seven freshmen joined the team over the offseason. Coming in as a new coach, Smith had to work quickly with the recruitment and transfer deadlines looming just a week after he accepted the position: 

“We had to hit the ground with our feet running because we were right in the middle of the recruiting portal closing and everybody (had to) scramble late,” Smith said. “It culminates this weekend with our entire recruiting class coming to campus for a big visit. We think we can take a little collective sigh of relief and take a breath and then refocus on what is ahead as we build toward the real season in February.”

Two of these freshmen already found themselves starting against Dayton. 

Freshman third basemen Mitch Voit has big shoes to fill with the departure of Matt Frey, and he is expected to mitigate that loss. 

As a two-way player in high school, Voit was a top prospect in Wisconsin. In 53.2 innings pitched, Voit was 11-0 with 86 strikeouts and a 0.52 ERA; he paired that with a .566 batting average with a 1.431 OPS and 35 RBIs. He also was the recipient of a plethora of high school baseball awards, winning the Wisconsin Gatorade Baseball Player of the Year (2022) and five other Player of the Year honors.

Awards and accolades aside, he is joining a Michigan team lacking a third baseman. On Saturday, Voit scored the first run of the game for the Wolverines on a wild pitch and played 15 of the 17 innings.

“I think Mitch is certainly going to be what he showed this fall,” Smith said. “He’s a really good player and has a chance to be really good. If he continues on that trajectory, I think he’s got a chance to not just be a starter, but to be one of the better players in the country.”

Voit is a contact first hitter with the potential to bring power. He also is solid defensively, allowing him to take advantage of an opportunity to start as a true freshman. With the third baseman position wide open, it appears it’s Voit’s to lose.

Fellow freshman Jonathan Kim also made his mark as the starter in center field. Another Wisconsin native, Kim hit .532/.642/1.276 in the Midwest Classic Conference and won the D3 Southwest District Player of the Year in 2022. He was also highly regarded, ranking third in outfielders and seventh overall for the state of Wisconsin according to the scouting site Perfect Game. Kim pairs speed with contact offensively and has a wide defensive radius. After losing offensive powerhouse Stewart to the MLB, Kim could fill a big hole as the leader of the outfield alongside senior left fielder Tito Flores. 

“Kim is the same mold (as Voit), and he’s a tough kid,” Smith said. “He’s competed and played well. I love him defensively in centerfield like a lot of young freshmen. They’re a little behind offensively, but that’s where you see the progress over the next few weeks. I’m truly excited about both of those guys and others.”

There is no overstating that Michigan is raw. There is also no clear lineup or pitching staff to foresee before March. Nonetheless, an exhibition game can tell a coach a lot about a player. Not to mention, the team appears more complete and talented than it did three months ago.

There are four months before the season starts, but these newcomers are vying for a starting spot and Saturday was a step in the right direction toward their goals.