The Michigan baseball team was certainly disappointed to end last season with a loss to Louisville at the 2015 Super Regionals. But with that defeat, coming against a perennial contender and the preseason No. 2 team in the country this year, Michigan had caught the nation’s eye and was catapulted into an offseason in which it has earned more recognition than any Big Ten team is accustomed to seeing.
The Wolverines, ranked 15th according to Baseball America’s preseason rankings, have taken the offseason as an opportunity to get healthy and stronger in an attempt to build on last year’s impressive ending.
Senior left-hander Evan Hill was forced to miss a large chunk of last season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury, appearing in just 11 games. Hill says the offseason has helped him tremendously, and that his knee is 100 percent heading into the team’s season opener Feb. 19.
Playing on a weakened ACL in 2015, Hill still managed to fan 37 batters in 38 innings of work.
Junior left-handed pitcher/first baseman Carmen Benedetti, who was named to the preseason All-American third team, has also been trying to improve himself physically in recent months.
“His growth is impressive,” said Michigan coach Erik Bakich. “(Benedetti) was a slow runner his first year, kind of an average runner last year, now he’s like a speedster on the bases.”
Benedetti and Hill, as well as junior pitcher Brett Adcock, were able to work on their game while playing in the competitive Cape Cod Baseball League over the summer. All three put up impressive numbers.
Hill posted a 1.80 ERA and a 5-0 record for Wareham, and Adcock helped Yarmouth-Dennis to a league title, going 3-1 with 26 strikeouts in 37.1 innings.
Benedetti was able to work on his pitching as well. He went to Cape Cod with two pitches and came back with three, adding a breaking ball to go with his changeup and 95-mph fastball.
When Michigan’s players returned to campus at the end of summer, normally the team would have a couple of months of fall ball before bringing everything indoors. But this winter has not been typical. Mild weather has allowed the Wolverines to practice outdoors at Ray Fisher Stadium about 10 to 15 times since their winter training started.
That’s compared to last winter, in which they managed to scrimmage on a snowy, half-frozen field for two days in January.
“We’ve been outside more in the last three weeks than maybe the last three years combined,” Bakich said.
Bakich and his team are excited to have had a prolonged fall season and extra reps outside this winter, saying it has been a great benefit for the team. Still, despite some milder weather, the team is more than ready to fly down to Florida and kick off its season next weekend in the warmth.
“Everyone wants to get out of the cold a little,” Hill said. “I think I can speak for all the returning guys and say that we’re pretty anxious to get out there.”
There’s been a lot of talk surrounding the Wolverines so far this year. And after an already experienced lineup has taken big strides this offseason, the publicity is well deserved. Michigan has been dead set on working hard and improving, all through the summer, the fall and even into the winter. But now, nine days from the season opener, Michigan baseball is ready for spring.