Every college sports team goes through it: the challenge of moving on after players graduate. Yet roster turnover proves even more difficult in sports such as baseball, where key players’ college athletic careers are often cut short due to the MLB draft. The Michigan baseball team is no exception and faces the lofty obstacle of replenishing its roster heading into the 2017 season.
The Wolverines lost three key talents to the 2016 MLB draft – junior pitcher Brett Adcock, junior first baseman Carmen Benedetti, and senior pitcher Evan Hill. In addition to the draftees, Michigan graduated four other seniors, including the team’s 2016 average leader, outfielder Cody Bruder, stolen base leader, outfielder Matt Ramsay and team captain catcher Dominic Jamett.
Led by the eventual draftees and now graduated seniors, the Wolverines found moderate success in 2016, finishing with a Big Ten record of 13-10 and an overall record of 35-19. Their consistent play earned them the fifth seed at the Big Ten tournament, where they were eliminated by Ohio State.
Losing key starters may be detrimental to the production of both the offense and the pitching staff this season. However, Michigan is used to this sort of turn over, as it had three players drafted in 2015 and graduated seven seniors. Michigan coach Erik Bakich recognizes that constant rebuilding is a part of the sport.
“[The MLB Draft] is the nature of the beast in quality programs,” said Bakich. “You try to build the best program that you can build. One of the impacts of that is the players have opportunities to move onto professional baseball.”
Even with some players gone, junior infielder Jake Bivens is confident that Michigan can fill these voids.
“We lost some key contributors,” said Bivens. “Definitely guys have to step up. But we have a great group that can step right into those roles and fill those spots immediately.”
While players’ production and positions in the lineup can be replaced, the elements that don’t show up in the box score — experience, locker room leadership and chemistry — are harder to replicate.
The Wolverines must overcome losing the experience of seven veterans and the leadership of a captain in Jamett. Continuing these intangibles will be necessary for Michigan to continue its success and elevate to the next level.
Not worried, junior infielder Drew Lugbauer feels the closeness of the current roster will carry the team.
“[The team’s chemistry] is probably the best since I’ve been here,” said Lugbauer. “Everyone’s really tight. We all get along with each other. It’s a good locker room.”
Junior pitcher Oliver Jaskie added: “There’s not one guy on this team that I wouldn’t call a best friend or a brother.”
In order for the team to succeed this season, the Wolverines’ chemistry and new leadership will prove vital. Michigan will look for leadership from senior catcher Harrison Wenson and senior pitcher Jackson Lamb, both of whom were selected in the 2016 MLB draft, but elected to stay at Michigan for their senior seasons.
Despite losing seven players total, the Wolverines return 12 upperclassmen. With the returning players’ experience and talent, Michigan expects a strong season.
“There’s high expectations,” Jaskie said. “But we’re ready for it. We’re just focused on going out there and playing as hard as we can.”