Whether you’re the leadoff hitter or ninth in the lineup, you get at-bats. And because of that, everyone has a role to play on a baseball team.
The Michigan baseball team has found a lot of production from its entire lineup this season, but most of the time, guys like junior right fielder Clark Elliott and graduate transfer center fielder Joe Stewart are the ones that are highlighted. But that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones contributing. There are other Wolverines that have stepped up in big ways, exceeding expectations.
Junior left fielder Joey Velasquez and first baseman Jake Marti are among that group.
Both Velasquez and Marti spent the first half of the season in the dugout for Michigan. In fact, they weren’t even second on the depth chart at their positions. And yet, they both found opportunities and took advantage of them.
Now, as the NCAA Tournament approaches, their role is in the Wolverines’ starting lineup.
Velasquez is not your typical baseball player. Baseball isn’t even his only sport — he’s also a member of the Michigan football team. When he’s not putting on his glove, he’s throwing on his pads and helmet where he primarily contributes to the Wolverines’ special teams.
To catch Michigan coach Erik Bakich’s eye, he worked his way into playing time, passing both junior outfielder Tito Flores and Jordon Rodgers for left field.
Bakich experimented with the left field position through the first 30 games of the season before cementing Velasquez into the role. Originally, he slotted Flores in left, but he soon realized that he would be more beneficial to the team in a designated hitter role. After that, he put Rodgers in for his defense. Although he made some good plays in the field, Rodgers’ struggles at the plate spoke louder. With a .176 batting average, Bakich decided to make a switch and give Velasquez a chance.
While it takes most players some time to acclimate to a new season in college baseball, Velasquez wasted no time making his mark, hitting his first career home run in his first at-bat of the season. The three-run shot came in a pinch-hit at-bat in the eighth inning against No. 21 Maryland that broke a tied game and pushed the Wolverines to a 7-4 win.
Over the next month, he then hit two of the farthest home runs Michigan recorded this season with a 432-foot two-run homer against Indiana and a 423-foot two-run homer against Rutgers, both of which resulted in wins. In the Big Ten Tournament opener against Illinois, he was the hero. His career-high three-hit game — which included a go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning — displayed his impact for the Wolverines.
Velasquez isn’t just in the lineup for his bat, though. Bakich placed him in left field for his defense too, and since doing so, he’s proven his abilities. During the Big Ten Tournament, Velasquez had two diving catches and even robbed a home run over the wall.
Game after game, he kept giving the coaches a reason to keep him in a starting role.
“You have to be an outlier of a human being to play Michigan football and Michigan baseball,” Bakich said. “It speaks to his mindset because he is one of the most disciplined and self-driven kids I’ve ever seen. He’s also a really good athlete and he’s one of the fiercest competitors we’ve ever had when he gets in the box. Whether he’s doing tackling drills or recovering fly-balls, when he gets in that box, he’s able to switch his mind and find a way to put the barrel on the ball.”
Velasquez isn’t the only one who has stepped up for the Wolverines when they needed it. Marti has come a long way from pinch-hitting on occasion to starting in the NCAA Tournament.
After transferring from Heartland Community College, he started in 20 games last season for Michigan before getting injured and missing 22 games in the second half of the season.
Coming into this season, Marti started on the bench. Bakich brought in graduate transfer Jack Van Remortal and even had sophomore infielder Dylan Stanton play a few games at first base. Once Van Remortal got hurt, though, Marti was pushed into action.
Against Wright State, Marti went 2-5 and scored three runs. In the next game against Maryland, he hit his first home run of the season. From then on, Marti continued to showcase his eye and speed by drawing seven walks and stealing three bases in three attempts to earn his job at first base.
Similar to Velasquez, Marti’s starting role comes from his impressive defense as well. Marti is one of just two players on the Wolverines with a perfect fielding percentage. His 110 put-outs make him a very productive fielder with little downside.
“Everybody’s starting to really just come around,” Velasquez said. “We’re starting to really hit our peak right now. Offensively, we’ve always felt like we’ve been really electric. And on the defensive side, we’re playing really well. I think it’s going to really be a good regional for us if we just keep going right now.”
The big names will continue to produce for Michigan into the Tournament. But the difference-maker will be what the rest of the lineup can do. Velasquez and Marti can provide the Wolverines with an extra spark at the bottom of the lineup that will keep pitchers on their toes.
If Velasquez and Marti can continue to hit and play defense the way they have during the second half of the season, Bakich has a pair of weapons on his team that will be vital in Michigan’s NCAA Tournament run.