Alec Cohen/Daily. Buy this photo.

The Michigan baseball program has always been predicated on the development of high school players, but it also has a history of signing very productive transfer players, especially from junior colleges. The high point of a shortened 2020 season — a ninth-inning, go-ahead home run in the Wolverines’ season opener against Vanderbilt — was authored by transfer Matt Schmidt. Outfielder Jordan Brewer, who batted .329 during Michigan’s storied 2019 season, transferred as well. Earlier in the 2010s, transfers like catcher Kendall Patrick and outfielder Cody Bruder became everyday players for the Wolverines.  

The transfer portal was busier than ever this offseason because of an abundance of players remaining in the college ranks. The majority of the 2020 season was canceled because of the presence of COVID-19, and the MLB draft was reduced from 40 to just five rounds as a cost-cutting measure in response to the pandemic. The NCAA responded by granting an extra year of eligibility to all Division I spring athletes and removing the 35-man baseball roster limit to make room for the players who would be sticking around. 

As Michigan coach Erik Bakich put it in September, “It’s going to be the oldest, deepest, most experienced version of college baseball of any season this year.”

Bakich did his part to keep the Wolverines competitive under these unique circumstances. He signed five graduate transfers and one junior college transfer, and along with a 10-man freshmen class, the roster ballooned to 42 players. Thirteen are seniors, and all 13 could bat in the middle of the order for another Division I school or for Michigan most other seasons.

“We feel like we have a lot of depth,” Bakich said. “Our biggest challenge is going to be figuring out how to play and pitch everybody and keep everybody happy and into it.”

But like every other year, these transfers are not simply depth pieces for the Wolverines. They were signed for very specific reasons.

“They’re guys who, if we had losses in the draft, or we had somebody transfer, it’s someone that can step in and make an immediate impact,” Bakich said.

For example, fifth-year shortstop and Kansas-transfer Benjamin Sems helps the Wolverines make up for the loss of former shortstop Jack Blomgren, who was selected in the 2020 MLB draft. Fifth-year catchers Griffin Mazur, a transfer from California Irvine, and Christian Molfetta, a transfer from Stanford, help stabilize the position in the wake of Joe Donovan’s departure for the pros. 

Bakich sees several other advantages in signing the bumper crop of graduate transfers.

“They have a little chip that they weren’t drafted or maybe that they didn’t get all the playing time that they wanted,” Bakich said. “Whatever the reason is that they’re hungry, they’re driven.

“They come highly motivated, they know how to integrate into a college program, they bring a lot of experience, they want to learn.”

A large, talented roster and Bakich’s commitment to the creation of a “rotation” means that most players will receive less playing time. However, this didn’t dissuade transfers from signing with the Wolverines instead of pursuing greater playing time elsewhere. Bakich’s worst fear about transfers, that they might be quitting on their old teams just to play more somewhere else, should be dissuaded. It’s clear that his transfers are here with winning aspirations. 

“I’m super blessed to be here and to be a part of this team,” Sems said. “And we’re all pulling the rope in the same direction. So it’s more about not what I can get but what I can give the team. 

“Obviously, everyone’s gonna be holding each other accountable and just working hard and bringing that joy and love to the game. I know everyone has everyone’s back. Obviously, I’m going to do everything I can to achieve that goal of getting to Omaha.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown challenges at all of us — including The Michigan Daily — but that hasn’t stopped our staff. We’re committed to reporting on the issues that matter most to the community where we live, learn and work. Your donations keep our journalism free and independent. You can support our work here.

For a weekly roundup of the best stories from The Michigan Daily, sign up for our newsletter here.