in re: is GRIII on a tear
Michigan's baseball team is in the midst of fall practice this week, and like spring ball for football, there are some vague outlooks of next season hinted at even in meaningless exhibitions against Canadian teams. Yesterday, for the second year in a row, Michigan took on the Ontario Blue Jays, a high-level summer ball squad from north of the border. For the second year in a row, Michigan crushed the Jays.
While the 24-1 score over the 14 inning scrimmage means nothing, how innings were allotted to pitchers is something of quite a bit more interest. Heading into next season, Michigan will be replacing two weekend starters. Lefty Bobby Brosnahan seems to be a lock to return to the rotation, and junior Brandon Sinnery is poised to be the second after spending the summer in Ann Arbor bulking up for the workload, but the third spot has been somewhat vague. Enter the exhibition;
Judging by the innings, it looks like the early front runner for the last spot is Kolby Wood (right, by MGoBlue). Wood has been a jack of all trades on the pitching staff for quite some time now. Early on, there were several experiments to move him to the rotation, but between his own struggles starting, and his value as a late inning reliever, Wood never could secure a starting spot. Kolby does have a pretty good fastball, a solid slider, changeup, and has worked with developing a splitter.
As far as the other relievers and potential starters, I have to be impressed with Gerbe and Ballantine. Gerbe could very well end up as this year's closer if he doesn't get groomed into a starter as well. I'm starting to get excited about the future of Ben Ballantine as well. His freshman season wasn't great, but with his height and size, I think we'll see a big break through for him this year.
The last note on the pitching staff, why do lefty relievers always bother me? Be it Katzman's bipolar "OMG I'M GREAT" to "OMG I JUST HIT TWO BATTERS AND GAVE UP 4 HITS THIS INNING" or Jeff DeCarlo, Academic All-American, I've just never felt comfortable with our "specialists." This year appears to be more of the same. Tyler Mills is cut from the same sporadic lefty mold where he'll walk a few batters per innings to raise the blood pressure, then it's anyone's guess on how the inning will end.
Here's where things get interesting. While the first two slots of Biondi and Toth is no surprise, John Lorenz (bottom right, by MGoBlue) in the 3-hole isn't something I really expected. Lorenz really came along to end last season, but his power has been streaky at best and his strikeout rate is generally pretty high. The more I think about it though, the more it makes sense. The only other power options are Crank and Stephens, but their K-rate is probably twice that of Lorenz.
The other option was moving Derek Dennis into the 3, but judging just on the regular season, Dennis didn't appear to be ready for that load yet. It's not to say he won't be ready by February, but I just haven't seen reason to move him that high in the order just yet. Dennis should fit in well to the 6-hole. He'll act as a clean up hitter for Crank and Stephens above him, who should provide Dennis with plenty of RBI opportunities.
The bottom three in the order are of more interest to me than anything else. With two outfield spots open, all three of those guys are competing for two spots on the field. And with Michael O'Neill due back from labrum surgery in the next month or two, that's just one more guy in the mix – one that some close to the baseball program think is already the favorite to start in left. I'm personally leaning towards Krantz as the other outfielder, but that's without seeing him play since the broken thumb. Kevin looked good while replacing Ryan LaMarre last season, and I'd love to see him continue to produce like that at the bottom of the order.
As for the DH, I wasn't really expecting Alex Lakatos to make an appearance, especially given his pitching potential. Lakatos was one of the state of Michigan's top high school pitching prospects last season. I didn't know Maloney also was looking at his bat. I'm also somewhat surprised with the lack of Cam Luther. Luther was the big bat brought in the recruiting class of 2009. He made it into just a handful of games last year before contracting mono, but it appears the projection that he would challenge Stephens for 1st base or designated hitter might be pushed back a little later.
What it Means
Like spring football, everything in this game is all to be taken with a grain of salt. Players still have a few months to get into baseball shape, and anything could happen between now and then, especially on the mound.
If there is one thing I take out of this though, it's pleasure in the AD finally giving the fall exhibitions some publicity. In several southern baseball schools, fall ball is a big deal. Last year, we were given a score, no box, no write up, nothing. As Michigan continues to build it's baseball program, this is a small step forward. So is their recent hire of the new assistant SID, Kent Reichert, formerly of Coastal Carolina (a big time baseball school). I'm really encouraged to see the program moving forward like this.
Bad news on the baseball recruiting front this weekend as outfield prospect Zach Fish of Gull Lake High School (Richland, MI) has stepped back from his verbal commitment to the University of Michigan. Fish had previously committed to UM coach Rich Maloney in May to accept a 50% scholarship to the school he had been a fan of since he was a small kid.
Things have changed over the course of the summer. Fish now holds offers from Oklahoma State and Florida Gulf Coast, two solid baseball schools in more baseball-friendly weather states. On top of that, Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Louisville are also showing interest. If they get involved with decent scholarship offers, any of those three would probably hold a huge upper hand on Michigan.
U-M is “still in the mix,” Fish noted. He admitted, however, some doubts crept in when a Wolverines coach was talking to the Cincinnati-based Midland Redskins organization for which Fish plays in the summer and did not mention that Fish was a U-M commit.
“You’d think that you would want it reflected on (the Redskins) roster that Zach has committed to your school,” Fish’s father, Duane Fish, said about the U-M coach. “You would think the first thing you would say is, ‘Zach Fish is ours, keep your hands off him.’”
Duane Fish said his son also had second thoughts about playing in a northern climate and concerns about not getting the exposure he might at a southern program.
Zach Fish said the phone call to U-M head coach Rich Maloney was “probably one of the most nerve-racking conversations I’ve had, just because I gave the man my word that I was going to be a Wolverine and I gave him my commitment and he gave me his.”
I'm not sure what to make of a coach not mentioning his commitment. Fish can't sign his letter of intent until the early signing period in November, and therefore, the program isn't allowed to discuss commitments. I'm missing the context here, so maybe there is something deeper to this.
As far as losing exposure, I think that's just talk. Michigan did just have an outfielder go in the first round after being listed as a preseason All-American. I'm sure Fish and his father are well aware of that, but it's definitely something the other schools are trying to sell.
If Michigan isn't able to re-secure the commitment from Fish, it's a pretty big loss for the program. Fish is one of the better position players to come out of Michigan in a few years, and Maloney unloaded the kitchen sink (50% scholarship is reserved for the best of the best).
Fish seemed like a lock to start as a freshman along side Biondi and O'Neill. If Michigan can't re-secure a commit, they do have a few other outfield options, but they'll probably try to secure another commit in this class.
Zach Hurley, Ohio State's leader on the field the last few seasons, was drafted in the 29th round by the Houston Astros this June, and he's already in trouble. After just 18 games played, he's going to miss the next 50 for testing positive for an illegal substance:
Hurley was a respected three-time scholar athlete at Ohio State, which described him as "a leader in the way he acts and practices." He was chosen by his peers to co-captain the 2010 Buckeyes team after beginning the season as a .320 career hitter. [...]
Methylhexaneamine is a substance originally intended to be used as a nasal decongestant that has gained popularity as a recreational drug which reportedly gives users an adrenaline rush. Side effects include nausea and stroke. The drug was recently linked to several Jamaican track stars in 2009.
This is the second Buckeye to face a 50-game suspension according to Buckeye blogger Chris Webb. Ron Bourquin of the 2006 OSU squad, currently of the Tigers, was also suspended (June 4th article, now archived) this year for a banned substance.
HT: Other Chris
Although the article is a month old, I don't think it has been mentioned here yet. It's another solid piece from the Daily.
If there's one piece to next year's Michigan baseball team that I will miss most, it won't be Ryan LaMarre or Tyler Burgoon. Those guys were likely to be 3-and-done from the time they set foot on campus. What I will miss most is Matt Miller.
Miller was drafted by the Brewers in the 5th round of this year's draft, surprisingly high considering his college career hadn't lived up to his billing, at least not until the last three weeks of the season. On Saturday, he did this:
The 2010 fifth-round pick allowed one hit -- a fifth-inning double by Oliver Santos -- over seven shutout frames as the Brewers edged the Billings Mustangs, 3-2, in 1 hour and 58 minutes. "This is definitely a first for me, throwing 61 pitches in seven innings," Miller said.
"My defense really stepped up for me when I needed them to," Miller said.
The Indiana native retired the final six batters he faced to improve to 5-1 with a 2.51 ERA. In addition to winning with grounders and popouts, Miller has the ability to miss bats. The 6-foot-6 righty has 31 strikeouts in eight starts and fanned eight over five innings in a June 29 win over the Mustangs.
"I go for the strikeout when I have the opportunity," he said.
The article also mentions that one of the 3 batters he hit was Michigan Alum Chris Berset.
Miller was likely poised to be the Friday night starter next season, rounding out the rotation with Sinnery and Brosnahan. Now Michigan is spending this off season finding a third weekend starter.
The NCAA announced today that based upon the success of the pitch clock experiment at the SEC Tournament last year, they will be mandating the pitch clock be used league wide in an attempt to pick up the pace of games.
After allowing the use of a pitch and between innings clock experimentally last year, the committee voted to mandate the use of a timing device and implemented penalties for non-compliance. Current rules require pitchers to start their delivery in no more than 20 seconds without runners on base. This rule remains and an umpire will be required to monitor and enforce this time limit. Additionally, in non-televised games, umpires will enforce a 90 second limit between innings. The committee recommended a time limit for televised games of 108 seconds, which the Southeastern Conference used experimentally during the 2010 season. However, the committee acknowledged that the time between innings will continue to be a negotiable point in television agreements.
This isn't a huge game changer by any stretch. The rule for length between innings and between pitches has been part of baseball for several years. This new rule appears to only mandate a "play clock" like mechanism so the umpire can track the time without having to check his watch incessantly. There's enough other things for an umpire to watch closely other than his watch, and this makes it much easier for an umpire to enforce because the clock is in the open for all to see.
That said, this won't impact length of games more than 5-10 minutes for most teams. If anything, between innings will become a bit shorter, and that's it.
Obstruction While Making a Play
The NCAA had a vague obstruction rule regarding infielders making a play on a ball at a base while a runner was coming to the bag. For example, under the old set of rules, a batter grounds the ball to short stop. The short stop fields and throws an off line throw to first. The first baseman has to move up the line towards the batter-runnner. Before the first baseman can secure the ball, the runner and the first baseman hit each other with glancing blows. This would have lead to an obstruction call against the first baseman and the batter would be given first base, even if the first baseman was able to secure the ball, then tag him before reaching the bag.
Basically, you're punishing the first baseman for trying to make a play on the thrown ball way despite the fact that the runner could have gone around him in the running lane.
The committee also proposed a slight change to the obstruction rules, in an effort to provide fielders the ability to make a play on a thrown ball during a play at a base. Previously, any contact made between a fielder and runner could be called obstruction unless the fielder had possession of the ball. In the new proposal, a fielder that has established himself will be provided the opportunity to field the throw without penalty.
“This change is being made after careful consideration of our current rule and how this play was adjudicated previously,” said Overton. “The rules governing collisions and dangerous plays have not changed, but the committee believes the fielder must be allowed some room to make a play on a thrown ball.”
The rule change gives the fielder an opportunity to field a throw. This makes complete sense and should reduce unnecessary collisions as the runner has no incentive to go right through a fielder making a play.
Home Run Celebrations
The final rule change that should affect Division 1 is related to post-home run celebrations. The new rule limits the dugout from flooding home plate by restricting them to the warning track area, or 15 feet from the dug out. As an umpire, I'm a fan of this. This slightly speeds up the pace as you don't have to wait for the 25 guys on the team to clear the plate area and return to the dug out. The other major plus is not having 25 teammates that close to the opposing catcher, which is only asking for one of the young men to say something stupid and start a feud.