"Rodrick Williams Jr.'s 10-month old, 2-foot-long savannah monitor named "Kill" gets the RB some strange looks when they go for walks together."
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.
The roster was released for fall ball last week with all of this year's current changes. The four lost still had eligibility left, but I'm not sure where they are, whether finishing at Michigan or transferring to find playing time. That's not uncommon in baseball. There will probably be a couple more tweaks to the roster before the actual season starts, and those will be dealt with closer to the season.
- Adam Arbour – Not a big loss as only saw very limited playing time. Stuck behind Chris Berset and Coley Crank in the depth chart.
- Bryce Aspinwall – Loss is pretty meh. Aspinwall had 10 at bats last season but made the most of them. I thought he had a pretty good shot of taking over for a graduated Fellows. Apparently not.
- Jim Bircher – No real loss. Had one pinch runner appearance all last season.
- Jake McLouth (yes, younger brother to the major leaguer Nate McLouth) – Definitely the biggest name lost from last year. There had been rumors that he wasn't going to stick around, and it appears that rumor stuck. McLouth was the DH for Michigan last year, hitting .272 in 151 at bats (6th on team). That's a big hole to fill.
My intital thought is that Garrett Stephens will take over the DH role, with some support by Coley Crank. Stephens was our top bench player last year, filling in at first base when Mike Dufek would close out games. Stephens also tore it up all summer in his wood bat league, earning all Prospect League honors.
- Kevin Cislo – Loss is huge. My guess has Toth moving to second base to fill his hole defensively, opening up short stop for freshman Derek Dennis. We also lose Cislo as our lead off hitter. That's a bigger loss. (Pictured to the right by MGoBlue.com)
- Kenny Fellows – Loss is pretty big here as we also lose our #2 hole hitter. I wouldn't be surprised to see Biondi to move into his outfield position, especially with the loss of Aspinwall.
- Chris Fetter – Again with the huge losses. There goes one of the top starting pitchers Michigan has ever had. He ate up innings (even if it sacrificed his quality down the stretch) and saved us from using the super weak bullpen last year.
- Ben Jenzen – Not much of a loss based on last season. Jenzen was injured the previous year and didn't make it back to play. He would have been a key part of the bullpen or even starting rotation last year had he been healthy.
- Tim Kalczynski – Loss is medium. As a team captain last year, he was the super utility player. He filled in for an injured Chris Berset and shared third base duties with John Lorenz. Timmy Kal's bat won't be too badly missed. He only hit .234 last year in 107 at bats, with only 8 extra base hits.
- Mike Wilson – Wilson's loss isn't a killer. In 2007, he had the conference in his hand, earning All-Region for his efforts on the mound. In 2008, he lost his touch. In 2009, well, he only made it into 13 games, including 4 starts. In the end, he finished with a 5.07 ERA in 27 innings. The 24 walks to 23 K's ration was also a killer, not to mention the .328 opponent batting average.
- Anthony Toth from 16 to 5 (previously McLouth's number)
- John DiLaura, C – I did a brief write up on DiLaura when still at VarsityBlue. He is a solid hitting catcher, earning Division 1/Dream Team All State honors, who has experience at third and second base. With two catchers in the recruiting class ahead of him, including Coley Crank, if he makes an impact this season, it will be because Chris Berset misses time again and Crank struggles.
- Kyle Clark, RHP – Clark was a four year starter at Portage Central HS of Michigan as a pitcher and first basemen. He's been brought on to pitch in Ann Arbor. He was runner up for his team's pitcher of the year in 2009, and finished with All Conference honors (he was All Conference and All District as a junior) despite having a season ending knee injury. The injury was a strange one. While playing third base, he went to field a slow roller and the knee just buckled. He finished the year 4-1 with 25.2 innings pitched and a 2.18 ERA. Clark has since recovered, and pitched in a summer league team (A. Green, along with Biondi and Michigan signee gone pro Daniel Fields), so he is good to go.
- Derek Dennis, SS – One of our two draft picks not to go pro, Dennis was an 8th round pick with the Devil Rays. He was considered either the top or second best position player in the state of Michigan this last year (Division 1/Dream Team All State), and he projects to make an impact early. I'm thinking we see Toth move to second base to open the door for 4 years of Derek Dennis at short stop. (Pictured to right by Grand Rapids Press)
- Zach Johnson, DH – Johnson is a big guy at 6'3", and he's also really versatile. During his senior season at Grandville HS, he was their top pitcher, their top catcher, and according to his high school coach, he "could've been [their] best infielder, too." Johnson hit .438 and held a on base percentage of .541. On the mound, he was extremely dominant with an ERA of 1.81, record of 4-2, and a 9 strike outs per 9 innings pitched ratio. So while he's listed as a DH now, he could end up playing just about anywhere to get his bat into the line up.
- Patrick Biondi, OF – The second of our two non-signing draft picks, Biondi was a very late round pick of the Tigers. He's played center field primarily, which makes him a prime candidate to come in and start. Ryan LaMarre isn't a pure centerfielder, and I definitely can see him moving to left field (vacated by Fellows). In 2009, Biondi earned Louisville Slugger All American status as an outfielder, which speaks volumes of his talent. He was also All State Division II/Dream Team.
- Michael Kershner, RHP – Kershner comes from Oakland, CA where he won a North Coast Section Division IV title in his senior season. Kershner threw a complete game in the championship game to win it all. At 6'3", 160, he'll probably spend a year building up strength, but he could potentially see time in his first year. PerfectGame.Org describes him as:
Lean and lanky build with projection. Works from ¾ arm slot with a long and extended arm action. He ran his fastball up to 86 in San Diego and it showed good life. He throws with lower effort and shows poise on the mound, changing speeds with his 11-5 breaking ball.
- Ben Ballantine, RHP – I did a write up on Ballantine at VarsityBlue as well during his recruitment. Ben is a 6'8" pitcher out of California, and he chose Michigan because of the work Rich Maloney and his staff has done with other tall pitchers, namely Chris Fetter. Ballantine decided to pick the jersey sure to fit him, Chris Fetter's #41 jersey. That's some awfully big shoes to fill. I don't see him cracking the rotation this year, but he'll probably start seeing playing time early and often this season as Maloney turns him into the next big starter for Michigan.
- Cameron Luther, 1B – Luther is another one of the Michigan All State players at the Division II level, but his is for power. "Cam" hit a home run in nearly all news articles I have found on him. That said, I can't find any specific stats on his season. MGoBlue.com described him thusly (before his senior season):
Luther, a three-time all-district performer for coach Eric Dunapilis at St. Joseph, has 19 home runs in three varsity seasons and hit .431 as a junior. A powerful first baseman, Luther had a breakout summer of 2008 with the Kalamazoo Maroons, hitting .429 while slugging 1.021 with 19 home runs.
- Bennett Howard, IF – He shows up on the roster at fall ball. A thorough google search comes up with nothing. He's from New Jersey. That's all I got.
- Samuel Cleary, RHP/IF/OF – Cleary comes from Ann Arbor's Huron HS. I haven't found much about him as I believe he is a walk-on at fall try-outs. He had a few academic honors in 2008. I believe he was a middle infielder at Huron, but he has the ultimate utility listing of pitcher/infielder/outfielder on the current roster. If anything he is an academic walk-on that provides depth.
EDIT: I looked over Rickey Samuel, which is definitely a poor choice to skip. Thanks go to wolverinebandit for pointing out the error.
Ricky Samuel, OF – Samuel is another All State Dream teamer from last year. He is listed as an outfielder on our roster, but the lefty also was a solid pitcher in high school. Samuel has 3 main pitches, a fastball (touches upper 80s), a sharp breaking ball, and a changeup. That said, he's only considered an above average prospect as a left handed pitcher.
His swing, however, is considered his main selling point. The best summary of his senior season I could find came from this Detroit News article written right before the district playoffs:
Going into […] Division 1 pre-district game against Walled Lake Northern at Walled Lake Central, Samuel was batting .510 with 35 RBIs, 41 runs, nine doubles, three triples, six home runs, 23 walks and 22 stolen bases. He has a .608 on-base percentage and a .840 slugging percentage. As a pitcher he's 6-2 with one save. In 48 innings he's struck out 87 with an ERA of 2.90. Opposing batters are hitting .169.
That's spectacular. Depending on how we use Alan Oaks this year, Samuel has a chance at making it in the outfield as well. Oaks is high risk/high reward in the outfield. His defense isn't great (it isn't poor either), he has major power, but Alan just strikes out way too much. If he gets converted to a starting pitcher, which seems likely based on the end of last season and his summer league numbers, Samuel could see a lot of time in right field.