...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
One of the youngest head coaches in college baseball, Erik Bakich picked up the 100th win of his career last night as Michigan beat Air Force 8-2 in the third game of their four-game Texas State Tournament opener in San Marcos, Texas. Fifth-year senior Ben Ballantine made an outstanding return from the gruesome ankle injury that ended his senior year prematurely, giving up just one hit and no earned runs in seven innings of work—and earning the win. (See also mgoblue.com recap.)
The victory followed a disappointing opening day that saw the Wolverines drop two games, both in 10 innings, 8-7 to Texas State and 8-6 to Washington. In both contests, Michigan went into the late innings with a decent lead—7-3 after six in the opener, 6-3 after seven in the nightcap—but the bullpen was unable to hold the advantages and the Wolverines batters failed to tack on any insurance runs.
Some hitting highlights from the first three games:
- Junior DH Kyle Jusick is hitting .455 (5-for-11), with 3 runs and 2 RBI
- Senior catcher Cole Martin's solid start includes a 3-run homer
- Juco transfer Jackson Glines has done well stepping into the large void left by Pat Biondi's graduation; batting leadoff, Glines is hitting .400 (6-for-15), with 3 runs, 3 RBI, and 1 stolen base
- Freshman Jackson Lamb is living up to the hype so far, going 4-for-6, with 3 doubles and 4 RBI
Michigan plays Washington again today at 1pm ET in their final game in this tournament. The Wolverines will send sophomore Evan Hill to the mound as they try to even their season and tourney record at 2-2.
Erik Bakich made the first of his weekly appearances on WTKA for the 2014 season this morning (podcast), providing a good preview of the upcoming Michigan baseball campaign, which begins Friday down in Texas.
The focus here is on who's playing which position. In addition to what Bakich said, this overview is also based on the current game notes.
Starting pitchers: Every starter returns from last year—fifth-year seniors Logan McAnallen and Ben Ballantine, juniors James Bourque and Trent Szkutnik, and sophomore Evan Hill. They'll get the bulk of the innings. The game notes have probable starters for this weekend as Bourque and Szkutnik for games 1 and 2 on Friday, Ballantine on Saturday, and Hill on Sunday. Bakich talked about the importance of his hurlers being able to consistently throw multiple types of pitches for strikes. McAnallen and Ballantine had shown this ability in the past; the other three have made tremendous improvement in this area since last season.
Bullpen: Bakich didn't discuss the bullpen extensively, but sophomore Jacob Cronenworth will be the closer. In his freshman year, when he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors, he had a 1.93 ERA and seven saves in 15 appearances; yesterday, he was named to the Stopper of the Year watch list. Michigan returns two other players who had extensive bullpen duties last season, senior Alex Lakatos and junior Matt Ogden. Bakich mentioned that freshman Jackson Lamb will be a two-way player, seeing time in the outfield and pitching in relief. He'll be brought along slowly, with his role likely increasing as the season progresses. The game notes mention two other freshman who are expected to have roles as relievers—Brett Adcock and Keith Lehmann.
Outfield: The biggest losses on the team from last year are starting outfielders Patrick Biondi and Michael O'Neill, both now playing professional ball. Zach Zott returns and will continue to be the starting left fielder. Bakich talked about how much more depth his team has this year than last year, and this is evident in the outfield, where he expects at least three players to see action in center and right—juco transfer Jackson Glines and two freshmen, Lamb and Johnny Slater. The game notes show the probable starters as Zott in left, Glines in center, and Slater in right. Bakich also mentioned that juniors Kyle Jusick and Kevin White might see some action in the outfield.
Infield: Coming off his stellar freshman season, sophomore Travis Maezes will continue to be the starting shortstop. Also anchoring the infield will be Cronenworth. But while he split time last season at second and third, this season Cronenworth will be the starter at either third or first, depending on whether the opposing team is starting a right-handed pitcher or a southpaw. Also playing some first will be juco transfer Kendall Patrick. Three freshmen will see action at second and third—Hector Gutierrez, Ramsey Romano, and Trey Miller. The game notes show the probable starters as Cronenworth at first, Gutierrez at second, Maezes at short, and Romano at third.
Catcher: Senior Cole Martin returns as the starter; he was named third-team All-Big Ten last year. He'll be helped out by Patrick and freshman Harrison Wenson.
Offense in general: Strategy will remain the same as last season, with the aim to play fast, be very aggressive both at the plate and on the bases, and put pressure on the opposing team. Many of the newcomers have speed and athleticism.
With all the starting pitchers back from last season, along with some key position players, as well as a raft of talented newcomers, Michigan is expected to improve on their 5th place finish in the Big Ten last season when their record was 14-10 in the conference and 29-27 overall. So far, the conference previews have picked them to finish third or fourth.
After losing each of their first three games by only one run (two games in extra innings), the men broke out the bats in Port St. Lucie for the first victory under the new coach.
Sophomore James Bourque (Ann Arbor, Mich./Huron) earned the win on the mound, scattering six hits and allowing just a run with four strikeouts in 5.2 innings. At the plate, junior Michael O'Neill belted his first home run of the season, a three-run shot to left in the eighth inning. O'Neill joined senior Patrick Biondi with two hits on the day, as Biondi drove in and scored a pair of runs.
For more details, MGoBlue LINK.
A doubleheader against Fordham tomorrow, and then they get to face the Mets (yes, [some of] those Mets) in an exhibition.
Good day for both teams of bat-and-ball-slingers.
Interesting article from Angelique Chengelis—Erik Bakich remakes Michigan baseball with mental training, community presence—in advance of Michigan baseball's first game tomorrow.
"The reason we do perspective posters and visit the hospitals is so these guys have a true appreciation for how fortunate they are," Bakich said. "But also with baseball, you build up these bottom-of-the-ninth, game-winning situations like they're life and death. When we actually go visit people who really have struggled with life and death, you understand we're playing a kid's game. We can actually perform better knowing it's not really a life-or-death situation. It's about execution and we'll make the opponent make it life or death."
. . .
Bakich has enlisted the help of Brian Cain, a mental conditioning coach who has worked with several college baseball programs. Cain's purpose is to give players tools to understand the mental aspects of baseball.
"They've learned how to implement routines and use breathing and visualization and self-talk to not only help them maintain their confidence, but be able to focus on one pitch at a time," Bakich said. "Brian has been great for routine implementation and getting these guys to stick to the process."
And part of that process is, very simply, having the players work on their breathing, whether he's a pitcher, hitter, or playing defense.
The players also have been taught to recognize "signal lights," when game situations are getting tight and players begin to talk to themselves negatively. Every player, Bakich said, has a release, whether it's kicking dirt, taking his helmet off or adjusting his batting glove. Next, the player finds his personal focal point, whether it's the left-field foul pole or a spot on the bat, for example, and he then returns to positive thinking.
And here's the official Michigan baseball preview video:
UPDATE: Michael O'Neill was named to 50-man preseason watch list for the Golden Spikes Award
With only 11 days until Michigan's 2013 season opener, a few Big Ten conference previews were posted today.
The most detailed one, from Baseball America, has several Michigan-related items:
- Michigan picked to finish a surprisingly high sixth place
- Wolverine outfielder Michael O'Neill selected as preseason conference player of the year and the #2 prospect for the 2013 MLB draft
- Freshman Evan Hill, a left-handed pitcher, tabbed as top newcomer
- Michigan also featured with this:
Michigan Jr. OF Michael O'Neill (.327/.381/.525, 19 SB), whose uncle Paul was a five-time all-star with the Reds and Yankees, was the fastest player in the Cape Cod League last summer (6.36 seconds in the 60-yard dash). He also has bat speed, power potential and center-field skills. O'Neill plays right field for the Wolverines in deference to Sr. OF Patrick Biondi (.303/.408/.407), a smaller speedster who led the Big Ten with 32 steals last spring and the Cape with a .388 batting average last summer. He turned down the Marlins as a ninth-round pick.
Most of the Perfect Game preview is behind a paywall, but they pick Michigan to finish eighth.
Based on a survey of 9 out of 11 Big Ten coaches, College Baseball Insider has Indiana as the favorite to win the conference title (as do the two sites above). Biondi and O'Neill figure prominently in their rundown of the conference's best players:
The best defensive outfielder: Patrick Biondi, Michigan
The best outfield arm: Michael O’Neill Michigan
The best pure hitters: Michael Pritchard, Nebraska; Sam Travis, Indiana; Michael O’Neill, Michigan
The biggest power threats: Sam Travis, Indiana; Chad Christensen, Nebraska; Michael O’Neill, Michigan
. . .
The best baserunner: Patrick Biondi, Michigan
Here are some miscellaneous items:
- In their countdown of the top 100 players in the country, College Baseball Daily, after previously placing O'Neill at #77, has Biondi at #41.
From a scouting perspective, the success that Biondi had with a wood bat in the CCBL during the summer of 2012 shows a lot of promise. When added with his intuitive defense and fantastic base-running ability, that success may make all the difference for Biondi in the 2013 draft. Having Biondi back for his senior season gives the Wolverines one of their most talented players and leaders in 2013, as Biondi is one of the top players to watch for this season.
- As I posted in another thread, Erik Bakich made an appearance on WTKA this morning—here's the podcast. Among other things, Bakich talked about how young the team is, with many freshmen expected to play major roles. If the season were to begin today, the starting infield would include three freshmen.
- This is from a couple weeks ago, but in case anyone missed the news release, Biondi was named team captain and was one of five players selected for the team's Leadership Council.
Mark Snyder at freep.com has the details on Michigan baseball coach Erik Bakich's contract:
- Five-year deal, with nearly $830,000 in base salary, starting at $150K/year and increasing to more than $182K for the 2016–17 season
- $65,000/year for TV, radio, Internet, apparel, and so on
- $25,000/year for a possible sponsorship deal with a bat manufacturer
- Various performance bonuses, ranging from one month base salary for a Big Ten title/NCAA bid to $25,000 for a national championship
The reports at the time of his hiring of compensation of $400K+ were obviously exaggerations as Brandon had suggested. The other interesting thing is that while Bakich will be making much more than he was at Maryland, where his base pay was a little over $100K, his overall compensation is significantly below what Michigan was paying Maloney, who had a contract topping out at $349K in total compensation in its final year.