I'm excited to see how well the Freshmen and the starting pitching perform. I hope the loss of Fetter won't be too much. Dufek is a solid player and adds some pop. If LaMarre improves in his Junior season like he did from his Fr. to Soph. season, he will be a top 5 round selection IMO.
Baseball Preview: The Catchers and Outfield
Continuing the baseball previews in a build up to opening day this Friday, I'll look at how the team's outfield and catchers look this season.. Previous preview posts: Initial Schedule Reaction, Maloney Podcast, A Look Back, The Infield.
There is no more valuable person on our team than Chris Berset. Sure, there's a guy at this end of this post that most of you will say is more important. I would counter that with asking who touches the ball the most on the team? Who is the rock that holds the pitching staff on his shoulder? Who played for the
prestigious Great Britian National Team this summer? No, not that guy, Chris Berset.
Berset is now entering his third year as one of the full time catchers (I consider two catchers being full time), after splitting his freshman year with Doug Pickens, commanding the plate virtually to himself his sophomore year, and missing about 20 games last year due to a broken finger. Over his career, Berset owns a .277 batting average, with one particularly bad sophomore slump season at .244 and two other seasons right around .300. Berset quietly is a solid 6 or 7 hole hitter, providing decent power and decent average.
Behind the plate, Chris's arm is only average at best. Berset has caught 33 of 119 attempts on him, giving opponents a .723 stolen base percentage, but where Chris excels is on blocking. There has been an apparent difference in our pitching staff's confidence when Berset is behind the plate compared to his replacements the last two years. Sliders look sharper, fastballs have a little more cut on them. Look no farther than Berset's 2 passed balls last year. In about a third as much playing time, Tim Kalczynski had 11. Berset has a trust level with our pitchers that allows them to be more aggressive, something invaluable.
I've been pretty sold on the idea that Berset was the missing piece last season that cost us just as much as the depth. His broken finger left us void the leader on the field and with the pitchers. Without him, pitchers lost confidence in themselves and the season went down the drain.
Our backup catcher again this year is Coley Crank. As a freshman last year, Crank had quite a bit of playing time, mainly due to Berset's injury. Coley, like Lorenz, didn't appear totally ready for college pitching last year. It'll be interesting to see how he improved over the off season. His stats in the Alaska Summer League didn't look particularly good, but such is baseball when you're out there with wood bats.
Crank didn't have quite the repertoire with his battery mates last year, posting 8 passed balls and not catching any of the 8 runners that tested his arm. I'm hoping he shows improvement this season as he appears to be slated the starter next year. We definitely need him to give Berset days off, and he'll get playing time fairly often. From what I understand, he's shown improvement at the plate and will vie for the DH spot as well.
This year's team is probably the fastest outfield we've had at Michigan in years, and if there is one player on this year's team that epitomizes speed, it's freshman Patrick Biondi. Biondi was drafted by the Tigers in the 35th round but opted to go to Michigan and improve his draft stock. Biondi was clocked with a 60 yard dash time of 6.44 seconds. That's "special speed" as Rich Maloney calls it. That's four out of five fakes for all you football recruitniks.
Biondi will be a force on the basepaths, but getting on base will be the adventure. Maloney plans to lead off with Biondi right out of the gate. This is a tough spot for any freshman, and it'll be interesting to see how it plays out. The current plan is the "Willy Tavares circa 2005" play. Biondi will be bunting and slow-roller-to-the-infield his way to a record setting number of infield base hits. At least that's the hope. I'm pretty skeptical about this to start the season, but I guess I'll have to see him play first.
As I mentioned in the Preview: The Infielders, I wouldn't be surprised to see him drop to the 8 or 9 hole if he struggles and Lorenz or Dennis can really light it up to start the season. Anything could happen, though.
In right field, Nick Urban will be holding on to his starting spot he earned last season. Nick came to Michigan as primarily a middle infielder, but after falling behind the depth chart to Cislo and Toth, he made the move to the outfield where he has been one of our best defenders. He started the season just filling in for Alan Oaks, but Oaks became a liability defensively and never found his swing on offense. Urban is quite a bit quicker than Oaks in the field and was only a bit behind Oaks in terms of arm strength.
Offensively, Urban never really tore the cover off the ball, but he was quietly efficient. He hit .288 over last season with a .418 slugging percentage (.366 on base). Those numbers will work in the 6 or 7 hole, but I'd like to see him boost both of those this season.
Saving the best hitter on the team for last, Ryan LaMarre will probably be making his last hurrah at Michigan this season and playing center field. Ryan is a special talent and has gained Pre-season All-American 3rd Team honors at a laundry list of websites and magazines that hand out such honors. Between his dominant last season, hitting .344 with 12 home runs, 55 runs scored, 62 RBI, and a .599 slugging percentage, and his solid season in the Cape Cod League, Ryan definitely could go pro. Like some of you, I've heard his plan was to go to the show after his junior year for quite some time now. I've got no inside knowledge, so take it FWIW.
LaMarre is definitely poised to be a 1st Team All BigTen again this season, and will be anchoring the 3-hole in the lineup. LaMarre doesn't really have any holes in his college game. He is a solid college outfielder with a great bat and great work ethic. There isn't much else to say about him. The kid is a player and he'll probably be drafted in the first 10 rounds of the draft this next year. Here's hoping he might just stay.
For those interested in stats:
Coming Up Next
I'm hoping to get a look at the conference and the schedule one more time before the season starts, but life is getting busy at just the right time.
Biondi's alleged 6.44-second 60m time would make him much faster than Greg Demps, the fastest athlete in the NCAA and 15th-fastest in the world (6.59 seconds).
Hey, it's yards, I'm an idiot.
I think the comparison is Robinson would run a 6.38 60 yard dash based on his best 60m time, IIRC. I did the math on the podcast, I think.
What happened to Jake McLouth? He played decent last spring with 6 HR and 29 RBI. I was impressed with him when he came to Columbus last May. I just want to say that you cover the Michigan baseball program very well and have some great insights along with real nice reports/story's. You do a great thing for Big Ten baseball and i thank you for it. Keep up the good work.
A yard is 36 inches.
A meter is 39.37 inches.
i played one summer with biondi, i must say that he is the fastest ball player i have every played with or against. this includes traveling to a number of world series around the country. the teams from florida and texas did not have players that were on his level as far as speed goes.
And 2 games in, I think we're seeing that young Mr. Crank has adjusted to college pitching this year - or maybe just Jacksonville State pitching. He's got 4 dingers in 2 games as our DH. Not bad at all. Definitely looking forward to a great rebound season this year!
lets hope Crank keeps on it, just remember, McClouth had a blazing hot start last year then stopped seeing the FB as much.
OF depth is a problem, behind the starting three you have a converted 1b/3b (stephens) and a converted IF (kittle), not saying they're a massive downgrade, but its definitely not the best positions for them.
This is a big transition year at C, with 2 freshmen who have potential are being redshirted, and crank who's improving, but not quite the level of berset defensively, and at C defense trumps offense.
And it's about to be tested. LaMarre left in the 2nd inning of the Tech game yesterday. He dove for a ball and came out holding the arm. Here's hoping it's just precautionary and will only keep him out a day or so. We went hitless without him in the lineup over the last 7 innings.