he grew a beard
MGoBlue and Coach Maloney released this upcoming season's baseball captains this week in senior catcher Chris Berset and senior first baseman Mike Dufek. The two have big shoes to fill, stepping up to fill the void of last year's captains Chris Fetter, Tim Kalczynski, and Kevin Cislo, but I'm sure they'll be up to the task.
Berset is in his fourth (split time with Doug Pickens in '07, but started more games) year as the starting catcher for the Wolverines, having already 91 starts in 110 games played. Chris has managed our pitching staff very well over the years, including the wildly successful campaigns of alumni Chris Fetter, Zach Putnam, Mike Powers, and current players such as Tyler Burgoon, Eric Katzman, and Alan Oaks.
There is a difference in the play of our team with him behind the plate. Pitchers feel confident in throwing that hard breaking slider in the dirt with runners on base and being aggressive because they know that Berset will block the ball.
On offense, Berset had a solid rebound to his sophomore slump of a season in 2007. From MGoBlue:
Berset, a three-year letterwinner, posted a career high in doubles (7) and runs batted in (21) despite missing 24 games due to injury last season. The switch-hitting catcher had a breakout sophomore campaign in 2008, appearing in 42 games with 37 starts behind the dish. Michigan was 27-10 in games Berset caught as he helped lead the team to its third straight Big Ten title and NCAA Regional in Ann Arbor.
Chris also honed his leadership skills with a trip to this year's World Baseball Cup, playing for the Great Britain team. While the GB team didn't make it past the 2nd round, Berset did well, hitting .387 with a key home run against Croatia.
Mike Dufek will be making his second straight season as the starter at first base, his third season to be at least a semi-regular starter. In his sophomore season, Dufek commonly came in to play first base when All American Nate Recknagel shifted to catcher or designated hitter.
Dufek is the big hitter in the lineup, registering 17 home runs last season and a .647 slugging percentage. Dufek is also a solid closer for Michigan, with a 95+ mph fastball that leaves opposing hitters whiffing at nothing.
Dufek earned first team All-Big Ten honors as a first baseman last season after starting all 55 games and leading all Big Ten first basemen with 17 home runs. He tied for third place on the U-M single-season homer list while finishing with a team-best 19 doubles. Dufek also appeared on the mound 11 times, posting a 1-1 record with three saves and a 2.70 ERA.
"What I look for in a captain are players who are committed to the team," Maloney continued. "Captains should look at things bigger than themselves, and I think Chris and Mike have demonstrated that quality throughout their careers. It's not about them; they want to win for Michigan."
Congratulations to Chris and Mike on your honor.
Images from mgoblue.com
The #13 seed Michigan defeated #4 seed Stanford tonight in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Volleyball tournament. Michigan won in 4 sets by scores 25-18, 23-25, 25-22, and 25-11. Michigan came out with their highest focus level all season and it showed.
In set one, Michigan's big players, Alex Hunt, Juliana Paz, Veronica Rood, and Lexi Zimmerman all came out on fire. Michigan registered only one hitting error with a hitting percentage of almost .535. Hitting percentages are like batting averages in baseball. A .333 percentage is very good. .535 is unreal. We did it.
We had balance on offense. Hunt was surgical on the outside. She cut blocks right and left. Paz was powerful, blowing through blocks for kills. Veronica Rood got the attention from Lexi that she should, providing a distraction for the Stanford blockers, opening up the outside. Lexi was perfect on the set, but she was also a force on the block. The first set was only close because Michigan was pushing hard on the serve, leading to 4 extra Stanford points.
In the second set, Michigan jumped out to an early lead of 5-2, but Stanford came back to tie the game at 8. Stanford got their block going, especially on Hunt, but Michigan managed to slowly cut the lead down and even tie the game at 23. Down 23-24, Michigan let a serve by that looked to be out. It was ruled to have landed on the line and Michigan lost the set. The call was close, and that play ended up being the difference.
Set three saw Michigan return to dominating. Michigan had two different 7 point leads in the set, mainly thanks to a couple of runs by Rood and Hunt. Stanford managed to bring the game back to a one point Michigan lead at 20-19, but when Rood rotated back into the front, it was set over. Michigan pulled away and won.
Set four was all Michigan. Stanford's wheels began to fall off as they had back to back serve receive errors against both Paz and Donhoff. They never really got "in system", meaning they never were able to get into a normal bump-set-spike rhythm. Michigan steam rolled over the Cardinal to open the set 16-3. From that point, Michigan traded off points to the final 25-11 score.
- Lexi Zimmerman was great all night. Her sets were crisp and clean. Her blocks were timely and huge (I think she had more than the 2 assist listed in the gametracker). She did a great job of mixing the sets. She incorporated everyone in the game plan and didn't force too many 2's (quick hits by the setter instead of actually setting the ball to another player). Lexi has forced a lot of 2's lately, and today she definitely let Rood/Bower be the change of pace attacks.
- Alex Hunt's hitting from the left side won the match for Michigan. In the first and third sets, she was splitting blocks, pinpointing her hits to go off the block, and just smashing the ball. Her 18 kills lead the team
- Juliana Paz had a great night with 15 kills, 3 service aces, and a solo block. Despite these numbers, Paz really wasn't a huge part of the game. Her .250 hitting percentage was lowest of the major contributors, and might have overshadowed just how good she played. The two service errors also looked pretty bad, but those happen.
- Veronica Rood needs to be cloned. With middle blockers, you almost always have two of them in your rotation at any time. This way, you have one in the front at all times (the other is usually subbed out by the libero). When Rood is in the game, Michigan can't be stopped offensively. Rood's blocking on the season isn't quite as impressive as most other middle blockers in the BigTen, but her offense is top of the line. Her quick hits (zero sets) and her slide/cutting hits when she moves to her right then hits are money every time.
- Megan Bower, like Paz, had a quiet set of kills as well. Bower totaled 9 on 17 attempts for a .471, but her bigger contribution was a change of pace in set 3. After Stanford really started to key in on Hunt and Paz, and with Rood subbed out on the back row, Bower had a strong kill from the opposite side that helped get Rood back into the front row quicker. That was a big swing in the game.
- Karlee Bruck really struggled in this game. She had 3 kills and 3 hitting errors in 15 attempts for a .000 percentage. She seemed a bit slow to the block (but registered 2 block assists) and was also off on her attacks. She did do really well on a couple of one-on-one plays at the net where the ball came down up for grabs.
- Sloane Donhoff and Maggie Busch both played excellent defense today and contributed quite a bit at the line. Donhoff had 4 service aces (2 errors) and Busch had an ace (1 error) from the serving line.
With the win, Michigan advances to the Elite Eight and will play the Hawaii Wahine tomorrow night (11:30pm ET) in Palo Alto. Earlier today, the Wahine defeated an Illinois team that finished ahead of Michigan in the BigTen. Illinois looked flat, but Hawaii did what they were supposed to do and didn't make errors.
Hawaii appears to be a team very much like Michigan in that they are aggressive, focus on their serving game, and rely on a pair of hitters. This should be a really good, really tight game. Hawaii is a power program in the WAC, comparable to Boise State in football, but with a much longer track record of success in the NCAA tournament.
I'll update this with media information as I get it. I think the game will be streamed again, but I'm not sure.
Go Blue, Beat the Wahine.
I love that there was already a "Stanford Sucks" tag.
Recent blogpost: NCAA Tourney Preview
I'm not one for rehashing press releases, but this information is timely and would be lost in a second on the board. Per mgoblue:
Positioned in the Stanford regional, the Wolverines (24-9 overall) will face Niagara in first-round action on Friday (Dec. 4) at 7:30 p.m.[…]
The U-M/NU winner will face the winner of the OU/UND match in second-round action Saturday (Dec. 5) at 7:30 p.m.
Volleyball season ticket holders can purchase tickets beginning Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 8:30 a.m. by calling the U-M Ticket Office. Tickets will be available to the public by phone, internet and in person at the U-M Ticket Office beginning Tuesday, Dec. 1, at 1 p.m. Seating is general admission. All tickets will be held at will call. Advanced sales are all-session tickets only. Single-Session tickets must be purchased at the door. Doors open one hour prior to the event.
Everyone (except children under two) must have a ticket. The first 500 U-M students with a valid Mcard will be admitted free and must pick up a ticket at the arena by 7:30 p.m. Faculty and staff are NOT admitted free with Mcards for postseason events.
All-Session tickets are priced at $10 for an adult, $6 for seniors and students, and $4 for children 3-12 (children two years and under free with paid adult). Single-Session tickets are $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and students, and $4 for children 3-12 (children two years and under free with paid adult).
Emphasis mine. There is a good chance that all the full session seats will sell out in the first few hours.
Notre Dame will play Ohio at 5:30pm on Friday, and their game should end before Michigan takes the court. I've got an email into the volleyball SID to ask about how many single session tickets will be reserved and if they (single session tickets for Michigan/Niagara) will be available an hour before the ND/Ohio game or an hour before our game, and I'll update here when I hear back.
As for you students, there's a good chance the 500 may go quickly. I suggest getting there a little early if you want to get in for free.
The NCAA volleyball selection show happened on ESPN News today, and Michigan managed to snag an opportunity to host the first and second round of games within their pod. As of right now, Cliff Keen Arena will host the Wolverines and 3 other teams from December 4th and 5th, with Michigan being the top seed. The opening matchups (NCAA Bracket):
#13 Michigan (24-9) vs Niagara (23-8, MAAC Champions)
Ohio (26-6) vs Notre Dame (21-6)
As I said, the games will most likely be played at Cliff Keen instead of Crisler where the volleyball team has hosted regional games in the past. With the basketball game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, it sounds like they aren't going to try and get both sports in the same arena, as much as it might help with attendance.
Speaking of attendance, with the games in Cliff Keen, tickets are going to sell out quickly. Get your tickets now for this weekend, as they probably won't be available by the weekend, if they even last until tomorrow.
Game times aren't finalized, but I'll have that updated as I find out.
The Purple Eagles haven't played much in the way of solid competition this year, and so don't let their 23-8 record be too much of an intimidator. Niagara's RPI was only 162, and I don't see anyone even comparable to Michigan on their schedule.
The good news about the Purple Eagles is that they are one of the worst teams on the block Michigan will face this year. They rank 287 out of 317 total ranked teams in Division one at just 1.42 blocks per set.
The rest of their stats, including aces/set, digs/set, and kills/set all hover around the top 50-60 in the country. Their hitting percentage on the season is .225, which is fairly low, but earns them #85.
I think Michigan should handle Niagara fairly easily. If we're going to have a weak showing, this is the one game I think Michigan may be able to get away with it. Michigan will need to control Niagara's two outside hitters in Hanna Hedrick and Kari Honomichl. The middle blocker Bibler is their third scorer, but at a much lower pace than the two outsides. Bibler is only 6', so she won't cause any height problems for Michigan.
The biggest obstacle in getting past the Ann Arbor regional will be the Irish. ND comes in at #14 in the end of season RPI, and one very impressive resume. ND won all 14 BigEast Conference games before falling in their conference tournament to Louisville on the Cardinals' home court. The Irish are 8-1 on the road this season, with the lone loss coming at Florida State.
Michigan did face ND on a neutral court during the Xavier tournament in early September. In that game, Michigan swept by scores of 25-19, 31-29, and 25-20. Via mgoblue:
After U-M cruised to the game-one victory, 25-19, behind a .424 attack percentage, set two was a battle throughout with neither team holding more than a four-point advantage. Notre Dame held its largest lead at 16-12 only to see the Wolverines roar back as Hunt and Zimmerman registered four of the next five points to put U-M within one, 17-16. The Fighting Irish pushed the lead up to three again before another Zimmerman kill capped a second Michigan comeback, forcing a 23-23 tie. Paz had the hot hand down the stretch, contributing timely kills, while Donhoff capped the match with a service ace to give Michigan the marathon 31-29 victory.
The Wolverines dominated the third set, jumping out to a 9-5 lead and then using four straight points -- three off the right hand of Paz -- to go up 17-12 and cruise to a 25-20 win. Michigan outhit Notre Dame .447 to .179 in the final frame and .390 to .239 for the match.
Michigan basically had one hell of a game with Paz notching 20 kills and Hunt 14. With the more balanced attack Michigan has been trying to use by adding Rood to the mix, I think Michigan has a chance to win again, but it'll be tough to match that sweep. ND has really played hot this season while Michigan has been up and down the last few weeks.
The Irish are a pretty solid blocking team with an average of 2.47 per set, good for #42 in the country. Their hitting percentage has been phenomenal at .264, #20 in the nation, with 14.0 kills per set. Setter Jamel Nicholas is one of the top setters in the nation, and Serinity Phillips is very good outside hitter.
ND's has four major scorers in Phillips, Kristen Dealy, Christina Kaelin, and middle Kellie Sciacca. The Irish media doesn't list any as the right side hitter, but I want to say that was Kaelin. Phillips and Sciacca are their major blocking threats with 7 solo/91 assists and 22 solos/68 assist on the season. That's about 2 per set by themselves, which is pretty crazy.
There is no way Michigan wins if they play like they did this last weekend on the road at Ohio State and Penn State, being swept by both. If we make it to this game, they will need all the support they can get from the home crowd. ND travels really well, even in volleyball. They'll buy up every ticket they can get their hands on, so those around campus, don't let another The Game-style crowd hurt our team's chances.
Bobcats RAWRCATZ come in winners of the MAC with an impressive 26-5 record and a #24 RPI. Ohio went 15-1 in the MAC regular season, and fell to Dayton in the conference championship game of their conference tournament.
Against BigTen teams, Ohio went 1-2, with wins at Wisconsin (something Michigan hasn't done since 1992) and losses to Illinois and Purdue (both at Purdue). That's a mixed bag as they should lose to both Illinois and Wisconsin, but they probably should have competed or beat Purdue.
Bobcats RAWRCATZ are lead by Ellen Herman who leads the team with 512 kills and 4.69 kills/set, good for #9 individually in Division 1. On the defensive side, Meghan Simons is the top blocker with 1.3 per game, #28 in the nation. She's 6'3" and will have a height advantage to nearly every Wolverine that takes the court.
Ohio is an exceptional blocking and hitting team overall. The team averages 2.79 blocks/set (#11 nationally) and hits .282 (#9 nationally). One of their key weaknesses is on the dig. They rank 279 with 12.69 digs/set (probably drops quite a bit because of the high number of blocks).
Kendall Rogers (KR) is probably the top journalist (depending on how you classify Sorenson) when it comes to the national college baseball circuit. Rogers works primarily for Yahoo! Sports now, and runs the "Destination: Omaha" blog, similar to "Doctor Saturday" in the college football world.
In KR's most recent post, he examined the keys to Michigan bouncing back. In the opening paragraphs, or in many cases, stand alone sentences with little or no meaning (a personal pet peeve of mine in sports writing), he discusses Michigan's past few years with a pretty solid overview, discussing our success in 2007, our fall short in 2008, and the drop off in 2009.
In this post, I'm going to delve a bit deeper into his five keys, and attempt to cover the keys I find a bit more important. KR does a good job of summarizing programs, but he really doesn't have the expertise or in depth knowledge to really comment, and I'm hoping I can help supplement his descriptions.
His first key:
Forget about last season -- It seems we've had to say this about many teams the past few weeks, but Michigan joins the list of teams that needs to move on and forget about what transpired last season. The Wolverines welcome back a plethora of seasoned players both at the plate and on the mound. To say the least, this team will be ready to play in the spring. Personally, I think it'll be interesting to see how motivated this team will be. Knowing coach Rich Maloney as well I do, this club likely will be very fun to watch. Don't look for a letdown from the Wolverines.
That's about as vanilla as you can get. Yes, last year was unimpressive, I get that. But forgetting about it isn't really the answer. If anything, I think KR hit a bigger nerve with me when he mentioned the motivation of the team. Michigan was one of the most talented teams in the Big10 last year, but they continually struggled against some of the lower tier teams. I sometimes wondered just how motivated the guys were, but that's something I don't know about either.
There were stretches during the season in 2009 where I wondered if the guys just got down and couldn't pick it back up. Be it injuries, no one really solidifying third base, a depleted bullpen, whatever it was, I kept waiting for us to get a spark last year. That spark never came, and I felt like perhaps that was an indication that the team wasn't motivated enough. That was just my feeling, and I welcome the opinion of those who saw more games in person. I just know something was missing there.
Moving to key two:
Replace ace pitcher Chris Fetter, weekend rotation must reload -- The Wolverines have the tough chore of replacing ace pitcher Chris Fetter in the spring. Fetter started 13 games last season and compiled a 3.26 ERA in 94 innings. He also struck out 103 and walked 17 and limited opposing teams to a .257 batting average. Michigan welcomes back a pair of starting pitchers in Eric Katzman and Travis Smith. Katzman started 14 games last season and had a 3.53 ERA in 74 innings. He also struck out 64 and walked 41 and limited teams to a .248 batting average. Smith, meanwhile, started eight games and tallied a 4.50 ERA in 50 innings. Teams hit .333. The Wolverines are in good shape if this unit rises to the occasion.
That's also another obvious one, and one I'm not sure the Wolverines are going to be able to answer. To say last year's weekend rotation was disappointing would be an understatement.
Eric Katzman was a marginal number two starter compared to the last few seasons at Michigan. He was almost so inconsistent that his inconsistency became consistent. It seemed, as the season went along, that dubious "Evil Katzman" showed up every third week. Those "Evil Katzman" moments generally lead to a 3.2 inning start with 3 walks and 4+ runs. In the two weeks of non-evil, Katzman tended to make it about 5-6 innings and only 2-3 runs. That's alright, but his overall season really taxed our bullpen. By season's end, he would be demoted to the third starter. Katzman's summer was cut short due to an injury, I believe to his collar bone. He hadn't been pitching well in his few appearances there either. It'll be interesting if he can keep a solid hold on his rotation spot this season, and I think he'll still be a pretty solid number 2 or 3 pitcher for us.
Travis Smith was promising to start the season, but he just couldn't hack it by the time Big10 play rolled around. He was replaced by a few different experiments, including Kolby Wood, Brandon Sinnery, and most notably Alan Oaks. Wood and Sinnery were promoted up from the mid-week starter role on occasion to pitch on Sundays, primarily in an effort to split the Sunday game between two pitchers (one would throw 5 innings, the other 4 innings). This didn't work out all to well either, leaving the weak part of our bullpen to try and soak up more innings on back-to-back days.
When this failed, Maloney tried Alan Oaks back on the mound. Oaks had some success previously on the mound, mostly in high school, but also in relief during the 2007 NCAA run. Oaks ended up being the most effective pitcher (other than Fetter) to close the season, generally lasting 6 to 7 innings, saving the bullpen. He also did really well this summer, and he's one who I think has the best shot of taking Fetter's ace role. He's got a hard fastball and a pretty good slider.
After Oaks and Katzman, it's anybody's race for the 3rd starting spot. I think my preliminary guesses are Sinnery or Smith. Smith struggled mightily this summer in the Texas Collegiate League, but his fastball is just hard to pass up. Sinnery is still young, and I just haven't seen him throw enough as a starter to give him a nod just yet.
One of the hunches I've had for a while is we see a return of Tyler Burgoon to the rotation. Burgoon, our top closer over the last year and a half, started his career in the Michigan mid-week starting role half way through the 2008 season. He had some success there before being converted to a setup man and then closer. Burgoon has a couple good pitches, including a fastball, slider, changeup, and split fingered fastball (Quag, anything I'm missing?).
As for Kolby Wood, I wouldn't be surprised to see him make the transition to the closer role. He's developed a palm/changeup like pitch that has been devastating batters over the summer. He's still in contention for a starter role, but he was so spectacular as a closer this summer, I really feel like that's where he needs to go, especially if it frees up Burgoon to eat up starting pitching innings.
Speaking of bullpen, key three:
Bullpen must show some improvement -- The Wolverines actually return some solid relievers in the spring, but still have some work to do. They finished last season with a 4.82 pitching staff ERA because of some inconsistency issues with several relievers. Mike Dufek and Matt Miller are returning relievers to remember. Dufek is a two-way player and appeared in just 11 games last season. However, perhaps the Wolverines will choose to increase his role after he compiled a 2.70 ERA in 16 2/3 innings. Miller, meanwhile, appeared in 23 games and had a 3.70 ERA in 41 1/3 innings. Other returning relievers to watch include Tyler Burgoon, Brandon Sinnery, Alan Oaks, Kolby Wood and Matt Gerbe. This unit must be better outside of Dufek and Miller.
The bullpen is one area I'm not particularly worried about this year. Along with the aforementioned Burgoon and Wood as potential closers, Matt Gerbe and Matt Miller both made considerable noise this summer as closers. This summer was the summer of Michigan closers, even Sinnery got involved in the save fad. All of them did extremely well, and that really has me feeling good going into next season. And even with all of those players, we still have Mike Dufek available to close. That's a pretty stacked set of closers.
The one area that I'm not sold on is our left handed pitching. Other than Katzman as a starter, none of our other lefties have really produced at the college level. Matt Broder started for his lower-level summer league team and performed quite well, making me wonder if he will take the long relief slot. Bobby Brosnahan did pretty well this summer himself, and he may become a left handed specialist (in college, they tend to pitch a whole inning rather than just one batter).
Our only left handed reliever with college experience is Jeff DeCarlo. He's still working on bringing his college ERA below 8.00. The stat I like to use to describe DeCarlo is his hit by pitch numbers. Last season he hit one for each inning he pitched. He had 5 hit batsmen and 6 walks in 5 innings pitched. But he was an Academic All BigTen player in 2008!
Moving on to key #4:
Several hitters must rise to the occasion -- The Wolverines have the luxury of utilizing returning hitters Ryan LaMarre, Anthony Toth and Mike Dufek. However, they don't welcome back a plethora of solid hitters. LaMarre batted .344 with 12 homers and 62 RBIs last season, Toth batted .313 with 24 RBIs and Dufek batted .304 with 17 homers and 59 RBIs. Other returning hitters include Chris Berset (.296), Coley Crank (.294), Nick Urban (.288), John Lorenz (.267) and Alan Oaks (.228). Perhaps newcomer Derek Dennis, a very talented freshman, can give the Wolverines a boost at the plate. Michigan finished last season with a .294 batting average.
Again with the blatantly obvious statements – batters rising to the occasion? Duh. Anyway, I think Chris Berset is going to be a big key in all of this. Berset missed a few weeks with a broken finger during the middle of the season, and that really limited his numbers. I don't think he's a .330 batter by any stretch, but I think something near .305 is definitely doable (like his .301 his freshman year).
Other players that could end up contributing at the plate include Garrett Stephens, one of the top hitters in the Prospect League this last summer. I'm really high on the kid's hitting, and I can't see how he doesn't either start at first or start as the DH. Coley Crank had been DH'ing, but he was doing just alright. Stephens really shined at the end of the season at first, and I think he's got a future there.
Out of all of the returning hitters, the one I'm most worried about is Lorenz at third base. He struggled all of last season, forcing a platoon with Tim Kalczynski. His hitting was really weak, and his defense was just as suspect. If he doesn't step up his game this season, we're going to be playing musical chairs at third base until someone can hold it down. I wouldn't be surprised to see Mike Kittle or even Kevin Krantz making appearances early in the season at the hot corner.
As far as the freshman go, I'm not sure what to expect out of any of them. Dennis obviously was drafted really high, but it's yet to be seen how he'll perform in his first year on campus. It'd be nice to see him and maybe even Biondi solidify their place in the lineup, as we really need a leadoff and #2 hitter to step up. I have a feeling those two and Anthony Toth will combine to make the #9, #1, and #2 spots in the lineup. Their speed and high average hitting will hopefully translate to plenty of RBI opportunities for LaMarre and Dufek.
Speaking of those two, KR's fifth key:
Find more power production -- One thing that hurt Michigan last season was its lack of power. The Wolverines finished last season with just 55 homers. Returning hitters Ryan LaMarre and Mike Dufek accounted for 29 of those 55 homers. In other words, some returning hitters or newcomers must step up from a power standpoint. More power would make life much easier for the Wolverines both at the plate and on the mound. We'll see if some newcomers have some pop.
I'm not as concerned about the power as I am that combination at the top of the lineup. Last year's team was definitely a power based team, and that didn't translate to wins. Michigan had trouble sustaining innings, and they particularly struggled with strikeouts. Dufek struck out once in every 4 at-bats, Toth once in every 5. That's just not going to cut it. Sure the homeruns look awesome, but we really need to work on consistency and raising the averages. Power hitting is plenty more powerful with runners on base, and that's not a luxury Michigan had last season.
Ed. – First time since the early signing date that I've had open time to make a post. Sorry it's about a week and a half late. Now with 2 different updates.
Last week saw the early signing period for most of the Olympic sports including baseball. Michigan signed 4, which is a bit smaller than some of the recent classes, which are generally around 6. This class has some name recognition with it, but it's too early to start projecting major league draft status for these kids.
This is only a portion of the eventual recruiting class, but this appears to be a solid start with two solid pitchers in it, and some added outfield depth, both something Michigan is in the need of (you always need more pitching).
Michael O'Neill (OF, Ohio)
The name that will ring a bell for most of you baseball fans is Michael O'Neill, nephew to famed Yankee Paul O'Neill. From mgoblue:
[A] two-year varsity letterwinner at Olentangy Liberty High School, […] O'Neill earned all-conference and all-district first team honors as well as honorable mention all-state following his junior campaign. He was named the team's Offensive Player of the Year after hitting .447 with a .500 on-base percentage and eight triples. He also stole a team-high 21 bases.
O'Neill was also recruited by Ohio State and Miami (OH). I haven't found much else on him. More will come when I do.
O'Neill (.447) has dizzying speed and he's not afraid to use it, stealing a school-record 21 bases in 2009 and regularly flashing the leather as the defensive anchor in center field.
Incoming freshman Patrick Biondi had the best chance of taking over center field in the near future, but O'Neill may give him a run for his money.
Mark Bass (SS, Florida)
Coach Maloney hasn't done much recruiting in Florida in the past, but it appears he has been making the rounds their this summer. He's even convinced some players down there into "buying some parkas":
Despite seeing little playing time with the Patriots in 2009 following a shoulder injury, Bass participated at the Perfect Game Showcase in Fort Myers in May where he caught the eye of Michigan head coach Rich Maloney.
It was their relationship that led Bass to the Wolverines over the University of Central Florida.
"I honestly never thought I was really going to go to a D-I school," said Bass, who will move from second base to shortstop at the next level. "But this summer, I was in the right place at the right time and met the right people.
"The deciding factor for me was the coach. He made a big impact on me and really liked what he was doing with the program."
Getting a kid to come play here over a competitive team from the South is almost a coup for Maloney. Central Florida isn't a powerhouse in Conference USA, but they are generally around the .500 mark. This is a great pick up to provide some long term depth in the middle infield. Right now, it looks like incoming freshman Derek Dennis will probably hold down a middle infield position with Anthony Toth over the next two seasons, and Bass should be in the mix by his redshirt junior year.
Plus, it sounds like he needs some strength and conditioning work. Maloney says:
"Mark is a 6-2 middle-infielder who brings great confidence, a good bat and good glove to our program," Maloney said. "I think as his body matures, with the help of our strength and conditioning program, he will have some very bright days ahead."
UPDATE II: Stories are popping up today, this time with pictures! Someone get that kid a real Michigan hat. Picture by awesomely named Bill Gamblin of the Santa Rosa Press Gazette.
The Santa Rosa Press Gazette reported on Mark Bass's signing not three hours from me posting my post. Apparently, the decision to go to Michigan over UCF was really close:
Mark Bass is looking for all the coats he can find as he is headed to Ann Arbor to play for Michigan.
For Bass, it is a time to get jackets and coats to prepare for the cold, but that doesn’t matter after he got to meet the coaches at Michigan.
“I wanted to go to the school on academics, but the coach saw me in Ft. Myers and asked me to think about Michigan,” said Bass. “I was about two days away from committing to UCF, but the coach (Rich Maloney) was a big decision over the others.”
Bass selected Michigan over UCF, Jacksonville, Sanford, Alabama Southern, Pensacola Junior College, and the University of West Florida.
Sounds like a little bit of snake oil right there.
Brett Winger (RHP, Florida)
Maloney snagged not one, but two Florida players over the summer, the second is right hander Brett Winger of Orlando's Olympia High School. From his summer ball team that finished 3rd in an elite national tournament:
Brett Winger, a strong bodied right handed pitcher from Olympia High School, has recently committed to play baseball at the University of Michigan. Brett is one of the most competitive players the Scorpions have had, and can always be counted on in big situations. He throws a heavy fastball in the upper 80s/lower 90s and compliments this will a late breaking slider and quality change. Brett also excels in the classroom, and Michigan's prestigous [sic] academic pedigree certainly appealed to him. Brett will look to make an immediate impact for the Wolverines and add to a rich history of success at the institution.
Perfectgame.org has similar praise in their Central Florida All-Junior team, and mentions of a new pitch he has been working on for his senior year as well:
He throws an effective slider for strikes that is still developing and a splitter/palm ball type changeup that dives down and out of the zone late. Winger's pitchability has increased over the last year and he is the ultimate competitor. If Winger continues to improve, there is no reason to think he won't be living in the 90s and be a dominant guy at the next level.
Depending on how his senior season goes, I think Winger is the most likely to be drafted out of all our players, but I don't think his junior year stats really indicate that he'd be drafted outside one of the late rounds, where it probably wouldn't affect his coming to Michigan.
Alex Lakatos (RHP, Grand Rapids, MI)
The only in-state player picked up in the early signing period is right hander Alex Lakatos out of Forest Hills Central High School in Grand Rapids, the same high school as current incoming freshman Derek Dennis.
Lakatos is a three-time varsity letterwinner […] two-time all-conference, all-district and all-area honoree, Lakatos added preseason Perfect Game All-America honors to his list of accolades prior to his junior campaign. He helped lead the Rangers to conference and district championships as a junior while posting an 8-2 record on the mound and hitting .450 with seven home runs. Lakatos has also spent the last four summers playing for the prestigious Diamonds/Maroons program, under the direction of Bill Peterson.
"Alex has good size (6-3, 200) and possesses a fastball that hovers at 90 miles per hour with an excellent slider," commented Maloney. "What I really like about Alex is his competitiveness. He has great presence on the mound and is also a great student, which fits our mode of what we look for in a balanced student-athlete. I believe Alex can be a difference-maker early in his career at Michigan."
But pitching isn't the only thing Alex is looking to do:
"More than anything, pitching got me to college. But I didn't want them looking at me only as a pitcher."
Lakatos, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound right-hander, might find it difficult to do both at the Division I level, but he had an outstanding junior season this spring on the mound and as a hitter.
He was 8-2 in 12 games as pitcher, posting a 1.65 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 55 innings. As a batter, Lakatos hit .414 with 18 extra-base hits, including seven home runs. He drove in 36 runs and stole 13 bases in 34 games.
Lakatos said he also considered Michigan State, Central Michigan, Louisville, South Carolina, Northwestern and Coastal Carolina.
Lakatos wants to swing the bat, and that's why he's coming to Michigan. I'm not sure I see him cracking the outfield rotation any time soon, but he's definitely got an arm. He's already been clocked at 92 miles per hour on his fastball, and that was as a junior.
That list of schools is also pretty interesting. Louisville, South Carolina, and Coastal are all major players in college baseball. It's good to know Michigan does a good job of roping in talent.