From Portage Northern.
As springtime slowly inches towards us, the Michigan baseball team is preparing for the start of their season on February 18th. Practicing indoors in Oosterbaan isn’t exactly ideal, but you’d be surprised how much gets done. This year the baseball team will be a very interesting watch. The new BBCOR regulations on bats are going to change the game immensely. For a Michigan team with little power, the bats won’t have that much effect on their game, but for others who depend on the long ball, they are up for a rude awakening. If you can make solid contact, you’ll be fine, but gone are the days of hitting the barrel and it going 300 feet. Now that hit is a weak fly ball or dribble to the infield. The game will now be played with a bigger focus on defense, speed, and fundamentals (bunting, moving runners etc.) This equates to more pitching dominance and lower scoring games. I’ve heard players and coaches talking about people being lucky to hit HALF the homeruns they hit last year. Seriously, this will change the game in ways many do not expect. But, as a tid-bit before the season, I’ll do a run down of the 2011 Michigan baseball team:
Captain Anthony Toth provides the glue that will keep this group together. The fifth year senior will be holding down 2B and probably batting in the two hole like he did last year.
At shortstop, Derek Dennis had an up-and-down true freshman campaign, but showed flashes of the potential that led the Tampa Bay Rays to draft him out of high school and offer him a bonus well in line of a top 3 round pick. His maturation both defensively and offensively will be key to this year’s team. Did I mention he was also voted best infield arm in the Big Ten as well?
John Lorenz will again man 3B providing good defense with some middle of the order pop. He’s one of the few players on this year’s team who could be a power threat. His pitch recognition needs to improve to cut down on the K’s and increase his chances on getting a fastball he can mash.
Garrett Stephens will get the first shot at replacing Dufek at 1B. Batting from the left side, Stephens will hopefully be able to provide some power to this lineup. Defensively he is solid, and it’ll be fun to see take that hard groundball off the chest and shake it off like it’s nothing.
At the catcher position, it’s a toss-up. Replacing Red’s draftee Chris Berset is hard, and no one from this group has been able to separate himself as the starter. Right now I’d say the leader is Zach Johnson, but John Dilaura and freshman Cole Martin are nipping at his heels.
Freshman All-American Pat Biondi will lead this group at CF and bat lead off. Voted as the best defensive outfielder in the Big Ten by coaches is well deserved, his range in the OF is matched by very few in college baseball.
In LF, Kevin Krantz will be roaming beside Biondi. He has the arm and speed to be very good defensively, while having a solid bat that could hit for average with a little power as well. Alex Lakatos will also see time in LF when Krantz is needed in the IF.
Michael O’Neil will be following in his uncle’s (former Yankee Paul O’Neil) footsteps by manning RF this year. O’Neil has the ability to play CF, and will if Biondi goes down, but as with all true freshman, the adjustment to D1 pitching is a tough one. Hopefully he can take some notes on what Ryan LaMarre did his freshman year and become a stud.
For the DH role, it will be Coley Crank manning this spot again. He was the leading power hitter on the team last year with 14 homeruns and will be leaned on again to provide pop to the middle of the order.
Michigan has a ton of quality arms. While they lack that “stud” (i.e. Zach Putnam, Chris Fetter), the depth the staff has this year is quite good. Senior captain Kolby Wood will be added to the weekend rotation this year. He’ll sit upper 80’s – low 90’s with good movement on his fastball. The change in the bats will eliminate many of the weak contact hits that plagued him last year. RS Sophomore Bobby Brosnahan will join Wood in the weekend rotation. The lefty will start off as the Friday night guy and will carve batters with plus command and a good off-speed. The final addition to the rotation remains to be seen. Brandon Sinnery and Travis Smith will battle for this final spot.
The 9th inning will be given to Tyler Mills. He has the best arm on the team, touching 95mph more than once. Add a slider and dirty movement to his FB, and you get a deadly closer. The man handing him the ball will be Matt Gerbe. The fifth year senior will come at batters with a low 90’s fastball, good slider, and a changeup.
The Michigan baseball team opens the season with No. 21 Louisville in the Big Ten/Big East challenge in Florida. Look for this Michigan to compete for the Big Ten title yet again.