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.
With recruiting news beginning to pick up as prospects make official and unofficial visits during football season and as the early signing period for the 2014 class (Nov. 13–20) nears, this seemed like a good time for a baseball recruiting update, especially one focusing on 2014. Since I first posted the chart showing the 2014 commits in April, there have been two changes:
Michael Hendrickson: committed to the Wolverines in July (see Hello post).
Brandon Hughes: decommitted from Michigan and then committed to Michigan State in August. Hughes was the last of the Michigan commits who had originally pledged to former coach Rich Maloney, so this wasn't that surprising a development.
In the revised 2014 chart (posted in a reply for technical reasons), Hendrickson takes the place of Hughes, and the class remains nine-strong. I've updated the rankings as much as possible (lacking access to the pay-walled Perfect Game rankings, the only ones listed for that site are a couple that were reported at the time of the player's commitment). Michigan has three commits in PBR's overall top 50, covering a ten-state region:
- #18 Grant Reuss (#1 in Michigan)
- #46 Jayce Vancena (#7 in Ohio)
- #48 Rahman Williams (#11 in Illinois)
The chart includes a few new scouting reports (viewable by cursoring over the underlined text in the rightmost column), including this one for Williams, posted by Perfect Game in July:
Medium build with good strength in his lower half. Switch hitter, natural right hander, short rotational swing right handed, pull line drive contact, has some strength and bat speed. Open stance left handed, stays on his back side, short swing, contact approach. Sound infield actions, feet work well through the ball, light on his feet, shows good body control and range to the ball, good arm strength.
At least two of Michigan's commits appear to be in the conversation as potential 2014 MLB draft picks. Reuss is one, as PBR indicated in a June article on ten 2014 players "creating buzz on summer circuit":
Reuss continues to climb on Major league boards. . . . Really high ceiling. Arm works well. Up to 89mph for us. Command needs to improve to really be considered elite. Still feeling out his mechanics. Breaking ball spins well (71mph). Potential to be swing and miss pitch. Should be a high follow for major league scouts this coming spring.
Another is Drew Lugbauer. At the Nine Baseball site, Jeff Sullivan placed Lugbauer at #38 in his top 100 high school prospects for the 2014 MLB draft. Kiley McDaniel, a national baseball analyst for Scout, ranked Lugbauer #13 in his list of high school MLB draft prospects from the Northeast, projecting him as a potential 5th-rounder. Lugbauer was also included in Jonathan Mayo's rundown of top performers at a recent showcase hosted by the Mets at Citi Field:
Left-handed hitting catcher with power. Big and strong, good arm strength, other parts of his defense are developing.
Finalist for Ockimey
Michigan apparently still has scholarship money left for the 2014 class as they are in the final three for a top uncommitted prospect from Philadelphia, Josh Ockimey. A 6-4, 220-pound first baseman out of Neumann-Goretti H.S., Ockimey had originally committed to Arkansas but decommitted in August when the Razorbacks' associate head coach, Todd Butler, left to become the head coach at Wichita State. Not coincidentally, Wichita State is one of Ockimey's finalists, and he'll take an official visit there this coming weekend. He officially visited Michigan this past weekend and Indiana the weekend before. According to what he told Chris Webb in this blog post, Ockimey will choose from those three by October 5.
PBR has Ockimey ranked #6 in Pennsylvania and #53 overall, and they offered this assessment in a hot list posted earlier this month:
Ockimey is a physical beast in the box, standing at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. He has some holes in his swing, but shows raw power and is athletic. He has capable actions at first base with the potential to put it all together and be a run producing, middle-of-the-order hitter at next level.
He's also slotted at #98 in that Nine Baseball list of top high school prospects for the 2014 MLB draft.
That post from Webb mentions some 2016 prospects who have visited Michigan recently, including Dion Henderson (see PBR profile), a left-hand pitcher out of Dearborn Divine Child ranked #4 in the state by PBR. He's planning to make his college choice by the end of 2013. He holds a Michigan offer, with other possible destinations including Kentucky, LSU, and Vanderbilt. Another prospect recently offered by Michigan is Henderson's high school teammate Collin Goslin (PBR profile), also a lefty but in the class of 2015. PBR has Goslin ranked #3 in the state and #41 overall.
Note on title: The usual "Baseball Recruiting Update" for the main title seemed boring, so I tried to come up with something different. Also considered "Fishin'"—any thoughts, other ideas?
Last Monday (June 3), the Michigan baseball program secured its second commit in the 2015 class, Nick Azar, a 6-3, 205-lb. shortstop out of Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett High School. He joins Charlie Donovan (Hello post) in that class.
Info on Azar is limited. Prep Baseball Report, which doesn't currently have him in their top 10 for the state of Michigan in 2015, posted this brief bit in a recruiting rundown:
Nick Azar, SS, Univ. Liggett HS, 2015- Azar is an outstanding hockey player in addition to his baseball abilities. Azar becomes the fourth commitment in the state from the Class of 2015. He still has a ways to go in terms of polish but he stands at 6-foot-3, 205-pounds and has solid tools. Azar committed to Michigan on Monday.
Liggett is playing Concord tomorrow in an MHSAA Division 4 state tournament quarterfinal. The bracket for that division can found here.
In Division 1 (bracket here), four of the eight teams remaining feature Michigan signees or commits on their rosters. Bay City Western (Brett Adcock) faces Rockford, Temperance Bedford (Jackson Lamb) plays Howell, and U-D Jesuit (T.J. Shook and Harrison Wenson) is matched up against Sterling Heights Stevenson (Brandon Hughes).
2014 Michigan commit Drew Lugbauer helped lead Arlington to the New York state semifinals. MSG Varsity has a rundown and highlights of the team's loss in the semis, including an interview with Lugbauer.
Last month, a local Toledo-area newspaper called The Press published a nice feature article on another 2014 commit, Jayce Vancena—Michigan-bound Vancena: "Work hard, stay humble." Here's an excerpt:
“Michigan was always my No. 1 the whole time, and once they did that, I knew I didn’t want to wait, I knew I wanted to be a Michigan Wolverine,” continues Jayce. “I’ve been up to Ann Arbor a couple of times now to meet the coaches and players, and they’ve been awesome. The baseball field is just beautiful up there, the locker room is awesome, and they have an academic hall that has tutors in every subject…just for the athletes. That is what is so great about it. It’s all academics first, and baseball second.
“Out of all the players I’ve met, the one that stands out the most is fifth-year senior Ben Ballentine,” offers Vancena. “He’s just another one of those guys who loves the game of baseball and just plays it with so much heart and passion. That’s the way I try to be. I’m still the same guy who goes out to the mound every game, and plays with all of my heart and passion. I work hard to give my best effort every time I’m out there. I haven’t changed at all.
“I’ve been a Michigan fan my whole life, I’ve bled maize and blue since the day I was born, and that day Michigan offered me a scholarship…it showed me that all of my hard work over the years had really paid off to help me achieve my lifelong dream of playing college baseball,” he concludes.
Finally, I'm throwing this item in as well, even though it's not strictly about recruiting. Chris Webb of the B1G Baseball blog spoke to Erik Bakich earlier today and got some good insight into future Michigan baseball scheduling, specifically some big-name additions for 2014 and beyond.
The 2014 schedule is highlighted by a three-game set against the Houston Cougars during the second weekend of the season. After playing in the Lone Star State Michigan heads to the Irish Classic hosted by Notre Dame where such elite programs as UCLA and NC State, both participants in the 2013 College World Series, have committed to play. Michigan’s Big Ten bye week will flip in 2014, instead of occurring at the beginning of the conference schedule the Wolverines end the regular season with a bye which features a visit from Kansas.
2015 tentatively features a return visit to Kansas, a series against Oklahoma State in Ann Arbor, a season opener at Pepperdine, and a trip to Gainesville for a series versus Florida. Tentative plans for 2016 include a season-opening series at North Carolina and a return visit to Oklahoma State.
This second part of a rundown of Michigan baseball’s 2013 recruiting class focuses on those hailing from outside Michigan. The first part covered the seven in-state players reported to have signed LOIs during the early signing period. While some of the in-state signees had been recruited to Michigan by the previous coaching staff, all seven of the 2013 recruits from outside the state committed to the Maize and Blue since Erik Bakich’s hiring. Most are from nearby states, including two from Illinois and one each from Indiana and Kentucky, but two are Californians and the final one was originally from South Dakota before spending three years at a junior college in Illinois.
While it’s difficult to assess baseball recruiting classes given the limited, non-paywalled information available, it appears that Bakich and company have done quite well given the limited amount of time they had to pull this class together. Two of the recruits from outside Michigan have been highly ranked/rated by the scouting service Perfect Game:
- Ethan Cohen, an outfielder from California, is ranked #448 in the nation and given a grade of 9.5, out of a 10-point scale.
- Trey Miller, a middle infielder out of Kentucky, garnered a grade of 9.
Prep Baseball Report, a scouting service covering eight mainly Midwestern states, has Keith Lehmann, a pitcher/third baseman from Illinois, ranked #5 in that state and #34 in their eight-state region. Along with in-stater Jackson Lamb, that’s at least four highly rated prospects in this class.
- Mac Lozer and Kendall Patrick were late commitments to the class and haven’t been noted on this site before. Patrick’s signing was reported about a week or so ago over at the B1G Baseball blog.
- For a few of the prospects, it wasn’t possible to confirm that they had actually signed an LOI during the early signing period. This is especially the case with Ramsey Romano, who was reported to have been seeking out a football scholarship but who now is apparently sticking with his Michigan commitment. Presumably, he and perhaps one or two of the others will be signing during the regular signing period, which begins on April 17. And there's always the possibility that others will join the class at that time.
Ethan Cohen — OF, Keystone Academy (Thousand Oaks, CA) — 5-11, 180 lbs.
Ranking/Rating: Perfect Game: #80 in California; #448 nationally; #86 at his position nationally (rankings are as of the date of his commitment—they may have since been updated). Perfect Game also gives Cohen a grade of 9.5 (on a 10-point scale); a 9 is a "potential top 10 round pick and/or highest level college prospect,." while a 10 is a "potential very high draft pick and/or elite level college prospect."
Committed: August 2012.
Offers: Not known.
LOI: Unable to confirm.
Latest Scouting Report: His Perfect Game profile includes the following from June 2012:
Ethan Cohen is a 2013 OF with a 5-11 180 lb. frame from Thousand Oaks, CA who attends Keystone Academy. Long lean athletic build, room to get stronger. 6.65 runner, aggressive in the outfield, shows his athleticism, long loose arm action, very good arm strength. Left handed hitter, smooth easy swing, has present bat speed with more to come with added strength, shows gap power, stays inside and drives the ball to left centerfield. Toolsy player with lots of projection, should continue to improve. Good student.
Nick Kowalczuk — 1B, Oak Park-River Forest HS (IL) — 6-3, 210 lbs.
Ranking: PBR: #87 in eight-state coverage area.
Committed: August 5, 2012.
Offers: Reportedly had "his choice of several Big Ten schools, as well as colleges from the Missouri Valley Conference." Michigan State was one of the Big Ten schools to offer him.
LOI: Signed November 14, 2012.
Latest Scouting Report: From PBR profile:
6/14/12 — Kowalczuk is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound first baseman who looks to be one of the premier right-handed bats in the Class of 2013. Kowalczuk starts from an open stance and generates impressive whip through the zone. Kowalczuk showed plus power from the right side, consistently barreling up the baseball to both power alleys. Defensively, Kowalczuk exhibited soft hands and good feet around the bag. He displayed an accurate arm (79 mph) across the diamond as well. Additionally, Kowalczuk ran a 7.42 60.
- OPRF baseball's Kowalczuk picks Michigan (oakpark.com, 8/22/2012)
Kowalczuk, a hard hitting slugger now heading into his senior year, made the announcement last week. As a junior last season, he batted .352 with a team-leading 36 RBIs. The first baseman scattered 32 singles, seven doubles and three triples in 39 games.
"My wife and I are very proud of Nick because of all the hard work that he has put into the game since he was 8 years old," said Peter Kowalczuk, Nick's father. "He could have taken a few other offers that were very tempting, but he decided that he would use the talent he had to maximize the scholastic opportunity that may be available. His choice of Michigan was a direct result of his desire for a great education."
- Oak Park’s Nick Kowalczuk and Lyons’ Keith Lehmann head to Michigan (Franklin Park Herald-Journal, 8/21/2012)
“I like their [Michigan's] whole philosophy,” said Kowalczuk, who hopes to study economics or finance. “It feels good for what I want. I know they want to win, but they are all good guys. The facilities were awesome.”
- Arrogance ‘in a good way’ helps Oak Park win first state baseball title since ’81 (Chicago TribLocal, 6/11/2012)
Notes: Kowalczuk will be participating in PBR's Super 60 Pro Showcase, a professional scouting event being held on February 3, 2013, in McCook, Illinois.
Keith Lehmann — RHP/3B, Lyons Township HS (IL) — 6-1, 170 lbs.
Ranking: PBR: #5 in Illinois; #34 in eight-state coverage area. Perfect Game: one of the top 1,000 prospects to watch.
Committed: August 14, 2012.
Offers: Reportedly had "a lot of offers," including from other Big Ten schools.
LOI: Unable to confirm.
Latest Scouting Report: From PBR profile:
7.7.12 — The only question surrounding Keith Lehmann is what will the multi-talented junior do for an encore? Already, the two-way standout helped lead Lyons Township to a Class 4A state championship as a sophomore, and nearly propelled the Lions to a repeat this spring, falling in the championship game, 4-3, to Oak Park. Lehmann certainly did everything within his power to get the Lions back to the title game. The 6-foot-1, 170-pounder was equally as dominant on the mound as he was at the plate. The right-hander used his 87-90 mph fastball and sharp breaking ball to go 10-2 with a 0.86 ERA. In 80 innings, he struck out 83 and walked 16. Also a standout third baseman, Lehmann led Lyons Township in nearly every offensive category. He finished with 7 home runs, 13 doubles, 37 RBI and a .343 batting average. As a sophomore, Lehmann also hit 7 home runs during the Lions’ championship run.
- Lyons’ Keith Lehmann chooses Michigan (Chicago Sun-Times, 8/15/2012)
Lehmann can play multiple positions, though he has developed into an ace starter with a high-80s fastball. He was a catcher and third baseman for Lyons’ Class 4A state championship team in 2011, but played third base and pitcher for the 2012 state runner-up team, which lost to Oak Park-River Forest on a walk-off RBI single.
- Oak Park’s Nick Kowalczuk and Lyons’ Keith Lehmann head to Michigan (Franklin Park Herald-Journal, 8/21/2012)
Choosing Michigan might have been tougher on Lehmann’s father, Art, a Michigan State graduate.
“I think he’s proud of me,” said Lehmann, a Western Springs resident. “It does not bother him.”
Lehmann visited Michigan with his father two weeks before making a commitment to coach Erik Bakich, who was hired by Wolverines June 27 after coaching at Maryland.
“We checked the campus out. I knew they wanted me,” said Lehmann. “I fell in love with it. With a whole new coaching staff, I liked it. It felt comfortable.”
- Lyons baseball on quite a roll: Lehmann helps lead the Lions to summer state title (Chicago Tribune, 8/2/2012)
Notes: Like Kowalczuk, Lehmann will be participating in PBR's Super 60 Pro Showcase on February 3, 2013.
In a PBR report on "what makes a great breaking ball, and who has the best," Lehmann was among those singled out:
Whatever breaking ball a pitcher throws, it needs to be respected by opposing hitters. So how do you get a hitter to respect your breaking ball? Simple, throw it for strikes. A breaking ball that cannot be thrown for strikes is not a pitch that a polished hitter is going to have to worry about during an at-bat, therefore giving him a better opportunity to sit on one pitch.
However, if you are a guy like Michigan recruit Keith Lehmann (Lyons Township HS, IL, RHP, 2013) then you will always be able to keep hitters off balance. Lehmann has an uncanny knack for throwing his breaking ball for strikes and in any count. Lehmann’s ability to command his breaking ball makes him extremely hard to hit. Command of the breaking ball is something that will always transfer to the next level and will certainly make Lehman a factor next year at the University of Michigan.
Mac Lozer — RHP/SS, North Central HS (Indianapolis, IN) — 6-1, 185 lbs.
Committed: November 11, 2012.
Offers: Lozer (from Q&A linked below): "Other schools I considered were Virginia Tech, Wright State, Miami of Ohio, and Navy."
LOI: November 14, 2012.
- Q&A with University of Michigan Commit Mac Lozer (PBR, 11/12/2012)
PBR: Why did you choose Michigan?
Lozer: I chose the University of Michigan for many reasons. Most importantly is their renowned academic program. The second greatest factor was the baseball program. Coach Erik Bakich and his coaching staff are new to Michigan this year and I am very excited for what they bring to the Michigan baseball program. Other factors, such as distance from home, campus feeling, and becoming an immediate impact player also played a role in my decision.
. . .
PBR: Have you decided on a major, or narrowed it down?
Lozer: I would like to pursue the Ross School of Business at U of M.
Trey Miller — SS/2B, Lexington Catholic HS (Lexington, KY) — 6-0, 170 lbs.
Ranking/Rating: PBR: Unknown. Perfect Game: #14 in Kentucky; top 1,000 nationally. Perfect Game also gives Miller a grade of 9 (on a 10-point scale), meaning they believe he is a "potential top 10 round pick and/or highest level college prospect."
Committed: August 2012.
Offers: Miler (from Q&A linked below): "The other schools I was interested in were Ohio University, University of Louisville, Xavier, Western Kentucky, Ball St., Flagler College (St. Augustine, Fl), and Bellarmine."
LOI: Unable to confirm.
True shortstops seem to get more scarce by the week, but the 6-foot, 170-pound Miller showed that he has the feet and arm strength to do it. Aside from all the actiony things he does with his hands, Miller showcases an unquantifiable energy in his legs and feet as he played through the ball.
His Perfect Game profile offers this:
Medium athletic frame. Solid runner 6.64 in the 60. As an infielder, short arm action, smooth fielding actions, good transfer and release, ball comes out clean, can throw from all angles. Right handed hitter, slightly open stance, high hand set, pull approach, patient at the plate, short compact swing with good bat speed, line drive swing plane. Good Student.
- Q&A with University of Michigan Commit Trey Miller (PBR, 8/28/2012)
PBR: Why did you choose the University of Michigan?
Miller: I chose the University of Michigan because I felt great chemistry with the coaching staff there and I believe they can provide me the best future possible as a young student - athlete and a community leader.
. . .
PBR: What role do the coaches expect you to play throughout your first year?
Miller: The coaches expect me to come in as a freshman and compete for a middle infield spot, where I believe I can come in early and fit great.
PBR: What would you consider your biggest strength as a player?
Miller: I believe my biggest strength is my foot-work and the range I have at shortstop or second base. Also, I believe I'm a great team motivator, while making my teammates better everyday.
Kendall Patrick — C/1B, Black Hawk College (Moline, IL) / Mitchell HS (Mitchell, SD) — 6-3, 208 lbs.
Ranking/Rating: N/A—junior college signee.
Committed: November 2012.
Offers: The article linked below from May 2012 included this: "Both player and coach said there are roughly 10 DI schools interested. His home-state South Dakota is showing the most interest, but so are Virginia Tech, Missouri, Illinois State and a number of Big Ten schools." These were possible offers for the fall of 2012, but Patrick elected to stay at Black Hawk for a third season, having received a medical redshirt for his sophomore year.
LOI: Apparently signed during the early signing period, according to this paywalled article, published on January 8, 2013, in the Mitchell Daily Republic.
- Injury-prone Patrick seeks more from BHC baseball program (Quad-Cities Online, 5/12/2012)
Notes: The Black Hawk baseball team announced in October that Patrick would to play for the Ozark Generals of the MINK summer collegiate league in 2013.
Ramsey Romano — SS, Valhalla HS (El Cajon, CA) — 6-3, 185 lbs.
Ranking/Rating: Perfect Game: given a grade of 7.5 (on a 10-point scale) in June 2011; a 7 is a "college prospect, possible future draft pick with development," while an 8 is a "potential draft pick and/or excellent college prospect."
Committed: mid-August 2012.
Offers: Not known.
LOI: Unable to confirm. It seems unlikely that Romano signed during the early signing period as he was reportedly seeking a scholarship to play football, as was noted in this article from mid-December on his winning a local football award called the Heisboy. But the latest word, found in this article, indicates he's sticking with his commitment to Michigan:
Valhalla High QB Ramsey Romano played in an all-star football game last weekend in San Antonio and after the game tweeted, “Probably the last time I ever dress for a football game :( feels like a part of my life just ended.”
Romano threw for 3,415 yards and 30 TDs last season, but in part because he only started one year, has not drawn scholarship offers from Division I schools. He has accepted a baseball scholarship from Michigan.
Latest Scouting Report: His Perfect Game profile includes the following, although it's from June 2011:
Ramsey Romano is a 2013 SS/OF, RHP, C with a 6-1 165 lb. frame from El Cajon, CA who attends Valhalla. Medium sized frame, slender build, good hands defensively, some arm strength, quick arm, carry, good actions, square stance at plate, rotational swing, good extension, line drive path, simple swing, some bat speed, 3/4 arm slot, arm works, 11/5 CB, nice spin, very good student.
- Wolverines sign Romano (East County Sports, 8/17/2012)
“They recruited me as a shortstop,” Romano said. “This is going to be a great experience. There is no University of Michigan on the West Coast. That’s what makes me proud to be a kid from Southern California getting a chance like this.”
Bottom line is few athletes from SoCal get a crack at Big 12 competition in any sport.
“ Ann Arbor is a college town for a big school which is what I’ve always been looking for,” Romano said. “I want to play in the big time... where sports is of major importance.”
And so he will.
The early signing period came and went without Michigan issuing a press release on the signees; they perhaps will do so following the regular signing period in the spring. In any event, it appears that the new staff signed about a dozen prospects and did a great job of hanging onto several players who had committed under Rich Maloney, as well as getting LOIs from several others in the short time they had to work with. The focus here is on 2013, but Erik Bakich and company have already also secured several 2014 commits and one from 2015. Their success on the recruiting trail has led to talk about a faster-than-expected turnaround for the program. In a Q&A posted in November, B1G Baseball blogger Chris Webb got this response from Jordan Banfield, a Texas Rangers scout and coach of an Ann Arbor travel team:
CW: Under Bakich, Michigan has been extremely aggressive and in those early classes [meaning 2014 and 2015] they surged to the front of the conference. Being in that region, what have you noticed first-hand with the approach Michigan has led by recruiting coordinator Sean Kenny?
JB: Aggressive is certainly the right term. They locked up the top 2013 in Michigan within a couple weeks of being hired and haven’t stopped getting commits since. Having only been on campus for a few months now and with the sheer number of guys they’re getting it’s obvious those guys are really hitting the road.
I think the biggest difference I see with this staff is that they have three coaches who are always out seeing guys. When your entire staff recruits it makes an incredible difference in terms of how much ground you can cover. With the number of kids they’re bringing in from across the country and some 2012 guys who look like early contributors I think there’s the potential for a quick turnaround in Ann Arbor.
This post covers just the seven in-state signees as it proved unwieldy to include the entire class. The signees from outside Michigan will be covered in a separate post. Following the intro below are additional (mostly recent) links and quotes relating to the signees.
The In-State Signees and Their Rankings
Last month, Prep Baseball Report posted a nice summary of Michigan's in-state signees that includes a brief scouting report on each player and links to their PBR profile pages where further information is often available. Below is their list of the seven recruits with their PBR rankings. Michigan signed four of PBR's top 10 in-state prospects, including Jackson Lamb, who is ranked #9 overall by PBR (overall meaning the eight-state region that the site covers).
Brett Adcock LHP-6-1-190 (Bay City Western HS)
PBR State Rank: 3
Overall Rank: 31
Carmen Benedetti 1B/LHP- (Grosse Point South HS)
PBR State Rank: 20
Overall Rank: 150
Hector Gutierrez SS/RHP-6-0-165 (Detroit Western International HS)
PBR State Rank: 9
Overall Rank: 93
Jackson Lamb RHP/OF-6-6-196 (Temperance-Bedford, Mich. / Bedford HS)
PBR State Rank: 1
Overall Rank: 9
TJ Shook RHP-6-3-190 (University of Detroit Jesuit HS)
PBR State Rank: 5
Overall Rank: 38
Johnny Slater OF-6-1-170 (Southfield Lathrup HS)
PBR State Rank: 33
Harrison Wenson C-6-3-225 (University of Detroit Jesuit HS)
PBR State Rank: 17
Overall Rank: 192
Three of Michigan's signees figure in the top 10 of Michigan Baseball Prospects' 2013 rankings:
From MLive: Bay City Western's Brett Adcock signs with Michigan—includes a brief video; here's a quote from his coach:
Coach Tim McDonald: “It doesn’t take a baseball genius to figure out he’s very talented and very gifted in terms of natural ability. He’s dominating when things are right, and I’m sure that’s why Michigan is taking a chance on him. He has a huge upside.”
I couldn't find anything recent for Gutierrez, so instead here's a video of him pitching, from the Detroit Arsenal RBI site.
Mick McCabe wrote a nice feature on Lamb for the Free Press, focusing in part on his choosing baseball over basketball. Also, as the article mentions, Lamb is likely to be selected in the 2013 draft, so there's a possibility he won't end up playing for Michigan—maybe a good possibility given his choice of words when asked about it:
His shot at baseball is so good, he will likely be chosen in the baseball draft, but he might not be a high pick since signing to attend U-M.
"You can't really tell until it actually happens," Lamb said. "You don't want to get your hopes up too much and then you're disappointed. Worse case scenario, I go to Michigan, which is a great opportunity."
MLB Prospect Guide has Lamb ranked #223 on its list of the top 300 prospects for the 2013 draft. (Side note: Michigan junior outfielder Michael O'Neill is listed at #56.)
One last item on Lamb: In the B1G Baseball Q&A mentioned above, Banfield selected Lamb as one of the top Big Ten commits in the 2013 class:
CW: Not every standout participates in fall ball, Michigan commit Jackson Lamb, for example, was not in Jupiter. With all prospects on the table, as the fall concludes how would you rank the top five or so Big Ten commits out of the Great Lake states that you’ve seen?
JB: Assuming we’re talking strictly about the 2013 class, Farmer and Lamb to me are in a league of their own as prospects.
I talked quite a bit about Farmer earlier, Jackson Lamb is a guy that isn’t all that well known nationally because so much of his time has been spent playing basketball and not traveling the country attending showcases/tournaments. We’re talking about a talent that doesn’t come through the state of Michigan very often.
First off, he’s 6’7 and extremely athletic, a legitimate 2-way player in college, people don’t think guys that tall can hit, well I’m here to tell you he can. His swing is incredibly short for being as big as he is and he’ll be an above average defender in right. As a pro prospect he’s obviously a pitcher who is extremely raw right now but throws strikes and I have no problem projecting him to throw 95-98 with low effort. Everyone knows about Trey Ball who’s way more polished than Jackson but the tools really aren’t that far off. Presently Farmer is way closer to being a B1G contributor on the mound, but in the long run I can’t pass on Lamb.
Here's a quote from a U of D Jesuit signing day press release:
Shook did not disappoint in 2012 either. The number 5 ranked player in the state of Michigan according to Prep Baseball Report, Shook was named to the All League and All District teams in 2012.“I am blessed to have the opportunity to be a student-athlete at the University of Michigan. It has always been a dream of mine to play at a high level Division I university. I am really looking forward to playing under Coach Bakich and the rest of his staff.” Shook adds, “Go Blue!”
A MIPrepZone signing day article features a brief video and this:
“I’m very excited to become a Michigan Wolverine,” said Slater after penning his letter of intent. “I focused on improving my skills every year since I was a freshman and that focus paid off. I’ve made a big jump in my play and I intend to keep making further jumps over the next year, prior to getting up to Ann Arbor.”
Slaters’ versatility might be his most appealing attribute. A smooth and savvy lefty, Slater is a specimen, terrorizing opponents whether pitching, hitting, running the base paths or on defense in centerfield.
Last season, he sported a whopping .576 batting average.
Darren Mosley, the Chargers’ skipper, can’t say enough about his star player.
“Johnny is a great kid, a great baseball player and a great student, what more can you ask for?,” he said. “He’s incredibly humble and he leads by example. We’ve put a lot of pressure on him these past couple of seasons and he’s always delivered.”
Wenson, a teammate of Shook at U of D Jesuit, also figured in the press release linked above:
Wenson is coming off an All-State season, as well as being named to the Dream Team in 2012, after hitting over .400 during the spring.“I chose the University of Michigan because I have grown up in a Michigan house. My father played baseball there and I am proud to carry on that tradition,” Wenson said. “I feel honored to play at such an elite university and am excited to learn under Coach Bakich and his staff.”
Wenson's father, Paul Wenson, played baseball at Michigan in 1985–86 before spending three years in the Detroit Tigers minor-league system, including playing for the Mud Hens for part of the 1989 season (see his Baseball-Reference.com page).
In just 35 days, the Michigan baseball team will begin its 2013 campaign at Cal. Below are a few features and news items from the last several weeks, during the run-up to Opening Day. These are non-recruiting in nature—I'm planning to post a recruiting update in the near future.
Top 10 College Coaches under Age 40
Baseball America released this top 10 list earlier this month, with Erik Bakich landing at #3:
3. Erik Bakich, Michigan (Age: 35)
The Skinny: The uncommonly personable Bakich helped build Vanderbilt into a national power through his tireless recruiting efforts, then helped Maryland's program take a step forward during his three-year stint as head coach before leaving for Michigan this summer.
What They're Saying: "He's a younger guy, and the way he gets after it, the work ethic, the game management—I was impressed by that, even at Maryland in a tough situation with the ACC. And I was impressed with the communication skills. I think he relates well to people."
—An AL crosschecker
College Baseball Daily Feature
Courtney Swift interviewed Bakich and Patrick Biondi for a piece from late December titled New Coach, New Philosophy at Michigan. The feature offers some good insight and information from the team's fall practice. Some insight into the new coach from Biondi:
Biondi spoke of the new style in practice, but how the coaching staff still kept it fun. “We definitely worked our butts off in the fall but he doesn’t over do it to the point where you don’t want to be in practice.” The senior said the team worked a lot on mental toughness. “We do some tough conditioning stuff,” he said. “But the way he [head coach Erik Bakich] presents it makes it more fun.”
And here's an early glimpse into some of the freshmen who made early impressions:
Bakich saw some bright spots in pitching during the fall, but said nothing was set in terms of the Wolverines’ rotation. Two freshmen pitchers that separated themselves include Cam Wysocki a righty out of Ada, Michigan and southpaw Evan Hill from Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
Other young guys who played well in the fall are Travis Maezes, Jacob Cronenworth, and Jack Sexton. Bakich mentioned the three freshmen showing some talent on the field at position spots. Matthew Dacey, another freshman, also proved himself in fall ball. “Dacey is a strong physical kid with power in a left-handed swing, Bakich said. “He’ll see action early on.”
The team suffered a blow in December, when sophomore outfielder Will Drake decided to transfer, later choosing Cincinnati as his destination. B1G Baseball blogger Chris Webb (in the first linked item above) comments:
As Michigan enters a new era under Erik Bakich, it was expected for Drake to be within a 1-5 with Biondi, O’Neill, freshman Travis Maezes and junior Brett Winger that was as talented as any lineup-leading quintet in the conference.
For a program that has a Big Ten-leading 35 conference championships, but coming off of consecutive tenth place finishes, the rebuilding job for Bakich is now a little more difficult.
In another piece of pessimism about Michigan's prospects for the 2013 season, Webb reported in this post on Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's projected order of finish for the Big Ten, which showed Michigan in 10th place yet again.
O'Neill #77 in the Country
Ending on a more positive note, College Baseball Daily ranked junior outfielder Michael O'Neill as the #77 player in the country for 2013.
As a sophomore in 2012, he led Michigan with a .327 batting average, .525 slugging percentage and 12 doubles. He was also 5th in the Big Ten in stolen bases with 19 and sixth in slugging percentage.
He spent the summer of 2012 in the Cape Cod Baseball League with the Falmouth Commodores where he played in 44 games. He finished the summer with a .263 average with five homers and 18 RBI.