We're two days away from baseball season! Let's start the season preview looking at the infield.
1st baseman and DH Carmen Benedetti has departed after the Astros selected him in the 12th round of the MLB draft.
It was a down year for Benedetti after his monster sophomore season. As a junior his average dropped to .326 and with two new players hitting in front of him with lower OBP he only knocked in 33 runs. Benedetti was also an able pitcher and a rock in the field. Like Cronenworth and Glines, Michigan will not be able to plug someone into his spot and replace him right away.
Senior catcher/DH Dominic Jamett has graduated. Jamett made 17 starts last year and swung the bat well. He hit .254 with 14 batted in and was a team captain.
Erik Bakich and staff had a difficult offseason a year ago after Nick Azar decided to walk away from baseball to play hockey at Harvard and Charlie Donovan passed away.
That forced the diminutive freshman Ako Thomas into starting duty much sooner than Bakich would have liked. Despite the circumstances, Thomas started 52 games at second base and did well. He started the season rough at the plate but finished strong with a .258 average, 16 batted in and 30 walks. He also led the Big Ten with 11 sacrifice bunts. In the field he wasn’t so great committing 11 errors.
Michael Brdar started 52 games at shortstop after transferring in and he was just alright. Brdar hit .250 without much power and struck out twice as much as he walked. He also committed 11 errors.
Jake Bivens came to Michigan as a middle infielder but out of necessity he moved to 3rd and started 57 games for the Wolverines. Leading off for the lineup, Bivens hit .356 and knocked in 26 runs on his way to a 3rd team All-Big Ten selection. His defense was not good as a middle infielder and he was putrid at 3rd base committing 12 errors and posting a fielding percentage of .916.
Harrison Wenson Is your starting catcher. Wenson was the biggest surprise of the year; after playing sparingly as an underclassman without any part of his game standing out, Wenson stepped into the lineup and crushed the ball on his way to leading the team with 56 RBI and 8 home runs, 18 doubles and a .289 batting average.
Drew Lugbauer split between 1st, catcher and DH last season and took a huge step forward from freshman to sophomore year. As a 5 hitter, Lugbauer raised his batting average from .211 to .294; he hit 15 doubles, 7 home runs and knocked in 47. His .990 fielding percentage was outstanding.
Slot Lugbauer in as your starter at 1st base. His production as a middle of the order bat will be one of the most important storylines to follow early in the year.
Nick Poirier is a JUCO transfer who hit .372 last year and will see time either as the DH or in the outfield. He’s got a good bat, so DH would be more likely.
This team has potential on their bench but they don’t have much proven depth.
Jimmy Kerr is probably your first infielder off the bench; Kerr hit .375 and batted in seven on just nine hits. The sample size is tiny, however, it’s more than anyone else has.
George Hewitt was a big prospect coming out of the Northeast. He didn’t see time last year but he has a big bat and should find his way into the lineup somehow.
Senior Hector Gutierrez was going to be the most important depth infielder but he is going to take a medical redshirt and miss the entire season.
This program brought in 3 new catchers. Brock Keener, Marcus Chavez and Harrison Salter. Keener is a JUCO transfer who hit the ball well last year and should be your frontrunner for the backup job at catcher. If he can swing the bat, there’s always going to be an at-bat available at the DH position.
Chavez will play as a utility guy, Salter will probably redshirt.
I think you’re going to see an infield that looks like it did last season. There isn’t going to be much production from the middle infielders with their bats but the hope is that they can cut down on the errors and be more patient at the plate. The team doesn’t need Brdar and Thomas to crush the ball, they just need to get on base.
The corner guys, DH and the catcher will be your bigger bats. Although Bivens isn’t a power bat, his numbers are really good for a leadoff hitter. Lugbauer is your middle order run producer.