‘We’ve got the pieces’: Michigan baseball set to make noise in 2021
Michigan baseball head coach Erik Bakich has no idea what his roster card will look like when the team opens the season against Iowa on Saturday.
In fact, the lineup will likely vary regularly in 2021, which he says is a testament to the depth of the Wolverines.
With the NCAA lifting the 35-player limit for 2021, Michigan’s roster size is bigger than it has ever been with 42 players. And because the NCAA provided a blanket waiver that gave all spring sports athletes an extra year of eligibility after their 2020 seasons were cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team reports a rich experience, including 13 seniors and 32 who are not first year.
Playing time might be tough to come by this season, but head coach Erik Bakich believes tough roster decisions will be a good problem to have.
“The success of this team will totally depend on how we respond to this adversity along the way, the growth along the way and the warm-up at the end,” head coach Erik Bakich told reporters. last week. “But we don’t lack for anything; there’s no talent deficit that says “Hey, I wish we had this or that.” We have the pieces. For us, it’s staying healthy, everyone is pulling the rope in the same direction. We can’t have selfish attitudes because guys don’t play as much as they want or don’t have the roles they would like or think they should have.
While Michigan has a veteran squad, it still lost several key pieces last season in the five-round shortened MLB Draft, including two mainstays in outfielder Jordan Nwogu and shortstop Jack Blomgren. as well as ace Jeff Criswell.
The Wolverines added a great freshman class but also tapped into the Transfer Portal for reinforcements. Shortstop Benjamin Sems played 149 games in four seasons at Kansas and was a 2019 Big 12 selection, while wide receiver Griffin Mazur played 110 games and started 55 at UC Irvine. Meanwhile, pitcher Will Proctor was 6-2 with a 2.97 ERA in 22 appearances for Georgia, and wide receiver Christian Molfetta started 42 games in four years at Stanford.
Michigan also added a transfer to junior college outfielder Jake Marti, who hit over 0.300 in his two seasons at Heartland Community College.
“They have been such an exceptional addition to our program that we are going to be in the graduate transfer market every year from now on,” Bakich said. “These are guys who, they’re still in varsity baseball, so they’re kinda smart that they weren’t drafted or maybe they weren’t getting all the playing time they were playing. they wanted. Whatever the reason, they are hungry, they are motivated. They are very motivated.
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Michigan lost several top players before last season following its run to the College World Series Finals in 2019, but had a handful in the truncated 15-game campaign in 2020.
Infielder Ted Burton, utility Clark Elliott, outfielder Danny Zimmerman, infielder Jimmy Obertop and second baseman Riley Bertram all started at least 10 games last season and are set to play again. leading roles in 2021. On the mound, two of the team’s three starters from last season, Steven Hajjar, one of the top prospects in the 2021 MLB Draft, and Blake Beers, are back. Bakich has several options for the third and fourth starting roles, which he says is a luxury as the Big Ten teams are playing a condensed 44-game conference-only schedule this year.
“You never want to be thin on the mound, so we’re lucky to have a lot of quality guns,” he said. “But with this unique year of just being weekend warriors with three or four games every weekend, especially those first three weekends of four games a weekend in three days, you’re going to need to some sort of insurance if you need it, or if someone comes out early, you have the pen to compensate.
“We have a lot of guns. In a typical year, you know 10-11 guys get 90% of the innings, so figuring out who goes where and coming up with all the innings to spread the love is going to be a tough chore.
Bakich has communicated to his team that the roles will have to be won this season, and the players are looking forward to the chance to do so.
The Wolverines were ranked in the top 25 in most preseason polls, but have since dropped out as many conferences have already started playing.
“As ‘EB’ (Erik Bakich) said, we are caged animals,” Hajjar said. “We just want to go out and play. I really don’t think there’s another group of guys in the country that’s more keen on dating than us. We’ve been sitting here for a week and a half watching varsity baseball and just sitting around the TV saying, (dang), I wish we were over there playing.