2021 NCAA Top 25 Preview: No. 20 Michigan
Last season: 8-7
Final ranking: No. 25
Coach (record at school): Erik Bakich (266-169-1, eight years)
The good news: It starts on the mound for the Wolverines. Lefthander Steven Hajjar missed 2019 due to a torn ACL but came back in 2020 and was outstanding in his debut, going 3-0, 2.70. Now, he’ll move to the front of the rotation and has the tools to be the first Wolverine drafted in the first round since 2000. Michigan also returns fourth-year righthander Blake Beers, who pitched well as the Sunday starter and has lots of experience. Second-year freshmen Jacob Denner and Cameron Weston both appear ready to make a jump and give Michigan two more good options in the rotation. The bullpen also has a lot of depth and talent with veterans like Walker Cleveland and Isaiah Paige returning. The Wolverines will get a boost from the return of closer Willie Weiss, who saved nine games in 2019 but missed the abbreviated 2020 season due to injury. Offensively, Michigan returns second-year freshmen Clark Elliott and Jimmy Obertop, who both impressed in their debuts and figure to play bigger roles in 2021.
The bad news: The Wolverines still have a lot of talent but there also was a lot of turnover in Ann Arbor this offseason. Michigan lost five regulars from its 2019 national runner-up team: shortstop Jack Blomgren, righthander Jeff Criswell, catcher Joe Donovan and outfielders Jesse Franklin and Jordan Nwogu. Additionally, highly regarded pitching coach Chris Fetter made the jump to the major leagues with the Tigers. So, there are a few holes for the Wolverines to fill. Michigan hit the graduate transfer market hard, bringing in catchers Griffin Mazur (UC Irvine) and Christian Molfetta (Stanford) and shortstop Benjamin Sems (Kansas). Mazur and Molfetta will compete with Obertop for time behind the plate and at DH. Sems will step in at shortstop and has the ability to make an impact offensively and defensively. The outfield picture is perhaps still a bit more open. Elliott impressed early last season and Christan Bullock and Danny Zimmerman both bring a lot of experience, but none of them have shown themselves to be the kind of hitters Franklin (who missed the abbreviated 2020 season) and Nwogu were. Finding someone to fill that void in the lineup will be important for the Wolverines.
Player to know: Benjamin Sems, SS.
Sems comes to Michigan after four years at Kansas, where he was a three-year starter and .265 career hitter. He’s a solid defender capable of anchoring the infield. If he can do that and recapture his 2019 form, when he hit .305/.414/.437 with 14 stolen bases and then was a Cape Cod League all-star over the summer, he’ll be a standout in Ann Arbor.
Path to Omaha: Michigan’s pitching staff has premium potential. Hajjar gives the Wolverines a true Friday starter and the depth and talent behind him will make life difficult for opposing hitters. Their pitching and defense is good enough to lead them to the College World Series, but they will need some help from the offense. Michigan’s bats never heated up in 2020 and it will now have to fill a few key holes. Still, the talent is there and the Wolverines’ pitching staff will give them time to gel and build momentum before the postseason.
2021 Big Ten Conference Preview
Michigan sits at the top of the Big Ten, but Indiana isn't far behind.
|C||Christian Molfetta, R-Sr.||Transfer -- Stanford|
|1B||Cam Hart, R-So.||.217||.308||.217||23||0||1|
|2B||Riley Bertram, R-So.||.208||.290||.283||53||0||10|
|3B||Ted Burton, R-Fr.||.222||.275||.333||36||1||8|
|SS||Benjamin Sems, R-Sr.||Transfer -- Kansas|
|LF||Danny Zimmerman, R-Jr.||.212||.409||.364||33||1||5|
|CF||Christian Bullock, R-Sr.||.111||.273||.111||9||0||0|
|RF||Clark Elliott, R-Fr.||.245||.369||.340||53||0||7|
|DH||Jimmy Obertop, R-Fr.||.265||.375||.353||34||0||2|
|LHP||Steven Hajjar, R-Fr.||3||-||2.70||20||24||0|
|RHP||Cameron Weston, R-Fr.||1||0||0.90||10||5||2|
|RHP||Blake Beers, R-So.||2||2||3.13||23||21||0|
|RP||Isaiah Page, R-Jr.||0||1||5.25||12||11||1|
|RP||Willie Weiss, R-So.||Did not play -- injured|