College Preview Capsules: No. 15 Michigan

No. 15 MichiganMichigan
2015 Record (Ranking): 39-25 (NR). RPI: 65.
Coach (Record at school): Erik Bakich (98-81-1, 3 years)
Postseason History: 22 regionals (active streak: 1), 7 CWS trips (last in 1984), 2 national titles (last in 1962).

A late-surge last year by Michigan culminated with a perfect run through the Big Ten Tournament, as it beat the top-three finishers in the conference on successive days to earn its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008.

With a veteran team coming back, the Wolverines are now trying to build on that momentum. Coach Erik Bakich said he sees reasons to be optimistic about this season, but the focus remains on making consistent improvements.

2016 Lineup
C Harrison Wenson, Jr. .095 .208 .143 0 3 0
1B Carmen Benedetti, Jr. .352 .418 .541 5 71 1
2B Jake Bivens, So. .319 .435 .352 0 19 9
3B Drew Lugbauer, So. .211 .300 .281 0 8 1
SS Michael Brdar, Jr. Tr.—Diablo Valley JC
LF Cody Bruder, Sr. .308 .349 .423 2 43 8
CF Johnny Slater, Jr. .229 .325 .382 3 25 6
RF Jonathan Engelmann, Fr. HS—San Mateo, Calif.
DH Matt Ramsay, Sr. Tr.—Wofford
Pos. Name, Year W L ERA IP SO SV
RHP Ryan Nutof, So. 10 4 3.10 90 95 0
LHP Brett Adcock, Jr. 5 3 3.71 80 95 0
LHP Evan Hill, Sr. 2 2 4.50 38 37 0
RP Carmen Benedetti, Jr. 0 0 1.84 15 23 3

“Advancing, building, those are really just the daily goals,” Bakich said. “We frame it pretty simply—it’s just a growth mindset of each individual player being challenged to get better and improve, even if it’s only a tenth of a second or mile an hour, just to get one percent better.”

The Wolverines will have to overcome the loss of Jacob Cronenworth, their two-way star and the Big Ten tournament MVP. He hit .338/.419/.494 with six home runs and went 3-7, 3.67 with eight saves (including four in the Big Ten tournament) on the mound.

Fortunately for Michigan, it returns its other two-way star. First baseman/lefthander Carmen Benedetti was a unanimous selection on last year’s All-Big Ten team after hitting .352/.418/.541 with 71 RBIs and striking out 23 batters in 15 innings on the mound.

While the Wolverines will rely heavily on Benedetti this spring, scouts will attempt to decide whether the junior has a better future in pro ball as a hitter or a pitcher. Bakich said he thinks Benedetti has the ability to play either position.

“With Carmen, I think a lefthander who throws 95 is going to be pretty desirable from a pitching standpoint, but his offensive production has been pretty outstanding,” Bakich said. “His ability to drive in runs and take advantage of the opportunities to collect RBIs is big.”

Benedetti is one of the potential replacements for Cronenworth at the back of Michigan’s bullpen. Bakich also can turn to righthanders Mac Lozer and Bryan Pall (whose uncle Donn was a big league reliever for 10 seasons).

The Wolverines rotation is clearer, as starters Brett Adcock, Evan Hill and Ryan Nutof all return. They all looked improved in the fall, even as they took it easy following heavy workloads over the spring and summer. But Bakich said it’s not just those three pitchers who have taken a step forward over the last year.

“There’s three or four other guys right behind them that also want to pitch on the weekends,” Bakich said. “Knowing a lot of experience returns, especially on the mound, I think everyone is excited about that and excited for the continued development of those guys.”

Benedetti will draw much of the attention from opposing pitchers, but the Wolverines’ offense will not be a one-man show. Jake Bivens was named Big Ten freshman of the year last season after hitting .319/.435/.352 and manning shortstop. He will move to second base this spring to accommodate junior-college transfer Michael Brdar, who stands out most for his defense. Catcher Harrison Wenson and outfielder Johnny Slater were both drafted coming out of high school and will now be counted on to take on larger roles as juniors.

Michigan also welcomes freshman Jonathan Engelmann, the highest ranked player on the BA 500 to make it to a Big Ten school this year, and senior Matt Ramsay, a graduate transfer from Wofford. Engelmann is an athletic, toolsy outfielder with plus raw power who fits the right field profile. Ramsay hit .359/.459/.483 and led the Southern Conference in on-base percentage and hits (84).

While the offense has the pieces to develop into a significant force this season, Bakich believes it won’t be up to the Wolverines’ bats to carry the team.

“For the first time in the four years our staff has been here, I would tell you one of biggest strengths of our team is pitching and defense,” Bakich said.

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