Michigan has been on an upward trajectory throughout Erik Bakich’s tenure as head coach, but it finally made its boldest statement last season with a trip to the College World Series Finals, after knocking off top national seed UCLA in the super regional round. Statement made, indeed. And in 2020, they have returned enough talent and experience to secure the No. 13 ranking in D1Baseball's preseason top 25.
Below are a few facts to consider when breaking down the 2020 Michigan club:
2019 record: 50-22 (16-7 Big Ten)
Coach (record at school): Erik Bakich (259–162 in 7 seasons)
Ballpark: Ray Fisher Stadium (3,000)
Postseason history: 24 regionals (active streak: 1), 8 CWS trips (last in 2019)
MICHIGAN FALL REPORT: How the Wolverines are preparing for the 2020 season
In this preview of Michigan's 2020 season, we've graded the Wolverines in each characteristic of the game: Hitting, power, speed, defense, starting pitching, bullpen and experience/intangibles. But before we begin, let's present our projected lineup for Michigan in 2020.
Michigan's projected lineup
|C||Joe Donovan, Jr.||.234/.314./.421||9||37||0|
|1B||Jimmy Obertop, Fr.||FR
St. Louis (Westminster Christian)
|2B||Riley Bertram, So.||.385/.515/.538||0||7||1|
|3B||Logan Pollack, Jr.||DNP|
|SS||Jack Blomgren, Jr.||.314/.417/.401||3||47||7|
|LF||Jordan Nwogu, Jr.||.321/.435/.557||12||46||16|
|CF||Jesse Franklin, Jr.||.262/.388/.477||13||55||4|
|RF||Christian Bullock, Sr.||.263/.385/.407||2||14||14|
|DH||Dominic Clementi, RS-Jr.||.195/.276/.299||1||6||2|
Michigan's projected weekend rotation/closer
|SP #1||Jeff Criswell, Jr.||7-1||2.72||106||116||50||3|
|SP #2||Ben Dragani, RS-So.||DNP – Injured|
|SP #3||Isaiah Page, RS-Fr.||4-1||2.75||52.1||33||16||1|
|Closer||Willie Weiss, So.||1-0||1.74||31.1||39||20||0|
Grading the Wolverines: Just as scouts grade prospects using the 20-80 scouting scale, we use a 20-80 scale to evaluate teams in our top 25. A score of 50 in each category is average, relative to a typical NCAA tournament team; 55 is slightly above-average; 60 is above-average (plus); 70 is well above-average (plus-plus); 80 is top of the scale, historically strong. Accordingly, 45 is fringe-average or slightly below-average; 40 is below-average; 30 is well below-average; and 20 is the extreme in that direction.
Look for the Wolverines to have yet another productive offensive lineup this season.
We discuss several key hitters in subsequent sections, but the big thing that stands out with this group is that despite losing some key bats such as Jordan Brewer, Jimmy Kerr and Ako Thomas, the Wolverines are in strong shape from an offensive standpoint.
Jordan Nwogu and Jack Blomgren each hit over .300 last season and are ready to emulate that success this season, while I would look for sizable jumps from Jesse Franklin and Joe Donovan. Franklin dazzled at times during last year’s College World Series run, and you’d never know that he still finished the season with a batting average around .262. He’ll be much better. Meanwhile, Donovan had some big moments down the stretch last season, too, but again, still finished the campaign with a .234 batting average. He’ll hit for a better average and potentially more power after slugging nine homers last year.
Riley Bertram is a solid hitter who will be a nice everyday addition to the lineup, while speedy Christian Bullock can make things happen a variety of ways. Michigan also welcomes back talented Dom Clementi, who had an injury last spring.
In terms of newcomers, Cam Hart is a junior college transfer to watch. He made some strides in the fall, while Teddy Burton, Jimmy Obertop and Danny Zimmerman are all guys who made solid impressions during the fall. Finally, keep an eye on veteran Matt Schmidt, who like many of these guys, made a solid impression.
The Wolverines will definitely have the ability to hit the ball out of the yard again this spring.
Sure, Michigan must replace power hitting specialists like Jordan Brewer and Jimmy Kerr, who combined for 27 home runs last season. However, they welcome back several guys with big-time power, including Nwogu, who had 14 doubles and 12 home runs last season, Franklin, who had 15 doubles and 13 home runs last season, and Donovan, who finished the 2019 campaign with nine homers.
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And Dom Clementi, who led the team in hitting two seasons ago. Clementi will hit for an average, but he also possesses some power potential as well. Jack Blomgren also has some intriguing gap power, while Obertop is a talented freshman who showed during the fall he could provide some power production right away.
Michigan will be without its top two base stealers from last season in Jordan Brewer and Blake Nelson, but there are still plenty of guys on this roster who can make some things happen with their legs.
For instance, Nwogu and Bullock each finished last season with double digit stolen bases, and Erik Bakich has made it abundantly clear that Michigan plans to be aggressive with Bullock this spring.
Blomgren and Franklin are athletic, and both have much more speed potential than the stats from last season would indicate. And there are others, particularly off the bench, that could help the Wolverines with their need for speed.
Look for the Wolverines to have a solid situation from a defensive standpoint.
Behind the plate, hard-nosed Joe Donovan provides leadership and defensive stability, while Blomgren is a high-quality shortstop and Riley Bertram should do a solid job of replacing former standout Ako Thomas at second base.
The outfield is loaded with experience and quality, too. Jordan Nwogu has improved his defensive skill set, while Jesse Franklin is very athletic in center field and Christian Bullock in right field is the fastest player on the team.
There will be stability from a defensive standpoint, and that usually bodes well for the win column.
Starting pitching: 60
The first two spots in the Michigan weekend rotation are set, while for now, the Wolverines are slated to start redshirt freshman right-hander Isaiah Page on Sundays. That could change, however, as others have risen to the occasion over the past few months as well.
Page doesn’t have blow away stuff but will command the zone with multiple pitches, while some other options to occupy that No. 3 spot in the rotation include right-handers Keaton Carattini and Steven Hajjar. Carattini had a solid fall for the Wolverines, while the coaching staff is extremely excited about the progressions Hajjar has made. Hajjar is returning to his normal self, and when he’s on, it’ll be low-to-mid 90s with the fastball with quality overall stuff.
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As for the first two spots in the rotation, Jeff Criswell and Ben Dragani are the headliners. Criswell will get up to 93-95 mph with his fastball, along with a quality slider, while Dragani is working his way back from an injury. Bakich was encouraged by his progress during fall workouts, and he’ll be ready to go at 100 percent on Opening Day.
The Wolverines have a multitude of quality options from a bullpen standpoint. Willie Weiss, Ben Keizer and Angelo Smith are the headliners. Weiss will sit anywhere from 88-93 with his fastball and has quality overall stuff with a hard-nosed approach. Keizer was a huge surprise last season and is back for more, while Blake Beers, who missed fall workouts, is back and will be healthy in the spring.
Look for Smith to make strides. He had a solid 2019 campaign but is ready to take a big step forward after refining his stuff during fall workouts. Walker Cleveland, who had a limited amount of work this past fall, is also expected to log significant innings.
Some fresh arms to watch this spring include freshmen Cam Weston, Jacob Denner and Colin Czajkowski.
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Weston is a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder who reminds Bakich of Karl Kauffmann. He will sit in the upper 80s with his fastball and a developing slider. Weston also attacks hitters with an effective forkball. Denner is a 6-foot-1, 210-pounder, who throws a lot of strikes and attacks the zone with three pitches, and Czajkowski is a projectable 6-foot-4, 195-pounder, who will sit in the upper-80s and into the lower 90s with his fastball, along with feel for a slider and changeup.
Though there’s no doubt the Wolverines lost some key cogs from that club, including spark plug second baseman Ako Thomas, Jimmy Kerr and the pitching duo of Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffmann, they have more than enough key pieces back this spring to make another strong run.
Michigan has several key pieces back from an offensive standpoint, including Joe Donovan, Jack Blomgren, Jordan Nwogu and Jesse Franklin, among others. While on the mound, Jeff Criswell is an experienced arm at the front-end of the rotation, and getting guys like Willie Weiss and Angelo Smith back in the bullpen should pay dividends.
Michigan is battle tested and ready to be the hunted this spring.