ANN ARBOR - The hype around the Michigan baseball team has never been higher.
The Wolverines are ranked in the top 15 of each national preseason survey - a rarity for a northern team. And while the grief over last season's loss to Vanderbilt in the College World Series final has subsided, albeit minimally, the team is eager to prove that the unlikely post-season run of last season was no accident.
Michigan opens the 2020 season Friday against Vanderbilt in Scottsdale, Arizona.
"As magical and wonderful as it was, at the end of the day, we always finished in second place," said Michigan head coach Erik Bakich from last season. "Do not minimize it - it was a great success - but I think the motivation is just as high. We recognize how close we were, so we talked about being "one better." We have reduced it to one more training day, one more round, one better field.
"It was a great prospect for our players and a very motivating prospect for our players to see how close they got and use it and say," Hey, let's not forget all that we have done - the laser focuses on all the little things that can even get there. And now let's be just one percent better at it all. "
The Wolverines understand that they will no longer be able to fly under the radar this season. Although they finished second in the Big Ten, they were the last team to win a general offer at the NCAA tournament. The team then defeated No. 22 Creighton for an NCAA regional title, eliminated No. 1 UCLA in a regional super, and then won their first four games in the CWS.
This year, he got his best pre-season ranking and is the favorite to win the Big Ten.
"I think we applaud the feeling of being targeted and being the team everyone wants to be," junior goalscorer Jack Blomgren said on Sunday. "I think Coach Bakich is doing a great job of telling us how we are going to be targeted this season, and we all congratulate ourselves in this way in a motivating way. May it motivate us every day to get better. "
The Wolverines have several key pieces to replace as of 2019, including starting pitchers Tommy Henry and Karl Kauffmann, and outfielder Jordan Brewer, Big Ten player of the year. All three were selected during the first three rounds of the June MLB project.
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They also graduated first baseman Jimmy Kerr, who led the team with 15 home runs and 64 RBIs.
However, Bakich is confident that there will be a few guys under the radar who could emerge as impact players. Last season, Brewer started the year as the team's fourth outfielder, while Kerr had only two homers and 20 RBIs in his first three seasons combined.
"At the start of the season, yes, we are feeling really good with part of the front end of the rotation and the defensive players who are positioned directly in the middle of the field," said Bakich. "But we also have question marks. So hopefully these roles will continue to evolve and the guys will continue to improve, and we will have escape stars this year as we did last year. "
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Spearheading the rotation is junior right-hander Jeff Criswell (Portage Central), who was 7-1 with a 2.78 ERA in 106 innings last season. He crossed out 116.
"Jeff has a ton of confidence, and he deserves it," said Bakich. "He is the first player since Jim Abbott in the late 1980s to play for the United States of America this summer. a baseball player from Michigan is going to play for the United States team, it's pretty awesome. So the confidence he got from it, in addition to the confidence to launch both as a starter and as a reliever, was very precious to us last year. "
The Wolverines fire four regulars from their roster last season, including junior outfielder Jordan Nwogu (Ann Arbor Pioneer). He hit. 321 with 12 circuits and 46 points produced last season outside first place. They also bring in junior midfielder Jesse Franklin (13 circuits, 55 RBI), but he will be absent until mid-March after suffering a broken collarbone in a ski accident.
"One of our most important talking points among our coaches is who will be playing center and right," said Bakich. “We have to understand this very quickly. And again, do we prioritize defense or do we also need the attack in there? So let's take a look at the center and right very closely, but I guess you could see some guys spinning there. "
The team will face tough competition at the start, with two of its first four games against top 10 teams. Vanderbilt is ranked # 2, while Saturday's second opponent is # 9 Arizona State.
"Revenge is not what's in there," Bakich said of Vanderbilt. "I also don't think our players see it that way - like it's this rematch. Our team is different; they are not the same players. These are two completely new teams. It’s great to play a program like Vanderbilt’s like a heavyweight title fight. For us to come in and, seeing the teams we face, including Vanderbilt, right out of the waterfall, our guys are thrilled with this. "