A 4-11 start to the season brought the year into question for Michigan Baseball, but the team has banded together both on the mound and with their bats to get things back on track. With a win last Wednesday over Central Michigan and a sweep of Delaware over the weekend, the Wolverines winning streak has now reached 12 games and their season record stands at a much more impressive 16-11.
Though it wasn?t the stiffest week of competition that they will see this year, the way in which Michigan handled their business was impressive. They never trailed in any of the four games later than the third inning and won the set of games by a cumulative score of 29-9, a testament to both their offense and their pitching.
There were many points of interest throughout the weekend with strong performances across the board, but there are a few worth honing in on moving forward.
Angelo Smith Proving Himself Valuable
One of the top prospects in the state of Illinois in the Class of 2017, left-handed pitcher Angelo Smith has been a revelation for the Wolverines to this point in the season. Coming off of a 51-inning, 97-strikeout senior year at Richards High School, Smith has had his strikeout stuff going early on.
Drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 40th round in the 2017 MLB Draft, Smith has struck out seven batters through nine innings of work thus far and has surrendered just one earned run. His fastball sits in the low 90?s and he mixes in a curveball and a changeup that helps to keep hitters off balance.
His standout performance of the season came last week against Central Michigan, when he pitched four innings in relief and struck out two while allowing just one hit (his only baserunner of the game). His scoreless appearance added to what is now three outings in a row without allowing an earned run.
He stands just 5?10, 155-pounds, but Smith is able to make the most of his frame and has had success at every level that he?s played at — Division 1 baseball now included. He will likely never be a top of the rotation starter, but he should provide value for the remainder of this year and his next three at Michigan.
Jesse Franklin Finds His Groove
Smith?s teammate and fellow member of the Class of 2017 Jesse Franklin did not share the same hot start. The top player in the state of Washington for his recruiting class and a top 150 player nationally, Franklin was absolutely frigid at the plate through the first few weeks of the season — a trait he shared with many of his teammates.
A 37th round pick of the Seattle Mariners in last year?s draft, Franklin started his college career one for his first 17. It has been a bit of a slow climb back to the Mendoza Line since that point, but Franklin busted out this past week and gave a glimpse to the type of player that he could — and many think that he will — become.
He was 8-for-16 for the week, capped off with a 3-for-4 day in the series-closing game against Delaware. Not only was Franklin getting on base at an impressive clip, he also launched the second home run of his collegiate career (his first came earlier in the week). With the week that he had, Franklin saw his batting average jump from .175 all the way up to a respectable .268.
One of the more professional projectable players on the Wolverines roster, Franklin has seemingly made the adjustments that he needed to and it should be an upward trajectory from here — excluding the bumps in the road that will happen with a college freshman.
Jayce Vancena Still Has Time To Bounce Back
While the two freshman have been putting on a show as of late, one of the elder statesmen on the Michigan roster has had some surprising struggles throughout the early going of the 2018 campaign. A steady presence throughout most of his three previous years at Michigan, right-hander Jayce Vancena has had trouble getting into a rhythm this year.
Over the course of 39 innings pitched past season, Vancena allowed 13 earned runs. In 15 innings this year, the former top 10 prospect in the state of Illinois has already reached that total and there haven?t been a ton of signs of improvement.
He?s still keeping his walks down (1.23 walks per nine this year and 0.92 last year), Vancena has been getting shelled nearly every time he goes on the mound. He?s given up 26 hits this year (31 all of last year) and has been prone to giving up both extra base hits and the long ball. He?s already coughed up more doubles than last year and is halfway to his mark for home runs, which doesn?t bode well for him or the Wolverines if they want him to be a consistent part of the bullpen.
The move to the rotation may have been a change of pace for Vancena, so working him in to lower-leverage situations could be the way to go to rebuild his confidence. He excelled out of the bullpen in the Cape Cod League this past summer, saving two games for the Cotuit Kettleers and it seems as if he may be more comfortable pitching in relief.
A drop-off this rapid generally plays itself out and Vancena?s track record to this point shows no reason why it won?t. With an opponent?s batting average of .377 this year, Vancena just needs to keep throwing strikes to give his defense a chance and hope that more balls in play will end up in his fielder?s gloves.
A matchup with Toledo on Wednesday is up next on the docket for Michigan, followed by a three-game weekend set with Northwestern in Evanston. With each opponent having struggled in 2018, the Wolverines will have a good chance to extend their winning streak into next week at 16 games.