While the Wolverines winning streak came to a close after dropping two out of three against Iowa, they had a chance to get back on track last week against in-state foe Eastern Michigan and in Big Ten play against Rutgers.
Though it took a couple of late-inning comebacks and they wound up dropping one game, they were still able to go 4-1 for the week and are in good shape as the regular season nears its conclusion.
Whether it was the 12-run outburst on Wednesday against Eastern or holding Rutgers to just one run on Sunday, the Michigan baseball team had some standouts through the weekend as well as some interesting storylines to follow.
Brock Keener’s Patience Plays Vital Role
After appearing in 11 games last season, senior Brock Keener had to have been considered one of the frontrunners to replace Harrison Wenson’s place in the lineup as the starting catcher after the latter was selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the MLB Draft.
Jockeying for position early in the year with stiff competition from Marcus Chavez, Joe Donovan and Harrison Salter, Keener has emerged and has earned a lion’s share of the playing time behind the plate.
While Michigan’s pitching staff have noted his skill as a receiver, Keener has been able to make a real difference at the bottom of the lineup. Generally slotted in the seven or eight-hole, Keener’s patience at the plate has provided Head Coach Erik Bakich with essentially another leadoff hitter in the lineup.
Ranking fourth on the team with a .402 on base percentage, Keener has found himself on base for when the heart of the lineup comes around. With being on base as often as he has, Keener is fifth on the team in runs with 24 despite ranking only eighth in at-bats (though his low at bats are due in part to his 16 walks on the year).
Though he’s never going to blow anyone away with his speed on the base paths, Keener’s ability to get there has been incredibly valuable and will continue to be for the Wolverines.
Danny Zimmerman Shows Glimpse Into Future
The #36 prospect in California and the #6 first baseman in the country in the Class of 2017, Michigan freshman Danny Zimmerman was one of the biggest gets for the team out of a recruiting class that has already begun to pay off.
In his senior year at Redondo Union High School, Zimmerman hit .412 with 10 home runs and 25 RBI. Beyond his skill as a hitter though, Zimmerman also complied 58 strikeouts over 56.1 innings pitched and he projects to have an impact in both areas throughout his collegiate career.
Standing 6’4 and weighing 235 pounds, Zimmerman has the prototypical size for both a standout first baseman or a frontline starting pitcher and he should be given the opportunity to do both. While he’s 0-for-3 at the plate in limited time this year, Zimmerman was able to make his second appearance on the mound this week.
After pitching a scoreless inning against Western Michigan on March 21st, Zimmerman threw another scoreless frame on Wednesday against Eastern Michigan and added his first career strikeout. Sitting in the low 90’s, Zimmerman throws a very heavy fastball that leads to weak contact (despite two hits being tallied against him in both appearances).
While others have had more of a noticeable role throughout their freshman campaigns, Zimmerman should be perhaps the most interesting Michigan youngster to watch as his career progresses.
Karl Kauffmann Shines As Model Of Consistency
The number one player in the state of Michigan for the Class of 2016, Brother Rice alumnus Karl Kauffmann has had no problem living up to his high recruiting billing. He appeared in 12 games out of the bullpen last year for the Wolverines and was solid — sporting a 2.03 ERA — but when the opportunity to start this season came up, Kauffmann seized it.
Against Cal Poly in his second start of the year, Kauffmann caused a bit of concern when he allowed seven runs over just four innings but since that point he has been one of the best pitchers not only in the Big Ten, but in the country as a whole.
Since that start on February 25th, Kauffmann has accumulated a 2.12 ERA and has fanned an impressive 59 hitters over the course of 51 innings. His 3.7 walks per nine are a step in the right direction as well, as he posted a 4.73 number throughout all of last year.
He picked up his sixth win of the season on Sunday against Rutgers and was masterful, going seven innings and allowing just one earned run while striking out eight. Performances like these have become commonplace for the sophomore right-hander and will be necessary if the Wolverines want to make a run in the postseason.
This week kicks off with a pair of in-state road games as the Wolverines will travel to Mount Pleasant to take on Central Michigan on Tuesday and will follow that up the next day with a trip to East Lansing to take on the rival Michigan State Spartans.
Michigan will head back home this weekend to take on Illinois for a set of three Big Ten games. With Illinois having not won a Big Ten series since 4/13-4/15 against Rutgers, the Wolverines should have a good chance to pick up some much needed conference wins.