Michigan baseball was met with a new coaching staff at the beginning of the 2012-2013 season. Head Coach Erik Bakich came to Michigan from Maryland where he coached the Terrapins for three years. Joining him are assistant coaches Nick Schnabel and Sean Kenny. With the new staff came many adjustments, but veteran centerfielder Patrick Biondi said the team met the changes well.
“The whole team really took to the new staff,” Biondi said. “We’re pretty excited about the philosophy.” This new team philosophy focuses on what it means to be a leader on and off the field, with a more concrete method for players to work.
Assistant coach Schnabel comes to Michigan after three seasons as East Carolina’s hitting instructor, infield coach, and recruiting coordinator. He will be the recruiting coordinator for the Maize and Blue. Kenny will be the Wolverine’s pitching coach, also joining Bakich from Maryland after three years with the Terps.
Bakich said the coaching staff spent a good portion of the fall trying to establish the identity of the 147th Michigan baseball team. Bakich has worked to focus on player development and recruiting as well as playing an aggressive style of baseball with their pitching and defense. Bakich mentioned a few of the team’s core-covenants such as a blue collar and disciplined style on and off the field.
“I think they bought in well trying to create a way we conduct ourselves on and off the field,” said Bakich. “We’ve spent a good portion of the fall doing a lot of leadership training and getting these guys to really understand team 147 and what they want it to be about.” For Michigan baseball, it’s not only about how the team acts in the way they practice and train but also how they conduct themselves at school and in the community.
The Wolverines played close to 20 scrimmages holding a World Series the last weekend of Fall Ball. “They did a great job practicing at a very high tempo,” said Bakich of his new team. “They worked at a very fast pace with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. They did a great job creating a pace of practice.”
Biondi spoke of the new style in practice, but how the coaching staff still kept it fun. “We definitely worked our butts off in the fall but he doesn’t over do it to the point where you don’t want to be in practice.” The senior said the team worked a lot on mental toughness. “We do some tough conditioning stuff,” he said. “But the way he [head coach Erik Bakich] presents it makes it more fun.”
Bakich saw some bright spots in pitching during the fall, but said nothing was set in terms of the Wolverines’ rotation. Two freshmen pitchers that separated themselves include Cam Wysocki a righty out of Ada, Michigan and southpaw Evan Hill from Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
Other young guys who played well in the fall are Travis Maezes, Jacob Cronenworth, and Jack Sexton. Bakich mentioned the three freshmen showing some talent on the field at position spots. Matthew Dacey, another freshman, also proved himself in fall ball. “Dacey is a strong physical kid with power in a left-handed swing, Bakich said. “He’ll see action early on.”
The group of freshman talent joins veterans Biondi and junior Michael O’Neill for the upcoming season. “They’re the two cornerstones of our team positionally,” said Bakich. “We’ll have a lot of success behind their success.” O’Neill led Michigan in batting average (.327), slugging percentage (.525), and doubles (12) in his sophomore season. O’Neill played with the Falmouth Commodores of the Cape Cod Baseball League in 2012 and was second in the league in stolen bases with 16.
Biondi ranks high on many of Michigan’s record lists. He holds the rookie record for steals in a season with 29, and is second on the team’s career stolen base list. The speedster also ranks fourth on the single-season runs list with 69. The centerfielder heads into his senior season after an outstanding Cape League summer winning the batting title with a .388 batting average.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Coach Bakich feels the team has worked hard on their work ethic, and other team intangibles. He expects the team veterans to help lead the crew of younger players.
Other aspects are still emerging include the team’s rotation and depth in other areas on the field. Michigan’s biggest necessity is to solidify the roles on the pitching staff. “We have a general idea of which position players are going to play minus a few tweaks,” Bakich said. “There’s always competition, but there are people, that if they make tremendous strides, who will compete for an opportunity right away.”
Bakich said the rotation would be determined on how much guys improve over the next few months. “There are enough pieces there that with continued development every day and continued commitment this team will be very competitive,” said Bakich.
After a 22-33 season in 2012, the Maize and Blue look to turn things around in 2013. The team heads to California and Florida to start their spring season in non-conference action against California, Coastal Carolina, Fordham, Georgetown and more. “It’s really not about anybody else,” said Bakich of the schedule. “We know that if we go out and play the way we’re capable of, if we play for us instead of against the opponent we’re going to be successful.”
While the main focus is on the team’s personal growth, Bakich was excited about Michigan’s opportunity to travel. “It’s an exciting opportunity to go out to California and face a team from the Pac 12 and see a style of play we haven’t seen in the Midwest,” he said.
Biondi’s looking forward to facing off against some summer teammates from the Cape Cod Baseball League. “It’s always fun when you can play against some of the guys you played with in the summer,” he said. “It’ll be cool to go down there and beat them a couple times. We’re looking forward to getting into the season and we have a great non-conference schedule.”
While the team is happy to face some different competition, Michigan continues to stress their focus on preparing as a team. The Wolverines are confident that by doing that they can face any competition in the spring. “I’ve never seen a greater commitment to the student athlete than what exists at Michigan,” Bakich said. “There’s no question in our coaching staffs’ mind championships are on the horizon with Michigan baseball.”