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January 20, 2008

Top 25 Countdown: No. 13 Michigan

Head coach: Rich Maloney
Last season: 42-19, 21-7 in Big Ten
Postseason: After winning the Big Ten regular season crown by two games, the Wolverines earned a berth in the Nashville Regional. There, they eliminated top-seeded Vanderbilt with a pair of victories to advance to the Super Regional round.
2008 breakdown: Probable starters | Overview | Offense | Starting pitching | Bullpen | Outlook


Michigan could make history this season.

The Wolverines surprised many by eliminating Vanderbilt from the postseason in 2007. But with the return of several key players they have their sights set on something bigger and better.

If Michigan aspires to get to Omaha it must once again establish consistency on the mound and at the plate.

The Wolverines are led at the plate by hard-hitting first baseman Nate Recknagel and two-way star Zach Putnam. Shortstop prospect Jason Christian is also coming off an impressive campaign while Adam Abraham is a two-way contributor.

Junior shortstop Jason Christian has the ability to be the best this season.

Probable Starting Lineup
C Chris Berset
1B Nate Recknagel
2B Leif Mahler
SS Jason Christian
3B Adam Abraham
OF Derek VanBuskirk
OF Kevin Cislo
OF Alan Oaks/Ryan LaMarre
DH Zach Putnam
SP Zach Putnam
SP Mike Wilson
SP Chris Fetter

While the offense leads the way, the Wolverines are also in good shape on the mound.

Putnam is the staff ace while veteran Mike Wilson is coming off a productive campaign. Chris Fetter and Eric Katzman will also have important roles.

Michigan has the talent and experience to go the distance. It must also adapt to life as one of the hunted.


After hitting .327 as a team last season and returning several players this spring, Michigan's offense enters the season with high hopes.

Including designated hitter Zach Putnam, the Wolverines welcome back six starters from last year's team.

Putnam batted .330 with eight homers and 59 RBIs last season. He also had a .518 slugging percentage and a .397 on-base percentage.

The Wolverines are also led at the plate by outfielders Derek VanBuskirk and Kevin Cislo, first baseman Nate Recknagel, shortstop Jason Christian and third baseman Adam Abraham.

VanBuskirk hit .384 with three homers and 32 RBIs last season, while Cislo — who is moving from second base to center field — hit .364 with a home run and 23 RBIs.

Recknagel batted .352 with 12 homers and 61 RBIs while Christian and Abraham each had over 40 RBIs.

Starting pitching

The Wolverines have an impressive one-two punch with Zach Putnam and Mike Wilson leading the charge.

Putnam had eight wins last season while Wilson finished the year with seven wins in 12 starts.

Michigan also expects consistent starts from Chris Fetter and Eric Katzman.

Fetter finished last season 6-3 with a 4.71 ERA in 70 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 48 and walked 21, while opponents hit him at a .302 clip.

Katzman made just four starts last season and had a 5.92 ERA in 24 1/3 innings of work. Opponents hit him at a .297 clip.

In order, the Wolverines will go with Putnam, Wilson, Fetter and Katzman.


With a talented weekend rotation the Wolverines might not have to rely too much on the bullpen. But if it comes to that, they are in good shape with several experienced arms.

The Wolverines will look to junior right-hander Adam Abraham to close games. Abraham tallied a pair of saves last season and had a 2.97 ERA in 33 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 24 and walked 11, while opponents hit .262 against him.

Michael Powers and Ben Jenzen are also in the mix.

Powers made 30 appearances last season and had a 4.76 ERA in 56 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 52 and walked 15, while opponents hit him at a .288 clip.

Jenzen made 25 appearances and had a 4.39 ERA in 41 innings of work. He also struck out 32 and walked 18, while opponents hit him at a .220 clip.

Outlook with postseason forecast
Michigan enters the spring in unfamiliar territory. The Wolverines are accustomed to being the hunted in the Big Ten. However, their role as the hunted on the national stage is new territory. To be successful this season, the Wolverines must raise their level of play. Michigan has a plethora of talent but most importantly they have experience. The Wolverines welcome back a productive offense with Nate Recknagel, Derek VanBuskirk and others leading the charge. The pitching staff is also in good shape with Zach Putnam and Mike Wilson as the headliners. Michigan has the tools and experience to go the distance. Getting off to a fast start against the likes of Arizona State and Coastal Carolina should set the stage for what could be a memorable campaign.

Shoes to Fill

The Wolverines don't have too many holes to fill. Eric Rose and Brad Roblin — both outfielders — and catcher Doug Pickens highlight the list of departures.

Rose batted .309 with four homers and 37 RBIs last season, while Roblin hit .320 with a home run and 24 RBIs. Additionally, Roblin was 22-for-27 in stolen bases while Rose was 34-for-40.

Michigan will also miss Pickens, who finished last season as a key contributor both at and behind the plate.

On the mound, the Wolverines must adequately replace talented right-hander Andrew Hess. He finished last season with a 7-2 record and a 4.52 ERA in 65 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 36 and walked 33 while opponents hit .298.

Must Step Up

Barring a huge surprise, Michigan will have one of the nation's most productive offensive lineups this spring.

The pitching staff is also in great shape but weekend starters Zach Putnam and Mike Wilson must stay consistent if they plan on getting to Omaha.

Putnam — a highly touted junior — went 8-5 with a 3.87 ERA in 102 1/3 innings of work last season. He also struck out 87 and walked 38, while opponents hit him at a .248 clip.

Wilson also had impressive numbers last season. The junior went 7-1 with a 3.52 ERA in 71 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 64 and walked 45, while opponents hit him at a .224 clip.

Michigan also needs a productive campaign from sophomore catcher Chris Berset. Berset hit .301 in 83 at bats last season but replaces Doug Pickens, who hit .338 with five homers and 41 RBIs.

Impact Newcomer

With one of the nation's most experienced teams, the Wolverines don't need much help from newcomers.

Freshman outfielder Ryan LaMarre is an exception.

Sophomore Alan Oaks has the inside track in right field but LaMarre is hot on his heels entering the spring.

Though not a newcomer in the true sense, the Wolverines are also expecting a wealth of production from senior second baseman Leif Mahler, who missed last season because an injury.

In 2006, Mahler batted .325 with 25 RBIs. He also had a .363 slugging percentage and a .397 on-base percentage.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 25. Coming tomorrow: No. 12.