Preface: Posting will be light today and tomorrow. Football is slow. Basketball is slow. No LAX report until Monday. This will also act as most of my preview. So savor what content you get. – FA
This weekend of the baseball schedule features a home series with the Indiana Hoosiers. In order to give you a little bit of a preview of their team, I exchanged some Q&A with IUBaseball of Behind the Plate. Behind the Plate is slowly becoming one of the top school specific baseball sites in the BigTen (yes, there are more than one, there are five that are baseball exclusive as compared to me leeching from Tim and Paul). My answers to his questions can be found here.
Alex Dickerson was definitely a huge get for Head Coach Tracy Smith. “Skip,” as the players like to call him, has made considerable headways out on the West Coast the last couple years. Obviously Dickerson is the biggest and most notable signee to this point, but it is interesting to note that there are currently 7 players on IU’s roster from California, all of which are either freshmen or sophomores. As to how IU actually landed him, I would imagine the fact that fellow Hoosier freshman Drew Leininger was a high school teammate of his certainly helped the cause. In addition, sophomore 1B Jerrud Sabourin, who had a very successful freshman campaign, is also from San Diego and played in the same high school conference as Dickerson.
Although there wasn’t a ton of hoopla surrounding Dickerson’s signing, there were no doubts about his hitting prowess. He was drafted out of high school in the 48th round by the Washington Nationals, and he was an all-state selection by two different publications in a state that is very rich in baseball talent. All that being said, his success so far is actually not all that surprising. IU was just very fortunate to land such an impressive talent. I don’t know about “hiding the women and children,” but Dickerson indeed does not appear to have many weaknesses at the plate. In reality, his biggest weakness is actually his defense, and that is why he has yet to see an inning of action in the field in Big Ten play. The word is that he can’t field a lick, but fortunately that is a weakness Michigan’s pitchers won’t be able to expose.
Swinging from the left side, Dickerson really likes to go the other way and hasn’t really shown the ability to pull the ball. Last weekend, however, I did see him pull a ball off Penn State’s T.J. Macy (who hadn’t given up a homer all year) over the right field fence, so I don’t know how big of a weakness this truly is. Other than that, I would say Michigan’s best bet may be to just pitch around him this weekend.
To be honest, I would say that Phegley’s reputation is what keeps runners honest in many cases. 6 for 31 is obviously not a great percentage, but it is still important to note that only 31 runners have even attempted a stolen base against him. I think the fact that IU starts 2 left-handers and a very hard-throwing right-hander also works in the Hoosiers’ favor as far as steals are concerned. Michigan is 3rd in the Big Ten in stolen base attempts with 69 on the year (as of Tuesday), so all things considered, I think it would be safe to assume that Michigan will be aggressive on the basepaths this weekend in an effort to manufacture runs against a strong crop of starters. [manufacture runs, what is this you speak of? – FA]
Without a doubt, the biggest threat on the basepaths for the Hoosiers is junior Evan Crawford, who is currently 2nd in the Big Ten with 18 steals. The speedy CF has only been caught stealing twice this year (both in the same game, one of which was on a failed squeeze play attempt and the other on a pitchout), and MLB scouts rave about his speed. He is definitely the one the Wolverines will want to pay the most attention to on the basepaths. Outside of Crawford, only 2B Tyler Rogers (7 steals in 8 attempts) has stolen more than 5 bases. IU began the season with a more passive approach on the basepaths, but they have been more aggressive of late with 19 steals in conference play. Besides #9 hitter Vince Gonzalez (who I can guarantee will not be stealing any bases anytime soon), any other Hoosier is a threat to run as all other starters have recorded at least 1 stolen base on the year.
Yes, Eric Arnett is undoubtedly among the front runners for Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. He leads the Big Ten in wins, ERA and innings pitched, is second in opposing batting average and fourth in strikeouts. There are definitely a number of worthy candidates at this point (including Michigan’s own Chris Fetter), but I think Arnett stands as good a chance as any pitcher in the conference at taking home that piece of hardware. Consequently, Arnett will be a very tough match-up for the Wolverines. After throwing 3 straight complete games to open conference play, he is coming off his shortest Big Ten outing (97 pitches in 6.2 innings in a 15-1 romp over Penn State) and should be well rested for Saturday’s contest. While Michigan sports several dangerous hitters and can score a lot of runs, given Arnett’s track record this season, I just don’t see the Wolverines experiencing much success against the big right-hander on Saturday.
Blake Monar is scheduled to get the ball for the Hoosiers on Friday, and while Chris Fetter is undoubtedly one of the toughest (if not the toughest) match-up in the Big Ten, I am confident he can toe the rubber at Michigan and give the Hoosiers a solid outing against Fetter and the Wolverines. While it is likely the runs will be few and far between for IU on Friday, Monar has demonstrated that he is more than capable of handling the #1 spot this season. In 8 starts, the left-hander (who was drafted in the 26th round out of high school last year by the New York Yankees) is 4-2 with a 5.02 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 52 innings of work. He is coming off a rough outing last weekend against Penn State, but prior to that he had impressive starts at Illinois and Iowa and had only given up 4 extra base hits all season (all doubles). In fact, if you take away the 2 starts against Penn State and Minnesota, Monar would be holding opponents to a .226 batting average and have a 3.27 ERA. He also threw 7 strong innings and gave up only a single earned run in a tough-luck loss against Ohio State and Big Ten Pitcher of the Year candidate Alex Wimmers down in Florida over spring break. Coach Tracy Smith loves the young freshman’s approach: “What really acts as a strength is his [Monar’s] mentality” he recently said an interview. Monar has proven himself to be a gamer, and I think he will rebound with a solid effort against Fetter on Friday.
Although Hervey is hitting .272 after hitting .373 in 54 starts last season, the senior outfielder has actually started in 10 of IU’s 11 Big Ten games, including the last 9 in a row, and seen action in all 11 games. Early in the season he was pushed for playing time by a number of his teammates (including T.C. Knipp, Michael Earley and Brian Lambert), but he ultimately established himself as an everyday player again and has been a formidable lead off batter with a .406 on-base percentage. He is one of two Hoosier seniors and has proven himself to be one of the top clutch hitters on the team despite not hitting as well overall as he did last year. We all know what Hervey is capable of, and it appears that IU’s coaching staff is opting to let him work his way out of this slump on the field. The Hoosier faithful are certainly keeping their fingers crossed that he returns to last season’s form sooner rather than later.
I think IU will take 2 of 3 from the Wolverines. The match-up between Monar and Fetter will be an excellent one on Friday, but it’s just too hard to pick against Fetter right now. As such, I see Michigan taking Game 1 with Arnett and Bashore pitching the Hoosiers to wins in Games 2 and 3. Although this will likely be a close series, I ultimately think the Hoosiers’ combination of quality starting pitching and strong hitting will be too much for the Wolverines.
Thanks to IUBaseball for instigating this and his responses. Remember catch mine at his site, Behind the Plate.