ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Michigan baseball team is back on the field this weekend after last year’s improbable run to the College World Series championship, and it will face the two best hitters in the nation -- both early candidates to be selected by the Detroit Tigers with the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft.
On Friday, Michigan and Vanderbilt will square off in a national championship rematch. The Commodores begin the season ranked No. 2 after defeating Michigan in a decisive Game 3 to claim the title in 2019. The Wolverines are ranked No. 13.
Vanderbilt is once again led by star shortstop Austin Marin, one of the top three college prospects in the country, according to MLB Pipeline and Baseball America. Martin is ranked No. 3 on both sites after racking up 101 hits, 19 doubles and 10 home runs in 63 games last season. He finished with a .387 batting average, .478 on-base percentage and .598 slugging percentage and stole 18 bases in 23 attempts.
The most impressive part of Martin’s game is his plate discipline. He finished the 2018-19 season with 38 walks and 34 strikeouts.
Vanderbilt also has the early favorite to be selected No. 1 overall in the 2021 draft: starting pitcher Kumar Rocker. As a freshman, he struck out 114 batters in 99.2 innings with a 3.25 ERA. Rocker became a household game when he threw a 19-strikeout no-hitter against Duke in the NCAA Tournament.
Friday’s matchup is part of the MLB4 Tournament, which continues into Saturday and Sunday.
Michigan will play Cal Poly at 3 p.m. ET as part of the tournament before battling No. 9 Arizona State in Phoenix. The weekend ends Sunday afternoon with a tournament game against UConn.
Arizona State is led by slugging first baseman Spencer Torkelson, the No. 1 draft prospect on Baseball American and No. 2 draft prospect on MLB Pipeline.
Torkelson is a prototypical power-hitting first baseman. He’s hit 48 home runs in 112 career games, slugging .723 for his career. He’s also got an excellent eye at the plate, drawing 79 walks, compared to 89 career strikeouts.
Torkelson batted .351 last season with a .446 OBP. He’s the type of complete hitter to build an offense around, and that’s something the Tigers desperately need.
Draft prospect rankings often change dramatically throughout a college baseball season, especially since the college and high school seasons haven’t even officially started. It’s possible another player will emerge at the top before the draft, or the Tigers could go with Georgia pitcher Emerson Hancock.
But in terms of preseason rankings, Martin and Torkelson are the consensus top hitters in college baseball. Michigan’s new-look pitching staff, which no longer features Karl Kauffman and Tommy Henry, will get an immediate test.
New No. 1 pitcher Jeff Criswell is considered the No. 53 draft prospect by Baseball America. He’s No. 51 according to MLB Pipeline. Outfielder Jesse Franklin is No. 112 and outfielder Jordan Nwogu is No. 144, according to Baseball America.
- Michigan vs. No. 2 Vanderbilt: 7 p.m. ET Friday in Scottsdale, Arizona -- MLB Network.
- Michigan vs. Cal Poly: 3 p.m. ET Friday in Scottsdale, Arizona -- MLB.com.
- Michigan at No. 9 Arizona State: 8 p.m. ET Saturday in Phoenix, Arizona -- Facebook Live.
- Michigan vs. UConn: Noon Sunday in Scottsdale, Arizona -- MLB.com.