Midwestern baseball is set to lose one of its present-day heroes, as Michigan baseball head coach Erik Bakich is set to accept an offer to become the new head coach of Clemson. Bakich spent the past ten years at the University of Michigan and will now return to the same institution where he began his coaching career twenty years ago in 2002.
Erik Bakich put the Wolverines back on the national map over his hugely successful ten-year stint as head coach, bringing two Big Ten titles home to Ann Arbor in 2015 and 2022, and bringing the Big Ten team to a College World Series final appearance for the first time since 1962 back in 2019. His squad, however, has failed to reach its 2019 heights since the departure of pitching coach Chris Fetter to the Detroit Tigers in 2020 and as well as graduate assistant Michael Brdar to the San Francisco Giants following the 2019 final appearance.
During Coach Bakich’s ten-year tenure, Michigan had 14 players and counting drafted in the top 10 rounds of the MLB draft. Exactly half of those players were selected in the second or third round of the 2019 and 2020 MLB drafts following the team’s College World Series finals appearance. In 2019, pitchers Tommy Henry (No. 74 overall to the Diamondbacks) and Karl Kauffmann (No. 77 overall to the Rockies) and center fielder Jordan Brewer (No. 106 to the Astros) broke a six-year drought of Wolverines in the first three rounds of the draft (they had most recently sent Michael O’Neill to the Yankees with the 103rd overall pick in 2013).
Later, three more players who played a major role on the 2019 squad went in the first three rounds the following year during the abbreviated 2020 draft: Jeff Criswell (No. 58 overall to the Athletics), Jordan Nwogu (No. 88 overall to the Cubs), and Jesse Franklin (No. 97 overall to the Braves). Michigan has sent players to major league organizations outside of their Cinderella run under Bakich, of course. Last season, Steve Hajjar was drafted by the Twins with the 61st overall selection, and in 2015, Jake Cronenworth was drafted by the Rays with the 208th overall selection. Bakich’s final total of noteworthy draft selections at Michigan is not yet set in stone, as the 2022 MLB draft will be held between July 17 and 19 this season.
According to student volunteers who worked directly with the 2019 College World Series team, Bakich was instrumental in bringing an analytics-heavy approach to the Big Ten, particularly in tracking spin rates for pitchers and launch angles for hitters, among other metrics. The pitching side of the program was largely run by Fetter, while the offensive side was largely run by Brdar, whose career has exploded in the three years since Michigan’s College World Series finals appearance (he served as the 2021 Giants hitting coordinator and is now the Padre’s hitting coach).
Both Fetter and Brdar played for and were drafted out of the University of Michigan: Fetter was a ninth-round selection in 2009, while Brdar was a 32nd-round selection in 2017. All three men have now departed Ann Arbor, likely in part due to the tricky conditions of pursuing titles at a Midwestern college baseball institution.
Coach Bakich famously implemented an “all-character lineup” in 2018 following an embarrassing loss to Lawrence Tech, in which Bakich started players based on their daily effort and character rather than their pure ability. This lineup ultimately led to the breakthrough of Jordan Nwogu into Michigan’s lineup, a player who was paramount in the team’s 2019 College World Series tournament run.
There has been plenty of discourse on whether the midwest can hang with teams located further south in college baseball. The topic came up just weeks ago when Rutgers, with a 44-17 record, was snubbed from the College World Series following their series loss to the Wolverines. According to reports, Michigan refused to match Clemson’s offer to Erik Bakich which pays him three times his previous salary at his current job.
With Coach Bakich departing for Clemson, one report suggests that Michigan will make its first call to Chris Fetter about his head coaching vacancy. However, seeing that Michigan did not match Bakich’s offer, it is hard to imagine that they will outbid the Tigers to poach Fetter away from a major league roster loaded with young arm talent.