Draft : : State Preview
Thursday, June 02, 2011

State Preview: Michigan

Allan Simpson        

In the weeks leading up to the draft, Perfect Game will be providing a detailed overview of each state in the U.S., including the District of Columbia, as well as Canada and Puerto Rico. These overviews will list the state's strengths, weaknesses and the players with the best tools, as well as providing mini-scouting reports on all Group 1 and 2 players.

Michigan State-by-State List

Michigan Overview:
Depressed State of Economy Impacts Michigan Baseball, Draft Fortunes

It’s possible that no other state has been so harshly impacted by the economic woes that have gripped the country over the last two or three years than Michigan. As the hub of the nation’s once-thriving auto industry, the state first took a hit when consumers stopped buying American-made products in favor of foreign models, and then almost stopped buying cars altogether in the wake of the recent economic downturn that gripped the country.

From a baseball standpoint in Michigan, there are parallels to the hardships that the auto industry has endured through the years.

No state has been so adversely impacted by baseball’s changing face at the grassroots level, especially in the way the game at the college and high-school levels has thrived at an ever-increasing rate in the warmer climates found in the nation’s Sun Belt states.

It has been 26 years since a team from Michigan last participated in the College World Series. And yet there were years when a college team from Michigan made regular appearances in the national-championship tournament, which actually has its roots in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1947, before settling permanently in Omaha, in 1950.

Michigan won College World Series titles in 1953 and 1962, and later made five trips to the CWS in a seven-year period from 1978-84. Western Michigan made six visits to Omaha from 1952-63, finishing second in 1955. Eastern Michigan made consecutive appearances in 1975-76, behind twin first-round draft picks and future big-leaguers Bob Owchinko and Bob Welch. Michigan State also has a CWS appearance to its credit, in 1954.

But that’s all in the distant past, and no Michigan college team came close to ending the drought this year as all six Division I schools were on the outside looking in for the second year in a row when 64 bids were extended to the NCAA tournament, ultimately leading to the eight-team College World Series field.

Not only has the state experienced a significant dry spell in legitimately contending for a national title, but the draftable talent coming out of Michigan through the years has also seen a pronounced dip. In 1969, there were 45 players drafted that were products of Michigan high schools. Twenty years later, that total had dipped to 34; another 20 years hence (2009), that number was just 20.

Much as the state’s primary resource, the auto industry, has seen a precipitous decline through the years, so has Michigan’s manufacture of baseball talent. Only New York has regressed at a faster clip.

The pickings in the state this year are modest by Michigan’s declining standards. Three college players have an outside shot of being drafted in the first 10 rounds, none in the first five. Divine Child High catcher Eric Haase is the one high-school player who has the ability to be an early-round draft, but it will most likely be in 2014, after three college seasons at Ohio State as he received little exposure this spring.

In recent years, the University of Michigan has singlehandedly propped up the state’s sagging baseball fortunes. The Wolverines made consecutive NCAA tournament appearances from 2006-08, and processed a steady diet of draft picks in that period. But not even that program could be counted on this year as the Wolverines were ravaged by injuries and limped home with a 17-37 record overall and 7-16 in the Big Ten. In coach Rich Maloney’s previous eight years as coach, the school had never won fewer than 30 games.

Crippling injuries to a pitching staff that should have been the team’s strength ultimately did in the Wolveries. Twin 6-foot-5 righthanders Kolby Wood and Travis Smith, who might have cracked the top 10 rounds had they been healthy, worked just four innings apiece before they succumbed to arm injuries. Wood, who underwent Tommy John surgery, was clocked in the fall at 95, Smith at 93.

Another Wolverines righthander, Tyler Mills, did manage to reach the mid-90s this spring, but was largely unsuccessful with a 2-4, 5.02 record, working both as a starter in relief. He struggled with command issues.

But if Michigan got little or no production out of its pitching staff, it got even less than expected out of sophomore-eligible shortstop Derek Dennis. He held out considerable promise when he turned down a 10th round offer from the Tampa Bay Rays out of high school, but hit just .216-0-10 on the year.

With the depressed state of baseball affairs at Michigan, it was left to Central Michigan lefthander Trent Howard and Michigan State senior first baseman Jeff Holm to carry the torch for the state. Howard was generally effective during the regular season, going 4-4, 2.78 with 22 walks and 96 strikeouts in 87 innings, with command of three pitches. But he may have undone all his good work with a lackluster showing before a large number of scouts at the Mid-American Conference tournament, where his fastball barely cracked the mid-80s.

Holm, meanwhile, went undrafted a year ago, which seemed to be an oversight when he had a dominant summer season in the Prospect League (.359-11-60, 38 SB). He largely duplicated that performance as a Michigan State senior, hitting .376-9-61 with 20 stolen bases. Holm spent all of the 2011 season at first base for Michigan State (36-21), which actually had a fine 2011 season and narrowly missed making the regional field. Holm profiles as a solid senior sign with his chance of landing inside the first 10 rounds probably dependent on a club that believes he can play in the outfield at the pro level.

If there was a positive development by a Michigan college team this year, it had to be the showing of Grand Valley State, which entered the Division II World Series with a gaudy 52-3 record and No.1 national ranking. Alas, the Lakers were abruptly eliminated in two straight games at the national tournament.

Kellogg Community College made a strong run in the National Junior College Athletic Association Division II World Series, even though it entered regional play as a No. 8 seed (out of eight) and the national tournament with just a 30-25 record.

Haase was undoubtedly the best draft-eligible talent in the state this year, high school or college. He has five-tool potential as an offensive-oriented catcher, but received less exposure this spring than his talent warranted as scouts avoided Michigan early on because of all the rough, late-winter weather, and later on as there was little reason otherwise to travel to the state.

Because defending state champion Divine Child lost every regular from a year ago but Haase, his superior athletic ability was put to a test this season. He played multiple positions for the team, from ace of the pitching staff to extensive service at third base. It limited Haase’s opportunity to develop his catching skills, but all his tools were readily evident no matter where he played. He has excellent power potential and above-average speed for a catcher.

Led by Haase, four of the top six high-school players in Michigan this year are catchers. It’s one of the few things that the state has reason to boast about this spring.

Michigan in a Nutshell:

Eric Haase
WEAKNESS: University of Michigan talent.
OVERALL RATING (1-to-5 scale): 2.

Grand Valley State (NCAA Division II).
BEST HIGH SCHOOL TEAM: Brother Rice HS, Bloomfield Hills.

PROSPECT ON THE RISE: Eric Haase, c, Divine Child HS, Dearborn.
With his five-tool potential, Haase rates as one of the best prep catchers in the country. But his lack of exposure from scouts this spring will undoubtedly see him slide in the draft much farther than his talent warrants, and inevitably will propel him on to a college career at Ohio State.

PROSPECT ON THE DECLINE: Derek Dennis, ss, University of Michigan.
Dennis is an agile, athletic shortstop with a solid glove and strong arm, and seemed destined to be drafted about the same spot as out of high school (10th round, 2009). But his weak bat (.216-0-10) probably killed that chance.

WILD CARD: Kolby Wood, rhp, University of Michigan.
The 6-foot-5 Wood caught the attention of scouts last fall with a fastball in the mid-90s, but he succumbed to Tommy John surgery after just four innings this spring. If a team is willing, it could still draft Wood in a middle round and sit on him as he continues his rehab.

BEST OUT-OF-STATE PROSPECT, Michigan Connection:
Jon Berti, ss, Bowling Green State University (attended high school in Troy).
TOP 2012 PROSPECT: Torsten Boss, 2b/3b, Michigan State University.
TOP 2013 PROSPECT: Alex Lakatos, rhp, University of Michigan.

Draft History: Mark Mulder, lhp, Michigan State U. (1998, Athletics/1st round, 2nd pick).
2006 Draft: Dan O’Brien, lhp, Western Michigan U. (Blue Jays/8th round).
2007 Draft: Jeff Fischer, rhp, Eastern Michigan U. (Rockies/10th round).
2008 Draft: Ethan Hollingsworth, rhp, Western Michigan U. (Rockies/4th round).
2009 Draft: Daniel Fields, ss, University of Detroit Jesuit HS (Tigers/6th round).
2010 Draft: Ryan LaMarre, of, U. of Michigan (Reds/2nd round).

Best Hitter: Jeff Holm, 1b, Michigan State University.
Best Power: Eric Haase, c, Divine Child HS, Dearborn.
Best Speed: Eric Haase, c, Divine Child HS, Dearborn.
Best Defender: Eric Haase, c, Divine Child HS, Dearborn.
Best Velocity: Tyler Mills, rhp, University of Michigan.
Best Breaking Stuff: Trent Howard, lhp, Central Michigan University.


(Projected HIGH-Round Draft / Rounds 4-10)

1. ERIC HAASE, c, Divine Child HS, Dearborn
Underscouted player; potential 5-tool C, ++ bat speed/RH power, 6.84 speed, versatile player, + arm strength.
2. TRENT HOWARD, lhp, Central Michigan University (Jr.)
6-2/185 LHP, command of 3 pitches (87-89 FB/CU/CH), can fight arm slot; solid year (87 IP, 22 BB/96 SO).
3. TYLER MILLS, rhp, University of Michigan (Jr.)
FB with mid-90s heat, good deception, + life; struggles to command secondary stuff (52 IP/30 BB/48 SO).
4. JEFF HOLM, 1b/of, Michigan State (Sr.)
Obvious offensive potential (.376-9-61, 20 SB), LH bat skills/speed a better fit in OF; should be + SR sign.

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