CMU baseball sets sights on spring

Chippewas fill holes on the mound, adjust starting lineup heading into spring season

CMU baseball celebrates its MAC championship.

As the Michigan weather slowly begins to transition from bitter cold to melty slush, the changing of seasons in sports signals the start of baseball.

For Central Michigan University’s baseball team, the 2023 season burst out of the box with an opening series against Baylor in Waco, Texas. The Chippewas used 29 runs on 30 hits, four home runs and 10 extra-base hits across three games to fuel their series win over the Bears, finishing the weekend with a record of 2-1.

Following game one's 6-5 loss, the Chippewas responded by plating 20 runs in the follow-up contest, taking game two 20-5. 

 The top of the second ultimately won CMU the final matchup in its 4-3 win, as it scored each of its four runs in the frame. 

The Chippewas, led by fifth-year head coach Jordan Bischel, are coming off of a 2022 season that saw them emerge as the Mid-American Conference Champions. 

“These guys really want to do well, and I think what’s unique with this group is, with so many new faces, they want to keep going (with) what we’ve accomplished," Bischel said. "Even though we’ve won some championships and done some good things, half of the guys weren’t a part of that because it’s a new roster.”

Holes to fill off the mound

CMU must look to replace a few players who were instrumental to its success over the last few years.

Andrew Taylor, CMU’s ace of the last few seasons, departed by way of the 2022 MLB Draft. He was selected 80th overall by the reigning World Series Champions Houston Astros. The starting pitching rotation also lost an impactful pair in Jordan Patty and Logan Buczkowski, as both were seniors. 

To address some of these vacancies, the Chippewas have gone a number of routes. However, they also return a few key pieces that helped stabilize their rotation last year. One of these players is   Garrett Navarra. The graduate student will likely spend much of the season as a starting pitcher while providing at-bats for CMU in between his starts, but he has the versatility to provide production out of the bullpen as well. 

“We’ve seen guys like (Navarra) in the past relieve for part of the year, (become) a starter, and when we got to the tournament go back to the bullpen,” Bischel said. “One thing we view as a strength for our pitchers is to be flexible.” 

Sophomore Adam Mrakitsch made five starts last season and was another player who spent time in both the starting lineup and working out of the bullpen. He finished his freshman campaign with a 7-1 record while throwing 49.1 innings, recording 42 strikeouts and posting a 2.37 ERA.

CMU will also lean on a few offseason transfers to eat up innings, including sophomore Nate Ross, junior Keegan Batka and graduate student Bryce Hellgeth. Ross and Batka both hail from community colleges, while Hellgeth comes in from Dayton and will look to enter the lineup later in the season as he recovers from injury.

Changes expected in the starting lineup

On the position side, the Chippewas will be without both their 2022 leadoff and 2-hole hitter Mario Camilletti and Jakob Marsee, who heard their names called in the 2022 MLB Draft. Camilletti led the team in batting average (.376), OPS, runs and hits. Marsee placed second on the team in each of these categories except batting average; he still managed to hit well above .300 (.345).

Marsee was drafted 180th overall to the San Diego Padres’ organization, while Camilletti was selected 251st overall by the Chicago White Sox.

Finally, seniors third baseman Aidan Shepardson and catcher Adam Proctor round out the list of departures who logged significant innings. Shepardson hit .319 and generally occupied a middle-of-the-lineup role. Proctor served as the starting backstop and provided much-needed power at the plate while hitting for an average of .279.

Returning to the lineup from last year’s roster are Justin Simpson and Danny Wuestenfeld. Simpson, a senior middle-infielder, held down the shortstop position for CMU last season and posted an OBP of .457. Wuestenfeld, a junior infielder, batted cleanup for the Chippewas last year and led them in home runs with nine as the team’s starting first baseman.

As for newcomers to the infield, Bischel said to watch out for junior third baseman Ely Stuart and freshman second baseman Christian Mitchelle. 

In the outfield, redshirt sophomore Robby Morgan IV started most of last season at centerfield and will look to build upon his performance as he ranks second on the team in home runs with eight. Returning junior outfielder Jacob Donahue missed portions of last season due to injury and will look to solidify a spot in the starting lineup as well as junior transfers Jacob Brill and Marquis Jackson. 

Establishing an identity

With so many departures ravaging the Chippewas’ lineup, it may be hard to ignore such gaping holes upon the start of the season that's beyond the teams control. Yet, there are some things that it can control as a team. 

“I think something you’ve seen with us year in and year out is we play with a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” Bischel said. “We really compete, play hard, we’ve got great chemistry, and at a minimum you want to establish those things early.”

Prior to the start of the regular season, it can be hard to accurately gauge the level at which the team will perform. Bischel said that it’s all part of a process of learning who you are as a team.

“We got to start to learn about ourselves,” Bischel said. “What do we do really well, what do we struggle with? Obviously we have an idea through fall practice, scrimmages and that kind of stuff. But it changes a little bit when the games start being played. Just learning ‘hey, where are we ready to be successful?’ And then other areas where maybe we do struggle a little bit and have to clean up. You learn some of that on the fly as you go.”