Jack Blomgren arrived on the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus last fall tabbed as the Wolverines’ shortstop of the future.
Well, folks, the future is now.
The freshman wasn’t eased into the starting lineup, either. He was given a trial by fire, starting opening day when he hit ninth and manned shortstop as the Wolverines faced Army.
Blomgren, a 2017 Janesville Craig graduate, has started 33 games and counting for Big Ten Conference-leading Michigan, which is positioned to win its first league title since 2008. The Wolverines, largely written off after a poor start, are also in the midst of a 20-game winning streak, their longest since 1987.
Blomgren came out of high school with a college-ready glove. Matt Huck, a baseball scout for Prep Baseball Report, described Blomgren as a “high-level defender up the middle … with soft hands, quick footwork and a clean exchange” in 2016.
Those polished defensive skills helped smooth Blomgren’s jump to college. He owns a .940 fielding percentage this season.
“The transition really hasn’t been that hard,” Blomgren said Wednesday. “I learned to cope with it and use my resources. (I’m) just asking a lot of questions from the older guys.
“My best skill was my defense. Hopefully I can keep it going. I have a really good defensive coach, so I’m learning a lot from him.”
Blomgren’s offense has taken longer to materialize, but Michigan head coach Erik Bakich knows what he has in the young shortstop.
“You just want him to be able to be consistent,” Bakich told Theo Mackie of The Michigan Daily on April 11. “He’s a consistent worker. He’s got a great attitude. He’s a tough kid. He brings all the intangibles to the table.”
This was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the maize and blue. Michigan lost a program-record 11 players to last summer’s MLB draft but added a recruiting class ranked No. 10 in the country, according to Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.
A 4-11 start—including a loss to Lawrence Tech, an NAIA school, on March 14—did little to dampen fears of a down year. Blomgren, like many of his teammates, began the season in a hitting slump, slashing .183/.292/.217 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with an 18:7 strikeout-to-walk ratio through his first 20 games.
But since their stumble against Lawrence Tech, the Wolverines (24-11, 11-0 Big Ten) haven’t stopped winning.
So much for that rebuild.
“Starting off 4-11, I didn’t think we’d bounce back from that,” Blomgren said. “That was really the bubble buster for us—losing to a non-Division I team.”
Blomgren hit his first college home run March 25 as Michigan completed a three-game sweep of in-state rival Michigan State. He began a five-game hit streak a few days later. As of today, Blomgren is slashing .220/.366/.290.
There was a learning curve for Blomgren as he adjusted to college pitchers. He credits his modest improvement to a tried-and-true strategy in the batter’s box.
“Getting ahead early, being patient, attacking the fastball is my approach right now,” Blomgren said. “I’m just trying to stay within myself and be a smart hitter.”
The freshman produced an offensive highlight Saturday night, laying down a squeeze bunt to score Dominic Clementi in the bottom of the 11th as Michigan defeated Penn State 8-7 for its 19th straight win.
Blomgren is leading a Janesville Craig takeover of the Big Ten. Current Craig seniors Jacob Campbell (Illinois) and Noah Berghammer (Minnesota) will join the circuit next season, while Blomgren’s younger brother, Dan, is committed to Michigan as part of the class of 2019.
The Wolverines should be among the Big Ten’s best teams for the foreseeable future. The team’s starting rotation consists of two sophomores and a freshman, and the lineup is littered with underclassmen, too.
Blomgren is a key part of Michigan’s young nucleus. He’s a freshman starting for the best team in a “Power Five” conference.
It’s easy to forget he’s only a few months into his college career.
With the Wolverines an out away from closing out a win over Michigan State on March 23, Blomgren ranged left from his spot at shortstop as a grounder bounced high over the pitcher’s mound. He snared the ball with his bare right hand a few feet inside of second base and, in one motion, fired a rope to first, denying Dan Chmielewski a base hit.
It’s the type of play you don’t often see from college shortstops.
And it’s the type of highlight that shows how Blomgren played his way into Michigan’s starting lineup, and has stayed there.
Bryan Wegter is a sports copy editor for The Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org