At Ann Arbor, Mazur hits home runs for Michigan and for its future
On March 22nd, sixth year right-handed Joe Pace had this to say about fifth year catcher Griffin Mazur:
“Griffin Mazur is hands down the best catcher in college baseball.”
Given Mazur’s performance so far this season on both sides of the ball, Pace may be right. But if he had said that just a year ago he would have received more than a few funny looks. For one, Mazur’s mediocre numbers at UC Irvine would have immediately removed him from the MVP conversation. On the other hand, he was no longer a player.
After most of his senior season was canceled due to COVID-19, Mazur’s career as a player appeared to be over. He never expected to be drafted, but hoped to sign a free agent contract. When the draft was cut down to five rounds and minor league baseball announced plans to cut 40 teams this spring, even that seemed unlikely. So he decided to start the rest of his life as an assistant at another school.
However, with an extra year of eligibility granted to the Spring Athletes, he decided not to play in Ann Arbor with a program in dire need of a veteran catcher to replace Joe Donovan. Mazur was highly recommended by Anteaters’ trainer, Ben Orloff, who praised Mazur’s character – a trait valued by Michigan recruiters – and his behind-the-plate work.
Mazur’s offensive production, however, was a different story.
“He put together a pretty good offensive sheet at UC Irvine in 2019,” said Nick Schnabel, Michigan associate head coach. “It’s a little different out there in this conference; In some of those stages the ball doesn’t move that well, and things like that, but it had enough in its offensive package that we really loved it. “
This package was almost empty, as Schnabel’s lukewarm praise suggests. Mazur didn’t score average – he was a career .238 batsman as an anteater. With a career stolen from his name, he certainly wasn’t a runabout either. Most noticeable was his underperformance: he hit a home run and only hit .286.
His only ray of hope was in 2019, when Mazur drove his talents to career highs with small balls on average (.297) and base percentage (.419), both career best by more than 70 points.
But Mazur still had a year to improve, and his decision to spend it in Michigan, a program known for its success in player development, was made with his progress in mind.
One of the first and most important steps Mazur took towards an improved year on the plate was completely mental.
“It’s not necessarily a big swing change or approach change,” Mazur said. “I think it was just a combination of coach (Erik) Bakich and coach Schnabel preaching to me how to proceed.”
Last fall, the three Mazurs examined numbers and found that he was a relatively free swinger. But he was in frequent contact and recorded a high rate of gait and a low rate of strikes, which mitigated the dangers of his aggressive approach. Even so, the coaches suggested that he should swing on fewer pitches and try to do more damage in the remaining turns. The change in approach has paid off: Mazur takes more pitches, including a few punches, but when he swings on a pitch he really likes the result is often an extra base hit.
“If you swing on bad pitches, you won’t hit them very hard,” said Schnabel. “His discipline on the plate certainly helped him offensively to be able to drive the ball.”
In addition to the new approach, Mazur has made physical improvements that will help him hit the ball harder and farther. He worked hard in the weight room, using his bat speed data that was not recorded in Irvine.
At the start of the fall drills, the average Mazur bat speed was around 68 to 70 miles per hour. He wanted to increase that number by four or five miles an hour, which was projected to give the balls put into play a distance of nearly 20 feet.
With a current average bat speed of around 75 mph, Mazur has exceeded his target. He did this in part thanks to a weighted bats program that his teammate Matt Frye helped him design and execute during the team’s long winter break.
“I was basically just taking weighted bats, swinging them as hard as possible, taking undercharged bats, which are just lighter bats than you would normally use in the game, and swinging them as hard as possible,” said Mazur. “That helped my bat speed.”
Mazur’s improvement was evident from the start of the 2021 season. With a Grand Slam in his second start, he quickly reached his career-best home run total. Three more homers, four doubles and a slugging percentage of 0.492 later, Mazur is enjoying by far the best offensive season ever.
But his exponential growth as a power hitter did not come at the expense of his strong contact and awareness of the strike zone, a rare feat. Thanks to his selective approach, he has 11 walks and a base percentage of 0.400, almost 100 points more than his anteater overall. He only hit 10 times. Overall, he’s much tougher and a constant threat on your plate.
Mazur has compiled these productive numbers from the heart of the Order – an unfamiliar place for a former light hitter who used to end up at the end of the line-up.
“It wasn’t a difficult adjustment,” said Mazur. “We have so many good players on this team that I think you could take anyone anywhere and that wouldn’t really matter. I like hitting grassroots people, doing something on the plate so I love the opportunity and I was glad coach Bakich trusted me enough to put me in that position. “
As at Irvine, Mazur is excellent at hitting runners – only now can he do more with increased force than just move them across a base. He has driven 15 races and has already reached his career height of 18 RBI as of 2019.
There are still a few areas that need improvement. Schnabel wants him to remain selective with two strokes. Mazur would like to further improve its bat speed and exit speed and achieve a more uniform quality of the bats.
But the hard, detail-oriented work that has already been done pays off quickly.
“His work ethic, what kind of kid he is, how much time he puts into his craft – those are probably the biggest reasons (for his success),” said Schnabel.
Beyond the upcoming weekend series, Mazur doesn’t think too far into the future. He wants to play baseball as long as possible, but he hasn’t considered the next steps in his career too much.
In this regard he is alone.
“With every Scout I speak to, he’s one of the first players to show up,” said Schnabel.
Mazur’s offense is one of several reasons for this.
“Boy Scouts I’ve spoken to like the bat,” said Burke Granger, assistant director of amateur evaluation for baseball in 2080. “They think he’s going to hit. He has short, compact turns, there isn’t a lot of wasted movement and he has obviously been pretty good offensively this year. “
Granger speculated that Mazur will be drafted sometime after the tenth round, but added that he could be picked as early as the fifth round if he is ready to hit an “under the slot deal”.
Regardless of when he was picked, one thing is certain: even though they were all pretty much over, Mazur’s game days are just beginning.