Baseball is back my friends. The Twins, along with the rest of major league baseball, have opened Spring Training. And the Gophers have begun playing games. Just this past weekend they went down to Georgia where they lost a tight on to Georgia Tech, swept a double-header with Kennesaw State on Saturday and then lost to Georgia State on Sunday.
With the advent of the season upon us, it is well past due that we have a little Gopher baseball preview. A year ago the Gophers finished 3rd in the regular season standings, ended up as the 3rd final team remaining in the Big Ten Tournament and missed the NCAA Tournament.
This year’s returns quite a bit in the everyday lineup with a LOT to replace on the mound. Here’s a brief outlook on this year’s team.
This is where the Gophers are experienced and talented. A number of very familiar names are going to be a part of the regular lineup, a lineup that should be one of the better hitting teams in the Big Ten. A year ago the Gophers led the conference in batting average but struggled to turn those hits into runs, finishing 7th in runs scored. This year the team returns a lot of key offensive players and should continue to get on base often, hopefully scoring more runs in the process.
The infield should be very familiar to anyone who has been paying attention to Gopher baseball over the last few years.
- 1B - Micah Coffey - Senior who has typically been the team’s 3B in his first two years but will see a lot of time at 1B this year allowing Jordan Kozicky to find a home. Coffey was All-Big Ten 2nd Team in 2017 and has 132 games under his belt as a Gopher.
- 2B - Luke Pettersen - Senior infielder led the team in batting last year, also a fantastic fielder. Pettersen has 113 games played in a Gopher uni.
- SS - Terrin Vavra - Junior who had a great freshman season and battled injuries as a sophomore and is ready to go in 2018. After seeing the names above I can say that Vavra ONLY has 82 games of Gopher experience.
- 3B - Jordan Kozicky - Talented utility player who is starting at third and is also the teams’ third catcher. Kozicky is a sophomore and played in 47 games last year, starting 40. Should be noted that Kozicky, in the first four games is hitting .375 with 2 HRs already.
- C - Cole McDevitt - Junior who is coming off a 1st Team All-Big Ten sophomore season. McDevitt will start at catcher with Eli Wilson backing him up.
- RF - Toby Hanson - a fixture at first base for most of the last 3 years. Hanson has started 129 games as a Gopher, playing in 138. Hanson was 3rd Team All-Big Ten last year after batting .319 and leading the Gophers in RBIs. He moves to RF for some of this year, making room for Kozicky to get more action in the infield.
- CF - Alex Boxwell - Yet another senior starting for the Gophers who has quite a bit of experience. Boxwell has played in 113 Gopher games and will be the team’s primary starter at center field in 2018.
- LF - Ben Mezzenga - Junior starter and local product. Mezzenga can play any of the outfield positions and will move around as necessary.
- DH - Eduardo Estrada Jr - 31 starts over his first two seasons, not the junior will start at DH against right handed pitching as a DH.
- Bench - Riley Smith - Junior who can play many positions and will be the DH against left handed pitching.
- Bench (C) - Eli Wilson - primary backup catcher who will see a lot of action this year starting and off the bench. Wilson is a sophomore and son of Dan Wilson.
- Bench Max Meyer - looking for a young player to play right away? Meyer is your guy. You’ll see him on the mound and in the infield.
This is the part of the team with a number of question marks. Gone are the likes of Toby Anderson (12 starts), Lucas Gilbreath (14 starts), Brian Glowicky (16 saves) and others who contributed a number of innings throughout the year. Innings are gone and need to be replaced, who will take on those innings?
SP - Reggie Meyer - The junior out of Totino-Grace got the team’s first start of the season against Georgia Tech. An indication that he is a front-runner to be one of the team’s primary starters. He threw 56 2/3 innings last year with 7 starts and returns the lowest ERA from 2017.
SP - Nick Lackney - another junior, Lackney is a lefty out of Wisconsin. He got the team’s second start and pitched 6 innings on his way to a win over Kennesaw State.
SP - Jake Stevenson - This may change throughout the season, but Stevenson got the team’s third start and did fine. Junior from Waconia who made 9 appearances last year.
Other Starters? To be determined I think. John Anderson gushed about freshman Sam Thoresen who did get the team’s 4th start, but failed to get out of the first inning hitting 4 batters, giving up 1 hit and 5 earned runs. It was just one start, the true freshman from Minnetonka will get more opportunities.
Bullpen - Brett Schulze - As a freshman last year, Schulze made 14 starts and could be in line for more this year.
Bullpen - Jeff Fasching - Junior who missed much of last year with injuries and is in line to be a key component of the pitching staff in 2018.
Bullpen - Max Meyer - another freshman who is going to get some major innings. Meyer closed out one of this weekend’s games, earning a save.
Other Names to Watch - the first being senior and the other three being promising freshmen.
- Jackson Rose
- Joshua Culliver
- Patrick Fredrickson
- Ryan Duffy
In the non-conference portion of the schedule the Gophers are giving themselves a decent test by hosting 3 Pac12 teams in the DQ Classic, two of which have a chance at winning that league. And they are making a trip to TCU for three games. The Horned Frogs are a top 10 team in most preseason polls.
Where things get really interesting for the Gophers is in their Big Ten portion of the schedule, where they are rather fortunate. Of the other 5 teams expected to compete at the top of the conference, Minnesota gets 2 of them at home, just one on the road and avoids the other 2 altogether.
Nebraska and Indiana are generally considered the two favorites this season. The one road series mentioned above is a trip to Lincoln while the Gophers host the Hoosiers. Iowa and Maryland are the next two more dangerous teams. Iowa is a home series while the Gophers miss Maryland and Michigan on this year’s schedule.
With a heavy slate of more “bottom” teams and home series with Iowa and Indiana, the Gophers could put themselves in position to earn a gaudy record, resulting in an upper finish in the Big Ten standings. In fact with a couple key wins and not dropping too many bad losses, they could be right in the thick of a Big Ten regular season title. Which would be their 24th. :)
Pitching is a pretty big question mark for this team. And based on the fact that there are just no arms that you can point to as being consistently reliable against good teams, it is hard to predict this team. The schedule is favorable and I would go as far as saying that this team finishes 3rd in conference. Developing those arms will go a long way towards bumping that finish higher.
Gopher baseball is always fun to watch. Whether to take in the beautiful TCF Bank Stadium for some games or enjoy the spring (it is coming, I promise) at Siebert Field. Get out and catch this team. They’ll knock the ball around this year, they always play great defense and just may end up being in Big Ten contention.