A year ago, Minnesota baseball was surpassing all expectations en route to dominating the Big Ten and getting to their first Super Regional ever. They entered 2019 as the Big Ten favorite with a talented pitching staff and a lot of question marks in the lineup.
For the most part the questions in the lineup have not been answered and the pitching has not been what it needed to be for this team to compete for another Big Ten title.
Typically year in and year out a Gopher baseball team finishes near the top of the league in fielding and pitching. In the good years hitting is right up near the top as well, particularly in runs scored as this program has been more of a run manufacturing program than a power hitting program.
Well this year the Gophers find themselves middling in all three categories. Currently sitting
- Hitting - 6th (9th in runs scored)
- Pitching - 8th
- Fielding - 9th
This is not typical for a John Anderson team, but as stated previously there are were many question marks in the lineup for the Gophers. A lineup that consists of 5 or 6 new starters is not going to produce at the plate or in the field like a more experienced line up would.
With the newness of many names and guys getting significantly more at bats than they did a year ago, even the guys returning are regressing statistically. Patrick Fredrickson was a Freshman All-American pitcher and the Big Ten’s pitcher of the year, but he has struggled this year while also dealing with arm tightness early in the year. The staff is being careful with the guy who will be heavily relied upon next year before pursuing his baseball career.
At the plate we knew that there was a going to be a lot to replace in terms of at bats and production. There are 6 current regulars who combined for 121 at bats last year. Most of the returners have dipped in production. Senior Ben Mezzenga hit .383 in 2018, starting 50 games and batting at the top of the order. But the outfield fixture his hitting just .281 this year, which is actually good for 2nd on the team but 102 points lower than last year’s mark. While his is the most dramatic, he isn’t the only returner who is struggling to produce at last year’s clip. Now factor in the dip from those who moved on in their careers with the guys replacing them. Luke Pettersen started 2018 at 2B and hit .322, scoring 58 runs. His replacement is a freshman who’s hitting .248. Not exactly a fair comparison due to their levels of experience, but a pretty sharp decline in production from that position that isn’t being made up somewhere else.
This is not at all intended to paint anyone or anything in a negative light, but this is the reality of Gopher baseball in 2019. High expectations that have not been met, but maybe they weren’t all that realistic. In my early season prediction, I wasn’t exactly bullish on this year’s team answering all of their questions like they did a year ago.
Will they win the Big Ten again? My cautious prediction is that they won’t get those questions answered quite like they were a year ago. This team will absolutely compete for a Big Ten title, but I’m not convinced they’ll repeat.
Baseball is a funny game and this year’s Gopher squad isn’t quit as experienced as other seasons. As a result, they look poised to finish in the top 4 of the conference, but they will not catch Michigan for the regular season title.
But here’s the good news. They are still sitting near the top of the standings with just 2 Big Ten series remaining, both against teams in the lower half of the standings. They are part of a log jam of teams that are within a game of 2nd place. And this team looks be putting things together a little bit. Last weekend they went to Ohio State and earned a 3-game sweep of the Buckeyes.
Is this younger team starting to put things together at the right time of year? Maybe. There are reasons for optimism.
Eli Wilson is having a very good season behind the plate and Max Meyer is proving to be invaluable at the plate and on the mound. Jordan Kozicky is hitting a lot of home runs. Freshman Zack Raabe entered the Big Ten portion of the schedule hitting .194 but is hitting .248 now.
I do know that this program is always fun to watch and you have one more weekend of Big Ten baseball at Siebert Field this year. They are hosting Maryland this weekend. Should be beautiful for baseball.