The University of Minnesota has a storied baseball tradition. They’ve won the Big Ten 23 times, trailing only Michigan (35) and Illinois (30) for historical conference supremacy. They’ve won the College World Series a conference best three times, albeit their last national championship was in 1964. They also have qualified for the NCAA Tournament 31 times, building a sizable lead on Michigan, who has 22 bids respectively.
But, from 2011 to 2015, Minnesota never finished higher than fourth, hitting a low point in 2015 when they finished 21-30 overall, 9-15 in conference, for a ninth-place finish.
Perhaps that’s why it was surprising when the Gopher’s followed up that low point to win the Big Ten in 2016. Conference Player of the Year Matt Fielder slashed .366/.411/.525, leading Minnesota to a 16-7 conference record.
Despite last year’s success, I didn’t see Minnesota named on any preseason Regional Watch lists or as a potential candidate to repeat as champion. Yet as we approach the midway point of the season, they stand at 18-8 overall with a perfect 6-0 conference record. Minnesota is riding a nine game winning streak, off of which have come on the road, that included series sweeps at Ohio State and Michigan State.
I recently had the opportunity to check out Minnesota when they traveled to Columbus to open up conference play against Ohio State. Minnesota left an impression as the Gophers swept the Buckeyes behind some strong performances from some of their 2017 MLB Draft prospects.
Jr. LHP Lucas Gilbreath
After a strong sophomore season in which he posted a 1.36 ERA while allowing a meager .200 batting average against out of the Gopher bullpen, Gilbreath was slow to get things going in a transition to the rotation this season as I wrote about here. He’s been great since that point however, allowing just four earned runs over his past five starts.
In the series opener against the Buckeyes, Gilbreath scattered four hits and one earned over 6.2 innings, while striking out seven and walking none. Gilbreth does his best to leverage his 6’2 frame with a high-three quarter delivery to generate some downward plane. Gilbreth consistently worked all four quadrants of the plate with a fastball that sat 89-91, while showing confidence and some feel for spin in his breaking ball.
Staying hot, Gilbreath went blow for blow with Michigan State’s Alex Troop last weekend, striking out eight Spartans over six innings in route to his third win of the season.
Sr. RHP Brian Glowicki
Glowicki pitched in the Gopher bullpen alongside Gilbreath last season and performed well, finishing second on the team in ERA (3.29) while also finishing second on the team with 20 appearances. Now entrenched as the closer, Glowicki picked up two saves against Ohio State including one of the two inning variety in the series finale on Saturday to complete the sweep, and two more against Michigan State last weekend. Glowecki has been fantastic thus far this season.
With a 1-0 record, 0.52 ERA, and a .125 batting average against, Glowecki has already saved 11 of Minnesota’s 18 wins. Though he’s just 5’11, Glowecki has a quick arm and he stays closed on his delivery offering good deception on a 92-93 mph fastball that gets on hitters in a hurry.
Jr. RF Alex Boxwell
Boxwell started 29 games as a sophomore and produced a slash line of .327/.379/.464 while hitting .392 in conference play, and not making an error all season. Serving as the three-hole hitter for the Gophers this season, the left-handed hitting Boxwell put together an impressive weekend at the plate against Ohio State, hitting two home runs, stealing two bases, and scoring seven runs. Though he cooled off some against the Spartans the following weekend, the toolsy Boxwell, long and lean at 6’3, 195-pound, is hitting .277/.345/.455 with three home runs, four triples, stealing nine bases with an above-average run tool..
Jr. 3B Micah Coffey
Along with Boxwell, Coffey was a key contributor for Minnesota last season, earning Third Team All-Big Ten honors after slashing .333/.408/.524 with seven home runs and tying for the team high in RBIs with 42. At 6’1 and 200 pounds, Coffey backs up his athletic build. A three-sport star out of Batavia (Ill.) H.S., he was an honorable mention all-state quarterback in football and all-conference performer in basketball. Coffey missed the Ohio State series, but here’s what 10 Innings’ Chris Webb said after seeing the Gophers open the season at Irvine.
Jr. 2B Luke Pettersen
While Pettersen may not have the tools of Boxwell or the athleticism of Coffey, he’s a spark plug for this Golden Gopher offense and a major factor in their success. Following a sophomore campaign in which he struck out just six times in 105 plate appearances, Pettersen continues to consistently put the bat on the ball. This season, Petersen has struck out eight times in 99 plate appearances, while also leading the conference with a .389 batting average and playing a reliable second base.