The best recruiting classes from 2010-2014

There’s still a few Big Ten programs yet to start their fall practice season. But for most, new faces are mixing with returning places as rosters start to take shape with the 2019 season in mind.

As the talent across the Big Ten continues to get better and deep year over year, many freshmen will arrive to campus and put on their school’s colors with prodigious accolades from their prep days, with a few having the honor of being selected in the MLB Draft. The past of a freshman makes it easier to fill out bios and for outside publications to compile all of the freshmen who compose a recruiting class, list them next to each other, and proclaim who has the best recruiting class. But when the time comes to step into the batter’s box or toe the rubber, what was done in high school means little.

Instead, we think it’s best to allow a recruiting to have their four-year window on campus come to pass, in order to compare and determine who had the best. Here, before fall practice has commenced throughout the conference, and a sense of who may be a standout can fully form, 10 Innings looks at the top recruiting class over the last five years in the Big Ten.

To note, more emphasis was placed on individual success, believing that while one recruiting class can drastically change the fortunes of a program, the success of a team in any given year is made up of four recruiting classes. Also, recruiting classes were based on who was a freshman on campus in the fall of their high school graduating year. This would, for example, exclude considering Scott Donley as a part of Indiana’s class of 2011, as he was a transfer from Virginia Tech. Finally, the first classes for Maryland and Rutgers to have spent all four years in the Big Ten would have been 2014, four-year graduates of this past spring.

So with history on our side which program had the top recruiting class over the last five years?

2010- Indiana

Key players: Dustin DeMuth, Joey DeNato, Ryan Halstead, Aaron Slegers

Four-year team accomplishments: 2013, 2014 Big Ten champions. 2013, 2014 Big Ten Tournament champions. 2013 Bloomington Regional champions. 2013 College World Series. 2014 NCAA Tournament National Seed. 153-82 overall, 65-31 in Big Ten.

Individual honors: 2011 Big Ten Freshman of the Year: DeNato. 2011 Big Ten All-Freshman Team: DeMuth, DeNato, Halstead. 2013 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year: Slegers. 2014 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year: DeNato.

Combined All-Big Ten first-team selections: 7

Highest draft pick: Slegers, fifth round, 140th overall, 2013.

Why them? This class was the foundation of teams that helped Indiana lead the change in conversation regarding Big Ten baseball. The following year’s recruiting class drew the headlines, covered magazines and have two MLBers, but this is the class that was necessary to take Indiana into college baseball’s upper echelon. A four-time All-Big Ten first-team selection, DeNato is the best pitcher in Indiana history, holding the school record for innings, strikeouts and wins. Slegers’ 2013 campaign was quietly dominant. DeMuth litters the Indiana record book, and Halstead was a rock of a reliever at the back of the IU bullpen for their two regional clubs. Arriving to campus two years after Indiana broke through and won the 2009 Big Ten Tournament, this group pushed IU over the top.

 

2011- Indiana

Key players: Kyle Hart, Luke Harrison, Kyle Schwarber, Sam Travis

Four-year team accomplishments: 2013, 2014 Big Ten champions. 2013, 2014 Big Ten Tournament champions. 2013 Bloomington Regional champions. 2013 College World Series. 2014 NCAA Tournament National Seed. 2015 NCAA Tournament. 158-81 overall, 66-28 in Big Ten.

Individual honors: 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Travis. 2012 Big Ten All-Freshman Team: Chad Clark, Hart, Schwarber, Chris Sujka, Travis. 2013 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player: Travis. 2013 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team: Schwarber, Travis. 2014 Big Ten Player of the Year: Travis. 2014 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player: Schwarber.

Combined All-Big Ten first-team selections: 5

Highest draft pick: Schwarber, first round, fourth overall, 2014.

Why them? The Bash Brothers. What hasn’t been said of the impact that Schwarber and Travis had on Indiana, Big Ten and college baseball? A rival coach called Schwarber a generational talent, one you see every 20-25 years, Travis a once-a-decade player. Where DeNato is the best pitcher in Indiana history, quite the argument can be made that Hart is the second-best. Appearing in 87 games, Harrison pitched 167 innings to the tune of a 2.86 ERA and 15-4 record. While Schwarber and Travis were ascending the ranks in the minors in 2015, Harrison and Hart were  key factors in Indiana’s transition between head coaches Tracy Smith and Chris Lemonis, making sure Indiana’s two-year run wasn’t a blip on the radar, but the start of a new day for IU baseball.

 

2012- Illinois

Key players: Kevin Duchene, Jason Goldstein, Tyler Jay, Adam Walton

Four-year team accomplishments: 2013 NCAA Tournament. 2015 Big Ten champions. 2015 National Seed. 2015 Champaign Regional champions. 145-74-1 overall, 64-30 in Big Ten.

Individual honors: 2013 Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Duchene. 2013 Big Ten All-Freshman Team: Duchene, Goldstein. 2015 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year: Jay. 2014 USA Baseball Collegiate National Team: Jay.

Combined All-Big Ten first-team selections: 4

Highest draft pick: Jay, first round, sixth overall, 2015.

Why them? If Indiana forced a different discussion around Big Ten baseball, this recruiting class of Illini helped cement the change in perception. After helping Illinois to the Nashville Regional in 2013, being left on the outside of the 2014 NCAA Tournament helped fuel the most dominant showing by a team in Big Ten play the following year. As upperclassmen, the class helped Dan Hartleb’s team to a school-record 27-game winning streak, and a 21-1 Big Ten record in 2015. The regular season ended with the Illini were earning the No. 6 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. From their first spring, Duchene was a key starter, Jay a lights-out receiver and Goldstein a rock behind the plate. Walton gave this recruiting class its fourth All-Big Ten first-team selection in 2015, with strong two-way play at short.

 

2013- Ohio State

Key players: Ronnie Dawson, Travis Lakins, Troy Montgomery, Tanner Tully

Four-year team accomplishments: 2016 Big Ten Tournament champions. 2016 NCAA Tournament. 127-102 overall. 46-50 in Big Ten.

Individual honors: 2014 Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Tully. 2014 Big Ten All-Freshman Team: Dawson, Tully. 2016 Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player: Dawson.

Combined All-Big Ten first-team selections: 2

Highest draft pick: Dawson, second round, 62nd overall, 2016.

Why them? The toughest class to pick, the individual star power between Dawson, Montgomery, Lakins and Tully helped pushed this class over Nebraska’s 2013 recruiting class. The Husker did appear in three NCAA Tournaments, 2014, 2016-17, and won the Big Ten, topping Ohio State’s one regional and tournament title. But of Nebraska’s 11 freshmen in the fall of 2013, there were only a combined four All-Big Ten selections, no first-team picks, only five of the 11 made significant contributions over their career. Dawson and Tully were both All-Big Ten second-team picks as freshmen in 2014, before earning first-team nods in 2016, while Montgomery was a second-team selection in 2015. Lakins was a sixth-round draft pick by the Boston Red Sox as a draft-eligible sophomore in 2015.

 

2014- Minnesota

Key players: Micah Coffey, Lucas Gilbreath, Toby Hanson, Luke Pettersen

Four-year team accomplishments: 2016 Big Ten champions. 2016 NCAA Tournament. 2018 Big Ten champions. 2018 Big Ten Tournament champions. 2018 NCAA Tournament National Seed. 2018 Minneapolis Regional Champions. 137-88 overall, 58-34 in Big Ten.

Combined All-Big Ten first-team selections: 1

Highest draft pick: Gilbreath, seventh round, 216th overall.

Why them? The class didn’t have a star like Schwarber, Travis, or Dawson, but collectively they were steady contributors, year after year. Gilbreath is responsible for the lone All-Big Ten first-team selection in the recruiting class, tabbed as one of the three best Big Ten pitchers in 2017. But Coffey was a three-time All-Big Ten pick, a second-team selection in each of his final three seasons, with Hanson earning third-team praise in 2016, before Pettersen did in 2018. The last three years of their time in Minnesota stands against any three-year period for any Big Ten program over the last 25 years, capping their career with winning the Minneapolis Regional, advancing the program to its first super regional appearance.

Fall Update: Minnesota

Getting started

Head coach: John Anderson, 37th season at Minnesota

2017 record: 36-20 overall, 15-8 in Big Ten, third

Key losses: RHP Toby Anderson, LHP Lucas Gilbreath, RHP Brian Glowicki, OF Jordan Smith

Key returners: Sr. OF Alex Boxwell, Sr. 3B Micah Coffey, Sr. OF/INF Toby Hanson, Soph. INF/OF Jordan Kozicky, Jr. C Cole McDevitt, Jr. OF Ben Mezzenga, Jr. RHP Reggie Meyer, Sr. INF Luke Pettersen, Soph. RHP Brett Schulze, Jr. INF Terrin Vavra

New name to know: Fr. RHP/INF Max Meyer

Minnesota rundown

In defense of their 2016 Big Ten championship, Minnesota stormed out of the gate in conference play, sweeping its opening two series, at Ohio State and Michigan State. But the Gophers dropped their next three series, falling to Indiana, Nebraska and Illinois. Minnesota rebounded with 5-0 run against Penn State and Rutgers, to be in control of its destiny entering the final weekend, but a 1-2 showing against Purdue saw Minnesota finish one and one-half game behind the champion Cornhuskers. The series defeat to the Boilermakers was the fifth home series Minnesota lost at home, finishing the season 17-14 between US Bank Stadium and Siebert Field. With the weighted-RPI formula, ironically created to help northern programs who often travel and do not play more than 30 home games, Minnesota finished with an RPI of 72, and did not garner a second consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament.

For many programs, it was a good season, 36 wins, 13 against the RPI top 100, and a third-place finish. But for the Gophers it wasn’t good enough. Those in Minneapolis are determined to return the program to the glory days of the 1990s and early 2000s, where John Anderson had Minnesota routinely atop the Big Ten.

Once again Minnesota will have a chance to bring home the trophy.

Minnesota returns eight players who recorded at least 100 plate appearances in 2017, bringing back every starter around the horn, and losing only Jordan Smith in the outfield. As a team, the Gophers batted .297 on the season, and returns the top four hitters: Pettersen (.354 AVG, .411 OBP, .395 SLG, eight XBH), Coffey (.340, .396, .493, 21), Kozicky (.325, .421, .476, 16), Hanson (.319, .350, .477, 23). Offensively there are few questions for Minnesota this offseason.

In absence of finding who can fill voids, the coaching staff has moved players around seeing who can take on greater roles, creating versatility where lineup maximization can occur. During the team’s scout day, Hanson saw time at first and left field, Coffey played both corner spots in the infield, Pettersen can play either middle infield spot, so too can Vavra, while Kozicky showed his versatility last year, stepping into third base when Coffey went down with a sprained ankle, but also playing in the outfield, at short stop. Minnesota even has depth behind the plate with sophomore Eli Wilson has had a strong fall, giving the coaching staff confidence he can fill in in a pinch for junior Cole McDevitt, the first-team All-Big Ten selection at catcher last year.

Where known commodities litter the field, on the mound Minnesota has a pair of significant holes to fill. Friday starter Lucas Gilbreath and closer Brian Glowicki were respective seventh and tenth round draft picks after outstanding seasons. Gilbreath finished his junior season with 92 strikeouts in 81.1 innings, pitching to a 2.66 ERA. As a senior, Glowicki reset Minnesota’s singles-season saves record with 16, a Stopper of the Year finalist with 39 strikeouts against seven walks in 32.2 innings.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Brett Schulze (4-3, 5.50 ERA, 70.1 IP) is set to return to the weekend rotation, after holding the Saturday role in his debut season, with the coaching staff excited to see him take the next step in his development, Schulze has worked 89-93 this fall, keeping his fastball velocity inline with his spring showings. It will be a boon for Minnesota have junior right-handed pitcher Reggie Meyer pick up where his 2017 season left off. In an elimination game against Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament, Meyer pitched eight innings, surrendering three runs off four hits with seven strikeouts against the eventual tournament champions. For the season, Meyer went 5-1 with a 3.18 ERA, making seven starts in 19 appearances.

Relievers Jeff Fasching, Nick Lackney, Fred Manke and Jackson Rose return, with Lackney a potential starting option to give Minnesota a left-hander in the rotation. A potential key contributor, sophomore Nolan Burchill will be lost for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, following an injury last May against Georgia Southern. But the aforementioned four relievers will be joined by multiple freshman pitchers, a group Anderson believes is his most talented class in a long time, to fill out the pitching staff.

Headlining the freshman haul are right-handers Joshua Culliver and Max Meyer. Culliver arrives in Minnesota from Omaha, a good athlete with a fast arm and loose delivery, albeit a bit raw, where he mechanically can get out of sync. Over his career the staff expects Culliver to blossom and be a star. Meyer has the present stuff to compete now and is expected to contribute in the back of the bullpen. Meyer shows an above-average slider with spin rates in line of the best in MLB, that is a true out-pitch. Complimenting his slider with a commandable fastball and hockey player mentality, Meyer, a two-way player, is likened to Fiedler, a player who has all conference-potential and can step up in tense moments. Left-handed freshman Danny Kapala and Ryan Duffy have also shown flashes this fall.

Minnesota missed opportunities to reach an NCAA Tournament by dropping home series to Long Beach State, Missouri State and Nebraska, all regional teams. This season, Minnesota has a series against TCU, a program with four consecutive College World Series appearances, and host a Big Ten/Pac 12 Challenge, where Arizona, UCLA and Washington come to town. Those, along with playing in a conference where another handful of teams can be expected to be in regional contention, will give Minnesota an opportunity to play itself into the NCAA Tournament. After falling shy last year, the team with 15 upperclassmen, have made it a mission this fall to advance the program to its first Super Regional and continue the process of restoring Minnesota baseball to past prominence.

One lingering question

Who steps in as the closer?

As mentioned, the two biggest voids Minnesota needs to fill are Friday starter and closer, with the latter the tougher to pencil in. Reggie Meyer did finish with a pair of saves last year, but with his feel for secondaries, command and just average fastball velocity (88-91) he is better suited to start. Manke, a senior right-hander, also recorded two saves, doing so over 15 innings in 12 outings, but issuing 12 walks, 7.2/9 innings, to counter his stellar .180 batting average against with just a double as his lone extra-base hit conceded. Max Meyer has shown flashes of possessing the stuff to close, but it is a tall task to do so as a freshman, more so if Meyer is to see time in the field as a two-way player. With Glowicki, Minnesota had a weapon at the back of the bullpen, a bulldog who could give six outs if needed, pounding the strikezone with little fear. Glowicki was everything a staff could dream of as a closer, but in being such leaves the biggest hole for the Gophers to fill.

 

The Ten: Big Ten Tourney G7

The Wildcats’ run continues. Northwestern entered the tournament as the seventh seed, but the Wildcats were the conference’s hottest team. Taking on Minnesota in the winner’s-half of bracket one, Spencer Allen’s team picked up a 11-7 win, to advance to the semifinals. Here’s the 10 on highlights, notes and thoughts from Friday’s first contest.

The weather breaks

After two days of gloomy, dreary, wet, chilly, just not-fun weather, Friday’s action opened under sunny skies and warm weather. The weather helps the Big Ten get the tournament back on schedule before semi-final play begins Saturday, and should help the attendance at Bart Kaufman Field with the host Hoosiers set for an evening contest against the loser of the Gophers-Wildcats.

A very offensive week continues

With the temperature settling into the high-70s, low-80s, and a breeze out to left field, the conditions were there for a very offensive game, not that the week has been short on offense. The two teams combined for 21 hits and four home runs, as only one full inning was played scoreless, continuing the theme of the week.

Coffey, Hanson deliver big blows

Three of the home runs were hit by Minnesota, starting in the first inning with a two-run blast to right field by Micah Coffey. After Northwestern responded and grabbed a 5-2 lead after three innings, batting behind Coffey, Toby Hanson also homered to right, bringing the Gophers within two runs. In the heart of the order, Coffey and Hanson combined to go 5-for-9 with four runs and three RBI, doing their part to keep Minnesota in the see-saw contest.

Christie settles in nicely

After Coffey’s two-run home run in the first, Northwestern freshman right-handed pitcher Hank Christie settled in. Christie retired the next nine batters, until he surrendered the home run to Hanson. But the second home run didn’t rattle the rookie too much, retiring five of the next six batters, relinquishing only a two-out single in the fifth. Rebounding from the shaky start to pitch 5.1 innings, Christie helped saved the Northwestern bullpen for the weekend, helping the Widlcats head into play as one of the final four with a fairly rested pitching staff.

Schulze unable to find the third-out

While the NU freshman right-hander was able and turn in a serviceable start after a rough first inning, the same couldn’t be said about Minnesota’s freshman righty, Brett Schulze. Schulze retired the first two Wildcats, but a single and back-to-back walks loaded the bases before Connor Lind cleared them with a double to left center. Their two-run lead turning into a one-run deficit, the first inning was unfortunately a sign of things to come for Minnesota. Schulze did get out of the first, a fly out to right one pitch after Lind’s double ended the inning, but a leadoff walk to start NU’s second-inning at-bat brought the end to Schulze’s day.

Hoscheit’s out-of-this-world bat

Producing the best in-conference batting average in 18 years with a .468 average, Northwestern senior outfielder Joe Hoscheit continues to beat up Big Ten pitching. Scoring four runs, Hoscheit went 2-for-4, including a home run to left center field, providing the final run, and exclamation point on Northwestern’s victory. Hoscheit is swinging the Big Ten’s most lethal bat, at the forefront of the Wildcats’ surprising run in Bloomington.

The Wildcats were more clutch

Though the two teams were close in hits, Northwestern’s 11 hits edging Minnesota’s 10, when the hits came was the deciding factor. With two outs, Northwestern batted .500, picking up six hits in 12 at-bats while Minnesota managed only two hits in nine at-bats. With runners in scoring position, NU went 6-for-11 compared to another 2-for-9 showing by the Gophers. Minnesota did successfully record a hit in their lone at-bat with a runner on third and less than two outs, but NU’s .538 average with runners on base led to five hits in six at-bats where a runner was 90 feet from scoring with either one or not outs. In their second game against a top-three seeded team, the Wildcats were extremely clutch.

Anderson ejected

In the bottom of the seventh, Minnesota head coach John Anderson was ejected from the contest, making two consecutive games a head coach was ejected from a Big Ten Tournament game. In the final game of Thursday action, Maryland head coach John Szefc was ejected for arguing a non-hit by pitch call. The Terrapins would rather late, winning 5-2 under the direction of associate head coach Rob Vaughan. The Gophers were not able to duplicate the feat of the Terrapins, unable to rally under the direction of their associate head coach, Rob Fornasiere.

Minnesota’s quick turnaround

Due to weather and the length of games on Wednesday and Thursday, the tournament was two games behind schedule entering Friday. Fortunately, Friday only had two scheduled games, along with no rain in the forecast to make up the games. The result, with the Big Ten needing to get in as many games as possible before Saturday and narrow the tournament field down to four, Minnesota has a quick turnaround. The Gophers will play a second game on Friday, against Indiana, looking to keep their season alive.

Two down, two more for NU

With their seventh consecutive win, the team’s longest winning streak since 2003, Northwestern moves into the Big Ten Tournament semifinals. With two wins, taking down the tournament’s number two and three seeds, the Wildcats stand two wins away from their first Big Ten Tournament championship, which would put them in their first NCAA Tournament.

Minnesota’s Coffey and Schulze Earn Weekly Big Ten Awards

Park Ridge, Ill. – The University of Minnesota collected two Big Ten awards this week as Micah Coffey was named Player of the Week and Brett Schulze was named Freshman of the Week.

This is the first Player of the Week award for Coffey after he finished the week with a .550 batting average (11-20), nine runs, 2 doubles, one triple, one home run and 10 RBIs. The junior third baseman hit for the cycle May 6 versus Penn State, capping it off with a three-run home run in the eighth inning. Coffey is the first Gopher to hit for the cycle since Rob Larue completed the feat versus Hamline in 2002. He finished the Penn State series 9-14 and seven RBIs. The last Gopher to win player of the Week was Austin Athmann (April 25, 2016).

Schulze picks up his first career weekly award after setting a career high with eight strikeouts and seven innings pitched. The freshman was in total command, only allowing one earned run on four hits and not issuing a walk. Schulze is now 4-2 on the season and has 42 strikeouts, the second most on the team.

The Prospect Junkie: Scouting Minnesota

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.

Coffey stands tall and has a quiet approach at the plate. Quick hands through the zone allows Coffey to get to inside pitches, and he does not lose balance on balls on the outer-half. An ability to manipulate the barrel, with at least 50 raw power, Coffey is a prospect to watch this spring, possessing the tools to potentially to crack into the top six rounds. At the hot corner, Coffey’s arm is enough, there is carry, and he showed good agility and quickness charging a soft roller on Saturday. Coffey looks to be a 55 runner, with enough lateral ability to stick at third.

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.

10 Innings Extra: Gophers’ approach leads title defense

John Anderson is halfway through his 36th season leading Minnesota’s baseball team. Amassing more than 1,200 wins, Anderson has seen his share of baseball and knows what it takes to win, evident by his 10 Big Ten championships. Though the Gophers lost the Big Ten Player of the Year, their three-year catcher, four-year second baseman and center fielder, Anderson believed the reigning Big Ten champions had more than enough punch to compete for another conference crown.

With two weekend road sweeps in the first two weekends of Big Ten play, Anderson’s preseason belief is turning into a reality.

Minnesota led the Big Ten with a .323 overall batting average in 2016, while leading the conference with a .304 in-conference hitting clip. Behind 50 home runs, yielding a conference best .877 home runs per game, the Gophers slugged their way to the conference championship, the Big Ten leaders in slugging percentage at .467 overall and .440 in Big Ten games.

But the aforementioned losses, respectively Matt Fiedler, Austin Athmann, Connor Schaefbauer and Dan Motl, combined for 303 hits, 54 doubles, five doubles and 27 home runs, collective batting .342 over 885 at-bats, with a .506 slugging percentage. One wouldn’t have been foolish to predict a step backwards for Minnesota with the offensive firepower lost, Big Ten coaches picked five teams to finish higher than the Gophers who finished in a tie for sixth.

So what’s allowed Minnesota to weather such losses to be 6-0 in conference play, batting .314 in the process?

A steady approach, yielding consistency one through nine in the lineup.

In watching Minnesota, the Gophers show an uncanny ability to stay within themselves at the plate, the moment never seems too big, players aren’t overly anxious to produce a big hit. Minnesota will spit on balls outside of the zone, flip away foul balls that aren’t quite good enough, before squaring up on a pitch that can be put in play through a hole or with authority into a gap.

Starting with a 27-hit effort in two games in opening the season against UC-Irvine, Minnesota has had little difficulty replacing the big bats that carried the team to its first conference championship, watching new starters and players emerge.

“I said all along I thought we’d have a good lineup,” said Anderson, whose team picked up a 10th consecutive victory on Tuesday with a 7-1 win over North Dakota State. “The reason we’ve scored some runs, you do that with a lineup, contributions up and down the lineup.”

That has been the case for Minnesota.

There isn’t a the same pop in the lineup as last year, even a year where power is up across the board in the Big Ten, Minnesota only has 13 home runs led by left fielder Jordan Smith’s four. But led by second baseman Luke Pettersen’s Big Ten-leading .376 average, there is constant pressure put on pitchers with nine regulars are batting at least .270. The loss of power is made up with a completeness in putting the ball in play, as a team, Minnesota has only struck out 150 teams, the fewest in the Big Ten, producing a 16.6% strikeout rate. Without an easy out in the lineup, as a team Minnesota is batting .281 overall.

The Gophers did go into a lull, as Anderson calls it, at the beginning of March, scoring only 12 runs over four games between a midweek game against Hawaii and hosting the Dairy Queen Classic. The following week, Missouri State held Minnesota to 10 runs in a three-game set at U.S. Bank Stadium. But as conference play started with a showdown between two 2016 NCAA Tournament clubs, Minnesota returned to form, sweeping Ohio State behind 26 runs and 41 hits.

Following the brooming of the Buckeyes, Anderson noticed his team putting it back together.

“We’ve done a better job of squaring more balls, not chasing and expanding the zone as much as we were and just having better at-bats,” he said.

Minnesota’s approach at the plate was noticed in the opposing dugout, as Ohio State was unable to find the big hit that Minnesota produced time and time again.

“Their approach is solid, they have guys with a feel for hitting,” Ohio State head coach Greg Beals said after Minnesota recorded their first sweep of Ohio State since 1990. “They have a solid two-strike approach where they will scrap and fight you.”

Freshman Jordan Kozicky started all three games against Ohio State, stepping in for Micah Coffey who suffered a sprained ankle two weeks prior. A year after Coffey batted .333 with 23 extra-base hits, Kozicky, who says he’s an aggressive, fastball hitter, easily stepped in and picked up five hits in 12 at-bats. Almost mechanically, one part of the Minnesota machine needed replaced and the replacement part was easily inserted and continued on. That’s finding consistency.

When Coffey returned in Minnesota’s series at Michigan State, the junior picked up a three-run double to send the Gophers to a 3-2 victory, starting the eventual weekend sweep with a big win.

“I think all we need is a little inch, to get a guy on base, get him over, then get him in, Coffey said. “Guys step up in big situations. Guys keep coming to play, but guys keep coming to compete, first and foremost.”

After Minnesota left East Lansing with their perfect conference record in tact, they left another opposing coach singing their praise.

“I think we can learn a lot from what we watched out of the Minnesota dugout,” Michigan State head coach Jake Boss Jr. said after the Spartans became the second consecutive Big Ten team to be swept in a Saturday doubleheader by the Gophers. “They didn’t strike out a whole lot, and I think they really competed at the plate.”

What is allowing the players to have a mentality of being relentless in competing?

“I know it’s cliche, but they know to take it one pitch, one play, one inning at a time,” Anderson said.

The simplicity was echoed by Kozicky after he picked up two RBI to lead Minnesota to a 4-3 in the twinbill nightcap of the Michigan State doubleheader.

“If we just keep what we’re doing I think we can win another conference championship.”

Just like their head coach felt before the season started.