2016 Season Preview: Infielders
Feb. 9, 2016

Heading into the 2016 season, the Gophers will be young at three of the four infield positions. After losing all-conference shortstop Michael Handel and third baseman Tony Skjefte to graduation, only second baseman Connor Schaefbauer returns as the lone upperclassman in the group of infielders.

Schaefbauer, a senior, made 50 starts at second for Minnesota last season and led the team with 204 at-bats. He hit .260 with 53 hits, including a team-best 11 doubles and two triples. Schaefauer touted 17 multi-hit games and held an eight-game hitting streak from March 27-April 8. He was also a rock defensively, boasting a .979 fielding percentage in part to 127 assists and 102 putouts.

Throughout his career with the Gophers, Schaefbauer has appeared in 146 contests, starting 135 of them. The Sioux Falls, S.D. native has provided a spark on the basepaths, as well, holding 27 career stolen bases.

First base sees three players who earned starts in 2016. Leading the charge is sophomore Toby Hanson. The second-year standout made 29 starts in the field (the most by any freshman last year) and three at designated hitter in 2015. Hanson hit .241 with eight doubles, eight RBI and one home run last season. The Delano, Minn. native also showed discipline at the plate by drawing 17 walks.

Austin Athmann and Tyler Hanson each saw action at first, but figure to hold roles behind the plate and on the mound, respectively, in 2016. Athmann hit .286 with five doubles and nine RBI, while Ty. Hanson made 27 plate appearances and batted .185.

Sophomores Micah Coffey and Luke Pettersen both come back to the Maroon and Gold with experience from last season. Coffey, who appeared in 32 games and started 11 in 2015, hit .243 with 10 RBI and nine runs. The Batavia, Ill. native recorded four multi-hit games and a pair of multi-RBI games, including a three-RBI outburst against Northwestern. Coffey brings his offseason success to the Gophers after winning the Northwoods League with Kenosha Kingfish this summer.

Pettersen debuted at Maryland last year and totaled 17 appearances at shortstop. He owned a .280 batting average to go along with five runs and two RBI. The Minnetonka, Minn. native drilled a triple and held a .360 slugging percentage through 25 at-bats in his first collegiate season.

Head coach John Anderson and the staff brought in four more infielders as part of last year's recruiting class. Included in that class were Eddie Estrada, Jordan Kozicky, Riley Smith and Terrin Vavra who will all look to make an impact early on in their respective careers.

Estrada, who was dubbed the No. 1 player from the state of Minnesota, was an all-state and all-conference selection as a prep. Once his high school season wrapped up, Estrada joined the Willmar Stingers and took the Northwoods League by storm. The Litchfield, Minn. native was named to the NWL Postseason All-Star Team and participated in the Major League Dreams Showcase after leading the league in batting average (.433) and ranked third in on-base percentage (.485) over the season's final 30 days.

Kozicky, a freshman from the backyard in Minneapolis, was a two-time MVP for Minneapolis Southwest and held batting averages of .515 and .464 during two seasons in high school baseball. He was also tabbed the high school's male athlete of the year in 2015. During his senior season, Kozicky raked in 10 doubles, a triple, three home runs and 23 RBI. He was a three-time all-conference choice for the Lakers.

Following his family ties, Smith is the third from his family to don the Maroon and Gold. His older sister, Kylie, and his brother-in-law, Aaron Fortunato, were gymnasts for the Gophers. Smith was an All-West Region selection from Bishop Kelly High School in Oklahoma. He touted a .333 hitting clip and held a .444 on-base percentage during senior season which saw the Comets win the regional championship. Smith was also an all-state honoree after batting .460 with 17 steals as a sophomore in 2013.

Vavra comes to Minneapolis by way of Menomonie, Wis. This past summer, he joined the Duluth Huskies mid-season and collected 14 hits, eight runs and five RBI. As a prep, Vavra received a glut of honors as he was named the Big Rivers Conference Player of the Year, Northwest District Player of the Year and was an all-state selection. He became the first freshman in school history to start every game in 2012. Vavra is the son of current Minnesota Twins bench coach Joe Vavra.
 

 

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