Despite nearly intact lineup, DH spot looming uncertain

Matt Perkins

Minnesota’s baseball team is searching for someone who can flat-out hit.

Last year, the Gophers recruited a couple of left-handed bats with great potential – Kyle Baran and Bryan Jost – in an attempt to solidify their lineup as designated hitters.

This year, both Baran, a junior from Iowa Central Community College, and Jost, a two-time all-state outfielder from Oakdale, Minn., were declared academically ineligible.

Coach John Anderson must now look elsewhere for a designated hitter, a role typically easy to fill but hard for players to adapt to.

“We tried recruiting a couple of left-handed options to produce a more consistent offense,” Anderson said. “Now, with what’s happened, it has obviously created a bit of a void.”

Last year, the Gophers were able to depend on the bat of redshirt freshman Mike Mee.

Mee started 36 of 61 games at DH (with 23 more coming at first base) and batted .319 with six home runs and 53 RBIs, becoming the first freshman to knock in more than 50 runs since Terry Steinbach. At the end of the year, he was named second team All-Big Ten.

Now, Mee has moved to the outfield, taking the place of Sam Steidl, the only Gophers starter who graduated.

Mee said he is now waiting for someone he can help fill the role he left behind.

“It’s important to have someone that’s mentally tough,” Mee said. “Normally, you have to go out to the field after an at-bat and worry about that, but as a DH you have to sit down and think about it for a couple of innings.”

It’s this aspect of the position that makes finding the right DH so difficult.

“The thing is you can’t really think too much about ‘I need to get a hit or else I won’t be playing in the next game,’ ” sophomore outfielder John Arlt said. “If you do that, you’re getting yourself in a hole before you ever get a chance to step in the box.”

Arlt has gotten his chance early this season to fill the DH spot. He has started three games for the Gophers, going 2-for-10 with no RBIs or runs scored. Kevin Carlson has started twice at DH, going 1-for-4, and Mee has filled the hole once as well.

Anderson said he isn’t giving up on Arlt’s or Carlson’s potential, but he is merely using the first few weeks of the season as stepping stones in building a path for a concrete lineup.

At this point, he said, he’s willing to give anyone a chance.

“We recruited (Baron and Jost) with their potential for helping the team in mind,” Anderson said. “Now, we are forced to go to plan B: experimentation. There are some other combinations we are taking a look at, but I wish this wasn’t such a void to fill.”