Appert’s plate prowess returns following sophomore slump

Anthony Maggio

Luke Appert’s bat is back.

Granted, it didn’t necessarily desert him last season, as Minnesota’s second baseman hit .319, but Appert now has the top batting average on the team, just like his freshman season.

The junior infielder is hitting .409 in the Gophers first 24 games to lead the team. He is also tops in hits with 36 and is second on the team with seven doubles, four homeruns, 18 RBI, and a .505 on base percentage.

“As a freshman things kind of came easy for me,” Appert said. “I just saw the ball, hit the ball and my swing felt pretty good. I had pretty decent results.”

The results were team highs in batting average (.346), slugging percentage (.623), and on base percentage (.451).

But as a sophomore, Appert’s batting average and slugging percentage both dropped.

After little changed over the summer playing in the Cape Cod Baseball League, the Cottage Grove native sat down with his coaches to work out a solution.

“We kind of remade his swing starting last fall; we basically started over,” coach John Anderson said. “We’ve got him in a better place fundamentally and he’s started out well. He plays with a lot of confidence now.”

Looking back on last season, Appert said his biggest problem was his mental approach.

“Last year I got out a lot by trying to pull the ball way too much,” Appert said. “That wasn’t working, so this year I’m concentrating on not trying to pull so much. I try backing off the plate a little and trying to hit balls up the middle now and take what the pitchers give me.”

Although Appert is used to the second base position, Anderson believes putting Appert on defense full time last season also affected his hitting.

As a freshman, Appert appeared in 57 games as the designated hitter.

“Last year I know he didn’t have the offensive year he hoped,” Anderson said. “But I said going in that he was going to play a position on defense full time and that would distract a little bit from his offense. That was a factor, but I think he’s more comfortable at second base now.”

In high school, Appert played shortstop, but was known mostly for his plate presence. He said defense never came as natural to him as hitting did, so he has put in much effort to learn his collegiate position.

But its obvious Appert is not ecstatic about playing second base. When asked if he liked his position, Appert said mildly, “I’ve grown to like it I guess.”

Meanwhile, Appert’s teammates and coaches like what he’s doing at the dish. As the team got off to a slow start hitting, Appert opened the season at defending national champion Miami by going 8-13 with seven RBI, three homeruns and three doubles.

He’s cooled off only slightly since then, but has helped his team’s run production by getting on base at the three spot, ahead of cleanup hitter Jason Kennedy.

The senior right fielder leads the team in RBI with 31, but attributes his success to his teammates’ ability to get on base, especially Appert.

“Luke’s been getting on base a ton lately,” Kennedy said. “It’s definitely an advantage for me in terms of RBI and getting in RBI situations.”

With his born again swing, Appert said his confidence is where it should be at the plate. But with such a young team and his vocal presence, Appert has been almost forced into a leadership role, presenting him with a new challenge – handling pressure

“I’ve always been a player that’s put pressure on myself, but I don’t think I’m putting too much pressure on,” Appert said. “I’m just trying to stay relaxed and have some fun.”

Which is much easier with Appert’s offensive numbers.

Anthony Maggio covers baseball and welcomes comments at [email protected]