Cole McDevitt adjusts to new role at first base with Gophers

McDevitt was an All-Big Ten catcher in the 2017 season.

<p>Cole McDevitt practices swings before his at-bat during a game against South Dakota State at Siebert Field on Wednesday.</p>

Alex Tuthill-Preus

Cole McDevitt practices swings before his at-bat during a game against South Dakota State at Siebert Field on Wednesday.

Jack Warrick

Cole McDevitt was voted the top catcher in the Big Ten last year when he made the All-Big Ten First Team as a sophomore.  McDevitt was the only position player to make the team for Minnesota after a breakout season.

So far this season, however, he has rarely seen action behind the plate.

He switched almost entirely to a new job at first base, as sophomore Eli Wilson has taken the catching role.

“It’s been good. I played [catcher] a lot at the start of the season and we’ve just had some guys get hot, especially [Wilson] behind the plate.” McDevitt said. “He’s got hot hitting, so it just kind of worked out that we had an open spot.”

In the first game of the season, McDevitt started at catcher but later switched to first. Wilson moved to his spot. Wilson kept subbing in throughout the season, as injuries to outfielders Alex Boxwell and Toby Hanson, at different points in the season, gave head coach John Anderson another reason to play McDevitt at first.

“To me, it looks like we’ve got 10 guys for nine spots,” Anderson said. “Just going to have to pick our lineups based on our matchup with a pitcher, not necessarily right or left, just stuff, who’s swinging good.”

But against South Dakota State on Wednesday evening, McDevitt had the opportunity to catch again. With Boxwell healthy and Hanson back from his injury, all of the original starters who returned from last year were on the field, and McDevitt got his first start at catcher in almost a month.

McDevitt went 2-3 with three RBI in the 6-2 victory over South Dakota State and Wilson did not play.

“Good to be back behind the plate … obviously it’s where I’m most natural,” McDevitt said. “It’s fun to be able to have some influence on the game a little bit more than first base.”

Last year, McDevitt had 22 RBIs and a .296 while starting in 32 games. His performance allowed him to capture All-Big Ten honors.

Currently, he is hitting at a .281 average, to go with 28 RBIs heading into the game against South Dakota Wednesday — the second most runs batted in on the team. He is tied for most home runs with four this year. 

“I think he’s doing a better job this year of recognizing pitches in and out of the strike zone,” Anderson said. “I think he’s done a better job with balancing that, of being aggressive but not being overly aggressive.”

McDevitt is not the only one who has had to make position changes this year. Hanson played first base most often last year. With Hanson back after the injury, the Gophers have had to make difficult decisions.

“We’ve got so many guys on this team that can swing that whoever’s in the lineup just goes in there and they just execute their game,” Wilson said. 

The change to first base was welcomed, McDevitt said. He’d rather be catching and making the calls to the pitcher, but McDevitt said he is doing whatever he can to help the Gophers.

Despite having success at the first base position, McDevitt said he had never played first base until this year.

“I hardly had taken any ground balls ever there before the first game,” he said. “It’s just kind of a natural thing.”