Pettersen not slowed by his size

Pettersen not slowed by his size

Ashley Goetz

In his 28th year as head coach of the Minnesota baseball team, John Anderson is still a student. HeâÄôs a student of the game; heâÄôs a student of statistics; heâÄôs a student of history. So when AJ Pettersen, a Minnetonka (Minn.) High School standout, popped up on his recruiting radar a few years ago, he was naturally skeptical. âÄúIf you look at my teams historically, I havenâÄôt been a fan of the small guy,âÄù Anderson said. And Pettersen is small âÄî 5-foot-9 small. For Anderson, thatâÄôs a red flag. âÄúIf you study the game and look at players that go on to be successful at the highest levels, there arenâÄôt a lot of AJ Pettersens running around,âÄù Anderson said. But assistant coach Rob Fornasiere , who does most of MinnesotaâÄôs recruiting, made sure Anderson gave Pettersen a second look. âÄú[Fornasiere] liked AJ and as time went on and I saw him play more I warmed up to him,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúI donâÄôt think heâÄôs a guy you can go out and watch play in one game and like him because heâÄôs not big and heâÄôs not physical, although I think he has pretty good tools for a little guy âÄî his throwing arm is above average, he runs well and heâÄôs got great defensive habits. But the question was always, âÄòWould he have enough physically to hit at a level you needed him to, to be an everyday player?âÄô âÄù PettersenâÄôs ability on defense was never in doubt, and itâÄôs obvious why. The redshirt freshman shortstop and junior second baseman Derek McCallum have created a seemingly impenetrable middle infield this year. âÄúItâÄôs very easy to play next to as good a player as AJ,âÄù McCallum said. âÄúHe can make me look good and I like to think I can make him look good sometimes too.âÄù As for the question of whether he could hit in college âÄî Pettersen has answered with a resounding âÄúyes.âÄù Since arriving on campus in the fall of 2007, Pettersen has focused on his swing. After all, little changes defensively between high school and college. The change in the caliber of pitching, on the other hand, is remarkable. âÄúIt gets a lot more difficult to hit,âÄù Pettersen said. âÄúJust getting a swing thatâÄôs geared and ready to hit against Division I pitchers was important, then utilizing that swing all [last] summer and getting comfortable with it was a huge step for me.âÄù During the summer of 2008, Pettersen played for the Brainerd Blue Thunder in the Northwoods League. The 66 games he played in the league created specifically for current NCAA players gave him valuable experience against college-level pitching. Now pitchers are getting a taste of Pettersen. HeâÄôs hitting .389 this season and leads the team with three triples . But those numbers pale in comparison to what heâÄôs done in the early stages of the Big Ten season. Pettersen is leading the Gophers in conference play with a .526 batting average and nine runs in just five games . People are starting to notice. He was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday for his exploits against Northern Iowa and Ohio State . Minnesota opens up a two-game midweek series at Missouri today with first pitch at 6:30 p.m., and chances are, if the Tigers donâÄôt know about Pettersen yet, theyâÄôll soon learn.