Jeremy Chlan didn’t have the luxury of playing baseball year-round. He was lucky if the snow cleared in time for his Apple Valley High School team’s season to start in April.
Despite the climatic burdens, Chlan was recruited by the Gophers in hopes that one day he would become a solid infielder.
That day has already come. And, oh yeah, he can hit too.
Chlan has been thrust into the starting second baseman role for the Gophers, becoming the first true freshman to start in the infield since Luke Appert in 1999.
Appert led the team with a .346 average but didn’t play the field very often.
Last year, Sean Kommerstad started in right field as a true freshman but struggled with the bat, hitting just .200.
“The only middle infielder who has come in here and been able to play at a very high level from day one is Brent Gates,” coach John Anderson said. “And he is playing in the big leagues as a (first-round) draft choice.”
Not labeled as a top-round draft pick just yet, Chlan has had “surprising numbers,” Anderson said.
Chlan has started 10 games and is hitting .345, good for second on the team, with three RBIs and the second-highest on-base percentage of any starter at .448. In comparison, Gates ended his career in 1991 with a .444 OBP, which is eighth highest in Gophers history.
Defensively, Chlan has 30 assists, second-most on the team, and a fielding percentage of .958. His only two errors came in the weekend’s series against Rutgers, and left fielder Luke MacLean said he was surprised to see the slipups.
“I remember when I was a freshman, I was simply trying to not make errors,” MacLean said. “I was just trying to make the plays I should make and he is making some plays I couldn’t have made when I was a freshman.”
MacLean, the Gophers’ starting second baseman for 50 of 61 games last season, handed over the job to Chlan when he was moved out to left field March 5 against South Carolina.
Chlan has an experienced group around him, with senior David Hrncirik at third, junior Matt Fornasiere at shortstop and junior Andy Hunter at first.
“Their experience has helped me out a lot,” Chlan said. “I just listen to what they say, know my role and let them teach me.”
Chlan’s role has changed since the team recruited him last season.
Anderson said he originally planned on redshirting Chlan, who was recruited as a defensive specialist.
But now, he said he couldn’t be happier with the option Chlan has provided the team.
“It’s rare; if you study our history, not many athletes have been able to come in here and play as a true freshman,” Anderson said, “certainly not at the level he has been playing at. He has definitely been an exception.”
Playing as a true freshman is typically tough, because not only does the coach have to be comfortable with you playing ahead of upperclassmen, but responsibilities as a team leader are tough to fulfill.
However, Chlan appears to be in Anderson’s good graces so far.
“He has been able to take on a lot of responsibilities on the field,” Anderson said. “More importantly, I’m comfortable with him out there.”