Former walk-on Jordan Kozicky goes where the Gophers need him

After an early hitting slump, Kozicky leads Minnesota with 34 RBIs this season.

Jordan Kozicky eyes the ball during the game against Illinois on Sunday, April 14 at Siebert Field in Minneapolis. The Gophers lost 3-13.

Jasmin Kemp

Jordan Kozicky eyes the ball during the game against Illinois on Sunday, April 14 at Siebert Field in Minneapolis. The Gophers lost 3-13.

Jack Warrick

When Jordan Kozicky, the Gophers’ new starting shortstop, came to the team as a walk-on three seasons ago, head coach John Anderson didn’t know where he was going to play.

“We just thought he was athletic enough that eventually we could make a player out of him,” Anderson said about the junior from Minneapolis. “We knew he was going to have some versatility, and that’s exactly what he’s done for us.”

After redshirting and not playing in any games during his first year with Minnesota, Kozicky got his chance when former third baseman Micah Coffey suffered an injury. Later in the season, the team figured out Kozicky could bat; he then filled in at shortstop for Terrin Vavra, who was recovering from a back injury.

“Every time they’ve asked me to go somewhere, I’ve never hesitated or told them I didn’t feel comfortable,” Kozicky said. “I like the outfield, I like the infield. I just like being on the field in general.

“Basically, my career has been dependent on injuries,” he said.

He played last year entirely in the outfield after Vavra, a third-round MLB draft pick last year, recovered from his back injury. Kozicky is back at shortstop after Vavra’s departure and has brought more production at the plate. Kozicky leads batting among his teammates this season with the most RBIs on the team. He averaged an RBI per game through the first 34 contests. The player with the next most RBIs on the team is first baseman Cole McDevitt with 19.

Kozicky also leads the team in home runs with seven after he hit a solo shot to left field Tuesday night to finish scoring in a 5-1 win over South Dakota State. He said playing for the Saugerites Stallions of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League over the summer helped him bring his game to a new level this season.

“Going out there was, I think, huge for my game, just getting more reps, more at-bats,” Kozicky said. “I kind of went out there to mainly get comfortable with shortstop … and the at-bats were nice as well.”

However, the junior struggled to adapt back to shortstop at the start of this season, making five fielding errors in the first seven games. Anderson said he thought the defensive struggles could have affected his hitting, as he hit 3-for-24 with one RBI through seven games. Kozicky said his improvement in hitting has come after learning to mentally separate the offensive and defensive parts of the game.

“You could tell he battled some demons over there sometimes earlier in the season, no doubt,” said McDevitt, the only starting infielder from last season. “I think he’s reined it in.”

Kozicky was offered a walk-on spot at Minnesota out of high school, passing up on other offers to stay with his hometown team, with no assurance of being able to start and earn a scholarship someday.

“Even though I didn’t get a scholarship right away, I didn’t hesitate one bit to commit here,” said Kozicky. “This is a dream school to come to for baseball and academics, and because I’m from Minneapolis, it was just a super easy decision.”