Freshmen adding jolt to Gophers lineup

Three of the team’s first-year players have an average higher than .350.

Freshman infielder Terrin Vavra crosses third base at Siebert field, Tuesday, March 22.

Sam Harper, Daily File Photo

Freshman infielder Terrin Vavra crosses third base at Siebert field, Tuesday, March 22.

Kaitlin Merkel

The Gophers offense has outscored opponents 115-91 through 18 games this season, and it’s not just veteran players who are finding success at the plate.
 
 
Three Minnesota freshmen — Terrin Vavra, Eddie Estrada and Riley Smith — are all batting over .350 to start their college careers.
 
 
“This freshmen class is unbelievable, the way they’ve been able to come in and the level of maturity they’ve shown,” junior pitcher and outfielder Matt Fiedler said. “When they get their opportunities, they’re making the most of it on the field, and it just gives us unbelievable depth.”
 
 
Vavra has played the most out of the freshman class, starting 14 games mostly at shortstop. In 61 at-bats, he’s hitting .393 and has a .443 slugging percentage.
 
 
“He plays relaxed. He plays with great confidence. He’s very fundamentally sound in all phases of the game,” head coach John Anderson said. “He knows this is the right place for him, and I think it’s helped him get off to a strong start to his career.”
 
 
Vavra said his relaxed attitude at the plate comes from feeling prepared for whatever role he’s in, whether that’s a starting role or coming in as a bat off the bench.
 
 
“When I get to the plate, it’s just relaxing. It’s baseball. It’s something that I’ve played since I can ever remember,” Vavra said. “When you’re coming off of the bench … it’s tough to get thrown in there and try to get caught up to speed right away, but it’s something that all the good players have to learn how to do.”
 
 
Estrada, who was Minnesota Mr. Baseball last spring, is currently hitting .357 through 28 at-bats. He’s the only freshman to hit a home run this season, driving in three runs off the bench on March 6 in a victory over Georgia State.
 
 
Estrada was a high school shortstop but is playing in the outfield this season, and Anderson said the team is still trying to lock down his defensive position. 
 
 
He expects the freshman to keep hitting no matter where he stands in the field. 
 
 
“[Estrada] has tremendous natural hitting ability. … He’s a very physical, strong young man,” Anderson said. “He’s not fundamentally sound in all phases of his game yet … [but] I anticipate as the year goes along that he’s going to become a bigger factor.”
 
 
Smith, a Broken Arrow, Okla., native, is batting .409 through 22 at-bats for Minnesota. In his career debut on Feb. 21, Smith went 4-5 with two doubles, two runs and a RBI.
 
 
“Smith has been a pleasant surprise,” Anderson said. “He’s a little further advanced than some freshmen, and when you can execute the fundamentals of the game, you can get them out on the field.”
 
 
Smith has appeared in only 10 games with six starts but said he studies opposing pitchers even during games he doesn’t play. He said a lot of pitching staffs have similar arms, so he looks for tendencies then visualizes at-bats later in the day.
 
 
“Coming here, my entire goal was just to make the travel squad and go from there … so getting to start once a weekend is fantastic,” Smith said.