Senior’s improvements, versatility aid Gophers

Kurt Schlangen catches, plays right field and hits at the top of the order.

Minnesota center Kurt Schlangen swings at the ball on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, against Western Michigan at the Metrodome.

Amanda Snyder, Daily File Photo

Minnesota center Kurt Schlangen swings at the ball on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, against Western Michigan at the Metrodome.

Samuel Gordon

Go to a Gophers baseball game, and you might see senior Kurt Schlangen behind the plate.

On another day, he might be patrolling right field.

“We’ve always been believers in teaching people to play more than one position,” head coach John Anderson said. “Especially if you’re an athlete. Kurt is an athlete.”

Schlangen, a former high school football star at Albany High School in central Minnesota, is one of the most versatile players on the team.

He’s primarily a catcher, but he’s played five different positions in his career at Minnesota.

His adaptability and willingness to play multiple positions throughout his career has been a luxury for Anderson and his staff.

“Outfield’s not too difficult for me. Once you learn it, it doesn’t go away,” Schlangen said. “I’m more comfortable catching, though. That’s what I came here to do.”

Schlangen shares catching duties with junior Matt Halloran.

Halloran said having two catchers on the team helps keep both of them fresh, as catcher is the most physically taxing position in baseball.

It also helps keep Schlangen and his career-high .292 batting average in the lineup.

“[Kurt’s skill set] gives him more opportunities to get in the game,” Halloran said. “He’s an athletic kid, and he’s one of the few that can do it.”

Schlangen has had his struggles at the plate. He batted .213 as a sophomore and .235 as a junior.

But a more consistent plate approach and discipline have helped him become a better hitter this season, Anderson said.

“He’s finally settled down during his at-bats,” Anderson said. “He’s a much better offensive threat, and he’s given us a pretty good at-bat most of the time.”

Those improvements have Schlangen batting at the top of the order, which he likes.

“You get more at-bats, and you can get into a better groove as the season progresses,” he said.

Schlangen’s speed is another asset. He’s tied for third on the team in stolen-base attempts, and he runs a lot more than the average catcher.

“I’m fearless,” he said.

Cold, rain and snow jumble practice schedule

The Gophers, after practicing outside all of last week, were back indoors at the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex on Wednesday.

“Once you’ve been outside, it’s hard to come indoors mentally,” Anderson said. “We try to keep them focused and create as much competition and game environment as we can.”

Space limitations in the facility limit the Gophers’ ability to conduct a full practice, but Anderson said there would be live pitching Wednesday.

The team bus to Northwestern will leave Thursday afternoon.