The Gophers baseball media guide lists center fielder Mike Arlt as standing 5-foot-9, but the source might be generously adding a few inches to Arlt’s vertical stature. Many of his teammates need only one word to describe him — small.
But don’t confuse the word his teammates use to describe his height with Arlt’s contributions to the Minnesota baseball team.
The redshirt sophomore didn’t have many opportunities to help the team the last two seasons, as he was redshirted his first year to develop as a switch hitter and then played a utility role last season.
But the center fielder said using his redshirt year to learn how to hit from the left side of the plate allowed him to beat the size barrier and become a contender at the Division I level.
“Because I had an opportunity my freshman year to decide whether or not I wanted to redshirt, I chose to redshirt,” Arlt said. “Now that I am reflecting on it, it was the best choice I could have made. It gave me a chance to grow accustomed to college life and school.”
After making the adjustment from high school, the history major found himself making another adaptation in mid-season this year.
Up until the team’s early April series against Michigan, Arlt was Minnesota’s lead-off hitter. However, heading into that weekend, Arlt and first baseman Robb Quinlan found themselves in offensive slumps.
Head coach John Anderson pulled Quinlan from the middle of the lineup and made him the first hitter. Arlt now finds himself in the fifth or sixth spot in the order most nights. Each move was successful, as both guys heated up at the plate. Quinlan was named Big Ten Player of the Week on Tuesday for the second time this season.
Arlt did not blame his struggles at the plate on good pitching; rather, he said it might have been because of opposing teams’ scouting reports. By mid-season, coaches have asked around and found out how to get certain batters out.
“Early in the season I hadn’t played a lot, so they didn’t know a lot about me. I got a lot of fastballs out over the plate, and I like getting the ball over the plate,” Arlt said. “Now people are pitching me a little bit more inside.”
The man whose favorite apparel is cut-off shirts — “He’s got the pipes to do it,” said teammate and roommate Mark Devore — might have to spend even more time training if he wants to continue progressing at the plate.
“He needs to hit the weight room this summer so next year he can hit home runs,” catcher Jeremy Negen said.
By spending more time pumping iron, Arlt might win more bets like the one he made last season with Devore.
“Devo and I had a bet, a friendly bet to see who could hit the most home runs,” Arlt said. “He had more at bats, he did it, he beat me. I don’t think either of us will get one this year. I have been pretty close. I don’t know, if I get one it will be luck, but I will be sure to rub it in his face.”
Over the past summer, Arlt had a lot more at bats. The center fielder played summer ball for the Kenosha (Wis.) Kroakers in the Northwoods League. Arlt might not have taken to his location, but he learned a lot about the sport.
“Granted, Kenosha isn’t one of the greatest towns, but the biggest thing there was I got to play like everyday for two months, and I got a lot of at-bats in,” Arlt said.
Instead of returning to Wisconsin this summer, Arlt plans to remain in Minnesota. He and teammate Rick Brosseau plan to play ball in Brainerd, Minn.
Although Arlt said he needs to work on every skill involved in the game, his main focus is to stop chasing bad pitches.
“All it takes, I guess, is to make sure I am seeing the ball deeper and that way I won’t get fooled by as many pitches,” Arlt said. “I think that is the one thing I have been conscious about and I am still working on, but I still see a lot of improvement to be made.”
Arlt, who shares an apartment with teammates Devore, Bob DeWitt, Eric Gangl and Vince Gangl, doesn’t just need to make improvements within the game. He needs to improve within the confines of a kitchen.
Devore labeled himself and his roommate as bad cooks, saying that when they get hungry the pair heads for the dorms.
“We have a meal plan because we don’t cook,” Devore said. “So, we are not very handy in the kitchen.”
Arlt, who mainly frequents Sanford to eat “whatever looks safe,” can handle scissors much better than a spatula.
“He always cuts my hair and does a really good job,” Devore said. “This stylish look is a Mike Arlt original. He’s got a career lined up when baseball doesn’t work out.”
As for now, however, things are working out fine. Arlt is batting .317 and leads the team with five triples.
After this year, Arlt will have two years of eligibility. Even though there is speculation that major contributors like Quinlan and right fielder Craig Selander might leave school when draft time comes, Arlt has confidence in the team’s ability to maintain itself.
“We have a lot of young guys that are really good, there is some talent,” he said. “That’s the thing, somebody will always be able to come in and play.”
This year, it was Arlt’s turn.