No one catching on yet behind the plate

Robert Mews

Position battles happen in almost every sport. They are especially common in college sports with revolving rosters because of graduations.

Despite its formality, a position battle still looms with Minnesota’s baseball team. And it’s not taking place with just any position.

The team has yet to figure out who will emerge as their No. 1 catcher, even with Big Ten play starting this weekend.

“I think it’s the hardest position to play on the team,” coach John Anderson said. “(Catchers) obviously have a lot of responsibilities behind the plate.”

Anderson described the position as the “quarterback” of the baseball team.

“You have a lot of responsibilities from pitch calling to developing relationships with the pitcher and keeping him together at different times of the game,” Anderson said.

One relationship that has developed over the course of the past couple of years has been that between junior catcher Kevin Carlson and senior pitcher Brian Bull. They’ve been roommates for the past three years and that, according to Carlson, has translated into better performances on game day.

“We’re just always on the same page,” Carlson said. “I think this past Friday against Missouri State he shook me off maybe three times – and that was probably the most separate we’ve been, thinking wise, during a game.”

However, Carlson has struggled at the plate this season, and that has translated into splitting time with catchers John Arlt and Jeff DeSmidt.

Carlson is hitting only .139 this season. Last year, he hit .312.

Carlson also started last season slowly, but he was able to boost his play when Big Ten games started.

“Same kind of thing happened last year,” Carlson said. “I didn’t play a lot at the beginning. I played in spurts and then once I started playing every day I really kind of hit it and got it going.”

Anderson said he believes Carlson was able to be more productive last season because of his role on the team.

“Some days Kevin was just a (designated hitter),” Anderson said. “(He) didn’t have to concentrate on catching and handling a pitching staff and the wear and tear it takes on your body. Sometimes that can make hitting easier.”

The Gophers’ catcher last season was Jake Elder. He batted .328 and was the second catcher taken from the Big Ten in last summer’s Major League Baseball draft.

Carlson’s numbers aren’t as good as Elder’s, but he may be looked upon to get back to his numbers from last season because the other catchers have struggled at the plate as well.

Sophomore DeSmidt is hitting .174, while junior Arlt is hitting only .057.

Those numbers would be career-worst for both batters.

“We’ll probably keep rotating them and playing a combination of them until somebody gets further along,” Anderson said. “It will all just depend if somebody gets hot with the bat.”

Anderson said that having catchers who possess explosiveness on offense and grasp all the defensive tangibles is hard to find.

“First and foremost we want them to do their job back behind the plate defensively and call a good game,” Anderson said. “What we get out of them offensively is a bonus.”