Freshman bat leads Gophers at the plate

To be a successful hitter at any level of baseball, the batter needs to be both smart and patient at the plate. In college baseball, often times those qualities only come with experience.
Don’t tell that to the Gophers’ Luke Appert. As only a freshman, Appert has both and they’ve led to a team-leading .371 batting average.
“I remember telling (assistant coach Rob Fornasiere) earlier in the year, ‘I think he has a chance to be a pretty good hitter because he has such a good eye at the plate,'” Minnesota coach John Anderson said. “He has a good feel for the strike zone and he doesn’t chase many bad pitches.
“He gets the barrel of the bat — the fat part of the bat — on the ball pretty often.”
Getting the fat part of the bat on the ball isn’t anything new to Appert. Last season as a senior at Park Cottage Grove High School, Appert hit .522, with 10 homeruns and 35 RBI.
His play earned him a couple of 1999 Minnesota state high school player of the year awards — one from the state coaches association, the other from USA Today.
Being the best player in the state, both Appert and Anderson had high expectations for his freshman year at Minnesota, but they both admitted Appert’s play has exceeded them.
“I expected to do well this year, I had some confidence,” Appert said. “But I’m a little surprised I’m doing as well as I am.”
Hitting in the number two spot in the battling order, Appert’s ability to get on base, has made it a custom for his teammates to come to the plate with a runner on.
And when it’s Appert, they usually deliver — he’s second on the team in runs scored with 34. And the favor goes both ways.
Along with the high average, Appert has also hit five homers and collected 24 RBI.
“I like it there (in the number two spot),” Appert said. “At first I was a little nervous, but now I getting used to it. I have a lot of good hitters around me so I see some good pitches.”
Appert has spent the majority of this season as the Gophers designated hitter. That’s due in part with the solid play of senior Mark Devore at second base.
But come next year, and throughout his career at Minnesota, Anderson said he’d be surprised not to see Appert as the Gophers’ everyday second baseman.
“He’s at the point where he’s ready to play more on defense, but the we have (Devore) playing well there and it’s tough to take him out,” Anderson said.
“He’s going to be an exceptional player before he’s done. I will be shocked if he’s not in the lineup (day in and day out) for the remainder of his career.
Appert and the Gophers will take their five-game winning streak on the road this weekend for their final road trip of the season.
After sweeping struggling Iowa last weekend, the Gophers get to pick from the bottom of the Big Ten this time around too.
Minnesota (27-16, 12-4 Big Ten) is in East Lansing to take on last-place Michigan State. The Spartans come in with a 4-11 conference mark (14-28 overall) after losing three of four to Northwestern last week.
Michigan State hasn’t won more than a game in a Big Ten series all year, and the Gophers will need that to continue if they are to stay on top of the conference standings.
“If we don’t go out and play well this weekend, it kind of negates what we did last weekend,” Anderson said.

John R. Carter covers baseball and welcomes comments at [email protected]