The Gophers baseball team went into last season with a pitching staff anchored by Max Meyer, one of the top pitchers in the nation.
This season, the Gophers have another marquee player — second baseman Zack Raabe. The junior from Forest Lake has been named a preseason first-team All-America. He batted .463 in 17 games before the 2020 season ended abruptly March 12 because of the pandemic. His average led the Big Ten and was seventh best in Division I. His 31 hits led the nation.
Raabe is one of seven returning starters on a veteran team with a deep pitching staff heading into Friday's opener against Indiana at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"I do feel good about our pitching staff and its development," said John Anderson, who is beginning his 40th season as the Gophers coach. "We have some depth, and that will be important because we have a schedule format we've never [had] before."
Who's back: Thirty-one players return from the 2020 team, which finished 8-10, including starters at every position but shortstop. Among them is third baseman Jack Wassel, who hit .364 with a team-high 16 RBI and was named the Big Ten Breakout Player by D1Baseball.com. Also back are outfielders Andrew Willhite (.320) and Easton Bertrand (.302 with a team-high four homers) and catcher Chase Stanke.
The primary starting pitchers will be junior righthander J.P. Massey (55 strikeouts in 44⅓ career innings) and sophomore righthander Trent Schoeberl (2-0 with 2.75 ERA last season). Also returning are seniors Patrick Fredrickson, the Big Ten pitcher of the year in 2018, Joshua Culliver and Bubba Horton. Culliver, who pitched one inning last season before having Tommy John surgery, is throwing and expected to pitch this season.
Newcomers: Five freshmen — outfielder/lefthanded pitcher Brett Bateman, catcher Cody Kelly, infielder Boston Merila, lefthander Noah DeLuga and righthander George Klassen — and redshirt senior lefthander Tom Skoro, a transfer from Missouri.
Schedule: The Gophers open their 44-game schedule against conference opponents only — 22 at home, 22 on the road — with their first eight games at U.S. Bank Stadium. This weekend they will play two games against Indiana and two against Rutgers. Beginning March 12, they will play host to a four-game series against Illinois. The Gophers will make their Siebert Field debut on April 2 against Michigan State.
Last word: "We're lucky to be playing baseball again and really looking forward to it," Raabe said. "Every game is important. The schedule will be a challenge, but every Big Ten team is in the same boat. My main focus is to help our team win any way possible."