Jack Wassel has been spending the past few weeks at the family lake cabin in Michigan. He put together a workout space in the garage, complete with a net in which to hit in an attempt to maintain the swing that served him so well during the Gophers’ 18-game baseball season that ended after a 5-4 victory over Creighton on March 11.
Patrick Fredrickson has been using contacts for workout facilities near his home in Gig Harbor, Wash., including throwing live to other collegians and a couple of pros. The right shoulder feels fine and he sees hints of the command returning to the sinking fastball and changeup that helped make him an All-America as a freshman starter in 2018.
Third baseman Wassel and righthanded starter Fredrickson were juniors in eligibility for the 2020 Gophers. Wassel was batting .364, with an on-base percentage of .475, and declared the Big Ten’s breakout player for the shortened season by D1Baseball.com. Fredrickson’s ERA was inflated by a pounding in his first start, he rallied some, and then entered to end a ninth-inning mess and get a save in that final victory over Creighton.
This being a normal baseball season, with a 40-round draft, a surging Wassel and a resurgent Fredrickson would have been selected — Rounds 15-20, perhaps — and offered a bonus providing enough encouragement to start a pro career.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred used the pandemic to cut the draft to five rounds, with $20,000 as the maximum signing bonus for draft-eligible players not selected in the mini-Man(fred) draft.
“When it was announced as a five-round draft, I talked with my dad and it didn’t take long to decide going back to school would be a much better option,” Wassel said. “Getting my degree is much more valuable to me than $20,000. And playing another year on what’s going to be a strong Gophers team — that’s great, too.”
Wassel comes from Geneva, Ill., 4 miles north of Batavia. That’s the hometown of Micah Coffey, the previous Gophers third baseman, also a lefthanded hitter.
“Geneva and Batavia are archrivals,” Wassel said. “Micah and I played some baseball against each other. Micah was also a great quarterback. He led Batavia to a state championship.”
Coffey was the reason Wassel was redshirted in 2017 and was a backup on the outstanding Gophers team in 2018. The cruel world of minor league baseball was demonstrated in June 2019, when Coffey (a 30th-round draft choice in 2018) was released after 151 pro at-bats by the White Sox.
And now, the plan is to make dozens of minor league affiliates disappear.
“Major league organizations are getting rid of bodies,” Wassel said. “It’s hard to see.”
Those 18 games in February and March — against big-time programs such as Oregon, Arizona, TCU, North Carolina, Duke and N.C. State — did get Wassel, 6-foot-2, 210 pounds and very athletic, on the radar after batting .243 as the full-time Gophers third baseman in 2019.
“Jack had a swing flaw, a loop in his swing,” Gophers coach John Anderson said. “He didn’t play in a college league last summer — instead, he went home and re-created the swing. The result of that work was outstanding, until our season ended.”
Anderson has hope of seeing the same turnaround with Fredrickson next February, when a new season hopefully arrives. The 6-foot-7 Fredrickson was beyond phenomenal as a 2018 freshman: 9-0 with a 1.86 ERA.
Fredrickson had a shoulder impingement and missed part of 2019, then went to the Cape Cod League and was mostly ineffective.
“The new thing in pitching is to work high in the zone with a fastball,” Anderson said. “Patrick got himself up there and didn’t use the sinker as often. He has outstanding sink and, at 6-foot-7, great angle. We have to get him back to the sinker.”
Fredrickson said Wednesday from Gig Harbor (across the Narrows Bridge from Tacoma): “A lot of baseball talent comes from this immediate area, pros and college players. I’ve been working out with excellent players. Lifting, throwing.
“My baseball goal right now is to win another Big Ten title with the Gophers.”
No pro ball yet, but plenty of excitement for Max Meyer, junior from Woodbury, ace closer and fellow All-America with Fredrickson in 2018; last month, the No. 3 overall choice in the draft by Miami.
Signing bonus: $6.7 million.
“I’m not saying this because we’re close friends: Max is the best pitcher to come out of the draft in last 10 years,” Fredrickson said. “That slider that he throws for strikes … hitters have no chance.
“I know it’s crazy, but he could be Miami’s Opening Day starter in 2021 and would do great.”
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