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Opponent Preview: Minnesota

Meet the Golden Gophers... a team coming down off a 2018 high

Northwestern v Minnesota
Look at this thing...
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Who’s the Pack playing?

Opponent: Minnesota

Mascot: Golden Gophers | School Location: Minneapolis, MN | Conference: Big Ten

2019 Record: 2-5 (0-0, T-1st) | 2018 RPI Rank: 157

2018 Record: 43-15 (18-4*, 1st) | 2018 RPI Rank: 12

2017 Record: 36-21 (15-8, 3rd) | 2017 RPI Rank: 72

*2018 Big Ten Regular Season and Tournament Champions


When? Where? How do I watch?

Location: Doak Field at Dail Park (Raleigh, NC)

Game Time(s): Friday, Mar 1 @ 3:00pm; Saturday, Mar 2 @ 2:00pm; Sunday, Mar 3 @ 12:00pm

TV: ACC Network Extra (ACCNE): Friday | Saturday | Sunday

Radio: WKNC 88.1 in Raleigh, GoPack All-Access

Live Stats: Sidearm Stats


Tell me about this team

First, let’s take a look at what was said about Minnesota from our 2019 Season Preview:

The Minnesota program has had a meteoric rise over the last several years. After being a perennial sub-100 RPI team for the better part of a decade, the Gophers made the jump to 50th in 2016, 72nd in 2017, and then the huge jump up to 12th last year, making a Super Regional before being eliminated by eventual national champions Oregon State. On offense, SR OF Ben Mezzenga (.383/.466/.447, 8 2B, 12 SB), JR C Eli Wilson (.289/.379/.428, 9 2B, 5 HR), RS-JR INF/OF Jordan Kozicky (.271/.373/.422, 13 2B, 5 HR), and SR C/1B Cole McDevitt (.271/.395/.452, 9 2B, 9 HR, 40 BB) return to form a solid nucleus, but the Gophers lose five starters, including three of their most productive hitters. 2B/SS Zack Raabe and All-Name Team candidate OF Otto Grimm are two freshman to watch. SO RHP Patrick Fredrickson (9-0, 1.86 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, .209 OBA) and SR LHP Nick Lackney (4-2, 5.48 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, .285 OBA) return to man their roles as weekend rotation starters. Fredrickson was the 2018 Big Ten Pitcher-of-the-Year and a Freshman All-American. In the bullpen, Minnesota returns their impact closer, SO RHP Max Meyer (2-3, 16 SV, 2.06 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, .163 OBA), as well as key arms in JR RHP Brett Schulze (9-0, 2.09 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, .270 OBA) and RS-JR LHP Jeff Fasching (2-0, 1.90 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, .239 OBA). The Gophers won’t have the same level year they did last season, but they’ll still be good enough to challenge in the Big Ten. 2019 Projected Record: 32-19 (17-10). NCAA Tournament Bound?: Yes

Minnesota is another team that’s scheduling tough to start the year, having already played games against perennial power teams Oregon State (1-13 L) and Dallas Baptist (0-9 L, 9-7 W, 5-7 L), and with another game against defending national champion Oregon State immediately following this three-game series in Raleigh. This is an early schedule that will harden this team into another NCAA Tourney participant and Big Ten championship contender, although it won’t reach the heights that it did a year ago.

The Golden Gophers are a quasi-rebuilding offensive team. They have a lot of experienced bats back; they start six positional players who are third- or fourth-year guys, but they weren’t the heavily relied-upon producers on last year’s Super Regional team. Seeing how those guys react to being the center pieces of the offense this year is going to be interesting.

On the mound, it’s a youth movement that’s leading the staff. Minnesota has a bona fide #1 starter (SO RHP Patrick Fredrickson) and one of the best closers in the country (SO RHP Max Meyer), but finding consistency from their other weekend rotation guys (also both sophomores) will dictate how far this team goes. Their lone other returning weekend starter from last year (SR LHP Nick Lackney) has already been pulled from the rotation due to ineffectiveness.

There are a lot of questions, but there are also potential answers, and the Big Ten is a winnable conference. This season could tank on them, but I have a hard time seeing Minnesota outside of a top three finish in their conference.


Who’s on the mound for these guys?

Friday: RHP Patrick Fredrickson (SO)

Saturday: RHP Sam Thoresen (SO)

Sunday: RHP Joshua Culliver (SO)


Key Players:

Offense

C Eli Wilson (JR) - .333 BA, .414 OBP, .500 SLG, 24 AB, 2 2B, 1 3B, 0 HR, 4 R, 5 RBI, 4 BB, 7 K, 0-0 SB (2018 stats: .289 BA, .379 OBP, .428 SLG, 173 AB, 9 2B, 0 3B, 5 HR, 31 R, 37 RBI, 22 BB, 30 K, 0-0 SB). Wilson handles the bat very well as the 3-hole hitter for the Gophers and is also pretty good behind the plate, having thrown out 35.7% of attempted base stealers over the last two years.

1B Cole McDevitt (SR) - .308 BA, .379 OBP, .385 SLG, 26 AB, 2 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 4 R, 4 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K, 0-0 SB (2018 stats: .271 BA, .395 OBP, .452 SLG, 199 AB, 9 2B, 0 3B, 9 HR, 44 R, 46 RBI, 40 BB, 53 K, 1-1 SB). McDevitt is in his 3rd year as a starter and has some pop in his bat, in addition to having a pretty good eye at the plate.

DH Max Meyer (SO) - .321 BA, .345 OBP, .357 SLG, 28 AB, 1 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 4 R, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 7 K, 2-2 SB (2018 stats: .167 BA, .324 OBP, .200 SLG, 30 AB, 1 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 7 R, 2 RBI, 4 BB, 7 K, 0-0 SB). Meyer, the closer on the pitching staff, played sparingly a year ago as a freshman, but is serving as the DH this year. He also has decent wheels on him.

CF Ben Mezzenga (SR) - .214 BA, .290 OBP, .214 SLG, 28 AB, 0 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 3 R, 3 RBI, 3 BB, 8 K, 3-4 SB (2018 stats: .383 BA, .466 OBP, .447 SLG, 188 AB, 8 2B, 2 3B, 0 HR, 40 R, 28 RBI, 31 BB, 40 K, 12-17 SB). 2nd Team All-Big Ten last year, the team’s leadoff hitter is off to a slow start this year, but he’ll come around. Mezzenga isn’t by any means a power hitter and he’s not the most natural of base stealers, but he’s a solid top-of-the-order hitter.

SS/OF Jordan Kozicky (RS-JR) - .125 BA, .250 OBP, .208 SLG, 24 AB, 2 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 3 R, 1 RBI, 4 BB, 8 K, 1-1 SB (2018 stats: .271 BA, .373 OBP, .422 SLG, 199 AB, 13 2B, 1 3B, 5 HR, 28 R, 38 RBI, 25 BB, 49 K, 3-4 SB). Off to a slow start in his third year as a starter. Kozicky wasn’t relied on heavily with the bat a year ago, but he’s a key player for this year’s team; if they’re going to again contend for the Big Ten title, they’re going to need him to take a step up, producing more like he did as a redshirt freshman (.325/.421/.476 over 166 AB).

Pitching

RHP Patrick Fredrickson (SO) - 1-1, 2.79 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, .278 OBA, 17.0 K%, 17.0 BB%, 9.2 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 3 ER, 8 BB, 8 K. (2018 stats: 9-0, 1.86 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, .209 OBA, 19.1 K%, 7.0 BB%, 97.0 IP, 71 H, 26 R, 20 ER, 27 BB, 73 K). Fredrickson was a Freshman All-American last year by every publication - and rightfully so. The 6’7 righty struggled in his 2019 season debut against a good-not-great New Mexico team, allowing 12 base runners in 4.0 innings of work. His second outing went much better, holding Dallas Baptist to one run on two hits over 5.2 innings, but he did walk six and uncork two wild pitches in the game. He’s talented, although not over-powering.

RHP Sam Thoresen (SO) - 0-2, 9.00 ERA, 2.57 WHIP, .303 OBA, 26.8 K%, 19.5 BB%, 7.0 IP, 10 H, 11 R, 7 ER, 8 BB, 11 K. (2018 stats: 2-2, 5.86 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, .206 OBA, 17.9 K%, 14.3 BB%, 35.1 IP, 27 H, 24 R, 23 ER, 24 BB, 30 K). Thoresen can tally up some strikeouts, but he also has a wild streak in him (13 HBP in his 35.1 IP last year) that can greatly diminish his effectiveness.

RHP Joshua Culliver (SO) - 0-0, 0 SV, 5.19 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, .300 OBA, 13.6 K%, 4.5 BB%, 8.2 IP, 12 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 6 K. (2018 stats: 2-2, 1 SV, 3.38 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, .250 OBA, 16.8 K%, 9.7 BB%, 26.2 IP, 25 H, 13 R, 10 ER, 11 BB, 19 K). Culliver will be making his first start of the year (he made four last year) on Sunday. Culliver will throw strikes and has good upside, but he has allowed five extra-base hits already this year.

RHP Max Meyer (SO) - 0-0, 2 SV, 0.00 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, .188 OBA, 33.3 K%, 5.6 BB%, 4.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K. (2018 stats: 2-3, 16 SV, 2.06 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, .163 OBA, 31.8 K%, 7.6 BB%, 43.2 IP, 25 H, 13 R, 10 ER, 13 BB, 54 K). Meyer is the best pitcher on the Minnesota team and - like Fredrickson - was a Freshman All-American a year ago. He was drafted in the 37th round (Twins) of the MLB Draft in 2017 out of high school and played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team last summer alongside NC State’s Patrick Bailey and Will Wilson. Meyer may well be the single best closer in college baseball.

LHP Jeff Fasching (RS-SR) - 0-0, 0 SV, 0.00 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, .133 OBA, 17.6 K%, 5.9 BB%, 5.0 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K. (2018 stats: 2-0, 0 SV, 1.90 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, .239 OBA, 19.2 K%, 6.1 BB%, 23.2 IP, 22 H, 7 R, 5 ER, 6 BB, 19 K). Fasching was a lightly-used reliever over his first two-plus years at Minnesota, and had a breakout as a key bullpen arm a year ago. He’s off to a solid start this year as the top lefty in the Gopher ‘pen.


Quick! Fun Facts!

Minnesota opens their season with 21 consecutive games away from home.

This series will almost double the total number of meetings between the two programs. The all-time series is tied 2-2.

The Golden Gophers are the fourth of the last five NC State opponents who won their conference regular season and/or tournament title in 2018.


Prediction

NC State will again be sending JR RHP Jason Parker and SO LHP Canaan Silver out to start on the mound on Friday and Saturday, respectively, but there’s a big TBA on the Sunday starting pitcher situation. With SO LHP Nick Swiney presumptively moving back to the bullpen, it will be interesting to see if SO RHP Reid Johnston returns to the weekend rotation in the Sunday spot.

Baseball is an incredibly difficult sport in which to sweep your opponent, much less to remain unbeaten for extended periods of time. Minnesota, while struggling out of the gate, has just enough pitching and enough experienced hitting to take one of three from the Wolfpack.

Outcome: It all depends on how State ends up shuffling the rotation to accommodate the Sunday spot, and if they can avoid getting in a situation of having to scratch runs across against Meyer, but I’ll hedge and say the Pack go 2-1.