Baseball Metro Player of the Year packs up his five tools and leaves

Metro Player of the Year goes southwest

Star Tribune 2023 Metro Player of the Year Drew Rogers, a catcher who played last season for Mounds View, has transferred to Hamilton High School in Chandler, Ariz. The family moved to Arizona in July.

"My brother [Will] was at Arizona State, and my mom and dad wanted to be somewhere that had nicer weather," Rogers said. "The hardest part was moving away from all the people that I was closely connected with."

A gap-to-gap hitter, Rogers produced back-to-back .400 seasons for the Mustangs, going 65-for-150 for a .433 average. The 6-foot, 220-pound Rogers had nine home runs and 46 RBI last season. He has committed to Georgia Tech.

"A person has to do what they think is best for their future," Rogers said. "I have made a lot of new friends. I fit in well with all the guys."

His best "pop" time — the seconds that pass between the ball hitting his mitt and his throw getting to second base, requiring footwork, dexterity and velocity — is 1.81; the major league average is 2.0. Like he did at Mounds View, he is also pitching for Hamilton.

"We were short of pitchers, so I'm doing that as well," Rogers said. "Everything is going really well for me."

How well will be determined July 14-16, when the Major League Baseball draft will be held in Fort Worth, Texas.

"There are a lot of scouts in Arizona, and spring training is here for a lot of teams [15]," Rogers said. "I'm like a lot of players, and my goal is to go in the first round."

Mounds View coach Nik Anderson said Rogers' departure is something to overcome.

"We love Drew. He is an incredible baseball player but even better kid," Anderson said. "We would obviously love to see guys that start their high school career here also finish here, but that's outside of our control and nothing for us to dwell on as we chase another state run again this year."

Skippers pitcher injured

Minnetonka righthanded pitcher Evan Kueppers was ready for a stellar senior year coming off a strong 2023 season, but Kueppers suffered a lower back injury in the Skippers' season opener. It's unclear how long he'll be out.

"When a senior is hurt in their last year of high school, they realize time is lost and they cannot get this competition back," Minnetonka coach Paul Twenge said.

Kueppers set the school record for saves with 10 last year. A Kansas recruit, he went 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA, allowing only 10 hits in 24 innings. He struck out 34 and walked six.

"Evan is a strike thrower, strong competitor," Twenge said. "He loves pitching and will give everything he has to win, a coach's dream."

Brothers in arms

Two of the state's best pitchers from outside the metro area are at Class 2A Zumbrota-Mazeppa. They are brothers, senior Preston Ohm and sophomore Hudson Ohm.

"The Ohm boys eat, sleep and breathe baseball," Cougars coach AJ Yusten said. "They dedicate a great amount of time to the game, and they are always working to be better."

Preston, who is headed to St. Thomas, went 6-0 with a 0.00 ERA last season. He allowed 18 hits in 35 innings while striking out 64 and walking 14. A 6-4 lefthander who plays outfield when not on the hill, he also hit .424.

Hudson went 4-2 with a 2.51 ERA as a freshman. The 6-2 righthander threw a no-hitter, striking out 15 and walking one in a 4-0 victory over Caledonia in his debut this season.

"They are amazing young men on and off the field," Yusten said. "They are very polite and respectful at all times. When it is practice or game time, they are ultimate competitors."

The Cougars, coming off a 15-5 season, are ranked No. 9.

Can Raptors repeat?

East Ridge coach Brian Sprout hopes his squad will be playing its best baseball "at the end of the regular season."

In all likelihood, the defending Class 4A champion also will be doing so at the beginning of the season. Sprout welcomes back five of the state's best players, including his top two pitchers — seniors Max Arlich and Jake Reigert. Arlich is a lefthander and a Texas A&M recruit; Reigert is a hard-throwing righthander and headed to Mississippi. Arlich threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout in a 1-0 victory over Rosemount in the 2023 championship game.

Sprout also returns four-year starter Alex Mezzetti (Illinois-Chicago) at third base, Luke Skinner (Loyola Marymount) at shortstop and righthanded junior pitcher/outfielder/designated hitter Luke Ryerse (Alabama).

Three other seniors — righthanded pitcher Ashton Poole, outfielder/infielder Will Preimesberger and second baseman Cole Widen — also will play significant roles for the Raptors, ranked No. 1 in the state by the Minnesota Coaches Association.

"We expect to compete and play high-level baseball throughout a tough schedule," Sprout said. "We have a lot of experience back with a cohesive group of seniors."

Champs and challenges

The three other state champions from 2023 — New Prague (Class 3A), Esko (Class 2A) and Fosston (Class 1A) — face separate challenges in trying to go back-to-back. Last season's state titles were the first for each.

New Prague will have to take a much different path to a championship. The Trojans move up to Class 4A for the 2024 season.

Mahtomedi is ranked first in 3A; the Zephyrs won the 2021 state title.

Esko is ranked No. 1 in 2A and well-positioned to repeat. Fosston is ranked second in 1A, behind Lyle/Pacelli.

Back to Target Field

After a one-year hiatus, the state championship games in all four classes will return to Target Field on June 17, starting at 10 a.m. The title games were played at CHS Field in St. Paul last season.

Target Field also will play host to six regular-season games this spring, including an all-Iowa pairing. The matchups are: Owatonna vs. Red Wing on April 20; Prior Lake vs. Shakopee and Minneapolis Edison vs. St. Paul Johnson on April 25; New Life Academy vs. St. Agnes on May 9; Hopkins vs. Rogers on May 16; and Kee (Lansing, Iowa) vs. South Winneshiek (Calmar, Iowa) on May 30.

Tied to the baseball games, the Minneapolis Edison and St. Paul Johnson softball teams will meet Saturday at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

"The Minnesota Twins believe that baseball and softball change lives for the better, and we are proud to provide both our home ballpark and our financial support to create lifelong memories for these young athletes and their communities," Twins President and CEO Dave St. Peter said in a news release. "We thank the Minnesota State High School League and the University of Minnesota for their continued partnership, and we look forward to welcoming the student-athletes, coaches and fans from these 12 schools to Jane Sage Cowles Stadium and Target Field this spring."

Legend marches on

The state's winningest coach, Bob Karn of St. Cloud Cathedral, isn't ready to stop making mound visits. Karn, 82, enters his 53rd season at the helm of the Crusaders with a career record of 833-343.

Karn has won nine championships in 20 state tournament appearances at the school from which he graduated in 1959. His most recent state trip was in 2018 and most recent Class 2A title was in 2015.

Brainerd's Lowell Scearcy, who coached for 49 years before retiring in 2017, stands No. 2 in victories with a career mark of 765-325.