Burnsville's Tyler Hanson pitched against Rosemount in the first game of a doubleheader in April (Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune)
At all levels, baseball teams yearn for top-of-the-rotation pitchers. Control, velocity, consistency and a good mix of all pitches are hard to find. Burnsville’s high school and American Legion teams have had no reason to complain about that this year.
“I feel like we have three No. 1 pitchers,” Tyler Hanson said.
Hanson, along with fellow recent graduates Aaron Rozek and Cooper Maas, have been strong on the mound this year, first during the high school season and now with the Burnsville Cobras of the Minnesota American Legion Baseball league.
Hanson will play for the Gophers next year. Rozek will pitch at Minnesota State Mankato. Maas will be a middle infielder for the University of North Dakota.
The three have been playing baseball — and pitching — together since they were 9 years old, even before they joined the traveling program. As they developed into good friends, there always has been plenty of motivation to continue improving.
“It’s all very competitive,” Hanson said. “We all want to be in that spotlight, and we all want those big games.”
Nothing wrong with a little intrasquad competition.
“On the mound and at the plate, we just kind of grew off of each other trying to get better and better,” Rozek said. “We’re all big competitors, and we want to one-up each other any chance we can get.”
Cobras coach Greg Nesbitt has been blessed to be able to plug them into the Legion team lineup. Hanson has been with the club for three years while Rozek and Maas are both in their second season. There’s typically a lot of turnover when it comes to Legion ball, so it’s been a relief to have them come back.
“It’s been an absolute delight,” said Nesbitt, who has been coaching the Cobras for nine years and is the Lakeville South High School coach. “We don’t have to start from square one knowing these guys are back. We’re just picking up where we left off with these three.”
No matter what the count is, Rozek can throw all three of his pitches — fastball, curveball and changeup — wherever he wants. He has confidence in his arsenal and shows strong mound presence to go with it.
“Aaron’s very crafty,” Hanson said. “He probably has the best command I’ve ever seen in high school ball.”
Hanson is more of a power pitcher, registering his fastball in the high 80s and low 90s. He effectively mixes and matches his fastball, slider and changeup to keep hitters off-balance. Maas uses all his pitches, throws heat and gets quick outs.
“Every time they’re on the mound, we have a good chance at winning,” Rozek said.
But when Hanson and Maas are not on the mound, Rozek says, he’s plenty confident having Hanson playing third base and Maas fielding at shortstop.
“Just having those two on the left side of the infield makes it so much easier for me as a pitcher,” Rozek said. “I have total trust in them. They don’t make many errors — at all. That makes pitching a whole lot easier.”
The Cobras’ pitching talent also includes Luke Hansen, Bo Hellquist and Zach Smith. Hellquist has returned to the team after graduating from Burnsville in 2012. He has been the Cobras’ best hitter early this summer. Tyler Hill has also been swinging well.
The Cobras have been ranked in the top five of state Legion teams through the first few weeks of the season. Ultimately, the goal is to return to state and take a run at the title.
“We came up a little short last year, but we have a really special group of guys here,” Rozek said. “We’ll see what happens.”