By Jim Rueda
---- — NORTH MANKATO — Tyler Stoffel made a big leap forward in his baseball career this year, and he's pretty sure he knows why.
"I grew up; I got bigger; I grew into my body," he said. "I think that helped a lot. I'm about two inches taller, and I added about 15-20 pounds of weight."
The 16-year-old played school ball for Mankato West this past spring and is now playing summer ball for the Mankato Royals VFW White baseball team. A year earlier he wasn't scaring too many people with his bat, but that's all changed.
For West, he led the team with a .403 batting average, .583 slugging percentage, 18 RBIs, 10 doubles and 11 stolen bases in 22 games. For his VFW team, he's hitting .418 with a .653 slugging percentage. He has 23 hits, 15 RBIs, 23 runs scored and nine steals, In 70 plate appearances, he's struck out only three times.
"He's definitely improved his game," said Ethan Anderson, who coaches Stoffel on both teams. "He's more mature, both physically and mentally."
Stoffel, who came up through the ranks of the Mankato Area Youth Baseball Association, was a second baseman for most of his development but moved to shortstop for West when the team needed him this spring.
"That was a big adjustment, and it showed by all the mistakes and errors I was making," Stoffel said. "But I gradually got better. I'm just now getting to the point where I'm starting to feel comfortable."
The senior-to-be said the footwork was the biggest challenge.
"It's totally different from playing second base," he said. "Now it doesn't really matter which position I play. If I'm in the middle infield, I'm happy."
Coach Anderson is happy, too. With the help of Stoffel, the VFW team, is off to a 16-2 start and his players are looking forward to the rest of the summer. White just won the tough New Ulm tournament last weekend.
"We're pretty optimistic," said Stoffel. "We know we have a good team, and we can be better when we get some guys back from injury. We think we can do well in the playoffs."