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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona baseball potential starters for upcoming season

The Arizona baseball team is about two and a half weeks away from its season opener, as it’ll head to Houston on Friday, Feb. 19, for a three-game series against Rice.

A new head coach is in place and the roster experienced significant turnover.

Here is a brief outlook of just exactly what the team will look like come opening day:

Catchers

The two catchers on Arizona’s roster are freshman Cesar Salazar and sophomore Ryan Haug. Salazar, a left-handed hitter and Tucson native, hit .613 in 62 at-bats at Sahuaro High School. Haug is a junior college transfer, who was named as the Big Eight Player of the Year in his lone season at Santa Rosa Junior College.

“[Haug] and Cesar will get the majority of the time catching,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said. “Both of them are good defensive players with offensive potential.”

First base

The first base options are junior Michael Hoard, senior Ryan Aguilar and sophomore JJ Matijevic. Hoard had 53 at-bats as a sophomore last season and hit .264 with 10 RBIs. He also had an impressive on-base percentage of .446.

Matijevic seems to be the likely starter, however. He started 47 of 49 games at first base last season and hit .238 with 26 RBIs and 13 doubles. He showed tremendous potential in the Cape Cod League, hitting .333 in 144 at-bats and being named to the league’s All-Star team.

Middle infield

Johnson said Matijevic may see some time at second as well, with junior college transfer Louis Boyd and Cody Ramer also in the mix at shortstop and second.

“[Boyd] has probably jumped into the main role at this point,” Johnson said.

Other options include Kyle Lewis, Sawyer Gieseke and Casey Bowman.

Third base

Bobby Dalbec will man the hot corner for the Wildcats. Dalbec, who was named a Preseason All-American by Baseball America, led the Pac-12 Conference in home runs last season (19) while compiling a .319 batting average and knocking in a team-high 53 runs.

“He’s a very talented player,” Johnson said. “The tools are really special. I’ve probably only seen one player—and that being [Chicago Cubs third baseman] Kris Bryant—have as much or as more power as he does. They key in his development and what we’re working on is getting that to show up consistently and to hit high-level pitching.”

Dalbec will surely be a constant force in Arizona’s lineup all season long.

Outfield

The outfield is one of the team’s most experienced position groups with senior Zach Gibbons being the most tenured player of the group.

“We’re lucky that he’s had three years of pretty significant playing experience to draw back on,” Johnson said. “He’s not a big guy, but there’s some pop and thump in there, and consistent hard contact has shown up a lot and he’s someone we’re really going to count on and rely on.”

Gibbons hit .287 last season with 10 doubles, two triples and 22 RBIs.

Senior Justin Behnke and sophomore Jared Oliva are the other returning starters.

Pitchers

The pitching staff is the biggest question mark for this Arizona team, but not because of the lack of options.

“I think the strength in our pitching staff is probably in our numbers,” Johnson said.

The main returning pitchers are Nathan Bannister, Cameron Ming, Robby Medel, Rio Gomez and Tyler Crawford, along with third baseman Dalbec.

Bannister is the leader in innings pitched among returning pitchers as he pitched 83.2 innings and had a 3.98 ERA. He was used mostly out of the bullpen.

Robby Medel pitched 65.2 innings, and had an ERA of 4.25. Rio Gomez and Cameron Ming pitched a combined 38 innings.

Tyler Crawford is returning from an elbow injury that forced him to miss last season, but Johnson thinks he’s primed to bounce back this year.

“He’s the only player in our program that’s played in the NCAA Tournament,” he said about Crawford. “I think we’re going to rely on him early in some key situations. I think he’s set up to be 100 percent ready to go, and we’ll slot him in a way that will work well for him and for us.”

Johnson is also excited about the new arms that have entered the program, namely freshmen Michael Flynn, Cody Deason and Austin Rubick.


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