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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Alfonso Rivas shows there’s no need to panic the departure of JJ Matijevic

Heather Newberry
Arizona outfielder Alfonso Rivas III runs to first base during the baseball game against Hartford on March 11 at Hi Corbett Field.

Selected 75th overall in the 2017 MLB Draft by the Houston Astros, the loss of former Wildcat JJ Matijevic’s talent for what would have been his final year at Arizona might have left some fans concerned going into the 2018 season.   

Matijevic, who decided to forgo his senior year, was a staple both on and off the field for skipper Jay Johnson and his teammates. The Wildcats had the luxury of Matijevic’s .383 batting average to go along with his 10 home runs and 65 RBIs. Matijevic was an offensive machine as he led Arizona in homers, RBIs and doubles.  

This kind of product at the plate is difficult to replace. But, fortunately for the ‘Cats, that should not be an issue in 2018 as they will have junior Alfonso Rivas III to lean on.  

“He has as good a plate discipline as any college hitter you will see; his abilities to hit mistakes is as good as any hitter you will see at this level,” Johnson said of Rivas.

The San Diego, California native has been showered with preseason accolades — and deservingly so. Rivas was named an All-American, All Pac-12 and second-team ABCA All-Region in 2017. In 2018, Rivas was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Preseason All-American Team, along with second-team preseason All-American by and a third-team selection by Baseball America.    

“It makes you feel good but also ultimately…it doesn’t really mean anything. Baseball is a team sport where if you’re not a team you’re not going to advance,” Rivas said of his honors. 

Looking back on the 2017 season it’s quiet astonishing to see how both Rivas’ and Matijevic’s numbers matched up next to one another’s across the board while sharing first base duties. Rivas was the second most productive player behind Matijevic posting a .371 batting avg, while hitting seven HR (three less than Matijevic) and knocking in 63 RBIs (two less than Matijevic). In Rivas’ defense, Matijevic started in 59 games to Rivas’ 54 and had 27 more at-bats than Rivas. 

Rivas, who bunked with Matijevic in 2017, acknowledged how observing Matijevic on and off the field has taught him how to lead by example and stay consistent. 

“I saw what he was going through all of last year, all the praise and love he was getting, but I saw the way he would treat it. He would just put his head down, work and be humble about it. That’s kind of something that I learned just by watching him,” Rivas said. 

Johnson, who’s in his third year as head manager of the Wildcats, has spoken highly of Rivas and has seen what he contributes to his ball club on a daily basis. 

“The thing I appreciate the most about him is his mental maturity,” Johnson said. “He’s very consistent — never too high or too low, and that allows him to perform at a high level. He’s really a model in that regard that we want all of our hitters to get to.”

While Johnson recognized there might be some debate around who starts at other key positions around the diamond, there is no question who will be penciled in at first base when the Wildcats open up the 2018 season on Feb. 16 at Hi Corbett Field against Bryant.

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