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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Freshman catcher has huge hole to fill for Wildcats

The No. 20 Arizona baseball team has a talented roster returning this season, but it also has one huge hole to fill — that of star catcher Jett Bandy.

Riley Moore, a true freshman from Santa Barbara, Calif., will have to be the one to fill it after Bandy decided to declare for the Major League Baseball draft.

“It’s definitely some big footsteps to fill in,” Moore said. “(Bandy’s) a great catcher, and I respect him a ton.”

Thanks to the offensive talent evident up and down the Wildcats roster, Moore won’t be under as much pressure to replace Bandy’s production, but if Arizona wants to live up to their preseason ranking and contend for a Pac-12 championship, they’ll need Moore to contribute, especially at a position like catcher that is so important to the team.

“We run everything through the catcher,” head coach Andy Lopez said. “It comes from the bench to him — the pitches, the pickoffs, the looks. It’s a lot of information for him to study.”

After Bandy declared for the draft, and freshman David Schuknecht was lost for the season to a leg injury, all of the starting responsibilities now fall to Moore.

“It’s birth by fire,” Moore said. “You get in there, you do it, and eventually you’ll learn, and I’m learning pretty quick.”

Because Moore is new to the program and college baseball in general, he’ll have to learn a new system and adjust to catching with the speed and tempo of his Arizona teammates.

“It’s been different, it’s a lot faster pace but it’s good,” Moore said. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time now. It’s good baseball all around; it’s tough, it’s tense, but I love it.”

One of his most important duties will be catching for junior pitcher Kurt Heyer, a third team preseason All-American. So far, Heyer has been impressed with Moore.

“He’s a great catcher, way more advanced than I thought,” Heyer said. “He makes me feel very comfortable (on the mound). Hopefully once the season starts, we get on that same page where he knows what I want without him trying to think too hard about it.”

For the Wildcats to live up to their potential — they’re ranked No. 5 in the country by Baseball America — they will need Moore to step up and play like a seasoned veteran, but Lopez knows the learning curve will be steep for the freshman.

“He’s had very good days, he’s had very average days, and he’s had a couple bad days which is par for the course for a freshman,” Lopez said.

Still, Moore’s raw talent should help reduce some of the growing pains he is sure to encounter.

“He’s got a very good work ethic,” Lopez said. “He’s a talented young guy. He’s six-foot three, a switch hitter, good arm strength. So he’s a talented guy. All those things will let you go home and put your head on a pillow and say, ‘Hey, that’s a pretty good player’ and he is.”

Once the season actually starts for the Wildcats, the team will be able to get a true indication of what Moore can bring them from behind the plate. But at least for now, Moore has already earned the respect of his teammates.

“He’s definitely the kind of guy I want behind the plate,” Heyer said. “He’s almost up there with Jett (Bandy), because Jett was awesome last year. But Riley as a freshman to come in here and make a big impact; it’s definitely huge for us.”

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