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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Stepping into the spotlight

Of the Arizona baseball players, 23 will wear Arizona across their chests for the first time this season, making it difficult to pinpoint one player who needs to step up for the Wildcats in 2010.

But if there is anyone who can come into his own and take this team to the promised land, it’s sophomore pitcher Kyle Simon. The 6-foot-5, 210-pounder pitched some huge games for the Wildcats as a true freshman last season, resulting in a 3-5 record and 6.03 earned run average in 74.2 innings pitched.

With last year’s ace Preston Guilmet now in the Cleveland Indians’ farm system, Simon will be given the opportunity to anchor an extremely young but talented Arizona pitching staff.

“”Last year I ended the year being the Saturday guy and I just kind of went to summer ball trying to perfect a few pitches and I did that,”” Simon said. “”So now I’ve taken over the role as the ace of the staff.””

“”We’d like for (Simon) to jump in that spot on Friday night and set the tempo,”” added head coach Andy Lopez.

Simon was forced into a starting role last season, and started 11 times, the second-most on the staff. As expected for a true freshman thrown into some high-pressure situations, Simon struggled with inconsistency, but made up for it with impressive outings against top-notch competition.

With a lethal two-seam fastball, Simon has all of the makings of a No. 1 guy, and he’s been motivated to make the best of the opportunity.

“”I’ve worked my ass off for it,”” Simon said of becoming the team’s Friday-night starter. “”I’m real excited to go out there and turn the program from what people have perceived it last year to an actual sold team this year.””

Simon said that he spent the summer and fall working on some pitches, most notably a breaking curve ball, and the coaching staff is confident that the 19-year-old is poised to shoulder the load.

“”(Simon) pitched last year for us in very tough situations against some strong opponents,”” said assistant coach Shaun Cole, who handles most of the pitching staff duties.

“”The good thing that (Simon) brings to the table is he has a very even-keeled demeanor,”” Cole said. “”You can never tell if he gave up a home run, or if he just had a 1-2-3 inning, and I think that’s huge for a Friday-night guy.””

Redshirt junior Daniel Workman — who went 3-1 with a 3.86 earned run average last season in 15 appearances — is expected to be the No. 2 starter, but he’s not far behind Simon.

If Simon falters in the No. 1 role, don’t be surprised if Workman takes over. He added a sharp slider to his repertoire in the offseason, and should be one of the Wildcats’ most reliable arms all season long. 

The Wildcats return only six pitchers to the program from their disastrous last season, but the young arms that Lopez and his staff have brought in are expected to provide depth that Arizona didn’t have last season.

“”I think we’ve got a deeper pitching staff this year,”” Workman said. “”Last year we had more talented guys and this year we’ve got a deeper staff that can go out there and throw.””

Lopez expects freshman hurler Kurt Heyer, a freshman out of Huntington Beach, Calif., to step into the No. 3 spot on the staff, and his fellow players have been equally impressed.

“”Kurt Heyer is most definitely most dominating out of all of them, I would say,”” said freshman shortstop Alex Mejia. “”He’s definitely improved a lot in the weight room and on the field.””

“”He’s a workaholic,”” Simon added.

Due to minor ailments afflicting both Simon and Workman, Heyer will actually start tonight’s game. Although his No. 1 status is only expected to last the weekend, he will certainly push Simon and Workman all season long.

While Heyer has been the most impressive, all of the freshmen have done their part in the offseason, providing the coaching staff with a feeling of confidence that doesn’t usually come with such a young and inexperienced staff.

“”They’ve done a great job,”” Cole said of the freshmen pitchers. “”My goal is to have not just a Friday-night guy, but I want a Friday-night guy on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and I think this year we have a chance of doing that even though we’re very young.””

While the freshmen pitchers are certainly still in question, the success of the team as a whole relies heavily on the success of Simon. If he can use his size and last year’s experience to set the tone for the Wildcats, the rest of the team should follow suit.

“”If the Friday-night guy can go out there and get outs,”” Lopez said, “”our pitching staff gets a chance to watch and say, ‘OK that’s how he’s getting those guys out, and those are the weaknesses we can attack on Saturday and Sunday.'””

Impact freshman, top returners

Kurt Heyer

The pitcher out of Huntington Beach, Calif., is expected to be the Saturday night starter for the Wildcats. He throws hard and works hard, and those two things should equal success for Heyer.

Seth Mejias-Brean

The standout quarterback at Cienega High School chose baseball and Arizona. Whether it is at his natural position of shortstop or the more likely spot at third base, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound infielder should contribute this season.

Alex Mejia

The defensive-minded shortstop may be so good in the field that junior Bryce Ortega — the team’s top defensive player — could make the move to second base.

Cole Frenzel

The power-hitting lefty should see time at first or third base early in the season. Where he ends up remains to be seen, but the 6-foot, 221-pound North Dakota product should bring some pop to the lineup.

Nathan Cunningham

The pitcher out of Indianapolis, Ind., is most noted for his sharp-breaking ball and has the makeup to close out games for the Wildcats.

Key returners

Bryce Ortega

The walk-on junior will undoubtedly take a leadership role this season and may very well be doing so from second base. Ortega shined at shortstop last season, but with freshman shortstop Alex Mejia, Ortega’s services may be better at second base.

Last season: .324, 57 runs, 3 hr, 33 rbi

Steve Selsky

Coming off of a collegiate baseball All-American season last year, Selsky is expected to hit third and roam right field for the Wildcats.

Last season: .318, 36 runs, 7 hr,  21 rbi

Kyle Simon

The 6-foot-5 sophomore will take the role of the number one guy this season. He has the stuff of the Friday night guy, but whether or not he flourishes in that role has yet to be seen.

Last season: 3-5, 6.03 ERA, 19 appearances, 11 starts, 74.2 innings pitched

Jett Bandy

The sophomore earned collegiate baseball All-American honors last season at third base, but will move back to his natural position of catcher this season.

Last season: .299, 21 doubles, 4 hr, 39 RBI

Rafael Valenzuela

The Nogales native is one of only two seniors on the team and will definitely be in the lineup on a daily basis. Whether it’s at third, first or in the outfield, Valenzuela will be a true leader for the Wildcats this season.

Last season: .277, 11 doubles, 14 RBI

Daniel Workman

The redshirt junior is one of the few upperclassmen on the pitching staff. He will start the season as the No. 2 pitcher, but may challenge for the No.1 spot as the season progresses.

Last season: 3-1, 3.86 ERA, 15 appearances, six starts, 42 innings pitched

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