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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Up for grabs

    For the last two seasons shortstop has been a lucky position for freshmen on the Arizona baseball team.

    Two years ago, Robert Abel stole the position early in the season and held onto it for the remainder of the season. But that’s about as far as his reign would go as last season true freshman Bryce Ortega came in to snatch away the position and assume the starting role – one which he held onto throughout the postseason.

    This year the threat is present again as freshman Kyle Stiner has got the attention of his coaches through fall ball and is currently in the mix for playing time at short.

    “”He’s done a great job throughout the fall,”” Lopez said of Steiner. “”He’ll definitely be pushing some people around out there for playing time, at least from what I’ve seen so far.””

    But despite the early impressions the freshman has made on Lopez, Ortega will be a tough player to beat out. After a season in which he finished the year with a batting average of .326 to go along with a fielding percentage of .927, the sophomore has continued to impress coaches throughout the fall and into the spring.

    With his game still at a high level, Ortega says he has greeted the increased competition in the weeks leading up to this Friday’s opener against Sacramento State saying he believes it’s actually helping him improve.

    “”I think (the competition) only makes you better and we got a lot of it on this team,”” Ortega said. “”Last year coming in, there were so many middle infielders as well and it really boosted my game up a notch.

    “”This year it’s the same thing,”” Ortega added. “”I just need to come everyday and play my game.””

    Shortstop is not the only position up for grabs this season,a hole left by graduated senior Colt Sedbrook remains at second base.

    The main candidates for the job are Mike Weldon and Raphael Valenzuela. Weldon comes into 2009 with experience at the position after seeing action in 34 games last year while also putting up significant offensive numbers with a batting average of .329 in 70 at-bats.

    Valenzuela never saw time at second, but wrestled for time in left field and played in 31 games while starting 13. This year, however, Valenzuela has been getting more practice at the second base position and thus far Lopez said he wouldn’t be surprised if the two split time come the start of the season.

    “”Both guys are making some strong cases for themselves,”” Lopez said of his second base prospects. “”The one luxury we have with Raphael (Valenzuela) is he got experience playing left field with us in the Super Regional last year. But both are doing very well and making it tough on us coaches at this point.””

    No matter who the starting jobs go to come Friday night, the job of leader will be an important one.

    With nine of the team’s veterans from last year gone, including Sedbrook at second, the middle infield will need underclassmen to step up and fill those shoes in order to solidify the Wildcats’ lineup.

    “”It’s definitely important for all of us to step up and be leaders for those younger guys,”” Weldon said. “”Already I’ve just been telling them, ‘just go out there and have fun. It’s a game. Don’t let it get too big.’ Those are things you can forget as a freshman coming into your first college game.””

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