Arizona baseball has many holes to fill from last year's roster
With opening night just a few days away, the Arizona baseball team is starting to piece together its starting roster and rotation for the 2013 season.
Six starters from last year’s national championship team have moved on, because of graduation or the MLB Draft, giving head coach Andy Lopez and his coaching staff plenty to do in the days prior to the first pitch.
“We have a lot of options,” Lopez said about filling the empty roster spots, “but for the most part we know who’s going to play where.”
Leading up to Friday’s season opener against Coppin State, the Wildcats have had intersquad games in practice to help the coaches get a better understanding of this year’s team.
The most notable loss from last season’s pitching staff is Friday ace pitcher Kurt Heyer, who was drafted in the offseason in the sixth round by the St. Louis Cardinals. But the Wildcats bring back juniors Konner Wade and James Farris, both of whom made starts in the championship series of the College World Series. Wade and Farris combined for a 18-6 record last season and had an earned run average of 3.96. Wade will move up to the Friday starter while Farris will also move up to the Saturday starting spot.
“The Friday starter sets the tone for the rest of rotation,” Wade said. “Kurt [Heyer] and I are two completely different pitchers, but he did that so well and I’m going to try and duplicate that.”
Redshirt junior Stephen Manthei has only one career start under his belt but asked coaches for the Sunday starting spot early in the off-season.
The closer will be sophomore Mathew Troupe.
This year’s Arizona infield will look a little different from last season’s. Former shortstop Alex Mejia and third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean were drafted in the fourth and eighth round, respectively, of the 2012 Major League Baseball draft.
Freshman Kevin Newman will replace Mejia at shortstop and junior defensive specialist Brandon Dixon will fill Mejias-Brean’s spot at third. Dixon spent much of the past two seasons at first and usually came in late as a defensive replacement. The Murrieta, Calif., native was originally a third baseman and is excited to make the return to the hot corner.
“I feel comfortable over there [third base],” Dixon said. “I feel like I’m back at home, and I hope I can help pick up where Seth [Mejias-Brean] left off.”
Sophomores Trent Gilbert and Riley Moore will retain their positions from last season. Gilbert started 64 of the Wildcats’ 65 games at second base last season. He finished the season as the number nine hitter and with a 95.3 percent fielding percentage.
Moore came into the Arizona program with high expectations. The 6-foot-3 catcher was drafted in the 21st round out of high school and quickly gained respect from his teammates and coaches as he became the everyday starter.Moore finished his freshman season as a first-team Freshman All-American and was named to the 2012 College World Series All-Tournament Team. He was also recently named to the 2013 Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American team (third team).
The battle for first base is undecided. Last season Dixon and sophomore Joseph Maggi split time; however, this season it will be a battle between freshman Ryan Koziol and Edmonds Community College (Wash.) transfer Sam Parris for playing time.
Two of the three starting outfielders from last season are also no longer on the team, leaving a gaping hole in the outfield. The New York Yankees drafted right fielder Robert Refsnyder in the fifth round. Centerfielder Joey Rickard was drafted in the ninth round by the Tampa Bay Rays.
As of Tuesday, those two spots had yet to be filled. However, Lopez did say that left fielder Johnny Field would make the move to centerfield.
“[Field] doesn’t have the strongest of arms,” Lopez said. “But he can cover ground, and he’s a leader out there.”
The battle for the corner outfield positions has come down to Maggi, sophomore Tyler Parmenter and freshman Scott Kingery, Cody Ramer and Zach Gibbons. Lopez made it clear that Maggi would be in the starting lineup; he just wasn’t sure if it would be as an outfielder or a designated hitter.
“It’s a long season,” Lopez said, “but I’m very confident with the team we have right now.”