Versus column: Time for Arizona baseball to clean house?
Time to start over
Baseball teams led by mentally tough upperclassmen are the ones that compete for the College World Series championship.
This Arizona team doesn’t have that. Head coach Andy Lopez needs to clean house to start the process over with the current underclassmen.
In 2012, when Arizona captured the CWS title, it had worked the previous two years to get to the point to where it could legitimately compete.
In 2012, Arizona’s ace pitcher was Kurt Heyer. The then-junior was in his third season as the main pitcher and he had built up a fortitude that made him a bulldog on the mound.
Arizona also had juniors Alex Mejia, Seth Mejias-Brean and Robert Refsnyder, who were talented batters and could gut out a needed hit.
This Wildcat team is led by juniors and seniors — who were part of that 2012 team — who just don’t have the same gutsiness as the upperclassmen before them. Maybe if they did, they wouldn’t have lost 10 games so far by two or fewer runs.
For goodness’ sake, a player allegedly showed up to a game drunk the same weekend the team was scheduled to play Mississippi State, the national champion runner ups.
The fact is this Arizona baseball team is actually led by its freshmen and sophomores. Its best player is a walk-on: sophomore outfielder Scott Kingery, who is actually playing out of position and is maybe the team’s best defensive infielder.
Underclassmen such as Kingery, Zach Gibbons and Bobby Dalbec are extremely talented, but they don’t have the grit yet to lead a college baseball team.
Like them, current upperclassmen Trent Gilbert and Riley Moore were starters as underclassmen, but because their team was led by tough upperclassmen, the young players’ abilities were not as crucial.
Maybe these upperclassmen have checked out since they have already won the championship.
So it’s time for Lopez to dump the extra baggage and tell his juniors they’re no longer needed here. If he’s nice, he’ll let them return as bench players, but why waste another year when you can be building for the future?
—Follow Luke Della @LukeDella
Let’s not do anything crazy
Arizona baseball is much better than its 18-25 record.
The Wildcats are leading the Pac-12 Conference in batting average (.285), hits (415) and stolen bases (49).
Injuries to key members of the pitching staff, coupled with the absence of head coach Andy Lopez during the fall season due to heart surgery, caused what was expected to be a productive year for the program to develop into its worst season since 2006, when it finished with a 27-28 record.
If the Wildcats hadn’t suffered so many injuries, especially when it came to pitching, then numerous close games this season would have gone the UA’s way.
Arizona has played 15 games that were decided by two runsor less and 10 that were decided by one.
The Wildcats are seven games below .500 and have the second-worst record in the league.
The postseason is nearly out of the picture for the slumping Wildcats. Instead of striving for this year’s playoffs, a more attainable goal would be to end the season above .500.
Looking forward, the question that comes to mind is how Arizona will make sure that another disappointing season won’t follow. It could try to clean the clubhouse with a purge of coaches and players, but in this situation, it would simply be foolish to purge a team of such potential.
This year’s MLB Draft will inevitably serve as some type of natural purge, but actively dismissing coaches or players could disrupt the evolving chemistry of the team and prove to be detrimental to the future of the program.
Just because Arizona’s offense and defense didn’t gel together this year doesn’t mean that next season will yield the same results. If key arms return healthy and the Wildcats are able to complement their explosive offense with lights-out pitching, then next year will give the UA a chance to redeem itself and live up to its high standard of excellence.
—Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17