This season, the Arizona baseball team’s pitching rotation runs deep.
Head coach Andy Lopez and right-handed pitcher Mathew Troupe agree that this year’s rotation is stocked with an abundance of healthy arms at ranging levels of experience.
While veterans like senior James Farris and juniors Troupe and Tyler Crawford will anchor the staff, young underclassmen will be expected to step up and contribute as relievers who can pitch late innings, or get an occasional weekday start.
“We’re really expecting the young guys to play a huge part this year,” Troupe said. “We have the deepest staff since I’ve [been] here. Every single one of our freshmen is going to get their opportunity. It depends what they do with it, but it really does look like they’ll be ready to get up on that mound and do what they have to do to get us a [win].”
Freshmen right-handers Bobby Dalbec, Austin Schnabel and Luke Soroko are expected to see decent time toeing the rubber in their first year as Wildcats. Dalbec, a power hitter, is a favorite to snag a starting role at one of the corner infield positions, but also has a strong arm and could factor into the bullpen during late innings.
Schnabel, a 6-foot-5, 207-pound Scottsdale, Ariz., native, led his high school, Notre Dame Prep, to its first-ever state championship as a senior. He was rated the top right-handed pitcher and ninth overall prospect in the state by Perfect Game. In his senior year, he posted an 11-2 record, recorded a 1.69 ERA and struck out 90 in 78.2 innings pitched.
Soroko said that he sees himself as a reliever going into the season. Like many freshman arms, Soroko doesn’t yet have the velocity or endurance needed to start, but his command is spot on and he’s confident he can record outs. His arsenal comprises a fastball that reaches the mid-80s, and he occasionally throws a sweeping curveball. He classifies his cutter as his “go-to pitch.”
“With [Schnabel and Soroko], the first thing that comes to mind is that they pound the zone,” Troupe said. “I’ll sit back behind home plate and they’ll throw strike after strike after strike. That’s the most important part. You don’t want to give up free bags. The main thing I’ve noticed with them is they’re not afraid to throw strikes and aren’t afraid to give up hits.”
Troupe went on, explaining that if the opposition gets a base hit, that it’s part of the game: It’s going to happen and that’s why you have a defense behind you. But when you start giving up free bases with walks, that’s when it becomes an issue.
Troupe said that nobody can help you when you’re out there giving up free passes. You dig yourself into a hole, so it’s much better to throw strikes and force the other team to make contact.
“[Our freshman class] is really expecting to contribute to this team in an active way,” Soroko said. “We’re not expecting to sit back and watch the older guys take care of it. We want to step up, contribute and help do the jobs ourselves.”
Last May, Arizona was denied a chance to defend its College World Series title, due in part to its inconsistent pitching. However, Lopez believes the deep pitching staff and defensive abilities will distinguish this season’s squad from last year’s, giving Arizona the necessary boost to propel the Wildcats back into postseason play.
“They’ll come out in long relief,” Lopez said, “and I’m sure that either Schnabel or Soroko will probably get a mid-week start somewhere because we have quite a few [mid-week games] before Pac-12 play. We have about three or four young arms that I’m sure will get some innings here before it’s all said and done.”
–Follow Evan Rosenfeld @EvanRosenfeld17