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JJ Matijevic takes on bigger role in 2017 for Wildcats

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Alex McIntyre | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona baseball infielder J.J. Matijevic (24) celebrates with his teammates after scoring a run during Arizona's 17-6 win against ASU at Hi Corbett Field on Tuesday night. Matijevic combined with Bobby Dalbec to drive in 13 of Arizona's 17 runs.

The Arizona baseball team lost several key offensive contributors to last year’s MLB Draft, but it retained a lethal offensive weapon to man the middle of the order with junior JJ Matijevic.

After a solid sophomore campaign and another successful stint in the prestigious Cape Cod League last summer, the left-handed-hitting Matijevic earned a spot on Baseball America’s top 100 college prospects list—coming in at No. 53.

A season ago, Matijevic was the regular DH for the Wildcats, but he also spent some time at first and second base while typically hitting in the middle in the order.

He went on to hit .287/.331/.411 with four home runs, 37 RBIs and an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .742. His 17 doubles and four home runs were both good for third on the team.

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For the second straight summer, Matijevic posted impressive numbers in the Cape Cod League—a league that boasts the best collegiate players around the country. The junior hit .357 with five home runs, 25 RBIs and 19 runs in 31 games for the Falmouth Commodores. Arizona Baseball named him the Summer Player of the Year for 2016.

“In the Cape, it’s the top guys in the country and the coaches are unbelievable,” Matijevic said. “The whole competition was my biggest takeaway.”

While there’s no shortage of offensive potential in Matijevic’s game, he doesn’t have a set defensive position, but has shown the ability to be a versatile asset on the right side of the infield.

Matijevic played scarcely at second and first base a season ago before slotting in as the everyday DH. Cody Ramer took over as the everyday second basemen due to his exceptional defense while Ryan Aguilar played first for the majority of the season.

Matijevic’s defensive role could be similar to last year as outfielder Alfonso Rivas made the switch to first base, while the additions of freshmen infielders Cameron Cannon and Shane Martinez are expected to see time at second. However, head coach Jay Johnson said Matijevic will still factor in the right side of the infield and that lineups will be determined based on pitching matchups.

“We’re trying to figure out what our opposing pitcher looks like on a particular day,” Johnson said. “He’s done a really good job; he’s really improved over there [at second].”

Matijevic agreed that he’s improved at second but still could develop further—in particular with his first step once the ball is put in play.

“I’m a lot farther ahead this year at second than I was last year,” Matijevic said. “I’m not there yet, I still have a lot more work, but I’ve definitely gotten better at it. Just getting that first quick step is really it for me.”

With a number of emotional leaders from last season gone, Matijevic has taken it upon himself to mentor the younger guys on the team.

“That’s what I take a lot of pride in [leadership],” Matijevic said. “I took them [freshmen] under my wing and tried to stay on them a lot because I know these freshmen could do a lot this year and they could be really, really good if they just put in the work and focus and I’ve tried helping them with that. They’ve been doing an excellent job so far.”

Matijevic was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the Boston Red Sox. As a junior, Matijevic is eligible for the draft for the first time since 2014.

If he posts similar numbers to last year or better, he has a good chance of being selected early in the 2017 MLB Draft and will likely be the first Wildcat taken.


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