After missing postseason for the first time under head coach Jay Johnson, the Arizona Wildcats will aim to rebound this coming season in hopes of earning a bid back into playing baseball into the summer months.
Led by preseason All-American third baseman Nick Quintana and shortstop Cameron Cannon, it will be up to the veteran leadership of this team to get off to a hot start early on.
After starting in all of the teams 56 games last season, Quintana hit .313 while leading the team with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs. He also scored 49 runs and hit 17 doubles. Cannon, who also started in all 56 games and hit .321 with eight home runs and 50 RBIs. He also led the team with 59 runs scored and 21 doubles. Quintana was a First-Team All-Pac-12 selection last season, while Cannon was an honorable mention.
The Wildcats will have to make up for a lot of talent lost from last season, which includes outfielder Alfonso Rivas III and catcher Cesar Salazar who each finished in the top-five on the team in at-bats, batting average, hits, RBIs, home runs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. The Wildcats also lost outfielder Cal Stevenson and pitcher Zach Stone, among some others.
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The team also lost pitchers Cody Deason and Michael Flynn. Deason, who led the team in innings pitched, at 91.0, and strikeouts, at 84, put together a 2.87 ERA over 14 games started, was selected by the Houston Astros in the fifth round of the 2018 MLB draft. Flynn, who was second on the team in innings pitched, at 73.2, and strikeouts, at 72, was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in last year’s MLB draft.
This is the Wildcats' biggest freshman class in team history, which includes pitcher George Arias Jr. and outfielder Ryan Holgate.
“We’re excited about it,” Johnson said in regards to his thoughts on the youth of this Wildcat team in 2019. “It’s almost been like a reset button in some regard. This is the biggest class we’ve had come in, a lot of them recruited off the early success that we had when we first got here and will have an opportunity to contribute to this team.”
Johnson went on to talking about the exciting blend the Wildcats will have this upcoming season between the returning players and younger players, who will be able to contribute immediately and will be program staples over the next few years.
The pitching staff, which finished top five among the other Pac-12 teams last season in ERA, opposing batting average and strikeouts, will be led by the returning Randy Labaut. After posting a 1.60 ERA over 32.2 innings in eight appearances with five starts made, Labaut’s season came to a disappointing end after suffering a leg injury against Washington. However, after working long and hard with the Arizona Athletics training staff this offseason, he is excited to get back on the mound this season.
After losing the team’s leader in saves last season in senior Tylor Megill, I am expecting Zach Sherman to be one of the leading candidates to take over that role this season. Sherman put together a 2.45 ERA over sixteen appearances and 18.1 innings pitched, allowing just thirteen hits, while striking out twenty-four hitters to only five walks.
Senior Avery Weems, coming off a season where he led the team with 26 total appearances and nine starts, hopes to bounce back in a season where he pitched to a 5.69 ERA. Labaut and Weems will likely be the leaders for this pitching staff in total appearances and innings pitched, so the Wildcats will need these two to stay healthy to make another run toward postseason glory in 2019.
Overall, there is a certainly a lot to be excited about with this Wildcats team in 2019. Coming into the season with a good blend of veteran leadership and young talent, there could be some growing pains early on. However, Johnson has proven he can lead this team to the College World Series, so it will be up to the veterans in Quintana, Labaut and Cannon to lead this team back to the postseason. The season is right around the corner; Wildcat fans, get excited!
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