Happy Arizona baseball week! It is exciting times in Tucson with the Arizona men's and women's basketball teams playing so well, but springtime also means the start of the baseball and softball seasons. There have been a lot of changes to the Arizona baseball team from last year's run to the College World Series. Here are a handful of storylines to monitor as this season progresses.
1. Chip Hale's return to Tucson:
Fresh off an appearance in the College World Series, head coach Hale will look to help Arizona pick up where they left off. Despite losing some key pieces from last year's team, the Wildcats expectations remain high being ranked in the top 25 in just about every major outlet's preseason rankings.
2. What is next for Daniel Susac:
After hitting .335 with 12 home runs and 65 RBI's he was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year last year. The accolades continue to pour in for Susac, including being named a First Team Preseason All-American by Baseball America, D1Baseball, Perfect Game and Collegiate Baseball. Most recently, Susac was named to the Golden Spikes Award preseason watch list which is awarded to the best college baseball player in the country. If the Wildcats are to once again possess a top offense in the country and make another run to Omaha, Susac will be a big part of that.
3. The rise of Chase Davis:
Davis was considered the No. 9 player in the country and No. 1 player in California by Perfect Game coming out of high school. Due to a crowded outfield, he only saw 30 at-bats as a freshman last year and showed glimpses of that potential in those limited opportunities.
Entering this year, Davis figures to be a huge part of this Wildcats offense. In the "meet the team" scrimmage this past weekend, he blasted three home runs showcasing the true power he possesses. Jacob Berry, now with Louisiana State University, led the Wildcats last year with 17 long balls. Davis offers the potential and pure power to lead Arizona in home runs this upcoming season.
4. Can Nik McClaughry pick up where he left off:
In his first year in Tucson last season, McClaughry took command of the shortstop position for the Wildcats. He was a true all-around player, posting a .967 fielding percentage while hitting .316 at the plate where he showcased great patience and the ability to hit the ball to all fields.
McClaughry took over as shortstop in March and did not look back. Once a team that struggled mightily with errors and fielding, Arizona is going to need the junior to maintain his consistency as a fielder while also making opposing pitchers work at the plate.
5. Potential breakout year for TJ Nichols:
It was an up-and-down freshman year for Nichols in the regular season. The freshman posted a 4.77 ERA across 17 appearances and 60.1 innings pitched. He showcased his upside at times as a hard-throwing right-hander, but the consistency wasn't where it needed to be.
It was in the postseason where Nichols took a turn for the better. He led the pitching staff with a 1.86 ERA, striking out 11 hitters across 9.2 innings. It was his performance in game three of the Super Regional against the University of Mississippi that stood out the most, working 5.1 one-run innings in relief while allowing just three hits to go along with seven strikeouts and zero walks.
We will get to see Nichols take the mound right away as he will be starting the season opener on Friday.
6. Can the bullpen pick up where they left off despite losing some key pieces:
The bullpen was a huge part of the Wildcats' success last season, especially in the postseason, which included posting a 1.80 ERA in the Tucson Regional. Arizona lost three key pieces from last year's bullpen in Preston Price, Gil Luna and Vince Vannelle.
One of the big transfers this offseason for the Wildcats is Holden Christian, a senior who spent the last four seasons with Loyola Marymount University. He posted a .97 ERA across 37 innings with 56 strikeouts and just 15 walks last season. Christian figures to be a huge part of the back-end of the Wildcats bullpen this year with big shoes to fill.
The Wildcats open up the 2022 season on Friday, Feb. 18, against Kansas State University, followed by games against the University of Oklahoma on Saturday and Texas Tech University on Sunday as part of the State Farm College Baseball Showdown.
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