Arizona Baseball Season Outlook
Jan. 23, 2003
Heading into the second season under head coach Andy Lopez, the Arizona baseball team will have a different look in 2003. The Wildcats return just 12 players from last season's 31-24 team and will welcome in 23 newcomers onto the field. Despite the large turnover of the roster, the coaching staff believes that the returning players and newcomers are up to the challenge of returning Arizona to national prominence.
The 2003 Arizona pitching staff features a balance of seasoned veterans and lively new arms. The staff returns seven players from last season, including two of its three starters, and will have 10 newcomers to work with.
A pair of juniors return to anchor the starting staff in 2003. Righty Sean Rierson and lefty Joe Little provide a veteran one-two punch that has combined to make 73 appearances and 52 starts in an Arizona uniform. Rierson, who returned to school after being selected in the MLB draft by the San Francisco Giants as a draft-eligible sophomore last summer, has proven to be one of the most accurate pitchers in recent years. In two seasons in Tucson he has walked just 46 batters in 217.1 innings, while striking out a team-best 147 over the two-year span. Coming off a sophomore season that saw him finish 7-5, including Arizona's first complete game shutout in nearly five years, pitching coach Jeff Morris will look to Rierson to provide the stability and poise that he has shown as Arizona's top pitcher since his first appearance as a freshman in 2001. Classmate Joe Little successfully made the transition from the bullpen to the starter role last season. Finishing 2002 with a 6-6 record, the southpaw led the Wildcats with 83 k's in 97 innings pitched. A dominating performance during the fall (1-0, 21 k's, 2.22 ERA, 16 IP) and a solid showing in the prestigious Cape Cod League this summer (2-2, 4.37 ERA, combined no-hitter) paves the way for Little to be valuable member of Arizona's pitching equation in 2003. Newcomer Richie Gardner will round out the regular rotation of the starting staff. A junior transfer from Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College, Gardner was one of the top JC pitchers in California after his freshman season. A bout with mononucleosis and a blow to the head by a ball virtually erased his sophomore season. However, fully healthy and healed, the righty appears to have regained his dominance that saw him selected by the Texas Rangers in the 24th round of the 2001 MLB draft. Gardner led all Arizona pitchers during the fall intra squad games with a 1.13 ERA in 16 innings pitched. Junior Chris Goodman, who has made 38 appearances and 16 starts during his career, went 5-2 last season both as a starter and long reliever and will be among a host of arms that can fill in for midweek games and spot starts.The coaching staff will also call on freshmen Kevin Guyette and John Meloan to provide the ability to be called upon to start games this season.Guyette comes to Arizona from 2002 College World Series participant Georgia Tech. Hailing from Paradise Valley, Ariz., Guyette returns to the desert southwest after an impressive summer in the Cape Cod League where he went 5-1 with a 2.05 ERA and 41 strikeouts.Meloan, an imposing 6-foot-3, 225-pound right hander, recorded three no-hitters in his prep career in Katy, Texas, including a 20-strikeout no-no his senior season.
In addition to Goodman, Guyette and Meloan, Arizona has a bevy of both right and left-handers to come on in relief of its starters. Returning to the bullpen from last season are seniors Wes Zoltoff and Brian Pemble and junior Scott Burns. Zlotoff, who earned a medical hardship sixth season, was one of Arizona's primary arms in relief last season. The righty led all Wildcat pitchers with 22 appearances in 2002 and posted a 2-1 record and two saves with a 3.00 ERA in 30 innings pitched. Lefty Pemble returns to action after sitting out last season as a redshirt. Prior to going down with a broken arm in 2001, Pemble was 4-3 with a save and a 3.69 ERA in 31.2 innings. Newcomers to the bullpen this season are right-handers Pat Lawler, Ray Neal, and Derek Rodriguez and lefties Jordan Brown, Chris Frey and Kris Sanchez.
With the game on the line in the later innings, the Wildcats will call on sophomore newcomer Mark Worrell or veteran junior Brian Anderson to close the door on the opposition. Worrell, who originally signed out of high school with coach Lopez at Florida, comes to Tucson after one season at Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce, Fla. The last high school pitcher to defeat the Cuban national team, Worrell brings an aggressive and fearless attitude to the closer roll. Anderson, who led Arizona with four saves last season, has demonstrated the ability to move in from his outfield position to close out victories for the Wildcats.
Freshman Nick Hundley and sophomore Richard Mercado will serve as the primary backstops for the Wildcats in 2003. Hundley, a fifth-round selection of the Florida Marlins in the 2002 draft, brings a plus arm and impressive defensive skills to the signal caller position. Offensively the 6-foot-1, 195-pound catcher will provide the ability to knock in runs out of the middle order. In Arizona's fall season, Hundley hit .310 with 12 RBIs and pair of home runs in 14 games. Mercado, Arizona's backup catcher last season, hit .292 with 22 runs scored and 21 RBIs in 45 games as a freshman. When not catching, both Mercado and Hundley will be one of the primary candidates to fill in as the designated hitter. Backing up the pair will be newcomers Alex Ortega, Zach Bies and Joe Frazier.
The Wildcat infield is likely set with three veterans and a newcomer to begin the season. Junior Moises Duran and sophomores Pat Reilly and John Hardy return as the starters at the corners and up this middle this year. Freshman Trevor Crowe, a 20th-round pick of the Oakland Athletics in the 2002 draft, is the most likely candidate to round out the starting infield. Duran is coming off a season that saw him hit nine home runs and drive in 42 runs, including nine in a single game. His power display carried over to the fall season as the 5-foot-9 Duran led all players with six home runs. A steady defender, the third-year Wildcat will shift from his second base spot over to third this season. Reilly, who took over the starting first base job right before Pac-10 play last year, posted a .317 batting average, second-best on the team in 2002, while driving in 25 runs. His efforts from the year earned the former walk on a scholarship this season. Hardy, Arizona's starting third baseman last year, will take over the shortstop position from departed senior Brad Hassey The sophomore led Arizona last year with a .328 batting average in his freshman campaign. He also scored 36 runs and drove in another 38 in his first year at Arizona. Crowe, who was limited to a designated hitter role in the fall, will team up with Hardy as UA's double-play combo at second base. A multi-faceted player, Crowe led all players in the fall intra squad with 17 hits, 16 runs scored and 10 stolen bases, while hitting .386 in 14 games. Reserves in the infield include first basemen Bies, Brown and Frazier, middle infielders Brad Boyer and Lee Franklin and third basemen Matt McKinney and David Phillips.
Arizona's outfield this season is stocked with both power and speed. Returnees Anderson and Jeff Van Houten, along with newcomers Chipper Crum, Derek Decater, Boyer and Dallas Haught, will all vie for the starting positions. Anderson, who missed 15 games due to a sprained knee last season, will look to regain the form of his freshman All-American season that saw him hit .370 with 47 runs and 38 RBIs after slipping to .275, 37 runs and 30 RBIs his sophomore year. Van Houten returns for his sophomore season after breaking into the starting lineup as a freshman in 2002. Playing injured most of the second half of last season, Van Houten finished his rookie campaign at Arizona batting .295 with seven home runs and 34 RBIs. Native Tucsonan Crum comes over to Arizona after playing two seasons at Pima Community College. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior will bring a combination of power and speed to Arizona's offense. Boyer will be given an opportunity to find a role in the outfield, as well as serving as a reserve middle infielder. The speedy freshman scored seven runs in the fall and also stole nine bases. Decater, who is coming off a pair of shoulder surgeries, was held out of the fall season to recuperate. However, the coaching staff believes the freshman has the tools to be an immediate contributor for the Wildcats. Haught is a mid-year junior transfer from Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Although he did not participate with the team in the fall, the junior led the ACCAC in runs scored last season with 65 while batting .396. Other players figuring into reserve roles in the outfield include pitchers Frey, Neal and Sanchez.
Coach Lopez has made of point of upgrading the caliber of competition that Arizona will face during the non-conference portion of it schedule. On slate this season are three-game home series against preseason No. 10 Baylor, Texas A&M and Minnesota and a trip to Austin, Texas, to take on defending national champion and preseason No. 5 Texas. Arizona will also face UC Irvine, Oklahoma State, New Mexico, Portland, Wagner, Sacramento State, Grand Canyon and Miami (Ohio) outside of the conference this year. The Pac-10 figures to be among the top leagues in the nation again this season. The Wildcats will host defending conference champs USC, 2002 NCAA participant Washington, Cal and Oregon State in Tucson this year, and will travel to College World Series participant Stanford, Washington State and UCLA, before closing out the regular season in Tempe against in-state rival Arizona State. Arizona will play 35 of its 56 regular season games in Tucson this year and will also host New Mexico for one game in Nogales, Ariz.