Arizona Baseball Outlook
Jan. 13, 2004
The 2003 Arizona baseball team achieved a lot in Andy Lopez's second year as the head coach in Tucson. UA made its first NCAA postseason appearance since 1999. The 35 games it won were the most for any Wildcat team since 1993. Arizona led the nation in triples, setting a Pac-10 record in the process. The 2003 team finished with the third-most stolen bases in school history, while nine players hit .300 or better and sophomore Jeff Van Houten finished as the Pac-10 batting champion with a .413 average.
Yet it wasn't enough. The young Wildcats who achieved so much in 2003 left Goodwin Field in Fullerton, Calif., in late May with a bitter taste in their mouths. A pair of losses to Notre Dame and San Diego in the NCAA Regional ended the year and capped off a season-worst six-game losing streak.
'I think if you asked our returning players if they were happy with the way the season ended last year, to a man, they'd say no,' says Lopez. 'The last two weeks of 2003 was not the way we wanted to end the year, but the disappointment the team felt last season will be used as experience and an investment we can take into this year.'
An investment indeed. Offensively the Wildcats will be cashing in with 86 percent of its runs, 86 percent of its hits, 90 percent of its doubles, 84 percent of its triples, 70 percent of its home runs, 84 percent of its RBI and 85 percent of its stolen bases all returning to the field in 2004.
Arizona has eight offensive starters back from last year's squad and 14 players that contributed during the season. That might not matter unless of course the offense posted a.328 team batting average with 521 runs, 697 hits, 126 doubles, 50 triples, 71 home runs, 473 RBI and 144 stolen bases. All of which ranked among the top teams in the Pac-10 last season.
On the mound the Wildcats will be counting on a mix of returning arms and some talented new comers to carry the load. Gone are nine-game winners Richie Gardner and Sean Rierson and in are sophomores John Meloan and Kevin Guyette, as well as newcomers Koley Kolberg, Sean Jarrett, Mark Melancon, Luis Cortez and Tyler Tiedeman.
Arizona is blessed with a pair of very capable backstops. Junior Richard Mercado and sophomore Nick Hundley both posses strong arms, fine receiving skills, the ability to swing the bat and speed on the base paths. The pair will most likely share the catching duties throughout the 2004 season.
Mercado, a two-year letterwinner, enters his third season as a career .308 hitter in 86 games played. Last year he posted career highs in hits (47), home runs (4) and RBI (31). Behind the plate he threw out a team-best 42 percent of the potential base stealers, 20 percentage points higher then his freshmen season.
Hundley, a 2003 Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American, wrapped up his first year in the Cardinal and Navy with .361 average in 38 games played, 48 hits, 12 doubles, 25 RBI and eight stolen bases.
Senior Zach Bies returns to the field this season as the backup to Hundley and Mercado.
Quoting Coach - 'We're very fortunate to have two very good catchers. The position can be demanding on a player over the course of a season and it's really a luxury to have two catchers of equal ability. Offensively, either one can step in and contribute without altering our aggressive approach to the game, and defensively both Richard and Nick handle the pitchers very well and they each have a strong arm.'
Catchers, Yr. 2003 Arizona StatsZach Bies, Sr. DNPNick Hundley, So. .361, 37 R, 48 H, 12 2B, 2 HR, 25 RBI, 8 SBRichard Mercado, Jr. .324, 32 R, 47 H, 7 2B, 4 HR, 31 RBI
Another position that will likely start out with a platoon system in place. Junior Pat Reilly and sophomore Jordan Brown, the pair that shared the position last season, appear to be the incumbents to the spot for 2004.
Reilly, who will also see time in the outfield this season, is a career .324 hitter in 90 games played. In 50 games last season the southpaw hit .329 with a career-high 11 doubles while finishing fourth on the team with 15 stolen bases. Brown closed out his first year at Arizona with a .259 average in 25 games played with 10 runs, three home runs and 15 RBI.
Also looking to make an early impression will be newcomers Scott Lucas, a junior, and freshman Tyler Wicke. Catching backup Bies and senior classmate Joe Frazier may also see time first base during the year.
Quoting Coach - 'First base is a spot where we can get more productivity then we've had in the past. Pat has proven the ability to play the position on a consistent level and Jordan has a year of experience under his belt. I really believe that the position, both offensively and defensively, will play a part in our success this season.'
First Basemen, Yr. 2003 Arizona StatsJordan Brown, So. .259, 10 R, 15 H, 3 HR, 15 RBIJoe Frazier, Sr. .364, 1 R, 4 H, 1 RBIScott Lucas TransferPat Reilly, Jr. .329, 36 R, 53 H, 11 2B, 5 3B, 2 HR, 23 RBITyler Wicke, Fr. Freshman
A spot that senior Moises Duran has owned for the last two seasons will be his again in 2004. A fine defensive infielder, Duran also packs a wallop with his bat despite standing just 5-foot-9. Arizona's home ruin leader in 2003 with 15, he also finished second on the team with 63 RBI. In three seasons of play he holds a share of the career school record for grand slams with four.
Backing up Duran will be sophomore Lee Franklin. Used primarily as a defensive replacement in 2003, Franklin still managed to hit .318 with two triples, nine runs scored and eight RBI.
Quoting Coach - 'Mo has the ability to carry the team. He's a senior with three solid seasons of experience. If he can maintain his effort and enthusiasm throughout the season, he'll have a monster year. In Lee we have a very solid backup player. He understands the way we play the game at Arizona and he's an absolute joy to coach.'
Second Basemen, Yr. 2003 Arizona StatsMoises Duran, Sr. .286, 61 R, 56 H, 11 2B, 15 HR, 63 RBILee Franklin, So. .318, 9 R, 14 H, 2 3B, 8 RBI
Returning to his corner spot is sophomore Brad Boyer. One of Arizona's four Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-Americans last season, Boyer broke five UA freshman records while leading the team in runs scored (71) and stolen bases (25).
After committing a team-high 22 errors in 2003, the second-year Wildcat spent the off-season working on his defense. If the fall season showing with his glove is any indication of his improvement, the third base spot will be one of offensive and defensive strength this year.
Freshman Kurtis Goodin will serve as the back up to Boyer in 2004.
Quoting Coach - 'I don't think we could have asked any more of a freshman then we did of Brad last year. He did everything a leadoff hitter should and he played a position defensively that was new to him. I've always said that the biggest improvement a player makes is from their freshman to their sophomore years. If that's the case with Brad, with all of the hard work he's put in over the summer and fall, watch out.'
Third Basemen, Yr. 2003 Arizona StatsBrad Boyer, So. .351, 71 R, 84 H, 16 2B, 8 3B, 5 HR, 47 RBI, 25 SBKurtis Goodin, Fr. Freshman
Junior John Hardy returns as a two-year starter at short. After leading the team in batting average his freshman season, Hardy got off to a slow start in 2003. However, the second-year Wildcat found his stroke at the end of the year to hit .367 in Arizona's final 13 games. A fine defensive player, Hardy has solid range and turns a double play with relative ease.
Also looking make an impression is talented freshman newcomer Jason Donald. A 20th-round selection by the Anaheim Angels in last year's MLB draft, Donald turned in a impressive performance during the fall intra squad games, hitting .367 with nine runs scored.
Quoting Coach - 'We have a lot of talent in the shortstop position and we're going to have find places for both of these guys to play. John struggled to open last season, but showed his abilities at the end of the year. Jason is a physically gifted player that will be able to contribute right away as a true freshman.'
Shortstop, Yr. 2003 Arizona StatsJason Donald, Fr. FreshmanJohn Hardy, Jr. .274, 38 R, 57 H, 11 2B, 30 RBI
Gone from the outfield is 2003 White Sox first-round draft pick and three-year starter Brian Anderson. The loss of Anderson's 2003 numbers, a .366 average, 58 runs, 62 RBIs and 11 home runs, is no small item to overlook, but the belief is that the current group of outfielders will fare just fine in his absence.
Highlighting the returning players to the outfield is junior All-America candidate Jeff Van Houten. The 2003 Pac-10 batting champion raised eyebrows across the nation last year with his .413 batting average, 53 runs scored and team-leading 72 RBIs. The third-year starter is slotted for his familiar right field role this year.
Taking over for Anderson in center field is sophomore Trevor Crowe. A converted shortstop, Crowe has the range and arm strength to fill the gaps in spacious Kindall Field at Sancet Stadium and make the rally killing throws. As a freshman Crowe finished with a .316 average, 34 runs, 13 stolen bases and 35 RBIs at the plate.
In left field, Lopez and the coaching staff have a number of different options. Fleet footed senior Terrence Taylor is one choice. In limited playing time last year, just 26 games, the JC transfer stole 15 bases and scored 24 runs while hitting at a .356 clip.
A pair of newcomers, freshmen Bill Rhinehart and DJ Lewis, could also factor in the mix. Lewis possesses what might be the rawest power on the team, while Rhinehart has a sweet swing from the left side of the plate.
When healthy, 2003 Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American Derek Decater is a difference maker on the field. He finished his first season at Arizona with a .299 average, 32 runs scored, seven stolen bases and 32 RBI. A sore back and two shoulder surgeries have held the sophomore back and have kept him from participating in the fall practices the last two seasons.
When not on the mound, southpaw Chris Frey can also move into any of the spots in the outfield. In part-time duty last year the sophomore hit .250 with eight runs and seven RBI.
Other players who will vie for playing time in the outfield are first baseman Reilly and catcher Bies.
Quoting Coach - 'The situation in the outfield is one of experience and depth. Jeff put together what turned out to be a really impressive all-around season a year ago. He's a smart hitter that knows his strengths and uses them to his benefit against opposing pitchers. Trevor made a nice adjustment to the outfield last season and we're expecting him to move into the centerfield spot. We feel that with his speed and his arm strength he'll be able to cut off the gaps and keep base runners honest when they do get on. In left field we've got a number of players that all bring something different to the table. Terrence is easily the fastest player on the team, DJ has tremendous power, Bill is a great young hitter and Derek has the potential to put up some very big numbers.'
Outfielders, Yr. 2003 Arizona StatsTrevor Crowe, So. .316, 34 R, 59 H, 14 2B, 35 RBI, 13 SBDerek Decater, So. .299, 32 R, 9 2B, 32 RBI, 7 SBDJ Lewis, Fr. FreshmanBill Rhinehart, Fr. FreshmanTerrence Taylor, Sr. .356, 24 R, 26 H, 7 2B, 2 3B, 15 SBJeff Van Houten, Jr. .413, 53 R, 88 H, 10 2B, 9 3B, 11 HR, 72 RBI, 9 SB
Perhaps the area of greatest uncertainty for the Wildcats, the starting pitching staff will take on a whole new look in 2004. Gone are Arizona's three regular starters from last season - Richie Gardner, Sean Rierson and Joe Little - a trio that combined to win 22 games and strike out 221 hitters. In for 2004 are sophomores John Meloan and Kevin Guyette, as well as newcomers Koley Kolberg, Sean Jarrett, Luis Cortez, Mark Melancon and Tyler Tiedeman.
Meloan was Arizona's top freshman hurler in 2003. Finishing with a 4-1 mark and two saves, the big right-hander struck out 40 hitters in 43 1/3 innings. He made a team-high 20 appearances, including two starts.
Guyette, who made six starts in 16 appearances, finished 3-3 overall with a 4.80 ERA in 50 2/3 innings. Not necessarily a strikeout pitcher, Guyette averaged 11.19 groundouts per nine innings last season, tops for all of the returning pitchers.
JC transfer Kolberg leads the list of newcomers to the pitching staff. In five fall season starts, the junior right-hander posted a 1.93 ERA against the potent Wildcat bats in intra squad games. He also struck out 13 in 14 innings of work against his teammates.
Lopez and the coaches believe that Jarrett, who was added to the spring roster in January, to be a strong candidate for a starting spot. A 6-foot-5 right-hander from Otero Junior College in Colorado, he is a redshirt sophomore with three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Cortez, a transfer from Texas, will vie for an opportunity to toe the rubber as a starter at UA. A redshirt sophomore, he posted a 3.86 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 14 innings during the fall season.
Two players who emerged from the fall season as the best surprises were freshmen right-handers Mark Melancon and Tyler Tiedeman. Both showed impressive poise and control on the mound. Melancon went 2-0 with a 3.27 ERA in four fall appearances, while Tiedeman struck out nine hitters in 11 innings of work.
Quoting Coach - 'The first few weeks of the season will be used to put together a rotation that we feel comfortable with. We have a number of new arms and because of that we're going to have to take a wait and see approach. All of the guys that will battle for the starting jobs are very capable pitchers and the competition for the three spots in the conference season should be pretty intense. An added bonus with so many capable starters is that the guys who don't fill out the rotation will help bolster our bullpen.'
Starting Pitchers, Yr. 2003 Arizona StatsLuis Cortez, So. TransferKevin Guyette, So. 3-3, 2 SV, 4.80 ERA, 50 2/3 IP, 34 K, 10 BBSean Jarrett, So. TransferKoley Kolberg, Jr. TransferMark Melancon, Fr. FreshmanJohn Meloan, So. 4-1, 2 SV, 4.15 ERA, 43 1/3 IP, 40 K, 28 BBTyler Tiedeman, Fr. Freshman
Arizona's biggest Achilles Heel last season, blowing five saves, the relief staff will also have a different look in 2004. Taking over for the starters this season will fall on the arms of senior Scott Burns, junior Derek Rodriguez, sophomores Chris Frey and Pat Lawler and freshmen Griffin Phelps, Brad Mills and Donald Veal.
Burns made good use of his limited work in 2003, posting a 3.60 ERA in five appearances. A redshirt senior, the 6-foot-5 right-hander has averaged nearly a strikeout per inning during his career. Burns, along with Rodriguez, will be the late-inning hurlers for the Wildcats in 2004.
Rodriguez will take over as the main closer for the Wildcats. A role that never got on track in 2003 as UA posted just seven saves as a team last year, the coaches believe the junior right-hander has the ability to come in and close out games in 2004. With his Las Vegas summer league team Rodriguez went 2-1 with seven saves in 26 innings pitched in 2003.
Southpaw Frey gained valuable experience in middle relief as a freshman in 2003. Appearing in 11 games, he posted 18 strikeouts in 23 innings of work. Classmate Lawler appeared in just four games as a freshman, but finished with a 2.70 ERA and six strikeouts in 10 innings of work.
Phelps, Mills and Veal, all lefties, will each vie for middle relief opportunities throughout the season.
Quoting Coach - 'We're in good shape in the bullpen this season. With the guys we've already got slated to be relievers and the guys that move from the starting rotation into the bullpen, we're going to have a nice mix of both right-handers and lefties and of veterans and newcomers. I think Derek and Scott will make a nice combo in the final innings that was missing from last season's relievers.'
Relief Pitchers, Yr. 2003 Arizona StatsScott Burns, Sr. 0-0, 3.60 ERA, 5 K, 1 BBChris Frey, So. 0-0, 1 SV, 5.87 ERA, 18 K, 10 BBPat Lawler, So. 0-0, 2.70 ERA, 6 K, 6 BBBrad Mills, Fr. FreshmanGriffin Phelps, Fr. FreshmanDerek Rodriguez, Jr. 0-2, 8.22 ERA, 11 K, 11 BBDonald Veal, Fr. Freshman
Along with the always tough Pac-10 schedule, the Wildcats will also face a very stiff non-conference slate in 2004. Four of the seven non-Pac-10 series scheduled for the year are against teams that advanced to the NCAA tournament last season, including two against schools that advanced to the Super Regionals and one to the College World Series.
If one didn't know better they might think Arizona had jumped out of the Pac-10 into the Big West with its early season schedule. Conference foes UC Riverside, Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine will all pay a visit to the Old Pueblo in the first three weeks of February, almost making Arizona an honorary member of the conference in the process. Both Riverside and Fullerton advanced to the postseason in 2003, with the Titans moving on all the way to Omaha, Neb., and the College World Series.
After nine home games the Wildcats will head out on the road for the first time in 2004 and get a sneak peak at Pac-10 rival Arizona State in the process. The mid-week single game contest is the first non-conference meeting between the two schools since 2000.
The road swing continues to close out the month with a trip to Waco, Texas, and a three-game series with 2003 Super Regional participant Baylor. The Bears 2003 season ended just one game short of the College World Series in Baton Rouge, La., as Baylor fell to CWS participant LSU two games to one in the second round of the NCAA postseason.
The month of March will open up at home with a three-game set against Sacramento State. The series is almost guaranteed to provide fireworks as the two teams combined for 57 runs and 58 hits in just two games in 2003.
The following week will find Arizona just outside of Austin, Texas, in Round Rock for three games at the Express College Classic. The Wildcats will take on TCU on Thursday before getting another crack at Notre Dame, the team that dealt Arizona its first loss at the Fullerton Regional in 2003, on Friday. The weekend will close out with a Saturday match-up with the Big Ten's Penn State, a school Arizona hasn't faced since the 1963 College World Series.
UA will return to Tucson just in time to repack for a trip to Long Beach State. LBSU advanced to the Super Regional round of the postseason in 2003 before falling to CWS runner up Stanford. The 49ers are currently riding a six-game winning streak over the Wildcats.
A visit by Washington State opens Pac-10 play in the final weekend of March. Arizona took two of three from WSU last season in Pullman, but the Cougars took the series 2-1 from Wildcats the last time the two teams met in Tucson in 2002.
A trip to Oregon State for three games and a conference series visit by UCLA follow in the next two weeks before the Wildcats will take a break from Pac-10 action with a second midweek trip to the Valley of the Sun for a non-conference game with the Sun Devils followed by a two game jog to UNLV and a three-game home series with UT-Pan American.
The end of April and beginning of May will see the Wildcats head out on the road for a season-high nine-game road trip at Washington, Cal and UCLA. The games with the Huskies and Golden Bears will count towards the conference standings, while the trip to Los Angeles against the Bruins will not. The second meeting with the Bruins in 2004 is a non-conference series that marks the final non-Pac-10 games for Arizona in the regular season.
The final three weeks of the season will most assuredly play a part in the conference race as the 2003 CWS runner up and defending Pac-10 champion Stanford Cardinal visit Kindall Field at Sancet Stadium followed by a three-game conference match up with Sun Devils. The Wildcats will wrap up the season in Los Angeles with a conference series with USC.