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2006 Baseball Preseason Outlook
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 01/10/2006
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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                The look of the Arizona baseball program took a dramatic turn over the course of a few short hours last June. Returning home from a third straight NCAA postseason appearance, the Wildcats learned that eight everyday starters were selected in the first 14 rounds of the MLB First-Year Player Draft.

 

Snatched up within hours of each other were Pac-10 Player of the Year Trevor Crowe, Johnny Bench Award finalist Nick Hundley, All-American Jordan Brown, 10-game winners John Meloan and Kevin Guyette, .300-hitting outfielder Chris Frey, second baseman Brad Boyer and graduating two-time All-Pac-10 senior Jeff Van Houten.

 

                With all but Boyer signing contracts to join the professional ranks there was no doubt in head coach Andy Lopez’s mind that the 2006 team would have to take on a different look. There was also no doubt that the program would be fine with the players that were coming in and those that were returning.

 

“There is no question we lost a lot of talent and leadership from last year,” Lopez said. “But I honestly believe that we’ve got a team that will compete on the level we’re expected to. I know that the returning players have had some success in the past, and are eager to help a very talented group of newcomers get their feet wet and compete on the highest level.”

 

Starting Pitching

 

                Despite losing a pair of 10-game winners in John Meloan and Kevin Guyette from last season, the Arizona starting staff looks to be a strong point in 2006. The players slated to make up the weekend rotation are young but have proven that they have what it takes to pitch at Arizona.

 

                Sophomore left-hander Eric Berger will anchor the staff in the Friday slot. Appearing in 25 games and making four starts as a freshman last season, he showed flashes of being a dominating pitcher throughout the year. Nowhere was that made clearer then in two NCAA postseason appearances against the defending national champions Cal State Fullerton. In just 4 2/3 innings, the southpaw struck out 10 of the 16 Titan hitters he faced and surrendered just two hits to limit the opposition to a .125 batting average. His success carried over to the summer where he went 2-0 with a microscopic 0.48 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings while pitching for Yarmouth-Dennis in the Cape Cod League.

 

Berger’s southpaw classmate David Coulon is also scheduled for a slot in the pitching rotation this season, a spot he held for the majority of his freshman year in 2005. Coulon went 3-3 with a 5.50 ERA in 18 games last year, 12 of which were starts. Pitching for the Orleans Cardinals in the Cape Cod League over the summer, he went 2-3 with a save and 2.33 ERA in New England.

 

True freshman Mike Colla will fill the third spot in the starting rotation. The 2004 Fresno Bee Player of the Year, he brings a 90-plus fastball with him to Tucson and is the only pitcher in California Central Coast Section history to ever pitch a no-hitter in the championship game. In four varsity seasons at Clovis West High School in Fresno, Calif., he won 34 career games, including nine wins his junior year and 12 as a senior.

 

Quoting Coach

“In Eric, David and Mike we have a solid rotation,” Lopez said. “The two left-handers have helped us in the past, and while they’re taking on different roles this season, they have been preparing ever since last year to take on new jobs. I believe that they’ll help ease the transition of some of younger players on offense by eating up innings and keeping us in ball games until we get settled. Colla pitched well in the fall and I think he’ll fit in nicely with the two sophomores.”

 

Relief Pitchers

 

                With Berger moving out of middle relief and into the starting rotation, junior lefty Brad Mills is the most experienced arm available out of the bullpen. Making 28 career appearances, Mills has a 4.63 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings in two seasons at Arizona. Playing for the Harrisonburg Turks in the Valley League over the summer, Mills was named to the all-league team after finishing the three-month season 5-0 with a 1.62 ERA. He struck 62 hitters in just 39 innings pitched.

 

                Sophomore left-hander Matt Baugh is another experienced arm available out of the pen. Appearing in 11 games as a freshman last year, Baugh posted a 5.56 ERA in 11 1/3 innings. He helped combine on a 13-0 shutout win at Washington State and struck out the side in an inning of work against UNLV. Baugh also pitched for Harrisonburg in the Valley League over the summer.

 

                Along with Mills and Baugh, a talented group of newcomers will all vie for innings both as weekday starters and relievers. True freshmen Cory Burns, Preston Guilmet, John James, Brett Lorin and Ryan Perry will team up with redshirt frosh Daniel Schlereth to form the bulk of the bullpen. All earned their way on to the Arizona roster during the fall and will need to eat up innings should the starters falter.

 

Quoting Coach

“I’ve been very pleased with the development of both Brad and Matt,” Lopez said. “They are two guys that know what we expect of them. The newcomers and younger guys all have the ability to pitch on this level, and had to earn their roster spots out of the fall. We’ll work with them to find the roles that suit them best out of the pen.”

 

Closer

 

Last season’s ERA and saves leader Mark Melancon returns to his closer role for another year. A workhorse in relief, Melancon tossed two or more innings in 15 of his team-high 34 appearances last year, and three times went four or more. Despite the heavy work load for a closer, he still managed to post a 2.58 ERA, strike out a career-best 69 hitters in 66 1/3 innings and tally a school record 11 saves in 2005.

 

Playing for the national team for USA Baseball over the summer, Melancon was just as dominating. In 10 appearances the he went 1-0 with five saves, 10 strikeouts and did not give up a run in 12 1/3 innings.

 

His 14 career saves at Arizona are tied for the school record and in just two seasons he is already 10th in career appearances.

 

Quoting Coach

“Mark’s makeup suits him for the closer role,” Lopez said. “He has the ability and the endurance to be a starter, but his mental toughness and his attitude on the mound is off the charts, and in pressure situations and tight games I know he’ll get the job done.”

 

Catcher

 

                Coming out of the fall season, junior college transfer Konrad Schmidt grabbed the inside track on the starting catching duties. Playing two seasons at Santa Rosa Junior College, Schmidt helped lead his team to the 2005 Northern California state title while garnering Nor-Cal JC Player of the Year honors along the way. Batting .418 with 15 doubles, five home runs and 51 RBI his sophomore year, he was also named the Bay Valley Conference Player of the Year and first-team all-league.

 

                Two others will back Schmidt up behind the plate, sophomore Matt Denker and freshman Daniel Butler.

 

Quoting Coach

“We are very fortunate to have a player like Konrad show up after the departure of Nick Hundley,” Lopez said. “He played for one of my former players at Santa Rosa, so I already know the kind of makeup he has and he’ll play a big part in helping to start the offense. Matt and Daniel all have the tools necessary to compete here at Arizona. ”

 

Infield

 

                The Wildcats return two of the four regular starters from the infield last season in senior second baseman Boyer and junior shortstop Jason Donald. The corner spots will have to find new hands with the departure of first baseman Jordan Brown and the transfer of third baseman Bryan Kervin.

 

First Base

 

                The opening of spring practice and the first few weeks of the season will provide an opportunity for one of four candidates to grab the starting spot. Junior Bill Rhinehart will compete with newcomers Brad Glenn, David Plante and Stephen Pearson.

 

                Rhinehart, a part-time starter at DH last season, has the most experience at Arizona. In two years at UA, the left-handed swinger has collected 12 home runs and 47 RBI in 228 career at bats.

 

                Glenn, a true freshman from Tulsa, Okla., will be a serious contender for the starting spot if he can continue to show the raw power he displayed during the fall intra squad season. Glenn helped lead Union High School to the Oklahoma state championship his senior year after batting .385 with 12 home runs.

 

                Plante, another true frosh from the San Diego area, brings an armful of offensive credentials with him to Tucson. Second all-time among preps in the San Diego area in hits, he also finished third in area with 41 career high school home runs. He hit over .500 twice in a single season in high school and batted well over .400 in his four-year prep career.

 

                Pearson, a JC teammate of Konrad Schmidt’s at Santa Rosa JC, was a second-team All-Bay Valley West selection his sophomore season. He batted .298 with 10 doubles, two home runs and 46 RBI n Santa Rosa’s Nor-Cal championship year in 2005.

 

                Both Rhinehart and Glenn could also see time in the outfield and any of the four could serve as the DH in the UA batting order.

 

Quoting Coach

“It’s wide open and it’s going to be an interesting spring,” Lopez said. “I’m eager to see who steps up to claim the starting spot. They all have attributes that are very positive and that can help us win, but there will need to be someone that steps forward to take the job.”

 

Second Base

 

                Boyer, who has played in 163 games and made 148 starts, is by far the most experienced player on the roster and has a firm grasp on the starting role up the middle. Boasting a career .304 average with 153 runs scored, 37 doubles, 17 triples and 52 stolen bases, he’ll be sure to make a run at numerous Arizona career records by the time he wraps up the 2006 season.

 

                Others that could see time behind Boyer at second are sophomore Brett Scyphers and true freshmen Richard Stout and Travis Peep.

 

Scyphers, who had surgery to fix a dislocated shoulder suffered in the fall, will have an opportunity to find playing time once fully healed. As freshman last year he batted .250 with 10 runs scored in 15 starts at second.

 

Stout was a two-time first-team All-Southern Idaho selection at Boise HS and Peep helped Hamilton HS in Chandler, Ariz., win back-to-back 5A titles in 2003 and 2004 as the leadoff hitter.

 

Quoting Coach

“Getting Brad back is big for us,” Lopez said. “To have him come back for his senior year after getting drafted provides us not only with highly gifted and experienced player, but a veteran presence that will be needed with such a young group. The newcomers will have an outstanding opportunity to learn what it takes to compete on this level from Brad.”

 

Shortstop

 

                The starting spot for the last two seasons has belonged to Donald and 2006 will not be any different. Starting and playing every inning in 123 of a possible 124 games during his career, Donald is a lifetime .306 hitter at Arizona. He has also hit 14 home runs, driven in 78 runs and scored 96 times ?-  numbers that will help him serve as one of the top offensive threats out of the middle of the order in the 2006 lineup.

 

Quoting Coach

“As a coach there isn’t more you can ask of a player then Jason has given,” Lopez said. “He has been a competitor and a cornerstone for us on the field, in the dugout and in the locker room. His ability to lead has been there from when he first stepped foot at Arizona and it will be a huge asset for us this season. We’ve gotten big things from Jason in his first two years here, and I expect the same from him this season.”

 

Third Base

 

                Like the other corner spot, third base is wide open for a new starter. Sophomore Colt Sedbrook took an early lead with some outstanding play during the fall workouts, but he’ll be pushed by freshman Shea Ross and by middle infielders Peep and Stout.

 

                Sedbrook transferred to Arizona from Dixie State College in Utah where he was named second-team All-NJCAA District 18 after helping to lead the school to the 2005 Region 18 title and into the playoffs. He batted .303 with seven doubles, three home runs and 30 RBI in his one year at Dixie.

 

                Ross comes to Tucson after being named all-district in 2004 and 2005 at Consolidated High School in College Station, Texas. He was named the team’s defensive MVP his senior year.

 

Quoting Coach

“Like first, the third base spot is there for taking,” Lopez said. “Having said that, I really like what Colt brings to the team. He showed me and the coaches a lot of positive things during the fall practices and looked like he’d be a good fit for the job. The other newcomers will have an opportunity during the early spring as well.”

 

Outfield

 

                The departure of all three starters last season will be tough to replace. Senior Derek Decater is the lone player on the roster with any significant starting time in the outfield, but there are a number of promising newcomers that will also help fill the void.

 

                Decater will look to regain his starting spot in the outfield after spending the majority of the 2005 season as the team’s DH. A career .283 hitter at UA, he is coming off a 2005 season that saw him hit .320 with 19 RBI and 22 runs scored in 26 starts. A fine defensive player, Decater has the range to play either in center or in left in the spacious Kindall Field.

 

                Sophomore Kenny Williams Jr. will attempt to make his way into the everyday lineup after serving in a backup role last year. Williams showed improved skills in the fall season both at the plate and defensively.

 

                The newcomers to the team include true freshmen Jon Gaston, Hunter Pace and T.J. Steele, as well as JC transfers Tyson Moll and Jason Sadoian. Gaston and Steele were both selected in the MLB draft last June but opted for Arizona, and Sadoian showed very impressive speed during the fall workouts.

 

Quoting Coach

“Anytime you lose players like (Trevor) Crowe, (Chris) Frey and (Jeff) Van Houten it’s going to sting,” Lopez said. “But I’ve been here before and the losses of players like that is part of college baseball. Having Derek back and his experience is a plus and should help the talented younger guys get ready to compete. I like the talent we have available to us, and we’re going to find the right mix of players to play out there.”

 

The Schedule

 

                Keeping with his tradition, Lopez has once again scheduled a challenging roster of teams to take on in 2006. A total of nine schools slated to face Arizona this season took part in the NCAA Tournament last year, including College World Series participants Oregon State, Arizona State and Nebraska.

 

                Arizona will open the season at home for the fifth straight year against Loyal Marymount on the first weekend of February. A trip to UC Riverside, which took tow of three from UA in Tucson last season and returns eight starters and its entire pitching rotation, follows the next weekend.

 

                Home series against New Mexico and LaSalle will close out the first month of play for the Wildcats. Arizona has won the last 23 straight games against New Mexico dating back to 1997 and will be squaring off against LaSalle for the first time in school history.

 

                The month of March will see Arizona head out on the road for the first two weekends. A trip to the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn., for the Dairy Queen Classic will open the month. Arizona will face host Minnesota, 2005 regional participant Notre Dame and CWS participant Nebraska once each during the weekend.

 

                The Wildcats will then repay the 2005 visit from Mississippi State with a trip to Starkville, Miss., on the second weekend of March. The Bulldogs, who dropped two of three from UA last year, took part in regional play last postseason.

 

                Cal State Fullerton, which eliminated Arizona from the tournament last year on its home field, comes to Tucson March 17-19, followed by a visit from fellow Big West school UC Irvine.

 

                The end of March and the beginning of April sees Arizona open Pac-10 play with a trip to Berkeley, Calif., to take on Cal. The Golden Bears ended Arizona’s hopes of a Pac-10 title last year after taking two of three from the Wildcats in Tucson on the final weekend of the regular season.

 

                Arizona will have to hurry back to the Grand Canyon State for an April 2 non-conference date with rival Arizona State in the first annual “Challenge at the Chase” to be played at Chase Field, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

 

                A weekend at 2006 CWS participant and defending Pac-10 champion Oregon State follows. The Wildcats were the lone conference team to win their season series against the Beavers last year.

 

                A single road game at New Mexico is sandwiched around a pair of home Pac-10 series against UCLA and Stanford. The Wildcats swept to the Bruins in Los Angeles last season and have won two of three from Stanford each of the last three years. A mid-week non-conference series at home against Southern Utah precedes a conference trip to Washington to close out April.

 

                 Arizona will wrap up the non-conference portion of the season in the first week of May. UA’s second non-conference game against Arizona State, this time in Tempe, opens the final month of the season, followed by a visit from 2005 regional participant UNLV.

 

                The Wildcats will face Washington State at Kindall Field before hosting the Sun Devils for the three-game conference series in Tucson from May 19-21. UA swept the Cougars in Pullman last season and won four of the five games played against Arizona State.

 

                A road trip to 2005 super regional participant USC will close out the final weekend of the regular season. Arizona has taken two of three games of its conference series against the Trojans each of the last three years.

 

Quoting Coach

“It’s always been my belief to put together a schedule that will make your team better,” Lopez said. “Playing against non-conference schools that are at the top of their leagues, making it to the NCAAs and playing for national championships makes you a better team. You might take some losses here and there, but the competition and the experience gained help get you prepared to play in what I consider the top conference in the nation, and gets you ready for what goes on in the postseason.”

 

 

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