The look of the
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.”
Despite losing a pair of 10-game winners in John Meloan and Kevin Guyette from last season, the
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
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
“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.”
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
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
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,
“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.”
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.
“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.”
Coming out of the fall season, junior college transfer Konrad Schmidt grabbed the inside track on the starting catching duties. Playing two seasons at
“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
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.
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
Glenn, a true freshman from
Plante, another true frosh from the
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
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.
“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.”
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
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
“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.”
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
“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
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
Ross comes to
“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.”
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
“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.”
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
Home series against
The month of March will see
The Wildcats will then repay the 2005 visit from
Cal State Fullerton, which eliminated
The end of March and the beginning of April sees
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
A single road game at
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.
“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.”