Feb. 3, 2009
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TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Arizona baseball team officially started its preparations for the 2009 season on Monday with the commencement of official practices. The Wildcats, who finished with a 42-19 record and one game away from the College World Series a year ago, will blend together youthful talent and veteran experience as they look to make a run at the College World Series once again.
Arizona was welcomed to Jerry Kendall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium with sunny skies and 70 degree temperatures on Monday, making for nearly perfect practice conditions. After partaking in informal and individual workouts over recent weeks, the Wildcats opened official practices with an intra-squad scrimmage and will do so again on Tuesday.
“It’s great to be out here,” head coach Andy Lopez said. “I think we have a great mix of young and old guys. We had a very good fall season and you could see the progress this team made. It’s a cohesive group and I think we’re going to have a couple great weeks of practice before we begin the season.”
Lopez, who is entering his eighth season at Arizona, returns several key veterans that will lead the Wildcats in 2009. Included in that group is 2007 Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year Preston Guilmet, who currently stands No. 4 all-time at Arizona with 326 career strikeouts. He and the rest of the Wildcat pitching staff will need help offensively, but senior third baseman Brad Glenn, who is only 50+ RBI away from cracking the UA and Pac-10 Top-10 lists, will solidify the middle of the order as a run-producer.
The pitching staff behind Guilmet is filled with some talented young arms, but gone are David Coulon, Eric Berger, Mike Colla, Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth – all of whom played a large role in UA’s top single season strikeout staff a year ago. In their place will be a handful of freshmen vying for time as starters and relievers, including veteran Cory Burns. A late addition to the 2008 class was RHP Matt Veltman, who transferred from San Diego CC after one season and will have three seasons to play for the Cardinal and Navy. Veltmann, who was one of the club’s top performers in fall workouts, could have an upper hand on a starting spot in the rotation.
Regardless of who is in the starting rotation for the Wildcats, Jason Stoffel returns as one of the premier closers in all of college baseball. Already tied with Mark Melancon as UA’s all-time saves leader with 18, Stoffel will be the anchor to a the UA staff and may see an increased role with Schlereth, the team’s set-up ace a year ago, gone to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Offensively, there is likely to be good competition well into the season before a lineup is solidified. Along with Glenn, UA returns shortstop Bryce Ortega, who hit .326 a year ago, and first baseman/designated hitter Dillon Baird, a .318 hitter in 2008. Other part-time starters in 2008 return, like outfielders Bobby Coyle, Diallo Fon and Hunter Pace. In the infield, Mike Weldon and Rafael Valenzuela will battle at second base, with Bobby Brown challenging for time at first.
The Wildcats also welcome several newcomers to the mix that will vie for early playing time. Perhaps most notable are Steve Selsky and Jett Bandy, whose bats could find them in the lineup.
Arizona looks to be great shape behind the plate, with Dwight Childs and Daniel Butler returning. Both are exceptional defensive players that will help the progress of a young pitching staff. Coaches hope that both can improve their offensive numbers now in their junior seasons.
The Wildcats will begin the 2009 season on February 20 against Sacramento State at 7 p.m. Season tickets to all 35 Arizona home games are only $66 and are on sale now through the McKale Ticket Office.