Arizona returns key players up the middle, but there is some serious competition at the corners amongst a group of highly-touted freshmen. Having vets up the middle is definitely a good thing though heading into 2014.
2B Trent Gilbert (.344, 49 RBI, 45 runs in 2013), SS Kevin Newman (.336, 42 RBI, 40 runs), C Riley Moore (.285, 37 RBI, 34 runs), 3B Cody Ramer
1B/3B Bobby Dalbec (Legend HS, Parker, CO), 3B Willie Calhoun (Benicia HS, Benicia, CA), 1B Michael Hoard (Salpointe Catholic HS, Tucson, AZ)
Trent Gilbert and Kevin Newman return significantly larger than last year, both adding some pop to their bats. Newman won the 2013 Cape Cod League Batting Title, the first freshman to ever pull off the feat.
Gilbert has definitely shown off the power in practice so far, which has left an impression on the coaches.
"Kudos to our strength coach," said head coach Andy Lopez. "Trent's really gotten on it. He hits balls out of the yard on a regular basis. He's bigger, stronger. He was a good hitter for two years and now he's a bigger, stronger, good hitter."
Riley Moore has struggled with knee and shoulder injuries during the offseason, and will be gradually introduced into the lineup, but is scheduled to be the starting catcher on opening night.
"Knee's doing pretty well," said Moore. "Still in the recovery stage trying to get ready for Friday night, but I should be ready to go."
"I feel a little discomfort but I feel like life's about discomfort and working through it."
The junior catcher had kind of a down year last year, hitting .285 and slugging just .390. Junior years are big years for guys looking to be drafted, and he knows that he'll need to improve this season.
"I expect to come out full-strength, full-force, come out as a team and work towards that goal of Omaha."
"The more I'm around this program, I realize it can't be an individual effort. I think that's where things went astray last year."
Early in the season, Moore will get days off as he continues to rehab his knee and shoulder, which will give other guys a chance to prove themselves behind the plate. Right now, Jordan Berger is second in line, followed by Nathan Zavos and David Real.
"We've got to baby him along," coach Lopez said of Moore. "In an ideal world, you don't want anybody hurt, but it's not an ideal world. Some guys are banged up and you just gotta keep playing with it."
"He'll start on Friday," continued Lopez. "Kind of like Mat Troupe, we've got to protect his shoulder through the season. I think we've got some depth, so behind those three guys, we can definitely give Riley some Sundays off and some mid-days off and just DH him."
At the corners, Arizona has a ton of options to start the season. Expect Michael Hoard to be playing first base or DH when the opposing team starts a right-handed pitcher, but not against lefties. Kent State is scheduled to start a southpaw on Friday, so Hoard will likely not play opening night.
Bobby Dalbec will be in the lineup either at third base or first base depending on the night, and then will be an option on the mound late in games setting up Tyger Talley.
Also at third base is freshman Willie Calhoun, and sophomore Cody Ramer. Both guys are left-handed bats, so who plays will come down to who coach Lopez thinks has the hot-hand at the time. Right now, it sounds like Calhoun will get the first crack at it, as coach has been high on his hitting technique the last few weeks.
"Willie will hit. He shows tremendous aptitude and bat speed. He likes to hit. He'll be somewhere near the top."
Lopez also said that whoever isn't playing at third base on a particular night is likely to be in the DH spot.
There will be some juggling with the lineup early in the season, like usual, but having the three solid guys up the middle is really what's going to make this group succeed and improve as we get closer to Pac-12 play.
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