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Arizona Baseball 2014 preview: Veterans in the outfield

There's no question which three guys will be roaming the outfield

Harry How

If there's one area on the Arizona baseball team that has almost no questions coming into the 2014 season, it is the outfield. All three guys have seen significant playing time before, even with the departure of Johnny Field.

Key loss:

Johnny Field (MLB Draft - Rays)

Key returners:

Joseph Maggi (.320, 27 RBI, 31 runs in 2013), Zach Gibbons (.320, 28 RBI, 33 runs), Scott Kingery (.261, 18 RBI, 22 runs)

Key newcomer:

Kenny Meimerstorf (Bishop Gorman HS, Las Vegas, NV)

Head coach Andy Lopez had some praise for Meimerstorf, but didn't quite put him in that starting mix.

"I may be wrong about this, but I think he's going to make it interesting for one of the outfielders," coach said. "In other words, they better play well because he's going to be right on your tail. He's just a little behind in terms of speed of the game."

The one surprise in the outfield coming into this season is where the guys will be playing. Coach Lopez says that Maggi will be playing centerfield instead of the obvious choice in Kingery.

When Lopez returned from his medical issues, his coaching staff told him that they thought Maggi was looking great in center field during practice. This shocked him too....

"He doesn't pass the eye test so to speak," coach said. "But he makes all the plays."

"When I sat down with my staff in January, I said okay guys get me caught up. What's your opinion? And to a man on my staff, I went position by position, I said who would be starting in left, who would be here, who would be there? And they all said Maggi in center and I said 'okay it's a good joke, what's going on?'. And they all said 'No coach, he really has played well in center field.' And you know what, he's done a really good job in my time here too. We're going to put him out there."

"He's not the greatest practice guy sometimes, but when the lights turn on, he likes playing. He likes games. I'm not so sure he likes practice, he's got a little Allen Iverson in him. We all laugh about it. I think his freshman year he and I had a few discussions about it, now I've just come to grips with the fact he has a little Allen Iverson in him."

Maggi played the better part of the last two years at first base, so moving to center field is sort of a big leap in terms of what he needs to do during a game, but he seems very excited about the opportunity.

"It's interesting," Maggi said. "But I like it with all the free-range running. There's a lot of responsibility out there and it kind of shows what coach expects out of me this year."

Maggi started last year in right field, but was eventually moved to first base because of the lack of a decent first baseman. That won't happen this year.

Joseph Maggi played a little bit of center field during the Cape Cod League last summer, but being in centerfield "is a surprise to me" he said.

He also got help from Johnny Field, who patrolled center last season for Arizona after playing left field his first two seasons.

"I've watched Field for two years, and spoke with him about how he played, and he's kind of like me in the outfield. If you see a ball you just run and go get it. It's not about speed or anything."

I'm interested to see how being in the outfield will affect his batting. Last season, when he was moved back to the infield, all of the sudden his batting average shot up from down near .200 to .320 at the end of the season.

It also sounds like he'll be batting in the 8 or 9 spot in the lineup again like last year, which gives the lineup balance throughout instead of having the bottom of the order not have any chance of making the opposing pitcher work.

The biggest improvement Maggi has made as a hitter is getting bigger and stronger, but also his leadership abilities have significantly improved according to coach Lopez.

"I'm a natural outfielder, so out in center you have to be the general out there and all the responsibility is on you," Maggi said. "I've been waiting for (the leadership role) since my freshman year, and all of the sudden in a flash its here. This is our team, the team from 2012, so I mean, this is our last run to try and get two (national championships)....The coaches bring it up every now and then that you'd be the first one in the program to have two championship rings, so we're pretty hungry for that."

As for the other two outfielders, expect to see Kingery in right field, and Gibbons in left. But there is the possibility for changes at any time.

"All three of those guys can exchange all three of those positions," said coach Lopez.

I'm interested to see how Maggi responds to playing center, and if he can get his bat going while he's playing outfield. At least there aren't really any questions about who's going to be out there, which is great for getting those three guys comfortable in games and get them rolling early in the season.

Let's get it going! Baseball!