As the Arizona Wildcats and their new coaching staff look for an identity in 2016, one guy that can help in a multitude of ways is junior Sawyer Gieseke.
Gieseke came to Arizona by way of the University of San Francisco, where he played in only four games for the Dons as a freshman in 2014. After being born in Mesa, he went to high school at Las Lomas in Walnut Creek, CA, but made his way back to the Grand Canyon State in 2015.
In his sophomore campaign, he was primarily used as a late-game defensive replacement for JJ Matijevic at first base, as Andy Lopez continued to overdo it with the in-game moves.
This hurt Gieseke's development as a hitter, putting up a batting average of .205 in 39 total at bats. He did draw four walks, helping produce a .311 on-base percentage.
But in 2016, Gieseke has the chance to make an impact at a variety of positions as a starter.
During fall practice, the utility player was seen all over the place, from the outfield to catcher, and everywhere in between.
"Whatever (head coach Jay Johnson) needs me to do," explained Gieseke. "But I think that's my greatest strength, is being versatile."
"Last year I played first base and I'd never played there in my whole life, so you never know what's going to happen when the season comes. I know we have a really good infield this year, and I know we have really good catching, so wherever I fit in I'm happy to just get in the lineup."
Catching is another new thing that's been thrown at him, and Gieseke spent the fall trying to figure out the ins and outs of being behind the plate.
"It's getting better, a little rough at first but it was just hard for me to see the ball," Gieseke said about his experience at catcher this fall. "Just seeing it out of the arm slot and different windows and that kind of thing and dealing with different pitchers' movements. It's just gotten a lot more comfortable."
He also told me that being involved in every single pitch has been an adjustment as well, both physically and mentally.
The catching competition seems like it could come down to local freshman Cesar Salazar and sophomore Ryan Haug in addition to Gieseke. Haug is a tall, lanky type, while Salazar is more of a typical catcher, checking in at 5'9" and 190 pounds. Gieseke is 5'10", 175 lbs.
"Both of them are dialed in all the time," sophomore pitcher Robby Medel said of Salazar and Haug. "Cesar has tremendous hands, and both of them can throw down like no other."
"But Sawyer looks really good behind the plate," Medel added. "Sawyer's behind the plate because he's competing for a spot. There's just competition everywhere."
I would expect to see Gieseke in the lineup on a more consistent basis, especially in situations where Bobby Dalbec is pitching. That could shift Cody Ramer over to third, and bring Gieseke in at second. Matijevic could also leave first base behind, returning to his high school position of shortstop.
There are plenty of options in the infield right now. Either way, this team needs a piece like Gieseke if it wants to succeed, and his versatility and experience will be crucial, especially early in the season.