There are many questions surrounding the Arizona Wildcats heading into the 2016 season, but one thing that seems pretty set in stone is the outfield.
New head coach Jay Johnson already knows how he'll line it up come Friday's season-opener at Rice. In right field, you'll have senior Zach Gibbons. Left will have another senior, Justin Behnke. And in center: Jared Oliva.
"It's a pretty special defensive outfield with those three guys," head coach Jay Johnson said on Sunday. "That might be the strength of the team."
Behnke played exclusively in center field last year, so having his speed in left now shows just how much range this trio will have. Gibbons also played the majority of the time in right last season, and he hasn't even seen Hi Corbett from a different vantage point this spring.
"I actually haven't even played any other position," Gibbons joked. "They had me taking infield in the fall. They had me taking ground balls, but then I would go right back out to right, so yeah I've been there this whole time."
Oliva played a lot of center field last summer in the Northwoods League, and he's now following in his father's footsteps, who played center for current Oregon coach George Horton at Los Angeles Valley College before spending four years in the Red Sox organization.
"I think he's a pretty special defender," Johnson said of his decision to play Oliva in center over Behnke. "There's a lot of ground out there, and he covers it really well. If we can have them in the lineup at the same time, anything from center field over to the left field line, we're pretty lucky to have both those guys out there."
Towards the end of last year, a couple guys started picking it up at the plate, and Oliva was one of those guys.
"I think Oliva has a lot to show," Gibbons explained of his teammate. "He's a different player, and it's really cool to watch him grow up."
Having this kind of speed in the outfield also allows the pitching staff to approach hitters a little differently.
"Overall our whole outfield is fantastic," sophomore pitcher Cameron Ming explained. "It's probably one of the best feelings in the world as a pitcher when your hitter looks like he gets the best of you, but you have one of the best outfields in college baseball that can track it down."
"Your defense brings a big attribute to your confidence on the mound," Ming continued. "When you know your defense is going to take care of the baseball well, it's a lot easier to go at hitters and pound for strikes instead of nibbling for weak contact or something like that."
The thing you wonder about with this lineup is the lack of power. Both Gibbons and Behnke aren't exactly home run threats, although Gibbons did hit one out of Hi Corbett during an intrasquad last week.
As far as backups go, freshman Alfonso Rivas is an option in left. Rivas is also a guy that has the potential to be a starting pitcher, as well as a DH. Coach Johnson called him probably the best freshman on the team, and there are certainly many ways Arizona can use him in certain situations, especially if they need another left-handed bat.
The one thing about the outfield is the lack of depth. Johnson says that he will not be afraid to make defensive changes throughout the game, utilizing the 10th through 15th guys on the bench. One guy who can be used in the outfield if need be is Ryan Aguilar, but he's slated to be the starting first baseman to start the season. But there aren't a ton of options available immediately.
As long as they stay healthy, this outfield could certainly be the strength of the team, especially in the field. And considering the ballpark Arizona plays in, that's certainly beneficial to a team trying to make the postseason for the first time in four years.