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Arizona baseball preview: Wildcat pitchers will do it all in 2016

Don't expect a set weekend rotation from Arizona this year.

JC Cloney will be the first Arizona player to take the mound in 2016
JC Cloney will be the first Arizona player to take the mound in 2016
Jason Bartel

In the world of college baseball, most people are conditioned to expect a Friday night guy, a Saturday night guy, and then if you're lucky, a reliable Sunday starter. Plus, you kind of have an idea of who's coming out of the bullpen when, and who will be that 9th inning stopper.

The Arizona Wildcats will not really go by this formula in 2016, certainly not at the beginning of the season as the new coaching staff still figures out what they have.

Key losses: Xavier Borde (MLB Draft), Cody Hamlin (free agent signing), Tyger Talley

Key returners: Nathan Bannister, Tyler Crawford, Robby Medel, Bobby Dalbec, Cameron Ming, Rio Gomez, Austin Schnabel, Cody Moffett, Matt Hartman, Luke Soroko

Key newcomers: JC Cloney, Cody Deason, Austin Rubick, Alfonso Rivas, Kevin Ginkel, Randy LaBaut, Michael Flynn, Kaleb Roper, Trent Johnson

While it's true that Arizona won't have set roles, junior college transfer JC Cloney will be the first Wildcat to throw a pitch in the 2016 season, as Jay Johnson has named him the opening night starter against Rice.

After that, no one knows anything.

"There's a lot of pieces, and we're going to do our best job to try and get 'em in the right spots early," head coach Jay Johnson said of his pitching situation. "I think we'll develop where they fall into roles, or where they get a chance where they fit best."

Cloney started 11 games for College of the Canyons last year, winning four of his final five decisions, including two complete games in that final stretch. His freshman season there, he was named the conference's pitcher of the year, going 7-3 with a 2.36 ERA.

The junior college transfer is just one of a handful of lefties Jay Johnson is excited about using this year.

"I love left handers, especially in this park," coach continued. "They can generate fly balls and it's hard to hit home runs here."

The staff will essentially be split into two groups: those who get their arms stretched out, and those who don't. Those who get their arms stretched out will either start, or be a guy who can throw 4+ innings in relief on any given day. Don't expect Arizona pitchers to be going above 100 pitches in a single outing, at least not for a while.

Last year, Nevada had 12 different pitchers who appeared in at least ten games. Only two pitchers made double-digit starts, and nine different pitchers started a game. Arizona had nine pitchers pitch in at least ten games, and really only seven starters, as Rio Gomez made one spot start.

"I actually think it's good," Johnson explained. "I don't think your pitchers get as tired during the season. It's not 100 pitches, then 100 pitches, then 100 pitches. It's something we have to be aware of to make sure they're still going like this towards the end of the year."

Those who are stretched out early this year include: Cloney, Dalbec, Ming, Rivas, Ginkel, Rubick, Flynn, Medel, Bannister.

Coach Johnson has said that Rivas is probably the best freshman Arizona has this year. He's a Bobby Dalbec-type, in the idea that he could play left field, or he could be a starting pitcher, or he could be the designated hitter. And he could do all those things in the course of one weekend.

Nathan Bannister is a guy that I think will have a big year. He was arguably Arizona's best pitcher last year, and now he'll have a chip on his shoulder after not being drafted in 2015.

As far as short relievers go, Tyler Crawford will certainly be in that role, as Dave Lawn has told me that they will try and get Crawford in as many games as possible, especially early in the season. Cody Moffett and Rio Gomez will probably be used as left-handed specialists. And then for the most part, look for those guys to hand the ball off to Dalbec late in the game.

Austin Rubick will probably be more of a reliever-type early, as he's missed most of spring with an injury, returning to the mound in intrasquads just five days before the start of the season.

Cameron Ming

An interesting development has been the transformation of Cameron Ming from a situational lefty last year to a potential Friday night starter this year.

"When you look at starting pitchers, they have to have something that can get left-handed hitters out and right-handed hitters out," Johnson said of Ming's ability. "He's got a good breaking ball, good change up, so that will allow him to get through the lineup two or three times. His ability to pitch in and out with the fastball has helped him climb up the ladder a little bit."

And then Johnson compared Ming to a pretty good player in his own right, Christian Stolo, who was the Mountain West Pitcher of the Year in 2015 for Johnson at Nevada.

"There's a good competitiveness to Cameron. There's a good three-pitch mix to him, and he's just going to keep getting better."

"Cameron Ming is lights out," freshman catcher Cesar Salazar told me. "Everything he throws is nasty. He doesn't change his arm angle, and that's why it's so hard to hit. You can not pick it up. And he has velo on his fastball too, so that's what makes him pretty freaking nasty."

"I've always been kind of a three-quarter arm slot guy," Ming said of his arm angle. "And Coach Lawn's fine with that. I think it helps me because I can get some deception with arm slot, and that's just always who I've been. A crafty lefty."

So what's his best pitch?

"My slider is my out pitch," he answered. "It sits around 78-81 (MPH), so it's a hard slider. Coach Lawn did a good job developing a good changeup, which I didn't really have a good one last year. So I've got a pretty good three to four pitch mix."

Ming started prepping to be a starter this spring in the Northwoods League last summer. He started six games for the Battle Creek Bombers, but went 2-4 with a 6.33 ERA.

"The Northwoods was a good experience because I got a lot of starting time, which I didn't get out here at U of A my freshman year," the sophomore lefty explained. "I got some innings and I got to get up against a lot of good competition a lot like the Pac-12 and get some valuable experience."

Some tweaks he was making to his game may explain why the numbers weren't necessarily great.

"Just being able to experiment with certain things," he said about what he was working on. "It was very helpful since I needed to experiment to become a successful college pitcher."

The biggest adjustment for Ming will be the ability to get through college lineups three times in a single outing. They've been working on that skillset throughout the spring as well.

"I think I just threw 75 pitches in an intrasquad," continued Ming. "So I'm getting used to it. Going through the order three times is a lot different than seeing two lefties then coming out, but I'm getting more used to it. A lot of it's just learning about the game. A lot of it is learning if only using your fastball/changeup the first time through the order, and then mixing in your third pitch the second or third time through the order if you're doing well."

"A lot of it's just learning the game and using simple mental tools like that to help boost your game to another level."

Certainly that summer of experimenting seems to have paid off for Ming, who has impressed the coaching staff enough to put him in the conversation as a weekend starter.