In 2016, Zach Gibbons had a breakout year in the Arizona Wildcats outfield, finishing the year with a .385 batting average, and being selected in the 17th round by the Los Angeles Angels.
This year, the veteran in the outfield to be this potential player is Jared Oliva, who enters his junior year after a somewhat disappointing regular season in 2016, but a productive postseason run.
He’ll be surrounded by some newbies though, who can really light it up at the plate and in the field.
Projected starting lineup:
Left field: Matt Fraizer
Center field: Jared Oliva
Right field: Cal Stevenson
Other names to know: Mitchell Morimoto (junior college transfer), Michael Hoard (junior), Zach Sherman (junior college transfer), Alfonso Rivas (sophomore)
Oliva actually started 58 of Arizona’s 73 games last season, so he has plenty of experience, and the coaching staff has always liked how he plays center field.
Matt Fraizer and Cal Stevenson are the other likely candidates to get the majority of the starts in the outfield. Stevenson already has a season of NCAA ball under his belt at Nevada two years ago, while Fraizer comes in as a true freshman.
Fraizer is not only one of the most athletic players on this team, he’s also mature beyond his years thanks to his upbringing in a baseball home. His dad played college and pro ball, including being drafted by the Oakland Athletics, the same team that drafted Matt out of high school last year.
“He can impact the game in a lot of different ways,” head coach Jay Johnson said of Fraizer’s talent. “He doesn’t have to hit home runs to impact the game, and that’s a positive. He’s going to be a good player here this year and definitely over the next couple years.”
On the other side is a player that Johnson is very familiar with, and that’s Cal Stevenson. Stevenson actually played for Johnson at Nevada two years ago before heading to Chabot College for a year. Now the two are reunited in Tucson.
“He had such a good season two years ago,” Johnson explained of Stevenson’s freshman year at Nevada. “Very rarely have I seen a freshman impact a team that much, which was great.”
“He’s stronger, the ball comes off the bat better,” added Johnson about what’s changed with Stevenson since that 2015 season. “I’ve always thought he’s had a good awareness of the type of player he is, knowing the strike zone, and his ability to really impact the game when he gets on base and be disruptive. And defensively he’s a special player out there too.”
“He can give you everything you ask for in terms of winning baseball.”
Johnson says that the team has been trading off when Oliva and Stevenson play center during practices and intrasquad games.
“They’re both gonna play significantly,” coach explained. “We’re still trying to figure out that right combination and that’s one of the pieces in what’s figuring out what’s right. They’ve both done a good job when they’ve been in center, and they’ve both done a good job when they’ve been off that position.”
We saw Alfonso Rivas in left field a lot as a true freshman last year, but that’s not likely to happen this season. Rivas has been moved to first base, where it feels like he might be the best defensive option at that position. However, he is capable of moving into the outfield if the situation presents itself. Mitchell Morimoto is the fifth option that will see time in the outfield for Arizona.
There’s also a chance that we could see a catcher out there in the form of either Cory Voss or Ryan Haug. Both are capable of playing left, and if Cesar Salazar wins the starting spot convincingly, it’ll be tough to keep both of those bats on the bench all year. Haug actually spent a tiny amount of time in left last year for the Wildcats.
In short, expect to see Oliva and Stevenson out there the most, with Fraizer likely getting a good amount of playing time, along with Rivas and Morimoto. This team’s essentially five deep in the outfield, with the ability to convert a talented bat if needed.