The Arizona baseball team officially kicked off the 2018 season Friday, holding its first full practice and scrimmage of the new year.
Us media folks got a chance to speak to head coach Jay Johnson beforehand, and he answered our questions about the upcoming season which begins Friday, Feb. 16 when Arizona hosts Bryant.
Arizona Baseball coach Jay Johnson discusses the new Terry Francona Hitting Center, Jerry Kindall, Trevor Hoffman, the upcoming season and morePosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, January 26, 2018
Q. How many guys are in the pool of potential starting pitchers? Guys that you’ve stretched out or prepared to be in that group?
Jay Johnson: We’re starting that process today. We started at 20 pitches to 30. This weekend they’ll be at 45 to 60 to 75 to 90 by opening weekend.
I think there’s a pool of about eight guys in there. That’s going to really take shape. I think I have a good handle on four or five that I know are going to make a significant impact. And then it’s going to be a really exciting competition for the rest of it.
We won’t survive on four or five arms. There’s a lot of guys who I know are really capable who could push themselves into that mix. I’m really looking forward to evaluating the next three weeks and seeing where all the pieces fit what that.
Q. Are there a handful of guys who you know are going to be starters?
JJ: I think probably a little more clarity on that than usual. I think Cody Deason had a really good finish to the season last year for us. Won some really important games. Had a great summer in the Cape Cod League. The pitch ability, the growth, development has really been impressive. It’s what it’s supposed to be when a highly talented pitcher comes to college. I think he’s at the front of that.
Randy Labaut has looked really good. Showed a lot of flashes last year. Appears to be more consistent. I’m looking forward to watching him over the next couple weeks.
Tylor Megill had the most impressive offseason of any pitcher that we’ve had and was along the lines of what we’d hoped we were getting when we signed him. He’s made a dramatic change in his body. I don’t know the specific as far as pounds, but he doesn’t look the same in the face, in the core and all those types of things, and it’s allowed him to repeat his delivery. I’m excited about him.
Avery Weems, Michael Flynn, and then there’s some good young arms that you’re going to see around the program a lot over the next three years that are gonna impact this thing which we’re real excited about.
Q. Going into the draft period last spring, you weren’t sure if you were going to have Cesar Salazar back. He was a sophomore but could have entered the draft. What does it mean to have him back in the program?
JJ: I don’t know if this is a word, but unquantifiable. We were just taking about the quality of person in Coach (Jerry) Kindall, Cesar is a great player. To have a left-handed hitting catcher with all this experience and ability and all those types of things, he just has a way of making everybody around him better. There may be more physically talented catchers around the country, I don’t know that anybody means as much to his team as he means to our team.
It’s almost like a gratitude thing too. When you see him walking around the facility and here when he had a legitimate opportunity to take some money and move onto professional baseball last year because he wanted to impact a lot of guys in the organization this year. I sleep a lot better at night knowing that he’s here.
Q. Do you think there’s anyone on this year’s roster that can have as big of an impact as a freshman or a newcomer as Nick Quintana had last year?
JJ: That’s a good question, but I think I will have a lot better answer three weeks from now when we open (our season) up. I think there are some first-year players that we are going to depend on.
With that being said, looking at this team and how it progresses, a lot of it is going to have do with the players that were here last year and their development. But there’s some new pieces. We’re always adding that. As you look at the cycles, we were fortunate to get Cesar back, we were fortunate to get Cal (Stevenson) back to really solidify two spots.
In the middle of the field, there’s a good battle in the middle infield going on between three players, Two of them are new players — Travis Moniot and Jacob Blas — both those guys have brought a lot of good things to the table on both sides of the ball. And then it’s really how the guys that were here before use their experience to get to that next level of their development.
We saw a lot of that last year with the development and improvement on that team was predicated on guys being better than they were a year before and that’s what we’re about. Development. So I think it probably lies more on that.
Q. Some of the preseason top 25s are out and you guys have not been making appearances in those. Does that mean anything to you? Is that motivation for this fall? Is that something you bring up in the locker room?
JJ: You know me, I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to that. We’re not going to validate ourself on where we’re ranked or record. We’re going to validate it by how we play and how we improve on a daily basis. There’s a lot of experts out there and they have a lot of information about college baseball and college teams and those types of things, so they’re going off the information that they have. The information we need to create is building a better team each day, and I feel good about that part of it.
That being said, I think the Pac-12 will be as good as it’s been. At least in the couple years I’ve been here. A lot of older players, a lot of experience, a lot of good starting pitching.
Q. Your guys year after year have done some sort of thing that you do before the season. Last year you guys did the Major League video, this year Robby (Medel) did his Spanish ballad, what are your thoughts on that and the personality and creativity of your team?
JJ: First off, I was on a plane when that video (Medel’s ballad) happened. And I got off and I had some messages and I was like, ‘what the heck is this thing?’
More power to them. Apparently it got some excitement around some people, so hopefully their baseball progression is as good as their music career. Or probably and hopefully better.”
If you aren’t sure which video Johnson was referring to, it was this one:
Medel explained how it all came about: