Arizona baseball coach Jay Johnson believes that Alfonso Rivas finished last season as one of the most underrated players in college baseball.
That won’t be the case this year.
With Opening Day a week and a half away, Rivas is gaining the type of national recognition deserved of a player his caliber.
The junior first baseman has been named to three preseason All-American teams. Rivas is coming off a stellar sophomore campaign in which he hit for .371 and led the Pac-12 with a .483 on-base percentage.
Rivas tallied seven home runs, 12 doubles, and 63 RBI.
“Rankings or preseason honors are all a validation of good performance in the past,” Johnson said. “Alfonso certainly had a great season last year.”
Rivas, a natural first baseman, played outfield last season while J.J. Matijevic started at first. With Matijevic now in the pros, Rivas will move back to the infield.
Johnson said that Rivas has shown a good glove at first, but it’s Rivas’ batting ability that has him slated among the top position players in college baseball.
“He has as good a plate discipline as any college hitter you will see,” Johnson said. “The thing I appreciate the most about him is his mental maturity. He’s very consistent. Never too high or too low. He’s really a model in that regard that we want all of our hitters to get to.”
Rivas spent part of the summer playing in the Cape Cod league where he went up against elite amateur pitching.
That, in addition to Rivas taking on an upper-classmen leadership role, has Johnson excited for what’s in store this season.
“The strength is in some of the experience,” Johnson said. “He’s stayed healthy. He’s gotten stronger. He’s more athletic.”
Johnson said that Rivas has gotten quicker running on the base paths, which adds another dimension to his game.
Rivas was also plagued by injuries early in his collegiate career, but that is less of a worry now.
On a team that features 19 freshmen or sophomores, it’s Rivas’ leadership intangibles that Johnson values almost as much as his on-field performance.
“You have Alfonso, who has played in the College World Series, who was an All-Pac-12 player, who has the right temperament, the right work ethic,” Johnson said. “He can mentor guys just by the example he sets on a daily basis. And he’s not the only one.
“We have some guys our younger guys can look to, and that’s really important because we’ll turn over a lot our team after this year. The positive in that is you have a lot of guys like Alfonso who have played a lot of games of consequence and have had success in those games and do it the right way. I think our players have a good template.”