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Alfonso Rivas, Cesar Salazar unlikely to return to Arizona in 2019

The pair of juniors will likely turn pro

Rachel Huston

Now that the Arizona Wildcats’ season has ended, head coach Jay Johnson plans to evaluate the 2019 roster and prepare for next year.

No one expects star catcher Cesar Salazar or first baseman Alfonso Rivas to be part of the team. The pair of juniors will be entering the MLB Draft and, ideally, signing with a team when all is said and done.

“Hopefully I’ve played my last game at Arizona, but I don’t know how to process it yet,” Rivas said Monday, a few hours after the Wildcats were left out on Selection Monday. “It hasn’t really hit me. So now we’ll just wait and see how I feel.”

“That was one of my goals — play three years of college baseball and then move on,” Salazar said. “Right now it’s pretty tough because of the special bonds I’ve made throughout my three years, but I think it’s time to move on, and hopefully I’m going to get a chance to continue my baseball career in pro baseball.”

Arizona’s offense will miss Rivas and Salazar dearly, as they both had incredible junior seasons.

Rivas hit .342/.425/.529 with seven homers, 15 doubles, three triples, and 52 RBI. Salazar batted .339/.432/.471 with four homers, 11 doubles, and 42 RBI.

They have been with Johnson since the get-go, as all three entered the program in 2015-16. Salazar believes they put Arizona baseball back on the radar by winning 121 games and guiding the program to the College World Series in 2016.

“I’ve known Alfonso Rivas since he was in eighth grade. I recruited him at three schools,” Johnson said. “I mean, there may be better players in the country, but there’s nobody I would want walking up to the plate with runners on base more than him. And he’ll be a success in professional baseball.”

Said Johnson of Salazar: “He’s my favorite player I’ve ever coached. I mean it’s almost hard to talk about. There’s not a better human being on the planet than him. ... The playing thing is great. He’s one of the best catchers in the country and I can’t say enough.”

Salazar said Johnson is like a father to him.

“I’ve created a special bond with him,” Salazar said. “He gave me an opportunity. He didn’t know who I was my freshman year and building that relationship for three years, it’s pretty special. He’s going to be a part of my life the rest of my life for sure.”

Unsurprisingly, Rivas and Salazar said their favorite memory at Arizona was appearing in the College World Series. And missing the NCAA Tournament this year has made them appreciate it even more.

“Back then I didn’t really know how big it was to make it to the World Series, just because it was the first year, we made all those incredible runs,” Rivas said. “But now being on the outside and last year losing at a Regional, that was a special team. That’s probably the one thing that’s going to stick with me the most.”

“It was the best experience of my life,” Salazar said. “I wish I would have done it again. But yeah, going to Mississippi State, taking the first two games there, then booking a ticket to Omaha, it was unbelievable.”

Salazar and Rivas said they both had better experiences at Arizona than they could have imagined. Still, they know their time in Tucson is likely at its end.

“I learned a lot, matured a lot as a person and as a ballplayer,” Salazar said. “It’s been a fun ride.”

Added Rivas: “Coming in, I wasn’t a big-time recruit or anything. I was a good high school player, good numbers, didn’t really expect to start my freshman year. I was kinda happy to be here. ... And then everything just turned around from there. I was buying into the program and college baseball and college life and everything, and everything just started clicking together. I’m very grateful for my experience at Arizona, and I would never change it for anything.”