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Newcomers abound on Arizona baseball roster

Jason Bartel

When the Arizona Wildcats begin the 2019 baseball season on Friday, fans who come out to Hi Corbett Field will see a lot of fresh, young faces when the home team comes out of the dugout at Hi Corbett Field.

Last June Arizona had six players taken in the MLB draft, a number that tied Oregon State for most in the country.

In addition, numerous other contributing players from all over the field graduated, leaving coach Jay Johnson with many different types of needs. That means many newcomers will be in the mix early on, though it remains to be seen how they handle real competition after nothing but intrasquad games to this point.

“We need another opponent at this point in order to take another step in our development,” Johnson said Tuesday.

There is much development to be had since the departure of so many valuable players. Despite so many openings and leaps forward still left to take, Johnson’s recruiting was what some called his best class since joining the Wildcats.

The freshman class is led offensively by 1B/C Austin Wells, a Las Vegas product who was a 35th-round pick of the New York Yankees last year. He will look to begin to fill the offensive hole left by 1B Alfonzo Rivas, who hit .347 in his junior season before being drafted by the Oakland Athletics, and C Cesar Salazar, who hit .339 in 2018 before being drafted by the Houston Astros.

Pitching is led by two hometown kids. Righthanders Ian Mejia and George Arias are from Sahuarita and Tucson high schools, respectively. They will look to replace starters Cody Deason and Michael Flynn and reliever Tylor Megill, each of whom are now playing professionally.

“It is pretty exciting, my dream goal (was) to play at Arizona with my friends and family watching,” Arias said Tuesday. “Coming here was a no-brainer for me.”

While the freshman class is deep and full of young talent, the Wildcats need more than freshman to avenge the 2018 season’s disappointing finish being one of the last four teams on the outside of the NCAA tournament. Junior CF Matt Fraizer said it was “heartbreaking” to see his team miss the postseason by so little.

This year’s team features two preseason all-Americans as its captains in 3B Nick Quintana and 2B Cameron Cannon. Both players are coming off great sophomore campaigns. Quintana led the team in home runs (14) and RBI (55), while hitting .313. Cannon, a star on defense already, hit .321 last year to lead returning players. He led the team in runs scored and doubles as well.

Frazier, SS Jacob Blas and OF Donta Williams all saw significant playing time a year ago. They will look to join Quintana and Cannon heading into Friday.

Junior Randy Labaut will start Friday and become the face of the new pitching staff, while senior Avery Weems captains the bullpen despite his 5.69 era last season.

The pitching staff will rely on the contributions of freshmen more than their offensive counterparts due to a larger number in key departures in either the draft or graduation. With two hometown MLB talents, the pitching staff will be quickly replenished though.