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Grading Arizona baseball’s infielders for 2019 season

Nick Quintana
Arizona Baseball on Twitter

It’s been a little more than three weeks since the Arizona Wildcats didn’t hear their name called during the NCAA Baseball Tournament Selection Show and almost two since several UA players were selected in the MLB Draft.

So, we thought now would be the perfect time to hand out end of season grades to each of the Wildcats’ position players and pitchers.

In the first of a three-part series, we’ll focus solely on the UA’s infielders, while next up will be the outfielders, followed by the pitching staff.

It might’ve been the second straight season without an NCAA Tournament appearance for the Wildcats, but there were still plenty of standout performances from Jay Johnson’s squad who scored the third most runs in all of college baseball in 2019.

Let’s get started.

NOTE: Barring season-ending injury, only position players who started at least 14 games (25% of the season) will receive a grade.

Austin Wells: A+

Class: Freshman

Positions: C/1B

Games played/started: 56/56

Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage: .353/.462/.552

RBI: 60

HR: 5

Extra-base hits: 27

In short: Are we allowed to give higher than an A+? Arizona’s first Pac-12 Freshman of the Year was simply beast for the Wildcats in 2019. The Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas) product was a key part of the Wildcats top ranked offense from the very beginning and from hitting a home run in his first-ever collegiate at bat, to leading Arizona in several offensive categories, to being named to three different Freshman All-American Teams, Wells was everything UA fans could have hoped for and more in his debut season. He became the first Arizona freshman to log at least 60 runs scored and 60 RBI in a single campaign and he also set Wildcat freshman records for runs scored and on-base percentage. The catcher/first baseman finished top 10 among the nation’s freshmen in RBI, OBP, batting average, triples, walks, hits and total bases and quickly became a fan favorite at Hi Corbett thanks to his stellar play and a clever walk-up song (Magic Stick by 50 Cent).

The future: Johnson wants him to improve slightly on the defensive side of things heading into next season, but the sky really is the limit for Wells. He has true star potential and barring a catastrophic injury is set to become one of the faces of the program with Nick Quintana, Cameron Cannon and Matt Fraizer each having signed professional contracts. I’m knocking on all of the proverbial wood when I say this, but if Wells finds ways to improve on the season he just had, he’s a surefire top pick in the MLB Draft after his junior year.

Dayton Dooney: B+

Class: Freshman

Positions: 2B/SS

Games played/Started: 48/40

Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage: .323/.417/.596

RBI: 53

HR: 10

Extra-base hits: 24

In short: Dooney got his chance in the Wildcats’ infield after Jacob Blas went down with an injury and the California native certainly made the most of the opportunity. Not only did he hit for average in his first collegiate season, but he flashed some surprising power too - smacking 10 home runs this year, good for the second-most by a Wildcat in 2019 and twice the amount he hit his entire high school career. Considering the jump in dimensions from most high school fields to the ones at Hi Corbett, that’s super impressive. His 53 RBI were the third-most by an Arizona freshman since 1976 and he finished in the top ten among the nation’s first year players in slugging percentage as well.

The future: Johnson is big on him and after the power surge he had this year expect Dooney to be in the starting lineup come Opening Day 2020. There is visible need for defensive improvement—he made nine errors, which hurt his overall grade—but all signs point to him becoming an offensive stud for Arizona in the seasons to come.

Matt Dyer: B+

Class: Redshirt Sophomore

Positions: C/1B/OF

Games played/started: 42/42

Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage: .393/.480/.571

RBI: 28

HR: 4

Extra-base hits: 18

In short: The Oregon transfer was easily the Wildcats’ most gritty player in 2019 and the fact that he missed a total of 14 games with a myriad of injuries reflects that. A broken hand kept Dyer out for the last couple weeks of the season, but before that he was one of Arizona’s most dynamic players, playing multiple positions on defense and hitting for both average and power at the plate. He established himself as a key figure in the UA’s high powered offense and finished top five in the conference in both batting average and on-base percentage. He was named All Pac-12 Honorable Mention at the end of the year and if he had stayed healthy he would have gotten better than a B+. That’s a fact.

The future: Dyer is a gamer and it’s clear that Johnson admires his hard nosed style. He was actually eligible for the MLB Draft earlier this month, being a three-year player, but he wasn’t drafted and will return to Tucson in the fall. Him and Wells will definitely split time behind the plate again next year, but expect Dyer to play more in the field while Wells gets most of the reps at catcher. If he’s able to stay healthy he could be one of the Pac-12’s best players in 2020.

Jacob Blas: Incomplete

Class: Sophomore

Positions: 2B/SS

Games played/started: 17/17

Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage: .246/.362/.316

RBI: 8

HR: 0

Extra-base hits: 3

In short: Before Blas sustained his season ending knee injury, it was obvious that Arizona’s skipper held him in high esteem both at the plate and defensively. Despite a somewhat mediocre batting average, he started every game he was available to play and at one point early in the season he was even switched from second base to shortstop when Cameron Cannon experienced a somewhat puzzling case of the yips when throwing the ball to first base. After his injury ended Blas’ season, Johnson compared it, along with the injuries to Dyer and Matt Fraizer, to losing Collin Schooler, J.J. Taylor and Khalil Tate from the football team. No kidding. While the impact might not have been that significant, losing Blas was a big blow to Arizona, especially defensively in the middle infield where Dooney and Cannon struggled at times in 2019.

The future: If Blas comes back fully healthy, it wouldn’t be surprising if some combination of him and Dooney are the starting middle infielders to open the 2020 season. If not, he’ll probably be a guy who stays around for his senior year.

Cameron Cannon: A+

Class: Junior

Positions: 2B/SS

Games played/started: 56/56

Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage: .397/.478/.651

RBI: 56

HR: 8

Extra-base hits: 40

In short: Cannon was by far Arizona’s most consistent hitter in 2019 and, impressively, he lead the nation in doubles (29) and had the most hits in the Pac-12 (92) while finishing second in the conference in batting average. Even though he struggled at times defensively, his hitting was so impressive that he was still named to the All Pac-12 First Team and brought in five All-American nods at the end of the year. And take a look at his BA/OBP/SLUG split again. Those numbers are outrageous for a second baseman. He did more than enough to earn an A+.

The future: As expected, Cannon won’t be returning for his senior season after he was taken in the second round of the MLB Draft, with the 43rd pick by the Boston Red Sox, and signed for $1.3 million. His bat is good enough for him to become a big league second baseman one day and he will leave a cannon-ball sized hole in Arizona’s lineup going into next year.

Nick Quintana: A

Class: Junior

Position: 3B

Games played/Started: 56/56

Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage: .342/.462/.626

RBI: 77

HR: 15

Extra-base hits: 33

In short: A Preseason All-American, Golden Spikes Watch List nominee and one of the faces of the Arizona program, “Q” got off to a slow start in 2019, which robbed him of an A+, but still lived up to the hype he’d been generating after a monstrous conference slate. Despite having zero home runs and just 14 RBIs going into Pac-12 play, Quintana ended up leading the Wildcats in both homers and RBI in 2019, while he also moved up to fourth on the school’s HR list with 35 career big flies to his name. On top of making the All-Pac 12 First Team and Defensive Honorable Mention at the end of the year, Quintana was also named to three different All-American teams. He departs something of a legend of the early years of the Jay Johnson Era and it’s unfortunate that the Wildcats missed the postseason for he and Cannon’s final two seasons in Tucson.

The future: It was obvious for months that Quintana and Cannon weren’t going to be back for their senior seasons and the day the Wildcats weren't selected for the NCAA Tournament Johnson went as far as saying, “there’s a lot of sadness in probably not coaching those guys again” when referring to them. The Arizona skipper was proven right a couple weeks later when Q was selected in the second round of the MLB Draft, with the 47th pick by the Detroit Tigers, and signed with them for $1.58 million. He has a big league work ethic which will suit him well at the next level, but his leadership in the Wildcats’ clubhouse (and not to mention his huge presence in the lineup) will be missed in a major way next season.