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Grading Arizona baseball’s outfielders for 2019 season

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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.

On Sunday, we handed out grades to Arizona’s infielders for their 2019 seasons and now we will be assessing the Wildcats’ main outfield contributors.

Later we’ll take a look at the UA’s pitching staff.

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

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

Branden Boissiere: B-

Class: Freshman

Games played/started: 39/27

Position: OF/1B

Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage: .336/.430/.464

RBI: 24

HR: 2

Extra-base hits: 9

In short: “Boss,” as the rest of the Wildcats have come to call him, didn’t hit the ground running in his freshman campaign, but was ultimately another member of Johnson’s biggest freshmen class at Arizona to have an impact in 2019. Once he got past some early struggles he led the UA in batting average during conference play, posting an incredible .403 batting average in 22 Pac-12 appearances. He also impressed in the field throughout the season, posting a 100% fielding percentage from 81 combined chances at the corner outfield spots and first base. The slow start is the only thing that keeps him from receiving a better grade.

The future: Boissiere showed how multi-dimensional he is this year, which will help him find even more playing time next season and beyond. He’s actually listed on the Wildcats’ official roster as a pitcher too, and he and Johnson have both spoken about the possibility of him seeing time on the mound in the future. Don’t be surprised if he’s Arizona’s starting right fielder come Opening Day 2020.

Tony Bullard: C+

Class: Freshman

Games played/started: 36/21

Position: Utility

Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage: .301/.412/.482

RBI: 17

HR: 2

Extra-base hits: 10

In short: Like Boissierre, Bullard improved as his freshman season went on and the wiry utility man projects to be a big part of Arizona’s plans in 2020. He proved to be a tough out as a freshman, striking out just 14 times while drawing 11 walks, and his BA/OBP/SLUG split suggests a maturity beyond his years at the plate. Even with the Wildcats’ injury woes he struggled to get steady playing time and judging by what he did when given the chance, probably would have received a higher grade if he had.

The future: With Nick Quintana’s departure, the word on the street is that Bullard could be the Wildcats starting third baseman in 2020. He’s 6-foot-4 and will benefit from another year in a collegiate lifting program, and if he can add some muscle to his 194-pound frame he could be even better next season.

Ryan Holgate: C

Class: Freshman

Games played/started: 53/43

Position: RF/DH

Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage: .240/.378/.437

RBI: 33

HR: 7

Extra-base hits: 17

In short: Coming in at 6-foot-1 and well over 200 pounds, the power-hitting Holgate got off to a hot start in his freshman season and earned national player of the week plaudits after Arizona’s first series. Unlike the Wildcats’ other debutants, however, he didn’t get better as the season progressed and, in fact, got worse. After he went 6 for 14 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in that first series, Holgate finished with just four homers and 21 RBIs in Arizona’s next 52 games. He ended up leading the team in strikeouts as well, and after the buzz he was generating at the beginning of the year—when Johnson and the UA’s pitching staff was raving about his size, strength and pop off the bat—Holgate’s season was definitely lackluster compared to some of the other bats in the Wildcats’ prodigious lineup.

The future: His power will keep him a part of Johnson’s plans for next year, but with another top recruiting class coming in he will need to improve his average if he wants to consistently get the amount of playing time that he was given this season. Expect most of his future at-bats to come from the DH spot due to his limited mobility in the outfield.

Donta Williams: B-

Class: Sophomore

Games played/Started: 56-53

Position: OF

Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage: .267/.396/.408

RBI: 35

HR: 2

Extra-base hits: 19

In short: Williams experienced something of a decline at the plate towards the end of the season, which hurt his overall grade, but that doesn’t takeaway from what he gave Arizona when the team was struggling to win games early in the year. In the midst of the Wildcats’ worst stretch of play in 2019, it was a turning point when Johnson inserted Williams into the lead off spot in the lineup as he consistently took good at-bats and set the tone for the rest of the team. Once he started getting more time in center field, after Matt Fraizer’s injury, Donta made multiple remarkable defensive plays, including a SportsCenter Top 10 highlight on April 14 against Cal. He was ultimately named to the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team and his .267 batting average doesn’t truly represent what he brought to the table at the plate. The fact that his on-base percentage finished more than 100 points higher than his batting average is telling.

The future: Williams will be one of the team’s elder statesmen next year and I’d be very surprised if he wasn’t the starting center fielder to open the season. If he can make a leap similar to the one that Fraizer made from his sophomore to junior campaigns, Arizona will benefit in a major way.

Tate Soderstrom: C+

Class: Sophomore

Games played/Started: 41/14

Position: LF/RF

Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage: .244/.333/.389

RBI: 25

HR: 1

Extra-base hits: 10

In short: While other Wildcats will get the praise, and rightfully so, Soderstrom quietly had a solid season for Arizona in 2019. The numbers may not reflect it, but he proved to be a solid bat and consistently seemed to be a part of the Wildcats’ huge run-scoring innings. He was another player who benefited from the UA’s injury situation and will be looking for a break through junior year in 2020.

The future: Soderstrom will be battling the entire off-season for one of Arizona’s two corner outfield spots, and considering he’s going into his third year he’ll really be wanting to win one of those jobs.

Matt Fraizer: Incomplete

Class: Junior

Games played/Started: 19/19

Position: CF

Batting average/On-base Percentage/Slugging percentage: .412/.452/.565

RBI: 28

HR: 1

Extra-base hits: 9

In short: Losing Fraizer for the last 37 games of the season was the biggest injury blow dealt to Arizona this year. The junior was well on his way to getting an A from us prior to getting hurt, and before he sustained the broken hamate bone in his right hand that ended his season the junior was playing the best baseball of his collegiate career and was probably the Wildcats’ best overall player. He was hitting over .400 at the time he went down and was showing signs that, after some much talked about off-season swing adjustments, he had truly developed into one of the best players in the Pac-12. Even though his commitment to the team never wavered as he sat out the last 37 games—he was often the Wildcats’ biggest dugout cheerleader—it will always be a question of what could have been for Arizona in 2019 had he stayed healthy.

The future: There was some speculation that Fraizer would return to Tucson for his senior season, but that was put to rest when he was unexpectedly drafted in the third round of the MLB Draft with the 95th pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He signed with the club for $400,000 and his selection, along with those of Quintana and Cameron Cannon, meant that three Wildcats were drafted in the first three rounds of the MLB draft for the first time since 1985 - proving that even in a down year, the Wildcats still lived up to their #MLBTrainingGround moniker.

Justin Wylie: B

Class: Senior

Games played/Started: 46/34

Position: OF/2B

Batting average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage: .341/.449/.634

RBI: 37

HR: 5

Extra-base hits: 23

In short: Wylie was a player who ended up doing more than expected for Arizona in 2019. He started the season on the bench and wasn’t expected to contribute much, but after getting more and more playing time due to the injuries to Fraizer and Jacob Blas the San Diego State grad transfer hit for average and showed some good power too, with more than half of his 42 hits going for extra bases. By the end of the year he’d become one of the most consistent bats in the UA’s explosive lineup and teammates and coaches alike were heaping praise on him. His .368 batting average during conference play was the second-highest by a Wildcat and he was rewarded for his steady contributions to the team by being named Pac-12 Player of the Week for the final week of the season. Overall, he earned his Arizona pinstripes in his one and only season in Tucson.

The future: Wylie graduated from SDSU last year and has been a grad student at UA since then. He’s technically an undrafted free agent and could be picked up by a professional organization. Per his Twitter page he is pursuing that option.