We’ll never know what the Arizona Wildcats might have accomplished on the diamond in 2020, other than the 10-5 record they had compiled through the first full weekend of March. Pac-12 play was just about to begin for the NCAA cancelled the season during to the coronavirus epidemic.
Assuming the 2021 season happens as planned, though, Arizona figures to be in line to pick up where it left off.
Baseball America has ranked the Wildcats 13th in their ‘Never Too Early’ Projected Top 25 for 2021. That’s second-best among Pac-12 schools, behind only No. 3 UCLA.
Here’s what BA had to say about the UA’s 2021 squad:
“With catcher Austin Wells the only surefire departure from a prolific offense that also includes utility man Matthew Dyer, outfielder Ryan Holgate, outfielder Donta Williams and infielder Dayton Dooney, the Wildcats’ lineup should return in 2021 in good shape. What’s more of a question is the pitching staff, but with everyone from the 2020 staff expected to be back and another year for pitching coach Nate Yeskie to build up that unit, improvement can likely be expected.”
Such super early rankings must always be taken with a grain of salt, if not a whole teaspoon, since they are heavily based on assumptions regarding each team’s roster. In baseball that’s even more of a crapshoot with the annual MLB Draft, since unlike other college sports players can be selected but opt to return to school if they still have eligibility.
The 2020 MLB Draft (which still doesn’t have a set date) has been slashed to just five rounds this year, with any players not selected limited to no more than a $20,000 signing bonus. To put that in perspective, one of the UA’s high school signees in the 2019 class (catcher William Barlett) signed with Cleveland Indians for $275,000 as a ninth-round selection last June.
BA expects Wells, the 2019 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, to get drafted—he is eligible as a sophomore because he turns 21 this year—but presumes everyone else to return. Dyer and Williams would have been taken in a normal draft, and garnered more than $20,000 for signing, and are likely to return, as is left-handed pitcher Garret Irvin (who was 4-0 with a 3.18 ERA in four starts in 2020).
Throw in a recruiting class that includes eight players ranked in BA’s Top 500 prospects—though a few may end up signing pro deals—and Arizona has a very solid team returning next year.