Arizona baseball has experienced substantial roster turnover in the four weeks since Jay Johnson left for LSU, but new head coach Chip Hale should still have plenty of talent to work with in his first season.
Baseball America projects Arizona as the No. 14 team in the country in its “way too early” 2022 preseason rankings, an indication that the Wildcats should remain nationally relevant coming off a College World Series appearance.
Arizona is the third highest-ranked Pac-12 team in Baseball America’s poll, behind Stanford (No. 5) and Oregon State (No. 13). UCLA is the only other Pac-12 team ranked at No. 22.
Here’s Baseball America’s outlook on the Wildcats:
“Arizona is coming off a Pac-12 title, its first outright since 1992, but it hasn’t been able to rest on its laurels. Soon after the Wildcats were eliminated at the College World Series, coach Jay Johnson was hired away by Louisiana State and pitching coach Nate Yeskie left for Texas A&M. Chip Hale was hired to replace Johnson and his first objective had to be retaining the Wildcats’ talented young core, which largely happened. The upshot is that while Arizona has some holes to fill in its lineup, it has the talent to compete in a wide-open Pac-12.”
The publication lists outfielders Mac Bingham and Chase Davis, starting pitcher Garrett Irvin, shortstop Nik McClaughry, relievers Chandler Murphy, Dawson Netz, TJ Nichols and catcher Daniel Susac as projected key returners.
Other significant returners include reliever Quinn Flanagan and outfielders Blake Paugh and Tyler Casagrande, all of whom entered the transfer portal only to return to Arizona.
Baseball America expects starting pitcher Chase Silseth, an 11th round MLB Draft pick by the Los Angeles Angels, to sign with the professional ball club, though there is no indication that’s a sure thing.
If Silseth turns down the Angels in favor of another year of college, Arizona would be one of the few power programs to return its top two starting pitchers from the 2020 season.
The Wildcats also brings in a highly touted right-handed pitcher in Anthony Susac, who is ranked among Baseball America’s top 300 high school prospects.
Offense, of course, is what made the Wildcats so tough to beat for much of last year. Arizona is sure to miss LSU transfer Jacob Berry and draft departures Brandon Boissiere, Ryan Holgate, Kobe Kato and Donta Williams.
Even without those bats, Arizona should still boast one of the better offenses out west, which could combined with experienced pitching makes the Wildcats a real threat to repeat as Pac-12 champions.