Arizona could have at least six regulars from last year’s team in the starting lineup when the 2023 season begins in February, with only a few spots in the batting order up for grabs.
It’s going to be hard for Arizona not to give one of those slots to Mason White, who could end up being Chip Hale’s first recruiting steal.
White, a freshman who graduated from Tucson’s Salpointe Catholic five months ago, had hits in both games of the Wildcats’ doubleheader exhibition sweep of UNLV on Saturday afternoon at Hi Corbett. He was 2 for 5 with a double (that was a few feet why of a home run), an RBI and two runs scored in the opening 11-6 win and added another double and was on base twice in the 5-4 finale, which the UA walked off with two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“He has not had a hard time making the adjustment,” Hale said of White, who started at second base in the first game and shortstop in the second. “He’s exactly what we thought when we recruited him. We’re trying to find places for him to get at-bats.”
The 5-foot-9, left-handed hitting White was still uncommitted when Hale was hired in July 2021, but that didn’t last long.
“They got in it pretty fast,” he said. “I think it was within like two weeks of him being hired. They came out and watched me work out and committed to me that night.”
White said the combination of him being undersized and having a high leg kick “turned a lot of coaches off,” but he said Hale only needed to watch 15 swings to like what he saw.
His two main positions are likely taken, though, as second baseman Garen Caulfield and shortstop Nik McClaughry are back for their third and second seasons, respectively. That’s led to Hale also using White in the outfield and at DH, where he played when Arizona tied professional club Hermosillo in the Mexican Baseball Fiesta earlier in October.
Caulfield played first base in the first game, with White at second, while junior college transfer Kiko Romero was in right field. Those changes were necessitated by slugging outfielder Chase Davis being unavailable due to food poisoning. Hale said Davis could have played “if this was a regional game,” but Arizona’s improved depth from a year ago made it so that wasn’t necessary.
“We have a lot more options,” Hale said.
That’s also the case on the mound, where thanks to a large recruiting class full of arms (and the addition of two veterans from the NCAA transfer portal) Arizona was able to use 11 pitchers on Saturday with only four of them being on last season’s active roster. Pima College transfers Aiden May and Braden Zastrow each threw two innings, while Nevada transfer Cameron Walty also went two innings.
Hale said Walty, who threw a 3-hit shutout against Arizona at Hi Corbett last fall, is one of as many as eight candidates for the starting rotation.
“He had been hurt over the summer in the Cape League, so to get him healthy again and pitching was really nice,” Hale said.
Arizona’s fall season officially ends next weekend with its annual Wild vs. Cats intrasquad World Series, where the players draft their own teams. After that Hale and his staff will be able to spend eight hours per week on individual workouts until the fall semester ends.