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Pac-12 Baseball Team Preview: Arizona Hoping For Another Deep Run

Two years removed from the CWS final, Jay Johnson and the Wildcats look to get back to Omaha.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Arizona vs Coastal Carolina Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona Wildcats

  • Last Season: 38-21 (16-14 Conference)
  • Head Coach: Jay Johnson
  • Best Returning Batter: Alfonso Rivas III (.371)
  • Best Returning Fielder: Cesar Salazar (334 Putouts)
  • Best Returning Pitcher: Robby Medel (2.96 ERA)

The Skinny

Historically, the Arizona Wildcats are one of the more storied programs in college baseball. With 17 trips to Omaha in the books, their most recent championship came back in 2012 when they stopped South Carolina’s quest for a three-peat for their fourth natty. Their most recent trip to the College World Series, however, ended in heartbreak as they lost to Cinderella story Coastal Carolina in the 2016 finals.

Last season, Arizona’s season was highlighted by offensive firepower across the board. With a team batting average of .308, the Wildcats led the league in that category and we’re 18th nationally. They also managed to put up 453 runs, which was the most in the league and 17th in the country. Actually, let’s just go down the list and note every offensive category that Arizona led the Pac-12 in after the 2017 season: batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, runs scored, hits, RBIs, doubles, total bases, total plate appearances, at-bats, and pitches hit by.

With all that said, Arizona had some trouble on the road where they finished 11-11 and hit some tough conference losses late in the season getting swept on the road by Oregon State, Stanford, and Utah, as well as dropping two of three against Cal in their final home series of the year. They managed to crack their way into the NCAA tournament but were eliminated by Sam Houston State in the Lubbock Regional.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-Arizona vs Oklahoma State
Alfonso Rivas, who will play the infield this season, also makes relief appearances on the mound from time to time.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Alfonso Rivas III is a player that all baseball fans will want to keep an eye on. The San Diego native was an All-Pac-12 Selection and a second-team All-American according to the NCBWA. Rivas finished 13th in the nation in on-base percentage (.483) and had the third highest batting average in the Pac-12 at .371. The Wildcats will need another big year from Rivas to replace the production of JJ Matijevic, who led the league in both hits and RBIs last season. Just to put in perspective how important Rivas is going to be to this team, I should point out he’s also a key relief pitcher for them who had seven Ks in twelve appearances in 2017.

As a whole, the Arizona pitching staff could use some improvement in 2018. Their cumulative ERA of 4.36 was 7th in the league last season. On top of that, they need to replace the very talented Cameron Ming, who’s off to the MLB. Righties Michael Flynn and Robby Medel are their best bet at doing so right now.

Off the field, they are one of the more creative and entertaining teams out there, so they’re definitely worth a follow on social media. This is my favorite example of that.

Picked to finish fourth in the league per the Pac-12 coaches poll, this is a team that can make life difficult for the other teams in the Pac-12. But to do so, they’ll have to be ready for an absolutely brutal schedule that includes 27 road games and eight teams that made the NCAA tournament in 2017.


Number To Know: 453

Arizona had far and away the most prolific offense in the league last year with 453 runs. The next highest total came from the Beavs with 373.


Games against OSU:

April 6th, 7th, and 8th in Tucson


Pac-12 Baseball Team Previews:

UCLA

Stanford

Arizona State

USC

California

Stay tuned as we preview the rest of the league!