FROM PRESS RELEASE
TUCSON, Ariz. — The University of Arizona has been ranked No. 1 in Collegiate Baseball newspaper’s Fabulous 40 pre-season NCAA Division I poll.
The Wildcats have their strongest team since winning national championships in 1976, 1980 and 1986 as nine position player starters are back along with seven superb pitchers from a team which finished second in the Pac-10 Conference a year ago with a 42-17 overall record.
The winner of the Pac-10 is usually in contention for a national championship. Based on the current conference membership, this league has produced 26 national champions in baseball which is nearly three times more than any other conference. The Big 12 ranks second with 10 national titles.
Arizona features three Louisville Slugger Pre-Season All-Americans in RHP Preston Guilmet, Pac-10 Pitcher of The Year last season (12-2,1.87 ERA, 146 K), 1B C.J. Ziegler (.355, 13 HR, 23 2B, 63 RBI) and lefthanded closer Daniel Schlereth (8 SV, 3-1, 2.68 ERA). The Wildcats have a number of high profile professional prospects with four potential picks in the first three rounds of next June’s Free Agent Draft in Guilmet, Schlereth, CF T.J. Steele (tremendous speed, .323, 7 HR, 14 2B, 47 RBI, 21 SB) and RHP Ryan Perry (who touched 98 mph for Orleans in the Cape Cod League last summer and played in the All-Star game).
Professional baseball is so interested in a number of Wildcat players that 37 scouts showed up for one practice last fall, the highest number that have ever attended during the six years Lopez has been head coach of Arizona and one of the highest totals in his 25-year coaching career.
Every area you look at is loaded with talented, veteran players.The pitching staff, which ranked No. 2 in the nation one year ago with 9.2 strikeouts per game, is virtually intact except for LHP Brad Mills who graduated and signed. Last season, the Wildcats posted their lowest ERA in 30 years (3.90), gave up the fewest home runs in 34 years (20) and limited opponents to the lowest batting average (.257) since 1976.
One important factor for this turnaround was Head Coach Andy Lopez who took over the pitching coach duties for Arizona last year and will continue in 2008. Lopez has been one of the top pitching coaches in the nation for years dating back to his days at Pepperdine when he led the staff to the 1992 national championship.
And quality pitching is a big reason why Lopez-led teams have qualified for the College World Series four times in his career (Pepperdine in 1992, Florida in 1996, 1998 and Arizona in 2004). And each of those times he has been the pitching coach. Lopez is just one of three skippers in the history of NCAA Division I baseball to lead three different schools to the College World Series.
Arizona has a number of quality arms to choose from. Guilmet is entrenched as the ace of the staff. Then you have RHP Perry, LHP Eric Berger (back from Tommy John surgery and appears ready to go when the season begins) along with LHP David Coulon (4-3, 4.98 ERA, 62 K, 40 BB) and Mike Colla (3-3, 5.20 ERA, 45 K, 24 BB), among others.
The Wildcats are one of the few college teams in the nation that can run out a gifted closer from the right side (Jason Stoffel, 5 SV, 1.87 ERA) or from the left in Schlereth.
“I am very excited about our pitching staff,” said Lopez.”We have a veteran group which on paper looks terrific. One guy who doesn’t get a lot of notoriety is David Coulon. At the end of last season, he was our second best pitcher. Last fall, he was superb. Another guy to watch is RHP Grayson Adams (transfer from Cal. St. Monterey Bay) who has been impressive. He has a devastating split finger fastball and will be somewhere in the mix.”
On offense, Arizona is expected to be potent with the return of nine starters. Last season, the Wildcats had a balanced offense with power and speed as Arizona finished third in the nation in triples (33 in 59 games), 95 stolen bases along with 126 doubles and 52 homers.
“We were good offensively last season, but I feel we will be better this year,” said Lopez. “Our hitters should cut down on their strikeouts since they are a junior dominated group. One tremendous offensive edition to our team is lefthanded hitting 3B Dillon Baird from Yavapai Junior College (Ariz.). He hit .485 last fall against some terrific pitchers and played magnificently on defense. He was our best player during the fall.”
Another offensive trend worth noting is that Wildcat batters were hit by pitches 90 times last season in 59 games led by Sedbrook (16) and Glenn (15). When you add up all the hits, walks and hit batters, Arizona batters had an on-base percentage of .391 in 2007.
On defense, the team is expected to be strong up the middle led by one of the nation’s top catchers in Dwight Childs. Last season, only 36 stolen bases were allowed by Arizona in 62 attempts, and 53 double plays were turned. C Daniel Butler, who was neck-and-neck with Childs for the starting catcher role last season, underwent Tommy John surgery last February. A superb hitter, he has made a strong recovery and is pushing Childs for the No. 1 position.
The middle of the infield features 2B Colt Sedbrook (who may move to shortstop) and SS Robert Abel (who may move to 2B).
“Making the situation even more interesting is the emergence of SS Rafael Valenzuela (from Cochise College). He was solid for us during the fall and really puts an interesting twist to the middle infield situation. We are not sure who the shortstop will be quite yet.”
Lopez said his outfield will be fast.
“(CF) T.J. Steele is as good as any outfielder in the nation, and Jon Gaston is excellent in rightfield. Currently there is a tremendous battle in left field between Diallo Fon, Hunter Pace, and Bobby Coyle (freshman from Chatsworth H.S., Calif.).”
The Arizona head coach said while the Wildcats won 42 games last season with a second place finish at the Wichita Regional, the 2008 squad should be even better.
“We made a legitimate run at the Pac-10 title, and we could have won the regional at Wichita. Everyone is back except LHP Brad Mills and 1B/OF Bill Rhinehart. Our team is a year older and hopefully better. The one big variable that you can’t control is staying healthy. Our players must also do well in the classroom to stay eligible and be strong minded in a sense of not getting caught up in expectations and working hard every day.”
The “Collegiate Baseball” Newspaper poll is the oldest college baseball poll. Its birth took place during the 1957 college baseball season.
1. Arizona (42-17)
2. South Carolina (46-20)
3. Arizona St. (49-15)
4. Mississippi (40-25)
5. North Carolina (57-16)
6. Rice (56-14)
7. San Diego (43-18)
8. Texas (46-17)
9. Wichita St. (53-22)
10. Michigan (42-19)
11. Vanderbilt (54-13)
12. Florida St. (49-13)
13. Clemson (41-23)
14. Miami, Fla. (37-24)
15. Missouri (42-18)
16. Cal. St. Fullerton (38-25)
17. Long Beach St. (39-20)
18. UCLA (33-28)
19. Oregon St. (49-18)
20. Kentucky (34-19-1)
21. Fresno St. (38-29)
22. Texas A&M (48-19)
23. Louisville (47-24)
24. Virginia (45-16)
25. Georgia Tech. (32-25)
26. U.C. Irvine (47-17-1)
27. Mississippi St. (38-22)
28. Baylor (35-27)
29. Pepperdine (35-22)
30. Louisiana St. (29-26-1)
31. Oklahoma St. (42-21)
32. Louisiana-Lafayette (45-17)
33. Southern Illinois (34-22)
34. Southern Miss. (39-23)
35. U.C. Riverside (38-21)
36. Stetson (42-21)
37. Coastal Carolina (50-13)
38. Nebraska (32-27)
39. California (29-26)
40. Oral Roberts (40-17)
OTHER TEAMS RECEIVING VOTES: Georgia, Alabama, Creighton, USF, Notre Dame, Winthrop, Arkansas, Old Dominion, Texas-San Antonio, New Orleans, Oklahoma, East Carolina, Tulane, Kent St., Houston, Central Michigan, Texas Christian, Central Florida, Lamar, Southeastern Louisiana, Florida Atlantic, Charlotte, Gonzaga, Santa Clara, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn, Southern California, Stanford, Washington, Washington St., College of Charleston, Rutgers, Western Carolina, Penn. St., Minnesota, Ohio St., North Carolina St., Wake Forest, Hawaii, Virginia Commonwealth, Louisiana Tech., Nevada, LeMoyne, Troy, Kennesaw St., Richmond, St. John’s, Old Dominion, Austin Peay, Southern.
Thanks to the College Baseball News for the release and Arizona Athletics for the photo.