On the hit TV show “Lost” the survivors of a plane crash end up on a mysterious island. There’s time travel involved, a smoke monster, and dead people who might not be dead. The bottom line is nobody knows exactly where they are.
The same could be said for Arizona Wildcats Baseball.
For all intents and purposes, 2009 was a lost season for coach Andy Lopez and the Cats. Arizona finished with a losing conference record and missed the NCAA tournament for just the second time in seven years. But that’s not the problem. When you lose a bunch of players to graduation and the MLB draft you’re going to take a step back.
The UA had a peak year in 2005 and then missed the postseason in 2006. But the team went on to finish second in the Pac-10 in 2007 and came within one game of the College World Series in ’08. The freshmen on that losing team grew up together and left as winners.
The problem with last year’s young players is that – like the characters on “Lost” – a lot of them didn’t come back.
Exactly two-thirds of this year’s roster wasn’t here a year ago. Only 11 players from last year’s 33-man squad have returned, and only eight of them saw significant playing time. It would be like killing off Jack, Kate and Sawyer and turning the franchise over to Bernard and Daniel Faraday’s mom.
You think Sawyer can hit a curve ball?
Photo by Norman Shapiro, The Honolulu Advertiser
And it’s not like last year’s team was loaded with veterans. Seven freshman and three sophomores from ’09 are gone. Those ten underclassmen combined to produce 45 extra-base hits and 40 strikeouts. It wasn’t hard to flashforward and see a few stars.
So who is back? At the plate it comes down to three guys: junior IF Bryce Ortega, sophomore C Jett Bandy, and sophomore OF Steve Selsky. That’s it, which is too bad since last year’s team led the Pac-10 in hitting.
The good news is all three of the old-timers hit .299+ last year with on-base percentages north of .385. Selsky is the power hitter with seven home runs a year ago, but Bandy had 21 doubles so the hope is The Jett can develop into a middle-of-the-order run producer.
Bandy and his chest-bumping skills are back.
Photo by Val Cañez, The Tucson Citizen
On the mound there’s good news and bad news. The good news is the six returning pitchers combined for 26 starts last year. The bad news is none of them were very good. The Wildcat pitching staff as a whole was poor in 2009. Like 9th-place-in-the-Pac-10 poor. Great Recession poor.
Of the returnees only Daniel Workman finished with an ERA under 4 and Kyle Simon and Bryce Bandilla couldn’t keep theirs on the good side of 6. But, hey, everyone’s undefeated right now and you hope someone can explode on the scene like Preston Guilmet in 2007.
Workman, a junior right-hander, and Simon, a sophomore righty, will be in the starting rotation this weekend. Bandilla, a left-handed sophomore, will be the closer. The man on the mound opening night will be true-freshman right-hander Kurt Heyer. He’s from Huntington Beach and his middle name is Wolfgang. All that means is I can read his bio.
Please be great.
So the 2010 BatCats are a big mystery. Not in a which-parallel-universe-is-real kind of way, but in a which-way-is-our-program-headed kind of way.
One way we know the team isn’t headed is out of town. Arizona takes full advantage of its “winter” weather and opens the season with 26 straight home games. If you’re going to break in a young team that’s the way to do it.
You have to keep win-total expectations low in a year like this. Root for the team to play with passion. Root for the team to be fundamentally sound. Root for the young guys to improve as the year goes on and root for signs of stardom.
And, last of all, root for the Cats to finally beat the Others.