1. Arizona was picked to finish fifth in the preseason by Pac-12 coaches. After missing the postseason last year, what are the realistic goals for this team this year?
The realistic goals are to finish top-five in the Pac-12, and return to the postseason. Last year was rough because there was no consistency from the weekend starters. The most consistent guy was the Sunday starter Tyler Crawford, and at the beginning of the year, he wasn't in the conversation to be a starter at all, let alone in the weekend rotation during conference play. This year, both Crawford and James Farris return, along with a majority of the lineup and a couple of highly-touted freshman, but this group isn't one that is likely to compete for a Pac-12 title with some of the great teams like Oregon State, Oregon, and of course, UCLA.
2. The Wildcats are coming off a weekend sweep at home to Seton Hall. Was that a complete surprise? Is Seton Hall that good, or Arizona just not playing well right now?
It was definitely a complete surprise to me. I'd heard that Seton Hall was pretty good coming in, but early in the year, a team like Arizona can't be getting swept at home by a Northeast team that has barely had any practice time outside.
But Arizona is definitely not playing well right now, and it's continued into the midweek series against Long Beach St. The situational hitting is awful. No one is picking up hits with RISP, and/or when there's two outs. The pitching has actually been really good from a select group of guys, and I'm sure those are the only guys who will see the mound this weekend. It's all about struggles at the plate right now.
3. Give us a few names to watch for in the Arizona lineup.
Even through the struggles of the last week or so, sophomore Scott Kingery has still been able to consistently get hits. Kingery was down around the five or six spot, but coach Lopez has moved him to the leadoff spot, and I'm sure that's where he'll be this weekend considering how bad everyone else has been. One name that baseball fans should know in general is Kevin Newman. Newman came in as a freshman last year with a lot of hype on the defensive side at shortstop, but not a lot of talk about his bat. Well, he went on to hit .336 last year for Arizona, and then became the first freshman in the history of the Cape Cod League to win the batting title. One last guy who's been consistent is Cody Ramer. He hits down in the lineup, but is one of the best on the team as far as batting average goes.
I like that I just named three sophomores. Should mean good things for next year, right?
4. Tell us a bit more about Hi Corbett, who this weekend's round-robin tournament and the Arizona field is named for.
Arizona moved into Hi Corbett Field in 2012, leaving behind on-campus ballpark Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium. Now, the football team actually uses Sancet as their practice facility. Just real quick on this, but Jerry Kindall will probably be around the ballpark this weekend, He was the head coach for the three National Championships in 1976, '80, and '86.
Hi Corbett got its name in 1951, and is named after former Arizona State senator Hiram Stevens Corbett. Corbett was the guy who convinced the Cleveland Indians to move their Spring Training to Tucson in 1945, and the Indians stayed there until 1992. Major League was filmed at Hi Corbett while the Indians were still in Tucson. If MSU fans are coming out to Tucson, they'll see all the history celebrated around the concourse, specifically some of the baseball legends that have played in Hi Corbett before.
5. What do you expect the Arizona weekend rotation to look like for the four games this weekend?
Friday vs. MSU: James Farris
Saturday vs. UCSB: Cody Hamlin
Sunday vs. UCSB: Tyler Crawford
Sunday vs. MSU: ???????
If I had to guess on who will start that Sunday night game, it would be either Cody Moffett or Morgan Earman. Before last Sunday, I would have definitely said Moffett, but Earman started the third game of the Seton Hall series, was lifted for Moffett in the second inning, and then Moffett struggled for the first time this season. The main reason that I give Moffett the edge is simply the fact that he's a sophomore, and Earman is a freshman. If it's a close game in the mid-innings, I would expect to see Arizona empty its bullpen to try and get a win over a quality opponent like MSU.
With the second game of last weekend's games being suspended due to rain, both Hamlin and Crawford pitched short stints, allowing them to both start this week's midweek games against Long Beach. To my surprise, Farris also pitched in the Tuesday game, but he was on a pitch count and managed to get three perfect innings out of it. Since he threw less pitches than Hamlin, Farris will go a day earlier. Farris told me that he used those three innings as his bullpen work for the week, so he should be good to go for a normal length start. He does have a complete game shutout this year. He's a senior, and was drafted in the 15th round of last year's draft.
No one on the Arizona pitching staff will blow anyone away with power. It's definitely a finesse group of guys.
6. Thoughts on SEC baseball in comparison to the west coast?
I respect it, but not to the point that the selection committee did last year. I would be lying if I said it didn't bother me, and really everyone in the Pac-12, when the Pac only got four teams into last year's tournament, and the SEC got nine. If you want to see Andy Lopez rip his former Florida team, you can see it here when I talked to him after the selection show last season.
I don't watch a lot of SEC baseball, so I can't tell you what the big differences are. But I will say this: West Coast teams have won six of the last ten National Championships, and the SEC only has those back-to-back championships by South Carolina.
7. What are your predictions for this weekend?
I do not foresee a good weekend for Arizona based on how things have been going lately. If I were to predict records, I would say UA and UCSB go 1-3, with MSU going 4-0. If the Wildcats' pitching is on, maybe they can scrape together enough runs to pull off a win over MSU, but right now, I just don't see that happening. I think the big surprise will be UCSB. I think they'll hold their own against the Bulldogs, and then if it goes as I predicted, split with UA.
8. For Bulldogs traveling to Tuscon for the first time this weekend, what are some places to check out? Restaurants you'd recommend?
Hi Corbett's in an interesting location, as it is a part of Randolph Park, sort of in the middle of town. There are a couple of golf courses right across the street if that's what the fans are in to. Also, Reid Park Zoo is literally right down the street. I actually worked there for a year as a zookeeper, so I recommend going just because I'm biased. MSU fans will have that whole day Sunday, so they can get a couple of those things in.
As far as restaurants, there's nothing really close to the ballpark. There is an In-N-Out right there though, and if you've never been because you live in the south, you've got to go at least once while you're in Tucson. For night life on Saturday, definitely head to Downtown Tucson. There are a lot of great restaurants and bars on Congress and 4th Ave. A couple of my favorites are Lindy's (4th Ave.), and Barrio Brewery (near downtown). Near campus, you have to either go to No Anchovies or Gentle Bens. For really good BBQ, check out Brushfire BBQ. There are two locations, one close to campus, and one out on the east side of town. And for Mexican food, go to Guadalajara Grill. Great food and margaritas there.