Arizona baseball coach Jay Johnson says he thinks about the crushing loss in the 2016 World Series “every day of my life.” But it’s time to move on, and it helps that he has the fourth-ranked recruiting class in the nation.
In Johnson’s first season, the Wildcats had a 49-24 record and a miraculous postseason run that ended just short of a College World Series title. Coastal Carolina stunned the senior-led Wildcats, whose ninth-inning rally ended with runners on second and third in a 4-3 loss in the final game.
After so much success in his first year, how will Johnson tackle his second year with new high expectations?
Johnson’s first priority is to no longer focus on last year’s team — or what he calls “that team.” Johnson can only appreciate how far the Wildcats came, and what the postseason meant on his recruiting efforts.
“The borders of where we can go to get players has expanded tremendously,” Johnson said.
Johnson and the coaching staff are thrilled with the 16-member recruiting class for this season, which includes six 2016 MLB draft picks.
Arizona baseball coach Jay Johnson on moving past the great 2016 season… pic.twitter.com/dU27ylr6OT
In his comments about his team, Johnson recognized the potential the recruits have to fill the shoes of last year’s seniors. One standout is outfielder Matt Frazier, a freshman who was drafted in the 38th round by the Oakland A’s.
“Matt Frazier, I think, is a name you’re going to hear a lot,” said Johnson. “(He’s an) athletic left-hitting outfielder that fits into what we do. I think he’s got tremendous potential.”
Infielder Nick Quintana, drafted in the 11th round by the Boston Red Sox, is projected to be the top recruit of this class. Offensively and defensively, Quintana has showed a wide variety of skills. His strong arm and powerful swing has the coaching staff excited for his potential this season.
“Nick is off to great start here in terms of building what we want our players to be, which is improving on a daily basis,” Johnson said.
Four other 2016 draftees — infielder Cameron Cannon, infielder Shane Martinez, pitcher/outfielder Cal Stevenson and catcher Cory Voss — chose to pursue a college career at Arizona.
Several returning players had outstanding summers. Infielder J.J. Matejevic was a Cape Cod League All-Star and named Arizona Baseball’s Summer Player of the Year. Also, pitcher Cody Deason was honored as the No. 1 prospect in Alaska League.
Best buds: Jay Johnson and UA softball coach Mike Candrea
At the moment, it’s about putting the pieces together for Johnson’s team. One challenge for the Wildcats is to build chemistry between the new and returning players. They’re not nearly at the point they need to be, but by breaking down specifics and focusing on individual tasks, the team will be ready by spring.
“We’re trying to identify strengths and weaknesses,” Johnson said about the team’s development this fall. He wants each player to master their specific assignments, then build a team that can win any game on any day.
Ultimately, the team’s success will come down to transferring the winning mentality from last season to this one. Johnson trusts his team has the maturity to do what it takes to have another winning season.
The physical and mental maturity of the team, including the freshmen, has been the biggest positive for Johnson so far. As the team continues to develop, it’s fair to expect another deep postseason run for the Wildcats in 2017.
Arizona is currently undergoing fall scrimmages, and the 2017 season kicks off Feb. 17 against Eastern Kentucky at Hi Corbett Field.