AllSportsTucson.com is running profiles on some of the players who are participating in the Sun Belt College Summer League this summer at the Kino Sports Complex. Today we are highlighting Arizona junior infielders Jacob Blas and Tony Bullard.
This year of having things not go as planned continues this summer for Arizona infielders Jacob Blas and Tony Bullard, who find themselves in Tucson working on their game at the Sun Belt College Summer League at the Kino Sports Complex.
Workouts are underway with the season scheduled to start June 26. The practices and games are closed to the public for now.
Blas and Bullard were slated to play in the Cape Cod League, Bullard with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox and Blas with the Brewster Whitecaps, before that prestigious summer college league canceled its operations because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This occurred after their sophomore seasons were cut short after only 15 games because of COVID-19.
“It sucks not being able to travel over there playing against the top guys in the country,” Bullard said. “I’m just glad I get to play here since I won’t be able to go over there.”
Bullard, primarily a third baseman, is a member of the Desert Vaqueros in the Sun Belt League. He will be teammates of three Washington players — infielder/pitcher Karl Koerper, outfielder James Kobylt and infielder Michael Snyder. Koerper played for Pima last season.
Blas, who split time between second base and shortstop for the Wildcats this season, is part of the Aztecs that includes primarily players from Pima Community College. UNLV pitcher Austin Bryan, who played previously at New Mexico State and Pima, is one of Blas’ teammates.
Due to many college summer leagues canceling their seasons nationwide, the Sun Belt League is drawing a larger talent pool than years past since it started in 2011.
Other Division I players on rosters are catcher Grant South (Grand Canyon) of the Old Pueblo Kings; pitcher Adam Grintz (Tulane) of the Sabino Springs Scorpions; and pitcher Matthew Bachelier (Gonzaga), pitcher/infielder Cole Bramhall (New Mexico), outfielder Wyatt Wingstad (New Mexico), infielder Kevin Jimenez (New Mexico State), infielder Jesus Lopez (Pepperdine), infielder Preston Clifford (Washington State), and outfielder Seth Nager (ASU) of the Santa Rita Warthogs.
Outfielder Donta Williams, teammate of Blas and Bullard at Arizona, is also expected to play in the Sun Belt League.
“I’m obviously disappointed that I can’t go to the Cape and play against the best talent but I’m just grateful there is an opportunity to play here,” Blas said. “We also have a lot of resources around here to improve, not only in games, but we have good workout areas and ways to practice.
“I’m just grateful that Tucson has this opportunity for us.”
From when the season was cut short before the Pac-12 season was to start March 13 to now, Bullard and Blas have been mostly on their own training with the hopes of returning to baseball. They drove together to Tucson from their California homes on Monday.
“Just trying to eat healthy, get my body right and honestly try to get bigger and stronger,” Bullard said when asked how he has spent his last three months. “You have to hold yourself accountable and not let yourself eat junk, like going to In ‘N Out or Chick-Fil-A. You’ve got to control yourself.”
Blas showed promising signs this season after coming off his knee injury that limited him to 17 games last year, forcing him to redshirt. He was batting .322 with six doubles. As a third-year sophomore, if the MLB Draft was more than five rounds this year, he would have been picked.
“I was trying to improve my strength as well (after the season ended),” Blas said. “When you’re playing, you’re getting stronger because you’re always on the field, you’re moving around. In a time like this, you really have to take advantage of (working out).
“Another thing I’ve been focusing on is trying to improve my arm strength. I’ve been doing a lot of long toss and stuff like that. I’ve also been in San Diego and going to the beach and having some fun, too. I’m just trying to improve my game and have fun in my life.”
Bullard and Blas will report to their coach Jay Johnson and the coaching staff about how they are feeling and performing in the Sun Belt League. Video conferencing and phone calls will occur to focus on what they have to improve upon.
“Honestly, I just feel like it’s all about getting your reps in, no matter who you’re playing against or who you’re playing with, it’s all about getting your reps in and getting back to your comfort zone,” Bullard said.
As they work on their game and continue their Arizona careers, Bullard and Blas can draw from their experience playing with an MLB first-round draft pick.
Their Arizona teammate the last two years, catcher Austin Wells, was selected in the first round (28th pick overall) by the New York Yankees last week. Bullard and Blas watched the draft at their California homes.
“That was sweet,” Bullard said. “I’m really excited for him. I’m grateful I got to play with him. I learned from him how he goes about his business. He’s all about hard work. He goes 100 percent. I’m honestly grateful that I got to play with such a great guy.”
Blas added about Wells: “Obviously, I’m proud of him. I feel like he’s earned everything he’s gotten. I feel like just seeing his hard work … he’s always been a good player, but I feel like he just continued to get better each and every day. I feel like that’s what got him to his end-goal. Being there (at Arizona) and supporting him is pretty cool.”
Because of the NCAA allowing spring-sport athletes to retain their eligibility with the season cut short, and the MLB draft only lasting five rounds, Johnson’s talent level at Arizona will be enhanced in 2021.
Seniors can return and players who would have been picked and signed by big-league clubs will be with the Wildcats instead.
“I’m really excited about it; I feel like this will be the best team I’m ever going to be a part of,” Blas said. “I’m really looking forward to it. We had a really good chemistry this year. We’ll be able to build on that all fall.
“I’m just really excited for 2021. I think we have a lot of good things ahead of us.”
Arizona’s only draft losses are potentially Wells, utility player Matthew Dyer (fourth round, 120th pick overall, by the New York Mets), and infielder recruit Nick Yorke (first round, 17th pick overall, by the Boston Red Sox).
Freshmen Daniel Susac (a catcher) and Chase Davis (outfielder) were ranked among the top 100 draft prospects by MLB.com, but they were not drafted. Susac, Davis, other freshmen and draft-eligible players at Arizona can still turn pro before attending their first class in the fall, but that is not to expected because the maximum an undrafted player can sign for is $20,000.
“I’m very excited as well getting back to playing with the boys,” Bullard said. “There’s nothing better than that, especially with the guys we have coming in and the guys from last year. I’m really excited to get out there.”
Name: Jacob Blas.
Height: 6-1. Weight: 178.
Sun Belt Team: Aztecs
High School: Carlsbad (Calif.) San Marcos (Class of 2017)
Stats: Played and started in all 15 of the Wildcats games this spring before COVID-19 cut the season short. He is one of six Arizona players to hit over .320, batting .322 with 13 runs, six doubles, and six RBIs. The six doubles were tied for third-most in the Pac-12. He also led the team and ranked tied for second in the conference with six stolen bases.
Interesting facts: Blas gained an extra year of eligibility after only playing 17 games in 2019 because of an injury, so he will be a fourth-year junior in 2021. At San Marcos, he .402 his senior year with 43 hits, 28 stolen bases and three home run and was a member of the school’s honor roll, graduating with a 4.0 GPA. He is majoring in general studies. Blas was listed on the 2020 Pac-12 Spring Academic Honor Roll.
Name: Tony Bullard
Height: 6-4. Weight: 186.
Sun Belt Team: Desert Vaqueros.
High School: Riverside (Calif.) J.W. North (Class of 2018)
Stats: Primarily a third baseman, Bullard played in 14 games with 11 starts before the season was cut short due to COVID-19. He was batting .133 with four runs and eight RBIs. He also drew nine walks and posted a .372 on-base percentage. He also was successful in two stolen base attempts. As a freshman last season, Bullard batted .301 with 23 runs, seven doubles, one triple, two home runs, and 17 RBIs.
Interesting facts: Lettered all four years in baseball at J.W. North and pitched and played third base, shortstop and first base. He combined to hit .317 with 32 doubles, 19 home runs, and 78 RBIs in four seasons. Came to Arizona because of coach Jay Johnson and the coaching staff.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.