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January 29, 2013
With the season half a month away, Arizona head coach Andy Lopez summed up the state of the baseball program in two words: effort and execution.
"Give the town your best effort, give the university your best effort and give your program your best effort," Lopez said Monday at the team's media day. "We do need to execute. That's going to be imperative to our success."
After losing key players, such as College World Series Most Outstanding Player and right fielder Robert Refsnyder, 2012 Pac-12 Conference Player of the Year and shortstop Alex Mejia, and second-team All-American starting pitcher Kurt Heyer, the Wildcats will have to depend on work ethic, speed and versatility in order to get back to Omaha this season.
Positions up for grabs
Although competition will continue through February, a few names have finally emerged as favorites at their position.
Freshman Kevin Newman will take over at shortstop for the Wildcats. If the team would have played its intrasquad game Monday, as expected, the freshman out of Poway, Calif. would have led off.
Meanwhile, senior right-hander Stephen Manthei is currently in the lead to assume the third spot in the starting rotation.
Manthei, who posted a 4.29 ERA in 23 appearances last season, is still in heavy competition with sophomore Tyler Crawford, freshman Nathan Bannister and a few others.
Lopez has a decision to make at third base, but Brandon Dixon is expected to be a strong candidate.
The 6-1 junior hit .245 with 14 RBIs and 30 runs scored in 62 games - 38 starts - for the Wildcats last season, most of which he played at first base.
Freshmen infielders Jackson Willeford and Scott Kingery are out with injuries. Willeford is suffering from a sore elbow, while Kingery has been diagnosed with mononucleosis.
"Both players should be healthy by the time the team is ready to go," Lopez said.
Kingery's speed and ability to get on base throughout the fall made him a viable option to secure the leadoff role, said catcher Riley Moore.
Yet, Kingery may be required to rest the first few games, and Moore said the most likely fill-in at the leadoff role will be Newman.
In the eyes of Lopez, the team faces two big concerns heading into the season.
"The young guys not trying to do too much and the juniors not trying to carry the younger guys' load," Lopez said. "Carry your end of the bargain and it will all work out."
GOAZCATS.com Baseball Staff Writer
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