Fall Report: Arizona

Fall Report

Arizona finished the 2019 campaign as one of the nation’s hottest teams. It pounded almost everyone down the stretch and gave the NCAA Selection Committee something to think about.

However, as upsets continued to occur in conference tournaments around the country, one thing became evident. It didn’t matter what the Wildcats were doing and how they finished. They weren’t making the NCAA tournament.

Arizona head coach Jay Johnson and his coaching staff were disappointed. They felt they deserved to be in with how strong they finished. But they also placed some blame on themselves. For instance, the Wildcats had some youth, but most importantly, had one of the nation’s worst pitching staffs, statistically speaking, with a team ERA north of six. That was simply unacceptable at a program with the history of Arizona.

“It’s been a really positive, productive fall for us,” Johnson said. “We still have a couple of weeks to go, but this has been a really focused group and seem to be playing together really well.

“Whatever we’ve put in front of this team, they’ve done a good job,” he continued. “There were a lot of positives last year. We played a lot of freshmen and young players, and those guys had success. But we also had an ERA around 6.10. So, there’s that. We won 13 of our last 14 games, and some young guys transformed as the season progressed. But it put us in a good position from a foundational standpoint.”

Looking to solve some of the issues on the mound, Johnson went on the prowl for a new assistant this summer. He wasn’t dead set on hiring a pitching coach, but when Oregon State’s Nate Yeskie showed interest, he did whatever he could do financially to make sure the heralded pitching coach headed to the desert. What seemed like a pipe dream at the beginning of the negotiating process became reality, and the Wildcats landed one of the nation’s premier pitching coaches.

Yeskie has a mighty task ahead of him with the pitching staff he inherited, but Johnson says he’s commanding respect from every pitcher in the program. He’s hoping that breeds immediate results in the spring.

“I think Nate’s reputation pretty much speaks for itself,” Johnson said. “From a development standpoint to putting guys in the Major Leagues, making All-Americans, things like that, it gets guys’ attention. He commands their attention and that has been a great development this fall. I’ll say, when a coach has a player’s attention, they have a good foundation in place. I really like the process he’s taking them through.”

The bad news is the pitching staff still has a long way to go, while the offense is expected to again be productive. Finally, the Wildcats might be adding Yeskie at just the right time with the Pac 12 wide open and lacking a true powerhouse on paper.

Arizona looks to leave no doubt in 2020, and we have an in-depth look at its fall workouts.


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