Editor’s note: The Star’s Zack Rosenblatt is counting down the 50 best athletes on the University of Arizona campus right now, with help from athletes, coaches and those close to the program.
No. 7: Alfonso Rivas III
The details: Rivas is a designated hitter/first baseman entering his junior season with the Arizona baseball team. Rivas already had a connection to UA coach Jay Johnson even before he became a head coach at Nevada. Johnson was an assistant coach at University of San Diego when he scouted a game at Rivas’ high school, La Jolla (California) Country Day, in May 2013 and came away impressed. Before there was enough time for a full-on USD offer, Johnson was hired at Nevada — Rivas “didn’t want to come to Nevada,” Johnson said last year — before ultimately being convinced to play for Johnson when he was hired to replace Andy Lopez at Arizona.
“It was close to home,” Rivas said of his decision. “Being from San Diego, the flight is not too long and the drive is not too close. Arizona was a good, perfect fit for me and my family. That’s how I decided to go there.”
Rivas made a huge jump in production from his freshman to sophomore campaigns. In 2016, he had a .247 average with one home run, 26 RBIs and 22 runs.
In 2017, that jumped to a .371 average with seven home runs and 64 RBIs with 54 runs. Rivas is currently playing with UA freshman infielder Nick Quintana for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox in the Cape Cod League, where he has a .275 average, two home runs, 10 RBIs, two stolen bases and 12 runs in 33 games.
“It’s huge,” Rivas said of playing in the Cape Cod League this summer. “I mean, you’re facing the best of the best out here and it prepares you for the type of competition we’re going to face next year.”
The value: With the departures of J.J. Matijevic and Jared Oliva to pro baseball, Rivas is expected to start at first base and anchor Arizona’s lineup, which even without those two stars still has the talent to be potent again.
It would be unreasonable to expect Rivas to make the same leap from his sophomore season to his junior season as he did from freshman to sophomore, but with some continued progress Rivas has star potential in what could be his last UA season, depending on his draft standing after the year.
“The dude can rake,” Johnson said last year. “There’s some guys that were put on the planet to hit. We talked about that with Zach Gibbons (Arizona’s leading hitter in 2016). Alfonso’s working his way into that category.”
Why Rivas? Rivas made a surprisingly huge leap as a sophomore and helped the Wildcats produce one of the best run-scoring lineups in the nation.
Even with such talent as Cesar Salazar, Cal Stevenson and Quintana in Arizona’s batting order, much of Arizona’s offensive success will rest on the shoulders of Rivas, and he’s proven he can produce at the level Arizona needs.
Proof he’s good: As a sophomore, Rivas finished third in the Pac-12 in batting average, seventh in slugging percentage, first in on-base percentage, fourth in runs scored, third in hits, second in RBIs, eighth in total bases and third in walks.
Rivas’ impressive performance against the top talent in the Cape Cod league this summer bodes well for his play this upcoming season, too.
“He found his swing with the snap of his fingers and he’s been hot,” Quintana said of Rivas. “It’s definitely awesome to watch, especially him going into this senior year and this summer being such a big part in the draft and where he’s going to be projected and all that stuff.”
What Rivas can accomplish: Rivas was named an All-Pac-12 selection last season and it would be disappointing if he wasn’t in 2018, too. Beyond that, Rivas has All-America potential, could challenge for the Pac-12 Player of the Year and should be in the mix to win the Pac-12 batting title.
They said it: “Just knowing him personally, he’s just an awesome, humble guy, first-class person. Looking forward into the season I know that we can expect this type of person and this type of athlete with that much talent going into next year. It’s cool to look at.” — Quintana
He said it: “I think I did pretty well. I was happy with my performance and all the things I accomplished last year, but I’m just looking forward to next season and hopefully perform the way I did last year.” — Rivas