Arizona Wildcats coach Andy Lopez entered the 2013 season with more questions than answers.
But there was one thing he knew for certain: His team was going to lose production and leadership - a lot of it - at shortstop.
Alex Mejia was the Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2012. He batted .357 with 54 RBIs while serving as the heart and soul of the Wildcats' College World Series championship team.
With Mejia gone, Lopez asked freshman Kevin Newman to step in and at least be serviceable.
"If he hits .240, bats ninth and catches the ball at short, that'll be just fine," Lopez said before the season began.
Newman, though, had other plans.
The freshman has started all 39 games for the Wildcats this season. He's batting .355 with 30 runs scored and 26 RBIs while boasting a .977 fielding percentage.
He was one of just two freshmen included on the midseason watch list for the Brooks Wallace Award, which goes to the nation's best shortstop.
Newman will be in the lineup again tonight, when the Wildcats open a three-game nonconference series at home against 27-19 Alabama State.
"I expected myself to rise to the occasion and do what I'm doing now," Newman said. "Before the season, I set goals for myself and that's about where I'm at right now."
As a Lopez shortstop, there are three areas a player must succeed in - leadership, offense and defense.
Mejia aced all three. He batted .360 in the Pac-12 as a freshman, had excellent range and a strong arm in the field and was a natural leader.
Newman is slowly excelling in all three as well.
Defensively, Lopez knew what he was getting when he recruited him.
Offensively, he thought he would have to be patient.
"I've been pleasantly surprised with what he's done offensively," Lopez said. "The biggest thing with him is his competitive spirit. Freshmen will come in and hit bad pitching and struggle against good arms.
"Kevin has risen to the occasion, made adjustments and has hit the best we've faced."
Newman knew about Mejia's shadow when he signed with the Wildcats out of Poway (Calif.) High School.
In fact, it was one of the biggest things that drew him to Tucson. From Jason Donald to Mejia, Lopez has always produced good shortstops and put a lot on them.
Lopez certainly isn't ready to compare Newman to Mejia yet, but it looks like that day is coming - especially if Newman's leadership skills continue to improve.
"Mejia is the type of player you think comes along once in a lifetime," Lopez said. "His leadership skills were off the chart. I'll always remember coaching him because he was a special kid.
"I think when we're done, we'll be saying a lot of the same things about Newman."
Pac-12 shortstops by the numbers
It hasn't taken long for Arizona Wildcats freshman Kevin Newman to prove he's one of the most well-rounded shortstops in the Pac-12. Here's how Newman compares to the league's others.
Name School Year AVG. EBH RBIs PCT.
Kevin Newman Arizona Fr. .355 8 26 .977
Pat Valaika UCLA Jr. .250 16 28 .986
Blake Lacey USC Fr. .349 10 19 .940
J.J. Altobelli Oregon Sr. .296 5 18 .978
Drew Stankiewicz Arizona State Fr. .316 11 20 .950
Ty Afenir Washington Sr. .233 2 10 .984
Trace Tam Sing Washington State So. .269 9 17 .940
Lonnie Kauppila Stanford Jr. .224 3 8 .956
Mike Reuvekamp Cal Jr. .275 4 11 .967
Cory Hunt Utah Jr. .279 6 12 .964
Tyler Smith Oregon State Sr. .313 6 17 .944
Alabama St. at UA
• Where: Hi Corbett Field
• Today: 6 p.m.
• Saturday: 6 p.m.
• Sunday: noon
Contact reporter Daniel Berk at email@example.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk.