Tucson High’s George Arias Jr. is part of a UA recruiting class ranked No. 13 nationally and No. 1 on the West Coast.

Perfect Game, the amateur baseball scouting service, ranks the Arizona Wildcats’ 2018 recruiting class 13th in the nation and No. 1 on the West Coast.

Now it’s up to UA coach Jay Johnson to keep it together.

Johnson and his staff swung for the fences, so to speak, with the ’18 class.

It includes two signees from Arizona — left-hander Matthew Liberatore of Peoria and infielder Nolan Gorman of Glendale — who are ranked among the 10 best high school players in the nation.

“When they’re of that caliber, obviously professional baseball is going to be interested in them,” Johnson said Thursday. “To win at the highest levels of Division I baseball, you cannot survive without some elite talent. It’ll be our job to educate some of those families on the college path.”

Johnson believes in the value of the college experience, and not just because he’s a college coach. He also believes — and the data backs him up — that it’s the best path to the major leagues.

Almost 44 percent of players on 2017 MLB opening-day rosters attended four-year colleges — almost double the number who went straight from high school to the pros.

More than half of the World Series champion Houston Astros’ roster consisted of players who went to four- or two-year colleges, including standouts Alex Bregman, Dallas Keuchel, George Springer and Justin Verlander.

Liberatore, a Glendale Mountain Ridge High School star, and Gorman, from Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor, are two of five players the Wildcats signed from the state of Arizona. The others are right-hander George Arias Jr. of Tucson High, right-hander Ian Mejia of Sahuarita and right-hander Conner Thurman of Mesa Red Mountain.

Johnson and his staff placed a huge emphasis on winning in-state battles and continuing to beef up the pitching staff.

Arizona did not release a complete list of signees, but more than half the players known to have signed with the UA are primarily pitchers.

“It starts and ends on the mound,” Johnson said. “We’re really in a long-term effort in the program to transform the pitching. The hope is to increase the talent level each year to where you’re running out some of the top guys in the Pac-12.”

At least one pitching addition is a transfer: right-hander Nate Brown played for Florida as a freshman. Arizona also is expected to sign former Oregon catcher Matthew Dyer, although that was not official as of Thursday.

The Wildcats’ class includes 15 high school players, per Perfect Game. Johnson is entering his third year as coach. This was the first time he felt Arizona was on a “level playing field with everybody else.”

“I like how it all came together,” Johnson said.

“You obviously don’t know until you get past the draft, until you get them in this environment, see how they react, what their maturity level is like. But I think we did well with what we wanted from a talent perspective.”

Inside pitch

  • Johnson cited four pitchers who have thrown well this fall and could make jumps next season: Randy Labaut, Juan Aguilera, Robby Medel and Tylor Megill.
  • Junior right-hander Cody Deason is being brought along slowly after a busy spring and summer. He pitched his first intrasquad inning last weekend.
  • Middle infielders Cameron Cannon and Travis Moniot are currently “banged up” but should be available by the start of the season in mid-February, Johnson said In their absence, freshman shortstop Jacob Blas has impressed and sophomore Nick Quintana is getting looks at second base. Quintana started at third base last season.
  • Freshman right-hander Roman Phansalker will not pitch this season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery, Johnson said.
  • Arizona has six more intrasquad scrimmages, concluding with the Wild vs. Cats Fall World Series on Nov. 17-19.


Michael is an award-winning journalist who has been covering sports professionally since the early '90s. He started at the Star in 2015 after spending 15 years at The Orange County Register. Michael is a graduate of Northwestern University.