Shortly after the 2017 MLB draft began, Arizona Wildcats coach Jay Johnson received a phone call. Catcher Cesar Salazar was on the other end, and he was calling to tell Johnson that he’d back in 2018.
That was the first positive development in a three-day stretch of mostly good news for the Wildcats. By the time the draft ended Wednesday, most of the players Johnson and his staff hoped would play at Arizona next year had reaffirmed their intention to do so.
That group included Salazar, a Sahuaro High School product who made the All-Pac-12 team as a sophomore, and outfielder Cal Stevenson, who made honorable mention and might be the best leadoff hitter in the conference.
“You can’t quantify that,” Johnson said of Salazar and Stevenson returning. “They put a value on what they thought they were worth and what this opportunity is worth. If a pro team didn’t come up and meet that, they were coming back. And they held to it unequivocally.”
Johnson expects Salazar and Stevenson to be team captains next season. Both were fixtures in the Pac-12’s most prolific lineup — one that could be even deeper next season despite the departures of first baseman JJ Matijevic and center fielder Jared Oliva. They were drafted in the second and seventh rounds, respectively.
Arizona will have more holes to fill in its pitching staff. JC Cloney went in the ninth round Tuesday, and fellow left-hander Cameron Ming got picked in the 14th round Wednesday by the Baltimore Orioles. The two were Arizona’s top starters this season and two of the most valuable players on the team the past two years.
It’s more likely than not that Ming, who just completed his junior season, will sign with the Orioles.
Ming is a “very confident guy, which is why he’s a good pitcher,” Johnson said. “I hope that he’ll hold to his value, and I’m sure he will. But I also know that the team that drafted him probably knows they have something good in him. We’ll see how it goes.”
Johnson said he’ll be happy for Ming no matter what he decides to do. Attempts to reach Ming on Wednesday were unsuccessful.
Ming equaled Cloney’s 7-2 record and had a team-best 2.78 ERA. After serving as Arizona’s closer late in 2016, Ming began the ’17 season as a reliever before shifting to the starting rotation.
“I’m sure whatever scout drafted him, that was probably a selling point,” Johnson said. “This guy can fill a lot of roles. He does it probably as good as any pitcher I’ve ever seen.”
Two junior college transfers who were ranked in Baseball America’s Top 500 also reaffirmed their commitments to Arizona and went undrafted: shortstop Travis Moniot and lefty Avery Weems. Both could play significant roles for the UA in 2018.
- Two Wildcats were selected in the latter half of the draft, bringing Arizona’s total to six. Senior shortstop Louis Boyd went in the 24th round to the Seattle Mariners, and left-hander Rio Gomez went in the 36th round to the Boston Red Sox. Gomez was a redshirt junior this past season and received his degree last month.
- Matijevic and Oliva were named to the American Baseball Coaches Association All-West Region first team. Sophomore DH Alfonso Rivas made the second team. All are now eligible to be named ABCA All-Americans. That announcement will be made Saturday.
- Rivas was named a second-team All-American by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Matijevic, already named a second-team All-American by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball, earned third-team honors from Perfect Game.
- Work has begun on a refurbished home locker room at Hi Corbett Field, as well as the new Terry Francona Hitting Facility. Both projects are scheduled to be completed by mid-September.