Binders, papers, laptops, tablets and water bottles cover half of the long table inside the conference room adjacent to Chip Hale’s office at Hi Corbett Field. This is where the new Arizona Wildcats brain trust meets to plot the present and future of the baseball program.
“That’s the recruiting tornado right now that we’re in,” Hale said Tuesday.
He quickly corrected himself.
“It’s the recruiting monsoon,” the longtime Tucson resident said. “We’re in the monsoon season. So we’re in the same boat.”
Hale has been on the job for about two weeks. As he speaks to a reporter, he looks more relaxed than during his July 7 introductory press conference. The suit and tie are gone, replaced by a red UA polo and khaki shorts.
But don’t be fooled. Hale and his staff have been working 12-plus-hour days. Hale has been so busy that he barely has noticed how much his circumstances have changed.
For the better part of the past 15 years, Hale has been in uniform and on the field from spring through fall as an MLB coach or manager. Now he’s inside assessing the personnel board, making calls and hosting recruits, including a class-of-2022 prospect and his father Tuesday.
“It’s different,” Hale said. “I’m used to grinding on a field. Now I’m grinding in a boardroom. Which is OK.”
Hale described his first two weeks as “fun” while adding with a laugh that it’s a little bit like “drinking water out of firehose right now.”
Dave Lawn, the lone holdover from the previous regime, has helped Hale prioritize his responsibilities. Lawn, the Wildcats’ associate head coach, advised Hale to focus on the returning players, the incoming class of 2021 and the next three recruiting classes. Period.
“Worry about that,” Lawn said. “Here’s their names. Here’s their numbers. Here’s their contacts. Just go right down the list and just keep recycling.
“This is really what’s important. Talk to every single kid that’s committed here or coming here or signed here, and don’t let your foot off the gas. Just keep going.
“He doesn’t need to know how to do his expenses right now.”
With help from Lawn and newly hired assistant Trip Couch, Hale has established a fairly firm grasp on the roster for the 2021-22 season. The staff has retained most of the players it wanted to return and about two-thirds of the ’21 signing class. The UA likely will add a handful of players from the NCAA transfer portal and perhaps a freshman or two who’ve decommitted from other schools.
Hale said he feels “great” about the Wildcats’ nucleus. It includes catcher Daniel Susac, the reigning Pac-12 Freshman of the Year; postseason breakout third baseman Tony Bullard; most of the 2021 outfield; and most of the key pitchers from a team that reached the College World Series.
“We aren’t in a situation where we just need bodies,” Hale said. “There’s opportunity to play here. But you’re gonna have to earn it, because we have good players here already. We’re just trying to build depth at this point.”
Hale said he expects the roster to be finalized, or close to it, within the next 10 days or so. Not coincidentally, the deadline for MLB draft picks to sign is Aug. 1. All of the Wildcats who were selected last week are expected to sign, with one possible exception: right-hander Chase Silseth, who went 8-1 this past season. The Angels selected Silseth in the 11th round. He has yet to decide if he’ll sign with them or return to Arizona.
Some members of the ’21 squad, including pitchers TJ Nichols and Dawson Netz, are attending summer school in Tucson. Hale has tried to get to know them as best he can. He recently took a break from recruiting and watching video to hang out with players in the training room.
“We just BS-ed for a half-hour,” Hale said. “That’s where you get to know these kids and get to build that relationship.”
Starting Monday, Hale and his staff will hit the road to recruit. They’ll spend about 2½ weeks traversing the country, from California to Georgia, watching prospects and meeting with coaches.
Whether they’re trying to keep recruits who no longer are sure about their commitments or land fresh ones, the messaging has been consistent: Hale wants them to want to be Wildcats.
“I don’t want you here if you have any worries about me or the staff,” Hale said. “We only want guys that are all in. We have plenty of talent here. We’re going to get more talent.
“We’ve had guys in the (2022) class who have said, ‘Well, we want to open it back up and look around.’ I said, ‘Great, just make sure we’re not out. Make sure we stay in communication.’
“It’s about relationships. When you build relationships with certain people on the staff and they leave, that’s totally understandable (if) you want to look around again. But you have to give us a chance to build that relationship back up.”
Hale on Silseth’s status: “He has a number. They have a number. They’re negotiating. Do I think he’s going to come back? We hope. But that’s totally up to him and whether the Angels are going to meet that criteria. So that one is up in the air.”
Right-hander Quinn Flanagan and outfielder Blake Paugh are among the UA players who entered the transfer portal but are set to return for 2021-22.
Former UA standout and big-league outfielder Brian Anderson will join the staff as an undergraduate assistant, Hale said. Anderson attended Canyon del Oro High School and was a first-round pick in 2003.
Expect the UA to hire a volunteer assistant in the next few days and its director of operations soon after. Those hires are in the final stages. Hale also is planning to add a new off-field position to the staff — a director of player development.
Hale wouldn’t say who the volunteer assistant is but did hint that he could coach the catchers. Hale will coach the infielders and will be the primary hitting instructor. Couch will coach the outfielders, with help from Anderson. Lawn will coach the pitchers.
Arizona has added transfer Chris Barraza from New Mexico State. The right-hander, who attended Sahuarita High, had 22 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings with a 7.25 ERA last season.
Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at 573-4148 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @michaeljlev