Andy Lopez and freshman Bobby Dalbec haven’t known each other all that long, but the UA baseball coach swears Dalbec is a perfectly nice young man.
Except when he’s pitching.
“He looks like he’s in a bad mood out on the mound,” Lopez said. “He goes out there with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, which I like because he doesn’t really have a reason to. He’s just a freshman.
“He’s got really good presence on the mound for three to six outs.”
And for the other 21 to 24 outs of the game, Dalbec will be roaming the UA infield at either first or third base.
Dalbec, the prize of Lopez’s freshman class from from Parker, Colo., will start at one of the corner infield spots Friday, when the Wildcats open their season against Kent State at Hi Corbett Field.
He also could appear on the bump at some point throughout the weekend, serving as the setup man to closer Tyger Talley. Dalbec will be Lopez’s first two-way player since 2006, when Eric Berger made 11 starts at designated hitter and pitched 38º innings.
“It takes a special kid (to hit and pitch), especially nowadays,” Lopez said. “Any college coach in America would tell you this, but you want as many options as possible, and he gives us some options. He’s going to be a good player for us.”
The 6-foot-4-inch, 219-pound Dalbec will also be a much-needed power bat in the middle of the lineup. He hit nine home runs in just 24 games as a senior at Legend High School. Baseball America has ranked Dalbec as the 43rd-best freshman in the country.
He raised some eyebrows leading up to last June’s Major League Baseball draft when he worked out for the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. The bulky infielder put on a power display at Wrigley Field and Busch Stadium and even launched a couple balls into St. Louis’ famed Big Mac Land, a section in the upper deck where Marc McGwire frequently hit homers. Dalbec ended up going undrafted, in part because he was set on playing for Lopez at Arizona and came with a high price tag.
Minor-league baseball’s loss is the UA’s gain.
“My stock was rising late, and my name was getting bigger a few days before the draft,” Dalbec said. “It was neat to go to Wrigley and Busch and take some batting practice there, and hit a few homers where all these big- leaguers have hit them.
“But this is where I always wanted to be,” Dalbec said. “I’ve always wanted to play in the College World Series, and think I’ll have a chance to do that here.”
Dalbec committed to the UA shortly after the Wildcats won the 2012 College World Series, turning down offers from Oregon, Oregon State, USC and UC-Santa Barbara. Since arriving in Tucson, he has worked offensively on shortening up his swing and his defensive footwork.
“There are a lot of long days and a lot of hard work,” Dalbec said. “You have to be committed to be here and play at a school like Arizona. I really want to be an impact player for this club, offensively, defensively and on the mound.”
He’s happy to be in a city where he can play baseball 365 days a year. As someone who was born in Seattle and played his high school ball in Colorado, he is used to a lot of indoor practice.
Now Dalbec has endless sunshine to work on his craft and become that impact player he’s looking to be.
“He’s a big, strong kid that will do a lot of things for us,” Lopez said. “He’s in the mix at a lot of different spots, and we won’t hesitate to call on him.”
- Arizona’s starting rotation will consist of senior
- James Farris
- (Friday), junior
- Tyler Crawford
- (Saturday) and junior college transfer
- Cody Hamlin
- (Sunday), Lopez said.
- Matt Troupe
- , who is expected to be the Saturday starter, is dealing with a minor elbow injury and is still on a pitch limit. He is expected to appear out of the bullpen to start the season. Junior
- Joe Maggi
- , who mostly played first base for the UA last season, will start the season in center field. Maggi opened the season in right field last year, but was moved to first base when a need developed. He’ll be flanked in the outfield by sophomores
- Zach Gibbons
- (left field) and
- Scott Kingery
- (right field).
- Michael Hoard
- , a Salpointe Catholic High School grad, has impressed in practice and will get some time at first base when Dalbec is at third, Lopez said. Hoard, a left-handed hitter, will open the season playing mostly against righties and sitting when the opposing team starts a lefty.