WildcatAuthority: The 2011 season ended with a disappointing loss in the NCAA regional title game against Texas A&M. Do you think finishing the season in heartbreaking fashion provided an extra level of motivation as the team moved through off-season workouts?
Andy Lopez: We talk about being in the College World Series every year. Some people may say that is foolish but I don't think so. If you get hot at the right time you can do it. We did it in 2004 and we were almost there in 2008. That's why moving to Hi Corbett will be an added bonus because not being able to host a regional adds to the climb when you're on the road all the time. But it is always motivating coming off a season like we just had.
WildcatAuthority: With the Wildcats returning 18 players from last season including 5 key starters, the USA Today/ESPN preseason coaches poll had Arizona ranked number 20 overall while Baseball America had Arizona ranked number 5 in their preseason poll. As the rest of the nation has begun to take notice, how are you instructing your players to handle this type of media attention?
Andy Lopez: All the returning players have been on ranked teams prior to this year although not as high. I tell these guys all the time that polls are a nice pat on the back to start the season. But you've got to go out and play and they understand that. They know the reality of that, especially since the season is about to start.
WildcatAuthority: The biggest story of the offseason was the team's move from Sancet Stadium to Hi Corbett. How are the coaches and players enjoying one of the nicer facilities on the West Coast? Also what is the biggest difference between the two ballparks?
Andy Lopez: The biggest difference is that here at Hi Corbett the sun sets over the right-center field wall while at Sancet it sets directly over the football field, so we have a little bit of adjustment there. Another difference we have noticed in our two weeks here is how the wind plays. The dimensions are nearly the same in that Sancet is 360 ft. down the lines while here at Hi Corbett we are 366 ft. and 349 ft.
The biggest difference in the dimensions is Hi Corbett has power alleys at 405 ft and 410 ft. Like Sancet, Corbett is still pretty big for home runs, so that's not going to be much of an adjustment. Most of the guys, I know I am, are excited because it's a great place to play baseball. It has a great clubhouse, a training room right next door, and we are developing a rehab room right now. It's a great place to call home.
WildcatAuthority: Because facilities are such a key component to recruiting, how does the move to Hi Corbett affect Arizona's ability to pull in top recruits?
Andy Lopez: We will see in the days to come. I feel like we were able to bring in a few key guys in this previous recruiting class. But we weren't able to do what we would be able to do today such as showing the renovated clubhouse or the stadium with Arizona baseball marketed or branded all over. Honestly, I think it is going to be a big boost. I think we are going to be able to attract some guys that we might not have been able to attract before. We were competing with the Oregons and the USCs and the UCLAs and the Stanfords and a few other programs nationally, so now we can show a young guy a nicer kind of facility. We will definitely begin to see results in the coming years.
WildcatAuthority: The dimensions of Sancet Stadium and Hi Corbett are similar down the foul lines, but Hi Corbett boasts bigger power alleys. How will that affect your offense and in turn will that give your pitchers more freedom to attack the strike zone?
Andy Lopez: The park is big, so I hope our pitchers will understand to just throw the ball in the strike zone because then we will have a chance to get outs. Offensively, it wont change us much because we always pride ourselves on if we can go out and get the 3-run home run, we will take it. But we are really looking to execute the small game like utilizing the hit and run, stealing bases, drag, push, and turning up pressure on the opposing defense. We've been doing that since we got here because of the size of Sancet and both parks are pretty similar in size.
WildcatAuthority: Junior pitcher Kurt Heyer (two time all Pac 10 honoree and also named Collegiate Baseball Preseason All American) is set to be the ace of the pitching staff once again. What makes his stuff so dominant?
Andy Lopez: The one thing he does well is he throws a lot of strikes. He changes speeds off his fastball and he has a pretty good slider. He will throw one fastball at 85-86 mph and the next one will be at 90 mph. Most guys can't change speeds like that at this level. Most guys throw one consistent speed with their fastball. Kurt is very talented in that respect. In essence, the changing of speeds turns his fastball into 2 or 3 different pitches. Other guys constantly throw 88 or 90, which makes it easier on a hitter to time his swing.
WildcatAuthority: With sophomore Konner Wade occupying the number 2 spot in the rotation, how do you see the rest of the rotation filling out? Also what are your thoughts on the current state of the bullpen?
Andy Lopez: A lot of good candidates in the bullpen. Guys that need to step up now that they are juniors. Players like Tyler Hale, Nick Cunningham, Stephen Manthei, Vince Littleman. Juniors usually have productive years because they have been around for a couple years. That would speak for the bullpen. In the rotation, for the most part, we feel good about Heyer and Wade as we did last year with Heyer and Kyle Simon. A candidate for that third spot is James Farris as well as Tyler Hale, Mathew Troupe, Lucas Long and whoever loses that spot will go into long relief.
WildcatAuthority: A solid catcher can go a long way in helping have a successful pitching staff. What type of impact will freshman Riley Moore have behind the plate?
Andy Lopez: He is getting better everyday that he is out here. He still makes freshman mistakes and hopefully he will have those out of his system by Pac-12 play come March. You have to be patient because it is a pretty important spot and there is a lot being asked of him. We're calling pitches, holding runners on and things of that nature, so there is a lot to do in that catching spot. He is very talented and he is a very good student. So when it's all said and done, he will be one of the guys that will grow and be a factor for us.
WildcatAuthority: Last season, the Wildcats led the Pac-12 in offensive categories such as batting average, hits and runs scored. With Joey Rickard, Alex Mejia, Robert Refsnyder and Seth Mejias-Brean back in the fold for the 2012 season, Arizona is poised to have one of the most potent lineups on the West Coast. Do you see the offense posting even greater numbers this season?
Andy Lopez: You would like to see that because they are all juniors and you would like to think that they are getting better every day. It would be nice because it would take a little bit of strain off of the pitching staff early in the season.
WildcatAuthority: Are there any underclassmen that have stood out in the early practices that could potentially pitch in and help the team succeed?
Andy Lopez: Matt Troupe, Lucas Long as well as Tyler Crawford have stood out and could help us in the rotation. Those are 3 guys who could play a big factor.
WildcatAuthority: Every great team, no matter what sport, has a strong leader. Is there one player who you view as the team's leader?
Andy Lopez: I would say shortstop Alex Mejia, but that's not taking anything away from Joey Rickard, Robert Refsnyder, Kurt Heyer or Seth Mejias-Brean. I've never designated captains, but I tell them all to act and walk like captains. I don't think we lack in leadership and I think this is a pretty good group.
WildcatAuthority: In your opinion, what do the Wildcats have to do better this season as opposed to previous years in order to make it deep into postseason play?
Andy Lopez: Last year we didn't hit at the regional game, which was a surprise. We got shut out the first night and then we lost 2-1 in the championship game. If we can continue to pitch well and score a few more runs we should be successful.
WildcatAuthority: The Pac-12 is rich with talent this year as six teams were ranked in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association preseason Division I poll. Which teams are the biggest threats to Arizona in competing for a Pac-12 title?
Andy Lopez: I think anyone in the Pac-12 can be a factor. Stanford has the most talent because they have potentially 2 or 3 first round picks, which is a normal year for them. I know it's a typical coaches line, but you can ask any coach in the Pac-12 and all would say you have to be ready to play every series or it could become a rough weekend.
WildcatAuthority: Terry Francona, recent College Baseball Hall of Fame inductee, visited the Wildcats in January. Can you talk a little bit about what that meant to the team?
Andy Lopez: It was good for the team to hear what it's like to be successful in professional baseball. He talked about his time here at Arizona and what it was like winning a National Championship and what that felt like. We also had Chip Hale come in last week to share his wisdom with the team and he talked about what it takes to be successful here at Arizona.
WildcatAuthority: Even with the continued success of the Arizona basketball team and the exciting changes with the Arizona football team, there is a developing anticipation around the city for the upcoming Arizona baseball season. Does this excitement give your team added incentive and inspiration to make Arizona baseball one of the top programs in the nation?
Andy Lopez: I would hope they would have that inspiration no matter what. They have been in postseason 4 out of the last 5 years and 7 out of the last 9 years. In the last 4 they have been in 3 championship regional games. We have tasted success and some of the guys in this program have been to Omaha. I hope that moving to Hi Corbett adds to that inspiration as well. I root for every team that wears Arizona on their chest. From football to basketball, swimming, tennis, or cross-country, we are all in this together, so why not strive to have the best athletic program in the country.