Heading into last season, Arizona's Kevin Newman was a sure thing in the field, but the offensive production from the shortstop was a huge question. And how was he going to do being the guy who had to replace Alex Mejia?
Well, how about a .336 batting average and just 13 strikeouts for his freshman season?
Yep, that'll do.
To cap off his freshman year, Newman headed up to New England to play in the Cape Cod League, and he came back with a batting title. The first freshman in the history of the Cape Cod League to do so.
So about that questionable production from his bat.
After the departures from last year's team of big hitters Brandon Dixon and Johnny Field to the MLB Draft, Arizona's lineup will go as Newman goes.
While Newman doesn't bring a whole lot of power, that actually works out in a big yard such as Hi Corbett Field. But a couple of freshmen, Bobby Dalbec and Michael Hoard will bring that pop to the lineup.
"We have a good freshman class coming in," said Newman. "Dalbec has a good chance to play, probably be our third baseman. Bobby's really stood out."
Newman may not have the pop in his bat to stroke it out over the high fences of Hi Corbett, but he is quite a bit larger this year compared to last year, and a lot of that has to do with his summer.
"In summer I really wanted to get bigger, put on weight," he said. Last year he was listed as weighing 175 pounds. This year he's at 180, but looks significantly more muscular.
During his run in the Cape Cod League, Newman really got on a roll towards the end of the season, which propelled him to that batting title.
"I just stayed with my approach, stuck with my line-drive swing, and it all worked out," Newman said about his success in the Cape. That time in a wood bat league also gives him a lot more confidence in his swing returning to the aluminum bats of NCAA baseball.
"You get a lot of at-bats in the summer, and you face a lot of good pitching up there," he continued. "It's really good to get a couple hundred at-bats. It's definitely beneficial because you come back to aluminum and it's a great feeling."
With all of this success comes an increased role as a leader of this team, both on and off the field. Last year, one of the problems with the Wildcats was the lack of a true leader out on the field. Kevin's ready to take that on as well.
"It's very important (for me to lead the team)," he stated. "Coach Lopez always says that there's no captains on this team, that all of us our captains. No matter who you are you have to step up and lead the team."
"I expect hard work every day," Newman continued. "Getting better. We're just doing our best to get better day-by-day."
So will all this lead to a much better team result than 2013?
"It's definitely a chip on our shoulder for all of us here. We weren't happy about it. We thought we were going to get in (to the tournament) and we didn't. We just have that much more motivation to get in."
And the ultimate goal for this team is....
"Anything short of Omaha the whole squad would be a failure."