After losing seven players to the Major League Baseball draft in June, Arizona baseball head coach Andy Lopez must face life without his first recruiting class.
While this group put Arizona baseball back on the college map, reaching three consecutive postseason tournaments and the College World Series in 2004, Lopez said the losses will not hinder his program's growth.
"We're going to miss them, but we're expecting that to happen," he said. "I hope it happens every three years because it means the program is growing. We're not going to shut down and turn into Wal-Mart."
The Wildcats lost their entire outfield with the departures of first-round picks Trevor Crowe, Jeff Van Houten and Chris Frey. The squad also lost first baseman Jordan Brown, catcher Nick Hundley, and its top two starting pitchers in John Meloan and Kevin Guyette.
This group accounted for five of the top six spots in the batting order and the majority of the team's Pacific 10 Conference-leading offensive statistics, while the pitchers accounted for more than half the team's win total.
"I'm not all that concerned about having to replace guys," Lopez said. "I've done that everywhere. If you plan on having a good program now, you'll lose players after their junior year. If Senior Day has 14 guys awarded (with letters), it's not a good year. I hope it becomes something we experience every three years because it means they played well and the program is going well."
Junior pitcher Mark Melancon, the top prospect on this spring's squad and a likely high draft pick in the 2006 draft, said watching his former teammates find success in the draft makes him want to work harder.
"Just knowing how hard they worked for that last year and the year before, it's really been good for me just to see the work ethic it takes to get to the next level and go in high rounds," he said. "Being around them has really rubbed off on me."
Boyer turns down pros, returns to Arizona for senior year
While seven of Arizona's eight drafted players have played their last game at Arizona, Lopez said senior second baseman Brad Boyer will return for his final season, having returned for classes.
Boyer was the last Wildcat to be selected, picked in the 14th round (No. 413 overall) by the Seattle Mariners.
Entering his fourth year as a starter, Boyer provides stability to a lineup that will include five new faces.
"With Boyer, we expect him to play like a senior," Lopez said.
After a slow start last season, Boyer rebounded to hit .285 with 46 RBIs and 55 runs scored, mostly hitting second in the team's potent lineup.
Melancon dominates for Team USA
For the second straight summer, an Arizona baseball player spent the summer touring with the Team USA National Team, consisting of the top collegians in the nation.
This time Melancon represented the Wildcats on the squad, a year after Crowe did the same.
Melancon led Team USA to a 16-4 record in exhibition games against the top talent overseas, including games against Japan and Italy.
He dominated the competition, going 1-0 with five saves without allowing a single run. He also struck out 10 batters in 12 1/3 innings.
Playing with the top collegiate talent can only help Melancon improve on a stellar 2005 season in which he set a single-season team record with 11 saves and led the squad with a 2.58 ERA.
"It was great experience," he said of the exhibition schedule. "A lot of those guys rubbed off with their work ethic and knowledge mentally. I feel a lot more prepared."
Hurler Mills impresses over summer
After being used sparingly during the 2005 season, junior Brad Mills made up for it over the summer.
Mills earned a spot on Baseball America's 2005 College Summer All-America Team second team.
The southpaw went 5-0 with a whopping 62 strikeouts in 39 innings for Harrisonburg (Va.).
"Brad Mills had a phenomenal summer," Lopez said.
Last year Mills had a 4.61 ERA in 13 2/3 innings.