TUCSON – Arizona baseball coach Jay Johnson has two of the Pac-12 Conference’s most dynamic sluggers in Dayton Dooney and Branden Boissiere, who burst onto the scene as freshmen last season.
They starred in an Arizona offense that finished among the best in the country, averaging 9.8 runs per game, the most offensive production by a Wildcats’ team since 1975. Dooney hit .323, launched 10 home runs, drove in 53 runs and made 40 starts. Boissiere batted at a .336 clip and totaled nine extra-base hits in 27 starts as Arizona finished 32-24, winning 13 of its last 14.
There’s just one catch for Johnson: Dooney and Boissiere play the same position. However, it turns out that for the Wildcats skipper, it isn’t a bad problem to have.
Their eye-popping freshmen campaigns earned both Dooney and Boissier spots on D1 Baseball’s preseason Top 30 First Baseman rankings. The Wildcats are the only team in the country to have two players on the list.
“It’s a good honor,” Boissiere said at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson. “We’ve been working hard, both me and Dayton, at first base, and to get this opportunity to be the only two players from a team on this list is pretty cool.”
It’s not a question of whether the two will play will this spring – they haven’t given Johnson a reason to even consider that – it’s just a matter of where each will be on the diamond.
Rest assured, Johnson will find a way to keep them both in the lineup.
“The fact that they can move around a little bit helps out our team,” Johnson said.
They weren’t exactly first basemen by trade, anyway. Dooney is a switch-hitting nomadic infielder, and has bounced around to plug whatever holes the Wildcats need filled in a given game.
And Boissiere entered the program as an outfielder. But when the Wildcats were bitten by the injury bug early last year, Johnson turned to several freshmen, including Dooney and Boissiere.
Johnson has a rough outline on how he will ensure both remain in the lineup this season.
“There’s a number of factors that will go into that,” he said. “I think Branden is probably a little ahead defensively. He’s left-handed, which makes things a little easier and natural for that position. Since we’ve been back, Dayton has played really well around the bag, so that will give us the flexibility to move Branden into the outfield.”
Johnson said Dooney will also get at-bats as a designated hitter.
“It’s not a, ‘Hey, this guy is going to play 50 percent and this guy is going to play 50 percent.’ It’s one of those things where they’re both going to contribute. I see both of them as everyday players,” Johnson said.
“We have 11 players that are worthy of being in the starting lineup, but we only have nine spots. We just have to work through those things.”
Johnson liked the tools both demonstrated while playing high school ball in Southern California. When he recruited them, he envisioned the duo at the forefront of his offense two or three years down the road.
But not only did the two quickly patch the holes and hide some flaws in the Arizona offense last spring, Johnson knew he had unearthed two mainstays to build his lineup around in the future.
“I think I knew they had the capabilities of doing that,” Johnson said, “but high school baseball to the top of the Pac-12 is as big of a jump as you can make.”
He was fond of the raw athleticism both Dooney and Boissiere had as freshmen, so when injuries arose, he felt comfortable shifting both to first base.
They’re both teeming with potential they have yet to fully tap. But unlike other highly-touted first basemen around the country, Arizona’s sophomore duo moves largely below the radar.
“There’s not many Spencer Torkelsons out there,” Johnson said with a laugh, citing Arizona State’s first baseman, who is ranked No. 1 on that D1 Baseball list.
“Your eyes might not go to their tools the way it does to other guys on our team. But, I knew they would be very successful hitters. I was really pleased with the improvement throughout the season.”
Growing up roughly an hour from each other, the two never crossed paths before arriving in Tucson. But since then, they’ve become roommates and best friends, who benefit from thea battle for the first-base bag.
“I’ve always lived by ‘Iron sharpens iron’,” Dooney said, “so I push him to get better. He pushes me to get better, and it helps us in the long run as a team. The better we get, the better the team gets.”
The admiration is mutual.
“He’s, like, the nicest guy I’ve ever met,” Dooney said. “He’s super genuine, hard-worker and he doesn’t take anything for granted.”
“I think he’s a great kid,” Boissiere said, “just a good person to be around. He’s also a great teammate on the field. He pushes me, and if I’m not having a good game, he’ll be there to pick me up, and vice versa.
Both will be in Arizona’s starting lineup for its regular season opener Friday night versus Albany, Johnson said.
“I expect them to both take the field opening night with a little bit slower heartbeat and (to) be as in control as they can. When they do that, their talent really surfaces.”
Whatever Johnson settles on – whether it’s Boissiere in the outfield and Dooney at first, or Boissiere at first and Dooney as a designated hitter – it’s a predicament he’s more than happy to have on his hands.
“You look at the list of the top five guys on (D1 Baseball’s ranking), you’re talking about potential first-round picks,” Johnson said. “Now, you may not think that of our two guys (right now), however, they’re going to be, at the end of the day, every bit as productive as 99 percent of the first basemen in the country.”