Baseball's infielders have big cleats to fill

Joey DeMichele, Deven Marrero and Abe Ruiz are all gone.

The ASU baseball team is tasked with replacing three major league level talents, and head coach Tim Esmay knows exactly how to reload his squad.

“Position player-wise, the future looks great,” Esmay said. “We have freshmen in the outfield, freshmen at the corner, freshmen at first base, in the middle and behind the plate, so I need them to play. I need them to develop some kind of role and niche on this year's team.”

Younger players will get playing time all throughout the infield, and Esmay thinks it’s a key to the Sun Devils’ success.

Behind the plate, senior Max Rossiter will get his chance in the spotlight after sharing time with Beau Maggi last season.

Esmay believes Rossiter will be a key part of the 2013 team due to the multitude of changes the Sun Devils have endured.

“I think that having Max Rossiter back, a senior leadership catcher and a guy that has been in the fire and how he performed last year, is a huge thing," Esmay said. "Especially if you are talking about the amount of guys we are replacing.”

Behind Rossiter, sophomore Nathaniel Causey looks ready to be the backup.

Freshman R.J. Ybarra could also compete for the spot. He set a school record for hits and walks last season at Riverside Poly High School in California.

Replacing Ruiz’s production at first base may be the infield’s biggest challenge this season.

Sophomore Rouric Bridgewater is battling with three freshmen for the starting job, which seems to be up in the air at this point. Last year, Bridgewater hit .269 in 23 games and drove in 16 runs.

Second base will be patrolled by 2012 All-Pac-12 Honorable Mention junior James McDonald.

McDonald played in mostly left field and as the designated hitter last season, but made the change to second this offseason.

Backing McDonald up will be junior college transfer redshirt junior Kyle Bilbrey. A speedy player up the middle, Bilbrey stole 52 bases in his junior college career to go along with a .335 batting average in his final junior college season.

Young Sun Devils redshirt sophomore Tucker Esmay and freshman Emilio Torrez could also receive some action filling spots in the infield.

Sophomore Drew Stankiewicz will most likely start at shortstop. He had a shaky freshman year, hitting only .265. He especially had some difficulty fielding, posting a .911 fielding percentage, the second worst on the team in 31 games.

Freshman Jordan Aboites, who only comes in at five-foot-six and 135 pounds, will back up Stankiewicz to begin the season. He has proved himself as a solid defender by making only 14 errors in his entire high school career.

Junior Michael Benjamin will start the season at third base after a solid sophomore campaign that included a .408 on-base percentage in 38 games.

Freshman Dalton DiNatale already looks college-ready at the hot corner both offensively and defensively. He should serve as a reliable backup for Benjamin.

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