ASU baseball set to begin season with widespread changes

The Sun Devils will field an entirely new positional arrangement when it begins its season on Friday

ASU baseball head coach Tracy Smith stood beside the infield Monday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium and spoke to a throng of reporters. As he verbally ran through his starters at each position, he seemed to realized something.

“(We have) an entire new outfield positionally,” Smith said. “New guy at third, new guy at short, new guy at second, new guy at first, and a new catcher. I guess that’s eight. We’ve got new guys all around the diamond.

“Boy, when you verbalize that, that makes it sound a little scary,” Smith joked.

Whether it be injuries, graduations, suspensions or transfers, the makeup of the 2017 Sun Devil baseball team is quite a bit different from last year.

“I think we’re deeper on the mound,” Smith said. “I think we’re more athletic. The one thing we’re not is we’re not experienced.”

That lack of experience is thanks in part to the new positional setup, but also to ASU’s young roster that boasts 12 freshmen, some of which will immediately have a regular role.

Because the Sun Devils lost some of their top players from 2016 to the MLB Draft – like first baseman David Greer (team-leading .344 average), shortstop Colby Woodmansee (team-leading 44 RBI) and pitcher Seth Martinez (team-leading 2.75 ERA) – there seems to be big holes to fill.

Nonetheless, Smith listed the players he’s likely to field in ASU’s opening series against Northwestern, stating he’s excited to see the team come together – even if there are three times as many freshmen than there are seniors.

Pitching Staff

After pitching coach Brandon Higelin was relieved of his duties (and has since joined the staff at Arizona), Smith will serve as both the head coach and pitching coach.

“Since he’s taken over, he’s changed a lot of stuff,” freshman pitcher Spencer Van Scoyoc said. “It’s stuff that we do, and I’ve just been following what he’s told us at this point. I’m just doing what he has envisioned for us and it’s worked out.”

Van Scoyoc, the freshman from Cedar Rapids, Iowa earned himself the Sunday starting job – at least to start with. Senior catcher Zach Cerbo, who has worked with Van Scoyoc leading up to the season, gave the freshman high praise.

“I really like Spencer,” Cerbo said. “He’s one of those lefties that doesn’t throw the hardest. He throws decent, but he’s not going to overpower you with a fastball or anything. But he’s got a lot of pitches, a lot of command of his pitches, does a great job working in the zone and throwing strikes.”

Still, ASU will start the season with more experienced players at the top of the rotation. Smith said junior southpaw Eli Lingos would start the season as the Friday-night starter. In 2016, Lingos carried a 4.50 ERA, going 3-5 in 20 appearances (12 starts) and 64 innings pitched.

He’ll be followed on Saturdays by righty Ryan Hingst, who pitched 15 games for the Sun Devils last year with a 3.06 ERA and tossed a no-hitter in one of his two starts.

Smith will also have options to fill out the back end of his bullpen. Besides the three starters, ASU carries 15 other hurlers.

“It’d be nice if we can get a couple of swing-and-miss guys at the end — (Freshman Chaz) Montoya has shown the ability to do that," Smith said. "(Senior) Eder (Erives), I think, had a really good last year for us. He’s proven in that regard.”

Montoya begins his NCAA career after pitching at Centennial High School in Glendale. Erives, meanwhile, led ASU’s pitching staff in appearances last season with 23, posting a 2.95 ERA in 76 1/3 innings pitched.

Smith said he didn’t expect to have to rely as heavily on Erives this season.

“I thought we asked a lot out of Eder Erives out of the pen (last year), because our depth wasn’t what it should be. I think we’ve got more depth on the mound (now),” Smith said.

Catching

Though the most experienced of ASU’s four catchers is senior Zach Cerbo, Smith will tab freshman Sam Ferri as the starter to begin the year.

“The beautiful part about this year’s catching core is we’ve got three guys we think are legitimate No. 1 guys at the Pac-12 level,” Smith said. “We feel pretty good about that.”

Last year's starting catcher was Brian Serven, who was since drafted by the Colorado Rockies. With a void to fill, Smith is electing to go with a younger player, not the senior in Cerbo.

“I’m here for the team,” Cerbo said. “It’s one of those things where when my name is called, I’m going to be ready. Whether that’s catching, playing outfield, whatever it is.”

Besides Ferri and Cerbo, freshmen Lyle Lin and Nick Cheema round out the catching position.

Infield

Because of a technicality involving his transfer from Northwest Florida State College, incoming junior Taylor Lane will have to sit out the first game of the season, and Lin will play first base. But after that, Lane will play at first.

Though Lane was considered a shortstop coming out of high school, Smith said the ASU coaching staff found a spot for Lane at first base “by accident.”

“We slid him over there one day, and the whole entire coaching staff were like, ‘Holy cow, that’s probably his future,’” Smith said. “So he’s done a really good job there.”

Smith projected junior Andrew Snow to start at third base, sophomore Jeremy McCuin to play shortstop and freshman Carter Aldrete to play second base. He also said that redshirt senior Jackson Willeford would have been the starting second baseman, had it not been for an injury.

Outfield

Last year, then-freshman Gage Canning started the majority of games in right field with sophomore Andrew Shaps in center.

Shaps, now a junior, will begin the season suspended, forcing Canning to center field.

“We’ve got some internal things, some expectations,” Smith said. “Right now, with a violation of team standards ... Andrew’s going to be suspended for things that I’m not going to comment on in the media, but things within our program that he needs to get better on and will get better on.”

Shaps was a big part of ASU’s offense last year, finishing second on the team in average at .321 as the Sun Devils’ most frequent cleanup hitter. Smith said he expected Shaps’ absence to be “relatively short-term,” but in the meantime, right field will be filled by either freshmen Myles Denson or Hunter Bishop, or sophomore Tyler Williams.

As for left field, Smith said he plans to go with junior Ryan Lillard.

Designated Hitter

Smith cited Lin, Aldrete, Bishop and senior Sebastian Zawada as candidates for the DH spot. Though the former three are new to the team, Zawada clubbed eight home runs last year (tied for a team-high) while hitting .250 with 21 RBI.

“If you swing the bat, you find a place to play,” Smith said. “Last year, our battle for DH came down to, ‘Can we put balls in play? Who’s not going to strike out?’ This year, I just think it’s so much more competitive.”


Reach the reporter at matthew.layman@asu.edu or follow @Mattjlayman on Twitter.

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