Opinion: ASU baseball has a lot to prove in conference play

The time is now for the Sun Devils to assert themselves as a legitimate Pac-12 team again

Conference play for ASU baseball begins this Friday against the University of Oregon, and the young team has a major opportunity to assert itself within the Pac-12.

At 8-9 through March 14, the Sun Devils have experienced their fair share of ups and downs. 

One night, the offense could explode for double-digit runs, and they could be shut down the next. The same thing applies to the pitching staff, which has struggled to find consistent play from many of the top arms. 

Sophomore pitcher Spencer Van Scoyoc, who many thought would be the ace or at least one of the top pitchers, has scuffled tremendously out of the gate with an 8.22 ERA across 7.2 innings pitched, as well as 10 earned runs and 12 walks allowed. 

Freshman pitcher Boyd Vander Kooi and senior pitcher Eli Lingos have been solid starters and have given ASU a chance to win practically every time they’ve taken the ball, but the bullpen has had a difficult time closing out games.

Junior pitcher Connor Higgins, like Van Scoyoc, has struggled over his eight appearances, and head coach Tracy Smith doesn’t have too many options he can count on late in games aside from sophomore pitcher Chaz Montoya.

While pitching is critical, offensive success is going to be key for the Sun Devils in conference play.

The team is remarkably young and typically has between four and six freshmen position players starting in the field on any given night. The Pac-12 is loaded with talented teams, including Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA, so any success the young hitters have is only going to help them develop and mature as collegiate players.

“(If I were Smith), I would like to see consistent fight from everyone on the team regardless of what the scoreboard shows,” Michael Baron, ASU baseball beat reporter for The State Press, said. “If I see the guys showing effort, I’d be able to look at the team and address them and say we gave it our best effort.”

The team played its first Pac-12 opponent Tuesday and lost at home to rival UA. The game didn’t count toward the conference rankings, but it was the first taste of the competitiveness and intensity of conference play for the freshmen.

Overall, the freshmen position players have performed quite well.

Freshman infielder Spencer Torkelson leads all freshmen in the country with nine home runs. Freshman infielders Trevor Hauver, Drew Swift, Gage Workman and Alika Williams are all batting over .250 and have been improving all season. 

Any hitter’s focus is getting more at-bats and seeing as many pitches as possible, so the Sun Devils should only get better as they play more games.

The Sun Devils will have their work cut out for them as they will face Oregon State – the No. 1 team in the country currently – Stanford and UCLA all on the road. Stanford currently holds the No. 3 spot, and UCLA comes in at No. 17.

“I’m very curious to see how ASU does when they get to those top ranked teams,” Baron said. “They’ll be better than last year, but how much so is yet to be determined. The Oregon series will tell us a lot about the weekend starters and who those are going to be.”

The next few months of ASU baseball will be pivotal for the future success of the program. 

With so many talented freshmen on the roster, the team has the potential to regain its position as an elite Pac-12 school within the next few years, but will need a strong, competitive showing in conference play to show fellow schools how good they can be.

“(This is a) learning and growing year for them,” Baron said. “Is there a potential for blowouts? Perhaps. Learn from your competition. Even in those games, I definitely think they’re super valuable learning opportunities.”


Reach the columnist at Steven.Slobodzian@asu.edu or follow @PSlobodzianASU on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. 

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