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The man from Down Under wants to go out on top.

Josh Spence, the charismatic southpaw from Australia, is fielding questions from reporters during the ASU baseball team’s media day last week, and he just can’t seem to get the smile off his face.

He is asked what advice he got from Major League Baseball scouts as to what he can work on in his final college season.

Season opener against Northern Illinois

State Press Television

He says he is more concerned about what people at ASU think.

“I think I’ve been pretty successful the last three years,” he says.

The sentiment, though, isn’t one of arrogance, but rather of focus.

Spence is here to talk about baseball. More specifically, Sun Devil baseball.

Despite the well-documented offseason distractions, Spence and his teammates say the goal has not changed for ASU, which begins its season Friday at home against Northern Illinois.

It was the message that Spence and fellow seniors Kole Calhoun and Raoul Torrez gave to a team that was shocked following the departure of former coach Pat Murphy in November.

“We had some guys step up early and say, ‘Since we’ve been here, we have only won,’” Torrez said. “It may sound cocky or sound whatever, but that’s the only thing we know how to do here, is win. However we get it done, we’ll find a way; we’ll find a way somehow with whoever we got.”

Interim coach Tim Esmay, who was selected to coach the team after the seniors met with Athletic Director Lisa Love and President Michael Crow to assure someone familiar with the program would be put in place, is also unable to mask his excitement about the new season.

He knows what he is guiding is a team that is hungry and also mighty talented.

“The biggest thing with this club is to make sure they enjoy the process,” said Esmay, who was an assistant at ASU the past five seasons. “There’s a lot of guys in that clubhouse who were pretty bitter at the way it ended last year, and they still harbor some bitter feelings [from when] they walked out of Rosenblatt [Stadium after the College World Series].”

With many of the same pieces back in place, and a wide array of new talent now infused into the program, ASU is hoping to make amends in Omaha.

“I guess I want to go out with a bit of a bang,” Spence said. “And winning a national championship would be the icing on the cake.”

So how are the Sun Devils going to try to whip up the icing?


Discussion about the rotation for the 2010 squad begins with Spence.

The left-hander, who was selected in the third round of June’s MLB draft by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, was a welcome newcomer last season, finishing 10-1 with 125 strikeouts.

Alongside first-round draft choice Mike Leake, Spence was part of a dynamic 1-2 punch that miffed opposing batters all season long.

His game only got better in the postseason.

After missing a month due to a finger injury on his pitching hand, Spence threw a masterful complete game against Clemson in the Tempe Super Regional to clinch a trip to the CWS for the Sun Devils.

Also returning in the rotation will be junior Seth Blair. As a sophomore, Blair, who spent most of the season as the team’s No. 3 starter, finished with a 7-3 record and a 3.39 ERA.

The Rock Falls, Ill., native has been lauded for the improvement he made in the offseason, and Spence said during media day that Blair has the “best stuff” on the team.

“It’s his year to shine,” Esmay said.

Sophomore Mitchell Lambson earned Freshman All-American honors for his work out of the bullpen last season, which included an ASU freshman record 99 strikeouts, and figures to be in the rotation this season.

Sophomore Jordan Swagerty was 4-1 with a 4.50 ERA last season, and will be relied upon to eat up innings.

Esmay said he has been also impressed with the pitching of Merrill Kelly, a transfer from Yavapai Community College in Prescott.

Freshman Jake Barrett, who was selected in the third round of the draft by the Toronto Blue Jays before deciding to come to ASU, and junior Jimmy Patterson, a transfer from Central Arizona College, will also add depth to the rotation.


It was an up-and-down season for Kole Calhoun offensively in 2009, but there wasn’t much to be down on when it came to his postseason performance.

Calhoun posted an off-the-charts 1.250 slugging percentage during the CWS, a performance that included three home runs (one a grand slam) and 11 RBI.

The senior said he put some pressure on himself early in the season to put up numbers that would elevate his MLB draft status, but added he is not going to allow that baggage to follow him this year.

“Kole Calhoun is going to be in the middle of everything we do,” Esmay said. “He just can’t help himself.”

ASU will be losing some of the bigger bats from the 2009 lineup, including those of Jason Kipnis and Carlos Ramirez, who combined to hit 35 home runs and 146 RBIs last season.

“We’re not going to return big power numbers,” Calhoun said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are scrappy kind of players, and that’s the kind of team that we’re going to have to be this year.”

Sophomores Johnny Ruettiger and Drew Maggi and junior Matt Newman are among ASU’s top returning bats from a season ago.

“We’re going to be an up-tempo team,” Esmay said. “I think we have to be.”


ASU got all it expected and then some out of the catcher spot in 2009.

Carlos Ramirez, who played for the Sun Devils last season after transferring from Chandler-Gilbert Community College, played in 63 games in 2009, starting 62.

While his bat made big noise echoing through Packard Stadium, Ramirez’s consistency behind the plate was also instrumental.

Replacing Ramirez will be a committee effort, Esmay said.

Included in the mix will be sophomore Austin Barnes, who appeared in 20 games last season and has earned praise regarding his progression in the offseason.

“Watching him and seeing where he is at, I feel really good about him,” Esmay said. “I think this young man is going to be a pretty good catcher.”

Junior transfer Xorge Carrillo out of Central Arizona is also expected to see time behind the dish.

Esmay noted freshman shortstop Deven Marrero as a player who could make an immediate impact.

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