New hype, same mindset for ASU baseball's Colby Woodmansee

He may be experiencing preseason buzz, but Woodmansee's work ethic and attitude hasn't changed.

If you asked Colby Woodmansee in his freshman year if he would be receiving this type of baseball preseason attention before his junior year, he would have said no. 

The ASU shortstop struggled during his first year in Tempe, batting just .200 with a .255 on-base percentage and only 17 hits in 24 starts. 

Two years later, he's receiving the buzz he never thought he'd get — and deservedly so. In 2015, when he batted .308 with 44 RBIs and five home runs, he became the first ASU shortstop to lead the team in RBIs since Jerry Maddox in 1975. Woodmansee also led the team with 18 doubles, 24 multi-hit games and 12 multi-RBI games en route to a First Team All Pac-12 selection. As if that wasn't enough, he ranked top five on the club in batting average, slugging percentage, runs scored, hits, RBIs, doubles, home runs, total bases and walks.

Once a struggling freshman out of Desert Vista High School in the Phoenix area, Woodmansee has transformed into the Pac-12's best shortstop.

He was just named to the preseason watch list for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given to the nation's top player. He is Second Team Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American. Additionally, he was listed as the conference's best defensive shortstop and its No. 6 MLB Draft prospect by Baseball America

But he said those honors mean nothing. At least not right now. 

"They really don't mean anything unless (I have) those same accolades at the end of the year," Woodmansee said. He said he made a huge effort to figure things out on his own during summer ball with the Bellingham Bells after his freshman year. It ended up all clicking with the arrival of head coach Tracy Smith and his new staff from Indiana.

Woodmansee said Smith, known as "Skip," being hired at ASU was the best thing for him, his teammates and the program.

"We'd probably be having a completely different conversation if Skip wasn't hired here, to be honest," he said. 

The fact that he is recognized as a defensive standout is impressive considering many scouts did not expect him to stick at shortstop because of his 6-foot-3, 192-pound frame. They thought he was too tall to play the position he had played every year of his life, except for his sophomore year of high school, when he played second base.

That talk has since seemed to subside. 

Woodmansee, or "Woody," said a great shortstop just makes the routine play. 

"Everybody sees plays on (SportsCenter's Top 10) just like diving plays and stuff, but you're not really a good shortstop unless you make the routine play, so I take pride in my defense," he said. "Getting that first quick step and being able to get to those balls that maybe guys dive for, and just making them look routine is what I try to do."

At the plate, he said he tried some new things during summer ball, but has since returned to what made him successful last season: Get the foot down early and see the ball deep.

Smith said that his shortstop is handling the preseason attention well, but he and the staff always make sure to take a friendly jab or two when the junior misses a grounder in practice.

"He's such an easy and even-keeled guy that (the preseason attention) doesn't affect him," Smith said. "He knows he's one of the best players in the country, we know he's one of the best players in the country, but he carries himself with a very good demeanor."

Anyone who has ever talked to or seen interviews with Woodmansee knows he is a soft-spoken, quiet player. He said he has recently become more vocal than he has ever been on the diamond.

Still, he said he embraces letting his performance on the diamond make the most noise.

"I think it's just me maturing and growing up knowing that other guys need me to communicate with them," Woodmansee said of his increased vocal leadership.

While he believes he has been more vocal, his coach has not noticed much of a difference. That's not necessarily bad, though. 

"He doesn't have to be (vocal)," Smith said. "When he says and what he says is important, but he's going to lead every day by how he goes about his job. And for us to be successful, he has to model that behavior and show the younger guys what it's supposed to look like. I'd love to see him be more vocal, but it's not 100 percent necessary."

ASU heads into 2016 without its three starting outfielders or two of three weekend starters from last year's club. That puts inherent pressure on an infield that returns everybody. 

Woodmansee said he has tried to communicate to the young outfielders during scrimmages. For example, he would turn around to freshman Tyler Williams and tell the left fielder what he needs to remember in each situation. 

It may only be a scrimmage, but he said it will make things easier for the younger guys to remember when the stands are packed with screaming fans and any mistake could cost the team a game. 

Sophomore starting second baseman Andrew Snow said the reliability factor is the biggest aspect of playing alongside Woodmansee. 

"It's nice to have somebody on the other side that I know is able to make big plays in big situations," he said. "When I have a tough play and I have to give up the ball to Woody, I feel comfortable that he's going to take care of what he has to do."

Snow also took his infield counterpart's side on leadership, noting that Woodmansee has become a much more vocal player than he was last season. 

Senior Jordan Aboites said his most memorable moments with the standout shortstop have been pre-inning talks on the left side of the infield. The two talk about baseball, but also about little, random topics.

It is a unique way he's gotten to know a teammate who usually keeps to himself. 

This is the third year the two have played together, and Aboites said he can see the younger guys taking note of Woodmansee's ways. 

"He's been successful here," Aboites said. "Other guys strive to be what he's been to this program."

But regardless of the manner in which he leads, there is no debate as to whether or not he has the one quality every fierce leader needs — confidence. Especially when the team has been projected to finish eighth in the Pac-12.

"It's more of like a slap in the face honestly," Woodmansee said. "At the end of the year, we won't be there, we'll be higher than that. We're going to prove them wrong."

Related Links:

ASU baseball coach Tracy Smith enters his second year at ASU with an eye to the future

Consistency key for ASU baseball's infield

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