Opinion: ASU baseball is still one of the best programs in the country

There is no denying the program's storied history

Despite last year’s struggles, ASU baseball is still an elite program. 

National fans may have forgotten just how successful ASU has been on the diamond with the emergence of East Coast powerhouses like Vanderbilt University, the University of South Carolina and the University of Florida over the past few seasons.

Over the course of its 59-year history, however, Sun Devil baseball has won the fourth-most national championships and has the produced the most MLB players than any other Division I school in the country with 131, narrowly edging out the USC's 129.

A few notable names for ASU include Barry Bonds, Reggie Jackson and Dustin Pedroia.

Bonds is creeping toward Hall of Fame election, “Mr. October” is already a Hall of Famer and one of the most prolific home run hitters of all time and Pedroia is a former MVP and currently the longest tenured player on the Boston Red Sox. 

Not many Division I schools can boast players like that, and it can really help with the recruiting process.

“What separates ASU is the number of players that were drafted into the MLB,” Joe Jacquez, ASU baseball beat writer for The State Press, said. “Barry Bonds, Jason Kipnis, Dustin Pedroia – it’s huge. You see it year after year. The results speak for themselves.”

A visual representation of ASU baseball's success published on Feb. 21, 2018.

The results do, in fact, speak for themselves. ASU has consistently been at the top of the nation in recruiting classes. Although the team loses some players to the MLB draft each year, ASU is constantly bringing in highly talented players every season, including the fourth-ranked class this past year. 

Coaching is another area where ASU offers top-notch expertise. Even in down seasons, like 2017, the coaches weren’t really the problem.

“The coaching staff has always been world class, and it impresses a lot of players,” Jacquez said. “Not every school has a pitching coach who was a major league pitcher.”

ASU’s current pitching coach, Mike Cather, pitched in parts of three seasons with the Atlanta Braves from 1997-99. He is bringing with him this professional knowledge to pass on to Sun Devil pitchers.

The fan base is another defining aspect of ASU baseball. 

“Even in the down years (fans will) come out,” Jacquez said. “They’ll put pressure on you. They’ll let you know (when they’re unhappy). (The players) know the fans care about baseball.”

Without the success ASU baseball had in the past, the current fan base would not be as strong as it is today.

To put the program’s success in perspective, the Sun Devils won their first national championship in 1965, six years after the program was founded, and went on to win four more between 1967 and 1981. ASU has also made 22 College World Series appearances. 

Fans became accustomed to a winning culture early in the program’s history, so the expectations have always been high — especially when the team doesn’t live up to them.

“People remember the recent past, especially last year and all the dysfunction,” Jacquez said. “It’s going to take a while to get over that. Because of how bad last year was, it’s going to take a while for people to view ASU baseball the same.”

Despite the rocky season ASU experienced in 2017, this year’s group looks poised to right the ship and get the program back to its winning ways. 

Even though recent history is what tends to stick out to fans, people aren’t going to soon forget just how dominant ASU baseball has been for such a long time. 

“(ASU baseball) will still garner national relevance,” Jacquez said. “Because they have such a loyal fan base and alumni, they’ll always be there. People will always remember what ASU baseball has been.”

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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