Opinion: ASU baseball will bounce back this season

Last season's down year should be a blip on the radar moving forward

ASU baseball’s 2017 season was one of the most uncharacteristic in the past five decades.

The team’s 23-32 record snapped a 54-year streak of consecutive 30 win seasons. There wasn’t a ton of depth on the roster, and off-field issues plagued the Sun Devils throughout the season.

However, this year’s squad looks poised to get the ASU baseball program back on the right track, and it’s crucial that they play up to expectations this season.

“I think for (head coach Tracy) Smith’s sake, it had better be (the season ASU rebounds),” Eric Sorenson, a writer for D1baseball.com, said. “I realize how things are. There was a lot of youth and a lot of injuries (last year). They’ve got to get back to being Arizona State. The talent is too good. The last few years of recruiting has got them back to that upper echelon.”

According to Baseball America, ASU reeled in the No. 4 ranked national recruiting class this year behind three SEC powerhouses in Vanderbilt University, the University of Florida and the University of Arkansas

Over the past few years, ASU has dominated recruiting in Arizona. Now, they need it to translate to wins. 

Throughout the course of ASU baseball’s storied history, fans, coaches, players and essentially anyone affiliated with ASU have become accustomed to sustained success and elite players. 

The Sun Devils brought home five national championships from 1965 to 1981, and ASU consistently churns out MLB players. Some notable names include MLB’s all-time home run leader Barry Bonds, Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and current Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia.

Needless to say, a sub-30-win season, let alone 23 wins, isn’t even close to the caliber of baseball ASU is used to playing. 

A big question for this year’s team will be how the freshmen and sophomore players manage to produce during their first or second full seasons of college baseball. 

“They didn’t have a defense to play Pac-12 ball (last year),” Sorenson said. “(Coach Smith) addressed that immediately with their recruiting.”

ASU is projected to start multiple freshmen and sophomores around the diamond this year, which could present a learning curve early in the season.

“One of the risks you run with young guys is having to throw them to the wolves,” Sorenson said. “(Coach Smith said) these guys were going to be sort of unfreshmen-like. Another thing that’s kind of good is a fairly easy schedule early on. I think they’ll scuffle a little bit, but they’re going to gel. They’re going to hit a comfort zone.”

Freshmen Drew Swift and Alika Williams are projected to play up the middle at second base and shortstop with sophomore Carter Aldrete likely moving to third base. Sophomore Hunter Bishop provides a nice bat and should find a spot somewhere in the outfield.

The pitching staff is where the maturity on the team starts to show. Of the five seniors on the roster, four are pitchers. Senior Eli Lingos headlines the Sun Devil rotation and serves as a model of consistency for ASU’s arms.

“There are difference makers that might end up being team leaders,” Sorenson said.

With other Pac-12 schools like Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA bringing back elite talent from last year and recruiting well, time will tell whether ASU has what it takes to consistently win series against top opponents. 

Regardless, ASU baseball looks ready to turn the page on last season and get back to what has made it such a dominant program in the past. 

“They’re looking to prove themselves this year,” Sorenson said. “They’re going to get back to playing near ASU baseball.” 

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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