ASU baseball is primed to top the Pac-12 in 2020

The conference preseason favorites have eyes set on a trip to the College World Series

As the 2020 collegiate baseball season approaches, ASU is gearing up to prove why it has earned a spot in the NCAA’s top 25 preseason rankings.

Last year, the team won each of its first 21 games and amassed a 38-19 overall record, including a 16-13 record during conference play.

Powered by a stout offense which featured players such as junior infielder Spencer Torkelson, junior outfielder Trevor Hauver and now-San Francisco Giants prospect Hunter Bishop, the Sun Devils put together an impressive campaign that led to a top five placement in the Pac-12 standings in 2019.

“We’re a very close team — it’s a close clubhouse,” said head coach Tracy Smith before an exhibition match against Team USA in October. “We have a lot of benefits from an experience standpoint and a confidence standpoint.”

Featuring four players on the All-Pac-12 first team and sweeping the Territorial Cup series against UA were just a sampling of the many memorable moments the team experienced in 2019.

Now in the new year, ASU has its sights set on a more successful season than before and is backed by a first place ranking in the Pac-12 preseason coach's poll.

Torkelson returns in 2020 to reclaim his role as a cornerstone of the Sun Devil hitting lineup. As a sophomore in 2019, the Petaluma, California, native compiled a remarkable .351/.446/.707 triple-slash line along with a team-high 23 home runs and 66 RBIs.

Torkelson was the Pac-12 home run leader for the second consecutive season in 2019 and enters this year as a projected National Player of the Year, according to Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.

“I have been doing the same thing for the past two and a half years,” Torkelson said about his work ethic. “My goal this season is to stay within myself.”

Other Sun Devil sluggers of note are Hauver, who cracked 13 home runs of his own in 2019 and produced a 1.007 OPS, and junior infielder Alika Williams, who will look to build off an impressive sophomore season where he recorded 71 hits and drove in 53 runs.

This year, ASU looks to be elite with the glove as well as the bat.

With the departure of 2019 Sun Devil ace Alec Marsh, who was selected 70th overall by the Kansas City Royals in the 2019 MLB draft, junior right-hander Boyd Vander Kooi enters the season with high expectations.

He produced a 4-4 record in 2019 and threw for 95 innings, second on the team behind Marsh.

Vander Kooi projects to be one of ASU’s strongest arms in his third season and will lead a strong Sun Devil pitching roster alongside junior right-hander RJ Dabovich, who was second on the team with seven wins in 2019.

“Our pitching staff has really come along,” Torkelson said. “New transfers like Justin Fall and Tyler Thornton will be huge for us too.”

Smith, who enters his sixth season as the team’s skipper, is pumped for 2020 and said, “The guys are coming back more confident.”

Through five seasons with the Sun Devils, Smith has garnered a 155-129 overall record and has led the team to three NCAA Regionals appearances.

Now with such a deep roster in 2020, he will look to lead ASU to new heights and a potential College World Series appearance in Omaha, Nebraska — a feat he has accomplished once so far in his 22-year career as a head coach.

“The main goal is obviously Omaha,” Williams said. “As long as all of our guys are focused on winning, the rest will take care of itself.”

ASU will open its 2020 regular season on Feb. 14 when the team hosts Villanova at Phoenix Municipal Stadium at 6:30 p.m. MST.

Conference play will begin the following month on March 10, starting with a home contest against UA.

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