ASU baseball wraps up fall camp following 'Maroon and Gold' series

The Sun Devils eye the start of the spring season after a productive fall but suffer a setback with an injury to a transfer

ASU baseball wrapped up a productive fall camp following its five-game "Maroon and Gold World Series" scrimmage series this past weekend.

After losing some of its top players this past summer, such as Alika Williams, Gage Workman and the 2020 MLB Draft's No. 1 overall pick Spencer Torkelson, a cast of new recruits and much-improved returners gave a glimpse into what the upcoming season might look like.

Unfortunately, the team suffered a setback despite many players showing growth. Redshirt senior Conor Davis, who transferred from Auburn, tore his ACL after landing awkwardly on a leaping catch at first base in game three.

Davis is expected to miss the entirety of the 2021 season after being projected to be Torkelson's replacement, hitting .287 with 14 home runs and 113 RBIs in his career with the Tigers.

Most of the Sun Devil roster improved their skills while finding ways to impress the coaching staff during the series. However, perhaps no one impressed more than redshirt freshman outfielder Sean McLain.

“That kid seems like he can never get out,” redshirt sophomore pitcher Erik Tolman said. “Whether it’s anyone in our bullpen or starters throwing against him, he seems to battle, getting walks and hits.”

McLain’s prowess was on full display in game four of the series, where he went 5-for-5 with a grand slam over the left-field fence at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. 

The Sun Devils also showcased their newfound offensive identity that head coach Tracy Smith raves about. According to McLain, that identity will involve "a lot of ‘get him on, get him over, get him in.'”

“I don’t think we’ll be the Sun Devils who hit 50 home runs or something crazy like that in a year,” McLain said. 

That lack of power compared to previous years is recognized by the players, who are instead aiming to utilize other methods to manufacture runs.

“We’re going to be playing what I think is ‘true’ college baseball,” redshirt freshman Joe Lampe said. “I think us taking extra bases and being able to get into scoring position for guys is going to be huge for us.”

Multiple utility and two-way players produced during the scrimmages as well.

Freshman Ethan Long, who split time in the infield and on the mound, struck out the side to end game three after picking up an RBI at the plate earlier in the game. 

Redshirt freshman Nathan Baez platooned on the infield and behind the plate, as he did during the 2020 season. He also came up with some timely hits, including an RBI double in game three.

Baez said the versatility benefits the team greatly, saying, “If someone gets hurt, there won’t be a problem compared to if we all played one position.”

The Sun Devils’ pitching staff also continues to build on its identity established with the arrival of pitching coach Jason Kelly last season. While most of the series was high-scoring, there were solid individual performances from many returning arms.

One of those returners, junior Justin Fall, shut the door for Maroon as its closer in game four. After Fall struggled in 2020, posting a 5.68 ERA in 19 innings last season as the team's "Friday-night starter," Kelly decided to test the left-hander in the closer role, one that RJ Dabovich held last year. 

“If there are injuries or guys go down or become inconsistent, I see myself starting and being able to pick that back up,” Fall said.

Redshirt freshman left-hander Cooper Benson pitched in game four and only allowed one run. Benson lost around 10 pounds to get into shape for the upcoming season after posting a 3.60 ERA in his first year with ASU.

“I was making sure I was ready to come back and be prepared to compete,” Benson said. “That was probably the biggest part, losing a bit of weight and feeling a lot better.”

ASU is set to return to the field for its regular season in mid-February. 

Coaches and players alike feel they are primed for another run at the College World Series after everything they have seen this fall.

“We’re going to go game-by-game and pitch-by-pitch and we’re going to try to make it to Omaha this year,” McLain said. “We’re just trying to win baseball games and be good."


Reach the reporter at cabradl4@asu.edu and follow @colebradley01 on Twitter. 

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