ASU baseball's flexibility key for strategy and as COVID-19 safety net

The Sun Devils have several players who worked at multiple positions this offseason

Several ASU baseball players gained experience at multiple positions during practices leading up to the 2021 season. 

Some had previously moved around the diamond in college, like redshirt freshman Nate Baez, who was a utility player for ASU last year and practiced at first and third base leading up to this season. He said trying new spots was "not new" for him.

Then, there is redshirt junior transfer Allbry Major, who, aside from pitching as a freshman in 2018, was an outfielder at Xavier University. But, at ASU, he has seen time at first base. 

The work put in by those players to provide flexibility allows the team to match up against opponents offensively while keeping a capable defense. 

It also provides ASU a safety net in the situation where COVID-19 affects the team and forces it to shift players around.

"You want to be as prepared for the things that you ultimately have no control over, which is what we're dealing with, everyone's dealing with, which is the virus," head coach Tracy Smith said at a Feb. 17 press conference. "So, we're just looking at trying to get guys at different positions in the event that we have to move things around during the season."

Other ASU programs, like football, along with men’s and women’s basketball, experienced coronavirus obstacles in their seasons. Football was sidelined for three weeks, while both basketball squads have lost multiple games.  

Smith added he does not want someone playing a new position for the first time during the season if several players are unavailable. Major played solely in left field in the team’s first series against Sacramento State last weekend, but he has seen enough practice at first base for his coaches to feel comfortable playing him there if need be. 

The position mobility has not gone without hiccups before the year. Smith said he would make players switch spots during situational fielding practice and gave an example that he had Baez move from third to first base, switching with freshman infielder Hunter Haas. On cut-offs and relays, they were both out of position.

So, Smith said he “took those notes” and tailored the next practice to having his players see those same scenarios. 

"It's a lot of taking inventory, and then work on the deficiencies as they present themselves," Smith said. 

Several players have said veterans helping them learn at different positions has made a major difference. 

Redshirt freshman Sean McLain was set to be the starting center fielder last season, but he moved to second base this year. He said having redshirt junior shortstop Drew Swift’s help, who was the starting second baseman for the past two years, is special. 

Major credits Conor Davis, a redshirt senior transfer first baseman from Auburn who is currently injured, for instructing him on first base mechanics. 

"I think it's a great advantage that we have multiple guys that can play anywhere," Baez said. "I think it's going to help us a lot down the line, especially with this year. It can be really unpredictable."

Smith also sees the depth as an asset, a way to ensure he has the right matchup for any given situation. 

In the second game of Saturday night's doubleheader against Hawai'i, he used McLain in right field, moved Baez to second base and started Jack Moss at first. This way, he was able to use Baez and McLain as right-handed batters against a left-handed pitcher and keep Moss in the lineup.

It also allows Smith to use his nine best players as starters without having a positional barrier. He used Haas as a prime example to illustrate that ability. 

Haas was ranked the 25th-best shortstop recruit in his class by Perfect Game. But, Swift is ASU’s starting shortstop. So, Haas played at first and third base during the preseason and started ASU’s first six games at third. 

"There's this constant balancing act of trying to put your best total unit on the team," Smith said. "So, if Haas is swinging the bat well, how do we get that good defensive player in the lineup? Well, we don't have enough room over here, so let's try him over here."

Associate head coach Ben Greenspan said before the team's first game that it will use many different lineup combinations early in the season and that the team wants to solidify roles by the start of the conference schedule on March 19. 

There have been some growing pains early on, but ASU sees its malleability as a strength and an important buffer this year, specifically. 


Reach the reporter at alexjweiner@gmail.com and follow @alexjweiner on Twitter.

Like State Press Sports on Facebook and follow @statepresssport on Twitter.

Continue supporting student journalism and donate to The State Press today.  


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.


×

Notice

This website uses cookies to make your expierence better and easier. By using this website you consent to our use of cookies. For more information, please see our Cookie Policy.