Lets break down the position-by-position depth chart in the infield.
It's time to reload, and fortunately the Arizona State Sun Devils have the 16th best recruiting class in the nation.
"I feel like the chemistry on the team is something we haven't had since I've been here as a freshman. There are not really any outsiders, and if there are there are maybe just one or two,” third baseman Michael Benjamin said.
Chemistry or not, there will be a lot of pressure on the underclassmen this season because they have a chance to start immediately or be critical role players this season. ASU lost four of its five starting infielders to either graduation or the Major League so lets take a look at the position battles.
Catcher: Max Rossiter (Sr.) vs. Nathaniel Causey (So.) vs. RJ Ybarra (Fr.)
Rossiter is the front-runner to start behind the dish this season because he split time last year with Sun Devil alumnus Beau Maggi. Rossiter, a Gilbert, Arizona native, enters his senior season with potential to lead this team to the College World Series.
Rossiter was second on the team in batting average (.326), fourth in slugging percentage (.449) and he only struck out 14 times in 138 at bats. The senior is a great contact hitter and he is just as good calling the game.
“I know Max [Rossiter] really wants to play all three games on the weekends. I don’t know how that is going to play out. Max is a really primed catcher and he takes his work very serious,” Michael Banjamin said. “RJ [Ybarra] can hit very good and [Nathaniel] Causey has been playing outfield a lot because of a little back injury, but all three of them are really good catchers.”
Cuasey started in 23 games last season and should be second on the depth chart if he is healthy by the start of the season. Ybarra will have a chance to impress the coaches in Packard Stadium just like he did at Riverside Poly in California. He broke his high school record for most career hits and most walks in a season. All three catchers have a great vision of the strike zone and all three of them may start at some point this season.
First Base: Rouric Bridgewater (So.) vs. Tony DiMartino (Fr.) vs. David Graybill (Fr.) vs. Dalton DiNatale (Fr.)
This is the make or break position in the infield this season because the departure of Abe Ruiz will be hard to replace. Ruiz blasted 13 home runs and racked up 53 RBI and 19 doubles. Those were all team highs last season and there is a possibility that a freshman will be starting immediately at first.
“I would say there are not really any front-runners. I mean Rouric has one year on the guys, but I think that’s a position battle that will feel its way out,” Benjamin said.
Whoever wins the war will have their hands full because the Sun Devils are poised to making a deep run now that they are allowed to make the National Tournament.
Second Base: James McDonanld (Jr.) vs. Kyle Bilbrey (Jr.) vs. Tucker Esmay (So.) vs. Emilio Torrez (Fr.)
Last year, McDonald played outfield and was designated hitter, but he has had a successful fall of taking ground balls in the middle infield. He currently leads the other three second baseman on the depth charts because he has the most playing time. This stat may not be the most satisfying number ever, but McDonald is the team’s second best returning threat to swipe bags. Last season, he stole five bases in eight attempts.
The Phoenix native started all 55 games he played in and only made two errors all season. Esmay saw action in 23 games, but he only took 17 at bats and hit below the Mendoza line.
Torrez comes from a baseball family where his brothers, Raoul and Riccio, are ASU alum and current minor league baseball players. Torrez was known his senior year of high school to get on base often, 51 percent of the time to be exact.
Bilbrey is a junior college transfer from Salt Lake Community College in Utah. He hit leadoff for both his freshman and sophomore years and hit .335 or better in both campaigns. Sun Devil fans should throw his speed into the mix. Bilbrey swiped 52 bags in his college career before transferring to ASU.
Shortstop: Drew Stankiewicz (So.) vs. Jordan Aboites (Fr.)
Like the majority of the other positions, it would not be surprising to see another freshman drop to a back-up role. The reason Stankiewicz should start the season as the team’s best option is because he filled in at third base last season when Benjamin was injured and he ripped six extra base hits in minimal action last season.
However, Benjamin disagrees with that notion.
“I would say that’s another position that’s pretty up in the air. Jordan is a really solid infielder and Drew has a year of experience on him.”
Remember, there is still roughly a month until the season starts so that will give us some time to check out Abiotes and the other freshman infielders to see what they are capable of. Looking at Abiotes’s high school numbers, he committed just 14 errors over four varsity seasons. The one sizeable flaw Abiotes carries with him is that he has a five-foot-six, 135-pound frame. That could come back to hurt the Long Beach middle infielder in the batters box. Abiotes is a work horse so he will be a name to keep an eye on throughout the late winter months.
Third Base: Michael Benjamin (Jr.) vs. Dalton DiNatale (Fr.)
The only infield position that seems to be 100 percent locked up is Michael Benjamin at third. Don’t count out freshman Dalton DiNatale just yet because he is a plus defender with a smooth swing, but Benjamin is the go-to-guy on the hot corner. You can’t go wrong with the numbers he put up last season and he should be a middle of the order hitter for the Sun Devil team.
“[Dalton] is definitely good enough to play there as well. That’s why every day we have to keep working and make sure that guy behind you doesn’t get in there,” Benjamin stated.
DiNatale’s situation is different from the other freshman because he is competing for two infield positions right now knowing that his chances of passing Benjamin may be slim.
In General: Official team practices begin Monday of next week, so we will get a chance to see everyone in action and will keep you up-to-date on the latest shape-ups across the diamond. As of now, it’s anyone’s game so it’s time to see who wants it more and who can give this top-20 Sun Devil team the best chance to win each and every night.
The season opens up against Bethune Cookman on February 15.
Check out our entire season preview series with analysis from Sun Devil players
Infield | Outfield | Starting Pitching | Bullpen