Expect this year's Arizona State baseball team to be a regional host in June, and a possible dark horse for hosting the super regionals if they do well during Pac-12 play.
Less than a year after serving a post-season ban, the Sun Devils come into the season ranked as the sixteenth best team in the country according to Collegiate Baseball.
There are still plenty of skeptics coming into this season and Baseball America happens to be one of them. They selected five Pac-12 teams in their preseason top-25 poll, but Arizona State was nowhere to be found.
To be fair, they do have a valid reason.
The Sun Devils were not eligible to be ranked in a few polls last year because of their ban so ASU never had to play a weekend series with the pressure of having a number associated with their name.
On top of that, the Sun Devils lost 60 percent of their infield to the Major Leagues and Friday starter Brady Rodgers and closer Jake Barrett were both drafted in the third round. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, they reload their roster through recruiting and this year is no different.
Include leadoff hitter and center fielder Andrew Aplin in the mix and ASU has to replace 51 percent of its total RBI numbers and 70 percent of its home run power, but there is still plenty of raw talent on the Sun Devils' lineup.
First baseman Rouric Bridgewater and catchers Max Rossiter and Nathaniel Causey have the best raw power on the 2013 team, but expect the Sun Devils to hit for the gaps. Last season, the team belted 113 doubles and an impressive 23 triples.
The freshmen class is extremely talented this season, but they will more than likely start the season as back-ups on the depth chart. Head coach Tim Esmay has plenty of capable players, but it's very rare that freshmen hitters can adjust this early in their collegiate careers.
Pitching will be the most critical component in deciphering whether or not this team has what it takes to host a regional site in the summer. All-American Trevor Williams headlines the staff and will be the Friday starter, but then there are numerous questions in the rotation.
Returners Adam McCreery and Darin Gillies appear to be in line for the other two weekend starts. However, one of them will have to be a surprise this season for the Sun Devils to be ranked come the start of the National Tournament. McCreery missed most of his freshman season with an injury and Gillies started ten games and had an abysmal 5.03 ERA and a team high five wild pitches in 2012.
The bullpen could be another area of concern this spring. The reason being that the maroon and gold will have to rely heavily on some inexperienced arms, including freshmen standouts Ryan Burr, Brett Lilek and Ryan Kellogg. All three pitchers can touch the mid-90s on the gun, but they will be throwing out of the bullpen to start their collegiate careers.
Lilek threw five strikeouts and no walks in three innings of work at the alumni game and he will need to keep those numbers going starting this weekend. This season relies heavily on whether or not the pitchers can keep their composure on the mound.
Arizona State is projected to finish sixth in the Pac-12. Sixth. If pitching can come together early in the season, the Sun Devils have a deep enough team to make a run in the tournament. Besides Williams on the mound, nobody on this team can single handedly win a game so this season will be all about dedication and commitment.
With a little help from the pitching staff, this Sun Devil team can surprise some skeptics and make their way into the field of 64.