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ASU baseball: Previewing the 2014 Sun Devils

The Sun Devils are trying to make their first trip to Omaha since the 2010 season.

Redshirt senior outfielder Trever Allen fouls off a pitch while his teammates look on at the team's annual alumni game Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. Allen led the team in home runs and RBI's in 2013 and will be a key part of the 2014 team.
Redshirt senior outfielder Trever Allen fouls off a pitch while his teammates look on at the team's annual alumni game Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. Allen led the team in home runs and RBI's in 2013 and will be a key part of the 2014 team.
(Danny Shapiro/House of Sparky)

The 2014 ASU baseball season, the 40th and final one at legendary Packard Stadium, is just one day away. Here's what to expect from this year's Sun Devils:

Projected starting lineup (2013 statistics in parentheses)

C-R.J. Ybarra (.313, 5 HR, 22 RBI): Ybarra spent most of his freshman year in the designated hitter spot and statistically had the best year of any first-year player, earning him Freshman All-American honors. This year, Ybarra will make a living behind the plate with then-senior Max Rossiter departed, junior Nate Causey still recovering from Tommy John surgery and two incoming freshmen. If Ybarra can perform at the same level he did last season, he has a chance to become the Sun Devils' most lethal power hitter in 2014.

1B-David Graybill (.268, 7 RBI): Graybill is a do-everything kind of guy for the Sun Devils. He can play first base right field and pitch, but with Trever Allen locked in right and a deep pitching staff, first is the most logical position. Graybill didn't play much in the second half of 2013 and will have to cut down on his strikeouts (23 in 60 plate appearances) in an expanded role to remain effective. There's a lot of power in Graybill's bat, though-he homered in last Saturday's alumni game.

2B-Tucker Esmay (.000, 4 runs): Second base is the Sun Devils most untested position entering 2014 because of James McDonald's departure. Esmay hasn't played much (33 career plate appearances), but it's his fourth year in the program. Esmay is a good defender with a lot of speed and his veteran presence could be a nice boost in a young lineup.

SS-Drew Stankiewicz (.295, 2 HR, 25 RBI): Stankiewicz is the only returning starter in the infield. The junior came along well offensively last season, raising his average 30 points. He'll most likely hit second in the lineup to start the season, same as he did last season before being moved to the bottom third due to the emergence of Michael Benjamin. Stankiewicz led the Sun Devils with 18 errors last season, so it will be interesting to see how he's come along defensively.

3B-Dalton DiNatale (.302, 2 HR, 25 RBI): DiNatale came to ASU as a third baseman, but with the revolving door at first base got a chance and thrived. Coach Esmay said it was impossible to tell DiNatale was new to first base by the end of the season and the numbers (.985 fielding percentage) proved it. He will transition back to third with the departure of Benjamin (17 errors in 2013) and will likely make the Sun Devil defense better. DiNatale is also a patient hitter and will be a very reliable bat from the left side in the middle of the lineup.

RF-Trever Allen (.297, 9 HR, 49 RBI): Allen was the Sun Devils' most complete player in 2013, leading the team in home runs, RBIs and outfield assists (10). He adds much needed experience in the middle of the lineup and in the outfield and is arguably the Sun Devils' most important position player in their quest for Omaha. It will be interesting to see where Allen's numbers end up compared to 2013 with more power in the middle of the lineup this season.

CF-Johnny Sewald (.239, 4 RBI): Sewald is a prototypical leadoff hitter-speedy, scrappy and gets on base a lot. 2013 wasn't a great indication of it, but with more at-bats in 2014, Sewald will develop into a true leadoff guy, something the Sun Devils lacked in 2013. His speed also makes him capable of covering a lot of ground in center and there's a surprising amount of pop in his bat for his size. Expect a breakout year from Johnny Sewald.

LF-Jake Peevyhouse (.251, 2 HR, 26 RBI): Peevyhouse was ASU's streakiest hitter last season. When he's on, there's almost no stopping him and he's a very viable option in the bottom of the order. Defensively he's as solid as they come and made more than a handful of impressive plays last season in left field. If Peevyhouse's hitting becomes more consistent, there's a chance he could move to the top of the order.

DH-Nate Causey (.274, 5 HR, 26 RBI): Causey had an up-and-down 2013 due to a rash of injuries that plagued him throughout the season. Causey really turned it on in the month of May, which included a six-RBI game at Cal on the 12th and a two-home run effort against Washington on the 25th. He had Tommy John surgery in the off-season and Esmay says he's about two months away from catching, so he'll be the primary designated hitter for most of the season.

Reserves (2013 statistics in parentheses)

Jordan Aboites (.154, 13 AB): Aboites is a two-way player regarded as one of the better defenders on the team. He pitched just once last season, but could see more action in 2014. Aboites could see some action at second base early with no real starter locked down.

Chris Beall (.000, 4 AB): Beall didn't get a lot of chances during his freshman year because of the depth in the outfield. It might be the same story for him again this season, but he's very capable at the plate and hit .420 with 50 RBIs during his senior year of high school.

Cory Bernard (Transfer): Bernard is another candidate for second base and has more playing experience at the college level than his competitors, transferring from Chandler-Gilbert Community College after redshirting his freshman season at UA. Bernard hit .292 during his career at CGCC.

Joey Bielek (Transfer): Bielek should see a lot of playing time this season, especially against southpaws. A (Scottsdale) Chaparral High School product, Bielek started his college career at Cincinnati, where he started all 56 games at third base and hit .330, earning him a finalist spot to the NCBWA Freshman All-America Team. Bielek transferred to Paradise Valley Community College after his freshman year and redshirted in 2012 before earning First Team ACCAC D2 honors in 2013.

Kyle Bilbrey (.500, 2 AB): Bilbrey has developed into a very dependable center fielder according to Esmay after spending his first two seasons at ASU behind James McDonald at second base. Like Sewald, Bilbrey is speedy and a prototypical leadoff hitter.

Zach Cerbo (Freshman): Cerbo is one of two freshman catchers competing for playing time when Ybarra needs a day off. The New Jersey native hit .524 during his senior season with 30 RBIs.

Tony DiMartino (.571, 7 AB, 1 HR): DiMartino appeared in only four games last season, but made the most of his opportunities. He homered in his only start of the season, on the road versus Tennessee. DiMartino appears to have slimmed down since last season and has been impressive at the plate all spring.

Cooper Esmay (Freshman): The youngest Esmay most likely won't see the field much this season, but should thrive under the tutelage of his older brother and the other veteran infielders.

David Greer (Freshman): Greer is one of the most likely in the freshman class to see playing time. He's physically ready (6-foot-1, 188 pounds) and has a good power for a middle infielder.

Cullen O'Dwyer (.111, 9 AB, 2 RBI): Like Beall, O'Dwyer was lost in the shuffle last season with the outfield depth. He's got a good shot at seeing more time this year, though, especially early in the season.

Brian Serven (Freshman): Serven is the other freshman catcher vying for time behind Ybarra. Serven, a three-time letterman in baseball and basketball, has been impressive thus far in spring ball.

Emilio Torrez (Redshirted): The third Torrez to come through the Sun Devil program, Emilio redshirted his freshman year. Torrez was (Phoenix) Brophy Prep's team defensive MVP three consecutive seasons.

Colby Woodmansee (Freshman): Woodmansee earned valuable experience at shortstop in the fall with Stankiewicz out with an injury. He's tall for a shortstop at 6-foot-3 and hit well in high school, including .355 with eight home runs and 36 RBIs his senior season.

Projected starting rotation/closer (2013 statistics in parentheses)

Friday-Ryan Burr (12 saves, 2.20 ERA, 60 K's): Burr set the freshman school record for saves in 2013 and that, combined with his stellar performance with Team USA over the summer-his six saves tied a national team record-convinced Esmay he was the one most ready to take over the coveted Friday night spot. Some have questioned Burr's ability to transition to the rotation so quickly, but he's confident in four pitches now and started in high school, so there should be no issues.

Saturday-Ryan Kellogg (11-1, 3.15 ERA): Esmay was smart to leave Kellogg in the Saturday role, especially with the success he had last year. He's also a perfect complement between flamethrowers Burr and Brett Lilek. It will be hard for Kellogg to maintain his numbers from freshman year, but he should be better suited to start an entire year unlike 2013, where his performances started to falter late in the season.

Sunday-Brett Lilek (4.05 ERA, 17 K's in 20 IP): The Sun Devils' biggest weakness last season was pitching on Sunday and Lilek is the guy who can answer the call. Lilek's five-inning, one-run performance against then-No. 2 Arkansas in Surprise last season was a glimpse into what the southpaw is capable of. He only pitched 20 innings due to a lingering shoulder injury, so Lilek should be ready to win vital Sunday games for the Sun Devils, especially come conference season.

Mid-week-Zak Miller (4-0, 4.85 ERA): Miller started most of the mid-week games last season and had success, so there's no reason for his role to change, especially with the year of experience under his belt. He's probably the first option to enter the weekend rotation if any of the starters get injured.

Closer-Hever Bueno (Freshman): The closer spot is still open, but Esmay has hinted Bueno will start the season as Burr's replacement. Bueno, a freshman, was selected in the 17th round of the 2013 MLB Draft by the Yankees.

Other pitchers

Colin Ashworth (Freshman): Ashworth had a decorated high school baseball career in California that included a no-hitter and Ashworth set a school record with his .463 batting average his senior season.

Nick Diamond (Redshirted): Diamond is back with the team after missing his true freshman season due to personal reasons. Diamond has a chance to make an immediate impact in the bullpen since he's a southpaw and the Sun Devils lost dependable lefty Matt Dunbar to graduation.

Eder Erives (Freshman): Esmay also mentioned Erives as a candidate for the open closer role. His high school numbers are strong-0.62 ERA in 67 innings with 109 strikeouts-and if he can even do half that, he should be in a good spot.

Darin Gillies (2-2, 4.67 ERA, 1 SV): Gillies has become a vital part of the bullpen after starting last season as the Sunday starter. Esmay said he's not afraid to put Gillies as a mid-week starter, in long relief or even as the closer so his success will be key to the bullpen's overall success.

Mark Lambson (7.94 ERA): Lambson showed flashes of his freshman year, in which he posted a 1.90 ERA in 23.2 innings, in 2013 but needs to be more consistent to get more innings in 2014.

Seth Martinez (Freshman): Esmay also mentioned Martinez as an outside candidate for the closer spot. Martinez threw a no-hitter as a junior and earned Second Team All-State that year.

Josh McAlister (0-1, 0.89 ERA): McAlister quietly turned into the Sun Devils' most effective reliever in 2013, especially late in the season. His submarine motion has continued to miff opposing batters and he should be an expanded role in 2014.

Eric Melbostad (0-1, 17.18 ERA): Melbostad struggled last season, but didn't get a lot of opportunities. Started one mid-week game against Texas Tech.

Season outlook/prediction

The 2014 Sun Devils should be better than the 2013 version and it starts with their pitching. Burr, Kellogg and Burr make up one of the best weekend rotations in the nation. The lineup will be filled with a mix of good, veteran hitters and young, impressive ones. There should be extra motivation for the last year at Packard and the Sun Devils are good enough to host one final Regional there. Anything less than a Super Regional will be a disappointment and a trip to the College World Series isn't out of the question.