For the third consecutive season, ASU baseball ended their season during the first weekend of the postseason, falling in the regional round to Cal State Fullerton and Pepperdine. In Tracy Smith's first season, the Sun Devils spent most of the season inside the Top 20 in most polls and even some weeks inside of the Top 10.
Now that the season is over, it is never too early too look ahead to the 2016 season (ok maybe it can be too early). The 2016 team will look a lot different, particularly on the mound, than the 2015 squad. Let's take a look at what it may look like.
Note: This article does not take into account potential transfers and all players that have just completed their junior seasons and all incoming recruits are draft eligible and have an opportunity to sign with professional teams.
Who is leaving?
Before we talk about the 2015 MLB Draft, let's first get to the seniors. The Sun Devils had one of their most productive senior classes in recent memory, leaving some holes for next season. Joey Bielek, Jake Peevyhouse, Trever Allen and Darin Gillies have all exhausted their college eligibility.
Bielek, Peevyhouse and Allen were all staples of ASU's lineup in 2015, Peevyhouse and Allen in the outfield and Bielek at first base. Gillies began the year as the Sunday starter and was moved to the bullpen in early March. Towards the end of the year, Gillies proved to be one of the more valuable bullpen arms for the Sun Devils.
The Sun Devils have 10 juniors on the roster who are draft eligible, including Ryan Burr, Brett Lilek, Ryan Kellogg, David Graybill, Dalton Dinatale, RJ Ybarra, Jordan Aboites and Johnny Sewald.
Of that group, Burr, Kellogg, Lilek and Sewald are the most likely to sign professional contracts. Burr, Kellogg and Lilek are all likely to be selected in the first five rounds of the baseball draft. Sewald is likely to be selected around the 10th round. Again, these are just projections based on where they are ranked by scouting services.
Typically, college players selected within 10 rounds sign with professional clubs. This is because if they return for their senior seasons, they lose all leverage in negotiations and have to essentially take the first offer from the professional club that selects them.
Two interesting cases are juniors RJ Ybarra and Dalton DiNatale, who both began the year in the starting lineup but did not see much action down the stretch, especially DiNatale. Ybarra split time at DH with David Greer, but because of the log jam at first and third base, DiNatale did not see much playing time after a wrist injury sustained in March.
My best guess is Lilek, Burr, Kellogg and Sewald all sign with professional clubs. David Graybill, Ybara and DiNatale also have a chance to go pro, but they are less likely than the pitchers and Sewald.
Who is coming back?
The Sun Devils return a strong core of positional players in 2016, led by Brian Serven, Colby Woodmansee and David Greer. After a strong freshman campaign, Serven started 50 games behind the plate in 2015, hitting .294 with six home runs and 34 runs batted in.
Woodmansee was one of the pleasant surprises this season at shortstop. The Phoenix native hit .308 with five home runs and 44 runs batted in while also playing really solid defense up the middle. Greer broke out at third base after the injury to DiNatale, and at one point was ASU's leading hitter. He cooled off a bit at the end of the year, finishing 2015 hitting .314 with two home runs.
Andrew Snow, the only impact player from the freshman class, will likely be back at second base in 2016. Snow hit an even .300 this year with two home runs and 24 runs driven in.
Speaking of the freshman class, it was a largely disappointing group production wise. Ryan Lillard, Colton Gerhart, Eli Lingos Ryan Hingst and Andrew Shaps saw limited action in 2015. Pitchers Tucker Baca, Grant Schneider, Reagan Todd and Trevor Horn are all listed on the roster but did not see time on the mound this year (Baca threw eight innings, Schneider threw three total innings in 2015).
The only starting pitcher from the weekend rotation that will likely return in 2016 will be Seth Martinez. The Peoria, Ariz., native was ASU's best pitcher early in the year and finished the year with a 2-2 record and an ERA of 4.03.
At this moment, Martinez is the likely candidate to take over the Friday night role next year. Hingst also saw time as a midweek starter and could make his way into the weekend rotation next year.
Eder Erives, Hever Bueno, Lingos, Shaps, and Aboites all figure to be the centerpieces of the bullpen in 2016. Aboites started a regional game against Pepperdine, so there is a chance he makes his way into the starting rotation next year.
Who is coming in
The ASU recruiting class is not finalized yet, as the Sun Devils may add a few more players. As of now, the team has 14 high school commitments according to Perfect Game, one of the most trusted baseball scouting services in America. Perfect Game ranks ASU's class as the 25th best class in the country.
The highest ranked incoming freshman is Tyler Williams, an outfielder from Glendale's Raymond S. Kellis High School. Williams was a preseason First Team HS All-American according to Perfect Game. He is especially important because ASU may only return one outfielder (Gerhart) in 2016.
There will be two or potentially all three outfield spots available for ASU to fill in 2016. Gage Canning (Ramona, Calif.), Alan Garcia (Nogalas, Ariz.) and Blake Perkins (Litchfield Park, Ariz.) along with Williams are the high school outfielders that are committed to ASU in this class. The Sun Devils may add a junior college outfielder in the spring signing period.
As is the cace with most college baseball recruiting classes, ASU's class is pitcher heavy. The Sun Devils have seven pitchers committed as of now in this class. Liam Jenkins (Mokena, Ill.) and Fitz Sandler (Glenview, Ill.) both stand 6-foot-8 and can touch 90 MPH.
Giovanni Lopez (Goodyear, Ariz.) and Chris Isbell (Scottsdale, Ariz.) are two local pitchers who can reportedly touch the high 80's. Connor Higgins, a 6-foo-4 lefty from Pennsylvania also has a fastball reportedly in the low 90's.
Full ASU class listed below. (From Perfect Game)
There have already been some in the media that want to brand next season as a "rebuilding" year for ASU baseball. The lineup should be just as good as it was this past year, with the outfield being the major question mark. Will Sewald sign? If he does, ASU could start two or potentially three freshman in the outfield next year.
Remember that Gerhart also plays football and won't be available for fall practice.
The biggest questions are with the pitching staff. The ASU bullpen was very inconsistent in 2015 and they will lose their two best arms (Burr and Gillies). For most of the past six years, ASU has had a dynamic closer (Jake Barrett and Burr), who will close games in 2016? Many who watch ASU will say Bueno has closer stuff, but he has yet to put it all together.
As far as the rotation goes, it would be surprising if Martinez is not in there next season. The other two spots remain a mystery. Aboites and Hingst are players who saw starts this year that may work themselves into the rotation. Could one of the second year players such as Schneider, Baca or Todd work there way into the rotation?
One or two of the incoming freshman will likely see starts in 2016, whether it be Sandler, Jenkins, Higgins or somebody else.