Standing head down, arms crossed in the middle of a mob of media on a picturesque afternoon at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, Arizona State coach Tracy Smith began to count his fingers.
“We’re going to have a new guy in center, so entirely new outfield position-wise... new guy at third, new guy at short, new guy at second, new guy at first and a new catcher. I guess that’s eight,” Smith said, chuckling. “Boy, when you verbalize that it makes it sound a little scary.”
Things will be looking quite different when the Sun Devils play their season-opener Friday night at 6:30 p.m. against Northwestern. A few position players won’t be back on the field while others have rotated around the diamond.
Junior Andrew Shaps won’t start because of an in-program suspension. Last season’s starting second basemen Andrew Snow has switched to third base and sophomore Gage Canning will be in centerfield in place of Shaps.
Smith is well aware his team — touting collegiate baseball’s No. 1 recruiting class — is young, inexperienced and in need of leaders, but he’s not exactly worried about it.
The Sun Devils have a serious range of talent, especially on the mound.
“We don’t feel like we have that top first-round guy coming out on a Friday night, but what we do feel like is we have eight to 10 guys who are all about the same, but that being pretty good. So I think that’s different than last year.”
While eight positions will be filled with first-timers on Friday night, the bullpen and a majority of the starting rotation bring experience.
Junior Eli Lingos earned the opening-night starting gig, while junior Ryan Hingst will follow him Saturday night, and then one of Smith’s highly-touted freshman, Spencer Van Soyoc, will be the Sunday starter.
“The depth of our pitching staff... I’d say that’s probably our No. 1 (strength).”
Over the last two seasons, Lingos has made 50 appearances and Hingst triumphed his way through a no-hitter, while Van Scoyoc has yet to step on the mound for the Maroon and Gold.
“I’ll tell you who’s really come on has been Spencer Van Scoyoc,” Smith said of the newcomer. “I think he’s going to push some guys for the top end of it (the rotation) too. He’s just gotten better and better every week.”
In the bullpen, the Sun Devils are set with senior closer Eder Erives, who boasts 10 saves, a 2.95 ERA, and a returning-best 6-2 record from last season.
One of the newest Sun Devils added to the bullpen mix is freshman Chaz Montoya.
“It would be nice if we could get a couple swing and miss guys at the end. Montoya has shown the ability to do that,” Smith said. “Eder had a really good last year for us. He’s proven in that regard. We like the option to have. Having those two guys at the back end with the good slider.”
The most valuable player in Smith’s roster equation to his pitching depth will be the man behind the plate. On opening night, freshman catcher Sam Ferri will make his debut.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Yankees draftee won the job over senior Zach Cerbo and freshmen Lyle Lin and Nick Cheema.
“Right now we have Sam Ferri listed as our No. 1,” Smith said. “The beautiful part of this year’s catching core is that we’ve got really three guys who are legitimate No. 1 guys at the Pac-12 level.”
The Sun Devils are four nights away from opening night, but not everything is set in stone.
Much of this is complication is due to ASU’s roster currently compiled of just four seniors and nine juniors. While upperclassmen are few, the Sun Devils are stacked with an overwhelming 25 underclassman.
“I just keep saying this publicly,” Smith said. “It’s going to be fun for us to see this come together. There’s talent out there, It’s just that it needs to come together with experience.”