It’s rare for programs that recruit as well as Arizona State has to have question marks heading into the season, yet the Sun Devils starting rotation looks anything but clear-cut ahead of Friday’s season opener.
ASU has depth in the rotation and many options moving forward, but it’s proved difficult for the Maroon and Gold to determine a bonafide rotation of their three best arms thus far.
Head coach Tracy Smith turned this into a positive during a session with the media Monday afternoon.
“We don’t feel like we have that top first-round guy coming out on a Friday night,” he said. “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 from last year.”
While it’s unlikely that Smith’s first three starters will stay in the rotation for the remainder of the season, there is a lot to be learned from who the third-year head coach will be sending to the mound this weekend.
With so much uncertainty revolving around the rotation, Smith seems to be relying heavily on pitchers’ experience to make his decisions early on.
The 6-foot junior has made 50 appearances thus far in his Sun Devil career, including 12 starts last year in which he accumulated a 4.50 ERA. While the ERA is concerning, Smith’s decision to start Lingos is representative of a very cautious approach from Arizona State to start the season.
The Temecula, Calif. native may very well be the best strike-thrower on the team, but this gets him in trouble when he doesn’t quite nail his location. Lingos’ ability to keep pitches over the plate has kept his walks to a minimum, but it has also caused his opponents’ batting average to soar to a clip of .296.
Nevertheless, Smith is clearly looking for experienced players to play a large role early on, as Lingos will get the first start of the season Friday night.
Another junior, Hingst appeared in 12 games as a reliever his freshman year and followed that with a 32.1-inning sophomore campaign.
Hingst relies almost exclusively on his two-seam fastball to get outs, a strategy that proved extremely effective in his no-hitter against Utah last season.
The 6-foot-4 Texan’s fastball-heavy style allows him to miss bats more often than Lingos, posting a strike-out-per-nine rate (K/9) of 7.55. Hingst has also proven to be effective against the long ball, allowing just one home run in his last 55.7 innings pitched.
Hingst has Lingos beat in nearly every statistical category, but trails in experience by about thirty frames. Smith’s election of Hingst to the starting rotation should give the El Paso native every opportunity he needs to take the top spot.
Spencer Van Scoyoc
The No. 8 overall left-handed pitcher recruit in the country seems to have the most potential of any ASU pitcher that will take the mound this season.
Van Scoyoc is a freshman, and can touch speeds of up to 93 miles per hour on his fastball.
There is a lot of excitement surrounding Sunday’s starter, and Smith did not shy away from gushing about his performance so far in the preseason.
“I’ll tell you who’s really come on has been Spencer Van Scoyoc,” Smith mentioned Sunday, “I think he’s going to push some guys for the top end of the rotation, too. He’s just gotten better and better every week.”
Van Scoyoc doesn’t just rely on a devastating four-seam fastball, he has an entire arsenal of tough-to-hit pitches.
In Perfect Game’s National Pre-Game Showcase, scouts called his curveball “one of the better high school breaking balls,” and noted that his cut fastball sat around “85 miles per hour and showed a sharp late break.”
The Cedar Rapids, Iowa native has found himself in a very fortuitous position with the Sun Devils struggling to find an ace, giving him an opportunity on the first weekend to showcase his skills.
The depth Arizona State has on the mound had presented a bit of confusion when it comes to the starting rotation, but will prove invaluable to the bullpen as the season wears on.
“The depth of our pitching staff, I’d say that’s probably our No. 1 strength.” Smith noted Monday.
While few roles in the pen have been determined, a couple of pitchers have emerged as favorites for early relief appearances.
Erives is the obvious choice for the closer this year after his dominant campaign last season.
The El Paso native notched a team best 6-2 record, posted an ERA of 2.95 and was recently named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writer’s Association Stopper of the Year Award watch list, an honor given to the best relief pitcher in Division I baseball.
His 10 saves in 2016 trailed only Max Englebrekt of Oregon State, who led all returning Pac-12 relievers with 11.
“Eder had a really good last year for us,” Smith said. “ He’s proven in that regard. We like to have the option.”
Montoya profiles very closely to Van Scoyoc in that he was the No. 1 overall left-hander in his state, ranks among the top-65 prospects nation-wide and has impressed the coaching staff in the preseason.
“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.
Montoya’s best pitch is his 77-mph slider that has proven difficult for both right- and left-handed hitters. It’s especially difficult to adjust to if the pitch follows his fastball, which will occasionally top out at 90 mph.
Montoya’s performance thus far, paired along with his elite command, has made him a great candidate to be one of the first out of the Sun Devils’ bullpen this weekend.