When the Arizona State Sun Devils take the field for Friday’s opening double-header against Northwestern, it’ll be a sea of fresh faces trotting out in the maroon and gold.
Roughly half a year since losing five players with remaining eligibility and six recruits to the MLB draft, the Sun Devils have restocked the cupboards - and some. The Sun Devils’ 2016 recruiting class was named as a top-five class by Perfect Game, setting the bar for ASU higher than ever in Tracy Smith’s third year at the helm.
Arizona State’s pitching staff is nothing if not in flux, a trait that extends to the other eight positions on the field. But the Sun Devils’ youth and inexperienced is only rivaled by its depth, and every position group has a number of players that figure to factor into the 2017 campaign. Let’s take a look at some players whose names you’ll want to know come playoff time.
While the Sun Devils lost six of its 2016 recruits to the professional levels following the MLB Draft, Arizona State managed to hang onto five other draftees who kept their commitments to play for the Sun Devils.
Sam Ferri is one of them. The 5’11”, 185-pound freshman from Illinois turned down a chance to play in the New York Yankees organization to complete the other half of Arizona State’s battery.
Perfect Game ranked him as the No. 134 prospect in the nation, and the Notre Dame Prep star projects to make his impact on the collegiate level immediately as Smith slotted him in as the starter for Friday’s opener.
Zach Cerbo - one of four seniors on the team - also projects to earn time behind the plate while he’ll also platoon at first base.
The Sun Devils also have another draftee who chose to come to Tempe instead of playing professional ball, as Lyle Lin turned down a chance to sign with the Seattle Mariners as a 16th-round draftee to compete for time at ASU.
The freshman has the acclaim of being the first Taiwanese-born player to be drafted in the MLB Draft, and he comes to Arizona State after starring for J-Serra Catholic in California.
Here’s where things get a little wonky. Of the six players ASU lost from its recruiting class to the pros, four of them were infielders. The Sun Devils also lost Colby Woodmansee to the MLB Draft, leaving ASU thin in the infield.
ASU’s surest thing comes in the form of junior Andrew Snow, the former Jesuit High School star who started in 52 games for the Sun Devils last year, playing most of them at second base with a sprinkling of playing time at third base thrown in. He finished the season batting .276 with 24 runs batted in.
The only other incumbent in the infield is Jeremy McCuin, a Gilbert, Ariz. native who earned sporadic time during his freshman year. But joining them are three newcomers who will be thrown into the fire from the get-go.
Two junior college transfers - Taylor Lane and Jackson Willeford - come to Tempe as a junior and redshirt senior, respectively. Lane - a former Florida Gator - batted .325 for Northwestern Florida State College as they went onto win the junior college national title. Willeford comes to Tempe after stops at Arizona and Cypress College, where he was named the Orange Empire Conference Co-Player of the Year after batting .370 with 27 RBIs.
Rounding out the infield corps is freshman Carter Aldrede, who turned down the chance to sign a contract with the Boston Red Sox to play for ASU. The shortstop was ranked by Perfect Game as No. 93 overall player in the nation for the class of 2016, and the Monterey, Calif. native declined offers from multiple other Pac-12 schools to join the Sun Devils.
Arizona State’s infield has four spots open with five players competing for time. The outfield is a different story, as the Sun Devils have three spots to fill and seven players vying for them - all with viable claims to playing time.
Junior Andrew Shaps returns after earning an Honorable Mention nod from the Pac-12 All-Conference team in 2016, appearing in 57 games batting a .321 average. Shaps was one of the most-lethal bats in the Sun Devil lineup, cranking out 68 hits with 27 runs batted in. He’ll start the season the bench however, as Smith’s keeping him out due to undisclosed violations.
Sophomore Gage Canning returns after also earning an Honorable Mention nod from the Pac-12 for his freshman campaign, batting .269 and ranking third in the Pac-12 with six triples. He’ll try to lock down a starting role again, but he’ll be competing with a litany of highly-touted youngsters.
Myles Denson arrives in Tempe after posting a .450 batting average during his senior season for Bishop Gorman, and he’ll join fellow freshman Hunter Bishop in the Sun Devil outfield. Bishop was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 24th round, electing to delay his professional eligibility for another three years to fulfill his commitment to the Sun Devils. A two-sport star at Serra High School, the 6’5”, 210-pounder projects to earn ample time in the Sun Devils lineup.