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ASU Baseball: Catcher position flexes depth, talent vs. Northwestern

The Sun Devils should have no problem at home plate this season.

Photo by Maxwell Madden

Arizona State head coach Tracy Smith has several legitimate options to ponder when selecting a starting catcher come gameday.

“We’ve got four good catchers,” Smith said following ASU’s series finale against Northwestern on Sunday. “We’ve got three that I think are front line, that I think can be starters in the Pac-12. The idea was I wanted to play all three of them (this series) because they’ve been working hard.”

Through three games, three of Smith’s “four good catchers” have taken the field for the Sun Devils: senior Zac Cerbo, and freshmen Sam Ferri and Lyle Lin.

Over the weekend, it was Lin and Ferri—ASU’s leading hitters—who stole the show at the plate.

Against Northwestern, Lin batted a combined 7-for-13 (team-high batting average .538), which included two doubles, three RBIs and nine total bases—all are currently team-leading marks.

“Lyle Lin’s gotta be on the field somewhere by the way he’s playing,” Smith said.

The third-year coach found a way to deploy the Taiwanese product, too. Lin started at first base during both ASU’s season-opener and series finale. It resulted in him setting a couple of single-game, multi-hit program milestones that hadn’t been touched since the turn of the decade.

Ferri’s impact at the dish helped the Sun Devils finish off their season-opening sweep.

The Norridge, Ill. native was called on to pinch hit for Cerbo during Sunday’s contest, and delivered by ripping a double into the corner at right field, plating two runs to extend ASU’s advantage in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Smith didn’t seem too surprised by the connection, lauding Ferri’s talent as reason for inserting him into the game at a crucial time.

“In that situation, I still felt like we’re trying to get every run we can get. In my mind, Sam Ferri’s one of our better hitters, and that was a time to make that move,” he said, making it clear that Cerbo, who started the series finale, didn’t have too bad an outing himself.

“I felt Zac did a good job in what he was asked to do today,” Smith said.

Cerbo, a senior, represents the lone upperclassmen of the four-man unit, and his leadership from behind the plate guided pitchers Reagan Todd and James Ryan to a dominant outing Sunday that included a five-inning stretch during which neither relinquished a baserunner.

His performance speaks to his skipper’s mentality that “pitching and defense wins games.”

“Over the long haul, defense has to take priority, particularly in the Pac-12 conference,” Smith says. “Defense has to be a premium.”

The rationale alone, particularly when considering a pitching staff that’s added such an influx of young arms, makes Cerbo a potential option just about every game.

Still, Smith says he’s using the early contests to tinker with his roster, working to determine what options give ASU its best shot of winning.

“This is the time of the year when you try to learn different lineups, who can do what when the lights are on so to speak,” he said.

If the weekend was any indicator, that shouldn’t be an issue for the Sun Devils’ catchers moving forward.