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ASU Baseball: Freshmen sluggers emerge as Sun Devils transition to Pac-12 play

Much was made in the offseason of ASU’s highly-touted recruiting class. Now that those players are on campus and donning the Maroon and Gold, three have asserted themselves in the Sun Devil lineup.

Hunter Bishop connects on a home run against Long Beach State. The homer sparked ASU’s five-run comeback to beat the Dirtbags in 10 innings 7-6.
Photo taken by Nick Ramirez

There aren’t a whole lot of 18-year-olds who would turn down a six figure signing bonus and opportunity to play professional baseball to go to school.

Then again - Lyle Lin, Hunter Bishop and Carter Aldrete are no normal 18-year-olds.

The ASU freshmen - all of whom were chosen in last June’s MLB Draft - have made waves in Tempe since their arrival, establishing themselves as important cogs in the Sun Devil lineup.

All members of ASU’s nationally-ranked 2016 recruiting class - a class that lost six recruits to the professional ranks - the three position players shunned their chance to do the same and instead have made waves at Phoenix Muni.

Lin - a catcher from Taipei, Taiwan - proved himself as a high-caliber bat from the get-go, collecting seven hits in ASU’s opening weekend sweep of Northwestern. Entering Pac-12 play the freshman’s excelling at the bat and at the plate, accruing a .375 average with 24 hits for 13 RBI’s and providing versatility on the diamond.

The freshman’s superb bat control has allowed him to transition to college baseball seamlessly, but the 18-year-old’s still only four years removed from playing Pony League ball in Taipei.

Coming over to the United States between his freshman and sophomore years of high school, Lin immediately acclimated to Division-1 baseball in the CIF’s Southern Section, a large region highly-saturated with elite baseball talent. Playing for JSerra Catholic, he led the program to three consecutive league championships and while doing so, familiarized himself with the league he’s now trying to conquer.

“Once I got here - when I was 15 or 16 - on the weekend I’d watch Pac 12,” Lin said. “I’m just really happy I’m playing Pac-12 baseball now.”

Batting .315 as a senior, Lin heard his name called in the 16th round by the Seattle Mariners in last June’s draft.

The selection not only made Lin a major league draftee, it marked the first time a Taiwanese-born athlete had been drafted in the MLB Draft. Even though he’s not playing in Mariner blue today, the moment’s significance isn’t lost on the catcher.

“It means a lot, to my family to my country. It’s definitely an honor to me,” Lin said. “But at the end of the day, still have to work hard and play hard. I’m enjoying playing baseball every day.”

One of three Sun Devils to have started every game this season, Lin’s bat has kept him in the lineup even as senior Zach Cerbo has taken ahold of the starting catcher spot. Lin earned starts at first base for the entirety of ASU’s three-game series against Long Beach State, making numerous digs and stretches to convert putouts.

While he’s acclimating well to first base, Lin’s still a catcher at heart and has taken note of the plate presence Cerbo gives the Sun Devil pitching staff.

“Cerbo - he’s a great catcher,” Lin said. “Especially how he communicates with pitchers on the team, I think it’s something I need to learn from him.

“If i’m helping the team win, I’m fine with it,” Lin said of playing first. “I like playing first now, it’s pretty awesome.”

Lin may be one of three Sun Devils to have played in all of ASU’s games to date, but he’s not the only freshman to do so. Carter Aldrete - a utility infielder from Monterey, CA - has served as a defensive stalwart for the Sun Devils and his bat was a vital piece in ASU’s sweep of Long Beach State.

Aldrete - a shortstop in high school - found his way into the Sun Devil lineup at second base as Jeremy McCuin locked up the shortstop spot. With one error to his name so far, the freshman’s transition to second has been successful - if not seamless.

“To me second base is a lot easier, especially on my arm,” Aldrete said. “I don’t have to move my feet as much to make a harder throw. I’d say the hardest part about transitioning to short to second is knowing the cuts and relays and everything it. I mean, it is a new position to me.”

At the plate, Aldrete’s transition hasn’t been as smooth. He only managed a pair of hits in the three-game set against Northwestern to open the season, and entered the Long Beach State series having batted for only a .214 clip. Against the Dirtbags, he lit up, racking up five hits over the course of the weekend and scoring three runs for the Sun Devils.

Aldrete mentioned a change in his batting approach from his high school days as influential in his continued development as a player.

“I would say the biggest difference for me from high school to college is my two-strike approach,” Aldrete said. “I have a leg kick before two strikes and with two strikes I eliminate the leg kick completely. I can see anything, I’m on time for everything and with strikes I can look for something up and I can put in play.”

As Aldrete and the Sun Devils head into Pac-12 play, the freshman’s not changing his mindset.

“For the most part it’s just sticking with the same approach I have every day, believing in it knowing it works and not losing confidence when it doesn’t,” Aldrete said.

While Aldrete and Lin have been an important part of the fold for the Sun Devils from Opening Weekend, it’s taken a bit longer for Hunter Bishop to find his place in the Arizona State lineup.

The freshman outfielder from Palo Alto, CA only in his first year a full-time baseball player, having starred in football and baseball at Serra High School. A power hitter with elite speed, Bishop’s talent earned him a call from the San Diego Padres in the 24th round.

He had the initial intention of heading to Washington and playing for the Huskies football team as a preferred walk-on, but switched schools and sports for the Sun Devils.

The adjustment to full-time baseball has led to a change in Bishop’s mindset at the plate.

“Probably the biggest adjustment is changing my approach a little bit. When I got here just try to go out three and swing as hard as you can can,” Bishop said. “Not small ball, but just kind of realize the first two swings are for you and after that you’ve got to shorten up a little bit and try to put the ball in play.”

He made cameo appearances in ASU’s first few series of the season, but earned a full-time spot in the Sun Devil starting lineup against Long Beach State. Starting all three games at DH, Bishop collected his first collegiate home run to go with five RBI’s and three runs scored on the weekend.

“I love DH,” Bishop said. “Obviously my goal is to play the outfield but anything to help the team win and DH helps me focus on hitting a little bit more.”

The Long Beach State series saw Arizona State bring back the Energy Circle, a pre-game hype-up that the Sun Devils last performed in 2014. Bishop may be new to the Energy Circle, but he’s not new to pre-game antics.

“At Serra there’s a big Polynesian community so the Haka kind of got us going for the energy aspect of it,” Bishop said. “Here the Energy Circle - we were kind of dead the last few games, we were losing so i think that helped us bring a new kind of energy to the game and it showed.”

It may have taken the initiative of senior Cerbo to bring back the Energy Circle to the Sun Devils, but as ASU transitions to Pac-12 play it’ll be the freshmen who have already made waves who will make or break Arizona State’s bid at a conference title.