Hunter Jump stood inside the lefty batting box of a retractable batting cage, hitting against a pitching machine Wednesday. The freshman, sporting white batting gloves with a maroon cap and shirt, swung on the field alongside sophomores Carter Aldrete and Hunter Bishop and freshman Spencer Torkelson.
“I’m like 5-9, 185,” Jump said. “I try to be confident and play like a 6-2, 200-pound guy.”
After shagging balls in the outfield, Jump came back to bat. His hitting coach, Michael Earley, spoke with the media and glanced over to watch him.
“When he steps in the box, I think he thinks he’s 6-7.” Early said as he peeked over at the cage. “And I think that’s the absolute mindset you’ve got to have.”
Jump, who is listed 5-foot-11 on the team’s roster, is tied with junior center fielder Gage Canning and redshirt freshman catcher Sam Ferri as the shortest on the team.
He’s been playing like he’s on top of the world.
The Aliso Viejo, California native is hitting .370 in 54 at-bats. He’s collected 13 hits in ASU’s last six games. In four of those six, the outfielder has notched three or more hits, including an RBI double in the seventh inning against No. 5 Oregon State that broke a 5-5 tie and led to an 8-5 win.
He went 3-for-4 with 4 RBIs in a win over Utah a weekend prior.
“I tell the kids all the time: ‘I don’t make the lineup. You do,’” ASU manager Tracy Smith said. “We haven’t been able to take him out of the lineup because he’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to.”
But it didn’t start out that way.
Jump made four starts and played in 18 of ASU’s first 37 games. Smith left him in Tempe when the Devils traveled to Stanford from April 13-15. Bishop and freshmen Scott Mehan and Trevor Hauver — all outfielders — went to Palo Alto instead.
“You can hang your head and say you’re getting screwed over — ‘everybody hates me. I'm not getting a chance.’” Smith said. “Or, you can realize. Hey, I’ve got to work a little harder. Dig my heels in and when I get the opportunity, be ready for it.”
Jump was not shy to show his urgency to get on the diamond. In a midweek practice prior to sweeping Utah, Jump made a bet with Smith. He said if he could pitch at least 87 miles per hour, then he’d have to put him in the lineup against the Utes.
He got his deal.
In the two games he played against the Utes, Jump went 6-for-8 with six RBIs. Since he made the bet with Smith, Jump has hit 13-for-27, or .481 in his last six games.
“Things have been just going my way lately, and I think it’s all the hard work I’ve been doing,” Jump said.
Before he was in the starting lineup, he took advantage of extra practice.
“I was doing a lot of side work to get myself a lot of reps,” Jump said. “I was able to get more live at-bats through the week and see a lot of our pitchers in some of the practices we were doing separately from the starters.”
In Arizona State’s 8-5 Saturday win over Oregon State, six of nine positions were filled by ASU freshmen at one point in time: Jump (right field), Drew Swift (shortstop), Alika Williams (second base), Boyd Vander Kooi (first), Gage Workman (third) and Dellan Raish (pitcher).
Inexperience has most plagued the Sun Devils most this season and in two areas most specifically: Pitching and defense.
ASU’s .961 fielding percentage ranks 243 of 297 NCAA Division I teams. Along with a 4.65 team ERA, the Devils have posted 64 errors this season, which is 20 more than any other Pac-12 club.
“We’re all going through the same thing. We’re like a family. We’re all really young, but we’re gonna get ourselves together,” Jump said.
Lucky for Jump, he plays aside Canning, the Devils’ center fielder who has made one error and 118 catches this season. Jump has yet to commit an error in 24 games played, but that doesn’t mean he’s perfect. He catches himself making miscues in practice.
“It happens all the time. That’s why Gage Canning is the perfect person to talk to about it,” Jump said. “I mess up all the time in the outfield and I’ll talk to him about it. There’s just certain things like backing people up and reads on certain balls like how he goes and attempts them.”
Vander Kooi, an ASU freshman pitcher, said the biggest jump from high school to college was mentally “knowing what you’re going to do before the play happens.”
He then added: “In high school, you can do things as the play is happening and not really having to know before the play.”
For Jump, he’s mentally prepared even in the on deck circle.
“As a hitter, I try to go into the at-bat very confident — know what he’s gonna throw to me. I try to watch the person before me,” he said.
Jump batted third in the lineup Sunday right behind the captain of the outfield.
“I had Gage Canning before me,” Jump said. “I try to see how someone pitches to him, and as a lefty, he’s probably going to throw the same thing to me. I try to go into the at-bat with the same awareness as him.”
The Sun Devils sit at 18-25 overall and 10-11 in Pac-12 play — good for sixth-best in the conference. To finish above .500, ASU would need to win eight of its final 12 games this season, starting with a three-game home series with Washington.
Jump may have cracked the starting lineup late, but he’s not taking it for granted.
“I’m trying to produce for the team and do everything I can because I really think this team can still get into a regional. And I want to do everything I can to get us there.”