The Arizona State Sun Devils (22-30, 12-15 Pac-12) host California (30-21, 14-13) for a three-game series, starting Thursday at 7 p.m. at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The Sun Devils have a chance to finish .500 in Pac-12 play and fifth in the conference, despite all the growing pains the team has had this season.
Here’s what we came away with from Tuesday’s media availability:
- Freshman first baseman Spencer Torkelson leads the NCAA with 25 home runs. He’s one big fly away from tying the NCAA freshman single-season record and two from tying the ASU single-season record. He homered in all three contests against the Arizona Wildcats in last weekend’s series.
- Phoenix Municipal Stadium’s fences are moving in next season. The left field corner will be 334 feet and the wall in right will be 333 feet in honor of Jim Brock and Cory Hahn, respectively. The fences currently stand at 345 feet in the corners.
Batting cage renovation... Moving in fences
ASU will begin construction of its new batting cage on June 6. The cage will cut into the stadium, taking out seats adjacent to right field. Both of ASU’s current bullpens will be removed. New ones will appear behind left and right field.
Smith mentioned the original plan was the move the fences in prior to this season. He said him and his staff have tracked fly balls back from the start of the year. The skipper said 11 more runs would have been scored in the Miami (OH) series had the fences been moved in.
“We’ve been recruiting a certain way, a certain physicality based on what we’re doing here,” Smith said. “We’re going to have probably the nation’s home run leader in a park that’s 15 to 17 feet [closer].”
The Sun Devils will recruit to the liking of their new field. This means Smith may lose some speed but gain power.
Smith played at Miami (OH) from 1985-88. He remembered at Packard Stadium in an NCAA Regional tournament where walls stood at 338 feet in the corners, 368 feet in left and right center field and 395 to straightaway center. He mentioned ASU’s field is nearly 391 feet to right or left center field.
Battle of the freshman phenoms
While Torkelson leads the nation in home runs with 25, California sophomore Andrew Vaughn has hit 23, which sits second in NCAA Division I. Vaughn also poses a Pac-12 best .414 batting average.
Vaughn (Santa Rosa) and Torkelson (Petaluma) are also both Sonoma County natives.
ASU manager Tracy Smith saw Torkelson go from 11 long balls his senior year of high school to now leading the nation. Vaughn hit just one home run his senior season. Smith didn’t say he recruited Vaughn out of high school, but he did say this:
“If they’re not successful, they’re probably not ending up here anyway. So it’s about which ones will understand they still have things to work on in their game... if you have talent and a coachable spirit, no one is trying to make you worse.”
Cleaning up the defense
Arizona State’s defense has allotted 75 errors this season. No team in the Pac-12 has given up more than 56. The Sun Devils have played as many as seven freshman fielders at times, and usually start an all-freshman infield: Gage Workman (third base), Alika Williams (second), Drew Swift (shortstop), Torkelson (first).
Smith sees extra reps this summer as a chance for his young team to fix its defensive miscues.
“The player I think about and is recognized in the national stage now is Kyle Schwarber,” Smith said. “Kyle would be the first to tell you he had a rough first season defensively at catcher, but we saw a different guy when he came back from his experiences in the Cape.
“That’s what I’m most excited about when these guys get back, getting away from some of the negativity going on. Just enjoy the game, come back confident.”
Moving onto the pros...
Though ASU is young, two of its best players — sophomore catcher Lyle Lin and junior center fielder Gage Canning — are draft eligible and will likely be picked early.
Smith is certain Canning will move onto the Major Leagues.
“I think he’s (Canning) going to be taken at a high enough round that it makes sense for him (to go pro). Lyle probably the same scenario, but I think he’s had a valuable experience here,” Smith said. “If he gets what he’s looking for, we’ll be happy for him and he’ll be happy to get started.”
Smith said he doesn’t think the pitchers in his class of 2018 recruits are projected first to fifth round draft picks — more like five to 15. He says the college experience is incredibly valuable, but its up to recruits to make a decision to sign with MLB teams or not.