Coming off two back-to-back losing seasons, head coach Tracy Smith and the Arizona State Sun Devil baseball team addressed the media ahead of the 2019 season.
Smith, who enters his fifth season on the hot-seat, got the support of athletic director Ray Anderson after last season to bring Smith back. Can Smith survive another losing season? Probably not. He was asked multiple questions regarding his job security, but to him he’s just focused on coaching.
“When you do this job, if it’s at any program, you have to pride yourself in how you do it. It’s not a word people like to use around here in terms of building, but there’s some things we have to identify that needed to be done. We’re very comfortable with where we are right now,” Smith said.
The lineup and defense
Junior Carter Aldrete was one of the first players to speak to the media, he mentioned he’d prefer to be back in the infield, but he’ll do anything to help the team. He also went into detail about how the defense looks to be better after most losses last season can be pointed at errors and walks.
Aldrete was asked about what they did in fall ball to attempt to improve the defensive struggles:
“Just reps, you can’t really do anything else. Obviously, there’s drill work and reps you kind of have to focus on the task at hand, especially on the infield,” he said. “It’s just one of those things, man, that you have to take rep after rep and take them seriously because in the game they’re serious. The ball matters, we always tell our guys, ‘this ball coming at you, it matters. Runners on base, 90 feet, it matters.’”
Smith has said the biggest difference between this year and last is the freshmen look around and see someone with experience in certain situations. In his eyes, part of the reason ASU struggled so much is when the freshmen last year needed to see someone with in-game experience there was no one to go to.
Other news, even after starting the year with Drew Swift at shortstop and Alika Williams at second base, the two will flip heading into the 2019 season according to Swift. Of course, Swift and Williams swapped late into the season last year when Swift struggled defensively at short.
Hunter Bishop is slotted to take Gage Canning’s position in center field with Canning’s departure for the MLB and the Washington Nationals’ farm system. The corner outfield spots are more of a question mark. It seems that Aldrete won’t have an infield spot to start the season and will slot into right field. Left field looks to be Trevor Hauver’s spot after recruiting coordinator Ben Greenspan said he was the team’s “most consistent left fielder to this point.” Cole Austin, a transfer from West Virginia that sat out last season, has a chance to be in the outfield as well. Despite being more of an infielder, is similar to Aldrete, that his best chance to play is in the outfield.
Alce Marsh said the Sam Ferri is the starting catcher, saying he was always the guy and just needed to be healthy. Lyle Lin, who decided to comeback to ASU after being drafted by the Houston Astros, said that himself and Ferri will split time between catching and DHing. Lin had mentioned he’d worked at first base as well.
C - Sam Ferri
1B - Spencer Torkelson
2B - Drew Swift
SS - Alika Williams
3B - Gage Workman
LF - Trevor Hauver
CF - Hunter Bishop
RF - Carter Aldrete
DH - Lyle Lin
There are plenty of words to describe the Sun Devils’ struggles on the mound from last year. Two of the more consistent guys in Eli Lingos and Dellan Raish are no longer Sun Devils for different reasons. Starting pitching and the closer are not locked spots, however, pitching coach Mike Cather said they are close to determining those roles. Cather also stated that was part of the issue last season, that guys were pitching out of their roles.
For the weekend starters, Cather referred to as Marsh as the leader, setting Marsh up for a Friday night role. The others were sophomore Boyd Vander Kooi and JuCo transfer R.J. Dabovich from Pueblo West in Colorado.
Vander Kooi started his freshman campaign off to a hot start, although injuries derailed his season. The topic for him was his health after he took the summer off and began throwing again on July 1st.
“It’s been a long journey,” Vander Kooi said. “I’m finally healthy, I feel good and I want to stay that way. I want to help the team out as much as I can. A lot more arm-care, a lot more taking care of myself. Believe or not, nutrition, drinking a lot more water.”
Tracy Smith also addressed that freshman Blake Burzell has a chance to be in the closer role. Another name to consider as well is Chaz Montoya of course.
Two other names that popped up from players and coachers were sophomore Brady Corrigan and freshman Erik Tolman. Bishop compared Tolman to Lingos, and it’s only fitting that he is wearing Lingos’ number and is left-handed.
Corrigan made a few starts last season, but discussed the staff’s most important key heading into the season:
“When we throw strikes we get guys out,” Corrigan said. “When we walk guys we let up a lot of runs. It’s pretty simple, it’s funny, but it’s time after time it’s the same conversation. When we walk guys, that’s when the errors come and that’s when things go down hill.”
Phoenix Muni Stadium changes
Over the offseason, the Sun Devils’ home got a few renovations. The team added a new glass hitting facility underneath the right field concourse, and that the fences of the stadium got moved in.
Greenspan highlighted that the hitting facility had three full length cages, one short cage, music, air conditioning, four garage doors that open directly to the field and access straight to the locker rooms underneath.
Swift joked that had the facility been done when he was being recruited, he would’ve committed as soon as he saw it.
For the fences, surprising, the pitchers and the hitters had different opinions of it. Vander Kooi said he hated it, noting a fly ball at the fence last year he can remembered, would be a home run this season.
The reigning national home run leader, Spencer Torkelson had the best response of the day when asked about the fences:
“I didn’t think they were that far last year, but I guess they were,” he said.
ASU will open the season on February 15 at 6:30 p.m. against Notre Dame.