It’s been 11 long months since ASU baseball took the field at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. With the season opener now just 10 days away, the Sun Devils are chomping at the bit to get started.
Coaches and players spoke on Tuesday in a Zoom style media day about the upcoming campaign.
On the Offensive Approach
Head coach Tracy Smith acknowledged that this year’s team will not be as dominant from a power standpoint as the 2019 and 2020 squads.
“It’s important that everyone knows their role. If you’re not a guy that’s going to hit the ball out of the ballpark, don’t go swinging out of your shoes every at-bat,” he said.
Losing Spencer Torkelson, one of the most prolific home run hitters in the history of college baseball, will certainly change the tune of an offense. However, the staff is still confident the team will be able to consistently score runs without the frequent aid of the long ball.
“We know we don’t have a Spencer Torkelson on this year’s team,” redshirt junior Hunter Jump said. “We’re focused on situational hitting, and old school small ball. I think that’s kind of the way college baseball should be played, it takes all nine guys in a lineup to make it go.”
On the Mound
Assistant coach Ben Greenspan referenced the pitching staff as a clear strength of this year’s team, mentioning Cooper Benson, Erik Tolman and Justin Fall as key contributors.
Smith was quick to agree, citing the success the pitching staff had last season prior to the season being cut short.
Right-hander Boyd Vander Kooi, along with the aforementioned names, will hold down the starting jobs with Benson starting the season as the Friday night ace.
“I think the confidence and morale within the pitching staff is as high as it’s ever been,” Tolman said. “I’m getting a little tired of facing the same guys in practice. We’re definitely ready to go.”
The bullpen provides more question marks. In the back end, Smith discussed his candidates for the closer role.
“We’ve got a number of guys with the stuff to be in that role, but none have that exact experience,” he said. “Justin Fall is capable, so is Cam Denny. (Freshman) Ethan Long hasn’t pitched a collegiate inning, but he could find himself in that role as well.”
If there’s no clear separation, the Sun Devils could be looking at a closer by committee approach in 2021.
Paying Tribute to Pedro Gomez
Like so many in the baseball world, Smith was a friend of ESPN’s Pedro Gomez, who passed away this past week. He spent over half of his time at the podium Tuesday talking about his memory, and the immense loss baseball has suffered.
Pedro Gomez was an incredible journalist. More importantly, he was a loving husband and father. Words cannot describe how I feel right now. I will miss my friend...— Tracy Smith (@ASUSkip) February 8, 2021
“It goes to show how random and fragile life can be,” Smith said. “Just this past weekend, my wife and I were spending time over at their house. I’m not a super emotional guy, but Pedro and I embraced as I left that night. It’s not something I normally do, but I’m sure glad I did.”
Smith talked about Gomez’s authentic love for the game, specifically his support for his sons in their careers in the game.
“When I first came here, his son was pitching at U of A. We’re neighbors so I would run into him a lot in the neighborhood. He was always so proud of his son Rio, and we were always able to joke with each other about the rivalry,” he said. “I really feel like the baseball world got robbed. His wife and kids got robbed of an amazing father and husband. It’s tragic.”