PHOENIX - After a disappointing 2022 season, the Arizona State Sun Devils have turned the page towards 2023, where they are hopeful a plethora of transfers and some key returners can propel them back to prominence in the Pac-12.
On Thursday, second-year manager Willie Bloomquist and others spoke to the media.
Here are House of Sparky’s four takeaways from Media Day:
Pitching once again a question mark, but there is confidence in staff’s depth
Questions surrounding the pitching staff were abundant entering last season, and it quickly became apparent that the staff would have its ups-and-downs.
The team posted a 6.76 ERA last season, worst in the Pac-12 by almost a full run.
From what he has seen so far this fall, pitching coach Sam Peraza says the difference is “night and day,” saying that there is a chance that there could be up to six or seven capable weekend starters on the staff.
“Those guys are pretty talented. We have a chance to be deep on the mound. We have a chance to run out true starters midweek,” Peraza said. “We’re truly excited. I think we have a chance to be pretty special and pretty good on the mound this season.”
Headlining the incoming pitching transfers is Ross Dunn, a lefty who spent his last two seasons at Florida State. With team USA this summer, he posted 3.1 scoreless innings against Curaçao, striking out six and not allowing a hit.
Peraza is impressed by his work ethic, describing him as a perfectionist.
“He has a chance to anchor our staff,” Peraza said. “And if he anchors our staff and we can get (Khristian) Curtis back healthy, like I said we have a lot of things to be excited about.”
Coming from Texas A&M, Curtis only made five starts, but posted a 1.42 ERA across 19 innings, showing flashes of being a staple in a weekend rotation.
Peraza also mentioned Timmy Manning from Florida, freshmen Austin Humphres and Stephen Hernandez and redshirt junior Danny Marshall, who Peraza says looks better than he’s ever seen before.
“It’s amazing what competition does,” he said.
Although they are entering the season with similar questions to last season, the Devils seem confident that they have more answers entering this spring.
Bloomquist building on what he learned in his first year
No one expected Bloomquist’s first season to be without its share of bumps. After all, there is a learning curve for leading a Division I program.
Heading into year two, Bloomquist feels he is more comfortable in the position, having a better understanding of the process and day-to-day feel.
“Me having a better idea of what to expect is certainly a lot better,” Bloomquist said. “Last year, every new day was a first for me. This year, having that general idea of what to expect moving forward has certainly been helpful.”
He also mentioned that he is working on spending more time with his players this season, hoping to get to know them more to better understand them as players and people.
“I need to do a better job of figuring out ways to spend time with the players individually, just to learn them a little bit better and understand what makes them tick,” Bloomquist said. “I think that can go a long way and that‘s something I’ve got to do a better job of.
“It’s a matter of being able to communicate better… and learning from my mistakes last year, too, which is a big thing,” Bloomquist said.
With a roster full of new faces, Bloomquist is better adapted to tackle challenges he faces this season with a year under his belt.
Transfers bring depth and athleticism
It’s not just the pitching staff that brought in talent, as the entire Sun Devil roster received a much-needed infusion. Baseball America ranks the transfer class as second in the nation, behind only LSU.
Headlining the position players is Luke Keaschall from San Francisco, a junior who hit .305 with eight home runs and stole 30 bases last season before earning All-League honors in the Cape Cod Baseball League this summer, his second straight summer on the Cape.
Keaschall has played all around the diamond, and could potentially fill in a middle infield spot, something that Bloomquist noted was another team priority, alongside the pitching staff.
With Sean McLain being drafted and Hunter Haas leaving in the transfer portal, Bloomquist said that there is a number of players, freshman and veterans, who could step up to fill those roles.
“We’re covered on both ends with the experience, the youth and athleticism,” Bloomquist said. “It’s just a matter of who’s going to step up and take that job.”
“It’s a healthy competition and it’s nice to have a little bit of depth.”
Ethan Long emerging as clubhouse leader
After earning First Team Freshman All-America honors in 2021, junior infielder Ethan Long struggled at times in 2022, partially due to a wrist injury that held his bat out of the lineup for the final month of the season.
Over 143 at-bats, Long still was able to hit .294 with seven long balls, 28 runs batted in, and an OPS of 1.027. He was drafted with the last pick of the 2022 MLB Draft, 616th overall by the San Francisco Giants.
Getting back to his usual routine after surgery in June, ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ is focused on his junior season, using the moniker not only for jokes, but for motivation as well.
“It’s definitely some motivation,” Long said. “But at the same time it’s just… it’s not so much proving people wrong, it’s just proving myself right and proving that people that believe in me right, that’s kind of what I’m banking on.”
Bloomquist said he’s asking Long to take on more of a leadership role this season, something he said Long is taking in stride.
“He’s back here for a reason, and has things to prove still,” Bloomquist said.
Long is taking the approach that actions speak louder than words, hoping to lead by example and help instill the culture that Bloomquist is building.
“I just try to prove to everybody that when I’m out here, I’m gonna play as hard as I can. You guys should too,” Long said. “You obviously need some rah-rah guys, but at the same time they’ll back it up with their actions.”