Shortly before Friday’s series opener against Utah, ASU Baseball head coach Willie Bloomquist approached Nate Baez with some news: Baez would be hitting cleanup that night. When Bloomquist saw Baez’s smile, the first-year Sun Devils’ head coach knew that his redshirt sophomore utility player was in for a good night.
The lineup change worked—ASU, losers of five straight heading into Friday night, scored 19 runs in a curb-stomping of Utah and would go on to sweep the Utes. Baez homered twice on Friday, added another home run on Sunday, and finished the weekend 8-for-14 with 8 RBIs, earning himself Pac-12 Player of the Week honors on Monday.
Even before his outburst this weekend, Baez had quietly become one of the Sun Devils’ more consistent hitters and, in the wake of several injuries, one of their most important players. After starting the season as ASU’s primary catcher, Baez has played both corner outfield positions as well as second and third base, due in part to the emergence of freshman catcher Ryan Campos and the limited availability of veteran infielders Hunter Haas and Ethan Long.
Bloomquist, a former utility player himself for much of his Major League Baseball career, has praised Baez several times recently for his ability to move around the diamond and remain so dangerous at the plate.
“He’s hitting .350 and playing four or five positions,” Bloomquist said after Friday’s blowout victory. “I know from experience that’s not easy to do. With the way that we’re limping a little bit as far as the health department, he’s so valuable because he’s able to give us flexibility and play all those positions and be adequate at them all.”
Baez now currently leads the Sun Devils in batting average (.341), OPS (1.024) and RBI (42). With five home runs in his past five games, Baez now has nine on the season. He is quickly bearing down on fellow redshirt sophomore Joe Lampe, who has led the team in homers for virtually the entire year and currently has 10. Baez has also recorded a hit in 10 of his last 12 games.
ASU scored 38 runs during their three-game sweep of Utah, and Baez started at cleanup all three games. With Long still out and the team’s normal cleanup hitter, senior Conor Davis, limited to a designated hitter role due to a strained hamstring, it’s likely that Baez will continue to see time in that spot going forward as the Sun Devils head into the home stretch of the regular season before the Pac-12 tournament on May 25.
“I’m not gonna try and do anything more than what I’ve been doing all year,” Baez said on Sunday. “It’s still the same approach and same just mentality I’ve had all year, I’m just hitting in a different spot.”
Baez joins Long and sophomore shortstop Sean McLain as Sun Devils who have won Pac-12 Player of the Week this season. Junior Adam Tulloch also won Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week back in March.