PHOENIX - Like any common person, Arizona State Baseball head coach Willie Bloomquist will have season-opening jitters on the night before the first game of the year.
“You start playing different scenarios out in your mind,” he said. “Sometimes (I) wake up for a second, (and) my mind immediately starts going. It’s tough for me to go back to sleep when that happens. Hopefully, I’ll wear myself out and get a nice big workout or something before I go to sleep.”
First-baseman Ethan Long holds a better poker face than his head coach.
“I’ll sleep like a baby,” Long said.
He has reasons to be this collected after a strong fall and an even better spring. Bloomquist, on the other hand, is within 48 hours of watching a team, one that he spent countless hours manufacturing, unfold for the first time.
Bloomquist and his staff attacked the transfer portal and obtained Baseball America’s No. 2 transfer class in the nation this offseason. A large chunk of that group will start, or receive quality innings, in this weekend’s series against San Diego State.
So folks, don’t hold back on grabbing a game program when you walk into Phoenix Municipal Stadium. There will be a lot of players about whom to learn. The ones that are familiar may have a new number too. It’s worth it.
Limited-viewing of the new-look rotation
All three expected-starters for ASU this weekend are inbound-transfers, with a fourth expected to get quality innings in relief. Pitching coach Same Peraza said that all the starters will be on a limit of about 45 pitches. That total will increase by about 10 pitches every weekend for the first month.
Florida State-transfer Ross Dunn headlines the pitchers who transferred into the program, and he will be the opening-night starter Friday. Dunn, a left-hander, threw just over 12 innings as a freshman for the Seminoles in 2021 on a 2.13 ERA. Last season, he threw 48 innings, striking out 77 to the tune of a 4.88 ERA. He was the No. 2 overall-prospect coming out of Utah in 2020.
Khristian Curtis, the expected Saturday starter, transferred to ASU from Texas A&M. Curtis found limited success in College Station, but Tommy John surgery stamped an asterisk next to his name and slowed any momentum he established. In 19 innings, he threw to a 1.42 ERA and a 2-0 record.
A look at Khristian Curtis’ changeup here facing Ethan Long. Filthy offering.— Cole Bradley (@colebradley01) February 11, 2023
Ryan Campos called it the nastiest pitch on the team. pic.twitter.com/mPdlZas8LR
Timmy Manning is another lefty-transfer, and he will anchor the rotation with the start on Sunday. Manning, a Florida-transfer, is a craftier pitcher who will be the first to admit he does not light-up the radar gun.
Peraza said that San Francisco-transfer Owen Stevenson is also viewed as a weekend-starter within the program. Stevenson will relieve Dunn on Friday, assuming Dunn does not exit mid-inning. Peraza said that he wants to start Stevenson on a “clean” inning with no baserunners.
“We haven’t had guys that have this type of ability to punch guys out, or just to get themselves out of trouble and just beat bats,” Persza said.
Eastern Illinois-transfer Jesse Wainscott will be the first option at closer, with junior Brock Peery also available to finish games, per Peraza.
The best hitters early-on may be recognizable, one way or another
Long, catcher Ryan Campos and first-baseman/designated-hitter Jacob Tobias are the sure-fire highlights of the returning-starters offensively. The three combined for a .310 batting-average, 28 doubles and 16 homers last season.
Expect Long and Campos to be in the lineup on a daily basis, with Tobias filling-in at first base and Long sliding to DH on occasion.
Headlining the transfers is former San Francisco Don Luke Keaschall, the 2021 WCC Co-Freshman of the Year, and more recently, a First-Team All-Cape player in the Cape Cod Baseball League over the summer. Keaschall, a shortstop, will share double-play duties with Arkansas-transfer Drake Varnado and freshman Luke Hill.
Perhaps no transfer is more fired-up to be a Sun Devil than Nick McLain, the younger-brother of former ASU second baseman Sean McLain, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in last year’s draft. Nick McLain, who comes to Tempe from UCLA, was the No. 3 outfielder in California coming out of high school. He has shown the power to supply the long-ball in spring scrimmages.
A much-needed reload in high-school recruiting
Last year, Bloomquist and Peraza had almost no first-year players that could pitch meaningful innings. Luckily on offense, Campos and Tobias established a foundation on which to build, but the freshman-class was relatively weak compared to its conference counterparts.
After a full-year to make his own mark in recruiting, Bloomquist’s 2023 freshman-class will likely be a step up from last year.
Outfielder Isaiah Jackson is the crown jewel of the class. Jackson will start Friday night, and he carries five tools, and he will be under a microscope from the jump. The previously-mentioned Hill and third-baseman Nu’u Contrades could make half the Sun Devil infield freshmen on opening-night.
2022 OF Isaiah Jackson (@tucsonchamps / @ASU_Baseball commit) Large frame, athletic build. Hits from narrow, slightly open stance. Utilizes toe tap in gathered load. Drives this ball way over RF for HR. @PBRTournaments @PBRArizona @Jackson_Isaiah6 pic.twitter.com/Nyr3h1uVLE— PBR Arizona (@PBRArizona) June 13, 2021
In the bullpen, Peraza has freshmen Stephen Hernandez, Brandon Compton, Austin Humphres, Reese Beheler, and Ryan Hanks at his disposal.