TEMPE, Ariz. — In a disappointing finish to Willie Bloomquist’s second year as head coach, significant strides were made to a storied program looking to regain national attraction and post season prowess. But, the harsh realities fell onto the shoulders of the Sun Devil alum and former All-American, as the team lost three of their remaining four Pac-12 series and nine of their last 12 regular season games, plummeting their Pac-12 tournament seeding and chances of an NCAA regional bid.
A controversial decision by the NCAA selection committee left ASU disappointed in shortcomings of not only the team’s play but also the committee’s decision to exclude the body of work that the Sun Devils possessed after the Pac-12 tournament.
“I was very disappointed in how that (the season) came to an end,” said Bloomquist. “I thought our boys deserved an opportunity to be in that postseason. I’m not going to get into the details of that selection, but I thought it was a little bit BS for lack of a better term.”
Bloomquist acknowledged the team’s responsibility to not leave the selection up for debate and left players with the message about making sure they play their best baseball at the end of the year, something that was echoed throughout the skipper’s sophomore campaign.
“You can’t leave anything up to chance in this game,” said Bloomquist. “We didn’t finish the way that we wanted to finish, but we still felt we did enough. But in the future, you have to finish the job. If you leave it to chance, you open the door for someone to screw you, and they did.”
Regardless of the decision and shortcomings of the squad, the sense of hunger has been felt by the players and staff as summer ball has commenced around the country.
“We’ll use it as motivation to move forward,” Bloomqusit said. “We’ve got to finish the job moving forward, that’s all there is to it, not leave it to chance.”
Eight Sun Devils were drafted in the 2023 MLB Draft at the beginning of July, a bitter-sweet feeling for Bloomqusit having to balance the bullpen, which saw all seven draft eligible pitchers leave for the draft or free-agent signings, with the prideful feelings of his players’ dreams becoming reality in the same avenue that Bloomquist experienced in 1999 when he got the call from Seattle.
Just as the summer months’ temperature began to rise, Sun Devil baseball news began to heat as well. The open transfer market began in NCAA Baseball and plucked another pool of talent from their original schools, ASU having five transfers headlined by junior first baseman Ethan Long and freshman shortstop Luke Hill.
Long, a career .313 hitter with over 100 hits including 21 doubles, 26 home runs and over 90 RBI’s, played an injury riddled three years in maroon and gold and cemented a professional baseball worthy resume while in Tempe. Long chose to enter the portal, perhaps for a new environment, after his junior year was limited to only 12 games and also included season ending wrist surgery. Instead, the Gilbert, Ariz., native chose to sign a professional contract with the Padres organization after becoming eligible by age.
Hill, a freshman from Baton Rouge, La., had an impactful freshman season, bursting onto the season and starting every game at shortstop. Batting .314 with 64 hits, 11 doubles, six home runs and 42 RBIs, Hill was set to be a cornerstone of Bloomquist’s middle infield, pairing with fellow freshman third baseman Nu’u Contrades on the left side.
Transfer news: Standout Freshman SS Luke Hill has entered the transfer portal. Hill had an excellent freshman season in which he hit .314 with 11 2B and 6 HR. He held down SS all spring where he showed off his AA defensive ability. Day 1 upside in 2025. pic.twitter.com/eTbHf2Cdtz— Peter Flaherty III (@PeterGFlaherty) July 13, 2023
According to Bloomqusit, Hill’s decision to enter the transfer portal was unexpected to the team and staff. Hill’s name appeared in the transfer portal on the last eligible day, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of Bloomquist and company.
In fact, Bloomqusit spoke quite bluntly of the situation from ASU’s end.
“Matter of fact, a lot of them (players) think we’re going to be much better without him (Hill), minus the attitude that at times showed its head with him,” Bloomquist said.
“Based on the response from our players, they aren’t in the same category as Luke Hill,” Bloomquist said. “I say that with the respect to our players. I know they’re makeup and they were not happy with how it went down. Not with the fact that he’s (Hill) gone, not the fact that he transferred, just how it went down.”
Entering Bloomqusit’s third year, his confidence with the returning players he has managed to keep is high, especially considering the amount of turnover not only ASU has faced in the past few seasons but the amount of turnover nearly every college baseball program now faces with NIL incentive based transfers and the assembly of cherry picked teams, especially in the South. Bloomquist has trust in his returning players, something that is becoming more rare as the college athletic landscape has begun to shift.
Since the implementation of NIL in college athletics in 2021, it has become harder to establish a culture around a college sports program, especially one with such a rich history in the development of the popularity of the sport, such as Arizona State had with college baseball. Now, a program trying to evolve with the times is led by a coach that is well aware of the slippery slope of NIL.
“Sensitive topic…in general, I think it’s (NIL) going to destroy college baseball and college sports just because there’s no cap on it, it can’t be regulated,” said Bloomquist. “It’s getting to the point where it’s out of hand and people are offering players behind others programs’ backs, it’s turning ugly.”
Bloomquist is familiar with the harsh realities of NIL and the implications it carries for a program like ASU. The difficult part is going to be the regulation and enforcement of the rules, Bloomquist said. It would be naive of the 13-year MLB veteran, who is very much in tune with the college baseball landscape and will continue to be as the years pass, to pretend that transgressions due to NIL do not exist.
“There’s shifty, shady things going on all over the place that we’ve experienced first hand recently,” Bloomqusit said. “But at the end of the day, it’s going to turn into the Wild West if it hasn’t already. It’s only going to get worse.”
But Bloomqusit wasn’t shy about his support of the intentions of NIL either, as long as there’s transparency.
“Am I opposed to players getting paid? Absolutely not,” Bloomquist said. “I think for the amount of effort and time they put into this sport – to make some money— I have zero problem with that. But it’s turning into a very, very dirty, ugly business behind the scenes.”
With NIL being a major factor in offseason moves, Bloomquist has the difficult task of establishing and sustaining a culture with the uncertainty of players leaving so frequently. Without exceptional support from the university that is seen in other areas of the country such as the SEC, a sport like baseball is especially tasked with difficulties of roster retention.
Meanwhile, the MLB Amateur Draft was also moved to the back end of the summer months, leaving programs in scramble mode based on who signs a professional contract and who doesn’t, not being able to confidently fill out rosters until later in the summer, which affects recruiting due to the limited support from the university and NIL opportunity.
“You try to recruit the right type of kids with integrity, and try to build upon that front,” Bloomquist said. “At the same time, we’re (ASU) a university that has to try to raise some funds in order to retain our guys.”
But Bloomquist understands what could build a loyal and passionate program in Tempe once again, he is playing the cards he’s dealt for the time being.
“At the end of the day you try to recruit the type of kids to where they want to get better, they want to focus on the meat and potatoes of playing baseball and the NIL stuff is secondary,” Bloomquist said. “Does that mean you’re not going to get the blue chip, high-end players all the time? Probably. But at the end of the day we’re (ASU) not going to be able to compete with that anyway, we don’t have a million dollars per kid for NIL money.”
The student-athletes that are returning will have roles to fill, although Bloomquist feels confidence in his lineup again to produce this upcoming season. Players such as junior catcher Ryan Campos, junior infielder Jacob Tobias, sophomore outfielder Nick McClain, sophomore outfielder Isaiah Jackson and sophomore infielder Nu’u Contrades are all expected to once again be large contributors to the 2024 Sun Devil team.
With fall collegiate practices approaching quickly and summer Sun Devils contributing to small-town teams’ playoff runs, the recruiting train is returning back to the station that is Phoenix Muni with another group of talent.
“That’s what we’re going to try to do,” said Bloomqusit. “Try to build with those type of kids that really want to be here and be a part of Arizona State.”