(Photo: Blaine McCormick/WCSN)
Following Saturday night’s 13-8 loss to No. 14 Stanford, Arizona State head coach Tracy Smith took the time to point out that a baseball game had just been played at Phoenix Muni, simply because none of the focus seemed to be on the Sun Devils’ 24th loss of the season.
Instead, Smith talked about the player personnel decisions that he has made over the course of the past two days. Specifically, why he felt that it was best for the program to move on from junior outfielder Andrew Shaps and what led to the losses of four other players – Ryan Lillard, Zach Dixon, Chris Isbell and Jackson Willeford.
Smith mentioned that many factors came into play, however, he continued to come back to the notion that he wanted to make sure the players knew where they stood within the program. At that point, he said that the players made a decision about their futures at Arizona State.
“If a kid wants to know where he stands, I feel that it’s my responsibility, as a head coach, to give your honest assessment,” Smith said. “I’m a parent of athletes, Division I athletes, that’s all I would want. Tell me where my kid stands because then you can make a decisions based on that information whether I like where I am, I like my current situation, or, it doesn’t sound good for me, I’ve got find something else better.”
When it came to the dismissal of Shaps, the former ASU outfielder said he was released for “failing to buy into team culture” via his Twitter account.
— Andrew Shaps (@ashaps08) May 7, 2017
While he was mum on the topic of Shaps and his rationale, Smith defended the move following the game.
“We made a decision,” Smith said. “We stand by it and we’re moving forward.”
In terms of his team’s performance on the field in Saturday’s game, Smith didn’t dismiss the idea that his team lacked focus in spurts due to the aforementioned personnel moves.
Smith elected to pull freshman shortstop Carter Aldrete early in the game in favor of Andrew Snow. He shared that the move wasn’t due to injury, but due to a lack of effort.
What that lack of effort was fueled by, Smith didn’t disclose.
“There are teachable moments all throughout the game, it goes back to expectations of playing hard,” Smith said. “He maybe wasn’t doing exactly what he was supposed to do, we addressed it. We’re different than football and basketball, you know, if you’re going to pull a guy out you can sit there and talk to him, make your point, then you can send him back in, unfortunately, in baseball, we can’t do that.”
Furthermore, the departures have opened up the opportunity for Smith to identify other leaders within his locker room. While he pointed out sophomore Cage Canning – who continued to build on a stellar sophomore campaign with his fifth home run of the season in a 1-for-4 effort on Saturday – as someone he expects to step up in that regard, he also mentioned tonight’s starting pitcher Eli Lingos as someone who impressed him.
Lingos was shelled to the tune of five runs – eight earned – and seven hits over two innings in a poor showing. Still, he remained active in the dugout with his teammates.
“It’s easy when things are going well to be vocal and to be a leader and I look at a guy like that, rough start, very rough start, but he’s the rest of the game, cheering on his teammates and encouraging them,” Smith said. “I like to see that.”
The combination of the player moves coupled with the team’s current state in terms of record also gives Smith the opportunity to plug new players in at different positions and get a feel for what his future teams will look like with minimal ramifications.
Tonight, Smith elected to move Gage Canning to centerfield – something he anticipates becoming permanent in the near future – and started freshman Myles Denson for only the seventh time this season in right field.
Denson turned in a 1-for-4 performance at the plate and didn’t commit any errors. Still, Smith is excited about the opportunity to move guys around and get different looks over the season’s remaining slate of games.
He mentioned tonight’s starting second baseman Taylor Lane as someone he wants to see in the outfield.
“We love the way Taylor swings the bat,” Smith said. “If we don’t get wiped out in the draft, our infield, I think, will look drastically different next year, we may take a look at Taylor even in the outfield too because if he’s around and doesn’t move onto the draft, that’s probably where he’s going to play for us in the future.”
Given all of the circumstances that came with Saturday’s decisions and the moves that have been made over the past couple of days, Smith still maintains that the team is in a good place and the program is on track.
He also claims that neither himself nor Vice President for University Athletics Ray Anderson are surprised by the course this season has taken.
“I think a lot of people think that all of a sudden [the poor season] just happened,” Smith said. “These are things that, quite frankly, we talked about my first year on the job, of when we thought a dip might happen, I’m very fortunate, not only do I have a direct report to Ray, I have three sport administrators that have all been involved in athletics that I report to and keep very informed on every bit of what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, how we’re systematically going through it.
“When you’re walking onto the diamond and you’ve got fans booing you or whatever, it’s a little tough to hear, but you know what, the people that I have to report to, that matter the most to me, outside of those guys in that locker room, they’re informed and they know what’s going on.”
As one of those guys inside the locker room, Lane feels that the team is ready to move past everything that has happened.
He also still has faith in the direction of the program.
“There’s a lot of good things happening,” Lane said. “It hasn’t happened so far, but we need to keep pushing, having positive interactions with each other, believing in the guys that we have and move on.”