(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
The goal for Tracy Smith and Arizona State baseball every season is simple: Win a national championship.
Of course, how attainable that goal is fluctuates on a season by season basis–a lot of the times by factors that are out of the head coach’s control. Smith is trying to build something special at ASU, and it’s only fair to acknowledge there could be some growing pains along the way.
The team is dealing with turnover at five key positional spots heading into 2016, including all three outfielders and two weekend starters, not to mention needing to find a new closer and filling in other bullpen roles.
With so much uncertainty yet to be decided before Opening Night on Feb. 19, even Smith himself doesn’t know yet if his team will reach or exceed the level of success from 2015, or if they will struggle through a rebuilding year waiting for freshmen and sophomores to hit their stride in key positions.
“I’m anxious to see us when we play,” Smith said. “I think you got to be good, but you also got to be tough and do stuff at the right time. I think we’re good, I think we got talent in that locker room, but now let’s see what kind of character and what kind of identity we have on this team.”
Even with the amount of positional shakeup the team is going through, Smith can still rely on the fact that he has highly-touted upperclassmen set to guide the team through 2016, most notably Colby Woodmansee and Brian Serven.
Smith has one thing he wants to see on a nightly basis from Woodmansee offensively–something that he believes will lead to success for the team.
“Just the consistency of the at bats because he’s going to be a middle of the order bat. We’re going to need him to drive runners in, which he had the knack for the big hit last year so hopefully he continues to do that,” Smith said.
Having been named a preseason first-team All-American by Perfect Game USA and coming off a season where he batted .308 with 44 RBI, Woodmansee wants to keep his mindset as similar as possible to try to replicate his successful sophomore season.
“I feel like I was the same last year. I was hitting in the three hole, I’m sure I’m going to hit third or fourth probably (this season),” Woodmansee said. “I’ll keep the same approach, maybe add a little leg kick for a little more power.”
Serven, who’s coming off a productive sophomore season in his own right (.294 batting average, as well as leading the club in home runs with six), will join Woodmansee in the middle of the Sun Devil lineup.
The junior catcher has been a regular starter behind the plate since his freshman year, and this season could experience a boost in his steadily rising draft stock. That said, he’s already been named the 93rd-best prospect nationally by D1Baseball.com
“Last year was good, but you can always be better. I just worked on getting stronger this year, and really getting a better approach at the plate,” Serven said. “There were good and bad times last year, but I’m really trying to limit the bad times this year.”
Naturally, the veterans will not be able to shoulder the load alone. There will be inexperienced freshmen and sophomores that will be sliding into key starting roles, such as potential outfielders in freshman Gage Canning or sophomore Coltin Gerhart, along with sophomore Andrew Shaps who could become the team’s new closer. They all may have to learn on the fly if ASU is going to have a serious chance to contend in a conference with six teams ranked among the top-25 nationally.
Right now though, Smith is only focused on growing his team as best he can with the players and talent that he has.
“I’m not going to be sitting out here predicting Omaha or any of that stuff,” Smith said. “What we’re focused on right now is getting one day better every single time out.”