(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
Last season, Hever Bueno failed to build upon an encouraging freshman season.
While the infamous “sophomore slump” has seldom made an impact on Arizona State’s roster, Bueno would be considered an outlier after appearing in 14 games, throwing 16 innings and yielding one starting nod.
In that limited sample, Bueno posted a 7.88 ERA, the second-highest mark on the team, to go with 16 strikeouts. His biggest downfall – his command.
Bueno issued 12 walks on the season.
The script has since flipped and Bueno, now a D1 Baseball Top-100 prospect, is the team’s projected Friday night starter.
“His command is a lot better this year,” head coach Tracy Smith said. “He’s throwing multiple pitches in the strike zone. If he shows what he’s shown in the intrasquads (scrimmages) up to this point, he is a legitimate Friday night starter and one of the best pitchers in the country.”
Bueno pitched for the Madison Mallards of the Northwoods League over the summer. In eight appearances, he notched a 2.95 ERA to go with a 3-1 record.
It was in Wisconsin that Bueno added a new pitch to his arsenal, while shoring up another pitch in the process.
“I actually developed a curveball over the summer,” Bueno said. “Which has helped my slider also a bit, made it a little bit sharper. I can throw them strikes now a little bit too.”
For Bueno, Mallards’ coach Donnie Scott (a former second-round pick of the Texas Rangers) was instrumental in helping him become a more confident pitcher.
“He told me just believe in myself, you have the ability.” Bueno said. “He just gave me some leeway to get comfortable out on the mound.”
Two of last year’s three starting pitchers for ASU have departed for professional baseball. Alongside junior Seth Martinez, it will be up to Bueno to not only fill one of the team’s biggest voids, but to also grow into a leader of what is a very young roster.
Smith feels he is up for the challenge.
“Bueno has really, to me, made the most progress from last year to this year in terms of, you know, ‘It’s my turn,’” Smith said.
His teammates, like junior catcher Brian Serven, have also taken notice of his drastic improvement.
“He’s really turned it around,” Serven said. “I mean last year and his freshman year he had the stuff, obviously, but now he’s putting it all together. He looks really good; he’s got the stuff to be easily a Friday night guy.”
Coming into his junior season, Bueno has taken a monumental step from where he was at the end of last season. He’s molded into an anchor of a pitching staff undergoing a drastic makeover. Yet even with all of the recognition from Smith, his teammates and the national media, Bueno has said he won’t get caught up in the hype–after all, he has yet to pitch an inning in 2016.
He simply wants to do his job.
“I mean, it just kind of puts a chip on my shoulder to help my team out,” Bueno said. “I’m supposed to be the number one starter. I’m supposed to come out and set the tone for the weekend.”