(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
At the end of every season, it’s almost inevitable for college baseball teams to have to overhaul at least one aspect of their game. For Arizona State in 2017, perhaps the biggest challenge awaiting them is finding out what their infield is going to look like.
It’s a mix of old and new blood for head coach Tracy Smith, with returners Andrew Snow and Jeremy McCuin combining with newcomers such as Carter Aldrete, Jackson Willeford, and Taylor Lane.
Ahead of Opening Day on February 17, taking into account Willeford being listed as questionable dealing with a hamstring injury, Smith said he sees the infield lining up as, “…Snow at third, McCuin right now at shortstop, Aldrete at second and then Lane at first.”
The most intriguing member of the group has to be Aldrete, as he is the only true freshman competing for playing time amongst any of the four positions. The Monterey, Calif. native wasn’t seen as the top infield recruit of this year’s class until Bo Bichette decided to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays. Nevertheless, Aldrete has tried to come into his first taste of college baseball just trying to learn as much as possible.
“I would say my transition has gone pretty smoothly. The guys on the team are great, they’re really accepting of all the freshmen, so it’s a lot of fun to just learn from all the great players that are older than me,” Aldrete said. “Being a freshman coming in, I’m just trying to help the team win any way I can.”
Aldrete seems to have already impressed the coaching staff enough to earn ample playing time to at least start the season, as Smith alluded to.
“He’s a talented player, there’s no denying that. But what he also is is he’s one of the hardest workers we have in the program,” Smith said. “That kid is here early every day, he stays late every day. We really started to see those results over the trip in the Dominican and certainly when we’ve gotten back here. I wish I could stand here and take a bunch of credit for it but I can’t. That’s him.”
It’s pretty safe to say that the one constant of the infield the entire season will be Snow, regardless of position. After being the primary second baseman his freshman and sophomore year he will be moving to the hot corner for his third time around.
Not only will Snow bring stability on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, the fact that he is the “elder statesman” strictly in terms of time at the program should be a big help with fresh faces at a lot of positions.
“You always have your own goals in mind as an individual, but those only go so far. As an upperclassman, you have to take on the leadership role and show [the newcomers] how to win,” Snow said.
The situation for the ASU infield shapes up nicely for 2017, with Snow, McCuin and Lane seemingly entrenched in their spots, and Aldrete potentially as a universal backup once Willeford gets healthy.
ASU will open the season on February 17 with a doubleheader against Northwestern at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. First pitch of Game one is scheduled for 2 P.M., with Game two to follow at 6:30.
Bobby Kraus is a baseball beat reporter for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network. You can follow him on Twitter @bobbykraus22