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ASU Baseball: Tabling four Cronkite Sports writers for 2016 predictions

Happy Opening Day!

Like Presidents Day, today is not considered a public holiday.

That’s okay though because our baseball coverage team here at cronkitesports.com has a gift to lift your spirits. Seven free-response questions, 10 end-of-season awards and four contributors to culminate in our 2016 Arizona State baseball roundtable. Let’s have some fun…

Of the biggest question marks—the pitching staff and the outfield—which is most likely to become a strength by season’s end and which one is most likely to become a definite weakness?

Jacob Garcia: Neither will become definite weaknesses, but the outfield will prosper in a way the pitching staff doesn’t. You’ll see from subsequent sections that I’m all aboard the Hever Bueno hype train this season and Seth Martinez is a very acceptable Saturday night guy. But the coaching staff is going to have fits trying to piece together innings on Sunday’s, and midweek games will be even more stressful. The outfield has a mixture of freshman with upside (Gage Canning and Tyler Williams), sophomores who will be looking to continue the second-year breakout trend to which ASU has become accustomed (Andrew Shaps, Ryan Lillard and Coltin Gerhart) and guys with experience as well (JC transfer Daniel Williams and Brian Serven who will see a few starts in left field to save his knees). Because of this, ASU should be well equipped to handle the mass exodus that last season brought to its outfield.

Dominic Cotroneo: The outfield will blossom in their new roles because there’s plenty of competition there. Yes there is some on the pitching staff, but as Tracy Smith has said he is disappointed that no one has jumped out and grabbed that third starter role. With so many talented players in the outfield, I see their season going much smoother than the pitching staff.

Jacob Janower: The outfield is definitely more likely to become a strength. Gage Canning looks like a star in the making and Andrew Shaps has a solid bat and his range has been lauded by the coaching staff. Both Daniel and Tyler Williams have shown potential in preseason scrimmages, and it isn’t unreasonable that one or both will blossom into an everyday starter. I still have strong doubts about the pitching staff. The projected Friday guy, Hever Bueno has had his potential continually mentioned by Tracy Smith, but his 7.88 ERA last season does nothing to raise hopes. Seth Martinez, the other lock, has been solid in his first two seasons, but has yet to take the next step. If he finally does that this season, Smith can feel a bit more confident in his weekend rotation. Outside of those two, the other options are bleak. Sunday starters Reagan Todd and Grant Schneider have both struggled in the preseason and lack experience. Injuries to Shaps and Ryan Hingst have put the bullpen in peril, at least for the early part of the season. Smith will have to work some magic if he wants his pitching staff to succeed.

Bobby Kraus: I think the outfield will be the weaker of the two. The outfield is going to be a combination of inexperienced freshmen and sophomores, along with possibly a JUCO transfer playing NCAA baseball for the first time should Daniel Williams be named one of the starters. The rotation will have two juniors with a good amount of pitching experience in Seth Martinez and Hever Bueno, and they have the potential to be good enough to make up for whatever trouble the undecided Sunday starter could run into.

If you were Tracy Smith, what would be your Opening Day lineup? How does this differ from the one you think Smith actually puts out?

JG:

My lineup would be…

  1. Gage Canning CF
  2. Daniel Williams LF
  3. David Greer 1B
  4. Colby Woodmansee SS
  5. Brian Serven C
  6. Sebastian Zawada DH
  7. Andrew Shaps RF
  8. Andrew Snow 2B
  9. Jordan Aboites 3B

This differs from the one I think Skip actually puts out in a few ways. First, I’ll bet he bats Shaps second and Williams seventh. I’ve just been more impressed by Williams, hence why he’s higher in my order. I also think Woodmansee will likely bat third, Serven cleanup and Greer fifth in Smith’s lineup. It’s an irrelevant thing to argue about since lineup construction really doesn’t matter as much as people think it does, but Greer has convinced me he’s the best pure hitter on the team so he’s third in my lineup. Lastly, Skip likes Shaps in center and Canning in right. If it were up to me I’d flip them, but I’m not a baseball coach so I’ll leave it to the expert.

DC:

  1. Gage Canning RF
  2. Daniel Williams LF
  3. Colby Woodmansee SS
  4. Brian Serven C
  5. David Greer 1B
  6. Sebastian Zawada DH
  7. Andrew Snow 2B
  8. Andrew Shaps CF
  9. Jordan Aboites 3B

I really believe this is the lineup Skip wants to roll out but it’s all dependent on the health of Shaps’ arm. He began his outfield throwing program last week but still wouldn’t throw in the open house scrimmage. If he’s unable to go, I’d slide Canning into center, and Coltin Gerhart in right batting seventh.

JJ:

  1. Canning CF
  2. Shaps RF
  3. Colby Woodmansee SS
  4. Brian Serven C
  5. David Greer 1B
  6. Ryan Lillard DH
  7. Tyler Williams LF
  8. Andrew Snow 2B
  9. Jordan Aboites 3B

The one big difference between mine and what I think Smith’s lineup will be is that Sebastian Zawada, not Lillard, will start at DH. Based off of recent interviews, Smith seems to be leaning towards the JC transfer. It is also likely that Shaps will be in center field while Canning will be in right field. While the two are almost interchangeable defensively, it seems to me that Canning is a more natural center fielder and would fit best there. It also seems to be a toss-up between Daniel and Tyler Williams for the Opening Day left fielder spot, but Daniel seems to have the edge as of now, according to the coaching staff. I would choose Tyler based off of his potential.

BK:

  1. Canning CF
  2. Greer 1B
  3. Woody SS
  4. Serven C
  5. D. Williams LF
  6. Zawada DH
  7. Snow 2B
  8. Aboites 3B
  9. Gerhart RF

How I think this will differ from Smith’s lineup is that Andrew Shaps seems like he will be the starting center fielder, with Canning playing one of the corner spots. I like Canning leading off and playing center because his dynamic speed lends himself to being able to cover the gaps at Phoenix Muni and run the bases better than Shaps and he has the arm to go with his legs. Plus, with Shaps seemingly being the replacement for Ryan Burr at closer, it would help the flow of the lineup if Shaps wasn’t constantly having to be replaced in center field during close games to come in and pitch.

Which pitcher gets the most Sunday starts this season and why?

JG: Eder Erives is the most polished pitcher in question. The most convenient way to structure the rotation would thus be to make him the Sunday starter and make it a non-question. Tracy Smith isn’t simplistic though—and I applaud him for that—and I think he sees a creative way to maximize Erives in a non-starter role and still get him as many innings. So, I say Grant Schneider makes the most Sunday starts, which may end up being a hollow title to have, given that Erives will probably end up throwing the most Sunday innings (and meaningful innings too, given he’ll be throwing later in the game).

DC: Grant Schneider for his repertoire of pitches. He has four pitches he can throw for strikes, but needs work locating them in the proper spots. He left quite a few up in the open house scrimmage but his fastball velocity was encouraging (90-93 MPH). I think Schneider will get a start during the five games in five days, then not let go. Don’t forget about Ryan Hingst once he gets healthy as well.

JJ: I am going to go out on a limb and say freshman Fitz Stadler. With Schneider and Todd as question marks, Smith may opt for the pitcher with the most potential, which is Stadler. If he can straighten out some of the command issues that have been plaguing him, he could be a bonafide starting pitcher for the Sun Devils.

BK: Grant Schneider, because I think there is potential for him to get some early confidence in starts against weaker non-conference opponents and carry that over to conference play along with the fact he won’t need to be spectacular with such a potent offense.

How will the bullpen eventually shake out? What are individual roles going to look like?

JG: Shaps won’t see the bump for a while, but nevertheless he should still make a run at leading the team in saves. Until then, the job will likely Eric Melbostad’s to lose. Expect Erives to be last year’s Darin Gillies. Smith will do everything in his power to save the bulk of his workload for Sunday’s, when he’ll need him most given the uncertainty of the starting pitchers, but he’ll still appear sporadically on Friday’s and Saturday’s to record meaningful outs. He’s the best bullpen arm ASU has this year. Aside from them, it’s anyone’s guess how the other innings are divvied out. It’ll be some mix of Eli Lingos, Reagan Todd, Tucker Baca, James Ryan and Ryan Hingst.

DC: Again, dependent on Shaps’s health, he should be the closer. However he won’t begin the season in that role due to his arm. I think the closing role will belong to Eder Erives to start the year, with Eric Melbostad as the bridge from starters to set up men. Once Shaps returns to pitching, he will close and Erives will serve as the bridge with Melbostad.

JJ: Smith will likely devote a good portion of non-conference play towards figuring out the individual roles in the bullpen. While he may not be ready for Opening Day because of injury issues, Shaps will eventually make his way into the closer role. There are various guys that can be used as setup men, but I think Smith will stick with experience, at least for the early part of the season, and insert Aboites and Eric Melbostad to precede Shaps. Eder Erives will likely be the long reliever, while Tucker Baca may get some time as a lefty specialist. Ryan Hingst and James Ryan, along with Schneider and Todd if neither earns the Sunday role, should see a lot of time as middle relievers.

BK: I believe Eder Erives will mold into the true setup man for Smith, with Tucker Baca being used in late-inning situations as well, but mostly as a situational lefty. Eric Melbostad will find himself in the mid-inning role, and I think Reagan Todd will slide into the long reliever role.

Which series are you looking forward to most?

JG: April 15-17 against Cal. Mark it on your calendars because this is going to be a fun series. The first two games are televised on the Pac-12 Network and the third one will be a web stream. Cal is everyone’s sleeper pick to make a run at Omaha since they return practically everyone from a season ago. A lot of that may be because of recency bias so I won’t go that far, but they do have some very entertaining players.

DC: In non-conference it’s obviously going to be the Cal State Fullerton series. I’ll throw in the Oregon State series in Corvalis as one I’m looking most forward to. Not only is it the opener to Pac-12 play, it could be the first time we actually see what this team is capable of. Oregon State was a couple errors and pitches away from sweeping the series last year instead of dropping two of three. The Beavers are dangerous again but ASU has won the last two series against the Beavers.

JJ: The series I am looking forward to the most would be the three game set against Oregon State in Corvallis from March 18-20. The Beavers are the preseason favorite to win the Pac-12, and being that this is the first conference series for ASU, the Sun Devils will have a chance the make their mark in the early stages of Pac-12 play.

BK: Cal State Fullerton, especially being at Goodwin Field with the rematch of the 14-inning regional loss from last season sure to provide a little extra excitement for a non-conference mid-week series.

Will ASU eclipse 30 wins for the 54th season in a row? Will ASU finish with a better record than they did last year?

JG: Yes and yes. An easier non-conference schedule will certainly aid them in this pursuit, but there’s more to my justification as to why they’ll finish with a better record than last year. While I won’t call this team “all hit, no pitch” I think it’s safe to say it’s a less balanced team than last year. That’s okay. Historically, teams that play in extreme parks (one’s that either favor hitters or pitchers drastically) are more successful if the team is one-sided too. The teams become even more successful when they excel at what the home park suppresses. Conveniently enough, ASU looks loaded offensively this year and Phoenix Muni is an extreme pitcher’s park. This will benefit them. If this seems like a really detailed point, you’re right. Dealing with a sport like baseball—filled with randomness everywhere you look—requires you to look at things like the influence of a home ballpark.

DC: Yes and no. I see a .500 Pac-12 season, but a strong non-conference record will carry them to another 30 win season. It’s going to be close, though. A 16-9 record against everyone outside of the Pac will result in a 31-24 overall record.

JJ: The Sun Devils will once again eclipse 30 wins, mostly due to an easy non-conference schedule, especially compared to last season. As far as whether they will finish with a better record than last year, I think it is unlikely. There are just too many question marks with this team right now, from the outfield to the rotation to the bullpen.

BK: Yes, because the non-conference schedule is easy enough for the team to pile up enough wins where they will only need to be average in a very good conference to get to the 30-win plateau. I think they will finish with a better record than 2015 largely because of their non-conference success.

One bold prediction

JG: As much as I like Jordan Aboites as a person and as much as I would love to have him as a teammate, I don’t think he makes it through the season as the team’s everyday third baseman. It’s true, he’s elite defensively. But being elite defensively at third base doesn’t impact the game as much as being elite at shortstop or in center field, for example. His bat will be too big of a liability to continue to justify slotting him there day in and day out. Greer will slide back over to third; Zawada or Lillard will slide to first and the other will be the DH.

DC: ASU makes it to a super regional this season.

JJ: The Sun Devils will once again eclipse 30 wins, mostly due to an easy non-conference schedule, especially compared to last season. As far as whether they will finish with a better record than last year, I think it is unlikely. There are just too many question marks with this team right now, from the outfield to the rotation to the bullpen.

BK: Sun Devils finish in the top 4 of the conference

Offensive MVP

JG: David Greer

DC: Brian Serven

JJ: Colby Woodmansee

BK: Colby Woodmansee

Pitching Staff MVP

JG: Hever Bueno

DC: Eder Erives

JJ: Seth Martinez

BK: Hever Bueno

Super Reliever Award

JG: Eder Erives

DC: Eder Erives

JJ: Eder Erives

BK: Tucker Baca

Home run leader

JG: Brian Serven

DC: Sebastian Zawada

JJ: Brian Serven

BK: Brian Serven

Walks drawn leader

JG: Colby Woodmansee

DC: Gage Canning

JJ: Gage Canning

BK: Colby Woodmansee

Strikeout leader

JG: Hever Bueno

DC: Seth Martinez

JJ: Hever Bueno

BK: Hever Bueno

Saves Leader

JG: Andrew Shaps

DC: Andrew Shaps

JJ: Andrew Shaps

BK: Andrew Shaps

Sophomore breakout

JG: Ryan Lillard

DC: Grant Schneider

JJ: Andrew Shaps

BK: Coltin Gerhart

Freshman phenom

JG: Gage Canning

DC: Gage Canning

JJ: Gage Canning

BK: Gage Canning

Highest Sun Devil drafted in 2016 MLB Draft

JG: Hever Bueno

DC: Colby Woodmansee (5th round or sooner)

JJ: Colby Woodmansee

BK: Colby Woodmansee

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