(Photo: Nicholas Badders/WCSN)
How will the Sun Devils fare during their non-conference slate?
Nick Badders: 16 non-conference games to kick off the season. TCU and Cal State Fullerton will be tough series, but I don’t think the non-conference slate is all that hard. For the sake of conversation, I say they go 12-4.
Rob Werner: Arizona State produced the number one recruiting class in the nation and while the team is certainly young, it has an abundance of talent all around the diamond. While ASU will have to face some of the best teams in the nations in powerhouses such as TCU, Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton, I project them to compete well against those teams. While I think this young team may have their hiccups early on, the Sun Devils will finish 11-5 before they head into Pac-12 play.
Bobby Kraus: The Sun Devils definitely aren’t afraid of challenging themselves, as their non-conference schedule features juggernauts such as a road trip to unanimous No. 1 TCU, a two-game set at home against Cal State Fullerton, and a midweek home battle with Big 12 giant Oklahoma State. Overall, with 16 total non-conference games I’m picking ASU to go 11-5.
Where do you have ASU ranked in the Pac-12 to start the season?
NB: The Pac-12 is going to be good this year. Teams like Oregon State and Washington have a lot of good returners, plus Arizona almost won the whole thing last year. But all of these preseason rankings are on paper and baseball is a sport played on a grass and dirt field, not on paper. I’ll say fifth.
RW: To start this season, I have ASU ranked number four in the Pac-12. The conference is loaded with firepower, as is the case almost every year, with Oregon State ranked No. 8 in the nation, along with Arizona positioned at No. 14 and Washington sitting at No. 19 in the nation as ranked by College Sports Madness. The Sun Devils finished fifth in the conference standings last season but with the talent they received in their recruiting class and the depth of the pitching staff, this team is in position to do well in the talent-filled Pac-12.
BK: 4th, behind Oregon State, Arizona and Stanford, respectively. Oregon State appears to be reloaded and as dangerous as ever, Arizona is fresh off their heartbreaking College World Series loss to Coastal Carolina last June, and Stanford will be looking to make head coach Mark Marquess’ final season at the helm memorable.
By the end of the season, what will the starting infield look like?
NB: Carter Aldrete and Jackson Willeford are going to be the men up the middle, there is no doubt in my mind there. The corners are a little more hard to gauge, mostly first. Andrew Snow will probably stay at third most of the season, contingent on Willeford at second and where Carter Aldrete fits in. I’d say Taylor Lane holds first base down all season, but Lyle Lin is going to give him a run for his money, I see him as the first baseman of the future for ASU. So from first to third, I’ll say Lane, Willeford, Aldrete and Snow. But keep an eye out for Lin.
RW: By the season’s end, Andrew Snow will still be the leader of the infield at third base with Jeremy McCuin by his side at shortstop. On the right side of the diamond, it looks like senior transfer Jackson Willeford will get starts at second to begin the season, but I expect highly-touted freshman recruit Carter Aldrete to have a breakout season, proving that his talent needs to be on the field everyday, which will eventually earn him the starting second baseman position. Northwest Florida State transfer Taylor Lane should be able to hold the position of everyday first baseman.
BK: Andrew Snow at third, Jeremy McCuin at shortstop, Carter Aldrete at second and Taylor Lane at first. I think that Aldrete will prove himself too valuable to be taken out of the lineup, and Lane seems to have really impressed the coaching staff with his athletic ability at first.
Who will be the offensive MVP?
NB: Carter Aldrete. He’s forced his way into the lineup before the season has even started. He’s consistent on the field, but from a hitting standpoint, he’s just as consistent, which is hard to do in the sport of baseball. I think his consistent, fluid swing, which allows him to go gap-to-gap, combined with underrated pop is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the Sun Devil lineup.
RW: Andrew Shaps is my clear choice for offensive MVP this season. The junior center fielder batted a stellar .321 with a .443 slugging percentage last season. His batting average was good for second on the team behind only David Greer who was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 2016 MLB Draft. If Shaps can stay on the field, his numbers at the plate could even rise after a stellar offensive 2016 campaign.
BK: Andrew Shaps. The junior hit .321 last year out of primarily the second spot in the order. He has stated going into this season that his goal is to be more aggressive on the base paths, and he is one of the true veterans of the team.
Who will be the MVP on the pitching staff?
NB: Spencer Van Scoyoc. A slender lefty with a plus fastball, probably the best pitching recruit on this team. He, like Carter Aldrete, forced his way into the picture and has the stuff to be a Friday night starter on just about any team. His lack of experience is what is holding him from that spot right now in my opinion, I see him taking over that spot after a few starts. The fastball combined with a fantastic breaking pitch is going to rack up the strikeouts for Van Scoyoc, which I believe will lead to a lot of innings pitched.
RW: Eder Erives will be the true MVP on the pitching staff. The senior had the second most saves in the Pac-12 last year with 10 and he also has been named to the preseason watch list for the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award, given to the top relief pitcher in NCAA Division I baseball. In a conference with as much talent and depth as the Pac-12 has, the right-handed relief pitcher will have plenty of opportunities to earn saves in close games for the Maroon and Gold. Erives has experience against the Pac-12 and could even earn 15 or more saves this year if he’s on top of his game.
BK: Chaz Montoya. Perhaps the biggest Achilles’ heel for the Sun Devils last season was their lack of shutdown arms at the back end of the bullpen, save for Eder Erives. Montoya gives head coach Tracy Smith a great option from the left side to complement Erives, and would be ready to step in at a moment’s notice if Erives needs time off or has a rough stretch.
Will the Sun Devils improve on their win total from last season?
NB: This has the potential to be a 40-win team. They won 36 of their 59 games last year, only one was a one-run game. A lot of their losses were by more than just a few runs and the pitching staff, while younger, has arms that should be more consistently reliable than last year’s staff. There is a ton of flexibility with this team and I think it’ll go a long ways, with the number of guys that could start any given weekend and three or four guys that have closer-caliber stuff.
RW: I predict ASU narrowly improves on their win total from last season. ASU went 34-21 in the regular season and ended the season with a total record of 36-23 including the postseason. In 2017, I could see the Sun Devils going 37-18 in the regular season and finishing with an overall record of 41-22 as they can get experience playing top teams and build some confidence down the stretch.
BK: Yes. I think they can manage somewhere between 40 and 42 wins thanks to the influx of young talent on the roster, what appears to be a sound weekend rotation with plenty of depth behind it, and a bona fide closing pitcher.
How far, it at all, do you see ASU making it in the postseason?
NB: I’m not sure if Omaha is realistic this season. Next year I think it is, but for now, I see this team being eliminated in the Super Regionals.
RW: I definitely see this team making it into the postseason but I think that with the youth of this team and the lack of a bona fide ace on the pitching staff, making it to Omaha for the College Baseball World Series will be too tough for the Sun Devils this season. I do see them improving on their regional loss to TCU in the postseason last year, and advancing to a Super Regional for the first time since 2011.
BK: I believe that if ASU can get quality starting pitching, that they can advance to a Super Regional for the first time under Smith. The team is a good mix of experience and youth.
Rapid Fire (No explanation):
Who finishes with the most HR’s?
NB: Carter Aldrete
RW: Sebastian Zawada
Who, if anybody, finishes the season on the All Pac-12 first team?
NB: Eder Erives
RW: Erives, Andrew Shaps
BK: Shaps, Gage Canning
Pitcher with the most Friday night starts?
NB: Spencer Van Scoyoc
RW: Van Scoyoc
BK: Van Scoyoc
NB: Carter Aldrete
NB: Eder Erives
Most starts at catcher?
NB: Sam Ferri