(Photo: ASU Athletics)
Only one day separates us from the start of the 2014 season for Arizona State baseball, and Coach Tim Esmay has not named a starting third baseman, second baseman or first baseman.
Some may say this prolonged announcement signals an indecisive coaching staff, but Coach Esmay is cherishing the fiercely competitive position battles and will allocate playing time (at least at the start of the season) based on the given matchup.
“We’re still looking to see where Baylor sets up with their staff,” Esmay said. “We’re in the process right now of looking at scouting reports and matchups. I like the battles. But just like you saw at the Alumni Game, you’re going to see some faces out there. Pretty good odds you won’t see the same lineup on Friday as you do the rest of the weekend.”
At third base, the Sun Devils are seeking to replace the services of Michael Benjamin, who led the 2013 team in batting average, slugging percentage, hits and total bases.
The battle for the starting position features Dalton DiNatale, Joey Bielek and Coach Esmay’s son, Tucker Esmay.
DiNatale, a sophomore, came to Arizona State primarily as a third baseman; yet, 35 of his 36 starts last year were at first base. DiNatale also boasted a .302 batting average, fourth-best on the team. Bielek, a sophomore as well, is a transfer from Paradise Valley Community College, a year removed from receiving first-team ACCAC honors.
It is possible that Sun Devil fans see DiNatale, Bielek and Esmay all on the field at the same time, as Bielek may get the nod at third base, sliding DiNatale back to first base. Esmay is also currently vying for time at second base with Jordan Aboites and Colby Woodmansee.
While the state of the Sun Devil infield is still to be determined, many felt as if the pitching staff was locked in with Ryan Kellogg on Fridays, Ryan Burr on Saturdays and Brett Lilek rounding out the rotation on Sundays. In fact, two weeks ago, Burr and Kellogg both vocalized their confidence in this sequence.
Coach Esmay, however, announced today that Ryan Burr will be the ace of the rotation, and thus will throw the first pitch at Packard Stadium on Friday.
“I’m expecting Burr to go out and settle in to being in a starter’s role,” Esmay said. “He’ll get set into repeating what he did in the fall and spring as far as getting extended [innings]. He’s a talented kid and we’re excited to get him on the mound and see what he can do.”
Starting Burr on Fridays now forces the Sun Devils to deviate from the lefty-righty-lefty pitching sequence that has proven to be successful for many collegiate teams. Instead, and perhaps more importantly, ASU will now feature a power-finesse-power rotation.
Regardless of the sequence and its effectiveness, Burr is relishing the moment. “I’d say I have a little bit of anxiety,” said Burr. “Never nervous, always anxious to get out there. But I’ve been doing it my whole life, so I don’t really see why this would be any different. I’m just going to go out there, have confidence in my defense and throw strikes.”
You can reach Jacob Garcia on Twitter @jake3garcia or via email at Jacob.M.Garcia@asu.edu