(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
Brett Lilek, Ryan Kellogg and Ryan Burr were three of the best Arizona State pitchers in recent memory. While they aren’t irreplaceable, finding pitchers to take their place will not be easy.
Sheer quantity won’t be an issue, as head coach Tracy Smith has a bevy of underclassmen pitchers to choose from.
Among those who contributed last season as freshmen, Ryan Hingst, Andrew Shaps and Eli Lingos stand out. Hingst made four starts last season, the most of any freshmen pitcher on the team, and combined with eight relief appearances, posted a 5.79 ERA.
Smith had a lot of faith in the right-hander last season as he was the first freshman he opted to start when faced with a midweek game. A minor injury to Hingst, however, has set him back to the point where Smith has yet to see him pitch during the preseason. The injury does not seem serious enough to hold Hingst back for a significant amount of time, as Smith described him as having a “tender shoulder.”
“I’m just looking to help out anyway I can,” Hingst said. “Those guys (Kellogg and Lilek) really helped a lot. They ate up a lot of innings last year. A lot of younger guys are stepping and I feel like I can step up too.”
Meanwhile, perhaps no underclassmen is projected to have a bigger impact with the team than Shaps. Although he is also dealing with minor injuries, he is the leading candidate to serve as Burr’s successor, a task that is far from easy.
“I learned a lot from Ryan Burr just from watching the mentality not just as a reliever, but as a closer,” he said. “You have to have a completely different mindset for that kind of role. It’s going to be tough to follow in his footsteps.”
The left-hander mentioned he is working on this mental aspect while on the mound to prepare him for save situations. In addition to closing, Shaps will also be an outfielder, and may end up starting in right field on Opening Day. As the only two-way underclassmen on the team, his impact will be different than those with whom he is competing for innings. Shaps said he welcomes the difficulty of his role.
“I didn’t really play either way last year, so this year it is a little harder on my arm, with throwing from the outfield and pitching as well, but I like the challenge of doing both.”
Additionally, Eli Lingos pitched in 19 2/3 innings last season and will have a larger role this coming year.
“I think Eli is throwing the ball much better,” Smith said. “We added a bit of deception in his delivery, which I think is going to help.”
In addition to Hingst, Shaps and Lingos, Smith has a few other players he is keeping his eye on during the preseason practices.
“Two guys who were on the team last year and didn’t get a lot of innings but have performed very well are (right-handed pitcher) Grant Schneider and (left-handed pitcher) Reagan Todd,” he said.
Todd did not make any appearances last year, while Schneider pitched three innings, giving up four runs. Smith’s endorsement makes it seem like both will be asked to shoulder more of a workload this season.
Of the freshman pitchers ASU brings in, Smith has his eye on two first-year pitchers who, like Schneider and Todd, have impressed in preseason practices.
“James Ryan, a freshman has pitched well,” Smith said. “Very, very consistent up to this point. Fitz Stadler we think has a chance to make a really big jump.”
Ryan is a right-hander from Huntington Beach, California, while Stadler is a monstrosity on the mound, standing at 6-foot-9. He has a long history with Smith, as his two brothers played for him at Indiana University.
Another freshman who may get a look on the mound is Liam Jenkins, who, like Stadler, is a tall (6-foot-8) Illinois native that has the potential to push for innings, even if he thinks they could only come in relief.
“I just have to work my way up and get as many innings as possible,” he said. “I will probably be in a reliever role because it’s my freshman year.”
Other freshman pitchers on the Sun Devils roster include Zach Dixon, Chris Isbell, Garvin Alston Jr., Gio Lopez, Connor Higgins and Kevin McCann.
While some star power is leaving the Sun Devils on the mound, they have ample replacements who they can mix and match to help guide them towards contending in the Pac-12.