(Photo: Brady Klain/WCSN)
It was all smiles at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Friday morning, where the Arizona State baseball team held their annual Media Day. Throughout the morning, the Sun Devils made their way through several different stations where they got to sport their uniforms for the first time in 2018.
The last stop was visiting reporters from all across the valley right outside their first base dugout. The coaches and players answered a multitude of questions in all varieties, even ranging to the best way to order a cheesesteak. Their often similar answers properly presents a few interesting storylines for the 2018 squad. Here are the 10 biggest takeaways from the day.
1) Skip’s Views
Head Coach Tracy Smith spoke highly on his confidence in the group, saying “there’s a lot of good going on right now,” regarding the overall presence and attitude of the team. As for a change in spirits, he expressed his thoughts on the team’s long offseason, after ending last year with their worst season since 1963.
“I feel a lot more confident with this particular group in handling that.”
2) Looking for Respect
A major talking point today was the fact that the organization as a whole seems hungrier than ever to get back on the diamond and put some respect back into the ASU baseball name.
The angst for wins has created a selfless group of young men. Freshman infielder Spencer Torkelson represented that aspect of the team today.
“I don’t care, I’ll sit on the bench, whatever the team has to do to win, I’ll do anything.”
Don’t be surprised to see the Sun Devils exerting all of their strength in order to grind out wins and show the Pac-12 and NCAA that this time, they’re for real.
3) Lineup Spots Up for Grabs
Tracy Smith made very clear that the first base and left field starting positions are still in contention. And the coaching staff is OK with that.
“Left field to me, is wide open … you want to have competition in position … and we feel like we finally have that.”
Among the names in the discussion for first base are junior Jeremy McCuin, Torkelson, freshman Gage Workman and Carter Aldrete.
The spot in left should be a battle between senior Taylor Lane, freshman Trevor Hauver and sophomore Myles Denson.
4) Mike Cather hire will be ASU’s key to success
ASU’s newest pitching coach will be instrumental in the team’s success this season. Not only will it allow Tracy Smith more time to focus on the team as a whole, but it will also give the pitching staff a much-needed consistent coach for that position.
Last year, with Smith bouncing back and forth, the ASU pitching staff recorded a combined 5.54 ERA.
Smith’s pride in his decision to add Cather on the staff is one that should not be ignored.
“This decision is made with the ultimate idea of bringing ASU a national championship,” he said.
5) Freshman Phenoms
Realistically, the Sun Devils will see lots of young athletes between the foul lines in 2018. With a strong group of sophomores returning, and a talented group of freshman entering, the starting lineups will consist of several underclassmen.
Freshman Alika Williams has already dazzled the coaching staff with his crisp glove and clean footwork.
Gage Workman and Drew Swift could hold their own and grab a middle infield spot as well.
Torkelson and Hauver as previously mentioned, could very easily find their way in the starting nine by the end of the season. Skip ensured the underclassmen would find their place.
“We’re going to have a lot of freshman on the diamond,” he said.
6) Clubhouse Vibe
A theme in discussion today was how close the team really is from last year’s, especially off the field. Whether it is upperclassmen putting freshman under their wing, or the entire team watching the college football national championship together, the clubhouse energy is different.
Workman and the other freshman, in their own words, have been very fortunate to be together.
“Everyone is so tight-knit and close with each other that the whole team meshes really well,” he said.
7) Lots of Lin
This past fall, sophomore catcher Sam Ferri tore the UCL on his throwing arm and will be out for the entirety of the season. Sophomore catcher Lyle Lin has gotten the nod from coach Smith and will be relied on as the everyday catcher.
“We’re initially going in where Lyle … is going to get most of the share behind the plate … he’s going to catch a lot for us.”
8) Expected Rotation
Skip announced in his presser that the four-man starting rotation should be Spencer Van Scoyoc, Jake Godfrey, Boyd Vander Kooi and Eli Lingos
“The guys in the mix to me… Spencer, Eli … Jake and Boyd… those would be probably the leading candidates at this point.”
9) Empty Space
Just over the right-center field wall at Phoenix Municipal, is a banner with the national championship years for ASU. The bottom right corner of it is blank. According to coach Smith, it’s not an accident.
“We think that we’re going to change the trajectory of this program and the expectations of the program.”
Something to think about.
10) Five Weeks
With Media Day (Jan. 12) being exactly five weeks before Opening Day, the state of whether they will be successful or not is still up in the air.
With a solid signing class and lots of great news, the team put up one of the programs worst seasons in history just a short year ago.
Only time will tell if 2018 is the year that the Sun Devils get the organization.