Arizona State Looks To Overcome Adversity

February 17, 2012

Sun Devils Will Play 2012 With No Postseason Hopes…

By College Baseball 360 Contributor Kevin Kennedy

Kevin Kennedy provided coverage of Arizona State and Pac-10 baseball for CB360 last year, including coverage of the Cal-Dallas Baptist Super Regional. He will be providing coverage of ASU and the Pac-12 for us this year. He checks-in with a preview of the 2012 Sun Devils.

Tempe, AZ — Arizona State Baseball will not be going to the College World Series or the NCAA Tournament. That sentence was the in the third paragraph of my 2011 ASU Baseball article, and statement still applies in 2012.

The Sun Devils were supposed to be banned from the postseason last year because of NCAA violations that occurred under former Head Coach Pat Murphy, but because of the lengthy appeals process ASU was eligible for the 2011 postseason.Since the school was appealing the NCAAs ruling the team was eligible to play in the tournament while  the appeals process was still taking place.

Appeals to the NCAA usually take a few month for a ruling, and the school argued their case to the NCAA just two weeks before the tournament selections.Officially the Sun Devils were not assured of a bid until they were picked to host a regional the day before Memorial Day.

When the NCAA eventually denied the appeal in early November, it came as no surprise, but it does mean the Devils will in fact end their 2012 season Memorial Day weekend when the regular season concludes.

This will be the second time ASU baseball has been ineligible for the postseason (1985), and the first time they will miss the tournament since 1999.

Last season the team finished tied for second in the Pac-10 (17-10 Pac-10, 43-18 overall). Their streak of four consecutive conference titles (2007 was later vacated as part of the NCAA violations) ended.

In the tournament the Devils hosted a regional for the fifth consecutive year, sweeping New Mexico, Charlotte, and Arkansas to advance to a Super Regional for the fifth straight season. Facing Texas in Austin the Devils grabbed the first game of the best-of-three series before losing the final two games to the Longhorns, scoring only three total runs in Games 2 and 3, denying ASU a third straight trip to the CWS.

With the ban officially in place, ASU is going after the biggest goal they can accomplish – a Pac-12 championship. The biggest question with the team is how their motivation will be affected with no chance to play after late May. Last season, when it seemed as though there was no chance to go to the postseason, the team did not seem affected going into Pac-10 play at 16-5.

The Devils are saying all the right things so far this year. The team beat writer for the Arizona Republic, Jeff Metcalfe, quotes Head Coach Tim Esmay that his team is drawing motivation from this years USC football team, which finished 10-2 despite being barred from playing in a bowl game for the second consecutive year. Esmay and his players have said that going through this brings the team closer together, and their motivation has not changed.

If one positive can be taken from all of this it’s that the NCAA violations should not have any long-term affects on the program. There was a loss of scholarships, but not as many as USC football lost. New players had already signed by the time the NCAA denied the school’s appeal, and next year’s recruiting class will not be affected since the ban is only one season.

The biggest question for the Sun Devils is all the new players they’ll have on the field this season. Esmay did put together one of the top recruiting classes in the nation, but he is projected to have five new position players in the starting line-up. The Devils have 17 newcomers out of the 34 players on the roster, including 10 true freshman and two red-shirt freshman.

Returning starters include junior shortstop and preseason All-American Deven Marrero (2011 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year, and .315 avg.). Marrero has been selected to seven preseason All-American teams, and is one of the highest rated position players in 2012 MLB Draft class, junior Joey DeMichele, who last year lead Pac-10 in hitting (.368), slugging percentage (.663), and extra-base hits (32) returns. He also led the team in HRs with nine. DeMichele, who started primarily at DH last year, is expected to start this weekend at 2nd base. He replaces 2010 Pac-10 Player of the Year Zach MacPhee. He may also play at first, or third.

The other returning position player is junior CF Andrew Aplin (.284 in 2011), who has one of the best gloves on the team. Senior Abe Ruiz will start at first base, replacing Zach Wilson. Ruiz (.176 avg. in 17 at-bats last year) started his career in Tempe in 2009 before transferring to community college in Southern California and then returned to ASU last season.

At third base sophomore Mike Benjamin is the projected starter. Benjamin (.182, 22 at-bats) was used as a back-up infielder last year. He replaces Riccio Torrez. Sophomore James McDonald (3 ABs last year) is the likely starter this weekend at DH. McDonald is also listed as an infielder. The team roster lists 12 infielders, and excluding the starters and McDonald, the remaining five are freshmen.

Joining Aplin in the outfield will be sophomore Kasey Coffman (LF) and red-shirt freshman RF Trevor Allen. Coffman had just 3 ABs last year. They replace Johnny Ruettiger and Matt Newman.

Catching will likely be split between junior college transfer, Matt Rossiter, and red-shirt sophomore Beau Maggi (2 career ABs). The other two catchers on the roster are both true freshman.

Pitching will likely be the strongest asset for the team. Junior Brady Rodgers (9-4, 2.75 ERA) returns for second straight year as the team’s ace. He has been a starter each of his three years in Tempe and has been selected to multiple preseason All-American and Pac-12 teams.

The likely Saturday starter will be Jake Barrett. The junior (7-4, 4.14 ERA) was in the weekend rotation last year before missing the end of the regular season and postseason with an injury. Junior Alex Blackford (4-1 2.66 ERA) could be the third man in the weekend rotation. Blackford was used primarily as a reliever last year, but did start four games. Rodgers, Barrett, and Blackford are the only pitchers on the roster with starting experience at ASU.

Freshmen Adam McCreery, Darrin Gillies and Brandon Bonilla (son of former major leaguer Bobby Bonilla) could start weekday games; with McCreery or Bonilla being mentioned as possible candidates to start in the weekend rotation.

Sophomore Trevor Williams (team low 2.50 ERA in 32 games last year) is set to be the Sun Devil closer. Williams was used as a set-up man last year. He takes over for the departed Mitchell Lambson. Senior Joseph Lopez (3.00 ERA in 14 games) and sophomore Mark Lambson (1.90 ERA in 10 games) will anchor the back of the bullpen with Williams. Sophomore Josh McAlister (3 games 1.80 ERA) is the only other pitcher listed with pitching experience at ASU.

Of the 17 pitchers on the roster nine are first year Sun Devils. ASU has been ranked in four of the five preseason Top-25 polls. They are not eligible for the USA Today poll because of the NCAA ban. They come in at No. 21 in the College Baseball 360 Preseason Composite National Rankings.

This week ASU was picked third in the conference behind #2 Stanford, and rival Arizona. The Devils received the only first place vote that did not go to Stanford, and they were just one point behind the Wildcats for second. UCLA was picked fourth followed by Oregon State, Cal, Oregon, USC, Washington St, Washington, and newcomer Utah.

With the addition of Utah this year, the conference only features 11 teams since Colorado does not field a baseball team. The Pac-12 added one conference weekend to allow every team to play each a three-games series against each other once. Stanford, Cal, UCLA, Arizona, and Oregon State all made the NCAA Tournament last year. With Cal being the only CWS team.

The Devils open Pac-12 play at UCLA, and finish their season at Arizona. Other road conference series are at Stanford, Oregon, and Washington St. Cal, Oregon State, USC, Utah, and Washington visit Tempe for Pac-12 play. The Devils host Arizona twice in non-conference games.

The non-conference schedule begins this weekend at home vs. Western Michigan, followed by a series vs. UC Riverside.

The featured match-up of the non-conference season is a two-game series at home vs. Cal St. Fullerton (March 27-28). The Devils also will play at Long Beach St, and New Mexico, and Gonzaga. ASU will also host a tournament in nearby Surprise against Saint Louis, Northern Illinois, Winthrop, and St. Mary’s (CA). Of the 13 non-conference opponents only Fullerton, and New Mexico made the 64-team field last year. ASU beat New Mexico in the opening game of the Tempe Regional on a walk-off home run last June.


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