After losing a pair of starters to the Major League Baseball Draft following the 2016 season, most of the infielders on Arizona State's roster competing for playing time lack key experience.
Yet the one player who does have a few seasons under his belt with the Sun Devils is second baseman Andrew Snow, who has undergone quite the transformation since he began his college career.
Snow has transformed from a small, scrappy second baseman that worked his way into a starting role in his first year with the Sun Devils to a dependable contributor poised to assume a leadership role in a positional group going through plenty of turnover.
Over the summer, Snow worked toward generating more power that should allow him to take the next step forward in 2017.
“I felt I was limited physically my last year,” Snow said. “I was hitting balls hard and people were running them down. I went back in the weight room and gained 15 pounds.”
It’s going to be a different feel for Snow this season, who is the only incumbent starter in the ASU infield after two of his infield companions from the past two seasons, Colby Woodmansee and David Greer, were selected by the New York Mets and Seattle Mariners in the 2016 Draft.
Nonetheless, Snow said he's ready to step in as a mentor to many younger players, just like Woodmansee and Greer were to him.
“Just showing them that you’re going to be excited, you’re going to be nervous and all of that, you are just going to have to control it,” Snow said. “You can’t pretend you’re fine when you’re not. You have to go out there and play with that emotion.”
ASU's coaching staff has taken notice of Snow's evolution, as assistant coach Ben Greenspan said he sees a certain quality in Snow that makes him a great player.
“Andrew brings a consistent level of competitiveness to the lineup every single day,” Greenspan said. “I’d say the best attribute that he has is that he is probably our best competitor on the team, whether it’s on the diamond, playing Ping-Pong, or playing video games.”
As for the other three spots on ASU's infield, those are still very much up in the air. The benefit of fall ball scrimmages and practices is that the Sun Devils have time to scour through the bevy of options at their disposal.
With second base solidified thanks to Snow, it appears that first base is the closest of the other spots to being settled for ASU. Junior Ryan Lillard has set himself up as the clear frontrunner for the job at a spot where Greer never a true backup.
ASU head coach Tracy Smith mentioned last week that Lillard is in the pole position, which is evidenced by Lillard receiving the majority of the reps in fall practices.
Lillard started 38 games last season, but none were at first base. He has yet to live up to the immense potential that he came to ASU with, but finally appears to be fully healthy. Injuries have hindered each of his first two seasons with the Sun Devils, and he hit just .227 last season.
Questions on the left side
While ASU appears to have a solid foundation on the right side of the infield, the position battles on the left side of the infield are likely to extend beyond fall practices.
The carousel at third base last season rotated primarily between Jordan Aboites and then-freshman Jeremy McCuin, but Aboites has since graduated and McCuin is now transitioning to play at shortstop.
One of the early favorites for the starting job at the hot corner is Taylor Lane, a transfer who has played at the University of Florida and Northwest Florida State.
Lane brings with him a wealth of knowledge learned from playing behind top Major League draft picks at Florida, one of the best college baseball programs in the country.
“I learned a lot about the defensive side,” Lane said. “They had a lot of good defensive players there like Richie Martin and Josh Tobias. I just learned a lot watching those guys play.”
Lane is still acclimating to the ASU program, but the Sun Devils' coaches are starting to view Lane as a player who could profile as the starting third baseman on Opening Day.
“He (Lane) brings a physical presence at third,” Greenspan said. “He’s a very good defender at third base, has a strong and accurate arm, and is a physical presence in the lineup.”
Redshirt senior Jackson Willeford is another transfer who has found his way into the fold on the left side of the infield, and Greenspan thinks that Willeford can contribute right away.
Willeford has made stops at the University of Arizona and Cypress College, one of the nation's top junior college programs, and played three seasons of shortstop in high school. However Willeford only received playing time at designated hitter at Arizona, which is where he could find himself starting if he gets beat out by McCuin or freshman Carter Aldrete at shortstop.
Aldrete may be the benefactor of being the lone freshman competing for a spot in ASU's starting infield, as Snow has taken him under his wing since the start of fall ball.
“I’m just letting him (Aldrete) know every day that you’re coming out here and that you have to get better every single day,” Snow said. “It’s a different ball game. You can’t let little mistakes creep into your head. You have to stay focused the whole nine innings.”
The Monterey, California native ranks among the most highly touted freshmen for the Sun Devils this season, and at the very least should provide healthy competition at shortstop in the spring.