Three freshmen pitchers poised for extended roles on Arizona State staff

A trio of freshmen pitchers, Spencer Van Scoyoc, Chaz Montoya and Zane Strand have impressed Arizona State head coach Tracy Smith and appear poised to take on extended roles on the Sun Devils' 2017 pitching staff.

In 2015, it was Seth Martinez.

In 2016, it was Eli Lingos.

In 2017, it could be a freshman who becomes ASU’s breakout arm, rising to the forefront of a pitching staff still looking for go-to options at the front-end of the rotation and back-end of the bullpen.

According to ASU head coach Tracy Smith, three first-year pitchers have thrown their names into the hypothetical hat filled with breakout candidates: freshmen Spencer Van Scoyoc, Chaz Montoya and Zane Strand.

Smith envisions a different role for each freshman, with Van Scoyoc in the rotation, Montoya at the back end of the bullpen and Strand somewhere in between.

All three carry around a typical soft-spoken, freshman-like demeanor, and it’s their quiet humility that has endeared them to their new team.

Each is willing to pitch in whichever role they’re thrust into, which has allowed Smith to evaluate the strengths they all have to offer.

With an overpowering left arm, Van Scoyoc has forced the coaching staff’s hand, earning serious consideration for a weekend rotation role.

“If you have seen any of the intersquads over the weekend, he has kind of done on the pitching side what (Carter) Aldrete has done on the position player side,” Smith said of Van Scoyoc. “He’s made us have to insert him and move him up just based on his performance.”

With some movement in the pitching staff indicating an imminent switch from the rotation to the bullpen for senior Eder Erives, Van Scoyoc has emerged as a potential Opening Night starter for the Sun Devils. 

“I’m not really worried about that,” Van Scoyoc said of his potential role. “I’m just worried about going out there and doing the job they put me in and doing the best I can.” 

An Iowa native, Van Scoyoc generated plenty of hype as one of the Sun Devils’ prized recruits. The 6-foot-4 left-hander was a 19th round selection of the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2016 MLB Draft, the highest any freshman on the Sun Devils’ roster was selected last year.

Hailing from a unique background, Van Scoyoc’s grandfather is arguably the most prominent high school baseball coach in Iowa. Additionally, his father, Aaron, played a few seasons in the minor leagues, and his great uncle, Mike Boddicker, was a fourteen-year veteran who played in an All-Star game and the World Series.

Van Scoyoc’s brother Connor is already committed to the Sun Devils for 2018.

Right now, however, it's Spencer’s turn to carve out a legacy.

“We knew when we recruited him that the left-handed breaking ball is going to play somewhere right away,” Ben Greenspan, the chief architect behind his recruitment, said. “The fastball command would dictate what his role is and in his last few starts he’s been really good.”

Montoya emerging in the bullpen

Don’t let Montoya’s size fool you.

At just 6-feet and a slim 160 pounds, the Glendale native looks like a lanky college student compared to most of the athletic specimens occupying ASU’s clubhouse.

Despite his smaller frame, Montoya throws harder than most players on ASU’s roster. With a fastball typically clocking in the low 90s, Montoya gives the Sun Devils a much-needed left-handed weapon at the back-end of the bullpen.  

While Erives might have the leg up when it comes to the closer role right now, Montoya is squarely in the mix.

“Chaz, from the moment you see him pitch on the mound, you will say ‘I love his presence, I love his competitiveness,” Greenspan said. “Even the way he catches the baseball from the catcher, he’s back on the rubber and it’s like, here it is try and hit it. From the closing standpoint, you watch that mentality from Montoya and you say that might translate right away.”

Though Erives boasts three seasons of experience, Smith said he’s considering using Erives and Montoya together at the back end of the ASU bullpen as a righty-lefty duo.

What Montoya lacks in experience, he’s attempting to pick up by surrounding himself with ASU’s veteran leaders, who have helped him acclimate to his new surroundings.  

“Coming in as a freshman, you don’t know much,” Montoya said. “Some of the older guys come in and teach you the roles and teach the strings of how things work around here and really help me develop as a player.”

Another local freshman poised to toe the rubber

Strand, who attended Hamilton High in Chandler, has been hailed as an impressive freshman during the fall and spring, but has less of a defined role heading into the season.

Though he possesses a starter’s arsenal, a deeper core of options for ASU’s rotation leaves Strand’s prospects up in the air for now.

The uncertainty regarding Strand somewhat mirrors his recruitment, as it took some time for Greenspan and Smith to come around to him as a prospect. 

“I joked with Zane about this, but the first time I saw him, he threw a five-inning no-hitter and I was like ‘He’s okay,” Greenspan said. “It wasn’t like I left like ‘We have to get him.’ He’s one of those guys where it’s the more you see him, the more you appreciate what he’s doing.”

The recruitments of Strand and Montoya differed compared to most of the players on ASU’s roster because of their presence locally.

With each growing up in the Phoenix area, the Sun Devils had the advantage of being the most prominent team in their mix of college options.

Both pitchers developed late, but Greenspan said that worked in ASU’s favor. 

The pace of recruiting on a national scene right now is really sped up,” Greenspan said. “I’d say of anyone in our league, we’re probably the slowest. It’s something just philosophically that Skip and I like to do. Guys develop at different times.”

Smith said that the trio of Van Scoyoc, Montoya and Strand are really the only three freshmen pitchers getting consideration for extended roles at the moment. Tanner West, another left-hander, impressed during the program’s Dominican Republic trip over the winter, but has not returned to form since.

With Opening Night now one week away, battles within ASU’s pitching staff are still ongoing, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Van Scoyoc started as early as the first game of the year, with Montoya potentially shutting the door.

News and Notes

  • Smith said Taylor Lane has received more and more reps at first base, and could start there on Opening Night. Ryan Lillard, who was the initial front-runner to start at first base, may fit at either of the corner outfield spots.
  • Lingos and Ryan Hingst will start this weekend’s scrimmages for ASU. Each is expected to be a part of the Sun Devils’ weekend rotation.
  • Smith said Lane, Andrew Snow, Jackson Willeford, Jeremy McCuin, and Carter Aldrete are expected to get 98 percent of the playing time in the infield.

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