2004 Baseball Preview

The 2004 version of the Sun Devil baseball team lost key components to the 54-14 team and second place team in the Pac-10 that was one game away from heading to Omaha for the College World Series last year. With just 11 players with experience in a Sun Devil uniform returning, will the Devils have what it takes to make a 19th trip to Omaha? DevilsDigest previews the 2004 ASU baseball team.

The 2004 version of the Sun Devil baseball team lost key components to the 54-14 team and second place team in the Pac-10 that was one game away from heading to Omaha for the College World Series last year. With just 11 players with experience in a Sun Devil uniform returning, will the Devils have what it takes to make a 19th trip to Omaha? DevilsDigest previews the 2004 ASU baseball team: ASU will start the season ranked 7th by Collegiate Baseball and 18th by Baseball America. Stanford has been unanimously chosen to win the Pac-10 Conference, and ASU is picked to finish second in the Coaches Poll and by Collegiate Baseball. In relation to the pre-season polls, Dustin Pedroia says, "we don't think about it that much, we haven't even played a game or an inning." Coach Pat Murphy comments that "it is more important to be consistent then to be out there worrying about how good a team is," and that "anybody can beat anybody."

Three Devils have earned Pre-Season accolades with Dustin Pedroia and Jeff Larish projected as All-Americans by almost every publication, while new coming closer Jason Urquidez has earned Pre-Season All Pac-10 honors. Pedroia has been named Pre-Season Player of the Year by Baseball America, while Jeff Larish has garnered the same honor from Street and Smith's College Baseball Preview. Both Pedroia and Larish spent last summer on the USA National Baseball team.

ASU will once again play one of the toughest schedules in the nation, with 30 of their 56 regular season games having them matched up against teams that appeared in the 2003 NCAA Tournament. ASU will also play six teams that are in the Baseball America pre-season top 25.

Here is a position-by-position breakdown of this year's team:

Catcher:

After a solid sophomore season, Tuffy Gosewisch returns as the starting catcher. The junior played in 59 games while starting 45 of those, hitting .340 with two homeruns and driving in 41 runs. Gosewisch had a solid defensive season with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. Gosewisch's backup will be junior Joel Bocchi. He hit .318 in the 43 games that he participated in.

First Base:

With the defection of Jeff Larish to the outfield, the first base position is open to a JC transfer and two players who have seen playing time in the past few years. JC transfer Chris Cook, who arrives in Tempe from Mesa Community College, is a 6'5", 215 pound right hander who was a 3rd team JC All-American after hitting .344, with six homeruns, 50 RBI's and 19 doubles last year. Cook also has the versatility to play third base if needed. Junior Frank Mesa is another viable option, after playing in 54 games, while posting the fifth highest batting average on the team (.364). After utilizing a medical redshirt season in 2003, redshirt sophomore Nick Cadena also has a chance at playing first base.

Second Base:

JC transfer Josh Asanovich, who played for Central Arizona CC last year, appears to be the one who will take over the second base position that was occupied by Steve Garrabrants last year. Asanovich hit .346 with nine doubles, five home runs and 40 RBI, while garnering All-ACCAC honors. Senior Nick Walsh (.353 BA, 0 HR, 23 RBI's in 56 games) may see time at second base also, along with freshman Joe Persichina and Frank Mesa, who both could end up playing 3B.

Shortstop:

Team leader and 2003 Co Pac-10 Player of the Year Dustin Pedroia returns to man the shortstop position. He has proven that he is one of the premier hitters in college baseball after leading the team in multiple categories: (.404 BA, 120 hits, 83 runs scored, 34 doubles (Pac-10 record)) and has remarkable skills on defense with just eight errors in 211 attempts for a .975 fielding percentage

Coach Murphy says that he "defies a lot of things that athletes aspire for, that you have to have great speed or that you have to be real big." In relation to the hype that is surrounding his junior campaign, Pedroia says, "I don't really think about it that much, I am just thinking about getting the team ready." To take the next step and advance to Omaha, it "starts with leadership," and he also believes that it is one of the strengths of this years team and that the "character is unbelievable, and we are building ourselves for the younger guys for the future." Undoubtedly, Pedroia and Jeff Larish will be looked upon to provide that essential leadership.

Third Base:

Freshman Joe Persichina, who hails from Rolling Hills Estates, California, may end up as the starter at 3B. Persichina hit .341 with four homeruns and 10 stolen bases as a senior at Palo Verdes Peninsula High School. Frank Mesa is also an option to play 3B this season.

Left Field:

Pre-season All-American Jeff Larish arrives in the outfield from 1st base. Larish was a Collegiate Baseball 2nd Team All American, while compiling a .372 BA, with a team high 18 homeruns, 95 RBI's (fifth most in ASU history), a school record four grand slams, and a .697 slugging percentage. With the accolades surrounding this season, Larish says, "I don't really concentrate on those things too much, you still got to go out and play baseball." He also led the NCAA with 78 walks and became just the second Devil to ever record a 70-70 season (walks-RBI's). While playing for the USA National Baseball team with Pedroia, the experience "gave a different perspective on the travel and the rigors." With the youth of the team, Larish, on the new guys, comments that they are "a bunch of new guys who are working hard, and we are looking forward to the season." With his third position switch in three years, asked how he is adapting to the change, He says, "the coaching staff has done a good job and prepared me to play there."

Center Field:

Freshman Colin Curtis appears to be the opening day starting centerfielder, replacing Andre Ethier and Ryan Bosch, who split time there last season. Curtis, who is left-handed, originates from Issaquah, Washington, and was the Co-State player of the year in 2003. His senior year stats include a batting average of .405, five homeruns, 21 RBI's and six doubles.

Right Field:

Travis Buck will settle in at right field in the 2004 season after splitting time between left and right field last year. Buck was Pac-10 Honorable Mention last year, while earning freshmen All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball. Buck's key stats from last years include a .326 BA, four homeruns, 13 doubles, and three triples. He was also the first freshman in Pac-10 history to hit for the cycle when he did so against Southern Utah on 3/7/03. Junior Ryan McKenna is an option to play all three-outfield positions.

Pitching:

With the loss of six of the seven top pitchers from a year ago, one could say that this may be the weak link of the 2004 Devils. When Pedroia was asked if the pitching would be a weakness this year, he said, "that's definitely not a question in my mind, that's more of a strength." The ace of this staff as of now will be Friday starter Erik Averill. Averill had a dominant freshman campaign by going 8-2 with a 3.66 ERA, and was named a Freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball and was the Co-Newcomer of the year along with Travis Buck. He was second on the team in IP (86) and K's (61). Senior Jeff Mousser arrives in Tempe after a three-year stint with the BYU Cougars. Mousser finished the year 5-7 with a 6.40 ERA. Sophomore Brett Bordes came out of the bullpen last year, compiling a 1-1 record with a 3.21 ERA in 27 appearances, but should end up as a weekend starter. Freshmen Zechry Zinicola and Pat Bresnehan will be options to start on the mound when games are played mid-week.

The closer looks to be JC transfer Jason Urquidez, who hails from Central Arizona College. The right-hander was named first team All-ACCAC after a 9-4 season with a 1.89 ERA and three saves. When setting up Urquidez, a handful of options are available in JC transfers Ty Marotz or Ladd Hall, or in freshmen Pat Cassa, Josh Blake, Travis Webb, and Quentin Andes.

The 2004 ASU baseball team has the potential to play with any team in college baseball day in and day out, and only time will tell if the newcomers are able to overcome the inexperience that they currently possess. Once again it would be a popular thought that anything besides a 19th appearance in the College World Series would be another disappointment of a year in the Pat Murphy tenure here in Tempe. The expectations that are brought upon this Sun Devil team year in and year out are not changed, as Murphy comments, "expectations don't change because you have a young team. You just try to get them ready to be the best they can."

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