2002 ASU Baseball Preview

The ASU baseball endured a tough 2001 campaign that ended in a mediocre record in Sun Devil baseball standards - 37-20-1. Coach Pat Murphy heads a very young and inexperienced team that will be playing the majority of its home games away from the familiar confines of Packard stadium. In this preview, we'll analyze the team, and hear what Murphy and some of his players have to say about the upcoming season.

With the graduation of two-time Pac-10 Player of the Year Casey Myers, ASU not only lossed its best player, but also a team leader. However, with the emergence of Pre-Season All-Americans Rod Allen and Mike Esposito, the outlook for this season is a very positive one. The Sun Devils will start off the season being ranked #18 by Baseball America. The Devils schedule, as it has been the last several years, is one of the tougher ones in the nation. Asides from playing conference foes Stanford (ranked 1st) and USC (4th), they also play Notre Dame (5th) in South Bend, Florida State (6th) in Tallahassee, Cal State Fullerton (15th), and Oklahoma State (23rd). ASU players would not want to have any other way: "We want to find out how good we are, so that's why we play the tough schedule." Says Allen "We don't want to play teams that won't give us competition. When you get to the post-season, you end up playing tough teams. So playing against the best in the nation during the season, helps you prepare for what lies down the road." The rest of the Pac-10 schedule will not be full of easy wins either. Most of the other eight conference teams (Oregon does not have a baseball program) could provide a challenge for the Devils.

Here's a position by position breakdown:

CATCHER With the loss of Casey Myers, filling the shoes of the All-American catcher will be a tall order to say the least. It appears as if Junior Dennis Wyrick, who played shortstop last year and Freshman Tuffy Gosewisch will take on that task. Wyrick (All Pac 10 Honorable Mention) hit .360 last season and will have to make the tough transition behind the plate. He will most likely split time playing catcher and playing third base. Gosewisch, who played at Horizon high school in Scottsdale, may occupy that position more frequently than Wyrick, and is slated to be the opening day starter. Gosewisch is a very capable hitter, with a batting average of .410 while being named All-State in his senior year. Does working with a new catcher plant any seeds of doubt with the pitching staff? "I don't know if working with a new catcher will be a smooth ride." Says Esposito "I know they'll be bumps in the road along the way. But it's going to be a great learning experience for myself and the new catcher. Being a team, and trusting each other we'll make everything work out."

FIRST BASE Sophomore Jeremy West looks to be the first baseman for this upcoming season. West, who last season hit .307 with 6 homeruns and 34 RBI's appears to be a lock for this position because of the loss of Jeff Phelps. He comes into the season with high expectations of being one of the team's power hitters. Nick Cadena, a freshman from Apollo high school in Glendale will be West's backup.

SECOND BASE Second base may be the deepest position on the team. Nevertheless, there's no clear-cut starter. The candidates to start at this position are freshman Dustin Pedroia and senior Sergio Garcia. Garcia, who transferred from Oklahoma, was named to the All Big-12 team while hitting .311 along with being the everyday shortstop for the Sooners. Pedroia earned the Gold Glove Award while playing for Team USA in an Australian tournament. With Brooks Conrad now gone, Pedroia or Garcia will be asked to fill the hitting void that Conrad has left. The ex-Sun Devil hit 4 homeruns and drove in 41, which was 4th on the team last year. There is also the possibility that utility man Steve Garrabrants will occasionally play at second base. The sophomore, according to Murphy, need not worry about seeing playing time this season "He (Garrabrants) will be in the lineup everyday this year, whether it is at DH, in the infield or in the outfield."

SHORTSTOP Since former shortstop Dennis Wyrick will be seeing split duty at third base and catcher this season, another infield position is looking to be filled. It appears that Ian Kinsler, who transferred from Central Arizona CC, may be that player. Murphy believes that Kinsler will not only be the starter, but he "Will be one of the newcomers having an impact on this team." The 6-1-175lb. sophomore hit .395 last year at CAC along with hitting 3 homeruns and 37 RBI's. As mentioned, Steve Garrabrants is also a strong possibility for playing time. Garrabrants, who stole 16 bases last year, could provide the speed needed for this position.

3RD BASE When Dennis Wyrick is not catching; he will be occupying third base. After playing the last 2 years at shortstop, his transition should be relatively easy. Pedroia and Garcia both have the possibility of getting some playing time at third base when not playing at second.

LEFT FIELD Much like first base, Left field is one of the only positions locked up. Pre-Season All American Rod Allen (Shown in picture), whom Baseball America lists as the 36th best prospect in the class of 2003, is the clear-cut starter here. Allen, who hit .389 with 6 homeruns and 53 RBI's, may provide the leadership void created with the loss of Casey Myers, even though Coach Murphy does not name captains: "I don't like to name captains because it puts too much pressure on an individual." Nevertheless, it would not be far fetched to assume that Allen is one of the de facto captains on this Sun Devil squad. So what's his take on leading such a young team? "Having a young team, I don't see many negatives. You have a lot of hungry players who won't let down. I think it's an advantage." When Allen was asked about the possibility of a sophomore slump, Allen replied, "I don't worry about that, all I want to do is get to Omaha." When asked about any bitter memories from losing last year regionals here in Tempe, Allen was quick to say: "We're not gonna dwell on the past. It's a new year, and we're taking it day by day. We're not even thinking about our next game, we just thinking about what needs to be accomplished in the nest practice."

RIGHT FIELD Right Field appears to have a few candidates to fill the position. Andre Ethier, who transferred from Chandler-Gilbert CC last year, is a strong contender for the starting position. The sophomore, whom Murphy names as another: "Newcomer that will have an impact on the team." played last fall for the Devils before transferring to Chandler-Gilbert CC. He will have to win the job over from returning sophomores Ryan McKenna and Nick Walsh. McKenna and Walsh, who started 10 and 21 games last year respectively, provide some experienced depth to the outfield.

CENTER FIELD It appears that senior Jon Sheaffer is the early leader to play centerfield, but fellow senior Doug Schutt, a transfer from UNC-Greensboro could give Sheaffer a run for his money in this position battle. Schutt, who started all but one game last year for UNC-Greensboro, hit .301 with 2 homeruns and 20 RBI's, and can provide some speed in the outfield. Sheaffer hit .261 last year in his reserve role with the Devils.

PITCHING The Sun Devil pitching staff lost 4 of their top pitchers last year who went a combined 25-14 with 3 saves. This year's staff will be full of young faces, lead by Pre-Season All American Mike Esposito (shown in picture). The sophomore went 5-2 last year with a 4.06 ERA while being 3rd on last year's team in innings pitched with 68.2. The right-hander pitched for Team USA over the summer and went 3-1. After being drafted in the 5th round by the Cincinnati Reds, Mike came back for his sophomore campaign to lead the Devils pitching staff. One would think that pitching in a spring training park would make this pitcher apprehensive. In actuality, nothing could be further than the truth: "Playing at the same stadium as the Chicago Cubs will definitely get the adrenalin going." Says Esposito "I don't expect my numbers to be better or worse at this stadium. We're not gonna use playing away from Packard as an excuse. I know that the more we practice and play here, the quicker we'll adjust to HoHoKam. Every year we have a no excuse attitude, and this year won't be different. Our faith is in our hands." It's a forgone conclusion that the All-American will be the team's #1 pitcher, a role that doesn't change much in his approach: "My preparation will be the same, even though I'm suppose to throw the first pitch on Friday. I'll have the same routine. It's just that I'll be pitching on Friday now." Being the ace pitcher carries an assumed leader role with it as well. Esposito has no problems with those duties: "I don't think of myself as a leader, but more of a person that young players can come to and ask questions. We (the experienced players) make ourselves available to any questions or concerns the young players have. I love helping my teammates out. It makes me and them better players, and myself a better person."

Left-hander Bryce Kartler and right-hander Ryan Schroyer appear to be the Saturday and Sunday starters. Kartler lead the team in saves last year with four and could pitch in some relief duty as well this year. According to Murphy: "Bryce Kartler will be pitching a lot of innings this year." Right-handed Sophomore Aaron Klusman and right-hander Junior Jered Liebeck could also start a few games this year. The all-important bullpen will be lead by sophomore right-hander J.J. Jackson and a handful of others, including right-hander Mark Sopko, and newcomers left-hander Miguel Sanchez and right-hander Josh Smith. Will there be a designated closer for the Devils? Not according to Murphy: "You can't name a closer in college baseball."

Guiding a very young team through a top-notch in and out of conference schedule, will not be a walk in the park. Murphy says: "This year will be full of challenges with the toughest challenge being the ability to play together." Playing virtually all home games at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, while Packard Stadium is being renovated, is another monumental challenge on itself. The only teams in the Pac-10 that seem better, at least on paper, than the Devils are Stanford and USC. Nonetheless, this ASU team has not only a legitimate shot at the Pac-10 title, but could also conceivably make their 19th trip to Omaha and continue with the excellence of the rich ASU baseball tradition. Achieving those goals with a young team playing in new surroundings would be nothing short one of the best accomplishments in ASU's sports history. (NOTE: All photos are courtesy of ASU Media Relations)

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