ASU Baseball Season Preview

One can argue that the 2002 Arizona State Baseball team underachieved in comparison to teams of the past. This year's team lost a few key players from the 37-21 campaign of last year, but brings back a lot of talent and added depth. Does Pat Murphy's squad have what it takes to make a return trip to Omaha, Nebraska? DevilsDigest.com previews the Sun Devils.

ASU starts the season ranked 8th by Baseball America and 12th by Collegiate Baseball. However, one may consider the Devils as the only the third best team in the Pac-10, since Stanford (3rd), and USC (6th) are ahead of the Devils in the pre-season rankings. Coach Murphy compliments those two teams saying that they are "two great schools, with two great programs and two great traditions." He also adds in reference to the pre-season rankings "We are expecting to be that good or even better."

Four Sun Devils earned Pre-Season All American honors from different publications and should provide the necessary leadership to make this a successful season. Once again, Murphy has set up one of the toughest schedules in the nation, with 11 of his opponents being listed in Baseball America's Top 50 teams. With the Pac 10 being one of the elite conferences in College Baseball, each and every game in 2003 should provide a challenge for the Devils.

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

Catcher

It appears that sophomores Tuffy Gosewisch and Joel Bocchi will most likely split time behind the plate. Both of them are not the most productive hitters, but will definitely provide solid defense at the plate. Gosewisch played in 30 games last year, starting in 12 of those, while Bocchi played in 17, starting in eight. If Coach Murphy desires offensive production from this position, then he will turn to Jeremy West. West who will mostly play as a designated hitter, is a 3rd team Pre-Season All American by Collegiate Baseball after having a .356 batting average in 2002, good enough for third on the team. West was also first on the team in home runs (13), RBI's (71), and doubles (18). His eight RBI's in a game against Portland last year were the second best in Sun Devil history.

First Base

Sophomore Jeff Larish will become the starting first baseman with Jeremy West being assigned behind the plate or to the DH spot in the lineup. Larish, named to the Freshman All American Honorable Mention team, had a solid first year when he played in 34 games (33 starts) and had a .328 batting average. He also accrued three homeruns and 24 RBI's. Not too bad, considering that he did not play the first six weeks of the season while coaches pondered the possibility of utilizing his red shirt season. Junior Mike Guerrero, a transfer from South Mountain Community College, could see some action as well.

Second Base

This infield position will be occupied mainly by Steve Garrabrants or Nick Walsh. Garrabrants hits at a .337 clip and is a threat on the base paths where he tied for first on the team with 16 stolen bases. He also led the team with seven triples. Nick Walsh appeared in 41 games last year, starting in 14 of them. Walsh also has the capabilities of being a key utility man for the Devils. Frank Mesa, a sophomore from Arizona Western is also capable of playing this position. He was a solid player at his Yuma school, with a .406 batting average, nine home runs, and 55 RBI's.

Third Base

Dennis Wyrick, who batted .315 in 2002, will be relied upon to provide senior leadership on what is a relatively young Sun Devil team. He is the only senior position player on the team, but played in only 25 games last season due to off the field issues. The coaches are hopeful that he can anchor the team's infield. Frank Mesa will periodically spell Wyrick at third base.

Shortstop

Sophomore Dustin Pedroia will undoubtedly be the starting shortstop this season. Following an All-Pac 10 season and being named to the Freshmen All American Team, he has shown encouraging signs of being a leader this season. "If the team is winning, I am happy," says Pedroia who calls the Devils a "well knit together team. Everyone gets along with each other." The shortstop, who reminds many of the Anaheim Angels' David Eckstein, had a mere four errors in 58 games, despite starting in each and every of ASU's games. He had an amazing .982 fielding percentage in 223 chances. His gradual goals en route to Omaha are "to win every series and win the Pac 10. And Ofcourse win every series against Arizona (smile)."

Centerfield

Rod Allen Jr. will enter the season as a 3rd team All American by Baseball America. He will make the transition to center field from left field after a successful summer in the Cape Cod League, where he was named the 13th best College Baseball prospect. Last year, Allen hit six home runs with 50 RBI's. His batting average dropped this past season to .278, which he does look to improve upon: "Last season I put too much pressure on myself. I just want to get on base and help the team win, because I know we have the team capable of winning the national title."

Leftfield

One of two freshmen, which were brought in with the current recruiting class, will be starting at Left field this season. Travis Buck, who hails from Richland, Washington was rated as the 77th best prospect by Baseball America heading into the 2003 season. He was the Tri-City Herald Athlete of the Year in Baseball and Basketball. In his senior year he hit .475 with three home runs and 32 RBI's while tying a school record with 25 stolen bases. Ryan Bosch from Livermore, California was rated as the 32nd best prospect by the same publication. He is a solid hitter, (.333 BA, five homeruns) and was also an effective high school pitcher (6-1, 1.46 ERA, with 34 K's in 33.2 innings pitched). Sophomore Nick Cadena hit six home runs last year, which was fifth all-time for any freshman in Sun Devil history, and can play any position in the outfield. Nevertheless, he is likely to see a lot of time as a pinch hitter.

Right Field

Junior Andre Ethier had a break out season last year and will be the starter in right field. Named to the NCBWA 3rd team Pre-Season All American team, he started in 48 games last year, missing a month with a broken thumb. He was second on the team with a .363 batting average and was tied for second in RBI's with 50. Ethier's goal, as well the rest of the team, is "to win a national championship. I also want to help prepare the freshmen, because they will be a vital part of this team."

Pitching

The pitching staff should be the key to how far the Devils will go this season. The staff returns six of their seven top pitchers. The only loss was Friday starter Mike Esposito. Esposito's loss could be detrimental to the pitching staff, but the team's freshmen and transfers brought in have the potential to soften the blow, if not negate it.

Junior Ryan Schroyer will be the ace this season. He led the Pac-10 with a 2.37 ERA, while compiling a 4-1 record. He also accumulated eight saves, which was good enough for the team lead. Schroyer does have the possibility of starting the Friday games, but will undoubtley also be the closer on numerous occasions. Senior Robbie McClellan went 7-6 last year and was second on the team in strikeouts (91) and innings pitched (97). Ben Thurmond, if healthy could really shine for ASU. A transfer from Winthrop, Thurmond sat out most of last season with an arm injury. In 2001 he went 14-3 with a 2.88 ERA, striking out 148 batters in 150 innings pitched. Senior Jered Liebeck (Pac-10 Honorable Mention) went 2-1 with 45 innings pitched and will start his fair share of games. The same can be said about Mark Sopko, who appeared in 25 games in 2002. True freshman Erik Averill, who hails from Orange, California has the best chance of any of the freshman pitchers to see significant amount of starts. Averill is more than up for the task. "I'm looking forward to playing in a top program like this." He says. Averill is more of a control pitcher, with his average pitch hovering in the 85-86 MPH range. Brett Bordes and Chris Beatty round up the depth chart of starting pitchers.

Senior Bryce Kartler, who can also play the starter role, leads the middle relievers. Senior Carlos Arguello led the team last season with a 2.01 ERA, and is another major component of the relievers group. Other relievers who stand to see significant playing time are redshirt freshman Matt Leaf, New Orleans transfer Beau Vaughan, and Juco transfer Javy Lopez.

In such a high profile program as Arizona State's, one can argue that anything less than a trip to Omaha could be considered as an underachievement. Coach Pat Murphy says: "I want to be the very best there is in College Baseball. Our experience should help us. This team is a little bit wiser, a little bit hungrier, because of what they did figure out at the end (of last season). We want to finish well, because we didn't play our best baseball last year."

The Sun Devils have assembled a team, which can realistically contend day in and day out with any team in the nation. The returning core of this team, along with the slew of talented newcomers may just fulfill the lofty expectations bestowed on ASU in the pre-season polls.

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