ASU Baseball Ready to Move On to Season

It has been a long and trying off-season for the Arizona State baseball team. It started with a heartbreaking late inning loss to end the season in Omaha and came to a head with the sudden resignation of longtime head coach Pat Murphy.

Tim Esmay was chosen to lead the program in 2010, something that was welcoming to the players.

"Now that the whole thing has happened, I couldn't imagine another person coming in and taking the team in the right direction as he did so quickly," senior infielder Raoul Torrez said. "It didn't really feel like there were any steps backwards."

The offseason is all behind them now, their focus is on just one thing, playing baseball.

"It seems like everybody is settled now," Esmay said. "The dust is settled, everybody is kind of settled in and you can start to see some personalities coming out and the coach player relationships. It seems like ease now and we are all at that point where it just seems normal."

Here is a look at what the 2010 Sun Devils will look like on the diamond:

Pitching Staff:

Replacing Mike Leake won't be easy, but having another All-American return to anchor your staff makes it a whole lot easier. Josh Spence (pictured) opted to return to ASU for his senior season and will take over as the staff ace.

Spence stormed onto the scene last season to take college baseball by storm. The lefty tossed 102.2 innings in 2009, going 10-1 with a 2.37 ERA.

"He does everything above and beyond because he loves being here and he respects it," Esmay said of Spence. "He is a great pitcher, but if you watch how he prepares himself, the other guys better take note. He is genuine and he is real, people feed off of that. What a special kid. We are proud that he has stayed in this program."

Junior right hander Seth Blair will slide into the second spot in the rotation after being the third pitcher last season. Blair had an outstanding sophomore season going 7-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 77 innings, but was often an afterthought behind Leake and Spence.

"He has been the unknown because he has been overshadowed," Esmay said. "It is his year to shine and everything he has done here in the spring has shown that he is ready for the stage."

The third starter is still up in the air, but the early favorite is junior Jimmy Patterson. Like Spence, Patterson is a transfer from Central Arizona College, where he went 12-2 with a 1.54 ERA last season.

"Jimmy Patterson is the wild card. He is our best athlete, he is just an athlete and a very good pitcher," Esmay said. "He is going to be in the rotation but he has a chance to be a pretty good hitter for us."

Another pitcher that will have a shot at the rotation is junior Merrill Kelly, who transferred from Yavapai Community College. Kelly went 10-1 with a 1.52 ERA last season at Yavapai.

"I'm excited about him," Esmay said. "He has an opportunity to be pretty good on the bump for us. He is very polished and he knows what he wants to do."

Sophomore Mitchell Lambson returns after a breakout freshman season as a reliever, going 9-5 with a 3.01 ERA and five saves. Esmay is unsure of what role Lambson will fill on the mound for ASU this season.

"Lambson is an interesting cat. He is kind of like that silver bullet," Esmay said. "We can use Lambson in the rotation, we can use him as a closer, and we can use him in the fifth to try and come in and clean things up."

"It will dictate how the weekend goes on, on how we use him. I don't want to walk away from a weekend and only use him once."

Other returners on the mound include sophomore Jordan Swagerty (4-1, 4.50 ERA), junior Matt Newman (2-1, 4.59 ERA), sophomore Jake Borup (8 IP) and sophomore Jeeter Ishida (7.2 IP).

Other newcomers that will look to see innings right away are freshmen Brady Rodgers, Alex Blackford and Jake Barrett.

With so many arms competing for innings, ASU may on paper have its deepest staff in years.

"Everybody is talking about the depth on our pitching staff and we have it," Esmay noted. "When you talk about it, you better prove that you have depth. The plan this year is to get guys some innings and find some guys that can eat some innings."

Infield/Catching

Competition is the key word in the infield for ASU this season, as every position is up for grabs.

The safest bet is at second base, where sophomore Zack MacPhee (pictured) returns after hitting .270 with four home runs and 39 RBI's in his debut season.

His double play mate will come down to sophomore Drew Maggi and freshman Deven Marrero. Maggi, who surprised many by hitting .309 and stealing 21 bases in his freshman season could also see time in the outfield.

It would take a special player to unseat Maggi from the shortstop position, but ASU feels they have just that in Marrero. Many of the veteran players described Marrero as somebody that can just flat out play baseball.

The corner positions will be filled with a mixture of sophomore's Riccio Torrez (.280 6 HR 37 RBI) and Zach Wilson (.275 9 RBI), along with senior Raoul Torrez (.250 1 HR 26 RBI).

Riccio Torrez and Wilson both can play both corner positions, while Raoul Torrez will see time at third base, second base and possible left field. Senior Kole Calhoun could also see time at first base.

Most seasons, ASU has boasted a solid offensive and defensive catcher, but this season they will have to replace Carlos Ramirez. The leading candidate to do so is sophomore Austin Barnes, who was converted from an infielder last season.

"Watching him grow and seeing where he is at, I really feel good about him," Esmay said. "This young man is going to be a pretty good catcher. It is good to see him earn the responsibility of getting to play."

Also seeing playing time will be junior Xorge Carrillo, who also transferred from Central Arizona where he hit .366 with 5 home runs and 38 RBI's last season.

"The catching situation is going to be solid," Esmay said. "We have the capability now that we have some depth that we can let a few guys play."

Outfield

The anchors of Esmay's lineup and his outfield will come from Calhoun and Newman.

Newman (pictured), who hit .305 with 7 home runs and 54 RBI's in 2009, will make the shift across the outfield to left field for 2010.

College World Series star Calhoun will be the right fielder. Despite finishing with a .312 batting average with 12 home runs and 53 RBI, the majority of last season was a struggle for Calhoun before coming on in the postseason.

"What you saw from Kole Calhoun was a struggle last year," Esmay said. "He stuck with it and he figured it out. What you saw at the end is what he is all about. Kole Calhoun is going to be in the middle of everything we do."

Replacing Jason Kipnis in centerfield will either be sophomore Johnny Ruettiger (.360 1 HR 13 RBI) or freshman Andrew Aplin. Junior Andy Workman will also see playing time when he recovers from a foot injury.

Coaching and Style of Play

Besides Esmay, the coaching staff is completely new this season. Former Washington head coach Ken Knutson, former Washington St. assistant Travis Jewett and former ASU and MLB infielder Mike Benjamin complete the staff.

The Sun Devils are going to play a faster pace and more aggressive style of baseball this season under the direction of Esmay.

"We are going to be an up-tempo team," Esmay said. "We are just a bunch of ballplayers, we have to play hard and take what we can get. We need to beat teams in more than one way and I think this team is more equipped to do that."

Esmay went from not expecting to return as an assistant coach, to being the man in charge of the entire program.

"I have had nine lives here, I just keep coming back," Esmay said. "Being at Arizona State as long as I have and the exposure that I have had, it allows me to be a little more comfortable. There are things I see coming ahead that I have been through."

Despite being in charge of the program that means so much to him, the Arizona native is still the humble and fun loving guy he was in his previous nine seasons as an assistant coach.

"My wife reminds me every day when it is time to take the trash out or mow the yard that this ASU gig isn't as big as I think it is."


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