Raffo Working Toward Next Year

Memorial Day morning Tommy Raffo was in his office working on next season's Arkansas State Red Wolves baseball team. "It is a never-ending process,'' he said. "It is all about recruiting now."

Raffo and his staff are making plans for next season, with an eye on the June First-Year Player Draft and the effects it could have on next season's roster.

Raffo expects senior Daniel Wright to be among those draft and believes junior pitcher Bradley Wallace could be included. The draft begins on June 6.

"If you look at our track record it is pretty good," said Raffo. "In the past four years we have had six players drafted and three others sign free agent contracts. That is nine guys getting a shot a pro ball. I think the scouts notice our track record. And if you are getting guys drafted after their third year you are doing something right."

Wallace, a talented right-handed pitcher from Cleveland County, turned in a strong year as the No. 2 starter. He was the winning pitcher in ASU's 10-4 victory over Western Kentucky.

For the fourth straight season, the Red Wolves won two games in the tourney. Raffo's teams are 8-7 in the event.

"For the four games, two of the four, the ones we won, we played well," he said. "The two we lost, the effort was there, we just did not execute defensively, and at the plate, and it cost us runs. You can't do that in one-run games."

The Red Wolves' defeats in the tourney were 3-2 to Troy and 5-4 to eventual champion Florida Atlantic.

Raffo said he did not like the way ASU struggled down the stretch, but some roster changes for the conference tournament and the team responded. "I think there was a little better chemistry," he said.

With the changes, freshman Derek Birginske for a shot for playing time in the outfield and and hit .235 with a pair of extra base hits and three runs batted in.

"We like Derek a lot," said Raffo. "He didn't get as much playing time but we know what we have. With the lineup moves we got Kevin Fitzpatrick in there. He is a great athlete but this was his first full season of baseball. He was a three-sport guy in high school. He will make mistakes, like he did against FAU. He was caught up in the game and was trying to make a play for his team."

Fitzpatrick, a freshman who played second in the tourney, ran through a stop sign at third and was out at the plate in the top of the ninth in the elimination game loss to FAU.

One freshman who did not get to play was Tanner Ring, the right-handed pitcher from Batesville who turned in a strong season. Ring got food poisoning upon his arrival in Lafayette and did not play in tourney.

"We could have used him," he said. "His numbers for a freshmen are really good. He is one of those guys who did not get involved with travel teams so not a lot of people knew about him. He came to our camps and we knew what kind of athlete he was."

Raffo also said he liked what he saw from freshman right-handed pitcher David Owen in his two innings of work against FAU -- no hits and four strikeouts.

"He won the No. 3 starter job coming out of the fall and we really like him," said Raffo. "He had some arm issues and we took it easy and brought him along slowly. But I like what I saw when he shut down Troy in that final inning (of 1 15-14 victory). I probably should have gone to him earlier."

Raffo said the focus is now on recruiting. They have a prospect visiting this week and there are plans for someone on the staff to attend an All-Star game in Little Rock where three signees -- Tyler Zuber of White Hall, Coulton Lee of Benton and Bryan Ayers -- will participate. He added that ASU signed 10 players in the fall -- the school just announced eight -- and one in the spring.

"This is a big class for us," he said. "We knew this was the year we turned our roster over. It is time for the younger guys to step up."