2018 ASU Baseball Preview – Looking to Get Back to Winning Ways
By Carson Field // Baseball Beat Writer for Blaze Sports
TEMPE, Ariz. – After finishing tied for last in the Pac-12 in 2017, ASU baseball looks to return to its winning ways.
The Sun Devil baseball team is not looking back at 2017.
The 2017 season marked only the second time in program history that ASU did not finish the season with a winning record. ASU struggled to find wins against small, non-conference opponents, and the Sun Devils won only eight of their 30 games in Pac-12 play.
Another obstacle to last year’s team was off-field issues. Six players also left the team last season, including starting outfielder Andrew Shaps. Key players, catcher Zach Cerbo and pitcher Eder Erives are also gone after graduating in May.
While the team has struggled to regain its powerhouse status in recent years, ASU has still held its ground on the recruiting trail. For the second season in a row, ASU has finished in the top five of Baseball America’s recruiting class rankings, led by head coach Tracy Smith.
The 2016 class introduced Lyle Lin, Hunter Bishop and Carter Aldrete, who were all strong offensive players last year, each hitting above .270.
2017’s class was nearly as strong as the previous class, for it was ranked fourth in the nation and first in the Pac-12, according to Baseball America.
Seven of the 15 members of the class were ranked in Baseball America’s Top 500 prospects, second to only Vanderbilt. Additionally, eight of the incoming freshmen were drafted and six of the eight decided to sign with ASU.
One of the key pieces to this young core is outfielder Gage Canning, who was statistically the best batter on the team last year. Canning hit for an average of .332 with six home runs and 29 RBIs, all of which led the team.
On the mound, the Sun Devils struggled mightily last year. Not one pitcher with 10 or more appearances had an ERA under 3.00.
Senior Eli Lingos had glimmers of brightness last year, but his stats do not display that, for he recorded an ERA of 4.21 and a 6-7 record. However, Lingos is expected to be the ace of this pitching staff, as he led the team with 16 games started last season.
The only player taken from ASU in the 2017 MLB Draft was pitcher Connor Higgins, who was taken in the 35th round by the Texas Rangers. Higgins; however, decided to forego the MLB and stay in school.
The Friday spot for the rotation will go to freshman, Spencer Van Scoyoc, who struggled mightily last year, but Saturday will be Lingos. Following Lingos will likely be Jake Godfrey, who recorded a measly 6.10 ERA in 2017.
The mid-week starter will most likely be Boyd Vander Kooi, — a freshman from Mesa – who was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Arizona in 2017. In the bullpen, Ryan Hingst and Chaz Montoya both struggled last year, but they are both expected to be major relief pitchers this year.
In the offseason, ASU hired Mike Cather to the pitching staff to fix some of the Sun Devils’ pitching woes. Most recently, Cather served as the Minor League Pitching Coordinator for the Miami Marlins, but he has also spent time with the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres organizations.
The Sun Devils open the 2018 campaign against Miami University. The Redhawks struggled last season, as the team went 22-34 and 8-16 in MAC play.
Also in the non-conference schedule, ASU has series’ against Long Beach State, UNC Wilmington, Oklahoma State and Cal State Fullerton, all of whom were tournament teams in either 2016 or 2017.
Following the tough non-conference schedule, ASU begins Pac-12 play on March 13, when the Sun Devils host in-state rival Arizona. Arizona State struggled against the Wildcats last year, as the Wildcats won four of the five games they played against ASU.
Later in the conference schedule, ASU plays road series against Arizona (later in the season), Oregon State, Stanford and UCLA, who all qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2017.
Featured Image Cred: Brady Klain // WCSN
Carson Field is one of the two beat writers for Blaze Sports covering ASU Baseball. You can reach out to him at email@example.com or follow Carson on Twitter @Carson_FieldASU.