Jan. 5, 2000
Youth will play a major role in the 2000 addition of the Arizona State baseball team. Head coach Pat Murphy, now in his sixth year at the helm of the Sun Devil program, will put a talented but youthful team on the field this season. Gone are names like Andrew Beinbrink, Willie Bloomquist and Chuck Crumpton. Say hello to Mike Lopez, Jonah Martin and Mike Esposito.
The 2000 squad will follow a 1999 edition that led the nation in both batting average (.356) and scoring (11.3 per game), produced a Pac-10 leading 10 MLB draft selections and the Pac-10 Player of the Year. Last season, the Devils finished 39-21, 12-12 in conference play. They led the league in almost every offensive statistical category both as a team and individually. The pitching staff posted six shutouts, the most since 1976 while notching a team ERA of 4.94 - the lowest since 1995.
Only 18 months from a National Championship game performance, missing post season play in 1999 was a bitter pill to swallow for the offensive-minded Devils. They don't plan on missing the dance again.
The 2000 team will play one of the toughest schedules in the nation with series against Florida State, LSU, Stanford, UCLA and Southern California among those testing Arizona State this season. Pepper that with Oklahoma, Cal-State Fullerton and Arizona - you've got a grueling schedule on your hands. A schedule that prepares a team for a difficult postseason run.
But scheduling alone doesn't promise an invitation to the dance. The squad must produce on the field and use what they have learned from a dedicated coaching staff in the fall. Mental toughness is a necessity when facing such a daunting schedule. A quality Murphy has always looked for in his players. Only time will tell if his players will live up to the challenge of a new year.
Infield The infield will play host to both old and new faces this season. Junior Jeff Phelps (Yuma) will get the nod at first base after seeing time as both an infielder and outfielder his first two seasons. Phelps hit .302 in 1999 in 47 games with 30 RBI. At third base, look for Mike Lopez (Yavapai) to get his first start in a Sun Devil uniform. Lopez, a junior college transfer, redshirted last season.
Replacing All-American shortstop Willie Bloomquist, will be freshman, Dennis Wyrick (Asuza, Calif.). Wyrick was a two-time all-state selection in both baseball and football but chose to play baseball exclusively at Arizona State.
Holding down the job at second base will be sophomore Brooks Conrad (Spring Valley, Calif.). Conrad saw some action last year when starter Mark Ernster broke his hand late in the year. Conrad hit. 340 in 45 games and was a perfect five-for-five in stolen bases.
Also look for Brian Berger (Scottsdale) who redshirted last season to make contributions at third base and shortstop for the Devils.
Outfield Leading the outfielders will be junior Jeff Duncan (Frankfort, Ill.) who will make the move to center in 2000. Duncan, in his first season after transferring from Iowa State, hit .377 in 51 games and returns as the team leader in stolen bases from a year ago with 15.
Making the move to the outfield is senior Mitch Jones (Orem, Utah) who played primarily at first base in 1999. Jones hit .333 in 50 games with 13 doubles and 11 homeruns. Jones patrol right field for the Devils.
Joining Duncan and Jones, is newcomer Jonah Martin (Waianae, Hi.) a transfer from L.A. City Junior College. Martin will take over for Jay Sitzman in left field. Martin was a second-team all-conference pick while at L.A. City and a first-team all-state selection in high school.
Also contributing in the outfield will be speedy Mel Stocker (Tucson) who can also play third base. Transfer Phil Downing (Sandy, Utah) has all the tools to see some quality time in the outfield as well.
Behind the Plate Resuming the role he began last year, sophomore Trent Pratt (Tooele, Utah) returns for his second season behind the dish. Pratt, hit .307 in 1999 and recorded a .996 fielding percentage, committing only one error in 275 chances.
Backing up Pratt, will be Ty Johnson (Englewood, Co.), who has proven himself a capable starter and leader during his four years.
Designated Hitter Junior Casey Myers (Casa Grande) returns as ASU's leading RBI man in 2000. Myers hit. 329 last season with 51 RBI as well as a team-leading six sacrifice flies. Myers also led the squad in hit-by-pitches with 11 on the year.
On the Mound Despite numerous losses in other positions around the field, ASU looks to be strong on the mound in 2000. The returning pitchers won 79 percent of ASU's games last year (30 of 39 wins) and amassed 342 strikeouts. The Devils lost only one starter in Chuck Crumpton as well as the talents of closer Charlie Williamson. Those two pitchers constitute the only major losses for Arizona State's pitching staff.
Sophomore Jon Switzer (Houston, Tx.) will find himself in the starting rotation once again after posting a 4.12 ERA and a 7-4 record in 1999. Switzer pitched 87.1 innings, striking out 78 while walking only 29. He was a Freshman All-American honorable mention selection as well.
Junior Chad Pennington (Hamilton, Ohio) should also be in the mix in 2000. Pennington notched a 7-5 record with a 6.64 ERA while battling injuries through out the 1999 season. He still managed to strikeout 67 batters at the plate and record a team-leading three saves.
ASU also returns 10-game winner Will Waldrip (Flagstaff) to the staff this year. Waldrip posted a 10-3 record with three shutouts and four complete games in 1999. He had a 10-3 record with a 4.16 ERA. He led the team in innings pitched (114.2) and strikeouts (103).
Looking to make an immediate impact is freshman Mike Esposito (Las Vegas, Nv.) who should earn a spot in the starting rotation. Esposito is a fifth-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds who passed on the pros for an opportunity to play with the Devils. He was named Nevada's Player of the Year his senior year.
Looking to fill the closer role will be junior Robby Milner (Phoenix) who came on strong as a reliever at the end of last season after switching the angle of his delivery on the mound. In 18 appearances, Milner had a 3-0 record and a 4.67 ERA in 1999.
Arizona State will also have the services of junior Drew Friedberg (Middleton, Wis.) who threw ASU's first complete game one-hitter since 1994 as well as righthander Eric Doble (Casa Grande).
Transfer Luke Field (Littleton, Co.) will see immediate time as a closer or setup man. Field possesses a devestating change-up to go along with a 90-plus fastball. Joining Field will be another righthander, Jason Fingers (Las Vegas, Nv.). Fingers has an outstanding split finger pitch and has a shot to be in the game at the end.
Freshman Franco Pezely (Taylorsville, Utah) has also shown promise with good offspeed pitches. The competitive lefty could show up in long relief or to face lefthanded batters.
Sophomore Paul French had surgery on his pitching elbow in the off-season and will rehab during the 2000 season.
Also look for contributions from freshmen newcomers Bryce Kartler (Phoneix), Dennis Sarfate (Chandler), Aaron Klusman (Phoenix), Ryan Coffin (Tempe) and Matt Cova (Santa Maria, Calif.). These top freshmen have a high ceiling and could make immediate contributions after making the adjustment to collegiate ball. Also look for transfer Angel Ramirez (Gudsden) to figure into the equation.