January 11, 1999
Some might argue that after the incredibly successful 1998 season, the Arizona State baseball team might approach the '99 season as "a rebuilding year". After all, the Devils lost four starting pitchers to the draft, plus half of their infield. Yes, some might. But not ASU's head coach Pat Murphy.
" We don't want to use rebuilding as an excuse in 1999, so we laid a solid foundation this fall and prepared our players for the challenges ahead of us," said head coach Pat Murphy, now in his fifth year at the helm. "We stressed mental toughness to the players because they all have the skills to play at this level. But the truly successful athlete is the one that has mental toughness and finds a way to win."
And winning is a longstanding baseball tradition at Arizona State University.
The Sun Devils finished the 1998 season ranked second in the country in every major collegiate baseball poll and finished as the runner-up in the '98 College World Series held in Omaha, Nebraska. Six athletes earned All-America honors and three players were honored on the College World Series All-Tournament team. Arizona State went 41-23 with a 18-11 record in conference play. Murphy, who is only the third head coach in ASU history, was honored as Baseball America's National Coach of the Year. A total of 10 athletes were taken in the 1998 Major League Baseball Draft and two others signed free agent contracts. Lefty Ryan Mills became Arizona State's 21st first round pick in the amateur draft when he was taken with the sixth-pick overall by the Minnesota Twins. Murphy also became the youngest coach to reach 500 wins (with 75 percent of his victories from Div. I) at age 39 with a 7-6 win over California on March 22, 1998.
Many new faces will dot the Sun Devils lineup with only three starters returning from last year's squad. The pitching staff is even more of a question mark with four starters gone and only two returning pitchers with significant time on the mound.
The Devils will have to restock the outfield with the losses of centerfielder Rudy Arguelles and rightfielder Mikel Moreno as well as Willie Bloomquist's move to the infield. The infield should look pretty familiar with only second base up for grabs.
"We are fairly deep at all of our positions this season, but we will have some new faces out there," Murphy noted. "We will be relying on our upperclassmen to provide leadership for the younger players.
"I really like this group of athletes. They are willing to do what it takes and are very disciplined."
Offensively, ASU returns its top three RBI producers in Andrew Beinbrink (85), Willie Bloomquist (61) and Casey Myers (58). Arizona State also returns some speed on the base paths with two 20-plus base stealers in Bloomquist (33) and Beinbrink (20). The Pitchers
The ASU pitching staff will have almost a completely different look in '99. Of the six pitchers last year who pitched the bulk of the season, only two return. Gone are lefties Ryan Mills and Phill Lowery, along with righthanders Richy Leon and Aaron Kramer who pitched 352.2 innings of 567 total in '98. Last season's pitching staff recorded a Pac-10 record 586 strikeouts and held opponent batters to a .258 average.
Sophomore Chad Pennington (7-2, 4.20 ERA, 3 saves) will anchor the 1999 pitching staff. The honorable mention Freshman All-American pitched 75.0 innings last year with 87 strikeouts and only 35 walks. Pennington did not pitch during the fall due to a sore elbow in his pitching arm, but is expected to return at full strength with the beginning of the '99 season.
Senior closer Chuck Crumpton (3-7, 3.00 ERA, 5 saves) returns as the only other pitcher with significant innings for the Devils. Crumpton, who tallied 63.0 innings with 61 strikeouts, will most likely make the move to a starting role for this year.
Sophomores Drew Friedberg and Robby Milner will both likely see action in middle relief.
Newcomers who will likely see considerable time on the mound include Will Waldrip, a lefty transfer from Brigham Young and Charlie Williamson, a righthanded transfer from Northwestern who both turned in solid performances this fall for the Devils.
"Both young men were a very pleasant surprise," said Murphy.
The number two starter could be transfer Shaylor Hatch, a sophomore transfer from South Mountain C.C.. Eric Doble, a sophomore transfer from Grand Canyon University, could see action as the third starter or a setup man.
ASU will rely on junior transfer Ian Perio (Laney College, Calif.) as well. "Ian wasn't here in the fall and must get in shape quickly for the season. He can definitely contribute."
Freshman Jon Switzer, a lefty from Houston, Texas, also showed some maturity on the mound this fall and could see action facing lefties. Freshmen Paul French (Northgate HS, Calif.) and Enrique Ruiz (Kofa HS, Ariz.) could also factor into the mix as middle relievers.
With the loss of juniors Greg Halvorson and Jeremy Jones, sophomore Casey Myers and freshman Trent Pratt will step in. Myers, last year's designated hitter, is a knowledgeable catcher who worked hard in the off-season to improve his arm strength. Battling with Myers will be the highly-touted freshman, Trent Pratt (Tooele HS, Utah). Pratt was USA Today's Utah Player of the Year and an outstanding defensive catcher.
"Both Casey and Trent have a great presence behind the plate," said Murphy. "They will both have an opportunity to showcase their talent this year."
Backing up these two, will be sophomore Ty Johnson who is a solid hitter at the plate and possesses great leadership qualities
Although you may see some new faces in the infield they will not be unfamiliar. Junior All-American Willie Bloomquist, who saw action in leftfield and at second base last year, moves to shortstop for the 1999 season. Bloomquist led both the team and the league in hits, runs, triples, walks, stolen bases and on-base percentage in '98. Senior All-American Andrew Beinbrink, who was a College World Series all-tournament selection, returns to anchor the infield from third base after leading the team and league in RBI. This season, Beinbrink will have the opportunity to become ASU's career RBI leader and is currently ranked eighth on the Pac-10's career RBI charts. Senior Chip Gosewisch and junior Mark Ernster will vie for time at second base this year. Gosewisch is returning from shoulder surgery last year which cut his season short. He batted .319 in 25 games last year. Ernster had a great fall showing and is looking to prove himself on the field in '99. Sophomores Jeff Phelps and Kevin Tillman, along with junior transfer Mitch Jones (Utah Valley C.C.) will see time at first for the Devils. Phelps and Jones will play versus lefthanded pitchers with Tillman playing against righthanders. Phelps batted .348 as a freshman with 54 hits, 33 runs and 10 doubles. Tillman redshirted last year due to a nagging hamstring injury.
Junior Mike Lopez, a transfer from Mesa C.C., will be used as a utility infielder during the 1999 season as well as freshmen Brooks Conrad (Monte Vista HS, Calif.) and Tate Gunning (Mountain View HS, Mesa).
"I have a lot of confidence in this group's ability to play defense," Murphy said. "There are a lot of leaders out there on the field who will find a way to get it done. I am expecting great things."
The outfield will have a new look this season with fleetfooted junior Jay Sitzman getting the nod in leftfield for the Devils. Sitzman batted .277 in 28 games last year. Junior Dustin Delucchi will vie for time in centerfield. Delucchi, who ended 1998 in centerfield for ASU, batted .222 in 47 games. Battling for time in rightfield are transfers Jeff Duncan (Iowa State) and Brett Cadiente (San Diego State). Duncan, a sophomore, batted .311 for the Cyclones in '98 and was the runner-up Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Senior transfer Donny Starkins (Nebraska) will be used as a utility outfielder.
The Designated Hitter
Top candidates for the DH spot are junior transfers Scott Goodman (Cuesta College) and Mitch Jones.
"Both hitters have shown excellent power to all fields," Murphy noted. "We need them to make the adjustments to Division I baseball and contribute immediately."