Jan. 13, 2002
Just like every year, a new season of Arizona State baseball brings the same expectations, the same demands and the same dreams of a 19th trip to Omaha and a sixth College Baseball National Championship.
For the Sun Devils, the 2002 season will be no exception, featuring a team loaded with young talent and tough pitching, 17 newcomers and a brutally tough schedule. Built in similar fashion to ASU's 1998 team that played for the National Championship, the 2002 Devils are sure to be a scrappy, hustling, typical Pat Murphy squad who will put runs on the board by playing playoff-type baseball, stealing bases, bunting and executing the hit and run to win games.
Coming off a 37-20-1 overall record and 14-10 third-place mark in Pac-10 play in 2001, ASU will look to put a disappointing loss to Texas Tech in the NCAA Regional behind them. Always a contender in the national spotlight, the Devils hope to continue a recent string that has seen the Devils reach the postseason in four of the past five years. Posting a career 269-143-1 record in his seven seasons at ASU, head coach Pat Murphy will have to face the loss of two-time Pac-10 Player of the Year and four-year starter Casey Myers, along with seven starters and three of last year's top four pitchers.
"This is a typical Sun Devil baseball team that I just love to coach," said the 1998 Baseball America National Coach of the Year and the 2000 Pac-10 Coach of the Year. "We lost a lot last year and have a very challenging schedule ahead of us, but we have a lot of talent and this is a team that has the will to win."
Just like any recent Sun Devil squad, getting to Omaha will have to go through the heart of the college baseball powers. The Devils have one of the toughest schedules in the nation ahead of them in 2002, with 22 games against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament last year and 12 games against teams that played in the College World Series (USC, Stanford, Fullerton, Tennessee). ASU also has non-conference games scheduled against usual college baseball powers Florida State, Oklahoma, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State.
The Devils will also have to face the rigors of playing their home schedule away from Packard Stadium, as planned renovations of the 28-year-old complex will move ASU's home games to Hohokam Park in Mesa this year. Playing in the spacious park that serves as the Spring Training home of the Chicago Cubs, the Devils speed and ability to hit the ball to all fields will serve as a major advantage.
"To be the best, you have to play the best," said Murphy on this year's tough schedule. "This is a team that wants to know how good they have to be to be the best and I think they will embrace the challenges. I can tell you one thing, there will be no easy game for us this year. We will be tested every game."
What Returns in 2002:
Facing the loss of eight of its top position players and four pitchers from the 2001 squad, Arizona State will have to reload with an armory of younger players. While the Devils will be young in 2002 with 23 of the 33 players on the roster underclassmen, they return several key players that factored into the success of the 2001 team. Sophomore outfielder Rod Allen hit .389 during his freshman campaign, and will be looked upon to replace the team-leading seven home runs and .395 batting average of Myers from last year. Key pitchers to watch for in 2002 are sophomore right-hander Mike Esposito and junior left-hander Bryce Kartler. Both are penciled into the starting rotation and both have the command, control and poise to lead ASU into the national spotlight.
If a team has any hopes of making a run at the national championship, it will have to rely heavily on the pitching staff. The Devils will not be short of arms in 2002, as a strong starting rotation is penciled in prior to the start of the 2002 season. Losing the All-American left arms of Jon Switzer and Drew Friedberg to the MLB Draft, ASU will have to replace 28 of the 37 wins from the 2001 team. But with right-hander Esposito and left-hander Kartler, the Devils have the talent and ability on the mound to make a run at Omaha. Esposito (Las Vegas), who was named a preseason All-American, was 5-2 for the Devils last year after coming back from Tommy John surgery, and is listed as the No. 8 prospect in the nation by Baseball America after going 3-1 with Team USA over the summer.
Hard-throwing sophomore right-hander Ryan Schroyer figures to be the Saturday starter, while junior left-hander Kartler (Phoenix) has the possibility to pitch sparingly in relief on Friday, then come back and start Sunday. Behind Esposito, Schroyer and Kartler, ASU figures to be strongest on the mound this year. Sophomore right-hander Aaron Klusman (Phoenix), junior college transfer Robbie McClellan (Liberal, Kan.) and freshman left-hander Miguel Sanchez (Los Angeles) will also bid for a spot in the starting rotation. Kartler, who returns to ASU after being drafted in the 20th round by St. Louis last June, led ASU with four saves a year ago and with added strength, poise and confidence to make the transition to the starting rotation.
Klusman went from a virtual unknown at the start of 2001 to finishing second on the team with a 3.31 ERA and 49 strikeouts, with a record of 1-0. McClellan is a crafty right-hander who stands at only 5-10 and 160 pounds, but has dominated at the NBC World Series each of the past two summers and led the junior college circuit in strikeouts per nine innings last year. "Kartler and Esposito will be the backbone of our pitching staff, and we have a lot behind them," said Murphy of his pitching staff. "Guys like Schroyer, Klusman and McClellan will give us options as we figure out what will make our team the strongest."
The bullpen will be anchored by a pair of sophomores, with Schroyer (Case Grande) and J.J. Jackson (Chandler) having a year of experience under their belts. Redshirt freshman Mark Sopko is coming off an all-star summer in the Central Illinois Collegiate League, and junior Jered Liebeck (Mesa) can fill in as a starter or reliever. Freshmen Josh Smith (Lake Havasu) and junior college transfers Josh Perrault (Mesa) and Carlos Arguello (Albuquerque, N.M.), could also contend for mound time for the Devils in 2002.
Replacing All-American catcher Casey Myers, a four-year starter for the Devils, will not be easy, and the leadership and professionalism he brought to the field was unmatchable. But ASU will look to former shortstop Dennis Wyrick and a duo of freshmen to don the "tools of ignorance" in 2002. Wyrick, who has started 97 games in his career, all at shortstop, started working out at catcher last spring and has started to feel more comfortable behind the plate. While his professional career will be behind the plate, it is uncertain how much time Wyrick will see at catcher in 2002. A career .339 hitter for the Devils, the junior from Azusa, Calif., was fourth on last year's team with a .360 batting average and led the Devils with a .389 mark in Pac-10 play. The junior is scheduled to start at third base.
"Dennis is a winner in life and he is not afraid to take on a challenge," said Murphy of his junior captain. "The transition won't be easy for him, but I have confidence in him, and he will find a way to succeed."
Freshman Tuffy Gosewisch (Scottsdale) figures to be ASU's opening day catcher and posesses the skills and knowledge to make the jump from high school to ASU. Senior backstop Cesar Castillo (Yuma) has tremendous defensive skills and will be able to step right in despite playing in only 17 games last year. Freshman Joel Bocchi (Phoenix) has showed tremendous poise during the preseason and is the future backbone of the program along with Gosewisch. Gosewisch, the brother of Chip, who played for ASU from 1996-99, is a tough player with a winning attitude. Bocchi has a bulldog mentality and has succeeded at every level of his baseball career. Redshirt freshman Garrett Schoenberger (Juneau, Alaska) adds depth to the catching position for ASU.
"We have a fine pair of freshman catchers who I will not hesitate to use in playoff-type situations," said Murphy. "We brought them in for a reason, and that is to compete at the highest level with success."
The Sun Devil infield is somewhat of an unknown heading into the season, with several newcomers biding for staring roles. The Devils have a plethora of depth at the middle-infield positions and have a number of players who can contribute quality innings on the corners.
Sophomore Jeremy West (Las Vegas) looks to have the first base position locked down to start the season. After starting the 2001 season on a tear, West calmed down, but still put up respectable numbers by hitting .307 with six home runs and 34 RBI. West added power and strength through a rigorous offseason strength and conditioning program and his steady defense should be a solid anchor for the Sun Devil infield. A host of possible backups have spent time learning the position in fall workouts. Sophomore transfer Andre Ethier (Phoenix), who figures to be ASU's starter in right field, has worked out at first to give the Devils more depth, while freshmen Nick Cadena (Glendale) has also made himself more versatile by trying out the new position.
"First base is going to be a position where we need some production," said Murphy. "Jeremy West is a steady defensive first baseman who has the potential to do some serious damage at the plate. We also have a lot of options with several players able to play the position in the late innings."
The second base position is another wild card for ASU heading into the 2002 season, but looks to be the job for freshman Dustin Pedroia. The slick-fielding freshman from Woodland, Calif., was impressive in fall workouts and brings crafty glove work to second base. At only 5-8, Pedroia swings a big stick at the plate and brings solid credentials into the Sun Devil baseball program after earning all-state honors during his senior year in the Sacramento area.
Labeled as a utility player who will play everyday, sophomore Steve Garrabrants (Phoenix) will also see time at second base. Whether at second, shortstop, in the outfield or the designated hitter, Garrabrants will find his name on the lineup card on a regular basis. After playing four different positions in 2001, Garrabrants tied a freshman school record with 16 stolen bases and hit .307 at the plate. Oklahoma transfer Sergio Garcia can also fill in at second base.
The Devils will be able to mix and match at third base to create a revolving lineup, ensuring ASU's depth is maximized. Coming out of fall workouts, Oklahoma transfer Sergio Garcia (Paramount, Calif.) was impressive with solid defense, despite making the transition after starting every game for the Sooners at shortstop last year. Along with Garcia, two-year starting shortstop Wyrick has moved behind the plate to catch, but will also see time at third base. Pedroia is also a candidate to see time at third base. Freshman Jeff Larish (Tempe), a 32nd round draft choice of the Chicago Cubs last June, may redshirt the 2002 season, but has the size and skills to contribute if called upon.
With two-year starter Wyrick departing to fill in the catcher role, the Sun Devils will call upon newcomer Ian Kinsler to fill the void at the shortstop position. Kinsler, a January transfer from Central Arizona and a two-time draftee of the Arizona Diamondbacks, hit over .400 as a freshman at CAC last year. The one time prep standout and teammate of Ryan Schroyer at Canyon del Oro High School in Tucson, Kinsler brings a big-time defensive and offensive presence to the Sun Devil lineup.
Garcia is the consummate utility man who is best suited for second base, but can also play shortstop or third base. Garrabrants can also fill the role at shortstop, with freshmen Cadena and Bret Berglund (Littleton, Colo.) also having prep backgrounds at that position.
Sophomore outfielder Rod Allen (Phoenix) is the leading returning hitter after setting a freshman school record last year with a .389 batting average. A freshman All-America by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball, Allen also belted six home runs last year and was a first team All-Pac-10 selection. Coming off a solid summer in the Alaskan League, Allen figures to be ASU's everyday starter in left field.
Sophomore transfer Andre Ethier (Phoenix) will patrol right field after leading all junior college players last year in hits. Ethier, who played last fall for the Sun Devils before transferring to Chandler-Gilbert CC last spring, adds a solid left-handed bat to the lineup. A pair of sophomores, Ryan McKenna and Nick Walsh, will also see time in left field, giving Ethier the opportunity to fill in at the DH spot or first base. Walsh (Alamo, Calif.) and McKenna (Elgin, Ill.) are both typical Sun Devil baseball players, possessing tremendous hustle and a winning attitude.
The center field position is prepared to be the biggest battle heading into the 2002 season. Senior transfer Doug Schutt is a left-hander with good speed, but senior Jon Sheaffer, who was a reserve for the Devils last year, has been making a push for the starting spot. Schutt hit .301 at North Carolina-Greensboro last year, while Sheaffer hit .261 in a reserve role for ASU last year. Also figuring into the battle is Garrabrants, who has shown steady improvement, and with his speed and range can track down any ball.
Always entering a season with high expectations is something ASU baseball has grown accustom to. But, 2002 will possess different challenges with a young team and one of the toughest schedules in the nation.
"I think people are going to have the perception that we will be an underdog this year because we lost so much talent from last year," said Murphy. "But, with a program rich in tradition like ASU, you are never an underdog and always a target. Our goal is always to win the National Championship, and shooting for anything less than that is not acceptable."