TCU and Arizona State face off on the baseball diamond in an early-season marquee matchup between two teams who opened their 2017 campaigns by sweeping Big 10 foes. ASU comes to Fort Worth reeling a bit though, having been licked at home to the tune of 18-4 by an Oklahoma State team that will likely challenge TCU for and others for a conference championship. Will they rebound and take a game or two from the Frogs? House of Sparky Co-Managing Editor Kaelen Jones, as well as several of his writers, were kind enough to answer a few questions about their team and what Frog fans might expect from the Sun Devils this weekend.
Arizona State had to replace a somewhat surprising number of players last summer, as the draft hit the Sun Devils hard. Does losing so much talent change the expectations for 2017?
Yes, losing three starting position players and two starting pitchers to the MLB draft hurts, but taking hits like that are inevitable for the Sun Devils.
Arizona State lost nine players to the draft in 2015 and still had a 36-23 record that earned ASU a No. 2 seed and led the Sun Devils to the final round of the Fort Worth, TX regional before falling to the Horned Frogs in the final round. Overall, it shouldn’t affect the Maroon and Gold badly this season as they return a load of pitchers and added the best recruiting class in the nation, according to baseballnews.com.
Despite a younger team with 25 underclassmen, the expectation to finish near the top of the Pac-12 and go deep into the NCAA Tournament stands the same.
The Sun Devils signed the consensus #1 recruiting class in the country, and several true freshmen are primed to take on big roles. How have they performed in the very early goings this year? Any surprises?
Overall, the freshman class has been pretty outstanding.
Catcher Sam Ferri has been great both at the plate and behind it, throwing out two Oklahoma State baserunners earlier this week, and he's proving to be one of the better-hitting freshmen early on. Another bright spot is second baseman Carter Aldrete, who has all but solidified his role at second base, and smacked the Devils' second home run of the season Wednesday. The most surprising, however, has been catcher Lyle Lin, who's spent most of his time on the diamond at first base. The Tapei, Taiwan native has seven hits in his first fifteen collegiate at-bats and has demonstrated versatility, being able to eat some innings behind the plate.
ASU and TCU have actually played quite a bit over the last few years, but I wouldn't say most Frog fans are overly familiar with the Sun Devils program. How would you describe their playing style overall?
They live for the thrill or on the edge, so to speak. Phoenix Municipal Stadium is no stranger to walk-offs and high-drama endings. Last season, ASU went 12-1 in one-run games, and 6-1 in extra-inning contests.
If the Sun Devils are ahead in a contest, don’t be surprised if the result comes more dramatically than it probably should. Likewise, if they’re behind, don’t be surprised if they channel last-minute inspiration to pull out a win. There’s no singular star player this year either, so that inspiration could come in the form of anyone at anytime.
The characterization of this team falls somewhere between ‘never-say-die’ and ‘always-be-on-your-toes.’
Manager Tracy Smith is not only a great coach, but seems to have a real feel for pushing the right buttons with his players while letting them have some fun off the field too. In year three of his tenure, how would you rate his performance? What will be considered a successful season for him and his team this year?
Expectations, whether fair or not, will always be astronomical at Arizona State, but I think Smith has done a fine job in his first two-plus years. Those first seasons have resulted in a pair of Sunday finishes in regional play and (most recently) the signing of the top recruiting class in the country.
He will eventually be judged, however, on Super Regional and CWS appearances, and you might here some rumblings regarding his job if one of those is not reached by the end of year four. Expectations are a bit lower this season after the team was gutted by the draft last June, so I'd say another trip to the postseason would be considered a success for the Sun Devils.
The TCU offense got off to a rousing start in the season opener, averaging 9 runs per game against Penn State. How do you expect the ASU pitching staff to fare against the big bats of the Horned Frogs?
After a series where the Sun Devils allowed two, one and three runs sweeping the Big Ten’s Northwestern, Arizona State gave up 16 runs to No. 20 Oklahoma State on Tuesday. Facing another Big 12 opponent in No. 1 TCU, pitching should be a big concern going into the weekend.
The good news for the Sun Devils is they will have a fully rested bullpen, unlike in the loss to OSU, and three starting pitchers who have yet to lose a game.
ASU’s best bet to slow down TCU’s hot bats is in the hands of its starting pitching. If junior lefty Eli Lingos could last long term, like he did against Northwestern (6.2 IP), it will give the Sun Devils an advantage forcing the Horned Frogs to face the best of ASU’s experienced bullpen. But if the Sun Devil starters can’t get past the fifth inning like junior right-hander Ryan Hingst (4.0 IP) and Spencer Van Scoyoc (2.1 IP) couldn’t against NU, Arizona State may be in deep trouble against the TCU who average 8.5 runs per game.
- Josiah Destin, Staff Writer
Who are the one or two guys in the lineup that need to have a big series for the Sun Devils to win in Fort Worth?
At the plate, ASU needs someone to complement freshmen Lyle Lin and Sam Ferri. I’d say outfielders Hunter Bishop and Gage Canning.
On the mound, freshman starter Spencer Van Scoyoc will need to hold his own should he get a weekend start.
- Kaelen Jones, Co-Managing Editor
What is your prediction for this weekend's series?
I'll say TCU takes two of the three. Brian Howard should prove to be too much to handle on the mound on Friday, but Arizona State has enough talent to claw out one win in the remaining two games.
- Connor Pelton, Co-Managing Editor
Thanks again to Kaelen and the rest of the House of Sparky crew! Be sure to check out their coverage of the weekend here.