NCAA: AZ State Sun Devils Baseball 2015 Preview
The Arizona State Sun Devils baseball team begins a new era in 2015. The program not only has a new Head Coach, but they also have a new home at Phoenix Municipal (Muni) Stadium, after 40 years on campus at Packard Stadium.
Former Indiana Hoosier Coach, Tracy Smith, was hired as the fifth head baseball Coach in the Sun Devils storied program history on June 24, 2014 after Tim Esmay resigned. Smith who was given a five year contract was a two time Big Ten Coach of the Year and led the Hoosiers to a College World Series appearance in 2013. He was also the head coach of Miami Ohio from 1997–2005 and he led the RedHawks to two NCAA Tournaments.
As far as their new home, back in 2013 the Arizona Board of Regents approved Arizona State University’s 25-year lease of Phoenix Municipal Stadium. It was home to Oakland A’s Spring Training from 1982 to 2014, as well as the home for the AAA Phoenix Giants/Firebirds. Muni opened in 1964 and the Sun Devils have played 137 home games there from 1964 until 1974 before they moved to Packard Stadium on the Tempe campus.
The Sun Devils, who averaged over 2,800 fans per game last season at Packard Stadium, which was good for 22nd nationally. But, for the tenth consecutive season it was the highest in the West. Although it is older than Packard, Phoenix Muni will be a much better stadium for both players and fans. It can seat up to 8,000, but there are plans to block off some sections down the left- and right-field lines, for a capacity of 5,300 for this season. The stadium is 2.5 miles from Arizona State’s main campus in Tempe and will be accessible via the light rail system, so students should be able to attend without much difficulty. More restrooms will be an added feature and improved concession areas with better food selections and beer sales will only enhance the fan experience.
The legendary Sun Devils baseball history will move with the team to Phoenix Muni. An all-time roster wall of players will be on display and the former coaches will be recognized as well with a kiosk display on the concourse. It will honor Bobby Winkles, Jim Brock, Pat Murphy and Tim Esmay. Outfield signs will honor players whose numbers have been retired and the five national championships will be displayed.
As far as this year’s team, the Sun Devils will return a strong core from last season. Though they only have four seniors returning, they have a lot of players with plenty of game experience, and once again, a top ten recruiting class of players. For pitching this season they have three preseason All-American selections. Left-handers, Brett Lilek and Ryan Kellogg, and right-hander Ryan Burr. The Sun Devils are the only school to have three pitchers named preseason All-Americans. With the return of these pitchers, they will be one of the top contenders for the Pac-12 championship. Look for Kellogg, who is a two-time first team all-Pac-12 selection, to be the main pitcher again this year. Kellogg, who is a junior, went 8-3 with a 3.76 ERA last year and a 19-4 record, including 14-1 in conference play, in two seasons. Look for junior Brett Lilek to be the number two starter. He started 15 games and had a 2.68 ERA and 79 strikeouts, which was good for eighth in the Pac-12. Other pitchers that are returning and expected to get some starts will be Darin Gilles and Seth Martinez. As far as relievers, look for right-handers Hever Bueno and Jordan Aboites to get most of the work and first team all-Pac-12 selection junior, Ryan Burr, will be the closer. Burr picked up 12 saves last year to give him 24 in his two years as a Sun Devil.
Position players to look to as the leaders will be seniors Jake Peevyhouse and Trever Allen. Peevyhouse, who started the first month of last season with a .083 average, ended up hitting .290. He had 14 doubles and 22 RBI with a .373 slugging percentage and a .399 on-base percentage. Trever Allen had a .284 batting average and a .456 slugging percentage. Allen also led the team with five home runs and added eight doubles and three triples. Catcher RJ Ybarra started 50 games and led the team in RBI with 47. Dalton DiNatale, Johnny Sewald and David Grayibll will be counted on as well for veteran leadership.
The 2015 season will start on Friday, February 13th, when the Sun Devils welcome last year’s Big 12 Champion the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Once again the Sun Devils will have one of the toughest schedules in NCAA Division One baseball. They will have 32 home games and 23 games against eight of last year’s NCAA Tournament teams. Also on the schedule for the first time are the AZ Diamondbacks, who will host the Sun Devils on March 3 at 3:10PM at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick to kick off an annual Collegiate Baseball Series.
For every season of their 55-year history the Sun Devils have a time honored tradition of a top-25 ranking and this year is no different. The Sun Devils come in to the season at number 19, according to Collegiate Baseball NCAA Division I Pre-Season Poll. They have 52 consecutive 30-win seasons, which is the longest current streak in NCAA Division 1 baseball.
The Sun Devil hitters will have to adjust to Muni, as it is a deep park. That means the Sun Devils offense will need to become more of a line-drive team, rather than focusing on hitting home runs, and speed on the bases will be a factor, but the deep park will definitely help the Sun Devil pitchers.
Look for this year’s team to get at least 35 victories and make it to a regional again, but if the offense takes shape and adjusts to Muni and the pitching staff comes together, it might be a 45+ win season, with the possibility of hosting a regional. That would be an accomplishment under first year Coach Tracy Smith.
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