Sun Devil Baseball 2001 Outlook
Dec. 12, 2000
TEMPE, Ariz. - The 2000 edition of the Arizona State University baseball team was coined as young and inexperienced. Selected to finish sixth in the Pac-10 in the annual preseason poll, the Sun Devils finished the year with a 44-15 record and a share of the Pac-10 championship with a 17-7 mark in league play.
While the 2000 team was young with only two senior starters, the Sun Devils were anything but inexperienced. ASU advanced to the NCAA regionals for the 18th time in school history and were ranked as high as third in the national polls during the 2000 season. A heartbreaking loss to Texas in the regional final ended the Sun Devils run towards Omaha, but with 14 letterman and seven position starters returning for the 2001 season, Pat Murphy once again has his squad in position to be a national championship caliber team.
The Sun Devils begin the 43rd year of ASU baseball tradition on January 26 vs. Texas-Arlington. The program has compiled a .716 all-time winning percentage in 43 years and advanced to the College World Series 18 times, last being a runner-up finish in 1998.
Murphy, who enters his seventh year at the helm of the Sun Devils, has led ASU to a 232-123 record under his guidance. The 1998 Baseball America Coach of the Year and 2000 Pac-10 Coach of the Year, Murphy is the winningest active coach under the age of 43. The Sun Devil skipper spent the 2000 summer coaching the Netherlands National team to a 3-4 record at the Sydney Olympics, including a monumental upset of international power Cuba.
Back for the Sun Devils in 2001 is a plethora of talent that is highlighted by seven returning position starters and an All-American pitcher. The infield of catcher Casey Myers (Sr., Casa Grande, Ariz.), first baseman Jeff Phelps (Sr., Yuma, Ariz.), second baseman Brooks Conrad (Jr., Spring Valley, Calif.), third baseman Mike Lopez (Sr., Phoenix, Ariz.) and shortstop Dennis Wyrick (So., Azusa, Calif.) all return for the Sun Devil defense that posted a team fielding percentage of .971 that ranked fifth in the NCAA. The outfield returns senior Jonah Martin, who hit .325 with an ASU and Pac-10 record of 29 hit by pitches. Utility player Mel Stocker is back for his junior year after hitting .344 in 49 games in 2000.
Phelps is a three-year starter for the Sun Devils and had a fine year in 2000 with a .362 batting average and 60 RBI. The senior can play any number of infield positions, but is slated to start the year at first base or designated hitter. Freshman Jeremy West (Las Vegas, Nev.) is one of the program's up and coming top hitters and will see time at first base and designated hitter. Freshman two-sport star Eric Keefner (Chicago, Ill.) will also see time at first base and add tremendous power to the Sun Devil lineup.
Conrad was steady in the middle of the lineup for ASU in 2000. The second baseman tallied a team-high 21 game hitting streak and ended the year with a .336 batting average. During the summer Conrad was named the MVP of the Alaskan League Goldpanners' by hitting .326. The junior is slated to be the opening day second baseman. Right on his heels is freshmen Steve Garrabrants (Phoenix, Ariz.) who packs a lot of power and speed into his 5-10 frame. Garrabrants can also play left field for ASU.
Lopez had a fine rookie campaign as a Sun Devil, hitting .370 with six home runs before ending his season with a broken wrist. At the time of his injury, Lopez had a 13-game hitting streak in which he was hitting .426 (20x47). A leader of the ballclub, Lopez will be depended upon for his smooth fielding at the hot corner and his productive bat. Phelps has played third base several times in his career and can step in if needed. Freshman Rod Allen (Phoenix, Ariz.) provides depth at the hot corner and is a promising player for the future. Utility player Nick Walsh (Alamo, Calif.) can also play third and will add a solid bat off the bench in pinch-hitting situations.
Wyrick was a third-team selection by Baseball America for freshman All-American. The shortstop hit .317 in his first year of collegiate baseball and played well defensively. He is a slick-fielding shortstop who rarely makes errors.
'I am excited about the talent and leadership that our team returns for the 2001 season,' said Murphy. 'We have the core of our team back from a very good squad last year.'
The Sun Devils have one of the most talented and raw outfield corps in the nation. Led by senior Jonah Martin, the Sun Devil outfield possesses unlimited speed and range in the outfield. Slated to start in center is junior college transfer Chris Duffy. Duffy is a speedster described as a five-tool player who led the nation at the junior college level last year in stolen bases. Martin will start in right field and is coming off a fine junior season in which he hit .325 and led the nation with 29 hit by pitch. Stocker is a candidate to start in left, but will be pushed by true freshman Skyler Fulton (Olympia, Wash.) Fulton, who like Keefner plays on the Sun Devil football team, was a top prep star at Capital High School and brings tremendous ability to the diamond. Another football player, Jon Sheaffer, and freshman Ryan McKenna (Elgin, Ill.) will add depth to an already talented crew in the outfield. Sheaffer is a speedster who has a great arm and possesses great defensive skills. He is a transfer from South Mountain CC.
On the mound ASU returns Pac-10 honorable mention selection Jon Switzer. Switzer (Houston, Texas) was 11-3 on the mound with a 3.89 ERA and was named a third-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball. Switzer spent part of the 2000 summer with the Team USA National team and pitched well for the Red, White and Blue with a 1-0 record and 2.41 ERA before leaving the team with an emergency appendix surgery. In his career, the left-hander is 18-7 with a 3.99 ERA. Drew Friedberg (Sr., Middleton, Wis.) started five games in 2000 and is expected to contribute out of the bullpen in 2001. Jered Liebeck (So., Glendale, Ariz.) was 2-2 and started five games for ASU, and is a likely candidate to contribute in a starting role in 2001. Redshirt freshman Mike Esposito had successful Tommy John surgery and is expected back midway through the 2001 season. The addition of junior college transfer Andre Torres will do nothing but make an already strong pitching staff stronger.
A surprise could be the emergence of fifth-year senior Ty Johnson. A catcher for most of his ASU career, Johnson has made the transition to the mound very well and shined in spots last year. Possessing a 89-90 mph fastball and a live arm, Johnson will help the pitching staff tremendously in 2001. LHP Jonathan Gutierrez had a stellar record at Central Arizona CC, winning 14 games last year, and could contend for a starting position in the rotation.
While Switzer is the lone starter back from the starting rotation with more than five starts, ASU returns the backbone of a strong bullpen that showed flashes of brilliance in 2000 with a combined 19-5 record and 4.11 ERA. LHP Franco Pezely (Jr., Taylorsville, Utah) was the team-leader with a 3.24 ERA and an 8-2 record out of the bullpen in 26 appearances. Preseason All-American senior closer Eric Doble (RHP, Case Grande, Ariz.) had nine saves in 2000 and will step back into his role as the ace of the bullpen staff in late-inning situations.
Several freshmen are also poised to step on the mound and contribute for the Sun Devils in their rookie campaigns. RHP Mark Sopko (Joliet, Ill.) and RHP Alex Creel (Roseville, Calif.) will see action in long and short relief situations, while Ryan Schroyer (Oracle, Ariz.) will contend for late inning situations. Chandler product J.J. Jackson showed great stuff in fall practice and will be one of the Devils' go-to guys out of the bullpen.
'We have a good blend coming out of the bullpen of young and old,' said Murphy. 'Doble is a great leader and proved himself last year. Our younger guys are real special and come to the ballyard every day ready to play.'
What Returns at the Plate in 2001:
While senior Mitch Jones hit a school record 27 home runs, ASU returns a majority of the lineup that finished first in the nation in scoring (10.97 runs per game) and second in batting average (.346). While a lot of the power of the ASU lineup is gone from 2000, seven of the Sun Devils' top 10 hitters of 2000 are back. Led by Myers' .412 batting average and 97 RBI, the Sun Devil bats will once again have no problem putting runs on the board.
The Arizona State Sun Devil baseball program has had 13 players honored as the National Player of the Year, but not since catcher Paul LoDuca hit .446 in 1993 has the award been present in Tempe. Sun Devil senior catcher Casey Myers could be the next Sun Devil to earn the prestigious award. A career .380 hitter in his three years at Arizona State, Myers had a career year in 2000 by hitting .412 (30th in NCAA) with 18 home runs and 97 RBI. He was named the Pac-10 Player of the Year and enters the 2001 season ranked fifth in Pac-10 history with 206 career RBI. He was a consensus All-American and adding to all of his numerous other awards, was named the Academic All-American of the Year with a perfect 4.0 GPA in Math/Economics. While his statistics at the plate speak for themselves, it is perhaps his skills behind the plate that may be his most hidden talent. With a .996 fielding percentage and only two errors in 516 total chances, Myers was named the Easton Redline NCAA Defensive Player of the Year by Collegiate Baseball. Myers also ranks fifth in career RBI in the ASU record books, 9th with a .380 batting average, 10th with a .622 career slugging percentage and is approaching the career top 10 with 32 home runs. Myers had surgery on his wrist in the fall, but was back to swinging a bat in early December and will be ready for he season opener vs. Texas-Arlington.
'Casey Myers is just one of those rare guys that not only plays the game well, but does it in a manner where he makes the team better in every way,' said Murphy. 'He is a leader in every way. He makes the pitching staff better by his presence and command, and is great with the younger guys on the team. He exemplifies what a great college baseball player should be.'
Backing up at the backstop position is probably the most improved player on the team in Cesar Castillo (Yuma, Ariz.) Walk-on Garrett Schoenberger (Juneau, Alaska) was the lone player to emerge from the competitive walk-on process and shows great promise for the future.
While the Sun Devils did lose five upperclassmen to the Major League draft last June, a recruiting class that ranked first in the nation by Baseball America will enable ASU to pick up right where they left off in 2000. Highlighted by seven players who were drafted in June, the group includes several players who are expected to contribute immediately on the diamond in 2001. The highly touted recruiting class includes: UT/P Eric Keefner (4th round pick by Astros/Chicago, Ill.), P/C Ryan Schroyer (16th round pick by Tigers/Tucson, Ariz.), LHP Jonathan Gutierrez (20th round pick by Red Sox/Central Arizona College), OF Skyler Fulton (25th round pick by Mets/Olympia, Wash.), INF/OF Rodney Allen (34th round pick by Reds/Phoenix, Ariz, INF/OF Steve Garrabrants (42nd round pick by Twins/Phoenix, Ariz.), and OF Chris Duffy (43rd round pick by Red Sox/So. Mountain CC).
The 2001 Schedule:
A strong schedule is always one of the key focuses for the Arizona State baseball program. The Devils will host 36 games at Packard Stadium in 2001. ASU opens play Jan. 26 with a three-game series with Texas-Arlington. A three-game showdown with defending national champion LSU in early March highlights the home ASU schedule. The Sun Devils were 1-2 at LSU in 2000. In all, the Sun Devils will face eight teams and a combined 22 games against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament last year, including Oral Roberts, Creighton, LSU, Oklahoma, UCLA, Stanford and Cal State Fullerton. A tough Pac-10 schedule includes Stanford, Washington State, UCLA and Arizona at home. In addition to the strong home schedule at Packard Stadium, ASU will travel to nationally ranked Cal State Fullerton and to Tennessee for a two-game series in early May vs. the Tennessee Volunteers.
'In order to be your best, you have to play the best and that is what we strive to do every year,' said Murphy. 'We play one of the toughest, if not the toughest schedule in the nation. There is no other way to go.'