Versatility is going to be the word of the year for Arizona State baseball, and it will be the defining factor for the pitching staff.
After firing only one player from last season’s trio of injured starters in addition to losing four pitchers to the draft, the staff remains exhausted compared to last year. The challenge prompted ASU freshman baseball coach Willie Bloomquist to ask his players to be ready for a trip to the mound at any time, especially two-way players like the second in shirt. red Kai Murphy.
“Everyone will need to be ready to step in and contribute on a day-to-day basis,” Bloomquist said. “(The pitching team) is still to be determined and it just might end up being guys coming out. In terms of defining them as a starter, a relief guy, we kind of have an idea of what we want to do, but we still have to shake up our scrums a bit to see where we want to go with that.
Right-hander Boyd Vander Kooi, a remaining starter from last season, is coming out of Tommy John surgery beginning in March 2021 and his status for Opening Day against Dixie State on Feb. 18 is uncertain for Bloomquist. However, his progress is trending towards a comeback at the start of the season and he will play with a limited workload until his full return.
While most of the spots in the lineup have been filled or moved, a wide-open gap remains to left field. Murphy and second redshirt student Joe Lampe occupy their spots in right field and center, respectively, but no one has emerged to fill the outfield. The current competition between new players and other positional players has Bloomquist and batting coach Travis Buck excited.
Buck, a former ASU outfielder himself, is excited about the depth of the outfield and sees who is fighting for the free spot.
“We have versatile guys, especially with the catchers of (Nate) Baez, (Will) Rogers, who have the chance to play among the other outfielders. It’s healthy competition and we know we’re going to need a lot of these guys to fill some innings there. It’s to be taken before the season,” Buck said.
Welcome Buck to ASU
When Buck was hired on the Bloomquist staff over the summer, he assumed it would be a role similar to his previous role as Boise State Baseball’s director of player development and bench coach.
And while he was excited to return to where his career took off, he knew he wouldn’t be able to educate players as much as he would like.
But his role intensified a few months after his arrival once former major leaguer and then batting coach Bill Mueller took a job as quality control coordinator for the Washington Nationals. Now as a batting coach and first baseman, Buck is eager to talk more about his role.
“It was an easy transition, if anything, I was thrilled to finally be able to remove the muzzle so I could really speak and instruct. It’s great to take full control of the outfielders, but also to work with the batters,” Buck said. “As it’s a special place, it’s still a dream of mine, but it was always a long way down the road. But to be back here so soon is a dream come true and I’m very lucky to get the brown and gold back.
Buck thinks he and Bloomquist as former ASU players leading the program have made it easier to build a culture in a shorter time.
“We’re not looking to go anywhere else, we want Willie to be extremely successful here. We’re going to do everything we can to support him,” Buck said. “We’ve really gelled in a short time as a coaching staff and we know the trickle down effect. If the players see how tight-knit and close-knit the coaching staff is, it will make things a little easier on a squad level.
Sixth grade is the charm
First baseman Conor Davis hasn’t been able to adjust to the Sun Devils in conference since moving from Auburn in 2020 and suffered a torn ACL that sidelined him all last season. Despite his circumstances, he still sheds some light on his situation as a sixth-year senior at ASU.
“I might be one of the oldest players in the country, but that’s the way it is. I’m thrilled to be here playing with these guys,” Davis said. took the nickname Uncle Sev. I don’t really know, they call me Unc.
Davis should add even more depth to the infield and with this bat. At Auburn, he hit .339 with three home runs in the cleanup in the shortened 18-game 2020 campaign.
“I’m excited, it’s been just over a year since surgery and I’m just happy to be healthy now and able to play at full power and speed. I actually move better than before the operation and before tearing everything up, which is crazy. I’m just excited to be out there and be a leader and not have to do it from the bench or the locker room. I’m excited because it’s been almost two full years since my last game and I’m thrilled to be healthy.
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