Thursday, March 7, 2013

Series Preview: Dirtbags @ Arizona State, 3/8-10


In Soviet Russia, the Dirtbags follow me... I guess.

Summary
My blog efforts have been about as productive as the Dirtbags’ offense against a left-handed pitcher (get use to hearing about that), but it’s not going to get much better this week (well, hopefully the Dirtbags’ offense will), as I’ll be abroad for the next few days. You’ll have to forgive any typos for now, as I likely won’t have a chance to correct them anytime soon.

The Dirtbags enter their final non-conference road series of the year with a mark of 6-7.

Arizona State is coming off a huge weekend in which they beat vaunted SEC club Arkansas twice and currently have a record of 7-2-1. They’re ranked 20th in the nation by Collegiate Baseball.

What’s at Stake
Our hopes at an at-large bid. That’s probably a bit of a hyperbole, but this weekend presents the Dirtbags best opportunity to inflate their non-conference achievements of the year, which could be vital to their post-season hopes if they fall short of a Big West title. 3.9 “RPI wins” are up for grabs.

Tale of the Tape
Pitching Match Ups
House of Sparky writer Nick Marek had a few comments on each of the Sun Devil starters, below. See this week’s “Dirty Talk” segment for more from Nick.

Friday: RHP Trevor Williams (1.29 ERA, 21:3 K:BB, 21 IP) vs. RHP Shane Carle (1.00 ERA, 14:5 K:BB, 18 IP)

“Trevor Williams is hands down the ace of this staff and he was awarded with many preseason awards including All-American honors and he was placed on the Golden Spikes Award Watch list which is given to the nation's best collegiate baseball player.”

Saturday: LHP Ryan Kellogg (1.20 ERA, 13:1 K:BB, 15 IP) vs. TBA; Projected: LHP Nick Sabo (1.86 ERA, 9:4 K:BB, 9.2 IP)

“Kellogg… can throw gas. Kellogg basically earned his spot in the rotation after his second appearance and  [pitched] against No. 1 Arkansas on Saturday.”

Landon Hunt came out of the pen this week against UCLA, so his weekend status is in question for now. If he does start he’ll need to get things turned around soon to keep that rotation position. If he doesn't start this weekend look for Sabo to start, or RHP David Hill to get his first career nod.

Sunday: LHP Adam McCreey (6.57 ERA, 11:7 K:BB, 12.1 IP) vs. RHP Jon Maciel (5.00 ERA, 18:6 K:BB, 18 IP)

Two lefties? Crap…

“McCreery did not pitch much his freshman year because he suffered an arm injury and pitched out of the pen. This year, he has struggled a bit with his command and could be at risk of losing his spot in the rotation to freshman Brett Lilek if he doesn't turn things around soon….

Head coach Tim Esmay is not afraid to utilize all of his options and if someone is struggling, then he will replace them. Plain and simple. He is very good about playing the hot arm or the hot bat and this year he has turned a lot to the pitching. ASU's bullpen has been phenomenal thus far.”

Lineups
The Sun Devils have boasted a solid offensive club thus far, with three everyday players posting on-base percentages over .400 (Kasey Coffman, Max Rossiter, Michael Benjamin) and four players slugging better than .450 (Coffman, Rossiter, Trever Allen, James McDonald). Their usual lineup looks like this, with a few variations:

CF Kasey Coffman, LH
SS Drew Stankiewicz, LH
C/DH Max Rossiter, RH
2B James McDonald, Switch
RF Trever Allen, RH
C/DH Nathaniel Causey, LH
3B Michael Benjamin, RH
LF Jake Peevyhouse, LH
1B David Graybill, RH

As for the Dirtbags, Zach Rivera has been emerging as a valuable piece to the Dirtbags’ lineup, posting an .888 OPS in limited action, though he hasn’t secured a spot in the field just yet. For all I’ve said in support of CF Colby Brenner, his OPS is just .486, though he remains a solid table setter with an on-base percentage .386. I’d be nice to see him get more of chance against left-handed pitching, but Rivera may force him out of the lineup for now. It’ll be interesting to see who gets leadoff duties against the southpaws this weekend. So far the games have been split between OF Josh Guerra and 2B Jeff McNeil. McNeil will keep batting in the top two spots no matter what.

No other new developments with the lineup seem to be on the horizon, although if Michael Hill keeps up his hot hitting (1.093 OPS) he may find himself batting in the middle of the order soon.

Dirty Talk
This week I’m happy to be joined by Nick Marek, writer for House of Sparky, part of SB Nation. Nick's also a broadcaster for the ASU men's hockey team, which recently finished third in the ACHA Nationals. He’s what Nick had to tell us about ASU (baseball, that is)…

Dirtbag Blues: What's the general state of the program as it comes out of its post-season ban?

Nick Marek: Honestly, this team has already moved past the post-season ban and during the preseason press conference, the players showed that they are more than ready to get back to the NCAA baseball tournament. The one noticeable thing about the Sun Devil's roster is that there are so many freshmen.

As of February 28, 12 freshmen have seen playing time for ASU and they are going to be an important part of ASU's success this season. People have been overly alarmed about the state of ASU baseball when honestly there is nothing different about the program. The only difference between 2012 and 2013 is that the team can compete in the National Tournament.

DB: What can you tell me about that freshman class? Looks like ASU has a pretty talented crop of outfielders joining the program.

NM: The freshman class was a top-20 recruiting class compared to the rest of the NCAA and the strength of the class was on the pitching end, which is ASU's highest need. Ryan Kellogg, Ryan Burr, and Brett Lilek are unreal pitchers and Tim Esmay is using Kellogg as the team's Saturday starter and he said in a press conference that Lilek and Burr will both be starters for ASU in the future but he loves using them in the bullpen because they are a second threat to opposing lineups.

Eric Melbostad is the other freshman pitcher who eats quite a few innings in the pen and will be used in late inning roles (possibly a set-up man like Burr)…

As for the offense, David Graybill and RJ Ybarra are the two immediate stand outs of the offensive group. Graybill has already started a few games and he has a ton of raw power who can be used at first or DH. Graybill, in my opinion, has the tools to be a Pac-12 first team All-Freshmen as does Ybarra. Ybarra plays behind the dish but the problem is that Rossiter and Causey can both steal his time as catcher. Rossiter is a senior leader and one of the better players on the team so he should play 2-3, if not all three of the teams' games behind the plate… I would not be surprised if Tim Esmay moves Causey to a different position (maybe 1B in the future) to clear room for Ybarra. But that's probably looking to next year.

DB: The 3-0-1 weekend speaks for itself, but what more can you tell me about ASU’s strong showing in the Coca-Cola Classic? The Sun Devil’s gotta have some sort of weakness, right?

NM: The biggest thing from the Coca-Cola Classic was sweeping the two game series against Arkansas and beating Ryne Stanek (a first round MLB Draft potential pitcher). ASU played very well in Surprise and no matter whom they beat the rest of the season, no win will beat sweeping No. 2 Arkansas. Sure sweeping UCLA or Oregon or Stanford or Arizona will be nice and a very good piece to add to the post-season resume, but it is not very often teams can say they swept a team in the SEC. Not to mention that team is a top five team in the country.

The major weakness is the team's fielding. It is atrocious. I don't know the stat on the top of my head but over the first ten games of the season, they have to have at least 15 errors. That's not Arizona State baseball and… they will focus on that in practice this week. Fielding is basically the reason they struggled against Gonzaga. They gave up five unearned runs in one inning against the Zags.

Surprisingly, ASU has shocked all of us in terms of pitching depth largely in part because of the freshmen class but I'm concerned about how long the starting pitchers are going. Trevor Williams should not be a concern but is coach only going to allow Kellogg and McCreery for pitch 5 or 6 innings? I love the bullpen but I want to get more consistency out of the rotation otherwise the bullpen could be overworked during the season. Esmay is really good about monitoring pitch counts and it is still very early in the season. I think after he saw McCreery suffer basically a season ending injury last year, he wanted to take things slow and give his young arms time to mature.

DB: Having never been there, what’s Packard Stadium like? What kind of home-field advantage (if any) does ASU get from it?

NM: Packard Stadium gives ASU a tremendous home field advantage especially since the Sun Devil faithful are called the best fans in the west coast based on attendance. The fans are very vocal and it's a very good family atmosphere as well. I think all the tradition the program has and the players that have come through Tempe (Barry Bonds, Paul LoDuca, Dustin Pedroia, Jason Kipnis, Mike Leake, etc) have caught visiting team's attention.

Keep in mind this may be the last or second to last year the Sun Devils will play at Packard. They are moving over to Phoenix Municipal Stadium (The Oakland A's spring training facility) because it will be upgraded facilities, stands and press box for ESPN and Pac-12 Network to broadcast more home games.

Kind of sad that we are saying goodbye to all of that history.

DB: I asked WildcatAuthority's Cody James Martin this same question... what can you tell me about the baseball rivalry between Arizona State and Arizona? 

NM: The rivalry is one of the best in college sports. The past decade, Arizona State has won the title of being the better team in Arizona, but fans were frustrated to see the Wildcats win in Omaha.

We are not poor sports about it because you have to give their fab five and their rotation credit for helping Arizona win the National Title. I think it's going to be even a more heated rivalry this year because of the impact that football, basketball, hockey and other sports have made in the university's sports community.

There is nothing better than a good college sports rivalry and I never get sick of hearing the "Bear Downs" and "Fork 'Ems." 

DB: Off-topic but since we may be seeing these guys on ESPN in late June, any thoughts to offer regarding Arkansas?

NM: Pitching. Pitching. Pitching. Arkansas is one of the best teams in the nation because they have some of the best MLB prospects in the starting rotation and out of the pen. Honestly, there is nothing flashy about their batting and they are a little above average and do not have a ton of power but they don't need to when they can lock down opponents to around three runs. But they are disciplined and well coach so you need to work ahead of the count…. teams need to be prepared to be perfect in all aspects of the game but they are beatable.


I'd like to thank Nick for basically writing most of my preview this week. Be sure to check out his work on House of Sparky and follow him on twitter @nmarekasu14. Nick will also be calling a couple of the games this weekend on pac-12.com.

Dirtbags’ Keys to the Series
Southpaw struggles
This is the second straight weekend that the Dirtbags will have to face a pair of lefties.  This sucks for reasons I mentioned during my recent hissy fit, but it’s an issue the Dirtbags are going to have to figure out if they have regional hopes this year.

Avila and Patron’s arrival
The leaders of the Dirtbag offense have been largely ineffective thus far, with Juan hitting just .227/.358/.250 and Ino .245/.298/.302. Long Beach State needs to start getting more out of its #3/4 hitters (against both righties and lefties).

Up Next: You guys won’t see anything from me until next week’s Wichita State Preview, which will feature some words from former All-American Shane Dennis.