ASU Baseball: Five series to watch during the 2018 season

OMAHA, NE - JUNE 23: Joey Hooft
OMAHA, NE - JUNE 23: Joey Hooft /

ASU baseball looks to go back in the right direction after one of its worst season in school history with the Sun Devils facing a challenging schedule.

In what was arguably the worst season in program history, ASU baseball heads into the new 2018 baseball season with a growth mindset and a fresh slate of games.

The Sun Devils new schedule consists of a mix of extremely winnable games against the likes of Pacific, USC, Miami of Ohio and Pepperdine as well as a host of difficult matchups against the likes of Oregon State, Stanford, Cal State Fullerton and Saint Mary’s.

With the new season on the horizon and some big games on the schedule, it’s time to preview ASU’s five most notable matchups this season.

ASU vs. Saint Mary’s – Feb. 23-25

After going an impressive 37-20 a season ago, Saint Mary’s heads into the 2018 season as the favorites to win the West Coast Conference.

The top five hitters in the Gaels’ lineup will be returning this season as Saint Mary’s sported an impressive .285 team batting average just a season ago.

Sophomore Kevin Millam is coming off of a freshman season that saw the Gael’s designated hitter/right handed pitcher win the WCC Freshman of the Year award. At the plate, Millam hit .312 with 12 homers while saving nine games on the mound for Saint Mary’s as the teams closer.  

In the rotation, the Gaels will have to shake it up this season with the loss of Jake Valdez and Jonny York. Millam and fellow sophomore Kevin Waldichuk will have to step up into starting roles from the bullpen if this team wants to make the NCAA tournament in 2018.

In what will be ASU’s first tough test of the 2018 season, expect the Sun Devils young arms to be tested against an excellent hitting team in Saint Mary’s.

On the flip side, expect the ASU offense to score runs against a talented, but inexperienced Saint Mary’s rotation.

ASU vs. Oklahoma State – Mar. 2-4

2012 was the last time Oklahoma State failed to reach the NCAA tournament.

The Cowboys head into 2018 with a strong team that features the likes of Jonathan Heasley, Carson Teel and freshman Brett Standlee in the rotation.

In the lineup Oklahoma State may have lost their top two hitters in Garrett McCain (.388 batting average) and Garrett Benge (10 homers), but the Cowboys still have arguably one of the best catchers in the Big 12 in Colin Simpson who hit 11 home runs as a sophomore in 2017.

Though Teel and Heasley are very talented pitchers, both young arms will be in the rotation for the first time in their college careers. Also, with the remainder of the pitching staff consisting of freshman in Mitchell Stone and Standlee, expect the Sun Devils to be able to at least compete at the plate with one of the more inexperienced, but talented rotations they will face this season.

At the plate ASU should be able to keep the Cowboys bats at bay. Oklahoma State’s lineup outside of Simpson is not remarkably strong, but the Sun Devils will need to throw strikes as last year’s Big 12 champions had a team on base percentage of .374.

ASU at Stanford – Apr 13-15

Ranked as the No. 9 team in the nation by Baseball America, Stanford heads into the 2018 season as clearly the second best team in the Pac-12.

More from Devils in Detail

The strength of this Cardinal team starts in the rotation with the likes of Kris Bubic, Erik Miller and Tristan Beck who is coming back from a stress fracture in his back. Stanford’s ace, Bubic, had a 2.79 earned run average and comes into 2018 as a Baseball America Preseason Third-Team All American.

To go along with a strong rotation, Stanford is a team that excels in the field with one of the best defenses in the country as the Cardinal had a .979 team fielding percentage last year.

At the plate, Stanford is solid thanks to players like Nico Hoerner, Daniel Bakst and Duke Kinnamon in the lineup.

The Cardinal has one of the most well rounded teams in the nation, so ASU will need to be on their A-game if they want to win this three game series.

Even with that said Stanford is not a perfect team as last year’s star slugger Quinn Brodey was drafted by the New York Mets in the third round of the MLB draft this past summer. Without Brodey the Cardinal lacks a consistent power presence in the middle of the order.

ASU at Oregon State – Apr. 27-29

Without a doubt, Oregon State will be the toughest opponent the Sun Devils will face this season.

The Beavers last season went 56-6 and lost only three games in conference play. The bad news for the rest of the Pac-12 is that the majority of last year’s team will be returning to Corvallis this spring for another run at a national championship.

Oregon State’s lineup is lead by Nick Madrigal, who last season had a remarkable .380 batting average in his sophomore season for the Beavers. Adding depth to the lineup is Steven Kwan, Trevor Larnach, and Cadyn Grenier who Baseball America ranks as a top 50 prospect for the 2018 MLB draft.

On the mound, the Beavers have even more talent with Luke Heimlich, Jake Mulholland, Brandon Eisert and Bryce Fehmel. Hemlich last season went 11-1 with an absurd 0.75 earned run average in 118 innings pitched.

ASU will have to play perfectly in order to even have a chance of beating Oregon State in the three game series in Corvallis.

Without Jake Thompson and Drew Rasmussen the Beavers are not quite as strong as they were last year in the rotation, but Oregon State is not only the team to beat in the Pac-12, but also a consensus pick to make it to the College Baseball World Series again this season.

ASU vs. Arizona – March 13th in Tempe and May 17-19 in Tucson

ASU’s arch nemesis Arizona heads into this season as arguably the best hitting team in the Pac-12 as the Wildcats led the conference in batting average (.308), on-base percentage (.403), slugging percentage (.442), runs (453) and hits (633).

Even with the losses of Jared Oliva (.321 batting average) and J.J. Matijevich (10 homers and a .383 batting average), Arizona’s lineup still features big time bats such as Nick Quintana, Alfonso Rivas, Cal Stevenson and Mitchell Morimoto.

In the rotation, the Wildcats are led by junior Cody Deason who had a 1.19 earned run average this summer in the Cape League.

An incredibly strong lineup and a one-two punch of Cody Deason and Michael Flynn in the rotation makes Arizona one of the toughest matchups that ASU has on the schedule this season.

Spencer Van Scoyoc and Connor Higgins will need to pitch remarkably well in order to simmer down the best lineup in the Pac-12 while at the plate, ASU will need to jump on every opportunity possible against a Wildcat pitching staff that lost one of its best starters in JC Cloney.

Other notable match-ups:

The Sun Devils this season will be involved with a number of other tough matchups this season including two teams that have been ranked in the top 15 by Baseball America.

A three game series against UCLA in Los Angeles will prove to be a tough test against one of the 15-20 best teams in the nation. The Bruins this season are projected to have the best freshman in the conference in outfielder Garrett Mitchell.

Cal State Fullerton comes to Tempe for a mid-week two game series in April. Known as one of the nations top pitching programs, the Titans lost their top two starters from last season, but have filled those holes with junior college transfer Anthony Quezeda and with the talented freshman Tanner Bibee.

Next: ASU Baseball: Three takeaways from Maroon and Gold Scrimmage

Another two game mid-week series against Long Beach State will be a tough test for the young Sun Devils. The Big West powerhouse went 20-4 in conference play last season, but are now losing four of their five best hitters.