In order for ASU baseball to get back to the NCAA Tournament, they will look to get better play from their pitching staff after posting a 4.70 team ERA.
Five teams finished above .500 in the Pac-12 last season. Out of those five, only No. 7 Oregon State and No. 3 UCLA held a higher OPS than 13-17 Arizona State. What stood out about the Devils was their dubious 4.70 team ERA.
For ASU, 10 hurlers threw over 20 innings in 2018. Four allowed under four runs per game and of those four, two are no longer with the team. The Devils’ leader in innings pitched last season was senior Eli Lingos, who has since graduated and was drafted by the Cleveland Indians.
Luckily, the Devils have two established starters entering the 2019 campaign, junior Alec Marsh and sophomore Boyd Vander Kooi. That third spot in the rotation belongs to transfer RJ Dabovich for the time being, but expect a few other Devils to see starts early in the season to see who will stand out once Pac-12 play begins.
Building on a promising 2018
Vander Kooi and Marsh both showed flashes of excellence last season and ended with solid numbers. Vander Kooi led the starters with a 3.00 ERA and Marsh led them with a 1.29 WHIP.
The issue that arrived with Vander Kooi was health. The freshman held a 1.10 ERA through his first four starts, although he did miss a couple of weeks due to injury. In his fifth appearance, he struggled mightily against UCLA, then didn’t pitch for six more weeks.
He never pitched more than three innings in a game for the rest of the year to avoid further risk, but he did well in relief. In a big test, he threw two scoreless innings in a fall scrimmage against members of the Texas Rangers farm system, which was a welcomed sight.
Marsh impressed in three hitless innings against Texas. He was not part of the weekend rotation from the start of last year, mainly pitching in weekday spot starts. He worked his way into a bigger role, and in 71.1 innings, he struck out 64 hitters and walked just 31. He allowed three runs or less in 11 of 12 starts and never gave up more than four.
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New arms to look for
The focus of ASU’s recruiting this season was understandably pitching, given last season’s inadequacies. Five freshman hurlers are on the roster, and Dabovich was brought in after he performed well at Central Arizona College in 2018.
There, he posted a 1.82 ERA in 69.2 innings, ninth-best in NJCAA. He struck out 8.14 hitters per nine innings with a heater that can touch the upper 90’s.
His experience and speed makes him the front runner for the third starter in the rotation for the year. He will start in ASU’s first Sunday game against Notre Dame, according to head coach Tracy Smith.
However, surprises arise all the time in baseball, especially in college. Spencer Van Scoyoc was Smith’s opening day starter in 2018, and before long his performance led to a demotion to the bullpen. There is a freshman that can’t be overlooked as a candidate for the rotation.
Erik Tolman is one of ASU’s two lefties. He was ranked the second-best left-hander in highly competitive California, where he was named “Orange County’s Baseball Player of the Year” by the Orange County Register.
He struck out 100 batters in just 74 innings pitched and won South Coast League MVP. He may not have a 98 mile per hour fastball in him, but as a lefty who has struck out batters left and right, Tolman could be one to look out for in his first campaign.
Other freshman arms include Will Levine, Blake Burzell, Luke La Flam and Dom Cacchione, but they are likely adding to a nearly empty bullpen this season. Burzell will be the closer to start the year, according to Smith.
Other spot starts could fall to sophomore Brady Corrigan and senior Sam Romero. Corrigan improved throughout the season and Romero was an innings eater, although with a rough 6.18 ERA. If anyone has an outside chance to make the rotation, it appears to be Corrigan.
ASU begins its season with a three-game set against Notre Dame followed by a midweek matchup with San Diego. Marsh, Vander Kooi and Dabovich will start over the weekend while Tolman or Corrigan will likely be the four starter for USD.