BY: ED COLE
TEMPE, Ariz. – Not many experts are giving the Arizona State baseball team much love in Pac-12 preseason polls. The Sun Devils are coming in toward the middle of the pack, which isn’t sitting well with a lot of the players, like junior shortstop Colby Woodmansee.
“It’s a little bit different than previous years. We’ve never been ranked No. 1 out of the pack since I’ve been here,” Woodmansee said. “I think we’re definitely going to prove them wrong when they actually see these young guys that are quality players, and they’re going to contribute a lot (for) us. I think their minds will change once the season rolls around.”
Woodmansee is now an upperclassman, so he’s going to be looked up to quite a bit this season by the young puppies who are up and down Arizona State’s roster. He’s coming off a strong 2015 campaign that saw him finish in the top five on the team in batting average (.308), slugging percentage (.454), runs scored (36), hits (74), RBI (44), doubles (18), home runs (five), total bases (109) and walks (20).
Who wouldn’t want to learn from someone who can produce like that?
“I’m not much of a vocal person. I’m sure Skip (Arizona State head coach Tracy Smith) has said that in multiple interviews,” Woodmansee said. “I’m more of a lead by example guy. I’m going to get out here and do my work. I’ve been more vocal this year, knowing I’m in that part (leadership role), whether it’s talking to outfielders, (or) new pitchers, it’s helped me become more vocal knowing that I have to.”
There’s 13 freshmen on the Sun Devils roster, and they all have something to contribute, in one way or another. It’s Smith’s job, with help from his veterans, to coax that something out of each and every one of them, which they’re well on their way to doing with the practices and scrimmages they’ve been running as a team.
Smith says the team’s pretty much all practiced and scrimmaged out. He says they’re ready to play someone else for once. They’ll get that chance next Friday, when the Xavier Musketeers come to town for the season opener.
“It’s getting to the point? It’s past the point,” Smith said. “It’s probably as much to do with the makeup of this team, because we’ve got a lot of guys who haven’t played college baseball yet, or even the guys that were here last year, played very limited (innings). Some guys do it in practice, and some guys do it when the lights are on. I could give you a great practice lineup right now, but for us, we’re measured on what we do when the lights are on, so we need to see that. I’m anxious to see that.”
It’s still early in the process, with the team’s first practice taking place about two weeks ago, so Smith is still going through a feel-out phase with his guys, and figuring out who’s going to fit where, and who’s going to do what come next Friday night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
It’s a lot for a team and a head coach to take on, heading out into the unknown with so many bright-eyed and bushy-tailed athletes ready to show their worth, but Smith is actually embracing what’s ahead. He’s coached a lot of teams over the years, who got little to no respect from the college baseball “gurus,” yet he made that square peg fit into that round hole.
He’s looking to do the same with his guys again in Year Two with the Sun Devils.
“It’s interesting (the team chemistry), because last year’s team was such a veteran team, so you had a lot of older guys,” Smith said. “I think what’s been fun for me to watch, is the guys that want to emerge as leaders, but they’re kinda looking over their shoulders like, ‘Is it my turn? Can I do that?’ So I think, from that standpoint, what’s going to help that emergence of leaders is when we start playing in games, (and) when we face adversity, (and) when things don’t go our way. Everything is easy when successes come, but when you face adversity, I think that shows the true character of our team, and what our makeup’s going to be. I can’t answer it 100-percent right now. It’s been good so far, but I’m anxious to see when something happens that’s tough for us to deal with.”