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February 1, 2008

Top 25 Countdown: No. 1 Arizona State

Head coach: Pat Murphy
Last season: 49-15, 19-5 in Pac-10
Postseason: After winning the Pac-10 regular season title by four games, the Sun Devils earned a national seed and regional host. After taking care of Nebraska and Mississippi the first two rounds of the postseason, Arizona State stumbled in Omaha.
2008 breakdown: Probable starters | Overview | Offense | Starting pitching | Bullpen | Outlook

Overview

Arizona State still remembers last season.

After top-seeded Vanderbilt was eliminated from the postseason, the Sun Devils became the unanimous pick to win the national title.

They were unable to follow through in Omaha.

With another talented and experienced team, the Sun Devils hope to return to Omaha once again this season only this time they plan to take home the title.

ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS
Sophomore right-hander Mike Leake hopes to build off an impressive first season.

Probable Starting Lineup
C Petey Paramore
1B Ike Davis
2B Jake Elmore
SS Raoul Torrez
3B Brett Wallace
OF Ryan Sontag
OF Jason Kipnis
OF Matt Newman
DH Kiel Roling
SP Mike Leake
SP Josh Satow
SP Jason Franzblau

The Devils enter the season with one of the nation's best offenses. Veteran Brett Wallace is the leader while Petey Paramore, Kiel Roling and Ike Davis provide power and consistency.

The pitching staff is also in good shape. Mike Leake and Josh Satow headline the weekend rotation, while Winthrop transfer Jason Franzblau is what Pat Murphy is looking for in a third starter.

ASU needs more bullpen stability, but is primed to make a strong run at the national title.

They're the favorites.

Offense

It's still hard to believe, but Arizona State ended last season hitting .345 as a team. Yes, .345.

The Devils have the tough chore of replacing departed veterans Eric Sogard, Matt Spencer and Andrew Romine, but welcome back several offensive catalysts.

2007 Rivals.com Player of the Year finalist Brett Wallace spearheads the lineup. Wallace will likely make a position move to third base. But as a first baseman last season he hit .404 with 16 homers and 78 RBIs. He also slugged .687 and had a .484 on-base percentage.

Additionally, Wallace finished last season with 17 doubles, five triples and 182 total bases.

The Sun Devils are also led at the plate by catchers Petey Paramore and Kiel Roling and two-way player Ike Davis.

Paramore hit .379 with six homers and 52 RBIs last season, while Roling hit .356 with 15 homers and 63 RBIs. Davis hit .349 with eight homers and 61 RBIs. He also led the team with 23 doubles last season.

Starting pitching

The weekend rotation shouldn't skip a beat with the addition of Jason Franzblau.

The Sun Devils lost veteran left-hander Brian Flores, but Franzblau fills that void nicely.

Besides Franzblau, Arizona State welcomes back a pair of impressive starters Josh Satow and Mike Leake.

Satow decided to return for his senior season. The veteran went 13-3 with a 2.76 ERA in 133 2/3 innings of work last season. He also struck out 119 and walked 53, while opponents hit him at a .241 clip.

Leake blossomed as a freshman last season. He went 13-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 127 innings of work. He also struck out 94 and walked 29, while opponents hit him at a .258 clip.

The Devils are mainly looking at Seth Blair and Reyes Dorado as potential midweek starters.

Bullpen

Arizona State's bullpen lacked consistency last season, but should be much improved this spring.

The Sun Devils welcome back a more experienced Jason Jarvis. They also return two-way talent Ike Davis, who will serve as a situational pitcher.

Seth Blair, Stephen Sauer and Reyes Dorado will also log significant innings.

Blair, Sauer and Dorado are in the mix to start during the midweek, but will be relievers on the weekend.

Blair struck out a school record 124 batters in his senior season at Rock Falls HS in Illinois. Sauer also made a splash last season, going 6-4 with a 2.36 ERA in 20 appearances at Western Nevada College.

Some roles still aren't set in stone, but ASU appears to be in better shape this season.

Outlook with postseason forecast
After putting together an impressive regular-season resume last season, the Sun Devils entered the NCAA Tournament as one of the favorites to win the national title. The Devils were unable to go the distance last season, but enter 2008 with extra motivation. ASU must replace offensive contributors Eric Sogard, Matt Spencer and Andrew Romine, but welcome back an outstanding crop of players led by All-American infielder Brett Wallace. While the offense is in great shape again this season, the Devils might actually have a better pitching staff. Mike Leake and Josh Satow spearhead a talented weekend rotation, while Winthrop transfer Jason Franzblau is a great addition. With another productive offense and a better than expected pitching staff, Arizona State is primed for a national title run.

Shoes to Fill

The Sun Devils enter the season with some question marks, but are still in great shape.

Like most teams, the Devils have some key players to replace. However, most of their losses are at the plate, where they're already strong.

Eric Sogard, Andrew Romine, CJ Retherford and Matt Spencer highlight the departures.

Sogard hit .400 with 11 homers and 62 RBIs last season, while Spencer hit .369 with nine homers and 52 RBIs. He also ended the year with 16 doubles.

Romine was a good defender and finished last season with a .300 batting average and 41 RBIs. Meanwhile, Retherford hit .298 with four homers and 23 RBIs.

The Devils will also miss veteran pitcher Brian Flores. The left-hander made 23 starts last season and had a 3.89 ERA in 125 innings of work.

Must Step Up

With the departures of Andrew Romine, Matt Spencer and others, the Sun Devils need a few players to step up this season.

Shortstop Raoul Torrez and outfielder Ryan Sontag lead the way in this department.

Torrez batted .233 with 8 RBIs in just 43 at bats last season, while Sontag hit .345 in 58 at bats.

Pitcher Jason Jarvis is another player to watch. As a freshman last season, he made 21 appearances and had a 4.50 ERA in 30 innings of work. He also struck out 22 and walked eight, while opponents hit him at a .279 clip.

Jarvis finished 2007 with 11 saves.

Impact Newcomer

The Sun Devils hauled in an impressive crop of newcomers with Jason Franzblau, Jason Kipnis, Reyes Dorado and Matt Newman leading the charge.

Winthrop transfer Jason Franzblau is the most impressive addition, while Kentucky transfer Jason Kipnis is another name to remember.

Franzblau went 8-4 with a 3.13 ERA in 112 innings of work last season. He also struck out 90 and walked 28, while opponents hit him at a .263 clip.

Kipnis batted .337 with six homers and 27 RBIs in 104 at bats. He also slugged .654 and had a .450 on-base percentage. He also had five doubles and five triples.

Also keep an eye on Dorado and Newman.

Dorado limited opposing teams to a .250 batting average at Riverside CC last season, while Newman batted .475 with 12 homers and 49 RBIs in his high school senior season at Brophy Prep.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.