ASU, UA will enter 2012 baseball season ranked in Top 20

The first baseball game isn’t until February, but already it looks like a hot season is brewing in the Pac-12.  And even more so right here in Arizona.

Arizona and Arizona State are two of the eight Pac-12 teams that have been included in the Collegiate Baseball Pre-season Top 40 poll.  And both are ranked in the top 20.

ASU will enter the 2012 season ranked No. 17 and the Wildcats will begin play at No. 20.

It will be somewhat bittersweet for the Sun Devils because this is the year they will serve a one-year post-season ban that was handed down by the NCAA for rules violations dating back to when Pat Murphy was head coach.

Tim Esmay has been running the program since Murphy was let go.  He compiled a 52-10 record and took the team to the College World Series in 2010, and then followed that up with a 43-18 performance last season when the Devils came within one game of making it back to the CWS.

The NCAA penalties evidently haven’t dissuaded recruits from considering ASU.  In a poll just released, the Sun Devils tied UCLA and Miami with the most recruits in Baseball America’s Top 100 high school prospects for the 2012 draft.  Each school had seven on the list.

Down in Tucson, the Wildcats are on a roll that began at the end of last season when they won 12 of their final 15 games to secure a fourth-place finish in the Pac-10.  That also led to a No. 2 seed in the College Station Regional, where they were beaten 3-0 by Texas A&M in the championship game.

They finished the season 39-21, just one win shy of making it into the Super Regionals for the third time in school history.

The 2012 squad returns five starting position players, including two starting pitchers.  Add in a freshman class that was ranked No. 18 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball and Wildcat fans have reason to look forward to the start of a new season.

Arizona will also have a new home for the coming season.  The school has negotiated a five-year lease of Hi Corbett Field, a baseball stadium owned by the City of Tucson and used by the Colorado Rockies and Tucson Toros, with an option to renew for five more years.

Hi Corbett gives the Cats an upgrade in facilities, with renovations on the way, and a great new recruiting tool.  The facility has 8,665 seats and replaces Jerry Kindall Field at Frank Sancet Stadium, which has been the team’s home field since 1967.

Fans will get to try out the new field and watch a couple of the nation’s top teams at the same time when Arizona State visits the Cats for a three-game stand on the weekend of May 25.

That follows an April 17 game, and another on May 16, in Tempe.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)