It must be the weather, right?
Well, you can’t deny that most college baseball players would be drawn to a climate that enables year-round play. But there has to be more behind the news that two of this year’s top-5 recruiting classes in the country are located in the Grand Canyon State.
How about a tradition of winning, then? And maybe a path to the professional game?
Arizona State and University of Arizona have both of those. ASU teams have been to the College World Series 22 times, while Arizona has made 16 CWS appearances. ASU has five national championships on its resume, while Arizona has four of those in its trophy case.
Between the two teams, there have been 634 players selected in the Major League drafts, 400 of those from ASU. And the Sun Devils currently own the nation’s longest streak of consecutive 30-win seasons with 53.
Combine those gaudy stats with good recruiting and it helps explain how the Sun Devils have been able to round up the top 2016 recruiting class in the nation, according to Collegiate Baseball‘s annual evaluation, and the Wildcats are not far behind at No. 4.
The Wildcats got a big lift in their recruiting by advancing all the way to the national championship game last season. They won 49 games and lost the final game for the national title to Coastal Carolina by one run.
ASU didn’t get that far last year. The Sun Devils lost to TCU in the regionals following a 36-win season and third-place finish in the Pac-12.
They’re on a trajectory upward in rebuilding a tradition-rich program. The 36 wins, under Tracy Smith, are the most in the past three years. The 2017 season will be his third as head coach of the Sun Devils.
But it’s been a long dry spell since that last national championship in 1981.
This top-ranked recruiting class could be what Smith needs to get his rebuilding program over the top. ASU’s class included 20 signees, with four local recruits joining the program: Frank Dickson, a left-handed pitcher from Desert Mountain High School in Scottsdale; Chad McClanahan, an infielder from Brophy Prep in Phoenix; Chaz Montoya, another LHP, from Centennial High in Peoria; and Zane Strand, a right-hander from Chandler’s Hamilton High.
Strand is one of the more high-profile additions to the pitching staff. Smith calls him “the most dominant right-handed pitcher in the state.” He says he expects Strand to made an immediate impact and eventually become one of the best college pitchers in the country.
Coach Smith loaded up on pitchers in this class, with a dozen signees headed for the mound.
The Arizona Wildcats are bringing nine new pitchers on board among their 16 signees. They, too, have included local recruits, but more than half of them are from junior college programs.
There are two from local high schools: Cameron Cannon, an infielder from Mountain Ridge HS in Glendale, and Austin Nichols, a right-handed pitcher from Queen Creek HS. And the three local JUCO transfers include: RHP Juan Agulera from Cochise College; RHP Ryan Gowens from Phoenix College; and Mitchell Morimoto, an outfielder from Mesa CC.
“I think there is a good blend of immediate impact and future potential that will serve our team well in 2017, and the future,” says Jay Johnson, who just wrapped up his first year as head coach.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)