Depth Pays For ASU

Arizona State probably has the nation’s deepest lineup. Second-round pick Matt Spencer batted seventh in its super-regional opener against Mississippi on Saturday night; a seventh-round pick, Tim Smith, hit eighth. (That’s why it’s the nation’s deepest lineup, you see?)

And that depth is why Will Kline’s performance Saturday night was so special for Mississippi, and why it’s still not a surprise that ASU battled back against Kline for a 4-3, walk-off victory. Arizona State keeps coming at pitchers in waves, and finally, in his fourth time through the lineup, Kline ran out of answers.

Arizona State trailed 3-0 entering the eighth when its sparkplug and best player, second baseman Eric Sogard, got the goose egg off the scoreboard with a solo homer. Mississippi left Kline in for the ninth inning (he finished with just 116 pitches, after all), and the Sun Devils strung together three singles to load the bases. ASU also pinch-ran for every batter who reached in the inning, and after an RBI groundout made it 3-2, pinch-hitter Jason Jarvis lofted a sacrifice fly to right to tie it. Brett Wallace, 0-for-4 to that point, couldn’t be held down all night and placed a soft liner to center field for the game winner.

So here’s ASU’s depth on display again with Jarvis, one of the most interesting players in college baseball. He had first-three-rounds talent as a pitcher coming out of last year’s draft, but scouts were scared off by a combination of Jarvis’ bonus demands and his own, well, immaturity. He went to Chandler-Gilbert (Ariz.) JC in the fall and transferred to Arizona State at the semester, though he didn’t become eligible until March thanks to clearinghouse issues.

He’s the best power arm on the team, with 11 saves (a Pac-10-best nine in conference play), but he also was an excellent high school hitter, helping lead his team to state championships (and earning a Connie Mack World Series MVP trophy last summer) and attracting some attention as a potential pro catcher or third baseman.

In other words, he’s got talent. And here he was in a crucial situation–in a heated super-regional game that featured heated words and the home-plate umpire separating the two head coaches–and he’s hitting with the game on the line. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, because Jarvis can hit, but at the same time he’s just 5-for-15 this season.

The use of Jarvis in particular and use of all those pinch-runners show coach Pat Murphy’s willingness to take chances, and it shows the depth he has available. That depth is what beat an outstanding pitcher in Kline and an undoubtedly savvy Mississippi team. The Rebels will try to avoid their third straight super-regional exit today.