Arizona State Outfielders Have High Expectations
The best outfield in the country. That’s what Arizona State head coach Trisha Ford believed she had last season. It’s hard to argue against her case. Morgan Howe and Kindra Hackbarth earned All-American honors. Skylar McCarty was right behind them in most offensive categories to net a Pac-12 Conference Third Team selection.
Unfortunately for Ford and the Sun Devils, the sand in Howe's and McCarty’s eligibility hourglasses has fallen to the bottom. That leaves only Hackbarth to play with two brand new starters. Ford and assistant coach Carly Wynn, who works hands-on with the team’s outfielders, have had the task of devising a plan in an attempt to prepare a pair of new starters for a Pac-12 slate.
The opportunity has been fun for Wynn. Having established outfielders generally means less coaching and more advising. This offseason has been quite the opposite for her.
“It’s fun for me,” Wynn said. “It is my job. You get to coach more because when these girls are seniors they’re running their own show...Now you got more freshmen in the mix, I’m coaching more, making sure I’m staying on top of their positioning and things like that. A lot of the times with the seniors, we’ll talk about it before the game and I don’t even have to remind them very much...It’s been a little more monitoring and a lot more coaching. It’s been good.”
The strategy headed into the 2020 season is to move the seasoned Hackbarth from right field into Howe’s void in center field. Hackbarth has adjusted to more than just moving over to a different position. For the most part, outfield is outfield and she’s seen center field a few times in her Sun Devil career. It’s the promotion to the voice of the outfield that’s been the biggest change for her.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Hackbarth said. “It’s definitely different because last year we kind of pushed off to Morgan because she was doing everything perfect. I was kind of in the shadow. It’s been different, but it’s been easy with these freshmen because they’re very open to and willing to learn and listen. (It’s) a big change, but a good change.”
The corner spots will be occupied by Yannira Acuña, a sophomore power bat from the left side, and freshman Jazmine Hill, a Top 100 high school recruit and very athletic player.
Acuña and Hill both present talents in their own right, but there’s one item they won’t be able to match of their predecessors despite how close they come to Howe's and McCarty’s production.
“You can’t replicate the experience those two had,” Wynn said. “Them honestly knowing where the ball needs to be. As a freshman, you come in and feel like anytime you can throw somebody out at home, you need to be throwing them out at home. But sometimes it takes you time to realize you don’t really have her out at home, I need to keep the next girl off of second. The speed of the game is very different when you come in as a freshman.”
In 40 games last season, Acuña did enough to be named to the Pac-12’s All-Freshman Team. The at-bats and defensive repetitions she got were invaluable. Although, the exposure of being around three talented players provided her with even more insight.
“I learned a lot from them last year,” Acuña said. “Coming in as a freshman, you don’t really know what to expect. (Having) the best outfield in the nation, I just wanted to be out there with them, I wanted to be just like them. Everything they did, I just saw them, and I’m more of a visual learner, every little step they took I was out there doing the same thing as them just to get better.”
Fearless Freshman Jessica Mullins Leading Texas State
Jessica Mullins has made a name for herself this season as a freshman with Texas State.
The Norwalk, Calif. native in Hill has received quite the buzz around the program, which is a similar noise that was there last year about Acuña. Ford mentioned that Hill’s personality is a treat and makes her a must-follow on social media if you need a laugh. Wynn is more thrilled about the raw talent Hill possesses.
“She’s just so athletic that she’s not somebody that I’m worried too much about,” Wynn said. “She’s definitely a gamer. She’s one that we have to coach up a bit, but we also have to let her play because that’s where her strengths are. It’s been great, though. She loves the game and she’s so eager to learn that it’s pretty much just giving her bits and pieces and letting her run with it.”
Ford also doesn’t want her partner to go unnoticed either. The players Ford has been able to bring to Arizona State, whether as recruits or through the transfer portal, have been talented and there’s no denying that. The work Wynn has put in with those players to make them even better is something Ford doesn’t want to be ignored.
“Coach Wynn is tremendous,” Ford said. “She can dissect anything outfield-wise and there’s not a lot of coaches who understand that art of outfield...She does a great job of understanding and teaching them in a million different ways; angles, weight transfer, how much time you have with this technique versus this type of technique. She puts in a lot of work and effort in the little things, which is why I think you see it show up in our outfield.”
Sophomore outfielder Makenna Harper—Arizona’s Jessie Harper’s sister—and freshman Jordyn VanHook are also anticipated to battle for playing time. Regardless of who ends up playing in the Sun Devil outfield, it appears they will all be in a good position to live up to high expectations.