Mike Bell can't quite remember a season like the one that Florida State just finished. Bell, who just finished his first season as FSU's pitching coach, admitted he doesn't have the longest tenure among baseball coaches, but he's still never been a part of a team that relied so heavily on freshman arms.
“I can't remember, when I say my short coaching period, I can't remember freshmen contributing that much,” Bell said Wednesday in the Florida State dugout.
That's not to say it didn't work out well for Bell and the Seminoles' pitching staff. Behind first-year standouts Brandon Leibrandt (8-3, 2.82 ERA) and Mike Compton (12-2, 2.87 ERA), FSU finished with a team ERA of 3.47 that ranked fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference and a solid .251 opponents' batting average.
Bell said that what the freshmen accomplished was remarkable, but was also quick to give credit to FSU's upperclassmen who set the right example throughout the season.
“When you look out at James Ramsey in center field and he can look to his left and his right and grab (Jose) Brizuela or (Josh) Delph and put them under each arm and say, 'Come on, this is the way we're doing things,' it helps,” he said.
“When Hunter Scantling and Benincasa can look at Compton and Leibrandt and some of those other freshmen and (say) 'This is the way we're going to do things,' – the young guys knew they had the support of the older guys – it made things a lot easier.”
As Bell reflected on his first season at his alma mater, a number of accomplishments jumped out at him – several of them the kind that can't be measured on the stat sheet.
“Not just based on overall stats on the year, but little developments along the way,” he said. “Luke Weaver picking up a slider. Michael Compton playing with a change-up. Brandon Johnson getting the quality innings that he got.
“You saw some neat things out of guys and you just hope they continue build off of it and grow and develop.”
Ten Seminoles – including seven pitchers – will continue their development this summer. Bryant Holtman is set to play for the Anchorage Bucs in Alaska. Luke Weaver, Gage Smith and Peter Miller are all headed to the Cape Cod League, Kyle Bird will be playing in the Florida Collegiate Summer League and Evan Geist and Brandon Johnson will participate in the Northwoods League.
Both Bell and assistant Mike Martin Jr. noted that its not uncommon for a player to spend his summer playing baseball then come back to FSU a much-improved player.
Bell singled out closer Robert Benincasa, who struggled to find a role at FSU for two years, as a “prime example” of the kind of development that can take place in the summer leagues. Benincasa turned into one of the nation's top closer this season, earning 16 saves and an All-ACC selection.
"It's all part of the growth process. It really is,” Bell said. “The game of baseball, it doesn't matter if you play in the Cape, it doesn't matter if you play in Taiwan – it's the game itself.
“...What you put into it, you'll get out of it. You tend to give guys a couple things to work on. You don't want to overload them with stuff, whether it's mastering a new pitch or cutting down on strikeouts offensively … each and every inning those guys get with quality competition is invaluable.”
Changes coming for FSU infield
Florida State coaches know they will lose at least half of the infield with senior third baseman Sherman Johnson moving on to the Angels’ organization and junior first baseman Jayce Boyd signing with the New York Mets.
The versatile Brizuela played third base, outfield and pitched in high school, so the position change isn’t new territory for him. Brizuela hit .226 with 12 doubles, 34 runs and 38 RBIs as a freshman last season, starting 65 games in the outfield.
“Breezy is coming back to the infield,” Martin Jr. said. “He’s going to be spending some time (this summer working at third).”
Nogowski started a few games at first when Boyd had flu-like symptoms in the spring. He hit .250 with five doubles, two home runs, 23 RBIs and 21 runs scored as a freshman.
“He is going to be transforming his body,” Martin Jr. said. “The foot speed is what we are shooting for. I think he realizes that. It’s not a power game, it’s (that) we have to be able to do different things to get in that lineup. We are looking for big things out of him.”
FSU coaches will likely be forced to wait out decisions by juniors Devon Travis and Justin Gonzalez before they can see how the 2013 infield will take shape.
Travis was selected in the 13th round by the Detroit Tigers. And Gonzalez was picked in the 27th round by the Los Angeles Dodgers. They can negotiate deals up until the MLB deadline of July 13.
While the signing deadline has been moved up a few times, it still leaves college programs in limbo.
“We’re going to be sweating it, no doubt,” Martin Jr. said.
Seeking more walks
If Travis signs a deal with the Tigers, FSU’s returning batting average leader will be Josh Delph. He hit .267 as a freshman last season.
And while four FSU freshmen saw significant playing time in 2012, Martin Jr. said he would like all of them to be more disciplined at the plate.
Delph had 36 strikeouts and 12 walks, Nogowski had 26 strikeouts and 21 walks, Brizuela had 44 strikeouts and 26 walks and John Holland had 19 strikeouts and 12 walks.
“The walk totals need to go up; the strikeouts need to go down,” Martin Jr. said. “That goes for just about all of them. Because that’s how runs are produced. We have to get better in that regard, and it will happen. It can happen just from experience.”
Seminoles playing summer baseball:
JOSH DELPH Alaska Kenai
BRYANT HOLTMAN Alaska Anchorage Bucs