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Season Preview: FSU Baseball

  • Chris Nee

    FSU release:

    The 2013 Florida State baseball season is just two days away and before Seminole fans settle into their seats inside Dick Howser Stadium with their peanuts and cracker jacks for the season opener against Rhode Island. Seminoles.com takes a closer look at this year’s squad, who enters the season ranked as high as No. 9 by the USA Today Coaches Poll, with the 2013 season outlook.

    2013 Season Preview

    General Outlook

    Florida State returns 19 players including five position starters and nine pitchers who threw at least 15.0 innings last year. Despite losing three starting infielders, a starter in center field and one of the top closers in the nation, the Seminoles welcome back four starting pitchers in preseason All-Americans Mike Compton and Brandon Leibrandt, senior right hander Scott Sitz and junior right hander Peter Miller. Catcher Stephen McGee is also back after starting all 67 games from behind the plate in 2012.

    Senior captain Justin Gonzalez will pace the Seminole offense as the top returning hitter in runs scored (42), hits (54), home runs (9) and RBI (42). Sophomore Jose Brizuela, who made a majority of his starts in left field, will move to third base in 2013, while Seth Miller and Josh Delph, who played significant innings last year, will see playing time in the outfield.

    In terms of run production, the 2012 Seminoles led the nation in base on balls for the third year in a row drawing 386 walks in 67 games good for a per game average of 5.76. FSU also ranked in the top 10 in doubles (5th), runs scored (7th), sac-flies (8th) and hit-by-pitches (9th). Despite losing their top four hitters from last year, the Seminoles return 50 percent of their RBI total and 42 percent of their run total heading into the 2013 campaign.

    There are plenty of new faces in the clubhouse this year as the Seminoles welcome 15 newcomers including eight freshmen and seven junior college transfers. This year’s incoming class, which was ranked 19th-nationally by Collegiate Baseball, is made up of five pitchers (including two left handers), four infielders, four outfielders, one catcher and one utility player.

    Florida State enters the 2013 campaign in search of its seventh consecutive ACC Atlantic Division title in this the eighth season of divisional play. The Seminoles have averaged over 20 league wins over the last six years claiming the best record in the ACC three times while tying the league record for wins with 24 twice in 2008 and 2012. FSU has also played in the ACC Championship game three times in the last four years claiming its last league title in Greensboro, N.C. in 2010.

    No team in college baseball has won more games in the new millennium than Florida State. The Seminoles sit with 644 victories since the start of the 2000 season, 18 more than their closest competitor (South Carolina – 626). FSU has also posted the highest winning percentage (.737) during that span joining Rice (.733) as the only two schools to win more than 73 percent of their ball games since 2000.

    Mike Martin enters his 34th season as head coach and his 41st season in which he has been associated with the Seminole baseball program when you include his time as a player and an assistant coach. Of the 3,598 baseball games played in program history, Martin has been involved in 2,705 games including 1,990 victories. In one way or another, Martin has been a part of more than 75.9% of FSU’s all-time wins. He ranks second among active Division I head coaches in winning percentage (.743) and third in victories (1,723). Martin has led the Seminoles to 33 consecutive regional tournament appearances and 15 trips to the College World Series including three in the last five years.

    Florida State will open the 2013 campaign ranked among the top teams in the nation according to several preseason polls. The USA Today Coaches Poll gave the Seminoles their highest ranking at No. 9, while the NCBWA (11th), Collegiate Baseball (17th), Perfect Game (18th) and Baseball America (20th) all placed the Garnet & Gold in the top 20. Both Mike Compton and Brandon Leibrandt were honored as preseason All-Americans by Louisville Slugger/Collegiate Baseball in 2013.

    Pitching

    Florida State returns four pitchers that made at least 10 starts in 2012 including three that started at least one game in Omaha at the College World Series. Brandon Leibrandt and Mike Compton were a formidable 1-2 punch for the Seminoles combining for 20 of Florida State’s 50 wins last year as both eclipsed 90.0 innings. Leibrandt led the team in innings pitched (99.0) and strikeouts (83), while Compton led the ACC and tied for second nationally in wins with 12. Both hurlers earned preseason third team All-America accolades in 2013 from Louisville Slugger/Collegiate Baseball. Compton added a second award in 2013 as he was also named a third team Preseason All-American by the NCBWA.

    Leibrandt made school history in 2012 becoming the first freshman to start an opening day game in the program’s storied history. The Alpharetta, Ga., native pitched as the Seminoles’ Friday night starter all season long in 2012 and will look to fill that role once again in 2013. The sophomore southpaw finished his first season ranked in the top 10 in the ACC in wins (t-4th), innings pitched (t-4th), strikeouts (t-9th) and ERA (10th). Leibrandt worked 5.0 or more innings in 14 of his 19 starts and did not allow a run five times. FSU was 14-5 in games that Leibrandt started.

    After making an immediate impact in FSU’s weekend rotation a season ago, Compton will miss the entire 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery to his right elbow in February. The absence of Compton will open the door for the likes of senior Scott Sitz, junior Peter Miller and sophomore Luke Weaver to solidify the No. 2 spot behind Leibrandt. Sitz appeared in 17 games last year making 13 starts as the right hander went 4-3 with a 3.72 ERA. He saved what many considered to be his best performance of his FSU career against UCLA out in Omaha holding the Bruins to just one run on five hits in 6.2 innings of work in leading the Seminoles to a 4-1 victory in an elimination game at the CWS. He struck out eight Bruin hitters including striking out the side in the sixth after UCLA loaded the bases with nobody out. Miller was 5-2 with a 3.89 ERA in 10 starts, while Weaver went 1-0 with a 5.93 ERA and one save as he appeared in 16 games making six starts in his first collegiate season.

    FSU returns eight pitchers who tallied at least 20.0 innings in 2012. Gage Smith will spearhead the bullpen after appearing in 39 games last year – a mark that led all FSU pitchers and tied for the most appearances in the ACC. Smith went 5-0 with three saves and a 2.89 ERA in his first full season as a reliever. From the left side, junior Brandon Johnson and sophomores Kyle Bird and Bryant Holtmann are expected to make significant contributions out of the bullpen in 2013.

    A cast of new arms will also play a role in the staff’s evolution in 2013. This year’s class includes six pitchers, two of which are left handers (Dylan Silva and Billy Strode). Right handers Robby Coles, Hayden Jordan, Jameis Winston and Kenny Burkhead will also have a chance to leave an impression. With the loss of closer Robert Benincasa to the MLB Draft, look for Martin to use a variety of arms early on in the season to fill that role. But heading into the season opener against Rhode Island, Coles and Winston are the front runners to close up shop in the late innings.

    Martin on the returning pitchers and this year’s batch of newcomers:
    “Everything is up in the air right now as far as our pitching in concerned. Anything past (Brandon) Leibrandt and (Scott) Sitz is a question for us. On the right side with (Luke) Weaver and (Peter) Miller, you have two possible starters that we are very impressed with. They have come back different looking guys and we are excited for what they bring to the table. We are going to use (Gage) Smith again in relief and we are going to use (Robby) Coles in relief from the right side. From the left side, we have been very impressed with (Kyle) Bird and (Bryant) Holtmann. Brandon Johnson has looked good and will be counted on to put in some innings this year. Billy Strode is another guy that we are hoping can contribute. But we are very excited to see if the closer surfaces during spring training. Jameis Winston is going to be looked as one of those fighting for the job. Leibrandt, Sitz, Miller and Weaver are the four we are looking at as our starters at this time.”

    Martin on a returning cast that gained the opportunity to throw at the College World Series:
    “We’ve got a great deal of guys returning with experience of pitching in the College World Series, so that is very exciting for me. Those young men have been there. We want to see them make a bigger contribution this year because somebody has got to pick up where guys like Hunter Scantling, Brian Busch and Robert Benincasa left off. They did things last year to help this team achieve. All the guys have worked real hard this offseason to prepare for the upcoming year.”

    Defense

    The Seminoles return five position starters from last year’s squad that posted a .968 fielding percentage, good for the sixth-best mark in school history. Stephen McGee was a work horse behind the plate starting all 67 games while catching 576 innings out of a possible 598.1 total innings played. Justin Gonzalez is back for his senior campaign and has started 125 games at shortstop over the last two seasons. The senior captain has shown great range at the position and will be looked at to provide leadership out in the field. Jose Brizuela, who made 62 starts in left field as a freshman, will move to third base in 2013, while Seth Miller and Josh Delph, who played significant innings last year, will see playing time in the outfield.

    For the fourth time in as many years, centerfield will be occupied by a new face. After three consecutive years of Tyler Holt and then a year each of Mike McGee and James Ramsey tracking down balls and calling the shots in center, the reins will be awarded to one of three possible candidates. Freshman DJ Stewart is the front runner to earn the starting nod, but he is receiving competition from senior Seth Miller and freshman Ryan Valdes. Miller made 43 starts a season ago – 35 in right and four more in left – and covered a great deal of ground en route to a .988 fielding percentage. The Southport, Fla., native recorded three outfield assists and made just one error in 81 fielding chances.

    With Jose Brizuela making the move to third base, Josh Delph is the only other returning Seminole with starting experience in the outfield. The Bartow, Fla., native emerged as a starter halfway through the season and finished his freshman campaign with 30 starts in right field and one in left. Delph has grown comfortable with the field dimensions on Mike Martin Field and has become a bit of an expert in reading balls off the right field screen. He should receive competition out in right field from junior college transfer Brett Knief. The starting nod in left field is a battle between two new faces in freshman Jameis Winston and JUCO transfer Marcus Davis.

    The right side of the infield is also up for grabs after the loss of Jayce Boyd and Devon Travis to the MLB Draft. Freshmen John Sansone and Alvin Swoope have been battling it out at second base, while sophomore John Nogowski and junior college transfer Casey Smit are doing the same at first base. Of the four, Nogowski is the lone player with Division I playing experience as the Tallahassee native made two starts at first base in 2012. John Holland could also provide depth in the infield but nagging back problems could limit his playing time this season.

    Depth is once again prevalent thanks in large part to this year’s crop of newcomers. JUCO transfers Marcus Davis, Brett Knief and Casey Smit are all vying for playing time out in the field, while freshman JJ Gould will back-up Jose Brizuela at third. Sophomore Giovanny Alfonzo rounds out the infield depth and could fill in at second base, shortstop or third base. Behind the plate, Ladson Montgomery and Lee Howard will spell McGee from time to time reducing the number of innings caught by the Port St. Lucie, Fla., native in 2012.

    Martin on the strength of the team defending:
    “With (Jose) Brizuela and (Justin) Gonzalez, you know what to expect from them, they have been there. John Sansone (second base) is a freshman and Casey Smit (first base) is a junior college transfer and they are going to need some time to get their feet under them. I am anxious to see how they adjust as we go through the season. John Nogowski is another guy that is competing at first base that I have been impressed with so far this offseason. I’m looking forward to seeing how our young guys and new faces mature before opening day. With our catcher (Stephen McGee), that’s a nice feeling to know that he and Gonzalez are back. We will not catch Stephen McGee the number of innings he did last year; that is a promise. I pray he stays healthy, but Ladson Montgomery will be the back-up and will catch a lot of innings for Florida State this year. As far as the outfield with Seth and Josh back, they will be given every opportunity to start. DJ Stewart is going to play. We are very pleased with what we are seeing from Brett Knief and Marcus Davis. Both of those guys are going to play big roles on our team. It could be that Knief DH’s against lefties and Marcus DH’s against righties. Marcus and Brett have improved in the outfield and you never know we could get into a platoon situation. Jameis Winston has been very impressive as well.”

    Martin on having more JUCO players on this year’s roster than in year’s past:
    “Knief, Davis and Smit will be counted on to play a lot this year. It is good that they have gotten some experience at the junior college level. But they are still freshman as far as I am concerned until they’ve played a few games. It is a lot different at this level then at the junior college level.”

    Offense

    A key to Florida State’s successful run to its 21st College World Series appearance in 2012 was the team’s ability to manufacture runs. For the third year in a row and fourth time in five years, the Seminoles led the nation in base-on-balls drawing 386. Three Seminoles finished the season ranked in the top five nationally in walks including national leader Sherman Johnson, James Ramsey (3rd) and Stephen McGee (5th). FSU also ranked in the top 10 nationally in doubles (5th), runs scored (7th), sacrifice flies (8th) and hit-by-pitches (9th). The Seminoles wrapped up the year with a team batting average of .281 which ranked fifth in the ACC.

    Florida State will look to replace its top four hitters from last season after the departure of seniors James Ramsey and Sherman Johnson and juniors Jayce Boyd and Devon Travis. The quartet was responsible for more than 54 percent of the runs scored and hits manufactured and over 48 percent of the team’s run production driving in a combined 201 runs. Looking to help fill that void will be senior captain Justin Gonzalez who will pace the Seminole offense in 2013 as the top returning hitter in runs scored (42), hits (54), home runs (9) and RBI (42).

    In light of the bat restrictions set forth by the NCAA in 2011, which has had a dramatic effect on offensive numbers across the nation the last two years especially in the number of home runs hit, Florida State still managed to go yard 46 times in 2012 which ranked 26th nationally. Justin Gonzalez returns as the Seminoles’ top home run hitter after the Miami, Fla., native clubbed a career-best nine home runs a season ago. Seth Miller tied a single-season school record in 2012 as all three of his home runs were grand slams. FSU hit seven grand slams as a team, one shy of the school record of eight set back in 1996. Out in Omaha at TD Ameritrade Park, in a stadium that does not give up the long ball, Florida State hit three home runs in four games, tying Arizona for the most home runs hit at the 2012 College World Series. The Seminoles and Wildcats were the only schools to hit more than one home run in the series.

    As far as offensive production from 2012, Florida State returners account for 273 of 627 hits (43.5%), 195 of 459 runs (42.5%), 207 of 413 RBI (50.1%) and 33 of 63 stolen bases (52.4%).

    Martin on the leaders on offense:
    “James, Sherman, Devon and Jayce were not only great players but great leaders. We will miss them, but I like what I am seeing from the guys on this team so far during the offseason. But to say who will fill those roles left by the guys last year, the jury is still out. We like so many different guys that are new. We are anxious to see how this thing shapes up. We’ve got some guys that have been very impressive. I am just anxious to see how every single one of them develops.”

    Schedule and Tangibles

    Florida State will face 13 teams on this year’s schedule that recorded 30 or more wins a season ago. Seven schools earned a bid to participate in the 2012 NCAA Regional, while four teams finished the season ranked in the top 25.

    FSU and Florida will square-off three times in 2013 as each team will host a game sandwiched with a meeting in Jacksonville at the Baseball Grounds on March 26. Also featured on this year’s schedule is a late weekend non-conference showdown with UCF in Tallahassee, May 3-5. The Seminoles will renew their rivalry with USF in week two of the season as the Bulls travel to Tallahassee for a three-game series, February 22-24. The USF series will be part of a 15-game home stand that will take place inside the friendly confines of Dick Howser Stadium to kick-off the year.

    The Seminoles, who have won six consecutive ACC Atlantic Division titles, will compete in a 30-game conference schedule playing all but one league school (North Carolina for the second year in a row). FSU will open its league schedule on Friday, March 8 in Tallahassee against Boston College.

    With three seniors on this year’s roster, Florida State boasts one of its smallest graduating classes since 2010 when the Seminoles matched that number with the likes of Stephen Cardullo, Ohmed Danesh and Mike Meschke. This year’s class includes Justin Gonzalez and Scott Sitz, who have been with the program all four years, and Seth Miller, who joined the Seminoles as a sophomore in 2011 after transferring from Northwest Florida State College.

    Senior shortstop Justin Gonzalez was named team captain in 2013 by head coach Mike Martin and will don the letter ‘C’ on his jersey for the upcoming season. James Ramsey was the first student-athlete in program history to denote his captaincy by wearing the ‘C’ on his jersey in 2012.

    Martin on early home stand to open the 2013 season:
    “To play the first 15 games at home is very important to us because of the youth of this club. We could very easily start two freshmen and two sophomores in the field and then on the mound have a senior, one junior and two sophomores. But this is all predicated on everyone remaining healthy.”

    Martin on the leadership of this year’s team:
    “(Justin) Gonzalez, Seth (Miller), (Stephen) McGee, (Jose) Brizuela, (Josh) Delph – they started in the College World Series. Those guys know what leadership is about. Our captain (Justin Gonzalez) will lead us in the clubhouse and on the field.”

    Martin on what excites him about this club:
    “I like the fact that we have lot of players on this year’s team that have experience playing in Omaha. They know what it takes to get there. I’m also excited to see where we are three months from now because I like what I see but I want to know what I am really seeing.”

    Chris Nee of 247Sports.com. You can follow me on twitter @CNee247.