6th Ranked FSU Baseball Travels to 7th Ranked UVA: Series Preview

After a weekday lost to rival Florida the Seminoles look to rebound with what will be their toughest road trip of the season.   In cased you missed it, the Seminoles lost in 10 innings Tuesday night and while Coach Martin stayed clear of the offense he managed to interject himself inexplicably into the pitching game acting like it was game 7 of the World Series.  For a recap and play by play you can catch up here. 

For a look at what the 2011 Virginia Cavalier baseball team we will turn to their preview from www.eastonbaseball.com

VIRGINIA (51-14, 23-7)

  • 2009 RPI: 3
  • Starters Returning:  6
  • Weekend Starters: 2
  • Mid-Week Starters: 2
  • Key Relievers (20+inns.): 5

All Conference Candidates:

  • UTL Danny Hultzen (11-1, 2.78, 123Ks, .193OBA/.281)
  • 2B Keith Werman (.414, 10SBs)
  • 3B Steven Proscia (.314-10-65)
  • 1B John Hicks (.307-8-48, 10SBs)
  • RHP Tyler Wilson (8-4, 3.41, 3svs
The Good News:

It’s hard to start writing anything about this program without re-mentioning the job that Brian O’Connor and his staff have done in C’ville. It’s pretty freakin’ amazing that the Cavaliers have become such a national power and have been no flash in the pans either. Okay, I’ll move on I promise. The weight of heavy expectations won’t be dogging this team quite as much this season, but we’ll see if the Cavs respond with greener pastures come June. And O’Connor has a lot of familiar names still around to pile up Ws, particularly in the dual-threat known as Danny Hultzen, who intimidates on the mound and at the dish, Steven Procia, a solid and smart power-hitter, plus John Barr and John Hicks, a pair of reliable contact hitters. It’s a comfort to add in arms like Tyler Wilson (who turned down the Reds as a 35th round pick last June) and Will Roberts (7-0, 3.98 in two years) who are both battle-tested vets. Two players to watch out for, soph Branden Kline (5-1, 3.62), who Coach O’Connor is extremely high on, and the oft-injured, but highly regarded Scott Silverstein, who returns to the mound after missing all of 2010 and most of 2009, are both former MLB draftees that will be big time in 2011. Diminutive Keith Werman may be one of the most exciting players in the country to watch, as he will pace UVa’s remarkable .977 defense. Incoming RHP Tyler Skulina (45th round, A’s) and OFs Mitchell Shifflett (an absolute burner who stole 37 bases in his senior season of high school) and Mark Podlas (a Baseball America Top 100 prospect) should make immediate impacts for the Wahoos in their first year. And they’ll also keep them in the upper crust of college baseball for the years to come.

The Bad News:

Despite having a better team than in 2009 and hanging around the top of the rankings all season, last year’s Cavs didn’t make it to the promised land, ending their season on their home field and losing in shocking fashion to Oklahoma. Eh, those kind of upsets happen from time to time. Shake it off Hoos. Hultzen is amazing, but had just 57 at-bats last year (as opposed to 199 in the CWS season of 2009). He’ll need to become a force with the bat again. Lots of big time talents that were responsible for building this program up have moved on, including the steady offense and basepath savvy of Phil Gosselin, Jarrett Parker and Tyler Cannon and pitchers like Robert Morey and closer Kevin Arico (who had 18 saves last year). Oof-fah! Also, it will be strange to see no Franco Valdes crouched down behind the dish. He was a block of granite for this program, to say the least, and will be tough to replace.

Schedule Note:

A little bit tougher.

The Wahoos are playing better and better non-conference games over the years, including this year’s opening weekend against UAB, Auburn and Arkansas State and hosting East Carolina in week two. ACC play will get their blood pumpin’ right away, with three of the first five weekends being at Clemson, at Virginia Tech and at Georgia Tech. They’ll also host Florida State in weekend No. 2 of conference play. These tougher games should pay dividends in June.

I think this is a very good synopsis of this UVA team and inside we will look at an article breaking down this weekend’s series as well as a preview of offense and pitching.

Aaron Fitt of Baseball America wrote this article highlighting the FSU/UVA series, we will use it to help breakdown the matchups:

PITCHING:

Friday March 18th - 6 PM - Charlottesville, VA - GameTracker

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Last year both pitchers had excellent numbers going into this series but did it live up to the billing?

That highly anticipated showdown between junior lefthanders is slated for Friday. Hultzen and Gilmartin have locked horns on Fridays each of the last two years, and Hultzen has gotten the better of both meetings. Last year he held Florida State to two hits over six shutout innings, while Gilmartin gave up four runs on 11 hits over six innings.

Hultzen is one of the top 5 pitchers in college baseball and is projected to be a 1st or 2nd round draft pick come June.

"He's been fantastic—those numbers are unheard of," Virginia coach Brian O'Connor said of Hultzen. "I don't know if they're going to continue, but I'd like to think that they are. He's just matured. Not that he wasn't mature as a freshman—I mean, jeez, the guy started two games in Omaha as a freshman. It's hard to be better than last year, when he was the ACC pitcher of the year, but he's a better pitcher now. He's stronger physically, he holds his velocity until late in the game, his command of his fastball is better, his offspeed pitches are sharper and more consistent. He just looks like a very, very determined guy who's going to do his job every time out there."

As for Gilmartin he still has a lot to prove after a subpar Sophomore campaign.

Gilmartin is better, too. After his 12-3, 3.49 freshman year, Gilmartin struggled to put hitters away as a sophomore, when he went 9-8, 5.24. But as a junior, he's been a dynamo, going 4-0, 1.24 with 35 strikeouts and three walks in 29 innings.

"I think the slider has really helped him," Martin said. "He's not throwing the curveball—gosh, he threw it twice against Georgia. The slider is becoming his pitch along with the changeup. On top of that, I think it's his ability to locate in, because that's what seemed to be his bread and butter as a freshman, and last year he just got away from it. Blame that on me; I should have demanded that more. And in the offseason when he played with the USA team, he just realized he has to have that pitch."

I highlighted a very important quote there for two reasons, one it is refreshing to see a coach take a blame for a mistake and two it lends hope to the idea that Gilmartin truly could continue to pitch like he did as a freshman as along as he is allowed to throw to his strengths.

Saturday March 19th - 1 PM - Charlottesville, VA - GameTracker

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Sunday March 20th - 1 PM - Charlottesville, VA - GameTracker

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Both of these teams have gotten strong work from the rest of their staffs, too. Righthander Scott Sitz (2-0, 2.35) and lefty Brian Busch (1-0, 5.82) are strike-throwing bulldogs on Saturday and Sunday for Florida State. Senior righty Tyler Wilson (3-0, 1.82) has made a successful conversion from bullpen dynamo to Saturday stalwart for Virginia, and Cody Winiarski (2-1, 3.05) is a solid Sunday guy with a four-pitch mix.

As predicted Scott Sitz moved up to the Saturday starter and Busch was bumped back to Sunday.  Despite his inability to overpower hitters Sitz has proved his worth giving Florida State very valuable innings.  Tyler Wilson has been excellent for the Hoos and has an excellent K:9 ratio that could really overpower Nole hitters.

Fitt referring to Busch as a "strike-throwing bulldog" is a bit off base since he throws a strike just about every other pitch (minus the UGA series).  I think he is pitching to keep his job in the rotation and any more poor outings will force Martin to try someone else.  Cody Winarski has been good as far as Sunday starters are concerned, he was the starting pitcher in UVA’s one loss this season despite not pitching terrible.  The Noles can hope he struggles like he did last weekends against Clemson where he lasted only 1.2 innings.

Both bullpens have quality anchors—McGee for FSU, and sophomore righty Branden Kline for UVa. Both bullpens have deep supporting casts that offer a variety of different looks from both sides. For Virginia, lefthander Scott Silverstein (0.00 ERA through four appearances) has finally gotten a chance to pitch after shoulder surgery cost him all of the last two seasons. While he doesn't show the 93-94 mph heat he did in high school, Silverstein is having success working in the mid-to-upper 80s thanks to his solid command. And righty Justin Thompson (1.46) has filled Wilson's shoes as the main setup guy.

Florida State has its own breakout reliever in righty Robert Benincasa (0.00 through five outings), who has significantly improved his slider and found a home in the 'pen after struggling a bit last year, when he started and relieved. He bolstes a bullpen that also leans heavily on veterans Daniel Bennett (3.14 in a team-high 11 appearances) and Tye Buckley (2.25), plus emerging righthander Mack Waugh (1.08).

Both bullpens seem to be strong, the only question is how will they be managed.  After Tuesday’s debacle I am not sure if I can give FSU the advantage here.

OFFENSE:

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Virginia's offense had more questions to answer heading into the spring, after the departures of mainstays Jarrett Parker, Tyler Cannon, Dan Grovatt, Phil Gosselin and Franco Valdes. The Cavaliers were confident they had talented players waiting in the wings ready to take on everyday roles, and they have not been disappointed. Even though starting shortstop Stephen Bruno has been limited to four games by a pulled hamstring, fellow sophomore Chris Taylor (.342/.435/.438) has filled in admirably at short while also providing a spark out of the leadoff spot. Another sophomore, Reed Gragnani, has taken over the center-field job, and seniors David Coleman, John Barr and Kenny Swab have moved from reserve roles into everyday jobs at the corners.

Virginia’s offense is not as potent as Florida State’s in the power department as their first homerun wasn’t recorded until this last weekend against Clemson.  They are apparently not as disciplined at the plate as the Noles striking out with more frequency and walking less than the Noles.  One other noticeable difference is the stolen base percentage, Virginia is an abysmal 26 for 39 this season and with Lopez behind that plate I wouldn’t look for them to improve on that.

That makes Florida State very dangerous, because its offense is one of the best in college baseball, as usual. Coming into the season, FSU needed to replace Cardullo and All-America leadoff man/center fielder Tyler Holt. McGee has shifted from left field to center, where he has played solid defense. And sophomore second baseman Devon Travis (.354/.442/.585) has taken a major step forward to become the pesky catalyst atop the order.

FSU has had no problem replacing Cardullo despite what Fitt says earlier about Sophomore Justin Gonzalez.  Devon Travis has been a pleasant surprise so far and one can only hope his numbers stay respectable as he enter ACC play and faces more formidable pitching. 

It would appear that Virginia has the obvious pitching advantage while Florida State is the better offensive squad.  Given that this series is being played on the road the overall advantage would lie with the Cavaliers.  Not getting swept is a reasonable goal for the Noles and would help them stay atop the ACC Atlantic.

Unfortunately none of these games are televised and I don’t think you can listen for free but our own DKfromVA will be attending the games in person and providing recaps afterwards.

GO NOLES!

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