Catcher: The experience of the pitchers on the staff is particularly important considering Florida State must replace a workhorse behind the plate now that catcher Stephen McGee has joined the Los Angeles Angles of the MLB. With McGee gone, enter the new guys: JUCO transfer Danny de la Calle, true freshman Gage West out of Tallahassee, and senior Ladson Montgomery--McGee's backup in 2013. De la Calle, out of Miami Dade CC is a big 6'3 220 pound defensive specialist with a strong arm behind the plate, and according to the staff has the inside track at being the starter Opening Day.
In 2012 Stephen McGee slugged a paltry .275, that's just 9 doubles for the season. Last season he slugged .505 with a team leading 9 homeruns. De la Calle had just 5 extra base hits last season in 84 at bats and while his plate discipline is not as refined as McGee's fans should expect him to hit better this season under the coaching of Mike Martin, Jr.
First Base: Junior John Nogowski has been penciled as the opening day starter. The right-handed hitter from NFC bounced back after a disappointing freshman season to have an excellent sophomore one where his on-base and slugging were both over 400. Nogowski was "Player of the Year" of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball Summer League where he led the league with a .497 on-base percentage and finished among the PGCBL's top five in six other offensive categories.
Casey Smit played in 45 games last season, starting 25 of them primarily at first when Nogowski was "struggling" to hit right handed pitching. Nogowski's number against right handers are actually better than Smit's. The left handed JUCO transfer was a pleasant surprise hitting .299/.412/.392 overall in 92 at bats. Smit also has the ability to spot start at third or second.
Second Base: John Sansone while solid in the field really struggled at the plate last season. Overall he hit .233/.321/.379 with 56 strikeouts to just 36 walks. What is really puzzling is the right hander's inability to hit left-handed pitching, he hit 181./314/.236 in 72 at bats, striking out 31 percent of the time. He is the starter for opening day but the good news is I can't imagine Sansone could perform any worse than he did last season.
Shortstop: Just five games into last year Justin Gonzalez suffered a season ending injury and despite being a senior who was drafted by the Dodgers he decided to return for one last season. Here is a look at what Gonzalez has done over his career this far.
You might have heard of this Jameis Winston fella, well he has been listed as the Noles closer to start the season but the bigger question at hand is just how much can he contribute offensively. Winston had success last season as a right-handed hitter, he hit .333/.443/.431 in 51 at bats which could prove to be very valuable. On the other side of that he hit a meager .164/.325/.284 in 67 at bats from the left side and with an injured left finger I wouldn't expect to see much from him early in the season.
The 2013 Seminoles attempted 71 stolen bases last season, the lowest in Florida State history since the stat was first recorded in 1973. This is not necessarily a bad thing because the Noles were terrible last season on the base paths with only a 62% success rate. This is a very smart strategy by Martin, if you are not successful at an aspect of baseball there is no reason to keep putting yourself in a position to fail. 2010 was the last year that FSU had 100 attempts and were very successful at 84%, in 2011 that dropped to 96 attempts at 79% and then to 88 attempts in 2012 with a 72% success rate.
Will those attempts continue to decline in 2014? I actually think they will rise, DJ Stewart was the only player last season with at least 10 attempts and I think that you will see him have at least that this season especially since he was so successful last year at 83 percent. A full season of Josh Delph will help likely mean more attempts even though he is only 8 for 12 in his career. The last year that Florida State had a player attempt to steal even 20 times was 2010 with Tyler Holt's 33 but with the addition of Ben DeLuzio and his ridiculous speed we could see that number attempts again. That is assuming that he can get on base with frequency and he is actually good at stealing bases at this level. Whatever happens the Noles need to improve their base running which has been on the decline for a couple years now.
How will the Seminoles replace Tyler Holt? How will they replace Rafael Lopez? How will they replace Ramsey, Travis, Johnson and Boyd? How are the Noles going to replace Marcus Davis and Stephen McGee? Every year the offense loses top performers and every season the Noles have one of the best offenses in the country. The one constant year over year is the coaching staff and what a tremendous job they do teaching and coaching these players into being patient yet opportunistic hitters.
Florida State returns 60% of their total at bats from last season plus the return of Justin Gonzalez who has 500 career at bats. To think this offense will be anything less than elite again this season is discrediting the hard work and talent the players and coaches put into the game. First pitch is only two days away when Niagara comes into town, we will continue to provide previews of the season throughout the rest of the week.