Florida State Seminoles Season Preview

Melina Vastola-US PRESSWIRE

What is in store personnel wise for the Seminoles this season?

As mentioned in last year's season review and earlier articles this week the 2012 season was a very special one for the Seminoles and a season that I personally will remember as one of my favorites. Florida State had brought in a brand new pitching coach who many thought had little to work with but Mike Bell completely transformed a staff that was key to the College World Series run. While the pitching staff still has some question marks and a crushing injury the main focus of concern this season is the offense, or lack thereof. Let's get right into the preview.

OFFENSE:


Big surprise, Florida State once again had the best offenses in the country. Led by what I think were the best one through four hitters in the country, you knew what you were going to get night in and night out from Johnson, Travis, Boyd and Ramsey. And here is where the concern comes crashing in, all four of those players are gone, two seniors, two juniors, all drafted.

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As you can see in the categories that are recorded and best directly correlate with a good offense the Noles were excellent. It is no secret that the offense was driven by the top four hitters who have now gone so Florida State now has to turn to players who have very little to no experience or have not produced at a high level.

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The players lost accounted for roughly half of the at bats and a substantial part of the offense, virtually all of the team's power came out of those spots. Also a big area concern is the plate discipline, those hitters walked four percent more than they struck out and still produced a combined .500+ slugging percentage. The returners struck out seven percent more than they walked and had an on-base percentage higher than their slugging, not a recipe for having a prolific offense.

INFIELD:

Catcher: Stephen McGee has this position locked up and had one of the strangest years at the plate. He finished the season fifth in the nation with a total of 61 walks and only struck out 10% of the time which is great but he also had an anemic .230 batting average with a .275 slugging. Breaking down the situations in which he walks is quite interesting, 72% of his walks came with runners on base and he walked in 38% of his at-bats with runners on, compared to 28% of his walks with bases empty and only walking in 19% of his at bats. There is no doubting that McGee has a great eye and excellent plate discipline which he deserves all the credit in the world for but he batted right in the middle of the lineup so it's quite possible that knowing the bottom of the lineup was extremely unproductive pitchers chose to be careful with McGee knowing the probability of getting out the next batter was higher. So this begs the question how will pitchers address Stephen McGee when the four batters in front of him are not on seemingly all the time? He has said himself that he needs to be more aggressive at the plate and that he will swing earlier in the count at closer pitches, as one of the few upperclassmen with experience he needs to continue to have productive at-bats. JUCO transfer Ladson Montgomery will be the primary backup catcher and SO Lee Howard will serve as the emergency catcher.

First Base: SO John Nogowski has been penciled as the opening day starter. The right-handed hitter from NFC in Tallahassee had a disappointing freshman season where he played in 56 games, starting 36 of them primarily as the designated hitter. A corner infield spot needs to provide power and that is something that Nogowski has to improve on. A .250/.361/.329 slash won't get it done which means JUCO transfer Casey Smit could take over the position or a platoon system could develop.

Second Base: It was a battle of two freshmen for the starting position that replaces an excellent offensive player and one of the best defenders to every play in Devon Travis. John Sansone, a 39th round draft pick out of Pennsylvania, won the job. He is fundamentally sound, not scary power at the plate but can definitely drive the ball to the gaps when he puts a good swing on the ball. Alvin Swoope, out of Treasure Coast will be his backup, similar to Travis in the field who can develop into a similar hitter. Good speed and surprising pop in his bat, has some growing to do in the field but is very quick with his hands just like Travis.

Shortstop: The lone infield returner this season is SR Justin Gonzalez. His return provides leadership for a lot of young faces as he is only one of three seniors on the team. Ryan Syrkus caught up with him earlier this week in regards to his return and what he hopes to accomplish this season.

Gonzo_medium

Gonzalez strikes out a lot, way too much for someone with as little power as he provides. In order to consider his 2013 season an improvement I would like to see one of two things happen, an improved plate discipline which means a drastic improvement in his strikeout rate or continue to strikeout at a high rate but hit for more power than he has done in the past. It was quite evident that Gonzalez was hampered by nagging injuries last year so if he is completely healthy there is hope that we could see a much needed improvement. Sophomore utility player Gio Alfonso, who played very sparingly last season, is capable of playing every infield position but will be the primary backup at short.

Third Base: The transition from outfield to third was pretty much done even before the end of last season for Jose Brizuela. Like Nogowski, the sophomore came in last year with high expectations and despite starting every game but two he didn't deliver. The inability to get on base and hit for power coupled with poor base running was no doubt frustrating but the silver lining is that of all the second year players on this team Brizuela has the talent to take the biggest step forward. Another freshman in JJ Gould will back him up at third.

OUTFIELD:
Mike Martin stated that he might not have a set outfield until St. Patrick's Day and will all of the new faces it's easy to understand why.

Right Field: It has been discussed that SO Josh Delph and JUCO JR Brett Knief will platoon out there. This is a smart move by the coaches and hopefully it pays off. Last season, the left-handed Delph, had a line of .287/.376/.366 against right-handed pitcher compared to a poor 0.200/.250/.267 line against lefties. The right-handed Brett Knief, who had a moderately successful freshman year with the Tarheels before transferring to junior college could play his way into a starting role in an outfield position or possibly see some designated hitter appearances.

Center Field: Freshman DJ Stewart was one of the prizes of this recruiting class and seems to have played his way into the starting center fielders job. A football player at Jacksonville Bolles, he is a big kid with great power from the left side and a great burst of speed, the Yankees thought enough of him to draft him in the 28th round. Pushing Stewart is SR Seth Miller who had just a bad 2012 season, a .212/.328/.349 line while having one of the worst strikeout rates on the team makes it easy for coaches to go with a much younger and much more promising player.

Left Field: Superstar athlete and 5 star quarterback Jameis Winston will start opening day in left field. The one knock on him right now is transition into the outfield. Backing him up and also filling the designated hitter role is the highly regarding Marcus Davis who transferred from junior college after being a highly thought of prep player and signing with LSU. I have never put much faith into a JUCO kid transferring and having much of an impact but if anyone is going to do it my money would be on Davis. With Winston having his spring football commitments, you could see more Davis in LF and Winston as the DH.

Other Contributors: Infielder John Holland has been battling a back injury and until it heals he will probably see little to no playing time. Freshman outfielder Ryan Valdes probably won't see much playing time but will definitely be a guy off the bench to pinch run in a tight spot. Great speed but still young and learning as well.

I think you'll definitely see a lot of walks again and the team relying on on-base percentage rather than great averages and lots of power. There is definitely more depth with this team, but at the same time, more youth with a lot of guys learning still, so the beginning of the year might be a bit rough, but I think the talent is in place for us to have a great year.

PITCHING

The staff at Florida State last year was a huge breath of fresh air. Two freshman took over the Friday and Saturday starting roles and were instrumental in this team making it to the College World Series. He also revamped pitchers on this staff who had been plagued by an inept prior coach allowing to better their careers with a higher draft pick. Mike Bell will no doubt be a head coach in the future and he has definitely earned that but in the mean time Florida State is in prime position to once again return to a complete and balanced team, year in and year out.

Starting Rotation:

Friday: Sophomore Brandon Leibrandt earned preseason All-American honors after an amazing freshman campaign. Leibrandt was a horse for the Noles in 2012 working 5 or more innings in 14 of his 19 starts and did not allow a run five times, leading FSU to a 14-5 record in games he started. Another stellar season should lie ahead as he did not pitch in any summer leagues allowing his arm to rest and he put of fifteen pounds of good weight.

Saturday: The Noles received crushing news two weeks ago when it was made public that sophomore Mike Compton would be out the entire season with Tommy John surgery. Insert Scott Sitz who pitched in some memorable spots last year and was vital to the successful run the Seminoles made. Now a senior the right-hander begins the season in a role that he is familiar with to an extent, throughout his three years he has moved back and forth from starter to reliever with mixed results. Consistency and longevity are the big question marks with Sitz having never throwing more than 66 innings in a single year.

Sunday: Peter Miller, a junior out of Tampa, will be the Sunday guy for now beating out sophomore Luke Weaver. Weekday starts will go to Weaver but a lack of weekend production on either Saturday or Sunday could provide him a chance to emerge as a weekend guy. Both of these pitchers showed promise last year and with an off-season under the guidance of Coach Bell I think that they can provide more quality innings this season.

Relief Pitching:

Returners:

The leader in appearances last season and co-leader of the Mustache Mafia, righty Gage Smith will once again be counted on extensively out of the pen. Redshirt sophomore Evan Geist is a lefty specialist, similar to Robby Scott and Tye Buckley, who will see mostly situational time. Left-handed junior Brandon Johnson will find that the bullpen is probably the spot for him possibly as a long relief guy if needed.

Bryant Holtman, the giant sophomore out of Illinois has a great arm from the left side and has an outside chance of seeing a spot start during mid-week games. The lefty sophomore Kyle Bird is similar to Geist but has a little more stamina will be a go to guy in situational spots and long relief.

Newcomers:

JUCO transfer Billy Strode is similar to Geist, doesn't overpower you with this stuff, will be a situational guy out of the pen. Dylan Silva is a strong left-handed freshman with great potential and will probably be a situational guy to start things off in his career. Freshman righty Kenny Burkhead is similar to Mack Waugh, nothing that blows you away, just gets the job done. Possibly a mid-week starter but a great candidate for long relief out of the pen.
Another right-handed JUCO transfer Hayden Jordan is pretty much Dan Bennett Jr. Submarine guy who will probably see his time late in the game in the 7th or 8th to compliment Gage Smith before we get to the closer.

Going to be interesting all year at closer, from what I have heard Jameis Winston might start the year as the closer, but with his commitments to football he won't be relied on once spring practice starts. Then you'll see a closer by committee to get guys comfortable in the roll and prepared once Jameis leaves and again when he comes back.
Robby Coles could be one of those closers to fill his shoes when he leaves if not sooner.

The bullpen does not scare me as much as it has in year's past, Mike Bell has proven that he can do a lot in a little amount of time with new pitchers. Florida State has a reputation of being quick to the bullpen and with the number of arms in the pen holding a lead the late in games shouldn't be a big concern. The main issue that looms is quality innings out of the starters, the Seminoles need to consistently have their weekend starters go five plus innings if they want to be competitive.

Hope you enjoyed the preview as well as all the articles that we brought you this week, it was shorter than year's past and lighter on the statistical side. Statistical analysis is still an important part of what we do here at TN and expect plenty of that in future pieces. But for now, sit back and enjoy opening day. I will also refer you to the the TN Baseball Hub as well as SB Nation's new College Baseball Super Group, the goal is to make it into its own blog by March so we need your support.

SERIES PREVIEW:

The Florida State Seminoles host the Rhode Island Rams this weekend. Game notes for the Noles can be found here and game note for the Rams can be found here. As I mentioned in my Series Breakdown yesterday I don't feel that the Noles should have any issues in sweeping Rhode Island.

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Hope to see everyone back at 4:00 PM as we will have a live play by play thread.

Go Noles!

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