Alas it is upon us, in less than three weeks the songs of the "Animals of Section B" will fill Dick Howser Stadium signaling the return of Florida State baseball. Coming off a year in which they reached the Super Regional round, the Seminoles took the field this past Friday, marking the first day of Spring practice. FSU brings back nearly 20 key contributors from a season ago in addition to the return of a couple key veterans who sat out the 2013 season with injuries. However, much is left to be decided, as Florida State must figure out who will replace key starters in pitcher Scott Sitz and an ironman behind the plate in Stephen McGee.
Florida State’s pitching staff in 2013 was amongst the best in the entire country sporting a 2.92 team ERA and could be even better in 2014. The Noles’ return their ace in junior RHP Luke Weaver (7-2, 2.29 ERA, 119 K, 19 BB) who some are pegging as a 1st round selection in the 2014 MLB draft. Weaver, whose fastball reaches into the upper 90s, had a chance to compete with Team USA over the summer including included a trip to Japan.
"Getting to pitch against Japan was crazy," Weaver said. "I got to pitch a couple innings in Omaha the year before and those two things definitely compare. I learned to become comfortable in uncomfortable situations and I picked up some things from all the players and coaches that were there as well."
Florida State also returns junior LHP Brandon Leibrandt (10-4, 3.44 ERA, 77 K, 30 BB) but must replace Scott "The Stache" Sitz (10-2, 2.09 ERA, 80 K, 22 BB), who had become a fan favorite during the 2013 campaign. One option is RS sophomore Mike Compton (2012: 12-2, 2.87 ERA, 64 K, 28 BB). Compton had a very successful 2012 season that saw FSU reach the College World Series, but missed the entire 2013 season due to an elbow injury requiring surgery. The coaching staff indicated that Compton was back to his spectacular freshman form as did his teammates. Preseason All-American outfielder DJ Stewart knows just how hard it is to hit against Compton.
"With Compton it’s good to see him back, but I’ll be even happier when he’s not throwing against me and throwing instead against other teams because he’s already back to old Compton. He’s been spotting up and pitching really well already", sophomore outfielder DJ Stewart said.
Coach Mike Martin Sr. stated that Peter Miller would be the team’s #4 pitcher, and would once again occupy the lead mid-week starting role. This implies that the rotation will indeed be Weaver on Fridays and some variation of Leibrandt or Compton in the Saturday/Sunday spots. No matter where Leibrandt or Compton land in the rotation, one thing is certain: Florida State will have one of best pitching staffs in all of college baseball in 2014. All four starting pitchers come into the season with plenty of successful starts under their belts as well as a veteran bullpen led by Gage Smith (2.41 ERA), Billy Strode (2.43 ERA) and Jameis Winston (3.00 ERA) the Seminoles will not be without a shortage of talented, tested arms. Winston is expected to be the team’s closer in 2014. This staff is something Luke Weaver was excited about before Friday’s opening practice.
"Studs - these guys are good," Weaver said. "it’s always a battle for positions in the rotation and we’re always competing but also having fun"
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. In 2014 it will be the Seminole pitchers who will look to guide a batch of new catchers through the season. This is a complete flip from the past couple of years in which McGee was the experienced veteran, often the calming presence for the young Seminole pitchers.
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.
With three weeks left until Opening Day against Niagara the Seminoles are hard at work battling for position in both the field and on the mound. While the starting spots have yet to be completely finalized the Seminoles are poised to once again be amongst the best in the country on the mound in 2014.