Florida State baseball closed out fall ball Monday afternoon inside Dick Howser Stadium, winning an exhibition game against the visiting Ontario Blue Jays, 18-1.
As the 'Noles closed the book for fall, they now look ahead to spring where they'll showcase a team full of new faces, and some very talented ones at that. Here's what I expect the Seminoles to look like come February.
ON THE MOUND
After losing two weekend starters in Brandon Leibrandt and Luke Weaver to the MLB Draft, the Seminoles are left trying to fill that void.
Luckily for the staff, redshirt junior right hander Mike Compton returns to the hill for FSU this year and will definitely be a focal point during any weekend series. Compton, after missing the entire 2013 season and returning from Tommy John Surgery, went 7-3 in 2014 with a 3.23 ERA.
Left handed senior Billy Strode also returns for the 'Noles, and I fully expect him to be a member of the weekend rotation as well -- at least to begin the year. Strode struggled during the early part of last season but began to pick it up towards the end, and hopefully he can carry that momentum into 2015.
Another senior left hander, Bryant Holtmann, will also make his return in 2015. While some may consider him a lock as one of FSU's starters, I believe they want Holtmann to fill the void left behind by Gage Smith, someone they can count on to come out of the bullpen a few times a week and give significant innings.
Boomer Bielgalski, a JUCO transfer from College of Central Florida, played high school ball at Chiles High right here in Tallahassee. Biegalski throws gas and holsters a nasty change to accompany his velocity. Striking out 116 batters in 110 innings during his freshman year, he's a big time get for the staff after losing two of their weekend starters, and I believe the youngster will be a Friday or Saturday guy for the 'Noles.
Deciding on a closer is pretty much the only position I can't put my finger on at this point. If you had to pick a guy that has the "stuff," but doesn't have it under control just yet, you'd have to go with Taylor Blatch. He has a live arm, but he has also struggled mightily with consistency, and that's an issue. In a closer, you need a guy that has two or three extremely effective pitches, along with quality velocity. I don't believe the staff has even begun to settle on anybody to play this role just yet.
Wildcard: Cobi Johnson, the freshman right hander. I haven't been able to see any of Johnson during the fall, so I can't throw him in the mix at this point, but I'm intrigued. Coming in as a big prospect, the staff has really kept a lid on this kid, and didn't being him to face a single batter during any of the scrimmages or exhibition game. I'll be interested to see what Johnson's role will be come spring.
BEHIND THE PLATE
This shouldn't be much of a mystery, as Florida State has one of the best -- if not the best -- defensive catcher in the country in Danny De La Calle. While De La Calle was a liability at times at the plate, he was nothing short of spectacular behind the plate, and Florida State will need that consistency with new faces on the mound. If the defensive stud can improve his batting average ever so slightly, he'll become the complete package and drastically increase his draft stock.
After losing John Nogowski to the draft, in steps Chris Marconcini, a graduate transfer from Duke. The 6-foot-4, 230 pound left handed hitter was a pleasant surprise for the Seminoles and will man first base, a position he knows quite well. In three season with the Blue Devils, Marconcini was a .275 career hitter including 43 doubles, 13 triples and 20 home runs. Having already hit a home run against the Seminoles in Dick Hoswer, Florida State's staff is counting on the lefty to take advantage of the wall in right field.
John Sansone, who started the last two season at second base for the Seminoles, will again man that post. Sansone drove in 39 RBI in 2014 and seems to be swinging the bat well. Showing just how far the new baseballs can fly against the Ontario Blue Jays Monday afternoon, the junior sent on into orbit over the left field fence and Ontario's bus, extending FSU's lead. Sansone has proven to be capable at second base, but he looks to tidy up his glove just a bit before the start of the 2015 season.
After losing senior captain Justin Gonzalez, the 'Noles will now look to freshman Taylor Walls to take the reins. Walls is stud out of Crisp County High in Georgia, and finished up an extremely impressive fall on Monday. He's a switch hitter who has a confident and consistent bat. Pair that with wheels on the base paths, Walls is a comforting replacement for Gonzalez, even as a freshman. With Walls at short, the staff is able to leave Ben DeLuzio in center field to cover a lot of grass.
With the exit of Jose Brizuela, I believe Florida State will turn to sophomore Hank Truluck. Truluck started three games for FSU during his freshman season, mainly used as a utility guy that can play multiple positions. Truluck has a solid 6-foot-1, 190 pound frame and can sling it across the diamond. Truluck's consistent bat is what will likely win him the job, hitting .286 in only 21 at-bats last year.
This should come as no surprise, but rather a blessing, if you're a Florida State fan. ACC Player of the Year DJ Stewart will be back for the Seminoles in left field, and more importantly at the plate. In 2014, Stewart led the ACC in batting average (.351), slugging percentage (.557) and on-base percentage (.472). One of college baseball's best hitters will return, and may be better protected this year (something I'll touch on in just a bit).
The sophomore speedster Ben DeLuzio will cover the lawn in center for the Seminoles. DeLuzio is a threat at pretty much every angle of the game. In 2014, the youngster hit .281 including seven doubles, five triples and a home run, and also stole 16 bases. Selling out -- once leading to an injury on the road -- DeLuzio finished the year with a fielding percentage of .970. Whether it's his rhythm at the plate, aggressiveness on the base paths or his determination in the outfield, DeLuzio will be a crucial piece of the puzzle in 2015.
It seems that the outfield is full of familiar faces, and this one shouldn't be any different. Josh Delph will again be in right field for the 'Noles. Delph, FSU's latest lead off man, shared time in right field with Brett Knief in 2014, but he'll llkey be the sole member at that position in 2015. Delph's bat isn't exactly explosive, but he shows patience at the plate, drawing 34 walks in 2014. While patience can be a virtue, Delph also recorded 52 hits, 14 doubles and scored 34 runs as a lead off man.
Sophomore Gage West will likely DH for the 'Noles in 2015. West, who played high school ball at Lincoln here in Tallahassee, has a monster bat. Also a catcher, but a raw one at that, West can be vital at the plate for a Florida State team that needs heavy bats to help protect DJ Stewart in the lineup.
MY PROJECTED LINEUP FOR 2015
1.) Josh Delph RF
2.) Ben DeLuzio CF
3.) DJ Stewart LF
4.) Chris Marconcini 1B
5.) Gage West DH
6.) Taylor Walls SS
7.) John Sansone 2B
8.) Hank Truluck 3B
9.) Danny De La Calle C
This lineup does a number of things -- most importantly protecting DJ Stewart. With Marconcini and West behind Stewart, team's will be faced with the difficult decision of walking a guys ahead of two big bats. DeLuzio also provides consistency in front of Stewart, and provides speed at the top of the lineup. With DeLuzio near the top, FSU is able to have the speedy Walls towards the middle to get on base for Sansone and Truluck. Two through six would just be nasty if this is the look.