The Seminoles announced their weekend rotation Wednesday afternoon for the opening series against Oakland University (Michigan), with returning starter RHP Mike Compton scheduled to throw Friday and newcomers RHP Boomer Biegalski and RHP Cobi Johnson scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
"[Compton] knows that [he wasn't guaranteed the Friday spot]," FSU pitching coach Mike Bell said. "He knows it’s a privilege to pitch on Friday. Whether he’s going to pitch on Friday, Saturday or on Sunday, he just wants to help the team. Boomer and Cobi did what we wanted them to do from a strike percentage standpoint – an opportunity to get us off to a good start. We feel good with what we have there."
The Weekend Rotation
The right-handed Compton returns for his redshirt junior year as a key leader on a young pitching staff. Compton won seven games last season, finishing with a 3.23 ERA in 83.2 innings pitched. While he begins the year as the Friday guy, it's unlikely that he remains in that role and moves to the Saturday or Sunday slot once one of the newcomers settles in.
Biegalski, a JUCO transfer from College of Central Florida, grew up in Tallahassee and played high school ball at Chiles. As a freshman, he finished with an 8-4 record and a 2.86 ERA, collecting 116 strikeouts in 110 innings of work. Biegalski will be a nice addition to the staff as somebody able to reach the nineties and take advantage with a nasty change on the mound. I think he has the ability to earn the Friday job at some point this season, but only time will tell.
Johnson, out of Holiday, Florida, comes in as a highly rated true freshman. Drafted in the 35th round of the MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres, he was a delightful addition to a pitching staff with a number of question marks. His 6-foot-4 frame provides a lot of capability with his fastball, and Bell says "his baseball and pitching IQ is what separates him." Having a former major league pitcher as a father probably helps.
But what about the rest of the staff?
The competition for the weekend rotation has been a four-way battle between the three previously mentioned arms and senior LHP Bryant Holtmann, who will now man the position as the weekday starter. Being leaving the game against Virginia with an injury, Holtmann made six starts in 2014. Finishing his junior year with 3.68 ERA and a 5-1 record, the lefty tallied 29 strikeouts in 36.3 innings of work. Holtmann, along with Compton, will provide necessary leadership to a youthful staff.
"I see him fitting in nicely. I like the leadership and experience that he and Michael Compton have been providing with our younger guys," Bell said. "They lead a lot by example and by work ethic, not only on the field but off the field. He’s been progressing very nicely, he’s been attacking hitters and I think he’s looking forward to a big senior year. He'll be doing a little bit of both [starting and relieving] for us this year."
Losing Gage Smith - a guy who led the ACC in appearances for three consecutive seasons (39; 35; 40) for 114 on his career - is tough to overcome. But instead of searching for the one guy to fill that void, FSU's staff will look to a number of arms.
"I think the most important thing is the back end of the game, not giving extra opportunities and free passes, and that’s one thing that Gage did a great job of," Bell said. "He would sink the ball obviously with his arm slot, but his ability to attack hitters and kind of play mind games with them too. He was a very smart pitcher from a standpoint of, not only knowing how to expose hitters, but changing timing and rhythm, and it was a lot of fun working with him over the past couple of years. But you knew what you were going to get. You were going to get strikes, you’re going to get them in the bottom of the zone, you’re going to work quick and we’re going to play defense."
Four or five guys will be major contributors in taking over for Smith. Lefties Dylan Silva, Alec Byrd and Bryant Holtmann, and righties Drew Carlton and Derek Vail - another submarine pitcher.
Silva made 17 appearances last season - one start - finishing with a 4-0 record and a 1.90 ERA. Byrd saw even more limited time, pitching 17 innings and finishing with a 4.20 ERA.
Vail - a right-handed submarine transfer from Sante Fe Community College - has a different style than Gage Smith had but remains effective with the sinking motion. Carlton is a true freshman from Lakeland, Florida, who has apparently made an impression on the staff.
*Side note: I wasn't able to see Silva or Vail this preseason, although I have confidence in Silva from what I saw last year, but I did have the chance to see Byrd and he looked excellent. I was extremely impressed.
Billy Strode looks to begin the season as FSU's closer. The senior made 24 appearances last year including four start, finishing with a 2.62 ERA and a 2-1 record. Strode began to come on strong down the stretch last season and the Seminoles hope he'll continue that momentum. With the departure of former closer Jameis Winston, the staff is looking for somebody with a cool head that can throw strikes, and they like Strode's experience.
The Glue Holding It All Together
Defensive specialist Danny De La Calle will be crucial to the success of this young staff.
"The huge piece of the puzzle of that is Danny De La Calle," Bell added. "He can obviously shut down a running game, but he’s a very strong-handed framer and makes borderline pitches look like strikes. His experience of battling through the ACC and working with our older guys last year, now he can take that and hand it over to some of these younger guys. It’s a nice comfort zone having him back there behind the plate."