After Thursday's preview of the Seminoles' offense and defense, today's preview will address the pitching staff for the upcoming season.
When looking at Florida State's pitching talent entering 2016, there are a lot of positives that can be drawn. After all, Florida State returns two of three weekend starters from last season in fifth-year senior Mike Compton (4-4, 3.55 ERA in 13 starts last season) and Drew Carlton (5-5, 4.04 ERA with 12 starts in 18 appearances last season). Compton has been pinned as the Friday starter while Carlton is listed as Saturday's starter. However, the one weekend starter that is not back on this year's team, Boomer Biegalski, was FSU's most productive and heavily utilized arm a season ago and shocked many with his departure for the MLB Draft just one year after entering the program.
With multiple new arms entering the program this season, in addition to a few returning Seminoles with starting experience, the question as the season approached was who would win the coveted Sunday starting job. The answer, shared by head coach Mike Martin weeks before opening day, was true freshman and Tallahassee native Cole Sands. Sands, a North Florida Christian High School graduate and Louisville Slugger First-Team All-American, finished his high school career with an impressive senior season that saw him go 5-1 with a 0.23 ERA in 66.1 innings of work, striking out 73 batters while allowing only 32 hits.
Florida State also needed to replace weekday starter Bryant Holtmann, who graduated after last season. Again, the Seminoles sided with youth in the decision, naming true freshman Tyler Holton the first weekday starter. Holton, also from Tallahassee, wrapped up his senior season at nearby Lincoln High School with a 6-2 record and 0.74 ERA in 47.1 innings. Holton also doubles as a serviceable batter and outfielder on days where he is not pitching.
The one remaining question mark for Florida State's starting pitching staff is who will be the second weekday starter when the Seminoles play both Tuesday and Wednesday in the same week, a scenario that occurs four times on the 2016 schedule. There are a multitude of options as FSU returns four pitchers who started at least one game last season and are not currently slated to start. Those options are Cobi Johnson, who started last season as the Sunday starter but lost his spot due to poor performances and finished the season with a dismal 7.21 ERA, Alec Byrd, who started three midweek games last season, Jim Voyles, who returns two starts, or his brother, Ed Voyles, who had one start in 2015. Another option entirely is to use another true freshman in the role, possible considering FSU has three more newcomers who were starters in high school in Dillon Brown, Jared Middleton, and Andrew Karp, who redshirted in 2015 after he was in a serious car accident. Whoever the answer is, the Seminoles have to move fast as the first five-game week begins March 1st and 2nd when Florida State hosts Jacksonville and Villanova on back-to-back days.
Coming off last season, Florida State will have the undesirable task of replacing two of its most utiilized bullpen pitches from a year ago in Dylan Silva and Billy Strode. Silva made 36 bullpen appearances, the most on the team, and pitched a bullpen-leading 56.2 innings in 2015 and Strode filled the Seminoles' closer role to great effect, totaling 14 saves while maintaining a 1.80 ERA.
Luckily for FSU, those are the only two relief arms that graduated after last season. Florida State returns nine relief pitchers from last year's team and six of those relievers pitched 10 or more innings in the 2015 campaign. Look for both Jim and Ed Voyles, Alec Byrd, and Will Zirzow to step into larger roles this season with more bullpen innings up for grabs.
Additionally, Florida State added a pair of relief pitchers in its 2016 recruiting class, Chase Haney and Ronnie Ramirez, as well as two transfer relievers, Matthew Kinney from Belmont and Tyler Warmoth from Stetson. Martin recently named Warmoth as the closer entering the 2016 season after debating between a few alternatives entering preseason practices.
There's no denying that the departures of Silva and Strode left a sizable hole in the Florida State bullpen and there's little telling who will rise to the occasion and earn their innings. However, with so many options and innings to go around, there's little denying that Martin will locate the most productive relievers as the season progresses and use that to his advantage down the stretch of the season.
Looking at this team, I see a squad that will be improved from last season in some key aspects (fielding, baserunning, and possibly starting pitching) but will take a step back, at least early in the season, in some other important areas (power hitting, bullpen). Nonetheless, I think the Seminoles continue their winning ways, extending Coach Martin's 40-win season streak to 37 years, and will host a regional for the sixth straight year but will not host a super regional.