This year’s Florida State baseball team will mash. There is almost no doubt of this fact, solely based on the staggering amount of offensive talent the Seminoles bring back, in addition to some highly-regarded newcomers. As such, it seems clear that FSU’s offensive talent is worthy and capable of an Omaha bid.
However, the Seminoles’ pitching staff will likely be the deciding factor in whether or not this year brings a College World Series berth back to the program for the first time since 2012. If Florida State’s weekend starters take the next step forward and some new arms step up to fill the vacancies left in the bullpen after last season, FSU confirms its place among the favorites to win it all in Omaha. If it’s a year of inconsistency and struggles on the mound, the ’Noles could very well see their CWS drought reach five seasons.
Florida State has the luxury of returning its entire weekend rotation that it used over the final stretch of the 2016 season. Junior Drew Carlton will return alongside sophomores Cole Sands and Tyler Holton, the sole left-handed pitcher of the bunch.
FSU head coach Mike Martin made it clear a season ago that he sees Sands as a future Friday night starter in the Seminoles’ rotation, as evidenced by the fact that his stuff is the best of the three when each of them are at the tops of their games. But the future isn’t here quite yet, as Martin has announced that Carlton will pitch Friday of Florida State’s opening series against VCU while Sands works Saturday and Holton is slated for Sunday.
Carlton, the veteran of the bunch, enters this season off what must be considered the best outing of his collegiate career. He held a loaded Florida offense to two hits over the course of a complete-game shutout in the opening game of last year’s Gainesville Super Regional. Carlton finished the 2016 season with an 8-3 record and a 3.94 ERA over a team-high 93.2 innings of work, managing to put together the best WHIP (1.24) and walks per nine innings (2.21) of the three returning starters.
Sands was the least consistent of the trio a season ago, making it less than five innings in 10 of his 17 starts as a true freshman, finishing with a 4.13 ERA, which doesn’t quite match up with his 6-7 record. In spite of this, when he was on last year, it was evident how high his potential was. He enters his sophomore season receiving praise on a very good offseason from Martin and seems poised to take the next step in his game.
Holton, the late-season addition to the weekend rotation, made the least starts (10) of the group in 2016. That’s not to say that he adapted quickly to the situation, though. He threw a pair of gems when facing a stacked Miami lineup and held Florida to one earned run over six innings of work in a Super Regional loss. He wrapped up his 2016 campaign with a 3-4 record, which was not at all indicative of his 3.66 ERA as well his 10.99 strikeouts per nine innings mark, far and away the best on the team. This offseason, Holton, who also saw play as an outfielder as a freshman, focused solely on his pitching, removing himself from consideration for playing time in the outfield.
An interesting trend to point out entering the 2017 season is how strongly the weekend starters finished the 2016 season. The combined ERA of the three over the entire 2016 season amounts to 3.91. However, when just taking into account the final four starts for each of them from last year, that ERA drops to 3.09, supplemented by a 0.97 WHIP, 5.45 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and .207 batting average against. If the Seminole starters can attain anything even close to this torrid level of play entering 2017, the ’Noles could be a formidable force.
Along with announcing his opening weekend rotation, Martin recently shared that his clear No. 4 starting pitcher right now is redshirt sophomore Andrew Karp. Karp posted a 1-1 record with an unimpressive 6.91 ERA in a limited 14.1 innings in his first active year at FSU. Now, it must be admitted that there was assuredly a significant re-learning curve for Karp, who was forced to sit out his entire first season at Florida State after breaking his femur in a serious car accident in November of 2014. That being said, the fact that Karp has been announced as the certain Tuesday starter for the Seminoles entering the season is either a display of how far Karp has come in his development or an indictment of how shallow FSU’s starting pitching depth truly is.
Florida State will also need a fifth starter in a week with two midweek games on four occasions over the 2017 regular season. On this matter, Martin was unclear as to who may emerge as the second midweek starter when one is required. Among the returning candidates, only one healthy pitcher left on the Florida State roster made any starts in 2016: Ed Voyles, who started four games in 23 appearances, wrapping up the year with an impressive 2.66 ERA in 47.1 innings of work. Along with Voyles, a number of first-year pitchers may push for the spot, including a pair of freshman lefties in Drew Parrish and Clayton Kwiatkowski. Thankfully for the FSU coaching staff, there will be plenty of time to evaluate their options as the Seminoles don’t face their first five-game week until March 7th.
Here lies what has to be the most up-in-the-air portion of Florida State’s pitching staff: the relievers.
With the departure of Tyler Warmoth, yet another player in a long line of single-year closers at FSU, the ’Noles once again find themselves in need of a closer ahead of the 2017 season. Martin recently said that he is unsure who will emerge as FSU’s closer in the long run, but he named Jim Voyles as the leading candidate at the moment. Voyles, whose 51.1 innings of work were the most out of the Florida State bullpen last season, ended his 2016 campaign with a 3.16 ERA along with a 6-1 record and a pair of saves.
FSU also returns Chase Haney, who impressed with a 2.78 ERA in 32.1 innings as a freshman in 2016, senior Alec Byrd, who posted a team-low 2.22 ERA among pitchers with more than one inning of work, and the aforementioned Ed Voyles. Outside of these four, however, the Seminoles return no relievers who pitched more than 20 innings in 2016.
In years past, Florida State has been a bit guilty of relying heavily on a limited number of highly trusted bullpen options. For FSU’s bullpen to have any long-term success in 2017, the coaching staff will need to utilize the five true freshman pitchers on this year’s roster early in the season, deciding which options are ready to contribute down the road in ACC play and which need further development. This will likely prove essential, not just in adding bullpen depth for the final stretch, but also in saving the arms of the established relievers for conference play and beyond.