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Florida State baseball’s last fall ball game: Observations and takeaways

Seminoles take on Jacksonville for last fall ball exhibition.

While you were likely watching the FSU-BC football game, Mike Martin Jr. and FSU baseball took the field for their final tune-up before the spring. The Seminoles took on Jacksonville on a perfect Tallahassee day, about 60 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. FSU lost two out of three games to JU last year and the Dolphins always gives FSU a pretty good battle in mid week games. The Dolphins are usually a scrappy team that makes you beat them, so it was a good final test for Junior and his staff to see what they really have in their 2020 squad.

The ‘Noles and Dolphins played two 7-inning games on Saturday. FSU won the first 7-inning affair 5-2 with their starters and dropped the second portion, with mostly subs in, 2-0. Overall FSU won the 14-inning exhibition, 5-4.

Shane Drohan got the start in game one for the Seminoles, his 2nd start of the fall. The junior looks poised for the Sunday starter spot on this team. After controlling the Sunday role for much of last season, the lefty lost it to command issues. Obviously it’s just four innings of work, but that looks to be fixed. In four IP, Dro threw 66% strikes and didn’t walk a single batter while striking out eight guys. Shane Drohan will be a weekend starter and he will be a pretty high draft pick if this continues. When that is your Sunday starter, you are in a really, really good spot with your rotation.

FSU’s aggression was on display again early in the day. Mat Nelson dropped a first pitch bunt single to open the bottom of the 2nd inning. It was the 3rd time FSU has done that to start an inning and all three times it has worked. Tyrell Brewer dropped down a beautiful bunt in the bottom of the fifth, as the ball rolled all the way down the 3B line and just wouldn’t go foul. The freshman is the fastest player I’ve seen at FSU in a few years and he can really make an impact with his legs. A well-executed bunt is one of the hardest plays for a defender to make in the field. If the 3B is giving FSU room in the spring, they’re going to take the free base.

Jacksonville got the first run of the game on a 3rd and 1st situation and a run down between 1st and 2nd. The Dolphins’ runner on 1st broke for 2nd and stopped in between the bases getting in a run down, before the runner from 3rd broke for home. A lack of execution and communication let the runner score. Obviously since it’s a fall ball game, it’s not the biggest deal, but it’s a small fundamental that needs to be fixed. It was already the second time this fall that FSU struggled with a rundown, but with some new faces on the INF that should come together with more practice.

Cooper Swanson is going to have a spot in FSU’s line up in the spring. Swanson has shown this spring he can make an impact with one swing of the bat. Coop has never really got a consistent opportunity at FSU but he has the power potential to hit 15+ HR’s in a full season. He stroked a ground rule double to LCF on Saturday that was rocketed off the bat. As of now, I’d think he starts at 1B, he just looks most comfortable there compared to 3B or the OF.

Mat Nelson had a big freshman year and looks like he will back it up in 2020. Nelly continues to be a consistent hitter at the plate with a simple approach, driving balls up the middle and to the opposite field. The sophomore has also taken a pretty big step defensively to my eye. He’s always had the strength in his arm, but not so much the accuracy. That has changed this year as almost all his throws have been on the money. He’s also had more success on dropping and blocking balls in the dirt. He will have control of a very talented pitching staff in 2020.

FR Bryce Hubbart is going to make an impact on the pitching staff in the spring. Hubbart has been lights out all fall, not only in exhibitions but also practices. The lefty can get both righties and lefties out with a 3-pitch mix and has feel for all three pitches. The freshman could be a candidate for some weekday starts if Junior doesn’t want to use a freshman in high leverage situations out of the pen.

Nander De Sedas and Robby Martin could make for a lethal 2-3 punch in the lineup. Robby was a hitting machine all last year as a freshman and just continues to do so in the fall. Nander has taken huge strides in the box and the balls that weren’t falling for him last season, are finding grass this season as his confidence goes up. Both guys ripped balls with 100+ MPH exit velocity on Saturday. Once Reese Albert comes back, the top of the order could be scary if they all play to their potential.

Staying on the Reese Albert note, Albert was running around in CF before the game taking live looks on fly balls. His rehab seems to be progressing in the right direction with steps forward every week.

Elijah Cabell didn’t have his most productive day of the fall but still showed he’s taken steps forward this fall. The sophomore drove two fly balls to the warning track but neither ball resulted in a hit. He continues to drive the ball to the other way this fall, as he has the power to drive the ball to all fields. Elijah also showed off his arm in the OF as he ended game one on a strike to the plate from CF.

FSU could have up to 3 new starters in the INF in 2020 and so far some chemistry issues have been evident. On a couple different occasions, FSU pitchers got crucial ground balls that should’ve been inning-ending DP’s but the ‘Noles couldn’t turn them quick enough. The rhythm on double plays and the rundowns I mentioned earlier are all about timing and the ability to work together. Hopefully these things can be ironed out by the spring.

JUCO transfer Davis Hare continued to be dominant and efficient this fall. Hare worked a 1-2-3 inning and retired all nine batters he’s faced this fall. Hare is a guy FSU could rely on in high leverage situations in the fall. His low 90’s sinker also gets lots of ground balls if FSU needs a DP turned to get out of a jam.

Another freshman LHP, Parker Messick, has also impressed this fall. Parker struggled his last time out, but has been unhittable in two of three outings this fall. Messick used a three pitch mix of a low 90’s fastball, wipeout curveball, and an effective changeup to a 1-2-3 inning. Messick also struck out two batters. If he can throw strikes with all three pitches, he could be a very effective left handed specialist in the spring.

Conor Grady touched the mound for the 3rd time this fall for the ‘Noles late in the afternoon. Grady doesn’t have the best stuff, but the way he uses his pitches together makes his arsenal elite. The junior worked around an error with three strikeouts on three nasty off speed pitches, two changeups and a curveball. His pitchability and feel for all of his pitches is way beyond his years.

Chase Haney pitched the last of 14 innings for FSU and showed why he could likely be FSU’s closer. After getting into some quick trouble, Chaz was able to get a ground ball DP with his sinker and K a man with his frisbee slider to strand a man at 3rd. He will get himself into trouble from time to time, but the RS SR has pitched in every type of situation and knows how to get out of jams.

After watching five ball games, the lineup seems to be coming into shape. Once/if Reese Albert becomes fully healthy I’d expect the regular season lineup to be as follows:

  1. CF Reese Albert
  2. SS Nander De Sedas
  3. RF Robby Martin
  4. LF Elijah Cabell
  5. C Mat Nelson
  6. 1B Cooper Swanson
  7. DH Carter Smith
  8. 2B Jackson Greene
  9. 3B Tyrell Brewer

Overall, FSU has had a very productive fall as the Mike Martin Jr. Era sets in. A lot of guys have taken noticeable steps forward, both pitchers and hitters. The weekend pitching staff should be one of the tops in the nation and the bullpen has lots of experienced options combined with intriguing arms to give them depth. This will be a pitching first team, but with an aggressive approach and lots of untapped potential in the lineup, FSU could have a productive offense even though they’re replacing nearly half of their production from last season.

Florida State’s regular season begins on February 14th, 2019.