We’re exactly four weeks from FSU baseball taking the field under the direction of Mike Martin Jr. for the first time in a regular season game, so let’s start taking a look ahead. Over the next four Friday’s we will preview each position group broken down into catchers and infielders, outfielders, starting pitchers, and relievers. Today we’ll start with the catchers and infielders.
FSU’s infield is their biggest question mark going into the season. The ‘Noles still have three position battles ongoing and have to replace two starters that were drafted within the first nine rounds of the 2019 MLB draft. Drew Mendoza and Mike Salvatore, the two departing starters, combined for 159 hits in 489 at-bats last season, while FSU’s four returning infielders combined for 107 hits in 517 at-bats. Meat and his new staff will try to patch the holes with six freshmen and two JUCO transfers. Much of FSU’s 2020 success could come down to the progression and production of the infield.
There will be no position battle here or questioning the production of FSU’s backstop. Matheu Nelson will be FSU’s everyday catcher, as he was a year ago. As a freshman, Nelly started 54 games behind the plate for the Seminoles. The sophomore will have the highest returning OBP% of any qualified FSU hitter and he should see an improvement in his power numbers from a year ago, as nine of his 13 XBH’s came after April 20th last season. With some cleaned up footwork, Nelson should have a strong year behind the plate. Carter Smith’s name will pop up multiple times in this preview, but his main role in 2020 will likely be backing up Nelson. Smith practiced all over the diamond last season, but has primarily practiced behind the plate with Mike Metcalf this past fall. The senior was a catcher out of high school so the transition to behind the plate shouldn’t be tough. If either one of these players comes down with an injury, freshman RHP Doug Kirkland could fill in behind the dish.
FSU’s first base position was quite frankly a disaster for most of the 2020 season. Cooper Swanson and Nico Baldor both had a swing at the starter’s job for a while, but neither could make much of a positive impact as Smith took over the position late in the season. All three had their defensive issues, combining for 15 errors, and struggled to ever find it at the plate. FSU’s first basemen combined to hit just .190 on the season. Cooper Swanson hit just .159, but posted the best OPS of .771. Swanson is also the most athletic of the three, which might give him the edge. Either way, I’d expect Swanson to start in some role of the offense. Smith was the leader of the pack last year and will also start somewhere in the lineup. Nico Baldor plays the best defense of the three, but has the least powerful bat of the three. Freshman Dylan Simmons and Caleb Cali are the dark horses of the group and both have natural raw power to make an impact right away. FSU can make up for lost production by just being average at this position in 2020. When FSU got positive play at first base from Smith late in the season, they won a lot of games. If FSU can get above average production from this group, it will be a productive season for the Seminoles.
With Salvatore’s departure, FSU will have to fulfill one of their middle infield roles with a newcomer. The second base position will likely feature a position battle between two JUCO transfers. Jackson Greene was the starter at second in the fall and the frontrunner heading into spring. Greene comes from Wallace Community College where he played shortstop. The transfer is sure-handed with the glove and would be a dependable bat at the bottom third of FSU’s order. Last season, Greene hit .344 with two home runs in the JUCO ranks. I’ll have more on Greene in our countdown to the season tomorrow. TCC-transfer Logan Lacey will compete for the job with Greene. Lacey provides a bit more pop at second and also provide dependable defense. Both JUCO transfers should be able to provide FSU with quality innings throughout the season.
Salvatore was as consistent as anybody could’ve asked for on both sides of the ball for FSU last year. Junior will need the same thing out of Nander De Sedas in 2020. De Sedas was up-and-down throughout his freshman year, but flashed the player he can be from time-to-time. Despite the struggles last year, Nander can still be a gold glove type player in the field if he makes the routine plays. De Sedas won the best defender award in the NECBL this past summer. If he can fulfill his potential and put all of his tools together for a season, De Sedas will be one of the best shortstops in the ACC. Freshman JD Tease is currently De Sedas’ backup. Tease brings some pop with his bat, but has struggled in the field. He will likely be a redshirt candidate to progress through the season.
Replacing Mendoza will be no small feat for FSU, and choosing who starts at the position in 2020 won’t be either. Mendoza was as good as can be at the plate in 2019, but also struggled mightily in the field. It’s not always noticeable but good defense can make up for good offense. The Seminoles can make up for his lost offensive production with above average defense and athleticism. FSU has five or six different position players that could play third. Freshman Tyrell Brewer is likely the favorite due to his speed and knack to create pressure on the defense. Brewer can impact the game in so many different ways, whether at the top or bottom of the order. Swanson could also be a candidate to man the hot corner with his powerful bat, but needs more time to smooth out some throwing errors across the diamond. Freshman Danny Andzel is another strong bat to pay attention to heading into the spring. Smith could also get some starts at third base if he is able to play solid defense despite practicing behind the plate most of fall. Tyler Martin will also have the opportunity to win the job after early enrolling this semester. At this point, third base is the most wide open competition heading into the season, but there’s lots of skills here for Meat to utilize.