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Florida State baseball fall ball series: Corner infielders

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‘Noles return two freshmen All-Americans, present depth at the corners.

JUCO-transfer Casey Asman
@FSUbaseball twitter

Week three of Florida State fall ball brings part three of the fall ball series. This week we talk corner infielders.

Last season, Florida State found offensive production at both corners from a handful of newcomers. It wasn’t until the last few games that Mike Martin Jr. found some defensive consistency at the hot corner. The key for this group will be their defensive play, along with continued growth in the bats.

This group of players presents lots of versatility, and could make up three or four spots in the starting lineup. We’ll take a look at these players at first and third base as their primary positions.

First base

FR Dylan Simmons

SO Casey Asman

FR Luke Hatcher

Once Dylan Simmons inserted his name as an everyday starter in FSU’s starting lineup, he was the ‘Noles most consistent bat. After missing all of the fall last year due to his cancer recovery, Simmons was still able to come in and make an immediate impact. The Jacksonville native was named a freshman All-American after leading the ‘Noles with a .378 average.

Simmons showed his natural strength by consistently driving the ball gap-to-gap. He has a simple line-drive approach at the plate, and takes what the pitcher gives him. With more time to go through workouts in the fall, the power should start to really break through in 2021. Whether it’s at first base or DH, Simmons should be an every day starter for at least the next two seasons.

JUCO transfer Casey Asman will be pushing Simmons as an everyday starter in the field. Asman is also athletic enough to play the outfield if needed. In two seasons at South Florida State College, the left-handed hitter hit .299, including hitting .333 this past season. Asman had 10 more free passes than strikeouts. He also produced nine extra base hits and nine stolen bases in just 28 games.

The JUCO-transfer brings a lot to Florida State’s lineup: discipline, speed, and pop. He puts the ball in play at a high rate and can wreak havoc on the base paths. Asman should be a real difference-maker in 2021, whether that’s at 1B, RF, or DH.

Freshman Luke Hatcher will provide the depth here for the ‘Noles. Hatcher is a well-built corner infielder with easy pop in the bat. He came in as a third baseman, but will likely see more of his reps come at first due to depth. As a third baseman he was ranked 16th in the state by Perfect Game. In his last full high school season in 2019, Hatcher produced 23 extra base hits and a .439 average.

Third base

FR Tyler Martin

JR Logan Lacey

JR Cooper Swanson

After early enrolling last spring, Tyler Martin earned the leadoff spot on opening day, to many people’s surprise (including mine). Throughout the entirety of the season, he proved that was the right decision as he went on to be named a freshman All-American. Martin is perfect for the leadoff spot. He works counts, draws walks, and puts the ball in play. He was 22nd nationally, drawing 16 walks on the season, and had an on-base percentage of .481. He also had a .310 batting average.

Like Simmons, Martin didn’t have a fall ball season last year to prepare and could greatly benefit from it this year. He had lingering issues with his throwing arm last season, but a full semester in the weight room will help with that conditioning. He struggled at third with his arm, making three errors, but if he can get his arm back to full health, he should be a good candidate to handle the hot corner. Martin could also play second. Either way, I’d be surprised if he isn’t leading off once again come opening day.

Logan Lacey was one of the pleasant surprises of the 2020 season. After coming in from Tallahassee Community College as primarily a pitcher, he was moved all around the field as a utility player. Once he found a starting role, Lacey’s bat was on fire. He finished the season hitting .379 in 29 at-bats, including five extra base hits. He also did not make an error in two games at third base.

It was a small sample size, but Lacey’s defense at third base was a large reason FSU won their final two games of the season. Lacey likely has the strongest arm of any infielder has, as he threw into the mid-90’s as a pitcher. The Tallahassee native gives Junior lots of flexibility in the lineup. Even if he’s not an everyday starter, he’ll likely have a large role in the 2021 season.

Cooper Swanson is the X-factor here. We know the struggles he’s had in his time at FSU, but we also know the raw ability that he has. Swanson started three of FSU’s first five games last year, but a slow start and the emergence of Simmons and Martin led to him not seeing much time the rest of the year. He produced four hits (two extra base hits) in 19 at bats. He also made contact in just five of those at-bats, as he struck out 14 times.

The glaring issue with Swanson is his contact rate. But there were positives from his results last year. In games where he had at least 2 plate appearances, he failed to reach base just one of seven games. He has patience at the plate and raw power that only Elijah Cabell can match. He’s also one of the more athletic players on FSU’s roster. If he can get the K-rate down (significantly), Swanson will have an impact on the 2021 season.