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No. 12 FSU baseball weekend preview: 2/14-2/16 vs. Niagara

Mike Martin Jr. will begin head coaching career against the Purple Eagles out of the MAAC

2019 Florida State Baseball Season Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Mike Martin Jr.’s head coaching career begins tonight at 6:00 PM as the Seminoles start their 2020 season with a three-game series against the Niagara Purple Eagles. The Purple Eagles were 15-33 last season and 9-15 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Niagara returns 23 players from their 2019 season. Head coach Rob McCoy enters his 12th season at the helm for Niagara. FSU is 10-0 against the Purple Eagles, with the last matchup coming in 2014. This weekend will be a tune up for FSU before getting into some more quality competition.

Friday 2/14, 6:00 PM

Probable Starters: RHP Tommy Bednarski vs. RHP CJ Van Eyk

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

FSU ace and projected first-round pick CJ Van Eyk will square off against sophomore RHP Tommy Bednarksi. As a freshman, Bednarski posted a 7.96 ERA in 17 appearances and struck out 27 batters in 46.1 IP. The sophomore stands 6’1, 190 pounds out of Lancaster, New York. Van Eyk will make his first start as the Seminoles’ ace on Friday evening. The junior always brings the same mentality to the mound, so the weaker competition shouldn’t be a problem for the Tampa-native. The key for Van Eyk in game one will be throwing strikes and working on consistency with his new slider. I wouldn’t expect the junior’s pitch count to get very high in week one, but getting through six innings will likely be goal one for FSU’s ace. Friday could be the start to an All-American season for CJ.

Saturday 2/15, 2:00 PM

Probable Starters: LHP Chaz DeLuca vs. LHP Shane Drohan

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Junior LHP Chaz DeLuca will be making be his first appearance for the Purple Eagles on Saturday afternoon. DeLuca is a JUCO-transfer out of GateWay Community College, where he posted a 2.93 ERA in 2018 and a 4.50 ERA in 2019. The Chandler, Arizona-native stands 6’0, 170 pounds. Shane Drohan will get the start on the bump for the ‘Noles as he jumps back into the weekend rotation after a strong fall. With an increase in tempo in his delivery, the junior has been more locked in on the zone this offseason. After posting a 1.84 BB/9 in 2019, Drohan will have to improve his fastball command to stay in the rotation for the duration of the season. If he can stay near the zone and be efficient, it will be a big year for the junior. Step one will be attacking the zone against the Purple Eagles on Saturday.

Sunday 2/16, 12:00 PM

Probable Starters: RHP Steven Hospital vs. RHP Conor Grady

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Freshman RHP Steven Hospital will make his first college appearance on Sunday as he gets the start for Niagara against Conor Grady and the Seminoles. Hospital is a lanky righty, standing 6’5 and weighing 170 pounds. The freshman comes out of Oakville, Ontario. After relieving for most of his first two seasons at FSU, Grady will start out his junior year as the Seminoles’ Sunday starter. After having a strong finish to the 2019 season, the junior followed it up with a strong fall as he saw an uptick in his already-polished off speed pitches. As the key always is for Grady, he’ll have to execute and hit his spots to keep hitters from hitting his low-90’s fastball. The RHP should be one of the best Sunday starters in the nation in 2020.

Niagara top returnees

Peter Battaglia is a preseason All-MAAC selection heading into his senior season. The first baseman hit .261 with a .528 slugging percentage in 2019. The 6’2, 215 pound right-handed hitter led the Purple Eagles with 10 home runs, three triples, and 32 RBI last season. After posting a .915 OPS, Battaglia will likely be the biggest threat in Niagara’s lineup on opening weekend.

Michael Gabriele led the Purple Eagles with a .318 batting average in 2019. He also tied for the team lead with 50 hits. Gabrielle posted a .755 OPS with 9 doubles and 19 RBI on the season. Gabriele will likely man second base for the Purple Eagles.

Dawson Bailey tied Gabriele with 50 hits for the team lead last season. Bailey also posted 28 runs, 16 RBI, 10 doubles, and six stolen bases. On the season, Bailey hit .289 with a .763 OPS after 14 XBH’s, including two home runs. Bailey will likely hit atop Niagara’s order this weekend.

FSU headlines to watch for

Obviously, Meat’s first series at the helm is the biggest headline this weekend, but let’s talk ball.

How does FSU fare against left-handed pitching?

Last season, FSU’s lineup often struggled against left-handed pitching as much of the production came from left-handed hitters. The projected starting lineup will once again be filled with LHH’s in 2020. Three of FSU’s first five hitters in the opening day lineup will be lefties, with Tyler Martin leading off, Reese Albert in the three-hole, and Robby Martin hitting fifth. The Seminoles lineup is staggered so that teams will have trouble matching up their relievers from batter to batter. I’d also expect FSU to go with some platoons in 2020 to combat left-handed arms. Names we could see enter the starting lineup on Saturday include Logan Lacey, Tyrell Brewer, and Dylan Simmons.

The state of FSU’s infield defense

Much of Florida State’s 2020 success will depend on the play of their infield defense. FSU’s opening day infield defense will be Cooper Swanson at third, Nander De Sedas at SS, Jackson Greene at second, and Carter Smith at first. Just a week ago, FSU’s infield looked horrid, making 5 errors in the Seminoles’ final public scrimmage. De Sedas struggled at short last year, as he was moved to second midseason to make up for struggles with his throwing arm. Swanson struggled at first base with his throws to second, but is more of a natural on the right side of the infield. Greene posted a .953 fielding percentage at short for Wallace Community College last season. Smith posted a .963 fielding percentage in 2019, but was just getting used to playing first base. The success of the infield will likely come down to the corner infield play. Whoever shows they can field those positions with consistency will get the majority of starts on the season.

Will Florida State push the envelope more under Mike Martin Jr.?

Pressure will likely be a word you hear a lot from Junior and people around the program this season and down the road. FSU is going to drag bunt, they’re going to steal, they’re going to hit and run, and they’re going to put opposing defenses on their heals all season long. The drag bunts may not come for a little while, as Junior will likely want to see what he has in his hitters early in the season, but I’d expect FSU to be running pretty wild this weekend. The Purple Eagles gave up 55 stolen bases in 48 games during the 2019 season. Out of the starting lineup, almost everybody will likely be put in motion. Swanson, Albert, and Elijah Cabell will likely be the leaders. Off the bench, Brewer and Isaiah Perry have elite speed that will cause havoc on the base paths.

FSU just needs to play clean baseball this weekend. Against Niagara, you’d like to see a high contact rate and a good amount of extra base hits on offense. On the hill, FSU needs to attack the zone and not give up any free passes. Defensively, the Seminoles need to make the routine plays and make sure to be in position on simple stuff they control, such as backups and hitting cutoffs. Meat and his staff will look for some more clarity in ongoing position battles as well this weekend. The ‘Noles season will open tonight as CJ Van Eyk throws the first pitch of the 2020 season.