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No. 12 FSU baseball weekend preview: 2/21-2/23 vs. Cincinnati

‘Noles take on defending AAC champs for second weekend series

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

Florida State heads into the second weekend of the season as a consensus top-15 team and sitting at 3-1. FSU continued their bounce back from opening day with a complete-team win over USF on Tuesday. So far this season, FSU’s pitching staff has been dominant. The ‘Noles have a 2.00 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and a 13.5 K/9. On the offensive side of the ball, the Seminoles have a .269 batting average and .454 OBP. FSU will look to continue their win-streak against the Cincinnati Bearcats this weekend.

After taking home the 2019 AAC tournament title, Cincinnati got off to a rough start to 2020 at the Atlanta Challenge, as they dropped all three games on opening weekend. After opening the season with an extra inning loss to Georgia State, the Bearcats dropped back-to-back games to No. 19 Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State. The pitching and defense were the issues for the Bearcats on opening weekend, as they made two errors per game and posted a 7.11 team ERA. Offensively, Cincy has put up 6.3 runs per game through their first three games. Head coach Scott Googins is in his third season at the helm for the Bearcats.

Friday 2/14, 6:00 PM

Probable Starters: LHP Evan Shawver vs. RHP CJ Van Eyk

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

After giving up two earned runs on opening day, lefty Evan Shawver will likely get the Friday start against FSU. Shawver posted a 7.15 ERA in his freshman year in 61.2 IP. He showed a keen ability to miss bats, posting a 10.14 K/9 in 2019. Despite the swing-and-miss ability, he has shown command issues, as he posted a 7.06 BB/9 last season. Against Georgia State, the lefty allowed six hits but also struck out seven in four innings of work.

CJ Van Eyk will look to build off an impressive start to the 2020 season. Last Friday, Van Eyk worked five spotless innings, giving up just two hits and one walk. In five shutdown innings, the junior struck out eight batters while working quick and efficient. If he continues to pound the strike zone, he’ll post zeroes at a high rate.

Saturday 2/15, 2:00 PM

Probable Starters: RHP Nathan Kroger vs. LHP Shane Drohan

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Nathan Kroger’s 2019 season came to a quick close after a season ending injury. Before the injury, the RHP was off to a hot start as he posted a 1.86 ERA in five starts. Kroger’s season came to a close after seven shutout innings against Niagara in mid-March. The senior got off to a decent start to 2020, as he held nationally-ranked Georgia Tech to two earned runs in 4.1 IP. The RHP gave up five hits while striking out four.

Shane Drohan didn’t get off to the start he wanted to last Saturday, which he admitted in his postgame interview. The lefty said he was disappointed in his performance and wanted to prove he was a different pitcher after he walked three and threw 79 pitches in 3.2 IP on Saturday. Drohan will likely be out to prove a point this Saturday. If the command and efficiency issues don’t start to turn in the other direction soon, it will be time to worry about the Seminoles’ Saturday-starter, but I wouldn’t worry just yet.

Sunday 2/16, 1:00 PM

Probable Starters: LHP Drake Batcho vs. RHP Conor Grady

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Despite posting a 9.27 ERA in his freshman year, LHP Drake Batcho got the nod as Cincy’s Sunday-starter to start the year. Batcho proved that his coaching staff’s decision was the right one, as he didn’t allow an earned run in four innings of work against Kennesaw State. The sophomore allowed four hits and two walks, but worked around the baserunners for four scoreless innings.

Like Van Eyk, Conor Grady’s 2020 got off to a spotless start. The junior worked quick and efficient last Sunday, as he made it through five scoreless innings on just 61 pitches. Grady allowed just two hits while not allowing any free passes in his first start. He also struck out seven. If he continues to throw the ball like this, he’ll be one of the best Sunday starters in the nation and win a lot of rubber matches for the ‘Noles.

Cincinnati top returnees

Wyatt Stapp led the Bearcats with a .294 average in his sophomore season with 69 hits on the year. The former Tennessee-transfer had 12 extra base hits on the season with eight doubles, a triple, and three homers. Stapp has started 2020 hot with the bat, hitting .364 in three games. He’s also drawn two walks, as he’s reached base in 43% of his plate appearances. The infielder will likely hit in the middle of the Bearcats’ order through the course of the weekend.

Joey Bellini was the Bearcats’ second leading returner after posting a .289 batting average in 2019. In 55 games, the middle infielder produced 63 hits and 27 RBI. Bellini also had 15 doubles to go with two homers on the season. His .752 OPS was fourth on the team last season. So far this year, the senior has been a tough out for any pitcher. Bellini is hitting .455 with 5 hits through three games. He’s also posted a 1.045 OPS through three games. The senior will likely hit third for the Bearcats this weekend.

Jace Mercer produced an .804 OPS in 56 games last season after hitting 13 doubles and 3 homers. Mercer was fourth on the team with a .285 average, while leading the team with 20 stolen bases. He also did a good job of getting on base from the top of the order, posting a .407 OBP in 2019. He’s struggled to get the bat going this season, but has still reached base at a high rate as he’s drawn three walks from the top of the order. Keeping Mercer off the base paths will be key to FSU’s success this weekend.

FSU headlines to watch for

Will the hits start to fall for Reese Albert?

So far this season, Reese Albert has struggled to get it going at the plate. In four games, the junior has going 1/12 at the dish, with his one hit being a dropped pop up. Despite not producing hits, Albert has still reached base 33.3% of the time while scoring one run per game. After missing the entire fall season, the left-handed hitter has struggled with his timing at the plate. Despite going 0-5 on Tuesday, his bat looked like it was coming around as he had three hard hit balls right at defenders. Despite the slow start, there’s no reason to panic about Albert just yet. I’d expect him to break out this weekend.

Can FSU keep up their BB/9 pace at the plate?

The Seminoles currently have the number one walk rate at the plate going into opening weekend. FSU is walking a nation high average 9.25 times per game through four games. Florida State’s team OBP of .454 is good for 18th in the nation as they’ve also been hit by 10 pitches on the season. These numbers won’t sustain for the whole season, but at what rate will they decline? Cincinnati is 252nd in the nation after walking 7.46 batters per game on opening weekend, so the Seminoles should be in store for a good amount of free passes again.

What does Junior do with the 1B-3B-DH situation?

After every game, Mike Martin Jr. has stressed that this situation along with the midweek starter role is an evolving situation. Between first base, third base, and DH, FSU has a lot of different offensive options but not many good defensive options. On Tuesday, Carter Smith got his first look at third base but looked a bit shaky. Tyler Martin has looked like the best defensive third baseman, but has struggled with arm fatigue. Potentially, FSU could platoon both first and third base. Dylan Simmons could be an everyday starter in the lineup, but FSU wants to get him a good amount of work on the mound as well. With a lefty on the hill to begin this weekend, I would expect Tyrell Brewer, Cooper Swanson, and Simmons to start on Friday.

Thursday interviews from Mike Martin Jr., Nander De Sedas, and Robby Martin are below.