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8 weeks till FSU baseball: Eight breakout candidates

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Which returners could carve out a new role in 2022?

Former JUCO-transfer Colton Vincent (pictured above) could take on bigger role behind the plate in 2022.
Brett Nevitt

Today’s not just Christmas Eve, it’s also eight weeks till Florida State baseball opening day (February 18th). I know that’s what everybody is actually celebrating today. Today will also mark the beginning of our season preview articles, the Christmas gift everyone had on their wish list. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll have an article every Friday previewing certain aspects of the Seminoles’ upcoming 2022 season.

We’ll start with eight breakout candidates (players who were on last year’s roster, but didn’t get much time on the field). Here are some faces you could see more of in the spring:

Andrew Armstrong

Armstrong only saw four innings over five appearances in his freshman season, but he’s been an arm that FSU’s staff has been excited about since he stepped on campus. Last season, Mike Martin Jr. often mentioned Armstrong as a ‘young pup’ that they wanted to get some more innings. The southpaw showed why FSU’s staff often talked highly of him as he posted a 0.84 ERA over 21.1 IP in the Coastal Plain League this past summer.

The sophomore should see a large uptick in innings this upcoming season. Armstrong presents a difficult look for any hitter from a near sidearm slot. The Georgia native weighs just about 150 pounds, but can still run his fastball into the upper-80’s. His sweeping slider, which makes him a near impossible task for left-handed hitters, is his out-pitch. He can also get right-handers out with the slider front door and changeups fading away.

Wyatt Crowell

Crowell saw the most playing time of this group, but his time on the mound was diminished in his freshman season as FSU also needed him to play outfield. Crowell is back to being a pitcher-only this season, and his stuff has only gotten more electric. As a freshman, he posted a 3.86 ERA over 16.1 IP. Taking out a rough outing in mop-up duty at Virginia Tech, the southpaw allowed just three earned runs over 16 IP.

Crowell, another Georgia native, has the stuff to dominate hitters when he’s on. His fastball ran up to 96 MPH in the fall and regularly sat in the 93-95 MPH range. The lefty can really command his fastball to his glove side, locking up right-handed hitters under their hands. His slider has taken another step forward and has the looks of an elite breaking ball. It’s a wipeout pitch in the low-80’s that can make any hitter look silly.

If he’s able to bring his changeup along a bit more, he’ll have a chance at the weekend rotation. He could also be a dominant back end reliever, giving Junior the power that he wants in the late innings.

Ross Dunn

We’re just going to keep rolling with the left-handed pitchers here. Dunn is another powerful lefty that should see an uptick in innings in 2022. As a freshman, he had a 2.13 ERA over 12.2 innings. After his first collegiate appearance (5 BB, 2 ER in .2 IP), he gave up just one earned run and struck out 14 over 12 IP. Dunn had an up-and-down summer in the Cape Cod League, due to command issues, but he posted a 17.25 K/9 over 12 innings.

The sophomore is an imposing presence on the mound at 6’3 and 225 pounds. Dunn can also run his fastball into the mid-90’s and will usually sit in the 92-93 MPH range. His curveball has taken a major step forward this season. It’s a hard CB, at 81-83 MPH, with sharp downward action. Dunn can often get hitters to swing at breaking balls well in front of the plate. Like Crowell, the next step in his arsenal is the development and consistency of his changeup.

Late in the fall, something seemed to click for Dunn with his mechanics, allowing him to pound the zone with consistency. If he can carry that over to spring, he’ll be getting crucial outs for the ‘Noles.

Bazz Jimenez

Jimenez didn’t see any time last season as a freshman after suffering a season-ending injury to his throwing arm in the preseason. Jimenez impressed FSU’s staff before going down with the injury. His frame jumps out to anyone that sees him on the field, as he stands 6’4. This fall, Jimenez quickly got back into the swing of things at the plate. The right-handed hitter has very strong hands that allows him to create consistent hard contact. He’s a line drive hitter that can pepper both gaps.

Jimenez is still working his way back from the injury and may need some more time before he’s an everyday contributor for FSU behind the plate, as he was brought in as a catcher. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Jimenez get some at-bats at the DH spot in the spring.

Jackson Nezuh

Nezuh was Florida State’s most improved arm this fall. As a freshman, he made just three appearances, allowing one run in 2.2 innings. Nezuh didn’t see much time due to inconsistency with command and a lack of secondary pitches. That changed in the summer when he went to the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Nezuh was named a league All-Star after posting a 1.42 ERA in 38 innings. He struck out 62 batters and walked just three (Yes, that’s a real stat).

The right-handed pitcher always had a high-spin fastball that got lots of swing-and-misses up in the zone. This fall, he also added a good bit of velocity. He can now work into the mid-90’s consistently and sit in the 92-94 MPH range. Much of the improvement came from a newly added splitter, which simply dies halfway to the plate. The splitter pairs perfectly with the fastball up in the zone. His slider has taken steps forward, looking a bit sharper this season.

Nezuh was also FSU’s most consistent arm in the fall. He pounded the zone with consistency, topping 70% strikes in nearly all of his fall outings. He’ll be in the mix for the weekend rotation as a sophomore.

AJ Shaver

Shaver was FSU’s highest rated position player in the 2020 recruiting class, but played in just one game his freshman year. The outfielder also played in the NECBL this summer with Nezuh and had a strong summer. He had a hit in 10 of the last 12 games, including 4 multi-hit games with 7 K’s to 6 BB’s in that span. Shaver finished the summer with a .277 average and 8 XBH over 30 games.

The redshirt freshman may have the best tools on FSU’s roster. He likely possesses the most raw strength, he can run, and has a big arm in the outfield. As a true freshman, he struggled with pitch recognition, so FSU took the year to develop him. In the fall, it looked like that may have paid off, as Shaver started to put together more quality at-bats. Those quality at-bats allowed him to show off his strength. The Clermont, FL native will be a candidate to start in left field. If the tools come together for Shaver, it will be a game changer for FSU.

Dylan Simmons

At one point in the summer, Simmons had entered the transfer portal and looked to be moving on from FSU. The Seminoles convinced Simmons to come back to Tallahassee as a pitcher-only. The extra time on the mound has paid off for Simmons, who looks to be a weapon for FSU in the bullpen.

Simmons fastball has been up about 3-4 MPH this fall, often sitting at 92-93 MPH. The fastball bears in on right-handed hitters’ hands with extreme arm-side run. He pairs the running fastball with a sharp slider, that has even been up to 88 MPH. The arsenal is similar to Jack Anderson’s, who ended up as FSU’s closer last season. When he’s able to tunnel the two pitches, he’s un-hittable.

Colton Vincent

Vincent came to FSU last season as a JUCO-transfer and backed up Matheu Nelson. Vincent only started three games as Nelson put together a historic season. The former JUCO transfer has looked like a completely different player this fall compared to last and was FSU’s most improved position player.

This fall, he was a brick wall behind the plate, rarely letting anything get passed him. He’s always had a good arm, but his feet are quicker behind the plate and he threw out runners at a high rate. Vincent isn’t a flashy hitter with a ton of pop or speed, but he grinds out at-bats and makes pitchers work.

The redshirt junior will be in a battle for the starting catcher spot. No one will be able to fill the shoes of Nelson, but if Vincent is called upon, he’ll be a reliable backstop for FSU’s staff and put together quality at-bats.

Bonus: Doug Kirkland was out last season due to Tommy John surgery. Before the injury, he was going to be FSU’s closer. If his rehab stays on track, he’s expected back in mid-march. Kirkland has a closer’s mentality on the mound and possesses a mid-90’s fastball with two wipeout breakers.