Florida State baseball takes the baseball field for the first time in 346 days this afternoon. Simply put, it’s been too long since the Garnet and Gold took the field. This afternoon, we return to some sort of normalcy, as the North Florida Ospreys travel to Tallahassee for a three-game set. Dick Howser Stadium will be at 25% capacity for the 2021 season. The Seminoles are coming off a 12-5 season, while the Ospreys were 4-12.
The ‘Noles return their whole starting lineup and many pieces of their pitching staff. FSU heads into the season as a consensus top-25 team, and ranked 21st in the USA Today Coaches poll. Last season, Florida State’s offense was top 20 in walks (116), on-base percentage (.415), and runs (135). But the Seminoles were also 271st out of 298 teams with a .950 fielding percentage and struck out over 12 times a game.
Florida State was dominant on the bump in the shortened 2020 season. The ‘Noles ranked in the top 31 of the nation in ERA (2.5), hits allowed per nine (6.27), strikeouts per nine (12.1), and WHIP (1.14). The Seminoles lost their top three arms from last season, but return a stable of arms, including 8-10 pitchers with 95+ MPH in the tank.
North Florida struggled on both sides of the ball last year. The Ospreys posted a .248 batting average, .325 OBP, and just under five runs per game. On the mound, the Ospreys had a 6.60 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, and .323 batting average against. Like the Seminoles, UNF struggled in the field with a .952 fielding percentage.
Florida State is 9-2 all time against the Ospreys. FSU won the last matchup, on March 6, 2019, by a score of 4-3 in Dick Howser Stadium.
Saturday 2/20, 2:00 PM
Probable Starters: LHP Tony Roca vs. LHP Parker Messick
How to watch: ACC Network Extra
Messick did everything he needed to necessary to become a starter this off-season, slimming down his weight and adding a fourth pitch, and it paid off. The Plant City native was a freshman All-American last season, after giving up just one earned run in 11.2 IP. Messick attacks hitters from a low slot which makes his ball jump. He has a 90-93 MPH fastball, low-80’s dominant changeup, a mid to high-70’s wipeout slider, and a low 70’s knuckle-curve. When asked about the opening day nod on Thursday, Messick said, “It’s everything that you come here and work for. It was mine coming in as a freshman and I have always been one of those guys that’s going to work for the top spot. No matter what I got to do, so that’s what I did. It just really means a lot that your hard work is kind of worth it and everything.”
The Ospreys will hand the ball to Tony Roca on opening day. Roca worked his way into a weekend rotation spot as a freshman last season and put up good numbers. Roca posted a 3.31 ERA in 16.1 IP. The southpaw struck out 11 while walking just two batters. His opponent’s batting average was .246, but he gave up five extra base hits. The Florida native has a big frame, standing 6’3 and 221 pounds. He has a deceptive delivery and will work off his pitchability. FSU will have to be ready to swing the bats on opening day.
Sunday 2/21, 11:00 AM
Probable Starters: RHP Dominick Madonna vs. RHP Carson Montgomery
How to watch: ACC Network Extra
Montgomery is the highest rated pitcher to ever make it to Tallahassee. And the stuff shows every time he’s on the mound, but his composure won him this role. He will attack hitters with his mid-90’s fastball, which bores in on right-handed hitters. His breaking ball is a tight slider/slurve, at 81-83 MPH. He’s at his best when he’s landing that pitch. His changeup has made big strides since reaching campus and is a weapon against lefties. He also possesses a 88-91 MPH cutter which gives hitters fits. Messick spoke highly of Montgomery, saying, “He will go out on the field and I think he’ll dominate this season and it’ll be well deserved because he is one of the most humble kids I could ever talk to.”
Second-year freshman Dominick Madonna will get the game two nod for UNF. As a true freshman, Madonna struggled. He posted a 7.36 ERA in 11 IP, while walking eight and striking out seven. He gave up and opposing batting average of .302. The RHP stands just 5’11 and 184 pounds. He’ll work with a mid to high-80’s FB, and could scratch 90-91. His out pitch is a slider.
Sunday 2/21, TBA
Probable Starters: TBD vs. RHP Conor Grady
How to watch: ACC Network Extra
Grady will bring the veteran presence to this rotation. Over three years at Florida State, the Tampa native has posted a 3.74 ERA in 108.1 innings pitched. He throws a sinking fastball at 89-92 MPH, which makes it hard for hitters to get the ball up in the air. He possesses a mid 80’s slider that can be dominant at times, but it can also flatten out at times. When he’s on with that pitch, he’s going to put together quality starts. He also throws an above average changeup in the low 80’s which is tough on left-handed hitters.
North Florida is yet to announce a starter for game two of the double header.
North Florida top returners
- Abraham Sequera was the spark plug for the North Florida offense last season. Sequera posted a .385 average, .444 OBP, and .436 slugging percentage in 2020. The senior will likely be in the top two of the Ospreys’ order. Sequera stands just 5’8 and 188 pounds. Sequera will also man the shortstop position for UNF, but has struggled defensively in his time at North Florida. Last season, he posted a .915 FLD% with four errors in 12 games. He also had a .899 FLD% in 27 games in 2019.
- Ricky Presno was the Ospreys’ second most valuable hitter last season. The senior posted a .222 average, but recorded 10 free passes and four extra base hits in 13 starts. He posted an OBP of .364 and a .400 slugging percentage. Presno will man a corner infield spot for UNF. Presno was another liability in the field last season, as he made seven errors en-route to a .885 FLD%.
- Blake Marabel is a two-year starter at North Florida. Through two seasons, the outfielder has accumulated a .252 batting average, .360 slugging percentage, and a .308 on-base percentage. Before UNF, Marabel hit .326 with 18 homers in two years at College of Central Florida. Marabel, who stole five bases in 2019, will be active on the base paths. The St. Johns, Florida native will man center field for UNF.
FSU headlines to watch for
Will FSU be consistent on the left side of the infield?
Florida State’s biggest hole last season was the defense on the left side of their infield. For the majority of the season, Mike Martin Jr. had no defensive answer at third base and short stop. He tried multiple different people at each position, but found no consistency till the end of the season. Logan Lacey’s stability at third base and Nander De Sedas’ consistency at shortstop the last couple games of the season changed the team’s entire look and results.
Junior announced on Friday that freshman Vince Smith will start at third base and De Sedas will be at shortstop this weekend. Smith is a sure-handed infielder, but hasn’t worked much at the hot corner in the preseason. De Sedas has all the tools to be a high-level fielder, but has to be consistent with the routine plays. The defensive consistency of the left side of the infield could likely determine FSU’s success, not just this weekend, but the whole season.
Can the Seminoles lower their strikeout rate from 2020?
Florida State’s offense is powerful, but also has a high swing-and-miss rate. The Seminoles struck out over 12 times a game last season. Often, it burnt FSU in big situations, with runners in scoring positions and less than two outs. The Seminoles can afford to trade some K’s for HR’s, but they have to put the ball in play when it matters to win big games. This weekend could be an opportunity for the ‘Noles to put the ball in play at a high rate. North Florida struck out just 5.6 batter per nine innings last season. That number was 294th out of 298 teams in the nation. FSU needs to get in an offensive rhythm quick with ACC play beginning next week.
How does FSU make up for loss of production with unavailability of Elijah Cabell?
Mike Martin Jr. announced on Friday that the Seminoles will be without starting left fielder Elijah Cabell this weekend. Cabell has been dealing with a lingering hamstring injury, which had him at 70-80% at the beginning of the week. With no midweek game this upcoming week, it gives the outfielder six extra days of rest and rehab. With Cabell out, third baseman Logan Lacey will slide to left field. With FSU facing a southpaw on opening day, they’ll go right-handed heavy in the lineup. Casey Asman could also see time in the outfield this week. Cabell was 8th in the country in homers and fourth in RBI last season. It will take a team effort to make up for his production this weekend. Dylan Simmons could slide into the four-hole, as he’s been the hottest bat so far this spring.
For Mike Martin Jr’s preview of the weekend, see below: