The Daily Nole

Season Preview: FSU Hopes to Make Noise in Martin’s Final Season

Jeremy Esbrandt/FSU athletics

National Signing Day is over, Florida State basketball has passed the midway point of its ACC schedule and on Friday, FSU baseball will kick off a brand new year in what will be the 40th and final season for head coach Mike Martin.

FSU is coming off its 41st straight 40-win season and a third ACC title in four years, but the season did end on a sour note as Mississippi State eliminated the Seminoles from the Tallahassee Regional on a 3-run walk-off home run. FSU will start sixth in the Baseball America Poll.

Florida State ranked in the top 25 nationally in runs scored and home runs last season, but loses much of its production. Catcher Cal Raleigh led the Seminoles in most major offensive categories in 2018, but is now a member of the Seattle Mariners’ organization. Home run leader Jackson Lueck is also off to further his career. Other notable departures include Rhett Aplin, Steven Wells, Nick Derr and Rafael Bournigal.

Heading the FSU lineup in 2019 will be preseason All-American Drew Mendoza. Mendoza is the Seminoles’ returning leader in a number of major statistical categories after batting .313 last season with seven home runs, 44 RBIs and 14 doubles.

Sophomore outfielder Reese Albert is expected to provide some protection for Mendoza in the lineup. Although Albert wasn’t a big part of the offense early on last season, he came on late to finish with a .268 average and seven homers. J.C. Flowers, a speedy junior, is expected to join Albert in the outfield. Freshmen Elijah Cabell and Robby Martin and outfielder Cooper Swanson are all likely to compete for the other spot.

Whichever one of those names loses out could see themselves used in the designated hitter role. Senior Jonathan Foster could see some time in the starting lineup — either as a designated hitter or behind the plate at catcher. Foster is expected to back up freshman Matheu Nelson as the team’s backstop.

Mendoza will man one of FSU’s corner infield positions while candidates at first base include Swanson and Miami transfer Nico Baldour. Highly-touted freshman Nander De Sedas will likely fill in at shortstop with senior Mike Salvatore playing second base. Salvatore hit .244 last season with 44 runs scored and a team-high eight stolen bases.

Junior left-hander Drew Parrish is expected to again be the ace of the pitching staff for the Seminoles after a breakout sophomore season. Although Parrish surrendered the blast that ultimately ended FSU’s 2018, that was his only loss during a 5-1 campaign in which he posted a 2.52 ERA and 128 strikeouts to just 37 walks in 107 innings of work. FSU led the nation in strikeouts last season.

C.J. Van Eyk, a right-handed sophomore, went a perfect 7-0 as a freshman last season, manning just about every role on the mound. With Cole Sands and Andrew Karp each going pro, Van Eyk will likely find himself as a weekend starter this year. Van Eyk posted a 2.86 ERA last season and allowed just 42 hits in 56.2 innings of work.

Sophomore Austin Pollock, who began last season as the Sunday starter, will likely be the third weekend starter this season for the Seminoles. Pollock went 4-4 last season, but was hit hard on occasion, finishing with a 5.28 ERA.

With projected No. 4 starter Kyle McMullen on the shelf, candidates to start midweek contests include junior lefties Clayton Kwiatkowski and Antonio Velez, a junior college transfer, as well as sophomore Tyler Ahearn and Shane Drohan. The Seminoles have a number of young freshman arms who could see time as midweek starters and relievers.

FSU had no clear closer last season as six different Seminoles recorded at least one save. Leading FSU in that category was Jonah Scolaro, now a sophomore left-hander, with six. Despite not being overpowering, Scolaro struck out 60 batters in 44.2 innings of work and will be a key piece again at the back of the Florida State bullpen.

Gage Hutchinson, Conor Grady and Chase Haney are three arms that will likely be utilized late in games. Haney missed all of last season with Tommy John Surgery while Hutchinson and Grady struggled with consistency. Grady may have the most electric stuff out of the bullpen, but gave up four home runs in 29 innings of work last season.

Flowers, the junior outfielder, could also see time on the mound this season. Clyde Keller takes over as pitching coach for Mike Bell, who left to become head coach of Pittsburgh.

Key Games
Friday at Dick Howser Stadium against Maine will be the final opening day for Mike Martin. The Seminoles will open ACC play at home against Virginia Tech on March 8.

The first of three games against rival Florida takes place on March 12 in Gainesville. After a match-up between the schools in Jacksonville on March 26, the Gators come to Tallahassee on April 9 for what could be Martin’s final game against his arch-rivals.

FSU will visit Miami from April 5-7 this season. Former pitching coach Mike Bell makes his return to Tallahassee as head coach of Pittsburgh on May 3 to begin a 3-game series.

FSU will celebrate Senior Day on Sunday, May 12 against Richmond. The Seminoles wrap up regular season with a 3-game series at Louisville from May 16-18 in what will also be a rematch of last season’s ACC Championship.

As always, the ACC slate will be a tough one to navigate through, but Florida State has plenty of talent. The problem is most of that talent is young and it’s hard to know what to expect, especially at the plate.

Big things are expected of Mendoza, but the Seminoles will have to find a way to provide protection for him in the lineup. They’ll rely on some young bats like Matheu, De Sedas, Cabell and Martin to do that and hope for breakout years from returning players like Flowers and Salvatore.

Parrish and Van Eyk should be a solid 1-2 punch on the mound, but who else fills the role of starter remains to be seen. FSU has a lot of talented arms. The only question is how they’ll be utilized. The closer spot also remains at-large, but it’s entirely possible that the Seminoles maintain a closer-by-committee approach.

Mike Ferguson is the editor of The Daily Nole. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson

You must be logged in to post a comment Login

Leave a Reply