Florida State’s loaded pitching staff and intriguing power potential give new head coach Mike Martin Jr. a real chance to pick up right where his dad left off in 2019: with a run to Omaha and a place in D1Baseball.com's preseason top 25. The Seminoles enter the 2020 season ranked No. 12.
Below are a few facts to consider when breaking down the 2020 Florida State club:
2019 record: 42-23
Coach (record at school): Mike Martin Jr. (first year)
Ballpark: Dick Howser Stadium (Capacity: 6,700)
Postseason history: 57 regionals (active streak: 42), 23 CWS trips (active streak: 1), 0 national titles
FLORIDA STATE FALL REPORT: How the Seminoles are preparing for the 2020 season
In this preview of Florida State's 2020 season, we've graded the Seminoles in each characteristic of the game: Hitting, power, speed, defense, starting pitching, bullpen and experience/intangibles. But before we begin, let's present our projected lineup for Florida State in 2020.
Florida State's projected lineup
|C||Matheu Nelson, So.||.282/.442/.442||6||29||4|
|1B||Carter Smith, Sr.||.245/.360/.362||2||10||0|
|2B||Jackson Greene, Jr.||Tr. Dothan Wallace (Ala.) CC|
|3B||Cooper Swanson, Jr.||.159/.362/.409||7||14||4|
|SS||Nander De Sedas, So.||.231/.353/.337||4||32||3|
|LF||Elijah Cabell, So.||.220/.404/.415||7||25||9|
|CF||Reese Albert, Jr.||.283/.390/.518||9||35||2|
|RF||Robby Martin, So.||.315/.398/.449||4||54||2|
|DH||Tyrell Brewer, Fr.||HS — Orlando|
Florida State's projected weekend rotation/closer
|SP #1||CJ Van Eyk, Jr.||10-4||3.81||99.1||129||41||0|
|SP #2||Shane Drohan, Jr.||3-1||3.66||51.2||71||48||0|
|SP #3||Conor Grady, Jr.||9-6||3.64||64.1||71||26||0|
|Closer||Davis Hare, Jr.||Tr. — Dothan Wallace (Ala.) CC|
Grading the Seminoles: Just as scouts grade prospects using the 20-80 scouting scale, we use a 20-80 scale to evaluate teams in our top 25. A score of 50 in each category is average, relative to a typical NCAA tournament team; 55 is slightly above-average; 60 is above-average (plus); 70 is well above-average (plus-plus); 80 is top of the scale, historically strong. Accordingly, 45 is fringe-average or slightly below-average; 40 is below-average; 30 is well below-average; and 20 is the extreme in that direction.
Florida State’s offense was uncharacteristically mediocre last year, ranking 11th in the ACC in batting and seventh in scoring — but they still ranked fourth in the nation in walks and 29th in OBP, as the tried-and-true Seminole plate discipline remained intact. The ‘Noles have ranked among the national leaders in walks for decades, and they surely will again in 2020.
Leading hitter Mike Salvatore, top slugger Drew Mendoza and power/speed threat J.C. Flowers are gone, but FSU still has a very talented nucleus to build the lineup around, headlined by potential All-American Reese Albert, whose pretty left-handed stroke, all-fields approach and all-around tool set make him a likely Day One draft pick next June. Albert missed the fall while rehabbing a shoulder injury, but he should be good to go this spring. If Albert serves as the catalyst in the leadoff spot, look for Robby Martin to anchor the lineup in the 3-hole. Another potential All-American, Martin is simply a natural born hitter from the left side, earning him the nickname RobbyRakes.com in the clubhouse. Fellow sophomore Matheu Nelson was also a very productive hitter as a freshman and figures to take another step forward as a sophomore. He’s a gap-to-gap hitter who has learned to drive the ball to the opposite field better since last spring.
The key to this offense will be how the ultra-talented pair of Nander De Sedas and Elijah Cabell progress as sophomores, following disappointing freshman years. De Sedas posted a 61-12 K-BB mark last year and hit just .231, after arriving in Tallahassee as the highest-rated freshman prospect in the country. But he turned a corner this summer in the NECBL, where he earned all-star honors. A switch-hitter with power potential, De Sedas also made strides using the opposite field (another staple of FSU’s offensive philosophy) and improving his drag bunting skill. The tooled-up Cabell whiffed a whopping 88 times in 164 at-bats last year, but FSU worked with him in the fall on getting into his legs better, which helped him see the ball better and improve his pitch selection.
Like Cabell, Cooper Swanson has the physicality and improving approach to blossom into an impact run producer this spring, on the heels of a strong fall. The rest of the lineup features some complementary pieces who will be counted upon to grind out quality at-bats and hit situationally: Carter Smith, Jackson Greene and whoever winds up at the DH spot. For now, we’ll put the super-athletic Tyrell Brewer (who offers exciting bat speed) in that spot.
Albert is FSU’s top returning home run hitter despite missing time due to injury. Look for him to hit 15-plus long balls in a full season as a junior. Martin is plenty physical at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, and he figures to more than double his home run output (four) from a year ago. The Seminoles have raved about Cabell’s light-tower raw power for the last year and a half — it earns legitimate 80 grades on the 20-80 scale — but he must make more consistent contact to tap into that power more effectively.
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Nelson and Swanson also offer double-digit homer ability, and Swanson’s natural opposite-field strength should make him a perfect fit for Dick Howser Stadium and its short porch in right field. Swanson led the team with six homers in fall ball, and he’s a strong bet to blossom into a real power threat with regular playing time this spring. De Sedas has exciting bat speed from both sides that should translate to more power production this year, provided he can cut down his strikeout rate, as mentioned above.
The running game isn’t usually a significant part of FSU’s attack, and it ranked just 228th in the nation in steals per game last year. But even if the Seminoles don’t steal a lot, this club does have speed. You might not guess it based on his physical 6-foot-2, 195-pound frame, but Cabell can run the 60-yard dash in 6.5 to 6.6 seconds, and Swanson is another surprisingly fast runner who has been clocked at 6.6. Albert and De Sedas are also solid runners, and Brewer is a burner.
Defense was a weakness last year for FSU, which fielded a meager .964 (197th in the nation). But there’s reason to expect this year’s Seminoles to be one of the best defensive units they’ve fielded in recent years because they look very strong up the middle. Nelson is a physical backstop with good catch-and-throw skills, and coach Mike Martin Jr. said the game has slowed down for him since his freshman year. De Sedas was the defensive player of the year in the NECBL last summer and carried over his standout defense to fall ball. His quickness, smooth actions and arm strength are big reasons he was ranked as the top prospect to attend college after the 2018 draft. De Sedas and the hard-nosed, instinctive Greene should form a rock-solid double-play tandem, and Albert gets good reads and jumps as well as a strong arm in center. Cabell could also battle Albert for the center-field job; his speed and rifle arm should play no matter where he ends up.
Robby Martin worked to get lighter on his feet and improve his angles and jumps in the offseason, and FSU saw major gains in those areas, so he should have no trouble handling an everyday outfield spot after DHing last spring. The infield corner spots remain in flux; Swanson and Smith are both capable of playing either corner, and Martin Jr. identified Brewer and fellow freshman Danny Andzel as other candidates in a “wide open” race for the hot corner job at the end of the fall. How those jobs shake out will determine just how good this defense can be.
Starting Pitching: 65
Florida State should have one of the best weekend rotations in the ACC and potentially all of college baseball. CJ Van Eyk is a likely first-round pick who followed up his strong sophomore year with a dynamite fall, running his fastball up to 98 mph repeatedly and showing improved command. He also can miss bats with a wicked power breaking ball at 78-83 and a quality changeup at 83-84. Shane Drohan, a junior lefty who tantalized with his raw stuff over the past two years, figures to join Van Eyk in what has the potential to be an elite one-two punch atop the rotation. A high walk rate pushed Drohan back last year, when he posted a 3.66 ERA in 16 appearances (11 starts) over 51.2 innings, with 48 walks. But Drohan was a completely different animal this fall after new pitching coach Jimmy Belanger sped up his tempo, pounding the strike zone at 92-94 mph with a fairly high spin rate in the 2300-2500 rpm range, missing bats with a wipeout power curveball at 77-79 in the 2600-2800 rpm range, and flashing an above-average changeup with good arm speed and fade at 79-83.
Polished right-hander Conor Grady should give the Seminoles a rock-solid innings eater to join Van Eyk and Drohan in the weekend rotation. Martin Jr. called Grady “Steady Eddie,” an 89-92 mph strike-thrower with a very good 84-86 slider/cutter that he can land for strikes and a swing-and-miss changeup.
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The midweek starter job appears up for grabs, but FSU has three very good candidates in senior lefty Antonio Velez, sophomore righty Jack Anderson and freshman southpaw Bryce Hubbart. Velez is an accomplished strike-thrower who attacks with four pitches, including an 88-89 fastball, good sinking changeup, short slider at 82-83 and a curveball. Anderson’s lack of command limited him to 7.2 innings as a freshman last year, but he came back from summer ball as a different guy, throwing more strikes, showing more velocity and a better, harder breaking ball. He was 89-92 this fall with a tight 81 mph breaking ball in the 2400-2500 rpm spin rate range. He also showed solid fading action on his 80-81 changeup. Hubbart is a stocky, compact 5-foot-11, 180-pounder with advanced feel to pitch from a three-quarters slot. He was up to 95 mph this fall and showed us the ability to carve up the zone at 89-91 with a tumbling 78-80 changeup that flashed plus and a tight 74-75 curveball at 2500-2700 rpm.
Martin Jr. believes this is Florida State’s deepest pitching staff in many years, and that depth is the strength of the bullpen, which lacks a proven closer. Two out of the Velez/Anderson/Hubbart trio will be ticketed for bullpen roles when FSU only plays four games per week, and all of them will be relied upon heavily. The early front-runner for the closer might be junior college transfer Davis Hare, who worked at 92-93 this fall with an uncommonly low spin rate that gives his ball serious sink — in fact, Martin Jr. said he did not give up a flyball out the entire fall. He also has a split-finger that the coach describes as “unhittable” and a useful breaking ball.
Several other newcomers opened eyes this fall as well. Freshman righty Doug Kirkland was regarded as more of a catcher than a pitcher for much of his high school career, but when he stepped on the mound in Tallahassee this fall, it was 92-94 with a high spin rate (up into the 2500s) and a big-time three-quarters breaking ball at 77-78, with a spin rate around 2600. He also showed a quality 83 mph slider, and Martin Jr. said that pitch was more like 86-88 and acting like J.C. Flowers’ filthy cutter when it was at its best.
Physical freshman Brandon Walker also showed power stuff in the fall, working at 91-94 with a promising slider, but he must continue to refine his strike-throwing. Freshman lefty Parker Messick is a polished three-pitch strike-thrower with high spin rate and funk, which makes his fastball play up. Then there’s freshman lefty Ryan Pettys, a skinny, projectable 6-foot-2, 165-pounder who has been up to 92 with a sweeping breaking ball that is tough on lefties and a changeup that remains a work in progress.
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Seasoned veterans Clayton Kwiatkowski and Jonah Scolaro give Florida State two rock-solid, proven options from the left side; neither is overpowering but both know how to pitch and offer some deception. The X-factor is junior righty Tyler Ahearn, who was up to 93 mph in the fall and flashed a very good 81-84 slider with late tilt in the 2400-2500 range, but his control remains a work in progress, as it has been since he arrived at FSU.
As we wrote last year in this space, Florida State gets a bonus in this category just for putting on the Garnet & Gold, which is good for 40-plus wins a year every year for more than four decades running. Mike Martin may have retired, but Martin Jr. was his righthand man for more than two decades, and he’ll hit the ground running as the head man this spring. The Seminoles also have a lineup filled with holdovers from last year’s Omaha team and a more experienced upperclassmen leading the pitching staff. So while there are some hitters and some freshman bullpen arms who must prove themselves, the experienced foundation is in place for FSU to make another CWS run in the first year of the Martin Jr. era.