Inexperience is a strange word to characterize a baseball team that went to a NCAA Super Regional just a season ago.
However, after Florida State lost seven players to the Major League Baseball Draft last summer, this year’s team remains a mystery.
That being said, there is just one way to gain experience on the diamond: Play ball!
FSU begins its season with a three-game series against Rhode Island on Feb. 19. When the Seminoles take the field, they will trot out 13 new additions to the roster.
“We have to be patient with the young guys coming in,” said Mike Martin, who will be coaching his 37th season at Florida State. “We’re counting on a lot of guys that have never worn the Seminole uniform before.”
One of those guys is freshman catcher Cal Raleigh. The Louisville Slugger First-Team All-American from Smoky Mountain High School in North Carolina hit .469 last year and has Martin excited.
“I think this young man should open your eyes,” Martin said. “I really like him, switch hitter, good receiver, good knowledge of the game. I’m anxious for you to see him.”
In addition to the newcomers, Martin is experimenting with moving some players around the infield. John Sansone, a three-year starter at second base, is moving over to third, and third baseman Dylan Busby will transition to first.
That leaves center fielder Ben DeLuzio and shortstop Taylor Walls as the only starters returning to their position. Quincy Nieporte’s bat will certainly be in the lineup somewhere for the Noles after hitting .297 with seven homers last season. He will most like be a designated hitter, but he has also played first and catcher.
“Those first few weeks will be a process just trying to figure out who is going to be playing where, and what their role is going to be like,” said starting pitcher Mike Compton, a fifth-year senior. “As the season goes on, I think we’ll get a lot more comfortable with everything.”
FSU plays 15 of its first 16 games at home, which should ease the transition until the lineup settles.
The departure of DJ Stewart, who was drafted 25th overall by the Baltimore Orioles, leaves a big hole in left field. Stewart hit 15 home runs for the Noles and led the nation in walks.
“You don’t replace a DJ Stewart,” Martin said. “What you do is turn the page and see what is going to materialize this year.”
None of the Seminoles returnees or newcomers have distinguished themselves enough to be named starters in either left or right field. The same applies to the pitching staff, where six players ( Compton, Drew Carlton, Cole Sands, Andrew Karp, Cobi Johnson and Tyler Holton) will battle to form the rotation.
“It won’t happen right away, but I think we have a lot of pieces, a lot of potential,” said Compton, who was 19th in the nation in strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2015 (5.83). “We’re just trying to figure out where those pieces go.”
The measuring stick for Florida State really won’t come until March 15th in Gainesville against Florida. The Gators eliminated FSU from the NCAA Tournament last season. Florida is the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country. The Seminoles will find out what kind of team the lineup juggling has produced at that point.
A new roster with players changing positions does not change expectations for Martin. When the field is chalked and the umpire throws out the first ball, Martin expects to win.
“The expectations are never going to change as long as I coach at Florida State, and that’s to get to Omaha,” he said. “I don’t care what we’ve got, how many freshmen we’ve got, our goal is to get to Omaha. The day that I don’t feel like a Florida State baseball team can’t get there because of one reason or another, I will get out.”
At a glance
Coach: Mike Martin; Last year: 44-21 (Lost in NCAA Super Regional); Top Players: IN John Sanson (sr.), DH Quincy Nieporte (jr.), P Mike Compton (sr.) OF Ben DeLuzio (jr.); Noteworthy: Nieporte hit .297 with seven homers in his first season after transferring from Tallahassee Community College; FSU will sell beer for the first time at Dick Howser Stadium in 2016
February: 19-21 vs. Rhode Island; 26-28 vs. College of Charleston
March: 1 vs. Jacksonville; 2 vs. Villanova; 4-6 vs. St. John’s; 8 at USF; 9 vs. Toledo; 11-13 vs. Georgia Tech; 15 at Florida; 18-20 at Pitt; 22-23 vs. UCF; 23-26 vs. NC State; 29 vs. Florida
April: 1-3 at Boston College; 8-10 vs. Louisville; 12 vs. Florida; 15-17 at Wake Forrest; 19-20 vs. Stetson; 22-24 vs. Notre Dame; April 30-May 2 at Clemson
May: 4 at Stetson; 6-8 vs. Bowling Green; 10 at Jacksonville; 13-15 at Duke; 19-21 vs. Miami