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FSU Baseball Season Preview

Feb. 12, 2014

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The 2014 Florida State baseball season is just two days away when the Seminoles take the field on opening day against Niagara on Friday, February 14. Before Seminole fans settle into their seats inside Dick Howser Stadium to enjoy the start of another college baseball season, takes a closer look at this year's squad, who enters the season ranked as high as No. 4 by Perfect Game, with the 2014 season outlook.

2014 Season Preview

General Outlook
Florida State returns 21 players from last year's squad that advanced to the Super Regionals for the sixth year in a row. Florida State returns six position starters including redshirt senior captain Justin Gonzalez who is back at shortstop after missing all but five games in 2013 with a right hip injury. On the mound, the Seminoles welcome back 11 pitchers including three starters that logged at least 58 innings a season ago. The return of redshirt sophomore right hander Mike Compton from Tommy John surgery last spring will bolster the starting rotation in 2014.

Preseason All-American DJ Stewart is coming off a freshman campaign in which he made 60 starts including 51 across all three outfield positions. The Yulee, Fla., native is FSU's top returning offensive producer as he led the Seminoles in hits (82), batting average (.364), doubles (25) and slugging percentage (.560), while finishing second on the team with 59 RBI last year.

The Seminoles welcome 12 newcomers including nine freshmen and three junior college transfers. This year's class, which was ranked third by Collegiate Baseball and 18th-nationally by Baseball America, is made up of six pitchers (including one left hander), two outfielders, one infielder, two catchers and one utility player (listed on the roster at two or more positions).

Florida State embarks on the 2014 season in search of its eighth straight ACC Atlantic Division title in this the ninth season of divisional play. The Seminoles have averaged over 20 league wins over the last seven years claiming the best record in the ACC three times while tying the league record for wins with 24 twice in 2008 and 2012. FSU has also played in the ACC Championship game three times in the last five years claiming its last league title in Greensboro, N.C. in 2010.

No team in college baseball has won more games in the new millennium than Florida State. The Seminoles sit with 691 victories since the start of the 2000 season, 22 more than their closest competitor (South Carolina - 669). FSU has also posted the highest winning percentage (.736) during that span joining Rice (.730) as the only two schools to win more than 73 percent of their ball games since 2000.

Mike Martin enters his 35th season as head coach and his 42nd season in which he has been associated with the Seminole baseball program when you include his time as a player and an assistant coach. Of the 3,662 baseball games played in program history, Martin has been involved in 2,769 of them including 2,037 victories. In one way or another, Martin has been a part of more than 76.3% of FSU's all-time wins. He ranks second among active Division I head coaches in both winning percentage (.743) and victories (1,770). Martin has led the Seminoles to 34 consecutive regional tournament appearances and 15 trips to the College World Series including three in the last six years.

Florida State will open the 2014 campaign with high expectations as all five major polls have given the Seminoles a top 10 preseason ranking. Perfect Game gave FSU its highest ranking at No. 4, while Collegiate Baseball, NCBWA and the USA Today Coaches Poll all have the Seminoles ranked fifth to start the year. Baseball America rounded out the preseason rankings placing Florida State sixth.

Martin on the overall look of this year's team:
"We like the young men that are on this team. We have a lot of guys coming back and that is always exciting especially when you look around and recognize everybody. But the big thing is that we still have some positions that must be filled and we have got some very good hitters on the club that need protection; therefore, we got to be sure that we have all of these guys on the same page."

Martin on this year's group of newcomers:
"I am very pleased with a majority of the guys. You can see there are some growing pains with the others mainly in the pitching area. You don't find many guys that can do what (Mike) Compton and (Brandon) Leibrandt did as freshmen to come in and display the poise and confidence that they did two years ago which is very unusual."

Florida State returns four pitchers that have significant experience as starters including three that logged at least 58 innings a season ago. Add the return of Mike Compton to that mix and the Seminoles will have solid depth when it comes time to naming a rotation on a weekly basis.

In 2013, Luke Weaver, Brandon Leibrandt and Peter Miller went a combined 23-8 with a 3.00 ERA over 47 appearances. Weaver returns as the leader in innings pitched (98.1) and strikeouts (119), while Leibrandt collected 10 wins. Weaver opens his junior campaign with preseason All-America accolades from Baseball America (1st team), Collegiate Baseball (2nd team), Perfect Game (2nd team) and NCBWA (3rd team).

Following a breakout sophomore season, Weaver was invited to play with the U.S. Collegiate Baseball Team during the summer of 2013. In five starts with Team USA, the hard throwing right hander went 0-0 with a 2.14 ERA in 21.0 innings of work. He allowed five earned runs on 20 hits as he walked five and struck out 17.

All 35 of Leibrandt's career starts have come as a member of the weekend rotation. The southpaw followed his eight-win Freshman All-American season with a 10-4 record and a 3.44 ERA in year two. Leibrandt joined senior Scott Sitz with 10 wins in 2013 to become the first pair of Seminole pitchers to reach double-digit wins in the same season since 2008 (Matt Fairel and Ryan Strauss).

The bullpen will be loaded with plenty of experience led by senior Gage Smith, who returns for his third year after leading the Seminoles and the ACC in appearances in back-to-back seasons. The Seminoles return a great deal of depth from the left side including senior Brandon Johnson, juniors Bryant Holtmann and Billy Strode and sophomore Dylan Silva. Along with Smith, Florida State will also look to sophomores Kenny Burkhead and Jameis Winston to contribute from the right side in 2014. Winston is the favorite to become FSU's closer this year replacing Robby Coles, who left early due to the MLB Draft. Coles led the team with nine saves as he registered 36.0 innings in 30 appearances.

This year's cast of new arms will also look to play a significant role, adding to an already deep staff. Of the six new pitchers in this year's recruiting class, Alec Byrd is the lone left hander leaving several right handed options including Taylor Blatch, Ed and Jim Voyles, Andy Ward and Will Zirzow.

Martin on the strength of having a great deal of pitchers with starting experience:
"We want guys that are saying they are in a competitive situation. (Luke) Weaver knows he will more than likely pitch opening day. But there are three other guys that want to pitch on Friday night too. Peter Miller has pitched well during the preseason. I have been very pleased with the way he has thrown the ball. With Compton and Leibrandt behind Weaver, we are very pleased with what we are seeing out of our pitchers."

Martin on the depth of this year's pitching staff:
"Anytime a young man is challenged, it does nothing but help him. If you don't have quality depth, sometimes you don't have a guy performing at his best because he is not concerned with someone getting his job. We want everybody on our team on their toes; everybody has got to perform at their highest level because there is somebody waiting behind him, waiting for their chance."

For the second time in the last three years, the Seminoles return a veteran infield with the likes of Justin Gonzalez, Jose Brizuela, John Sansone and John Nogowski all back in 2014. The Seminole quartet has combined for 302 starts in the infield with Gonzalez leading the way with 130 career starts at shortstop. Brizuela registered 64 starts at third and Nogowski 47 starts at first through their first two seasons, while Sansone made all 61 starts at second base in his first season in 2013.

Catcher is the biggest question mark for the Seminoles heading into 2014 following the loss of two-year starter Stephen McGee to the MLB Draft. McGee started every game for the Seminoles the last two years with all but two of those starts coming behind the plate. The Port St. Lucie, Fla., native had a breakout junior season posting single-season career-highs in batting average, runs, hits, doubles, home runs and RBI. Defensively, McGee registered a .986 fielding percentage while leading a pitching staff that posted a 2.92 ERA - the third lowest ERA in the Martin era and the lowest since 1995. Looking to fill that void in 2014 are a collection of catchers including Miami Dade College transfer Danny De La Calle, senior Ladson Montgomery, freshman Gage West and junior Lee Howard.

A great deal of depth returns in the outfield as well thanks to the return of sophomores DJ Stewart and Jameis Winston, junior Josh Delph and senior Brett Knief. Stewart and Knief started at all three positions last year and both hit over .300. Thirty-five of Stewart's 60 starts during his freshman campaign came in left field, but the Yulee, Fla., native is the clubhouse leader to take over in centerfield for Seth Miller. Miller made a huge impact in centerfield last year covering a great deal of ground, while posting a perfect fielding percentage in 112 total chances. On top of that, Miller finished with a season-high 10 outfield assists. Look for Knief, Delph and Winston to contribute at the corner positions throughout the year.

In terms of the new faces on this year's team, Ben DeLuzio will vie for playing time in both the infield and outfield in 2014. DeLuzio provides solid depth to an already experienced infield but has shown great strides in his ability to play in the outfield as well during the fall and early portions of preseason workouts.

Adding to the depth in the outfield are a pair of JUCO transfers in Nick Graganella and Matt Mulroy. Freshman Hank Truluck provides solid depth in the infield while the always versatile Casey Smit has the capability of playing anywhere in the infield as displayed all throughout last year.

Martin on the team defending:
"Our infield is certainly set; we know who our starters will be. We have got to be sure that we continue to understand that college baseball, more than ever, is about pitching and defense. But we do play in a ballpark that is conducive for runs being scored, so we got to have production but we can't lose sight of the fact that the most important thing is our ability to pick the ball up and throw it over there. We have to field consistently to allow our pitchers the opportunity to get the job done on a daily basis. DJ Stewart is undoubtedly one of the outstanding players in college baseball. He can play centerfield; we are going to keep him in his familiar position of left field to begin the season. We will start Ben DeLuzio in centerfield. Ben will also play some shortstop. We have been very impressed with Brett Knief both offensively and defensively and he is battling Josh Delph right now for that position in right. We are excited to have Jameis Winston knowing what he can do both offensive and defensively but more importantly what he can do as our closer."

Florida State returns its top two hitters from last year and six players, with at least 30 appearances, that hit over .270. DJ Stewart and Jose Brizuela will look to pace the Seminole offense in 2014 as the two hit .364 and .324, respectively, a season ago. Stewart is FSU's top returning hitter in every major offensive category except triples where Brizuela and Jameis Winston each registered three. Stewart's bat caught fire toward the end of his freshman season hitting .564 over his final 10 games including a .636 average in the Tallahassee Regional which landed him a spot on the All-Tournament team.

A key to Florida State's offensive success has been its ability to get on base and manufacture runs. In each of the last three seasons, the Seminoles have finished the year ranked in the top 25 in scoring, runs scored, doubles, doubles per game, walks and hit-by-pitches. Over that span, Florida State ranks eighth nationally in scoring averaging 6.98 runs per game and is one of only three schools to rank in the top 22 nationally in that category. FSU has finished no lower than third in walks since 2008 leading the nation four times during that six-year span including 2008 (435), 2010 (402), 2011 (381) and 2012 (386). Last year, the Seminoles hit .287 as a team - the fifth best average in the ACC - while leading the league in doubles (146) and on-base percentage (.411). FSU finished the season with 359 walks, second most in the league, and a school record 104 hit-by-pitches.

FSU will have to replace two of its biggest long ball threats from last year after the departure of Stephen McGee and Marcus Davis to the draft. Both led the team in 2013 with nine home runs apiece. DJ Stewart hit five home runs in his first season but showed he can spread the ball around collecting a team leading 25 doubles - tied for the 14th most in a single-season. Justin Gonzalez has shown some pop in his bat in the past hitting 19 home runs over his last three years including two in just five games in 2013 - a year that was cut short due to injury.

John Nogowski looks to build off the momentum he gained this past summer in which he was named Player of the Year of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball Summer League. The Tallahassee, Fla., native led the league with a .497 on-base percentage and finished among the PGCBL's top five in six other offensive categories including batting average (.365), slugging percentage (.534), total bases (79), walks (29), doubles (14) and hit-by-pitches (10). He helped lead the Amsterdam Mohawks to the PGCBL championship title. Last year at FSU, Nogowski hit .277 with 11 doubles, two triples, two home runs and 33 RBI.

As far as offensive production from 2013, Florida State returners account for 370 of 604 hits (61.3%), 255 of 435 runs (58.6%), 233 of 394 RBI (59.1%) and 28 of 44 stolen bases (63.6%).

Martin on the offense:
"The biggest thing that concerns us is that we've got to be sure we are not trying to do too much at the plate. We have to concentrate on hitting the ball hard and not get caught up in trying to hit home runs; we have to continue to be tough outs and play the game the way we played it last year and the year before that. We have to remain patient and find those ways to get on base."

Schedule and Tangibles
Florida State will face 11 teams on this year's schedule that recorded 30 or more wins a season ago. Seven schools earned a bid to participate in the 2013 NCAA Regional, while five teams finished the season ranked in the top 25.

FSU and Florida will once again square-off three times in 2014 as each team will host a game sandwiched with a meeting in Jacksonville at the Baseball Grounds on March 25. This year's schedule also features non-conference weekends in Tallahassee against Georgia and Miami in weeks two and three, respectively.

The Seminoles will face seven schools from the state of Florida in 2014 for a total of 16 games against in-state rivals. FSU will visit both USF (March 4-5) and UCF (March 11-12) for a pair of mid-week series in March. The Noles will also face Jacksonville for two games, Stetson three times, with one game in DeLand, and a home game against Florida Gulf Coast.

The Seminoles, who have won seven consecutive ACC Atlantic Division titles, will once again compete in a 30-game conference schedule. With the addition of two new baseball schools to the league in Pittsburgh and Notre Dame (Syracuse does not sponsor baseball) in 2014, Florida State will play 10 of the 13 schools that will count toward the league standings.

A season after carrying one of its smallest graduating classes with three seniors, Florida State boasts one of its largest classes with seven seniors listed on the roster in 2014. This year's class includes redshirt seniors Justin Gonzalez and Gage Smith along with Brandon Johnson and Peter Miller, who have each been with the program all four years. Brett Knief, Ladson Montgomery and Casey Smit all joined the team as transfers in 2013. Gonzalez will once again serve as team captain for the second straight year.

Martin on having Justin Gonzalez back for another year:
"I can't express to you how much his leadership means. Every day he comes out here, he reminds me a lot of Buster. Same guy, no matter if he goes 0-for-4 or if he makes an error, he wants the next groundball hit to him. He is not intimidated by any surroundings and yet the leadership is always there."

Martin on his thoughts for the 2014 season:
"We have to be sure that we are patient. We have a very good baseball team but we can't start thinking that we are really, really good. There are a lot of things that happen in baseball. If you look at the professional league, there are a lot of good clubs that if they're not mentally strong they will finish fourth. There are a lot of good clubs that are really strong both mentally and physically and they will finish fourth. It is just the way the game is designed. I don't know what is going to happen. This team is very intelligent. We have great leadership. We are going to battle you all year long. Our goal is to get to the College World Series. We get to the College World Series our goal is to win it all. But we know we just got to stay grounded; we can't look at ourselves as anything other than a blue-collar team, a team that has to carry its lunch pail to work and get after it on a daily basis."

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