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1998 Season Outlook



April 10, 1998

TALAHASSEE, Fl.- Pitching, defense and base running.It's the Seminole baseball philosophy -- a philosophy that one of Mike Martin's youngest teams in his 19-year tenure will follow closely as it enters the 1998 season.

Florida State lost seven key members from its 1997 team, a group that accounted for 69 home runs, 328 RBI, and 29 pitching victories. However, the 1998 Seminoles will be led by six seniors, including four four-year veterans that have won two ACC Championships and visited Omaha twice in their careers.

"The loss of J.D. Drew, Jeremy Morris, Scott Zech and Geoff Sprague constituted 75 percent of last year's run production," said Martin, "but we do feel this year's squad can be successful in that we do like our young pitching staff."

"This will be the youngest team we've put on the field since 1984," commented Martin, "when we started a group of freshmen that included Luis Alicea, Paul Sorrento and Mike Loynd."

On The Mound

Without a single senior, FSU's pitching staff will rely on leadership from juniors Chris Chavez, Zach Diaz and Scott Proctor, who have gained valuable experience in their first two seasons. The Seminoles' returning pitchers combined to throw less than half of the innings pitched in 1997 after losing All-American Randy Choate, Randy Niles and Chuck Howell to the draft and graduation.

Chavez (4-1, 4.24 ERA), who was used as both a closer and starter last season, will enter 1998 as the Seminoles No. 1 starting pitcher. The right-hander ended the season on a high note as he hurled a complete-game shutout against Clemson in the ACC Championship game and earned a It's the Seminole baseball philosophy -- a philosophy that one of Mike Martin's youngest teams in his 19-year tenure will follow closely as it enters the 1998 season.

Florida State lost seven key members from its 1997 team, a group that accounted for 69 home runs, 328 RBI, and 29 pitching victories. However, the 1998 Seminoles will be led by six seniors, including four four-year veterans that have won two ACC Championships and visited Omaha twice in their careers.

"The loss of J.D. Drew, Jeremy Morris, Scott Zech and Geoff Sprague constituted 75 percent of last year's run production," said Martin, "but we do feel this year's squad can be successful in that we do like our young pitching staff."

"This will be the youngest team we've put on the field since 1984," commented Martin, "when we started a group of freshmen that included Luis Alicea, Paul Sorrento and Mike Loynd."

On The Mound

Without a single senior, FSU's pitching staff will rely on leadership from juniors Chris Chavez, Zach Diaz and Scott Proctor, who have gained valuable experience in their first two seasons. The Seminoles' returning pitchers combined to throw less than half of the innings pitched in 1997 after losing All-American Randy Choate, Randy Niles and Chuck Howell to the draft and graduation.

Chavez (4-1, 4.24 ERA), who was used as both a closer and starter last season, will enter 1998 as the Seminoles No. 1 starting pitcher. The right-hander ended the season on a high note as he hurled a complete-game shutout against Clemson in the ACC Championship game and earned a 9-7 win over Auburn in the NCAA East Regional.

Redshirt freshman Nick Stocks returns from elbow surgery and will begin the season as FSU's No. 2 pitcher in the starting rotation. The right-hander still boasts a 90 MPH fastball as he has worked relentlessly to fully recover from surgery.

Another freshman, Jason Hubbard, is expected to start the spring as the Seminoles' third man in the starting rotation. Hubbard will be the only left-handed starter for FSU at the beginning of the season.

Sophomore right-hander John Bentley (5-1, 3.86 ERA), who proved his effectiveness towards the end of last season, will begin the year as FSU's fourth starter. Bentley earned wins in the 1997 post-season against Duke and Marist after serving as a middle reliever for most of the year.

"I cannot remember ever going into a year with two freshmen in the starting rotation," commented Martin.

IN THE BULLPEN

Junior left-hander Zach Diaz returns as the Seminoles most experienced pitcher on the FSU staff. Diaz has appeared in 60 games over the last two years. He earned five saves and posted a team-leading 3.26 ERA as he garnered second-team All-ACC honors in 1997. Diaz will fill a middle relief role once again for Florida State.

Scott Proctor, a junior right-hander, started 10 games earning a 7-1 record last season, but will most likely perform in a middle relief role this year. A host of newcomers, including left-handers Michael Smalley and Chris Ginn and right-hander Blair Varnes, will also be worked into the equation.

Florida State will use a "two-headed" closer this season as sophomore left-hander Mike DiBlasi and junior right-hander David Kelly will share time as the Seminoles' stopper. DiBlasi appeared in 21 games in 1997, posting a 2-1 record and earning two saves.

BEHIND THE PLATE

The Seminoles are defensively as strong as ever when it comes to the position of catcher. Senior Jeremy Salazar will start for the third consecutive season. Salazar peaked towards the end of last season as he helped lead FSU to the ACC Championship and earned All-Tournament Team honors for his efforts.

Junior Jeremiah Klosterman will back up Salazar once again. Klosterman has not only been solid behind the plate, but has also been used a designated hitter because of his switch-hitting ability.

IN THE INFIELD

This year's squad of infielders features a mix of tested veterans and young talent. The anchor of this group will be senior and four-year starter Brooks Badeaux. Badeaux is expected to move from his spot at shortstop to second base this season. He is the most consistent hitter on the squad as he reached base safely in every game last season.

Senior Matt Woodward and sophomore Kevin Cash will battle for playing time at first base. Woodward started 47 games at first base and turned in one of the team's best fielding percentages (.991). Cash saw limited action at first base in 1997, but also played shortstop and third base. Cash is one of FSU's most powerful hitters as 10 of his 16 hits last year were for extra bases.

The highly touted freshman Brett Groves is anticipated to start the spring at shortstop after working there most of the fall. Groves, a USA Today and Baseball America High School All-American, is a switch-hitter with outstanding range.

Senior utility man Jose Zabala and freshman Karl Jernigan will contend for starting third baseman duties. Zabala, who has played third base, shortstop, second base and rightfield during his career, is the sparkplug of FSU's lineup and will see time regardless of what position he takes in the field. Jernigan impressed coaches in fall practice at third base and with his speed and can also play the outfield.

IN THE OUTFIELD

With the loss of J.D. Drew and Jeremy Morris, the Seminole outfield will see many new faces and changes.

Sophomore Shawn McCorkel will move to centerfield to start the season. McCorkel, one of FSU's fastest players, platooned in rightfield with Terry Henderson last year. A versatile athlete who also plays football, McCorkel is a threat on the bases and can hit for power as well.

In right-field, senior Terry Hender-son is expected to start once again. Henderson is one of FSU's most powerful hitters as he has the best returning slugging percentage, .535, of any returnee. Zabala will most likely platoon with Henderson if he is not seeing time at third base.

Freshman Matt Diaz was a pleasant surprise at the plate in fall practice and is expected to begin the season starting in leftfield. Coaches want to get Diaz' bat into the lineup as he has exhibited good power to all fields.

Senior Brian Cox and freshmen George Otero and Clint Byrd are also predicted to battle for playing time in the outfield.

THE YEAR AHEAD

Florida State's inexperience and difficult schedule give the Seminoles two strikes against them, however coaches are confident that this year's squad will be successful despite those challenges.

"For this team to be successful many things have to happen," commented Martin. "The pitching staff must carry the bulk of the load and the team must learn to win games in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings."

"Leadership will play a major role in this team's success and I feel somebody will step forward to provide that ingredient," said Martin.

The Seminoles schedule consists of 24 games against opponents ranked in the preseason polls, including 21 games versus teams that are ranked ahead of FSU. Fourteen of Florida State's first 16 games are on the road.

"I cannot remember ever going into a year with a more difficult schedule than we are faced with this year," said Martin. "Playing 14 of our first 16 games on the road will present quite a challenge for this club."


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