Feb. 15, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- He's been doing it for 34 years but the excitement of a new season and the opportunities, challenges and possibilities that each fresh year represents isn't lost on Mike Martin.
And since 1980, Martin has seen just about everything as Florida State's baseball coach: victories (lots of them), broken records, a glutton of great players, incredible fans and support and a whole bunch of trips to college baseball's mecca in Omaha, Neb.
But to get back to the College World Series and be in position to compete for the first national championship in program history, Martin has to do something that even he's never done. Without star players Sherman Johnson, Devon Travis, James Ramsey and Jayce Boyd, who were all drafted last summer, FSU's legendary skipper has to replace hitters one through four in his lineup for the first time in his remarkable career.
"It's going to be a task to put somebody in those positions that could could do what they did but it makes it fun to see how new guys develop," Martin said. "You can start with Boyd's ability to come up with low throws and what couldn't Devon do? Then you've got Sherman, who was a four-year guy that was darn good at third base but more than that he was our lead-off hitter and had an on-base percentage of over .420. And then you have the unquestioned leader. Ramsey hit third, he started for three years, played a lot his freshman year, passed up his opportunity as a junior to sign to come back to school and then was a first-round draft choice.
"There's a lot on our plate but we are excited about the challenge."
Luckily for Martin and his staff, there are plenty of options to choose from.
FSU's defensive-minded infield was decimated by the loss of Johnson, Travis and Boyd but Justin Gonzalez's return for his final year at shortstop provides a welcome playmaking presence on the field and a veteran voice in the locker room. John Nogowski had a good freshman year and was able to hold off junior-college transfer Casey Smit in the preseason to earn the starting nod at first in place of Boyd.
Stephen McGee became masterful behind the plate last year and is back to help guide the pitching staff and set the tone for the defense.
In Travis' old spot, freshman John Sansone beat out John Holland, who has been rebounding from a back injury. Gio
Jose Brizuela has taken over for Johnson at third base.
Ramsey excelled in the "playing well" department as a center fielder and his loss will surely be noticed, but that doesn't mean Florida State doesn't possess some nice pieces in the outfield.
Seth Miller returns after registering a .988 fielding percentage and belted 31 hits, including three home runs -- all of which went for grand slams -- as a junior a season ago. Josh Delph's freshman campaign saw him post a 1.000 fielding percentage while driving in 20 runs. Delph earned the starting nod in right field on opening day
The Seminoles also added junior-college prospect Marcus Davis and highly-touted freshman DJ Stewart, who has generated quite a buzz behind a strong showing in fall ball. Stewart did enough in fall practices and in the preseason to earn the start in center field.
"DJ has good leadership skills," Martin said. "I really like his make-up. I don't want to even put him in a category of some of the great ones that we've had because it's not fair to him. He's 18 years old and facing pitching that he has never seen before. But I'll say this, he will be given opportunities to show what we can do and it won't be 25 at-bats. It will be much, much more than that."
Another hyped freshman, Jameis Winston, has been juggling football and baseball this spring after the Hueytown, Ala. native and former five-star quarterback prospect redshirted in his first season in Jimbo Fisher's program.
Winston will spend most of his time with the football team in the spring, Martin said, and will then see his opportunities increase on the baseball diamond once Fisher's spring camp concludes in April but that didn't stop him from earning the start in left field on opening day. Winston is also a pitcher and could fight for pitching time in the vacant closer role that was left behind by Robert Benincasa.
And it's that closer's spot that Martin sees as the biggest question mark heading into the 2013 season. Filling the one through four spots in the lineup are crucial but Martin is confident that those roles will shake themselves out.
The 'Noles return preseason All-American Brandon Liebrandt and a strong bullpen that features key returnees Luke Weaver, Peter Miller Scott Sitz and Gage Smith among others, who will help the ‘Noles deal with the pre-season loss of Mike Compton after the sophomore had Tommy John surgery. But at closer, where Benincasa was so effective last season, it remains to be seen if there will be one player that steps up or multiple players that assume such an important role.
"It is going to be the one that is going to be a challenge to replace and we may not replace Benincasa," Martin said. "We may just try to get through with a bullpen by committee and a closer by committee. But we are trying to establish a closer and that's what we would like to do."
All in a day's work for Martin, who along with assistants Mike Martin, Jr. and Mike Bell, knows a thing or two about putting players in their proper position to succeed.
After all, he's been doing it long enough. And he's more than excited to be doing it again.