The story for much of the 2019 baseball season for Florida State was about cementing Mike Martin Sr.’s legacy. Martin would never admit it – probably never even think it – but the season was about him. In that finite period of time, nothing else mattered beyond how the program would send off the winningest coach in the history of the sport.
The sendoff was a good one. Martin didn’t get the title he had been chasing for so long, but after the rollercoaster season that the Seminoles had, a College World Series appearance felt like a championship. They realistically never should have made it that far. That was always the magic of Martin.
Now 10 months later, Mike Martin Jr. continues his first season as head coach of the Seminoles and the narrative has shifted. It’s no longer about sending off a coach with the best season possible, it’s about producing results. It begs the question as to whether this team has matured enough to hold up to the incredible standards that the program has set for decades.
An opening day loss to Niagara doesn’t give you the greatest amount of confidence, but you cannot pin that on Martin Jr. just as you cannot jump to conclusions. One game does not make the season.
The first few series, however, tell a lot about how the team has progressed through the offseason and draw a roadmap for how the team needs to grow to succeed.
Despite generating a lot of walks (60), strikeouts (81) are still a huge problem at the plate, and errors continue to pile up early. This year’s pitching staff is quite good, but bad defense can neutralize that pitching.
This is where there is room for concern. That roadmap looks dangerously similar to last year’s.
Florida State has comfortably won every game since the opening loss but have gotten off to very slow starts in ballgames. Martin Jr. said after the team’s sweep of Cincinnati last Sunday, that he plans to shuffle the routine to try and get the team going early and give them, “more of a sweat.” Whatever the solution may be, Martin Jr. doesn’t have a lot of time to figure it out before tough competition hits.
The Seminoles do not have the luxury of an easy start to the season. This weekend alone the team will face off against FAU and Texas Tech. FSU faced both teams in the postseason last year (FAU in the regional and Texas Tech in the CWS). Florida State will also have an ACC schedule of which eight teams are currently in the Top 25, including Miami, Duke, Georgia Tech and Louisville. The ’Noles will also play current No. 1 Florida – of whom they have not beaten in three straight seasons.
It’s not to say that Florida State is capable or incapable of winning any of those series, but through the first few weeks of play, the team has yet to show a lot of improvement from the offseason and continue to make the same mistakes that plagued the team last year. These mistakes have yet to make a huge difference on the scoreboard, but it has been against lesser competition.
The play of the team can be summed up by sophomore infielder Nander De Sedas, who by himself has accounted for seven of the Seminoles’ 17 fielding errors. To put it all into perspective, the Seminoles only committed five errors up to their loss to Florida on March 12, 2019. De Sedas and the ’Noles are ranked 285th in the nation in fielding percentage among Division I teams (per NCAA) and have already tripled the amount of errors the team had at this point last season. The team hasn’t even reached March yet.
De Sedas is an exceptional talent – which is exactly the problem. He is the leading example of the young, returning players from last season not showing much progress at breaking their bad habits. And it’s likely why Martin Jr. has moved De Sedas back to second base, while junior-college transfer Jackson Greene is now playing shortstop.
Granted, it’s still early and things may get better with time as Martin Jr. sinks his teeth into this team and finds what gets them going, but as stated beforehand, if there is one thing that Florida State doesn’t have this season, it’s time. The intensity of the schedule is already here, with games against No. 5 Texas Tech ahead on Saturday night and Sunday. And then the ACC schedule begins next weekend at No. 14 Duke.
It’s also important to think about the fact that Florida State’s “average performance” is one that many programs would consider peak performance. That’s simply the legacy and standards Mike Martin built.
But with that being said, just because there are very high standards, it doesn’t mean you can temper expectations in this situation. The current roster is filled with talent, but in the same breath, it’s a team that wanted to make Martin tear his remaining hair out last year. It’s a roster that at many times looked uninspired and lackadaisical. It begs the question: If the strikeout problems and fielding issues returned from last season, did the lack of coachability and mental fortitude return as well? Or has experience done away with those insecurities?
For all the talk of the team’s inconsistencies, it is still a team that reached the College World Series. Depending on how you look at it, it either pushes forward the idea that this team has the talent to make a run at any point, but it also opens up the questions as to why the team doesn’t play like it. It’s far too early to point fingers at coaching, but frankly that doesn’t appear to be the problem at this point anyways.
It’s not a question of talent or coaching, it’s a matter of maturity to overcome adversity. Perhaps there will be an answer shortly, as the Seminoles head straight into their toughest schedule in years.