It has been just over 11 months since the Florida State Seminoles last played a baseball game against someone other than themselves at Dick Howser Stadium. The Seminoles beat Illinois State 7-4 on March 11, 2020, before the surging coronavirus pandemic shut down all college athletics across the country.
Florida State was just beginning to put the pieces together. They had won three straights games after a 1-4 stretch, including a shutout victory against Florida that broke an 11-game losing streak – a streak that had loomed over the program for multiple years.
The Seminoles will take the field at Dick Howser Stadium on Friday against the North Florida Ospreys with renewed expectations and plentiful changes.
This year’s squad has the potential to be one of the most diverse and dynamic squads that Mike Martin Jr. has worked with in his 23 years at FSU. With multiple returning players due to the shortened season, and another top recruiting class, Martin Jr. is equipped to handle a season in which diverse and dynamic are attributes needed more than ever.
The Seminoles have been consistently switching positions throughout the infield and outfield during practice, giving players multiple repetitions and every position possible in case the situation calls for it during the season.
“The competition is high right now,” Nander De Sedas said. “Meat is constantly moving guys around to figure different things out just in case something happens. We are just waiting to see what happens.”
Pitching will once again be the strength for the Seminoles, with a little over half the roster being comprised of pitchers. There are as many as seven pitchers in contention for a starting spot in the weekend rotation – the only name Martin Jr. was willing to disclose to be in the running for one of those spots was redshirt freshman Parker Messick.
“It’s a lot easier to back them down than build them up,” Martin Jr. said.
Where Florida State needed to get better from last season was their hitting. The ’Noles as a team only batted .259 yet held an on-base percentage that was good enough for 17th best in the country. It was the Seminoles’ inability to get the manufactured baserunners back to home plate that was often the deciding factor in multiple losing efforts last season.
The offseason has been full of small changes to help try and increase that offensive production. Some big changes include outfielder Robby Martin undergoing intense off-season training to increase his mobility and durability is a base runner.
“My stamina is the biggest thing I’ve noticed by myself so far,” Robby said. “Being out there and practice going easy, and not being too drained or tired during workouts or longer practices. It’s been easier to get through them.”
Martin’s physique change will be a welcome addition to round out his game as a rising college prospect. He led the team in hits and batting average last season, and has been arguably FSU’s most consistent presence at the plate over the last two seasons.
“We wanted Robby to be a better defender and a better runner, and he took it to heart,” Martin Jr. said. “It’s that self-discipline that’s really paramount for guys to find out how good they could be, and he’s done that.”
Another noted change is sophomore infielder Nander De Sedas’ switch to batting purely right-handed. For his first two seasons, De Sedas has been batting as a switch hitter with mixed results. He batted .150 while starting every single game for the Seminoles, which was the second worst average on the team and the worst for those who started 10 games or more. His average was better in 2019 and showed some pop in his swings but has largely been underwhelming otherwise.
The switch to only batting right-handed is something that he hopes will correct that issue.
“I think focusing on one side of the plate builds confidence,” De Sedas said. “You can spend more time working on one side and getting results that way. It’s not only going to benefit me but benefit my team if I’m able to get better at-bats go out to the plate.”
“It’s helped him relax in general,” Martin Jr. added. “He’s been playing well and we need to get him in the right spots.”
FSU will need better at-bats from players like De Sedas if the aspirations of making it to Omaha are to be realized. Outfielder Reese Albert will also be returning this season, looking to improve on the promising momentum he gained before the abrupt shutdown last season. Albert will provide some much-needed power in the middle of the lineup.
The Seminoles enter the season ranked as high as No. 9 in the Baseball America poll and will play No. 5 Virginia early in the season after the opening weekend against North Florida (opening day is Friday, followed by a doubleheader on Saturday). The pitching will win a lot of games for Florida State, but Martin Jr. is hoping that the small tweaks and adjustments made defensively and offensively will help propel his group to Omaha.