Mike Martin Jr.’s No. 11 Florida State team got its first true test of the 2020 season at Dick Howser Stadium this weekend.
The Seminoles swept FAU (5-1, 16-6) in two games before being edged twice by No. 3 Texas Tech (6-5 in 11 innings, 4-3). While it was a mixed bag in many areas for FSU, the team should feel confident where it stands after 11 games into the year with what it showed against two quality programs.
I had a unique vantage point for the action up close as a member of the TV broadcast team that called the games over the weekend. Here are some thoughts:
The competition was excellent
This is exactly the type of weekend Florida State needs to schedule ever year. FAU was the No. 2 seed in the Athens Regional last season and Texas Tech is a perennial Omaha-caliber squad. This competition is a must to find out what your team has in the bank, as well as giving young arms and bats a chance to go up against elite opposition. Nothing is really learned by playing Niagara or other teams not expected to compete to make the NCAA Tournament, so kudos to the staffs for making this happen. The Owls are fantastic with the bats and have some seriously athletic infielders that should help them be a favorite in Conference USA this year. They were solid with the starting pitching all weekend, but had little bullpen depth to truly hang with FSU and TTU.
Now the Red Raiders are seriously impressive, possibly CWS favorites and no doubt the premiere team in the Big 12 for 2020. One arm after another came out throwing 95 mph and the lineup is stacked with gritty hitters and a savvy of a program that expects to be in Omaha yearly (four of the last six years). The whole weekend was a success for everyone involved.
Florida State can really pitch
Martin Jr. has said all off-season and into opening weekend he felt the strength of the team was the pitching staff.
CJ Van Eyk, Shane Drohan and Conor Grady give the Seminoles one of the best rotations in the ACC. Van Eyk was strong against FAU, giving up just one earned run through 6 innings while striking out 8. He will need to limit the walks, but he’s one of the top pitchers in the nation and a known commodity. Drohan was impressive against a very good Red Raiders lineup. He gave up just three hits and one earned run before running into trouble in the 5th inning with walks and a defense that let him down (more on that, later). With 9 strikeouts and at times looking downright unhittable, there is something brewing for the southpaw that could give FSU the best 1-2 punch in the ACC. Grady was solid, but not spectacular, against TTU and showed some uncharacteristic control issues with three walks in just three innings of work. However, FSU knows what it has in the junior and he will give the Seminoles a shot every time he steps on the mound.
The bullpen impressed with some underclassmen showing flashes, giving FSU tremendous depth on the staff. Jack Anderson was brilliant against FAU on Saturday (4.2 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 K’s) and if he can give the Seminoles another piece to trust, watch out. Parker Messick (3.1 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 5 K’s) also really impressed with a nice outing against the Red Raiders. He surrendered the tying home run in the 9th, but gave a glimpse of superstar potential with a fastball touching 94 mph from the left side, devastating off-speed pitches, and a persona that reminds of Charlie Sheen’s “Wild Thing” in Major League. Chase Haney, Antonio Velez, Jonah Scolaro and Clayton Kwiatkowski were all solid and steady throughout the weekend, which is why the coaching staff should feel really good about where this unit is early on in 2020.
Hitting and Defense
The lineup for Florida State should have a chance to be serviceable this season. Reese Albert is clearly not up to speed, having missed over five months with the shoulder surgery that was needed after the 2019 season. It’s hard to judge the lineup with that caveat, so the jury is still out. Tyler Martin has been a really nice surprise and plays with a scrappiness and IQ that only comes from kids who grew up around the baseball diamond. Robby Martin is his usual, reliable bat and will be counted on this season to lead the Seminoles at the plate. There are just too many x-factors and “what ifs” with the lineup to form an opinion this early. Can Matheu Nelson, Carter Smith and Nander De Sedas give FSU some confidence and consistency? Can Elijah Cabell hit for power and not hit below the Mendoza-line against ACC competition? Will Albert get back to form and provide another steady option? Only time will tell.
The defense is a major problem right now. It has let FSU down in all three losses, and at this point it can be argued, the defense may not improve all that much in 2020. Due largely to many guys playing out of position and a lack of recruiting to fill needs, the Seminoles look uncomfortable everywhere in the infield. De Sedas, Jackson Greene, Tyrell Brewer, Smith, Cooper Swanson, etc. have been flip-flopped nearly everywhere with little success so far. De Sedas really struggled at shortstop to begin the year, but had a decent weekend moving to second base for three of the four games this weekend. He had to move back to shortstop however on Sunday, when Greene showed little improvement at the position himself. From throwing and fielding errors, missed pop-ups, etc. the team gave away too many extra outs that both FAU and Texas Tech capitalized. In the case of the Red Raiders on Saturday, it proved to be the winning run in the 11thinning when Smith threw the ball into right field on a short chopper to third base. Regardless, the Seminoles will have to at least play average defense this season behind a great pitching staff if it will want any chance of making it back to Omaha. A .937 team fielding percentage that ranks among the worst in the sport won’t cut it.