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Notes: FSU baseball has wealth of arms, seeks improved defense

The Florida State baseball team opened full-team practices on Friday, just three weeks until Opening Day against James Madison. Below are some preseason storylines and notes on the Seminoles:

Transfer-filled infield

Mike Martin Jr. and the coaching staff have used the transfer portal in past years but the 2022 roster — and specifically the infield — will be primarily made up of transfers. First baseman Alex Toral (Miami) and shortstop Jordan Carrion (Florida) have arrived from rivals but both said they feel FSU is a good fit for them. Toral, who hits left-handed, smacked 37 home runs for the Hurricanes and has one year to play at FSU.

“I know it’s a rival school from where I came from, but Meat (Martin Jr.) made it seem like this is where I want to play and this is where I should play,” Toral said. “I think the winning culture definitely put it apart from other programs. … I feel like the field here definitely plays to my swing.”

Carrion fields well and will be an upgrade over Nander de Sedas, who often made the difficult plays but struggled with routine ones. Brett Roberts (Tennessee Tech) will play second and third base.

“I feel like I’m the right fit for Florida State,” Roberts said. “I’m just ready to play this season. Second base is more natural. I’ve been up the middle my whole life.”

FSU also added Brock Mathis, a catcher from Oklahoma State, ahead of the spring semester. Mathis will potentially be in a platoon with FSU’s returning catchers, including Colton Vincent and Sebastian Jimenez.

“Brock Mathis was a guy that we felt like we needed to get,” Martin Jr. said. “After talking to him twice I said, ‘This guy will fit right in with our guys.’ “

Loaded rotation

Martin Jr. admitted the obvious: preseason All-Americans Parker Messick (8-2, 3.10 ERA, 126 strikeouts and 23 walks in 90 innings) and Bryce Hubbart (6-5, 3.80 ERA, 94 strikeouts and 29 walks in 71 innings) are locks for the weekend rotation. He suggested there’s the option of going with Hubbart in the Friday night role, which says quite a bit about the talent and competitiveness of the left-handers. Both have added sliders in the offseason and now have four pitches they can throw in any count for strikes, which is the mantra of pitching coach Jimmy Belanger.

“It makes it very difficult, when you have four above-average pitches vs. three,” Martin Jr. said. “Both of them picked it up over the summer and continued working with Jimmy on it. It’s going to mess up some hitters because they’re used to that 2-1 change-up and there’s a good chance it’s going to be a hard slider with both of them.”

FSU coaches are debating who will be the Sunday starter as well as the midweek starter. Martin Jr. said there are eight — yes, eight — options in a pitching staff that is as deep as any in recent years.

“We feel some guys are more cut out to be short, inning or two types,” Martin Jr. said. “That third and fourth spot is wide open. We’ll figure it out right before the season starts.”

It sounds like various bullpen roles — who could be a long reliever, setup man or closer — will be determined after the Nos. 3-4 arms in the rotation are determined. Some names to watch will be RHP Carson Montgomery and RHP Jackson Baumeister. Martin Jr. said Montgomery, who struggled with his control as a freshman in 2021, is “much more consistent. His misses were big at times. He kind of petered out around that third and fourth inning. He’s really worked hard on his endurance and mechanics and improving those, making them repeatable.” Baumeister is a top-50 prospect who turned down offers from MLB teams and insisted he was going to FSU.

Outfield taking shape

Logan Lacey spent much of his breakout 2021 season at third base, although he definitely showed his versatility. A standout pitcher and hitter from nearby Godby High and TCC, Lacey hit .295 with 57 hits, 39 runs scored and 39 RBI last spring. He also smashed 13 doubles and 10 home runs, including a home run in four straight games in the postseason.

Lacey will take over in center field this spring.

“You look at him and it doesn’t scream out athleticism,” Martin Jr. said. “But he is an incredible athlete that takes as good of routes and gets jumps on the ball. He can really change a game in center field. That’s the plan is to leave him out there, let him run. Where he’ll hit in the order we’ll figure it out later.”

Reese Albert will take one of the corner outfield spots. “He’s been really special in his work ethic,” Martin Jr. said. “His swing is a lot more under control.”

Depth, defense, decisions

Martin Jr. has placed an emphasis on defense and athleticism. He views this roster as deeper compared to last year.

“We were really on eggshells last year, trying to put guys in bubble wrap,” Martin Jr. said. “We just didn’t have the depth. We have a lot more depth, more athleticism, we’ll run more, try to put pressure on people.”

Errors in the infield were a sore spot for FSU throughout 2021. Martin Jr. said he feels good about using the shift more often.

“I wasn’t comfortable with it last year,” Martin Jr. said. “We got another year’s worth of data that we’ll delve into. Anytime you can take a side of the field away where 80 percent of the balls are going to go, you combine that with foot speed and accurate arms and it makes pitching that much better.”

Martin Jr. said he has a feel for who will play but some of the decisions about where they will play in the field or what the lineup will look like remain to be determined. FSU also has the designated hitter to get another bat in the lineup.

“There’s certain guys that are going to play,” Martin Jr. said. “They’re going to be out there. Where they’re going to be, really, truly nothing is settled yet.”

One player who is working his way back is Tyler Martin, who had offseason shoulder surgery and it’s not certain if he will be ready to go by Opening Day. Tyler Martin was among the ACC leaders in walks in 2021 with 46.

Howser upgrades

Crews have been busy making updates around Howser Stadium. There will be new outfield padding and the garnet around the dugouts will be painted.

FSU’s full 2022 schedule can be viewed here.