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What to watch as FSU baseball opens practice

The Florida State baseball team began its first day of full team practice on Friday, just three weeks ahead of Opening Day against North Florida on Feb. 19.

“We plan on covering a lot of things, want to establish exactly what we’re putting emphasis on,” FSU coach Mike Martin Jr. said. “It’s about pitching, defense and base running. The three things that can never go south. Hitting is going to fluctuate. The constants in winning consistently: pitching, defense and base running. And we’re going to put an emphasis on that.”

FSU went 12-5 in a condensed 2020 season, including a 2-0 win at No. 1 Florida on March 10. A day later, FSU knocked off Illinois State and the season was soon halted. A large number of players had the opportunity to play summer ball, whether it was in Florida or the Southeast, which helped make up for the lack of a season in the spring. Left-hander Parker Messick was the Cy Young winner of the Florida League, following up an impressive debut at FSU in which he had a 0.77 ERA in 11.2 innings.

The Seminoles open at No. 9 in the Baseball America poll and the roster is quite deep as the five-round draft only took right-hander C.J. Van Eyk (Blue Jays) and left-hander Shane Drohan (Red Sox). Left-hander Antonio Velez also signed as a free agent with the Marlins. FSU features a 42-man roster for 2021 as the NCAA has allowed for expanded slots due to the pandemic.

Where will everyone play and how will it all shake out? Martin Jr. is exaggerating here, especially with a talented trio of outfielders in Robby Martin, Reese Albert and Elijah Cabell, but it’s clear the competition will prompt decision making among the coaching staff.

“Nellie (Matheu Nelson) has won the job behind the plate,” Martin Jr. said. “But that’s literally the only job that I would say is a slam dunk. And the best roles for our arms is important for us to figure out. I’m sure Parker Messick is going to be somewhere in the rotation, but I’m not ready to anoint him as our Friday night guy. He’s pitched very well. It’s just we have a ton of guys that can really pitch, and the versatility of some of our players is good.”

With the threat of a positive case sidelining a position player or pitcher, Martin Jr. emphasized the need to cross train. He’s seeking eight starters instead of five, for example. Nander de Sedas could play shortstop or second base, although he will focus entirely on hitting right-handed at the plate. Dylan Simmons could be a starter, first baseman or designated hitter. Outfielders could play right, left or center.

FSU also has an influx of young arms, including freshman right-hander Carson Montgomery. Considered a top-50 MLB draft pick, Montgomery’s reported request for a signing bonus was higher than pro teams were willing to pay. Martin Jr. said the freshmen would all get a lot of time on the mound in the preseason.

“Those arms are game ready,” Martin Jr. said. “They understand it. They’re competitive. They’re athletic. They check all the boxes. Carson and a ton of those freshmen have been really, really impressive.”

FSU also added a game on May 11 against Florida Gulf Coast. That would, for the moment, complete FSU’s 50-game regular-season schedule. TV and streaming schedule for the games has not been released. About 25 percent of the seats at Dick Howser Stadium will be available for fans this season.

FSU baseball podcast

Listen to the Osceola’s Ariya Massoudi and Tomahawk Nation’s Brett Nevitt discuss the 2021 schedule and talk to outfielder Robby Martin on the Sunday Golds podcast. Listen here on Apple podcasts or here on Spotify.