Leading up to the college baseball season, we will preview each of the Atlantic Coast Conference baseball teams. You can view all of our team previews to date here. Today’s preview features the Florida State Seminoles.
There are few teams as consistently at the forefront of college baseball as the Seminoles. Since 1980, the Florida State Seminoles have been coached by Mike Martin. During that span, Florida State has made the NCAA Tournament every single season, reaching the College World Series 15 times. The program has produced numerous pro baseball players, highlighted by brothers J.D. and Stephen Drew, Doug Mientkiewicz, Deion Sanders, and 2012 National League MVP Buster Posey. Since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1999, Florida State has only been eliminated during the Regional weekend twice.
Last season was no exception to the Seminoles’ reign. Florida State won 24 conference games to tie an ACC record and made another trip to Omaha. The ‘Noles will have to overcome some challenges to repeat last year’s success, but it’s hard to expect anything else considering the track record in Tallahassee.
Florida State’s offense loses its top four bats, highlighted by consensus All-American James Ramsey. Ramsey led the ACC in batting average (.378), slugging percentage (.652), and on-base percentage (.513), while finishing top-five in RBI (58), triples (6), and home runs (13). Ramsey was selected 23rd overall in the 2012 MLB Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Graduating players is an expected part of college sports, but Florida State experienced a particularly shocking unexpected loss in December. Senior outfielder Stephen Spradling will not be with the team in 2013, as he recovers from multiple injuries suffered in a skydiving accident. While Spradling and his family are thankful he survived the accident, he is not enrolled in school this semester while undergoing therapy and will not be on the Seminoles roster.
Sophomore pitcher Mike Compton also figured to be part of the ‘Noles plans for this season. A preseason third-team All-American for Louisville Slugger and the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, Compton posted a 12-2 record and a 2.87 ERA as a freshman last season. Compton’s 12 wins tied him for second in the nation in the category, and he was one of 14 ACC pitchers with an ERA below 3.00. However, it was announced last week that Compton will also miss the 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
So who will be taking the field for Florida State? Despite the Compton loss, pitching should be the strong suit of this Seminole team. Fellow sophomore sensation Brandon Leibrandt, along with senior Scott Sitz and junior Peter Miller, still form a strong weekend rotation that started 42 of 67 games last year.
Left-hander Brandon Leibrandt started 2012 as the Florida State program’s first-ever freshman to start an opening day game on the mound, and didn’t look back. Leibrandt led the Seminoles in strikeouts last season (83) while walking only 29 batters. Leibrandt and Compton were both Freshman All-Americans last season, and Leibrandt joined Compton on the Louisville Slugger third-team Preseason All-American list.
Sitz posted a 3.72 ERA and a 4-3 record in 2012. His best performance of last season could not have come at a better time. Against UCLA in the College World Series, Sitz had his longest outing (6.2 innings), allowing just one run on five hits against the Bruins while striking out eight UCLA batters. The veteran started the season in the bullpen before working his way into the rotation last year, and hopes to build on that momentum this season.
However, Florida State was middle-of-the-road offensively last season, which makes the losses of Ramsey, along with Devon Travis (.325 BA, eight home runs, 24 doubles), Jayce Boyd (.376 BA, 21 doubles, .45 on-base percentage), and Sherman Johnson (.283 batting average, 18 doubles, .450 on-base percentage), all the more troubling. The Seminoles’ best returning bat figures to be Justin Gonzalez.
The senior shortstop was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 27th round of the 2012 Draft, but elected to return to Tallahassee for another season. Gonzalez was second (behind Ramsey) on the team in homers last season (9), but was only a .256 hitter and posted a team-high 76 strikeouts He was also the team’s leading base-stealer, with 13 thefts on 15 attempts. Florida State needs him to cut down on the strikeouts.
Florida State’s recruiting class was ranked 19th by Collegiate Baseball. The class is highlighted by four players who were drafted in 2012, including Jameis Winston and D.J. Stewart.
This promises to be a busy spring for Jameis Winston, The 6-5 Hueytown, AL native will be competing for time in center field, on the mound … and at quarterback for the Seminoles football team Winston was a five-star quarterback prospect who will be part of a battle to replace E.J. Manuel when spring football begins in March. Winston was also ranked 22nd on Perfect Game’s list of national high school prospects. Winston is hardly the first player to attempt two sports in college (did I mention Deion Sanders was a former Seminole?), but it will be interesting to monitor how he develops after being such a highly touted recruit in both sports.
D.J. Stewart was drafted in the 28th round by the New York Yankees. He batted .424 with 29 RBI and nine home runs a senior for The Bolles School (Fl.), earning Player of the Year honors for North Florida. Hopefully his big bat (and matching frame, at 6’0”, 230) will add some oomph to the Seminoles offense.
Florida State may have some obstacles to overcome in 2013. However, if there’s one thing the Seminoles have proven since 1980, it is that they will always make noise at the national level. With a strong cast of pitchers available, there’s little reason to believe this season will be any different.