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Florida State Baseball 2021 Preview

Robby Martin
Robby Martin(247Noles)
Published: Feb. 19, 2021 at 8:01 AM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - For the first time since March 11, 2020, Florida State baseball will finally be back on the diamond Saturday to begin its long-awaited 2021 season.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 MLB Draft to be shortened to only five rounds instead of the usual 40. In addition, the NCAA granted every player an additional year of eligibility because of last year’s lost season. As a result, plenty of stars in the ACC and all over the country are returning to school for another season, which could make college baseball this year as exciting as ever.

The ACC has never been richer with talent. All 14 teams have a legitimate chance to contend for a regional spot in 2021. Seven of those 14 teams are listed in D1Baseball’s preseason top 25 rankings.

Florida State slots in at No. 24 under second-year head coach Mike Martin Jr., who brings in the No. 3 recruiting class in the country, according to Baseball America. Martin was an All-American catcher for the Seminoles in 1994 and was promoted to head coach on June 21, 2019, after spending 22 years as an assistant under his father.

He has big shoes to fill in his first full season on the job after taking over for the all-time winningest coach in NCAA history, but the future seems bright with him at the helm.

The Seminoles return almost every key contributor from last year’s team that finished 12-5 before the pandemic wiped out the rest of the season. In a loaded ACC, wins will be difficult to earn every day, but there is a lot to be excited about with Florida State in 2021.

Projected Lineup

NAME, YR.POS.2020 AVG./OBP.SLG.HRRBI
1. Tyler Martin, R-Fr.3B.310/.481/.431013
2. Reese Albert, R-Jr.CF.242/.407/.516413
3. Robby Martin, R-So.RF.324/.439/.412014
4. Elijah Cabell, R-So.LF.263/.488/.649728
5. Mat Nelson, R-So.C.250/.410/.383114
6. Dylan Simmons, R-Fr.1B.378/.489/.48607
7. Cooper Swanson, R-Jr.DH.211/.423/.42112
8. Nander De Sedas, R-So.SS.150/.307/.15007
9. Jackson Greene, R-Jr.2B.190/.373/.224010

Offense

Florida State struck out in nearly 37% of its at-bats last season (212 K, 116 BB), which was unusually high for a program traditionally built on low strikeout totals. During fall ball, Martin focused heavily on regaining some of the plate discipline that’s been a Florida State staple for years.

However, dramatic improvement in that area might be a bit farfetched. The whole sport has morphed into a high-walk, high-strikeout game over the past number of years with an increased emphasis on power. That will be exactly the type of lineup Florida State projects to have in 2021.

Cabell, in particular, has elite power that few players in college baseball can match. He will swing and miss often with 32 strikeouts in 57 at-bats last season, but he belted seven homers in just 17 games last season and finished with a 1.137 OPS. He was draft-eligible as a sophomore last spring and has added almost 30 pounds of bulk since the last time he’s played a collegiate game. The Seminoles expect him to put up monster power numbers this season.

Unlike Cabell, who focused on adding bulk, Robby Martin focused on becoming leaner and more athletic in the offseason. He’s now listed at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, and owns one of the prettiest lefty swings in the country. The former Second-Team All-American in 2019 looks poised for another All-American caliber season in year three.

Albert is another sweet-swinging left-handed bat, who was a 2019 Third-Team All-ACC performer and the Collegiate Baseball Player of the Week during the final week of last season. He is another potential All-American candidate in his fourth season if he can avoid the shoulder issues that caused him to miss 19 games in 2019.

Tyler Martin should be one of the toughest outs in the conference at the top of Florida State’s lineup. He was a Freshman All-American in 2020 and is really the antithesis of most of the Seminoles’ lineup. Martin probably won’t post gaudy power numbers, but he got on base over 48% of the time and posted a 2-1 BB-K ratio last season. Martin also has great speed on the bases. If he can sustain his high on-base percentage from last season, he will be a weapon at the top of the order.

Nelson could have a breakout season in the 5-hole after ending last season a four-game hitting streak. His solid opposite-field power from the right side is a major advantage in Dick Howser Stadium’s short porch in right field.

The Florida State coaching staff is very excited about Simmons after he hit .378 with a .975 OPS in 13 games as a true freshman in 2020. The 6-foot-3, 225-pounder has tantalizing potential in year two.

Similar to Nelson, Swanson has solid opposite-field power from the right side with 10 career home runs in three seasons. Florida State has been waiting for the former high school All-American to put it all together. Could 2021 be the year he does?

The same could be said about De Sedas, the No. 1 ranked shortstop in the 2018 recruiting class. He was the second-highest rated player in the class to attend college, but he hit just .150 last season with a .457 OPS, albeit a small sample size. Regardless, he has a lot to prove in his third season and will be an x-factor for Florida State.

Greene, meanwhile, is mostly known for his defense but showed some offensive upside in his first year after transferring from Wallace Community College (Dothan, AL). He should improve at the plate in his second year with Florida State.

Defense

Florida State really struggled defensively during the shortened 2020 season, fielding just .950 in its 17 games.

De Sedas (.877 fielding percentage) particularly had a rough year, despite all of his talent. He has all the physical tools to excel at the position with easy arm strength, excellent athleticism and soft hands. He just needs to cut down on the throwing errors, but Florida State is hoping that improves in his third year at the position.

Greene doesn’t have the same physical tools as De Sedas, but he makes the routine plays and Florida State coaches have raved about his ability to turn the double play.

Nelson has intriguing defensive potential behind the plate. He has a 1.9-second pop time, but he also allowed eight passed balls and threw out just 2-of-11 base stealers last spring. Coaches say he was excellent in the fall though and expect a huge leap in his third year with the program.

In the outfield, Robby Martin has a cannon in right and has more range with the weight he shed in the offseason. Albert has the speed to stick in center and has an above-average arm, while Cabell also has the speed to occasionally play center. He too has an excellent arm and can play any of the three outfield spots.

Tyler Martin has great hands over at the hot corner and has the versatility to play any infield spot if needed. Swanson has reportedly worked hard on his defense over the past year and the coaching staff believes he can be used at either corner infield spot.

Starting Pitching

Pitching projects to be Florida State’s strongest unit in 2021. The Seminoles have stockpiled more talent at the position than they’ve had in years, even after losing second-round pick CJ Van Eyk.

FSU announced Thursday that Parker Messick will be the Opening Day starter. He seems to be the favorite to take over as the staff’s ace in his second season with the program. Messick made six appearances out of the bullpen last season, finishing the year with three scoreless innings and seven strikeouts against a Florida team loaded with offensive talent. He totaled 19 strikeouts and just two walks in 11.2 innings last season.

Pitching coach Jimmy Belanger said his stuff was outstanding in the fall. His fastball sits at 90-93 mph with excellent command of the strike zone, along with a plus changeup and breaking ball.

The Florida State pitching staff’s depth should be excellent. Carson Montgomery will be the No. 2 starter to begin the season. He enters as the No. 1 freshman prospect in college baseball, according to Baseball America. Montgomery is a 6-foot-2, 205-pound right-hander with a fastball between 94-97, along with a sharp curveball and a solid changeup in the high 80s.

Conor Grady will be the No. 3 starter and is by far the most proven starting option on the staff. He’s made 12 starts over the past two seasons. The fourth-year junior had a 3.00 ERA in 15 innings last spring but could be even better in 2021. Belanger says his fastball now consistently sits in the 91-93 mph range as opposed to the 88-90 range it was last year. The increased velocity should help him improve his 9.0 K/9 rate from last season.

Second-year freshman Bryce Hubbart had some command issues in his rookie season with eight walks and a 6.41 ERA in 8.1 innings, but Belanger says he’s improved in that area since last year. He’s added a swing-and-miss changeup to his arsenal that includes a plus curveball and a fastball that touches 95.

Third-year sophomore Jack Anderson gives the Seminoles a quality fifth option in the rotation. He went 2-0 with a 0.79 ERA in four appearances, including one start, last season. His fastball is between 90-93 to go along with a decent slider and solid changeup that will generate a lot of soft contact.

Bullpen

Florida State doesn’t have a proven closer heading into 2021, but their plethora of power arms gives them plenty of intriguing options. The favorite for the closer job is second-year freshman Doug Kirkland, who was actually recruited primarily as a catcher. He made two starts behind the plate last season but had an excellent fall on the mound. His fastball is 92-94 mph and gets good vertical movement. Kirkland also possesses a high-spin slider and a burgeoning changeup.

Fellow second-year freshman Brandon Walker’s fastball is in the 90-93 range and has the potential to increase, along with an improving curveball and changeup.

True freshman Hunter Perdue is a bit raw but has exciting tools with a 93-95 fastball to pair with a slider and changeup.

Meanwhile, another true freshman in Wyatt Crowell turned heads with his fall performance. Crowell’s fastball was consistently in the 87-89 range in high school, but Martin says the first pitch he threw this fall was 95. He also has a wipeout breaking ball and good command with his changeup. The coaching staff said he was the biggest surprise on the team this fall and was dominant. Crowell will be interesting to monitor this season.

Righty Jackson Nezuh and lefty Ross Dunn are two other true freshmen that could push for innings. Nezuh gets great extension toward the plate, which makes his 90-93 heater look even faster, but he still needs to refine his breaking ball. Dunn’s fastball is 91-95 with a wipeout curveball. Also, keep an eye on Simmons, who had two strikeouts in three appearances last season. He has a sinking fastball at 90-94 to pair with a solid changeup.

Then there are a handful of veterans. Fourth-year junior righty Davis Hare’s fastball has been 92-94 with great sink. Belanger says he could be a potential starting option.

Fellow fourth-year junior Tyler Ahearn showed good stuff this fall, with a 92-95 fastball and a slider in the upper 80s. His command will be the key.

Kyle McMullen has less velocity at 88-92 but has a terrific changeup. Lefties Clayton Kwiatkowski and Jonah Scolaro and sidearm righty Chase Haney add experience and different funky release points. Scolaro has increased his velocity to 88-91 this fall. Freshman Andrew Armstrong is another low-slot lefty with an 87-89 fastball.

It’s a deep and diverse group of arms that should allow Florida State to have as many quality options as any team in the country.

Outlook

Florida State will depend on numerous first and second-year pitchers, so there could be some growing pains along the way. The lineup, however, is loaded with veterans who were major contributors for the 2019 College World Series team, including, Robby Martin, De Sedas, Albert, Cabell and Nelson. Haney, Grady, Kwiatkowski and Scolaro all pitched for that team too.

Florida State has to improve defensively and cut down on the strikeouts at the plate, but the talent is all there. Again, the ACC will be a minefield in 2021, but Florida State has the makings of a regional team at its floor with the potential to be a College World Series level team if the pitching is as good as advertised and a couple of players break out offensively.

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