NoleGameday

Assessing FSU Baseball Positional Battles

Bronte Wittpen, Billings Gazette

Fall baseball has begun and even though it feels like summer in the state of Florida college baseball is back. It’s way too early for season previews or expectations because the season is still months away. What does get settled in the fall, however, are normally positional battles. Seniors graduate, others are drafted, and some transfer but there are still holes in the lineup that need to be filled.

 

Secure Positions

C: Cal Raleigh

1B: Dylan Busby*

2B: Matt Henderson

SS: Taylor Walls

OF: Jackson Lueck

Weekend Rotation: Drew Carlton, Cole Sands, Tyler Holton

*Busby will be a starter but with his position flexibility he could see a move to third base if the incoming freshmen aren’t ready to be a starting position player. In this scenario Quincy Nieporte, Bryan Cavanaugh, and Tyler Holton would likely see time at first base.

 

Open Positions

3B

Incumbent: John Sansone (Drafted/8th round Cincinnati Reds)

Contenders: Dylan Busby, Drew Mendoza

Front Runner: Mendoza

John Sansone was, arguably, the most important player to Florida State last season and will be irreplaceable in terms of leadership and on the field talent. That said it is nice to be able to replace him with the no. 1 incoming freshman according to Perfect Game. Mendoza is the heavy favorite to step into the third base role even though he will miss some time with a broken jaw.

Here’s Mendoza’s scouting report according to fueledbysports.com:

Mendoza started to turn heads when he hit a 93 mph fastball from Brady Singer out of the park. He has a smooth, fluid swing that generates tremendous bat speed. Line driver with very good plate approach and power potential, more of a doubles hitter at this point. Mendoza will most likely grow out of shortstop and looks like a future third baseman at this point in his development. He has a strong arm and an above average glove, so he should make a solid big league third baseman.

The reason that Busby is a candidate here is because Busby played third base during his freshman campaign (Sansone was at second base). Busby had a lot of errors at first and transitioned to first after Matt Henderson transferred in and Sansone moved to third. I would think that Mike Martin would keep Busby at first but I’m just not sure, especially if the Mendoza injury keeps him from developing according to schedule. Also, a move off of first base would probably be better for Busby’s draft stock.

 

OF

Incumbents: Jackson Lueck (starter), Ben DeLuzio (free agent contract/Arizona Diamondbacks), Various starting rightfielders

Contenders: Steven Wells Jr., Donovan Petrey, Tyler Holton, Ryan Mejia, Drew Parrish, JC Flowers

Front Runner: Petrey, Wells Jr.

 

Florida State lost defensive savant Ben DeLuzio to professional baseball after he opted to sign a free agent contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks over the summer. DeLuzio was a fan favorite and his defense in centerfield will be sorely missed. Jackson Lueck was one of top hitters for Florida State last season as he hit .379/.494/.576 while averaging almost 1 run and 1 rbi per game started. Lueck really turned a corner close to midway through the season and after the Louisville series, and Gage West and Darren Miller left the team, Lueck was rewarded with the starting position. He could also see time in centerfield because he is a good athlete.

As for the rest of the outfield that’s where things start to get murky. I listed Petrey and Wells Jr. as favorites simply because they are returning outfielders who saw a lot of playing time in right toward the end of the season. Petrey hit .250/.382/.333 over the course of the year and split time with Wells Jr. who slashed .184/.333/.237. Wells Jr. is regarded as more of a defensive outfielder who has a strong arm and saw a lot of time last year as a late game defensive replacement. I would expect these two to start out the season filling out the outfield unless a freshman really impresses Martin. Also, this is college baseball so I wouldn’t regard their starting jobs as “safe”.

Tyler Holton is probably not in the mix to be a starting outfielder as he will be one of the starting pitchers in the weekend rotation. Mike Martin has stated that the Florida State staff views him as “just being a pitcher” and asking him to pitch one night and start in the outfield would be a tall task. Brendan McKay of Louisville does this but there’s a reason he is thought to be a 2017 1st round draft pick. Holton will likely see some time in the outfield or at first in blowouts or late game situations but at this point his arm is ahead of his bat and the Seminoles need Tyler Holton the pitcher more than Tyler Holton the outfielder.

In regards to the freshmen I would put the best odds on Ryan Mejia or JC Flowers to grab an outfielder starter spot. Both are very good athletes and could reasonably play any outfield spots. Mejia was a sub-6.7 second sixty yard dash runner in high school and has some pop from the right hand side. Flowers has solid centerfield tools with a projectable frame and very high ceiling. He is similar to DeLuzio when he got to campus, except he didn’t play shortstop, a very athletic outfielder who could develop into a potential high round draft pick.

 

Midweek Starting Pitcher

Incumbents: Tyler Holton (10 starts/now in weekend rotation), Ed Voyles (4 starts), Andrew Karp (2 starts), Cobi Johnson (1 start/out for season with Tommy John surgery)

Candidates: Andrew Karp, Ed Voyles, Rhett Aplin, Brandon Reitz, Drew Parrish

Front Runner: Karp

 

The stats of games started during the midweek are slightly deceptive. Ed Voyles started four times and Andrew Karp twice but those games were often extended bullpen games and Voyles or Karp wouldn’t go far past a few innings. Voyles and Karp were fine in those games and if Martin decides to go that route again this year I wouldn’t blame him, the staff is full of young arms and he could afford to do that during the midweek.

Unfortunately due to his Tommy John surgery Cobi Johnson will not be pitching this season. This spot was essentially Johnson’s to lose until he tore his ulnar collateral ligament and was required to go under the knife. According to Martin, Johnson should be starting to throw soon and more important than a midweek starting pitcher is Johnson’s health.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rhett Aplin make some starts during the season. Aplin is a transfer from Seminole State College of Florida and was a First Team All-Conference in back to back seasons before transferring to Florida State. Aplin posted a 5-3 record with 69.1 innings pitched in 11 starts in 2016. He struck out 58 batters and had an ERA of 3.12.

Parrish and Reitz are two incoming freshman who were rated highly in high school. Martin likes to start out freshmen in the bullpen before throwing them into starting roles but Cole Sands started from day 1 on campus last season.

 

Closer

Incumbent: Tyler Warmoth? (Graduated)

Candidates: Chase Haney, Alec Byrd, Jim Voyles, JC Flowers

Front Runner: Haney

 

Save situations and close games late were not some of the strong points for the Seminoles last season. Tyler Warmoth was not good for most of the season and by the end he was clear liability. Martin replaced Warmoth toward the end of the season with various other arms such as Chase Haney, Alec Byrd, Jim Voyles, and Ed Voyles. I would argue that Haney is the front runner in this situation and he certainly showed why last season. Haney went 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA and struck out 37 in 32.1 innings pitched. Haney is especially tough on righthanded hitters and his performance late in the season in some high-pressure situations shows that he has the mentality for the role.

Byrd and Jim Voyles are definitely going to see important innings late in games but I suspect they will be used more strategically than simply the 9th inning. Both can go for more than one inning, especially Voyles who led all bullpen arms by a significant margin with 51.1 innings pitched, and both had solid numbers throughout the year. Byrd also is valuable to use against potential big lefties that FSU will see throughout the year like McKay or Seth Beer.

Flowers is a very interesting candidate. He is way more athletic but his role could be that of what Jameis Winston did when he played for Martin. Flowers can bump it up to 95 mph on the mound while also seeing time in the outfield. Martin mentioned Flowers, and Haney, specifically when discussing the closer battle and if Flowers impresses in the fall he could certainly see some high-leverage innings.

 

Vinnie Cervino

Lead Baseball Writer, Perpetually Pessimistic Sport Fan, Proprietor of My Own Delusions and Fallacies, 80 Grade Takes. Twitter @cervino_vinnie.



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