2020 record: 12-5.
Coach (Record at school): Mike Martin Jr. (12-5, 1 season).
Ballpark: Dick Howser Stadium (Capacity: 6,700).
Postseason History: 57 regionals (active streak: 42), 23 CWS trips (active streak: 1), 0 national titles.
Florida State’s projected lineup
|C||Matheu Nelson, 3YR SO||.250/.410/.383||1||14||2|
|1B||Dylan Simmons, 2YR FR||.378/.489/.486||0||7||1|
|2B||Jackson Greene, 4YR JR||.190/.373/.224||0||10||2|
|3B||Tyler Martin, 2 YR FR||.310/.481/.431||0||13||1|
|SS||Nander De Sedas, 3YR SO||.150/.307/.150||0||7||2|
|LF||Elijah Cabell, 3YR SO||.263/.488/.649||7||28||3|
|CF||Reese Albert, 4YR JR||.242/.407/.516||4||13||1|
|RF||Robby Martin, 3YR SO||.324/.439/.412||0||14||1|
|DH||Cooper Swanson, 4YR JR||.211/.423/.421||1||2||1|
|LHP||Parker Messick, 2YR FR||1-1||0.77||11.2||19||2||1|
|RHP||Conor Grady, 4YR JR||2-0||3.00||15||15||8||0|
|LHP||Bryce Hubbart, 2 YR FR||0-1||6.48||8.1||13||8||0|
|RP||Doug Kirkland, 2YR FR||0-0||4.50||2||1||0||0|
Grading the Seminoles
Just as scouts grade prospects using the 20-80 scouting scale, we use a 20-80 scale to evaluate teams in our top 25. A score of 50 in each category is average, relative to a typical NCAA tournament team; 55 is slightly above-average; 60 is above-average (plus); 70 is well above-average (plus-plus); 80 is top of the scale, historically strong. Accordingly, 45 is fringe-average or slightly below-average; 40 is below-average; 30 is well below-average; and 20 is the extreme in that direction.
For decades, plate discipline has been the hallmark of the Florida State program, so it was jarring to see last year’s Seminoles strike out 212 times and draw just 116 walks. Every key piece of last year’s lineup is back, and coach Mike Martin Jr. placed a heavy emphasis on getting back to the characteristically patient FSU approach during the fall. But it might be a high-walk, high-strikeout kind of club, based on the track records of players like Cabell, Nelson, De Sedas, Albert and Greene. But some swing-and-miss tendencies are acceptable as a trade-off for the kind of game-changing power that should be present throughout this lineup. Cabell is the embodiment of that philosophy — he has true 80 raw power on the 20-80 scouting scale, and he was starting to harness it last spring, smashing seven homers in 17 games and finishing with a 1.137 OPS despite his high strikeout rate (32 K in 57 at-bats). He was draft-eligible as a sophomore last spring, and had the season played out he might not have made it back to campus for another year. Cabell has added 30 pounds of muscle since last spring, and the Seminoles are obviously hoping for huge things from him in year three. As Martin Jr. said this fall, “He is smashing balls. It is really humorous how far he hits balls.”
Robby Martin took a different approach with his offseason, focusing on shedding bad weight and becoming leaner and more athletic. Now listed at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Martin is a hard-contact machine, with one of college baseball’s sweetest lefthanded swings. Look for his power numbers to spike as well in his third year at FSU. Albert is another instinctive natural hitter with a pretty lefthanded stroke, solid power and speed that plays in center field. He’s got All-America potential if he can avoid the shoulder issues that hampered him in the past, and he’s a perfect fit in the 2-hole behind Tyler Martin. The son of the head coach, Tyler might not have the big, sexy tools of some of the other guys in the lineup, but he’s a high-energy scrapper with a little whip in his swing, and he just has a knack for finding his barrel and moving the ball around the field. He also has the best plate discipline in the lineup (as evidenced by his 16-8 BB-K mark last year) and might prove to be one of the toughest outs in the ACC. He’s just a winning player and an ideal catalyst.
Tyler Martin-Albert-Robby Martin-Cabell is a very formidable top four, in some order, and Nelson could have a monster year in the 5-hole. Nelson brings valuable righthanded power to the mix, and his ability to drive the ball with authority to the opposite field is tailor made for Dick Howser Stadium. Simmons and Swanson bring additional righthanded power, giving this lineup some length. Simmons, a 6-3, 225-pound ox, has legitimate two-way talent but pushed his way into the lineup early in his career, posting a .975 OPS in 13 games as a true freshman last spring. His big raw power really plays from the left-field line to center field, and he shows some feel for the strike zone as well. Swanson also offers very good righthanded power potential, especially to the opposite field, and he looks ready to harness that raw power in game action as he enters his fourth season in the program. He’s also a surprisingly good runner for his thick 6-foot-1 frame.
The Seminoles are still waiting for De Sedas to live up to the massive expectations that followed him to Tallahassee out of high school, when he ranked as the No. 1 prospect in his class to arrive on a D-I campus. He’s a switch-hitter with a line-drive approach, but he struggled mightily to make consistent contact during his miserable four-week 2020 campaign, so he’s simply got a lot to prove, despite his pedigree. Consider him an X-factor in this lineup; if it all clicks for him in Year Three, he could still be a difference maker. Greene, meanwhile, stands out most for his glove, but he was a quality at-bat machine in the fall and even showed off a little sneaky pop. Expect him to take a big step forward offensively in his second year at FSU after transferring in from the juco ranks.
Defense was Florida State’s biggest weakness last spring, as the Seminoles fielded a brutal .950 during the shortened campaign, with De Sedas (.877) struggling most of all at the crucial shortstop position. De Sedas has all the physical tools you could want in a shortstop, with easy plus arm strength, fluid actions and excellent quickness. He simply needs to make fewer throwing errors than he has in the past, but the Seminoles hope consistency comes with experience now that he’s in his third year as a starter. Greene isn’t flashy at second, but he really stands out for his ability to turn the double play and make all the routine plays. Nelson looked fantastic behind the plate in the fall, showing off his strong, accurate arm with 1.9-second pop times. He had eight passed balls and threw out just 2 of 11 basestealers last spring, but expect a huge improvement from him this spring. Albert is a very instinctive defender with a solid arm in center, completing the up-the-middle group. Cabell runs very well for his size and is also capable of playing center, so he’s a real asset in left field, where his bazooka arm is a weapon. Likewise, Robby Martin has a hose in right field, and he’s moving around so much better on defense now that he’s shed some weight. Tyler Martin can really pick it at third base, and he has the versatility to play all over the infield as needed. Swanson has worked hard to improve his defense as well, and he’s capable of seeing action at either infield corner.
Starting pitching: 60
Pitching should be Florida State’s greatest strength in 2021, as this staff is overflowing with more power arms than ever before in the proud history of the program. That means FSU has all kinds of options in the rotation, but only one proven workhorse starter: Grady, who has 12 starts under his belt over the last two seasons. Grady has always possessed an out pitch in his hard, sharp slider, but Martin Jr. said his fastball velocity has ticked up this fall. Instead of sitting 88-90 and bumping 91 like he did in the past, Grady is now pitching at 91-93, which makes him a different animal. He pounds the zone with three pitches and seems like a safe bet to occupy one of the three weekend slots.
Messick looks like the leading candidate to replace departed ace CJ Van Eyk (a second-round pick) atop the rotation. In six relief appearances last spring, Messick was dazzling, but especially in three scoreless innings against Florida, when he struck out seven. Now he looks poised to slide into the weekend rotation, and pitching coach Jimmy Belanger said his stuff was outstanding this fall: he’s thrown “strikes galore” with a 90-93 fastball, a plus changeup and a good breaking ball. Fellow second-year freshman Hubbart struggled with his control as a true freshman last spring, but Belanger said he’s improved his command this fall and become more consistent with his swing-and-miss changeup, giving him another weapon to go along with his sharp, tight curveball and fastball that has sat 92-93 and bumped 95.
But competition for weekend starter jobs should be fierce. Carson Montgomery is the crown jewel of this year’s recruiting class and the No. 1 freshman prospect in college baseball. He’s a 6-foot-2, 205-pound power righty who has shown 94-97 heat this fall along with a hammer curveball and a good firm changeup in the high 80s. He’s also shown a great aptitude to learn and has already gotten better over the course of the fall, and it wouldn’t be a big surprise if he winds up starting on Friday nights by season’s end — his talent is just too loud. 3YR SO righthander Jack Anderson gives FSU a fifth strong rotation candidate. Anderson went 2-0, 0.79 in four appearances (one start) last spring, and his stuff has started to tick up as he’s added strength to his lean 6-foot-3 frame. He worked at 90-93 with a heavy fastball in our fall look, along with a solid short slider at 82-83 and a useful changeup that he used to induce soft rollover contact against lefties.
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The Seminoles don’t have a proven shutdown power closer, but their depth of power arms gives them tons of options, and they also have some nice veteran pitchability guys to add veteran stability. The front-runner for the closer job appears to be Kirkland, who arrived as a two-way player in the fall of 2019 but has blossomed on the mound. He pitched at 92-94 and bumped 95 with a high-spin fastball in the 2400-2550 rpm range in our fall look, along with a tight slider at 83-84 (up to 2727 rpm) and a developing changeup. Fellow 2YR FR righty Brandon Walker was 90-93 with feel for a promising curveball and changeup, and he figures to continue to add velocity because he has a chiseled physique and a clean high three-quarters arm action. Big-bodied true freshman righty Hunter Perdue pitched at 93-95, though his slider and changeup still need refinement.
Fellow true freshman Wyatt Crowell is a rotation dark horse or a potential back-end piece or swingman in the bullpen. A slightly built 5-foot-11, 165-pound lefthander, Crowell wasn’t one of the bigger names in FSU’s recruiting class, and Martin Jr. said he remembered seeing Crowell pitch at 87-89 during the recruiting process. So he did a double take when the first pitch out of Crowell’s hand this fall was 95 mph. He has some front-side funk that makes his 92-96 fastball jump on hitters even more, and he features a true wipeout breaking ball and the ability to throw his changeup for strikes. Martin Jr. said Crowell has been “literally dominant” this fall, and he’s been the biggest surprise on the team.
Two other true freshman who could push for innings are RHP Jackson Nezuh and lefty Ross Dunn. Nezuh has serious extension that makes his 90-93 heat play up, but he needs to develop a better breaking ball. Dunn has been 91-95 with a swing-and-miss power curveball at 82 mph. Simmons, a second-year freshman two-way talent, worked at 90-94 with sink and a good changeup in the fall.
And then there are the veterans. 4YR JR Tyler Ahearn has always shown arm strength, and he has continued to show good stuff this fall, working at 92-95 with a good hard slider in the upper 80s. Command has held him back in the past, but perhaps he’s ready to put it all together in his fourth year in the program. Fellow 4YR JR righty Davis Hare has been 92-94 with heavy sink, and Belanger suggested he might be in the mix for a starting role. 4YR JR Kyle McMullen showed feel for three pitches in the scrimmage I saw, pitching at 88-91, but he’s been 90-92 in a number of his appearances this fall, and his tumbling changeup is a real weapon. Lefties Clayton Kwiatkowski and Jonah Scolaro plus sidewinding righty Chase Haney have boatloads of experience and offer different funky looks from some of the big power arms. Scolaro has also shown an uptick in velocity, working at 88-91 this fall. Freshman Andrew Armstrong is another low-slot lefty with good pitchability and an 87-89 fastball. With all these arms and so much variety, FSU should be able to mix and match on the mound as well as any team in college baseball.
Florida State will lean heavily on a host of unproven first- and second-year players on the mound, and that leads to some risk/reward potential when forecasting Florida State’s chances this spring. But the lineup is still packed with veterans who played every day for the 2019 Omaha team, including Nelson, Robby Martin, Albert, De Sedas and Cabell. And for all its youth, the pitching staff has some Omaha veterans left over too (led by Kwiatkowski, Haney, Grady and Scolaro). So Florida State needs to be much better on offense and defense than it was in the shortened 2020 campaign, but there’s every reason to believe it will be, because lineups with this much experience and this much talent typically find a way to figure it out.