January 21, 1999
Florida State’s achievements have been difficult to top each year, but
somehow the Seminoles have attained a new level of success with each first
pitch on opening day. It is expected by players, coaches and fans, and 1999
will be no different.
Despite having lost their first five hitters, six seniors, and two
who signed professional contracts, Florida State has been tabbed No. 4 in
Baseball America’s Top 25 Preseason Poll.
“A lot of people think that we return an awful lot of players,”
coach Mike Martin. “If you look at our infield depth, only three of 16 have
ever played for Florida State and only two of five outfielders have ever
played for Florida State. We’re looking at only five of 21 players who have
ever played for Florida State. We’ve also lost the first five hitters from
last years lineup and 55 percent of our home runs. I think you can very
easily see that we’ve got an extremely young, new group of Seminoles.”
On the Mound
Florida State boasts a pair of Collegiate Baseball Preseason second
team All-Americans with Nick Stocks and Jon McDonald. Both are once again
expected to join the Seminoles’ starting rotation.
“The strength of our club, undoubtedly, is the pitching staff with the
returning players,” said Martin. “We’re very, very comfortable with the
pitching staff. We have a lot of experience and we’ve got a good nucleus that
starts with Stocks and McDonald.”
Stocks, a Baseball America Freshman All-American, led the Atlantic Coast
Conference with a 2.35 ERA last season and also was a member of Team USA
last summer. McDonald led the Seminoles with a 10-4 record in 1998 and
garnered Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-America and second Team All-ACC
honors. He was also a teammate of Stocks on Team USA.
The third spot in the Seminoles’ weekend starting rotation could be
competition between several pitchers.
“There are a couple of people who have surfaced and are looking
pretty good,” commented Martin. “Mike Smalley is a young man who can
figure prominently this year. He’s got a year under his belt and pitched
pretty good in the fall.”
Smalley pitched just 17.1 innings and appeared in 16 games last
gained experience playing summer baseball in the Virginia Valley League.
“Blair Varnes is also a young man who we’re looking at to help us, said
Martin. “Jason Hubbard has got a lot of improving to do, but we’re going to
keep a real close watch on him.”
Varnes redshirted last year after undergoing elbow surgery and is
expected to be ready to open the season and battle for a spot in the
rotation. Hubbard is still trying to return to 100 percent after coming
back from shoulder surgery last year. He was penciled into the Tribe’s
starting rotation in the 1998
preseason before his injury.
Senior righthander Chris Chavez, who has pitched in a number of big
games over his career, will also fight for a spot in the starting rotation.
Chavez also threw the Seminoles’ first no-hitter in 10 seasons against
Charleston Southern last year.
“Chris Chavez is a gutty pitcher and an outstanding competitor,”
Coaches also have their eye on freshman Chris Whidden, most likely
in middle relief, but he could also figure in as a starter.
“Chris Whidden has thrown a cut fastball very, very well and it’s a
dominating pitch if you can throw it in the strikezone, which he’s been
doing,” commented Martin.
Martin also hopes junior righthander John Bentley will return to
this year after a shoulder operation following last season. Bentley has won
12 games in 16 starts over the last two years. Senior lefthander Zach Diaz,
who missed fall practice due to an elbow injury, also is excepted to return to
his spot as a middle reliever on the Seminoles’ staff. Diaz has led Florida
State in appearances in each of the last three seasons.
The closer will be lefthander Mike DiBlasi who recorded four saves and
posted the lowest ERA on last year’s Seminole squad with a 1.14.
Behind the Plate
The vacant spot behind the plate is probably Florida State’s
biggest hole to
fill after losing three-year starter and All-American Jeremy Salazar. Senior
Jeremiah Klosterman is the only catcher on the 1999 squad with any Division I
collegiate experience. Klosterman will be pushed by freshman Chris Hart and
junior transfer J.C. Huguet.
“The biggest concern that I have on this baseball team is behind
said Martin. “It’s going to be a three-horse race — Jeremiah Klosteman, Chris
Hart and J.C. Huguet. Klosterman gives you experience. Hart and Huguet are
both very good receivers. We’re looking forward to seeing how the battle
Around the Infield
Martin will field an extremely young infield with just two years of
experience between the four positions.
“First base will be one of three people with Kevin Cash having the
track,” said Martin. “John Halliday and Ryan Barthemely are also in the
running for the job. The designated hitter will come from one of the two who
does not start. We need to keep our eyes peeled to this situation, because it
could be that we try to get all three guys in the lineup. I think that
Barthemely and Halliday can give us much needed power. We just have to be
sure we get them enough reps to develop them.”
At second base, newcomers Sam Scott and Bobby Spano will battle for the
position. “I expect that Scott will probably be the starter, but Spano will
play an awful lot both at second and shortstop,” Martin said.
Sophomore Brett Groves returns at shortstop but coaches say he needs to
improve offensively. “He’s got to be more of a ‘Jose Zabala’ type of player
and get on base,” commented Martin. “He’s got to get on base for us.”
At third base, junior transfer Marshall MacDougall is expected to start.
“He’s a young man that has been very impressive and is very solid
defensively,” said Martin. Freshman Mike Futrell will back McDougall up and
could also see action in the outfield.
In the Outfield
Matt Diaz, the 1998 Sporting News Freshman of the Year, returns to his
rightfield position and has been tabbed a Collegiate Baseball Preseason third
team All-American. Diaz, the NCAA Atlantic II Regional MVP and FSU
freshman home run record holder, looks to be the anchor of the Seminole
Sophomore Karl Jernigan will move over from leftfield into the
spot this season after batting .308 with 42 RBI in his rookie year. “Jernigan
looks very good,” commented Martin. “He’s matured and we’re very excited
about what he brings to the ball club.”
Freshman Chris Smith is expected to start in leftfield. “Smith has
got a lot of speed and throws well,” said Martin. “He will be a young man
who we look
at to come in and close some games for us.”
Freshmen John-Ford Griffin and Clint Thigpen, as well as Futrell,
as backup outfielders.
The Season Ahead
As in the custom with Florida State baseball, the Seminoles face a
schedule in 1999. Florida State will face eight teams that are ranked 17th or
higher in Baseball America’s Preseason Top 25 Poll. In fact, 26 games on the
Seminoles’ schedule are against those teams. No. 12 Arizona State will be
first on the slate as the Sun Devils travel to Tallahassee on February 5-7.
“I think the schedule will definitely get us prepared quickly
playing Arizona State, a team that played in the National Championship game
last year, in the second series of the season,” said Martin.