June 21, 1999 - by
1999 Seminoles Baseball Season Preview

January 21, 1999

  • Twenty-one consecutive NCAA Regional appearances.
  • Nine top 10 finishes in the last 10 seasons.
  • Seventeen 50-win seasons.
  • Nine College World Series trips over the last 12 years.

    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
    pitchers
    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,”
    said head
    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
    quite a
    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
    year, but
    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,”
    commented Martin.

    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
    form early
    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
    the plate,”
    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
    develops.”


    Around the Infield

    Martin will field an extremely young infield with just two years of
    starting
    experience between the four positions.

    “First base will be one of three people with Kevin Cash having the
    inside
    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
    lineup.

    Sophomore Karl Jernigan will move over from leftfield into the
    centerfield
    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,
    will serve
    as backup outfielders.


    The Season Ahead

    As in the custom with Florida State baseball, the Seminoles face a
    difficult
    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
    because we’re
    playing Arizona State, a team that played in the National Championship game
    last year, in the second series of the season,” said Martin.

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