TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Expectations are nothing new for Florida State’s baseball program.
Coach Mike Martin has prepared for such during a brilliant 37-year career in charge of the Seminoles.
However, this season there’s a different buzz in the air around Dick Howser Stadium. Florida State comes into the year with the pieces to make a serious run at the school’s first national title.
“I need to get this off my chest, this is a good club and there’s no way for me to try and hide it,” Martin said prior to his team’s first official practice of 2017. “I think what we have to remember is, so is everyone else in this league (the Atlantic Coast Conference).”
That was FSU’s mindset during the offseason.
The Seminoles know the makings of a complete team are present, but they’ll have to earn their glory. With many key pieces returning, FSU finds itself ranked in the top-five of nearly every preseason poll.
“We’ve handled (expectations) really well because we always have really high expectations,” senior Quincy Nieporte said. “‘Eleven’ does a really good job of teaching the young guys to drown out the media expectations, because every year we have to have the mindset to earn what we want.”
The reason for optimism begins with the lineup, where the Seminoles return six hitters to an attack that averaged .294 as a team in 2016. Back are the likes of Taylor Walls, Cal Raleigh, Jackson Lueck and Dylan Busby. With so many weapons, opposing head coaches will have their hands full trying to figure out how keep FSU at bay.
“I always like to feel like I’m in the other dugout,” Martin said with a smile. “If I’m facing Florida State, I don’t like that feeling.”
“The sky is the limit, I think the whole line-up can hit over .300,” sophomore Cal Raleigh added. “We have all the hitters, the ceiling is high.”
Insert into the lineup heralded freshman, Drew Mendoza, and the FSU offense could be one of the best in recent school history. The 6-4 infielder from Lake Minneola, Fla., was rated as the No. 36 overall prospect in the 2016 MLB Draft.
Instead of negotiating with professional teams and likely being selected in the first round, the freshman decided to live out his lifelong dream of being a Seminole.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Mendoza said with a big grin. “Some guys dream of going to the MLB, my dream was to put on the garnet and gold. It’s in my blood, both of my parents went to Florida State. Just putting on the practice gear today gave me chills. I’ve been waiting a really long time to do this.”
On the mound, Florida State has more reasons to feel confident as all three members of their weekend rotation return for 2017. Drew Carlton, Tyler Holton, and Cole Sands all impressed down the stretch of the 2016 season. The trio will be counted on to deliver on the hill this season.
“(We have) loads of confidence, we’re all comfortable with each other and know each other,” Holton said. “To have that leadership, not just in the starting rotation but in the bullpen, is huge for a team.”
“It’s very comforting, it’s nice to know who will be there, and what they throw,” Raleigh added. “They’re all one year better than they were last season. They’ve been working hard on a lot of stuff, so I think they’ll all have very good years.”
The bullpen also returns key cogs such as Jim and Ed Voyles, Alec Byrd, and Chase Haney, among others.
The experience on the mound has the Seminoles feeling prepared for every situation heading into the season.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever had everyone coming back (starters),” Martin said. “Right now, the question is who closes for us, but we have a number of candidates. We’ve got an experienced pitching staff which certainly makes us feeling good about beginning the season.”
With just under three weeks remaining from Opening Day, the Seminoles are eager to fine-tune themselves in preparation for a run to the school’s 22nd trip to Omaha. The potential has the Noles brimming with enthusiasm.
“We have to be sure we understand that we have to keep moving upward,” Martin said. “There’s a lot of hard work to do. We have one goal that we’ve had for 43 years, and that’s to get to Omaha.
“This club has the ability to get to Omaha.”