Jan. 18, 2001
23 Consecutive NCAA Regional Appearances
10 Top 10 Finishes in the Last 11 Seasons
19 50-win Seasons
11 College World Series Trips Over the Last 13 Years
Florida State baseball’s standard of success under Mike Martin has risen to the level that has fans and followers of the Seminoles expecting nothing less than a Top 10 finish, a 50-win season, an NCAA regional appearance and a June trip to the College World Series. This year’s edition of the Florida State Seminoles will open the 2001 season with each of those goals once again in place. Brett Groves, Karl Jernigan and Chris Ginn could be a part of the first senior class to make four consecutive trips to Omaha, and would like nothing better than to cap their Seminole careers with another shot at the national title in Rosenblatt Stadium after having finished the last two seasons ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the country.
FSU did lose one of the best ever to wear the garnet and gold in All-American Marshall McDougall, but Ryan Barthelemy and John-Ford Griffin should provide the needed punch in the middle of the FSU lineup. Sophomores Matt Lynch and Robby Read will be called on to take over for Mike Ziegler and Jon McDonald in the starting pitching rotation. Another top 10 recruiting class should help bolster a 2001 team determined to continue Florida State’s winning tradition.
A preseason All-American, junior right-hander Blair Varnes returns to the starting rotation for the third year and will open the season as the No. 1 starter. Varnes joined Mike Ziegler and Jon McDonald in winning double-digit games in 2000 as the Seminoles finished with the nation’s third lowest ERA.
Matt Lynch, a freshman All-American last year, will fill one of the other slots in the starting rotation. Lynch went 7-0 last year with an impressive 3.24 ERA as the No. 4 starter. Fellow sophomore Robby Read rounds out the rotation and should be ready for the challenge after throwing a complete game two-hitter against Central Florida in the NCAA Tallahassee Regional.
“We feel good about those three guys in the starting rotation,” said head coach Mike Martin. “Read and Lynch really gained some valuable experience last year in the postseason. We have not decided on a fourth starter. We’ll certainly look at freshmen Marc LaMacchia and Trent Peterson in that role.”
Senior Chris Ginn, sophomores Daniel Hodges and Nick Whidden headline a talented group of relievers. Ginn ranks among the top 10 all-time at FSU in relief appearances and Hodges earned freshman honorable mention All-America honors last year after recording a 2.49 ERA and three saves. Hodges finished with an impressive strikeout to walk ratio of 51 to 14. Nick Whidden made 26 appearances with a team-low 1.60 ERA, striking out 38 and walking just 12.
Chris Whidden, Nick’s twin brother, will be used in various relief situations if he is able to bounce back after shoulder surgery. Junior college transfer Justin Lord and sophomore Eric Roman are also slated to see time out of the bullpen. LaMacchia and Peterson could move into relief roles if they don’t end up in starting capacities.
Brent Pearson, a transfer from North Florida Community College, will get a chance to be the Seminole closer. Pearson is a submarine-style pitcher who was named the Panhandle Conference closer of the year as a sophomore.
“Pearson is being looked as a closer,” said Martin. “That is not sealed in concrete, he’s got to get it done.”
BEHIND THE PLATE
Drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the fifth round, freshman Tony Richie comes to FSU as one of the highest drafted players ever to sign with the Seminoles. Richie, a two-time prep All-American, batted cleanup for Team USA over the summer. The Jacksonville native will open the season as the starter at catcher.
“Tony will start behind the plate,” said Martin. “He’s got great potential. He throws extremely well and is improving daily in terms of receiving and blocking. He could very well take away a team’s running game. He’s a good one.”
Junior Blair McCaleb, who took over as the starter at catcher last year when Chris Hart went down with an injury, will battle freshman Aaron Cheesman for the No. 2 job. Cheesman had an outstanding prep career at Sarasota High School, where he hit .413 as a senior and earned first team 5A all-state honors.
AROUND THE INFIELD
The major shakeup in the Seminole infield this season is junior Ryan Barthelemy’s move from first base to third. Barthelemy started 69 of FSU’s 72 games last year at first base. An outstanding athlete at 6-3, 225, Barthelemy performed well in the fall and early spring at third after making the switch. He will be backed up by senior Scott Boyd, who saw time at third last year and played in 40 games a year ago.
“Barthelemy has shown me he can play third,” said Martin. “I have been very impressed with his play. He has good range and has shown a true arm. The thing you like about him is that you see the improvement because of the effort he puts in.”
Senior Brett Groves will open the season as the starting shortstop for the fourth straight year. Groves had a career-best year at the plate in 2000 with a .310 batting average, 46 RBI and 21 doubles. He was also the Seminoles’ top runner on the base paths, stealing an ACC-leading 34 bases. Groves has great range, but hopes for a little more consistency in the field.
There is a three-way battle between Jeff Probst, Scott Toole and Bryan Zech for the open job at second base. Toole is a transfer from Tallahassee Community College while Probst and Zech are true freshmen. Zech is the younger brother of former FSU standout infielder Scott Zech. Toole and Probst will see playing time as backups to Groves at shortstop as well.
“Hopefully Brett’s experience at shortstop will help out with a new second baseman,” said Martin. “Zech has shown young tendencies. He’s got to understand the game better. You have to remember he’s 18 years old. You have to remember that Brett came in here as a true freshman and held his own and has now been to three straight College World Series.”
Sophomore Chris Hart and freshman Chris Cole will likely platoon at first base. Hart, a former catcher, has been slowed by the broken leg he suffered early last season and by shoulder surgery. Cole was named first team designated hitter and the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year last year at Hernando High School.
“Hart is guy that brings experience to the table,” said Martin. “He has good hands, but has been hurt by the injuries. We want to get Cole in there against right-handers and give him a chance to show what he can do. He’s been very impressive in the fall.”
IN THE OUTFIELD
All-American John-Ford Griffin, who has led the team with a .400 or better batting average in each of the last two seasons, returns in left field for his junior season. Griffin has added weight and strength during the offseason, which should make him even more dangerous at the plate as a home run threat. Griffin will be backed up by freshman Tony McQuade, a 5A all-state performer and USA Today honorable mention All-American at Gainesville Buchholz.
In center field, Karl Jernigan returns as a four-year starter for the Tribe. Jernigan, who had his best offensive season as a Seminole in 2000 with a .332 batting average, could miss the first three to four weeks of the season following a wrist injury. In Jernigan’s absence, junior transfer Nick Rogers will likely get the start in center. Rogers was the Panhandle Conference Player of the Year in 2000 at Tallahassee Community College after hitting .389 with 14 HR.
“The loss of Jernigan is going to hurt,” said Martin. “We’ve got to get over that hump and get him back. When you are playing at Stanford and at Florida without one of your senior leaders, you’ve got some problems.”
Junior Mike Futrell will open the season as the starter in right field, but could get pushed by Rogers when Jernigan returns. Futrell went through a bit of a sophomore slump last year, hitting .284 after posting an average of .363 as a freshman. Another junior college transfer, Richie Smith, will also push for time in right. Smith is a lefty from Chipola Junior College with good speed and power.
THE SEASON AHEAD
After opening the season at home with a two-game series against Western Kentucky, FSU wastes no time in hitting the road to face national power Stanford. The Seminoles will take on the national runner-up from Feburary 9-11 in Palo Alto, California. After the Cardinal, FSU takes on preseason No. 13 Florida in a four-game series. The Seminoles enter ACC play following a three-game home set with Michigan State. In what is likely the most difficult stretch of games in one month that any team in the country will face, FSU hosts No. 5 Clemson for three games to open the month of April, then takes on No. 4 Miami in the usual six-game showdown in the middle of the month, concluding April with a three-game set at No. 1 Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
“Going to Stanford creates a lot of excitement for the guys,” said Martin. “Playing three games against a team of their caliber can do a lot for you. The same as it did for them when they came here last year. That team was ranked in the top three all year and we played well against them early. It gave both of us an incentive. We play at Stanford, then follow that with four games against one of our rivals in Florida. Throw that in there with six games against our other rival Miami and ACC play that features top five teams like Clemson and Georgia Tech and you see why we annually have a schedule that is rated as one of the toughest. We look forward to playing a schedule like this year in and year out.”
With several established veterans back and the addition of talented newcomers, the Seminoles will once again set their sights on a fourth straight trip to the College World Series and extending a nation-leading streak of consecutive Top 10 finishes to eight.
“I think this year we have a good mix of new guys and veterans,” said Martin. “I expect this team to get better each week. When you have new guys at catcher, first, second, possibly right and have two starters that have not been in the rotation, you have to expect to improve. If we continue to get better each week, when April rolls around we’ll be a very good baseball team. We need to dodge any further injuries. Losing Jernigan when we did, we just hope he’s able to get back in the lineup for the meat of the schedule. Getting to Omaha and making another run at it is once again our goal this season.”