Leading the way offensively will be senior All-ACC first baseman Ryan Barthelemy, who hit .343 last year with 14 home runs and 72 RBI. Barthelemy had an outstanding summer in the Cape Cod League, earning All-Star honors after hitting .310 with five home runs. Senior All-American Blair Varnes, one of the most experienced pitchers in the country, anchors the Seminole pitching staff. Varnes has held down a spot in the FSU weekend rotation in each of his three years and has a career record of 31-7, a win total that already ranks seventh in school history.
“We have a chance to be pretty good,” said head coach Mike Martin. “Last year nobody expected anything and we came within one inning, so to speak, if getting back to the College World Series. This year we’ve got to be able to stay consistent and hopefully avoid injury. The big thing we’ve got to understand is that to be great, you don’t walk into it, you have to really work.”
The Florida State pitching staff, which ranked ninth nationally in 2001 with an earned run average of 3.47, should once again be among the nation’s elite this year. All five pitchers that started a game last season (Varnes, Matt Lynch, Robby Read, Trent Peterson and Marc LaMacchia) are back with another year of experience under their belt. Varnes, who went 9-1 with a 3.61 ERA and a team-high 93 strikeouts last season, will likely hold down the No. 1 spot in the rotation. Lynch, a lefty who was second in the rotation last year, is expected to start on the weekends as well. Lynch was listed by ESPN’s Peter Gammons as the No. 2 pitching prospect in the Cape Cod League over the summer after going 3-2 with a 1.59 ERA, striking out 63 and walking only eight. Junior right-hander Robby Read, who started 15 games a year ago and went 7-5, will be battling sophomores Trent Peterson and Marc LaMacchia for the third spot in the rotation. Peterson and LaMacchia finished their rookie seasons with records of 5-1 and 5-2, respectively.
“There’s no question the key to our season is going to be how well we pitch,” said Martin. “Last year, without a doubt, that was the key to our season. I think this year we are looking at a rotation of three of these five guys – Varnes, Lynch, Read, LaMacchia and Peterson. Barring injury, Varnes is our number one guy. He was our number one last year.”
In junior Daniel Hodges, the Seminoles have one of the top middle relievers in the country. Hodges logged 59 innings to lead all FSU relievers and went 4-3 with an ERA of 3.05 last year. He had a strikeout to walk ration of almost 4:1 (55 strikeouts, 15 walks). Junior Eric Roman will close for the Tribe after leading the team with a 0.89 ERA in 2001. Roman appeared in 27 games and posted a record of 4-2 with one save. Also seeing time out of the FSU bullpen will be juniors Chris Whidden and Daniel Davidson along with freshmen Justin Miller, Jason Newlin, Kevin Lynch and Brent Marsh.
“We aren’t sure how we are going to use Daniel Hodges yet,” said Martin. We know he will get a lot of innings, we just aren’t sure if that will be in the role he has been in the last two years as a middle guy or a set-up guy. Daniel Davidson is also a guy who we will look to for some help. We will close with Eric Roman. Another guy that impressed me a lot in the fall was Kevin Lynch, who I think has the makings of a good middle guy.”
BEHIND THE PLATE
Tony Richie returns at catcher after earning freshman All-American honors last season. Richie was one of the Tribe’s top hitters down the stretch in 2001, going 24-for-49 (.490) with one home run, six doubles, eight runs and 13 RBI in his last 12 games. He was named to both the ACC and NCAA Regional All-Tournament teams. Baseball America’s only two-time high school All-American, Richie is also one of the nation’s best behind the plate defensively. Seminole catchers threw out just 24% (26-110) of opposing base stealers before his arrival in 2000, a number that doubled (48%, 37-71) in Richie’s freshman campaign last year. Backing up Richie will be senior Blair McCaleb and redshirt freshman Aaron Cheesman. McCaleb and Cheesman could also see action at designated hitter.
“This is a position that is probably one of the strongest areas on the team,” said Martin. “We have Tony Richie returning and two guys in Blair McCaleb and Aaron Cheesman that are both capable of stepping in and catching for us. I was very impressed with the way Tony improved last year.”
AROUND THE INFIELD
Senior Ryan Barthelemy anchors the Florida State infield as he returns at first base after an All-ACC season in 2001. Barthelemy, who is an outstanding defensive first baseman, will also hit cleanup in the order. He is the team’s top returning home run hitter after totaling 14 last year and ranks second all-time with five career College World Series home runs. At second base, sophomore Bryan Zech returns after starting 56 games last year. Zech hit .282 in his first season, but must cut down on the fielding errors. A pair of freshmen will likely open as the starters on the left side of the infield. Highly touted Stephen Drew, J.D.’s younger brother, will take over at shortstop for four-year starter Brett Groves. Drew was an 11th round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates and turned down a very lucrative offer to sign with the Seminoles. At third base, Kevin Richmond had an impressive showing during fall practice and is penciled in as the starter. Richmond, who has a very strong arm, led off the Garnet & Gold game (which concludes fall workouts) with a home run. Sophomore Jeff Probst could play second, third or shortstop after playing in a total of 57 games at each of those three positions last season. Scott Toole, like Probst, will see time at those three infield positions as well. Chris Hart, who could also play third, will back up Barthelemy at first along with Jerrod Brown. Both Hart and Brown could also see time at designated hitter. Freshman Kevin Lynch will also push for playing time at third base.
“Ryan Barthelemy will start at first and he is the leader of our team,” said Martin. “He is the epitome of a Seminole baseball player. Barthelemy could play third, but we just fell the way Kevin Richmond played in the fall that he can help us and we are going to play him. I have not made a final decision yet on who will play third and second. Bryan Zech is not sealed in concrete at second base. A guy that could play second, short or third and is one of the most valuable players on our team is Jeff Probst. He played great for us a freshman and I wouldn’t hesitate to use him. There’s no doubt who our starting shortstop is and that’s Stephen Drew. There’s no need to play games, this young man brings a lot to the table. We just have to teach him a lot about how we play the game. With Barthelemy at first and Drew at short, it could be Richmond at third and Zech at second, or it could flip with Zech at third and Richmond at second.”
IN THE OUTFIELD
Despite the loss of All-American John-Ford Griffin in left field, the Seminoles have one of the best outfields in the ACC. Sophomore Tony McQuade has worked hard during the offseason with the strength coaches to improve his strength and speed as he steps in for Griffin in left. Senior Nick Rogers, who started in right field last season, moves over to center to take over for Karl Jernigan. Rogers was second on the team with a .351 batting average and 20 stolen bases in 2001. Senior Mike Futrell, who hit .345 with eight home runs last year, will be the everyday starter in right field. Futrell has seen time in left and right field, as well as DH over his three-year career. Senior Richie Smith will be the fourth outfielder and could play any of the three positions. Smith will also be a candidate at designated hitter. Newcomers Tommy Stewart and Rocky Roquet could also see time in the outfield.
“We’re going with Tony McQuade in left field,” said Martin. “He’ll be the starter until somebody beats him out. I did something last year that I haven’t ever done. I told Tony that he has made himself into a pretty good outfielder and left field will be your job until somebody runs you out of it. Tony’s gotten a lot stronger and his speed has improved. We just want him to be more aggressive at the plate this year. We’ll move Nick Rogers to center and we’ll put Mike Futrell in right. Rogers gives us the same kind of speed we had last year with Karl Jernigan in center. Futrell gives us an experienced outfielder and I want him to be at the top of his game. Rogers did a good job in right last year, running a lot of balls down. He took a lot of pride at that position.”
THE SEASON AHEAD
The Seminoles get an early start this year with a trip to Hawaii to open the season. After nine games in Hawaii, FSU returns to Tallahassee to face a pair of Pac-10 powers in Stanford and Arizona State. In addition to a challenging ACC schedule, the Tribe will play six games against Miami and three games against Florida. Florida State’s schedule ranks as one of the most difficult in the country year in and year out.
“The Hawaii trip allows student-athletes an opportunity to see parts of the country he might not ordinarily see. We want to get our pitchers further along and get ready for Stanford and Arizona State. I don’t think you’ll see Florida State have a better home schedule than we do this year,” said Martin. “To bring in Arizona State, Stanford, Miami and Florida, even though we only play them one time, is going to make for a very exciting year at Howser Stadium. We also host Georgia Tech in ACC play and they should be a top ten team as well.”
The ACC Tournament, scheduled for May 21-26, returns to St. Petersburg in 2002 where it enjoyed record attendance totals in 1997. If the Seminoles advance through NCAA Regional and NCAA Super Regional play, they could return to Omaha for the 19th time and 12th in the last 15 years. The College World Series will be held from June 14 to 22.
“Every team that I’ve coached at Florida State has been capable of going to Omaha,” said Martin. “Our goal is to get to the College World Series and obviously to win the national championship. That’s our goal.”