Jan. 27, 2003
This year’s Florida State baseball team will look to improve on a 2002 season that saw the Seminoles come up one game short of reaching the College World Series. FSU set a school record with a 25-game winning streak last year while tying an ACC mark with 60 wins in a season. This year’s squad will not only try and defend their ACC Championship, but will attempt to return to Omaha after a two-year hiatus for a chance at the national championship. The Seminoles open the season in St. Petersburg (Florida Power Park) with a three-game series against VMI. Game times are set for 7:00 p.m. Friday and 1:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
Four preseason All-Americans lead the way in 2003. Senior left-hander Matt Lynch (13-2, 3.59 ERA), drafted in the seventh round by the San Diego Padres, chose to return to school and will anchor the pitching staff as the No. 1 starter. Senior Daniel Hodges (12 saves, 2.56 ERA) is back as the team’s closer and junior Tony Richie (.353, 13 HR, 75 RBI) will start for the third year at catcher. Sophomore Stephen Drew (.402, 16 HR, 54 RBI), the 2002 Baseball America Freshman of the Year, returns at shortstop and is regarded by many as the top player in the country at his position.
“It all starts with pitching,” said head coach Mike Martin. “Matt Lynch coming back was as big as anything we’ve had happen to us last year. When you return a Matt Lynch, you return experience. We’ve got a good group of veterans and some talented young players that will be asked to step in and contribute. But, we have a lot of work ahead of us if we want to get back to Omaha and contend for a national title. We will have to continue to get better as the season progresses and hopefully avoid any significant injuries.”
Always one of the top staffs in the nation, Florida State should once again have a very good group of pitchers in 2003. The Seminoles led the ACC with an ERA of 3.96 a year ago and returns two weekend starters in Matt Lynch and junior right-hander Marc LaMacchia (11-2, 3.38 ERA). Junior lefty Trent Peterson (4-2, 3.35 ERA) is expected to open as the No. 3 starter. Peterson will be challenged by Mark Sauls, a hard-throwing freshman who was drafted in the third round by the Minnesota Twins out of high school.
“We have a veteran pitching staff and they are all very good competitors,” said Martin. “Getting Lynch back was the key. Every Friday night, you know the guy that takes the mound has been doing it for two years. The second guy (LaMacchia) has been doing it for two years. So it gives you a good feeling, but at the same time, now we’ve got to look at Mark Sauls or Trent Peterson as our third and fourth starters and that’s where we are with that situation. One of them will probably emerge as the third starter, the other one the fourth starter, which would then position us for the future.”
Hodges returns as the closer and is the most experienced pitcher in a deep Seminole bullpen. Sophomore right-hander Kevin Lynch (4-1, 4.64 ERA) and senior left-hander Daniel Davidson (6-0, 4.33 ERA) each pitched important innings a year ago and should see even more innings in 2003. Senior right-hander Chris Whidden (4-1, 2.56 ERA) is the only other returnee and he may also see action as a reserve in a thin FSU outfield. Mark Sauls leads a group of eight new pitchers looking to make an immediate impact in their first year in the garnet and gold.
“Hodges will come in and try to close the ball game again this year,” He did a very good job last season and he’s a guy that enjoys his role very much.”
BEHIND THE PLATE
For the third straight season, the catching duties will be handled by one of the nation’s best in junior Tony Richie. He finished 2002 with 75 RBI and will have a chance to improve on that total this year as he is expected to take over as the clean-up hitter. Named the top defensive catcher in the conference as well as the catcher with the best arm by Baseball America, Richie led the ACC with six pick-offs. He will be backed up by sophomore Aaron Cheesman, who will also see time at designated hitter.
“Tony Richie is a two-year starter and he has an excellent knowledge of the game,” said Martin. “He does an outsanding job of working with our pitchers. We are also very fortunate to have a young man like Aaron Cheesman that you can count on to come in and do a good job behind the plate.”
AROUND THE INFIELD
Sophomore shortstop Stephen Drew anchors the Florida State infield and he will be joined on the left side by freshman Eddy Martinez-Esteve, who also turned down third round money out from the Seattle Mariners out of high school to enroll at FSU. Stephen kept the Drew legacy going as he had one of the finest freshmen seasons in school history. Martinez-Esteve has already established himself as one of the team’s top hitters and is still adjusting to third base after playing in the outfield in high school. Senior Jerrod Brown (.327, 4 HR, 56 RBI) returns at first base after a solid junior season in which he earned second team All-ACC honors. Freshman Danny Wardell will serve as Brown’s backup at first. The starting job at second base is still up for grabs and the Seminole coaching staff could go with one of four candidates there. Junior Bryan Zech (.294, 2 HR, 38 RBI) started 70 of FSU’s 74 games at second last year, but mistakes in the field have opened the door for others to step up. Sophomore Kevin Richmond (.267, 13 RBI), senior Chris Hart (.262, 6 RBI) and freshman Brandon Manasa will all be competing with Zech to get into the starting lineup. Hart has also played first base and third base during his career and could time at the positions as well.
“We return three starters in the infield and they are a veteran group as well,” said Martin. “There’s not much you need to say about Stephen Drew. There have been a lot of outstanding players come in here and make contributions as freshmen, but not to the extent that he did. He’s a difference-maker. We’ll go with Martinez-Esteve at third and we get Brown back at first base. Second base is still a question mark. We need to get some consistent play defensively there.”
IN THE OUTFIELD
Junior Tony McQuade (.376, 6 HR, 46 RBI) returns as the starter in left field and he will be joined in the outfield by a pair of newcomers. McQuade was second on the team in batting a year ago and will be expected to set the table at the top of the order this season. Two junior college transfers will start in their first year at FSU as Blake Balkcom takes over in right field and Matt Sauls gets the start in center field. Coach Martin has already labeled Balkcom’s arm from right field one of the best he’s ever seen. Balkcom’s bat will be counted on in the middle of the Seminole order and Sauls (Mark’s older brother) has the speed to close ground in center and make things happen on the base paths. The fourth outfielder is freshman Derrick Smith, a good hitter who will likely get into the lineup at designated hitter.
“Tony McQuade has established himself as an outstanding left fielder,” said Martin. “He has improved defensively and, obviously, he was one of our top hitters last season. We’ll count on him again this year. There are a couple question marks with the new guys in center and right, but Sauls and Balkcom continue to improve on a daily basis. They are both very talented and we expect good things from them.”