January 25, 2004 - by
Florida StateTo Open Season Against VMI

Jan. 25, 2004

In his 25th season as Florida State’s head baseball coach, Mike Martin will field one of his youngest squads ever when the Seminoles take the field on January 31st in the opener against VMI. Martin must replace all three starters in the weekend rotation as well as closer Daniel Hodges. Junior Aaron Cheesman might have the biggest shoes to fill as he steps in for Johnny Bench Award finalist Tony Richie at catcher. The cupboard isn’t completely bare as junior All-American shortstop Stephen Drew returns to the lineup along with Eddy Martinez-Esteve, a 2003 freshman All-American who led the team with a .371 batting average a year ago. Sophomores Mark Sauls (5-0, 3.27 ERA) and Hunter Jones (2-0, 2.53 ERA) have nailed down the top two spots in the rotation. The outlook below reviews each position and the season with thought from Coach Martin included in each section.


The Seminoles lost four starting pitchers (Matt Lynch, Trent Peterson, Daniel Davidson and Marc LaMacchia) and their closer (Daniel Hodges) to graduation and the draft. Those five pitchers combined to go 39-7 last season. Sophomore Mark Sauls, a third round pick out of high school in 2003, will move into the weekend rotation along with Rhett James and Hunter Jones. James, who worked out of the bullpen last year, gained starting experience in the Cape Cod League over the summer led the league in victories.

According to Martin:
“We will look at Mark Sauls, Rhett James and Hunter Jones in the weekend rotation. Glen Simon will be a late arrival after shoulder surgery. Eddie Cannon can also start and we’ve been very impressed with some of the freshmen. Brian Chambers and Tyler Chambliss both pitched very well in the fall and Brian Shultz is a freshman who will be used in relief. The guy that I keep leaving out is probably the most important guy on the staff and that’s Kevin Lynch. Guys that can help us, whether that’s this year we don’t know, are DiCarlo Thompson and we’ve got to get help out of Matt DiBlasi – he’s got to be able to come in and help us get left-handed hitters out. Frank Radziwon is another lefty that can help us. I really don’t remember having such an inexperienced pitching staff unless you go back to 1990 when we were very, very young. That was Ricky Kimball’s freshman year along with a few other guys that went on to be very good for us.”

Daniel Hodges is gone after leading the team with 12 saves in 2003. Junior Kevin Lynch, who was 3-1 with a 2.59 ERA last season, is one of several candidates in line to replace Hodges.

According to Martin:
“We have not decided on a closer yet. We know that Rhett and Kevin are both going to be throwing a lot. Rhett is a type of guy that can pitch on Friday and start Sunday. That’s something that we’re considering. Kevin Lynch is a guy that can go two innings and we would use him more in that role I think than we would a one-inning guy. I don’t see us starting off like we did last year when Daniel Hodges would work the ninth inning only. There’s a possibility we aim for that whether it be with two guys or one guy.”

The infield is anchored by All-American shortstop Stephen Drew, who is just as impressive with his glove as he is his bat. Senior Bryan Zech has been the starter at second base for the better part of three years and teams with Drew to give the Seminoles an experienced double play duo. The corners will feature two new starters as Jerrod Brown was lost to graduation and Eddy Martinez-Esteve moved from third base to right field during the offseason.

According to Martin:
“Danny Wardell will be the guy we look to start at first base. I’ve been very impressed with Luis Rojas. He’s going to give Danny a good battle there. At second base, it will be Bryan Zech, Brandon Manasa or Ryne Malone. Malone can play second or third and his bat could get him in the lineup. Manasa, of course, can play any of the three spots. I don’t think I need to mention anything about shortstop. We know who will play shortstop, but the backup there is going to be very important. I would think Manasa will get the majority of the time there behind Drew. Third base will be a freshman. It will be Dennis Anderson or Malone. Both of them did very well in the fall. Gibbs Chapman can play second base and is a guy who is going to play a lot for us. We may move him to the outfield.”

The Seminoles must replace two of the three starting outfielders from 2003. Tony McQuade and Blake Balkcom were drafted following their junior seasons and signed Major League contracts. Senior Matt Sauls returns after starting in center field last season and he will either play center or left. Martinez-Esteve must adjust to his new position in right field, but will bring more to the plate offensively than Balkcom.

According to Martin:
“Matt Sauls is a guy who can play left field or center field. Shane Robinson will either play center or left and Sauls will play the other. Martinez-Esteve will play right field. Derrick Smith is a guy that is being looked at to hit for us. Derrick needs to have a good year. He could play some left field as well. Martinez-Esteve is 100% now and should be ready to go.”

Maybe the biggest loss of from the 2003 squad was that of All-American catcher Tony Richie, who signed with the Chicago Cubs after being drafted in the fourth round following his junior year. Aaron Cheesman is the most experienced candidate to replace Richie and he is the front-runner to replace the three-year starter.

According to Martin:
“Behind the plate, Aaron Cheesman was the most impressive of the catchers during the fall. The other two guys (Raul Rodriguez and Danny Diaz) will push him. That position is wide open, but Cheesman won it in the fall.”

No different than in year’s past, Florida State will take on one of the toughest schedules in college baseball. In addition to 24 ACC games against what many believe is the best conference in country, the Seminoles will take on Arizona State, Miami (six times), Florida and three strong teams in the Metrodome Tournament.

According to Martin:
“I think what we have to remember about college baseball at Florida State is that back in the 1990’s, we weren’t in a strong conference. It was a good conference, but it did not have the power that the Atlantic Coast Conference has. Sure, we were playing Miami and Florida, but we still are. Now, we’ve added Clemson and Georgia Tech and these other outstanding baseball schools to it. That’s why this year is so much of a challenge. We didn’t play Arizona State back then either.”

“Obviously, we lost the entire starting rotation and our closer. Then a guy that was our No. 1 last year before he got hurt signs during the summer. I think that this team has a chance to be very good, but we’ve got to be patient. The schedule does not give us a chance to find out a lot about our club. I don’t think it’s fair to say that the series at Arizona State is a big series. This club has got to learn how to play on the road and how to handle adversity. When you are going to start as many young guys and new guys as we are, the key word is patience. We could start a freshman at third, second, catcher, center field and have a new guy in left. That could happen along with new starting pitchers. You learn about people after they’ve experienced success or failure. This club, being so young, you’re not going to come back from Arizona State and talk about how good you are or about how bad you are.”

ON Stephen Drew
Stephen Drew is a complete baseball player. He needs to understand how important his legs are to the offense. He needs to bunt more and needs to work on extra hard on his base stealing. He’s a guy that can creates so many problems when he gets on first base. That’s what we’ve got to convince him of.

1B – Wardell, Rojas
2nd – Zech, Gibbs Chapman
SS – Drew, Manasa
3B – Anderson or Malone
CF – Shane Robinson/Sauls
LF – Robinson/Sauls then Smith
RF – Eddy
C – Cheesman
DH – Smith

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