FSU a promising mix of youth, experience
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida State returns its entire infield and a pair of preseason All-Americans in center fielder James Ramsey and first baseman Jayce Boyd.
There is little doubt that the Seminoles will have a loaded lineup and will be strong defensively.
But how FSU fares in 2012 will rest on the shoulders of the Seminoles’ young pitchers. FSU will use three freshmen and a sophomore as its top four starters, with freshman left-hander Brandon Leibrandt earning the opening day start on Friday against Hofstra at 4 p.m.
“None of this rotation is sealed in concrete, but they have pitched well enough to deserve an opportunity,” FSU coach Mike Martin said. “That’s the way we’ve tried to do things at Florida State. I’m anxious to see how they do this weekend.”
Leibrandt will be the first true freshman to get the ball on opening day since Martin began coaching at FSU in 1980. As a senior last season at Alpharetta (Ga.) Marist High, Leibrandt went 13-0 with a 0.71 ERA and helped his team win its second consecutive state title.
If the last name sounds familiar, it is: Brandon is the son of Charlie Leibrandt, a left-hander who won 140 major league games with Cincinnati, Kansas City, Atlanta and Texas from 1979-93. And Brandon is a similar type of pitcher in many ways: a tall lefty who doesn’t overpower but is poised and locates his pitches (four-seam fastball, cut slider and change-up).
“I’m going to try and make the guys get themselves out,” Leibrandt said. “Hit my spots as best I can. Change speeds, keep it low, and let the defense do the rest.”
Sophomore lefty Peter Miller, the veteran of the starters with 3.1 innings under his belt, will get the start on Saturday. Freshman right-hander Mike Compton will start on Sunday, and freshman righty Luke Weaver will pitch against Jacksonville on Tuesday night.
FSU lost its ace, junior left-hander Sean Gilmartin, who was a first-round draft choice of the Atlanta Braves. Junior Scott Sitz will open as the closer, and FSU’s other top returning pitchers, including Hunter Scantling, Brian Busch and Robert Benincasa, will open the season in the bullpen.
Martin and new pitching coach Mike Bell have said that the returning pitchers are improving but the preference is to give the younger pitchers an opportunity.
“We have a lot of young guys that we will be looking at,” Martin said. “We have some impressive freshmen, and they are going to get the ball. And if they fail, they are going to get the ball again. They are a group that we feel can get better as the year goes on.”
One of the reasons FSU can take a chance with the young pitchers is that the Seminoles return their entire infield. Third baseman Sherman Johnson, shortstop Justin Gonzalez, second baseman Devon Travis and first baseman Jayce Boyd make up arguably the best infield in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Travis, who hit .329 last season and led the team with 26 doubles, will again lead off. He scored 58 runs in 2011 – an average of nearly a run per game – but did it on a bad left knee. After surgery in the offseason, Travis said he feels like a new man.
“I definitely forgot what it feels like (to be healthy),” Travis said. “It’s a good feeling. I feel like my first step is a little bit quicker than it was now that I got my knee fixed.”
In the outfield, Ramsey moves from right field to center. Junior Seth Miller takes over in right, and freshman Jose Brizuela will open in left field.
The return of Ramsey provided a huge boost for the Seminoles. A 22nd-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins, Ramsey led FSU in batting average (.364) and RBIs (67) and was tied with graduated outfielder Mike McGee for the team lead in home runs (10). Ramsey also reached base in 63 of FSU’s 65 games in 2011.
Martin made the decision in August to make Ramsey the team captain, the first time Martin has named a player as captain.
“I came back to play with this team,” said Ramsey, who made the Cape Cod League All-Star team last summer. “It’s a big honor, something I’ve always looked forward to, being the captain of this team. All I have to do is just continue to do what I’ve done in the past.”
FSU’s past is a history as one of college baseball’s top programs. The Seminoles have made 32 consecutive NCAA Regional appearances under Martin, and FSU has advanced to the Super Regional round in 11 of 13 seasons since the format changed in 1999.
The Seminoles are looking for their 21st trip to the College World Series, and of course are still in search of their first national title.
FSU fell short of playing in Omaha, Neb., last year when Texas A&M defeated FSU by winning two of three in the Super Regional in Tallahassee. The loss was clearly motivation throughout the offseason for the Seminoles.
“We want to get back to Omaha, we want to win Omaha and we didn’t like the way we lost last year,” Johnson said. “The second game we came back and we won, we thought we were going to win the third game, and it just didn’t happen. We’re definitely focused on getting back to where we should be.”