Florida State returns four pitchers that made at least 10 starts in 2012 including three that started at least one game in Omaha at the College World Series. Brandon Leibrandt and Mike Compton were a formidable 1-2 punch for the Seminoles combining for 20 of Florida State's 50 wins last year as both eclipsed 90.0 innings. Leibrandt led the team in innings pitched (99.0) and strikeouts (83), while Compton led the ACC and tied for second nationally in wins with 12. Both hurlers earned preseason third team All-America accolades in 2013 from Louisville Slugger/Collegiate Baseball. Compton added a second award in 2013 as he was also named a third team Preseason All-American by the NCBWA.
Leibrandt made school history in 2012 becoming the first freshman to start an opening day game in the program's storied history. The Alpharetta, Ga., native pitched as the Seminoles' Friday night starter all season long in 2012 and will look to fill that role once again in 2013. The sophomore southpaw finished his first season ranked in the top 10 in the ACC in wins (t-4th), innings pitched (t-4th), strikeouts (t-9th) and ERA (10th). Leibrandt worked 5.0 or more innings in 14 of his 19 starts and did not allow a run five times. FSU was 14-5 in games that Leibrandt started.
After making an immediate impact in FSU's weekend rotation a season ago, Compton will miss the entire 2013 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery to his right elbow in February. The absence of Compton will open the door for the likes of senior Scott Sitz, junior Peter Miller and sophomore Luke Weaver to solidify the No. 2 spot behind Leibrandt. Sitz appeared in 17 games last year making 13 starts as the right hander went 4-3 with a 3.72 ERA. He saved what many considered to be his best performance of his FSU career against UCLA out in Omaha holding the Bruins to just one run on five hits in 6.2 innings of work in leading the Seminoles to a 4-1 victory in an elimination game at the CWS. He struck out eight Bruin hitters including striking out the side in the sixth after UCLA loaded the bases with nobody out. Miller was 5-2 with a 3.89 ERA in 10 starts, while Weaver went 1-0 with a 5.93 ERA and one save as he appeared in 16 games making six starts in his first collegiate season.
FSU returns eight pitchers who tallied at least 20.0 innings in 2012. Gage Smith will spearhead the bullpen after appearing in 39 games last year – a mark that led all FSU pitchers and tied for the most appearances in the ACC. Smith went 5-0 with three saves and a 2.89 ERA in his first full season as a reliever. From the left side, junior Brandon Johnson and sophomores Kyle Bird and Bryant Holtmann are expected to make significant contributions out of the bullpen in 2013.
A cast of new arms will also play a role in the staff's evolution in 2013. This year's class includes six pitchers, two of which are left handers (Dylan Silva and Billy Strode). Right handers Robby Coles, Hayden Jordan, Jameis Winston and Kenny Burkhead will also have a chance to leave an impression. With the loss of closer Robert Benincasa to the MLB Draft, look for Martin to use a variety of arms early on in the season to fill that role. But heading into the season opener against Rhode Island, Coles and Winston are the front runners to close up shop in the late innings.
Martin on the returning pitchers and this year's batch of newcomers:
"Everything is up in the air right now as far as our pitching in concerned. Anything past (Brandon) Leibrandt and (Scott) Sitz is a question for us. On the right side with (Luke) Weaver and (Peter) Miller, you have two possible starters that we are very impressed with. They have come back different looking guys and we are excited for what they bring to the table. We are going to use (Gage) Smith again in relief and we are going to use (Robby) Coles in relief from the right side. From the left side, we have been very impressed with (Kyle) Bird and (Bryant) Holtmann. Brandon Johnson has looked good and will be counted on to put in some innings this year. Billy Strode is another guy that we are hoping can contribute. But we are very excited to see if the closer surfaces during spring training. Jameis Winston is going to be looked as one of those fighting for the job. Leibrandt, Sitz, Miller and Weaver are the four we are looking at as our starters at this time."Martin on a returning cast that gained the opportunity to throw at the College World Series: "We've got a great deal of guys returning with experience of pitching in the College World Series, so that is very exciting for me. Those young men have been there. We want to see them make a bigger contribution this year because somebody has got to pick up where guys like Hunter Scantling, Brian Busch and Robert Benincasa left off. They did things last year to help this team achieve. All the guys have worked real hard this offseason to prepare for the upcoming year."
The Seminoles return five position starters from last year's squad that posted a .968 fielding percentage, good for the sixth-best mark in school history. Stephen McGee was a work horse behind the plate starting all 67 games while catching 576 innings out of a possible 598.1 total innings played. Justin Gonzalez is back for his senior campaign and has started 125 games at shortstop over the last two seasons. The senior captain has shown great range at the position and will be looked at to provide leadership out in the field. Jose Brizuela, who made 62 starts in left field as a freshman, will move to third base in 2013, while Seth Miller and Josh Delph, who played significant innings last year, will see playing time in the outfield.
For the fourth time in as many years, centerfield will be occupied by a new face. After three consecutive years of Tyler Holt and then a year each of Mike McGee and James Ramsey tracking down balls and calling the shots in center, the reins will be awarded to one of three possible candidates. Freshman D.J. Stewart is the front runner to earn the starting nod, but he is receiving competition from senior Seth Miller and freshman Ryan Valdes. Miller made 43 starts a season ago – 35 in right and four more in left – and covered a great deal of ground en route to a .988 fielding percentage. The Southport, Fla., native recorded three outfield assists and made just one error in 81 fielding chances.
With Jose Brizuela making the move to third base, Josh Delph is the only other returning Seminole with starting experience in the outfield. The Bartow, Fla., native emerged as a starter halfway through the season and finished his freshman campaign with 30 starts in right field and one in left. Delph has grown comfortable with the field dimensions on Mike Martin Field and has become a bit of an expert in reading balls off the right field screen. He should receive competition out in right field from junior college transfer Brett Knief. The starting nod in left field is a battle between two new faces in freshman Jameis Winston and JUCO transfer Marcus Davis.
The right side of the infield is also up for grabs after the loss of Jayce Boyd and Devon Travis to the MLB Draft. Freshmen John Sansone and Alvin Swoope have been battling it out at second base, while sophomore John Nogowski and junior college transfer Casey Smit are doing the same at first base. Of the four, Nogowski is the lone player with Division I playing experience as the Tallahassee native made two starts at first base in 2012. John Holland could also provide depth in the infield but nagging back problems could limit his playing time this season.
Depth is once again prevalent thanks in large part to this year's crop of newcomers. JUCO transfers Marcus Davis, Brett Knief and Casey Smit are all vying for playing time out in the field, while freshman JJ Gould will back-up Jose Brizuela at third. Sophomore Giovanny Alfonzo rounds out the infield depth and could fill in at second base, shortstop or third base. Behind the plate, Ladson Montgomery and Lee Howard will spell McGee from time to time reducing the number of innings caught by the Port St. Lucie, Fla., native in 2012.
Coach Martin on the strength of the team defending:
"With (Jose) Brizuela and (Justin) Gonzalez, you know what to expect from them, they have been there. John Sansone (second base) is a freshman and Casey Smit (first base) is a junior college transfer and they are going to need some time to get their feet under them. I am anxious to see how they adjust as we go through the season. John Nogowski is another guy that is competing at first base that I have been impressed with so far this offseason. I'm looking forward to seeing how our young guys and new faces mature before opening day. With our catcher (Stephen McGee), that's a nice feeling to know that he and Gonzalez are back. We will not catch Stephen McGee the number of innings he did last year; that is a promise. I pray he stays healthy, but Ladson Montgomery will be the back-up and will catch a lot of innings for Florida State this year. As far as the outfield with Seth and Josh back, they will be given every opportunity to start. DJ Stewart is going to play. We are very pleased with what we are seeing from Brett Knief and Marcus Davis. Both of those guys are going to play big roles on our team. It could be that Knief DH's against lefties and Marcus DH's against righties. Marcus and Brett have improved in the outfield and you never know we could get into a platoon situation. Jameis Winston has been very impressive as well."
Martin on having more JUCO players on this year's roster than in year's past:
"Knief, Davis and Smit will be counted on to play a lot this year. It is good that they have gotten some experience at the junior college level. But they are still freshman as far as I am concerned until they've played a few games. It is a lot different at this level then at the junior college level."