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Coming in to spring practice, we all knew that Florida State's baseball roster was a little on the heavy side with 32 players. Now, after two weeks of practice, that roster has slimmed down to 30, and those players are not from positions the Seminoles could really afford to lose. Click here to read Drew's column this week.

Coming in to spring practice, we all knew that Florida State's baseball roster was a little on the heavy side with 32 players. Now, after two weeks of practice, that roster has slimmed down to 30, and those players are not from positions the Seminoles could really afford to lose.

Freshman outfielder and brother of former Noles Zach and MattE, Jonathan Diaz has decided to hang up his cleats. Diaz had been hampered by a hip and leg problem that was slowing down his progress in the field, so he chose quit baseball and focus on his real passion - music. More specifically, playing in a Christian rock band.

With Diaz's departure, FSU is dangerously low on outfielders with only freshman Derrick Smith backing up the starting trio of Tony McQuade, Mark Sauls, and Blake Balkcom.

McQuade has a recurring hip problem and Balkcom is coming off of minor knee surgery, so the need for quality backups is probably going to be a key to the season. Senior pitcher Chris Whidden, sophomore Kevin Lynch, and freshman infielder Brandon Manasa may be called on at times to provide relief for the starters or fill in if needed.


Sophomore shortstop Stephen Drew.
Junior college transfer and defensive standout Ryan 'Shug' Landers also chose to quit the team for undisclosed reasons. Landers was actively competing with Kevin Richmond for the starting job at second base and would have been a key late-inning defensive replacement even if he had lost the job to Richmond and the coaches and players were pretty surprised by Landers exit. Now, the Seminoles are looking for answers in an infield that once looked very deep. Bryan Zech, Manasa, and Chris Hart will probably all wind up as infield backups. Zech obviously has experience at second, Hart is best suited for a backup thirdbase role, and Manasa is a utility guy who could fill in anywhere if needed.


Starting catcher, junior Tony Richie.
One position where the Noles have a more than capable backup is at catcher. While still struggling at the plate, Aaron Cheesman has proven himself to be a very good defensive replacement for Tony Richie in 2002. Cheesman has been working on his swing, and should be able to hold down the fort if Richie goes down with an injury. Expect Cheesman to get his share of weekday-game starts since he will be the starting catcher in 2004 if the scouts are right and Richie goes high in June's amateur draft.

With 16 pitchers on the staff, the Seminoles should be fine as long as the injury bug stays away from the weekend rotation.


Junior pitcher Trent Peterson.
Matt Lynch and Marc LaMacchia have nailed down the Friday and Saturday starts while Trent Peterson is competing with freshman Mark Sauls for the third weekend start. A couple of other freshman hurlers to keep an eye on for the weekday games are Hunter Jones and Glen Simon. With experienced pitchers Daniel Hodges, Daniel Davidson, Chris Whidden, and Kevin Lynch for middle-late relief, the Tribe should be in good shape in 2003. With a little luck, the hardest decision for Coach Shouppe will be which freshman pitchers get left behind on the road games when the travel roster thins to twenty-five.

AROUND THE HORN

Stephen Drew has been taking a couple of days off while nursing a sore hip flexor, but says he'll be fine in a day or so. He's not alone in the nagging injury category as team trainer Jerry Hilker told me, "because of the cold weather, I've got a bunch of guys with sore hip flexors, hamstrings, and various other minor injuries."

FSU recruit Alex Boston visited Howser on Saturday with members of his family and looked to come away very impressed with the program and facilities. Boston, an outfielder from Bartow, FL is rated 72nd in TeamOne Baseball's High School Top-100. He's also being recruited as a defensive end for football. Other schools Boston has visited are Connecticut and Maryland and he will take his final visit to Florida next weekend.

J.D. Drew just signed a one-year $3.6 million deal to stay with St Louis. Even though Drew is coming off of some pretty major knee surgery, he's expected to contribute right away. Cardinals' manager Tony La Russa is expected to platoon him with Eli Marrero until Drew is able to play full-time, hopefully by June.

The stadium seems to be coming along, but there are still serious doubts about whether or not fans will be allowed in any time soon. Originally, the plan was to allows fans into the rightfield bleachers to watch next Saturday's scrimmage following Fan Day festivities, but those plans have been scrapped as it's simply not safe yet. As for the grandstand itself, there are still no stairs or ramps and there's no way to enter the pressbox yet.

The only major difference since last week is that there is now a concrete slab stretching from the grandstand to the leftfield entrance of the stadium. Despite the apparent delays, there wasn't a single construction worker at Howser Stadium this weekend. I'm going to be awfully shocked if it's ready by the first scheduled home game on Feb. 14.


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