College : : Story
Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pitching key for Florida State

Kendall Rogers        

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FALL PROFILE: Florida State Seminoles

2011 record: 46-19 (NCAA Super Regional)

Final 2011 PG ranking: No. 9
Top returning players:
P Robert Benincasa, 1B Jayce Boyd, P Brian Busch, 3B Sherman Johnson, OF James Ramsey, P Hunter Scantling, P Scott Sitz, 2B Devon Travis, SS Justin Gonzalez

Notable departures: P Sean Gilmartin, UTI Mike McGee, C Rafael Lopez, P Daniel Bennett, OF Taiwan Easterling, 3B Stuart Tapley
Areas of concern:
The Seminoles must replace a stud ace starting pitcher in Sean Gilmartin and a very solid reliever in Daniel Bennett. The pitching staff had issues at times last season with the two in tow. Now they must improve without them.

What we think: When college baseball switched to the BBCOR bats last season, we wondered how much it would affect power-hungry programs like Florida State. Though the Seminoles’ power production was down last season, they still finished the campaign with a .293 average and 61 home runs. FSU once again will have a solid lineup in 2012 with outfielder James Ramsey anchoring the unit. As usual, the Seminoles’ future rests in the hands of a pitching staff with some question marks. FSU hopes new pitching coach Mike Bell can work some magic in this area. If not, it’s business as usual.

What they’re saying: “This team will probably be a lot like last year’s club. We’ll find a way to score runs and we’ll play infield defense. We’ll have a good club, scratching and clawing our way to victory. The pitching staff is the question mark right now.” – Florida State assistant Mike Martin Jr.



Florida State knows all too well what life in the NCAA postseason is like when a team doesn’t have enough consistent pitching to get over the hump.


Whether it’s iffy pitching performances in Omaha, or last year’s pitching blunders in the Tallahassee Super Regional against Texas A&M, the Seminoles historically have had issues pitching at a high level in clutch situations.


Everyone in Tallahassee, Fla., knows it much change, and preferably sooner rather than later. They hope new pitching coach Mike Bell, previously at Oklahoma and a former FSU player who helped guide the program to a pair of College World Series appearances, will provide the much needed to spark this fall to get the pitching staff headed the right direction.


The Seminoles will be in fantastic shape should Bell work his magic.


“We’re worried about the pitching staff because you can never have enough of it,” FSU assistant Mike Martin Jr. said. “Coach Bell, though, has some new ideas and he’s doing some things we’re excited to implement. Overall, his routines are a little different from what we’re used to, as would be the case with any new pitching coach.”


Bell has his work cut out this fall. The Seminoles had one of the nation’s best starting pitchers last season in left-hander Sean Gilmartin. However, the lefty is now gone after signing this past summer as a first-round pick of the Atlanta Braves.


The Seminoles are left with some pitchers with experience. However, consistency with this group continues to be a concern, and is something that must be rectified between now and February.


Some returning headliners for FSU include Robert Benincasa, Brian Busch, Hunter Scantling and Scott Sitz. Benincasa finished last season with a 3.58 ERA in 20 appearances and three starts, Busch had a 4.29 ERA in 63 innings, Scantling finished last season on a rough note in the Tallahassee Super Regional and had a 4.45 ERA in 58 2/3 innings and Sitz made eight starts and 18 appearances and had a 5.92 ERA in 51 2/3 innings.


“I really felt like Benincasa did some nice things this past summer, despite the fact a couple of bad outings ruined his numbers. I also feel very comfortable with Brian Busch out there at any time, as he’s a guy who has been through the rigors of the season,” Martin Jr. said. “We feel like we have a few pitchers who will improve the next few months. They’ll get some outs and win some ballgames for us.”


FSU expects plenty of other pitchers to make significant strides this fall and beyond. For instance, sophomore right-hander Peter Miller is expected to make a move forward. Miller had a 2.70 ERA in just four appearances last season, but made enough strides this past summer to catch the coaching staff’s attention.


“Peter is a guy we really look at and think he’ll make some big-time strides,” he said. “He had some control issues last season that kept him from being a significant contributor, but he had a good summer and is much more mature entering the fall.”


The Seminoles also welcome a huge crop of talented freshman pitchers, including Cody Alling, Kyle Bird, Mike Compton, Bryant Holtmann, Brandon Leibrandt, Jordan Priddle and Luke Weaver.


“I think when it’s all said and done, this pitching staff can be at a national title level, but you just never really know,” he said. “Once we get through fall workouts, we’ll have a clearer idea of what to expect moving into the spring.”


Though the Seminoles’ situation on the mound is filled with uncertainty, the offense, which hit .293 last season, once again is expected to be productive.


“Like last season, I think we’re going to be an offense that finds a way to score runs,” he said. “We’re once again going to scratch and claw for anything we can get at the plate.”


FSU received an early Christmas present this past summer when outfielder James Ramsey spurned the Minnesota Twins for another campaign with the Seminoles. Ramsey finished last season with a .364 batting average, 10 home runs and 67 RBIs.


The Seminoles also have high hopes for returnees Jayce Boyd and Devon Travis, while Justin Gonzalez and Sherman Johnson are expected to improve after having unimpressive 2011 campaigns. Travis, though, will miss fall workouts after having knee surgery.


“We’re very comfortable with the offensive production we have back this fall,” Martin Jr. said. “We feel like Sherman Johnson is going to have a great fall and upcoming campaign, and we feel the same way about Ramsey, Boyd and Travis. It was nice to see Travis come back to school looking good physically despite the setback.”


There are others to keep an eye on this fall. For instance, the catcher position should be a hotly contested fight between freshman Mario Amaral and 6-foot-3, 200-pound, returnee Stephen McGee, who hit .111 in just nine at bats last season because of an injury. Also, junior outfielder Seth Miller earned limited playing time last season, but has looked great in four-man drills and is primed to assume a greater role.


“Amaral can really do some nice things behind the plate and we’re going to have a nice bout back there this fall,” he said. “McGee had a shoulder injury last season, but he has come back looking good with his shoulder now fixed. We think he’ll really improve.”


The Seminoles also are excited about talented freshmen Jose Brizuela and Josh Delph. Brizuela was one of the top high school players in America last season and expects to make an immediate impact, while Delph is intriguing with a solid left-handed bat.


On the surface, things don’t look much different for the Seminoles entering fall workouts. They have enough key offensive cogs back to make some loud noise at the plate. But the pitching staff remains a legitimate concern.


That’s where Mike Bell enters the equation.


Kendall Rogers is the managing editor of college baseball for Perfect Game USA and can be reached at

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