Making the Case: Florida State Baseball

D.J. Stewart, Florida State Look To Shift Momentum In Postseason Play

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Florida State baseball, mired in a five game slump since a May 8 win at Louisville, finds itself in an unfamiliar position entering postseason play in 2015, but that doesn’t mean the perennial ACC power doesn’t have time to turn things around. It is a rare occasion for the Noles to enter the ACC and NCAA tournaments without being labeled favorites, but thanks to the late-season slump Florida State won’t be a popular pick to advance to Omaha. Despite the relatively unfamiliar position FSU finds itself in, the team still fared well against ACC division-winning foes Louisville and Miami, posting a 3-3 record in six road contests including a series win in Coral Gables over the thirteenth-ranked Hurricanes.

Billy Strode has been terrific in the closer’s role for FSU and the club’s offense has outscored opponents 71-30 in the eighth and ninth innings, but the Noles’ overall offensive numbers leave much to be desired. FSU ranks eleventh out of 14 ACC teams in total batting average (.258) and the inability to push runs across has plagued the Seminoles late in the season, as the team is averaging just 2.4 runs per game during the current five-game losing skid. Nonetheless, Florida State’s lineup boasts one of the best power hitters in the country in D.J. Stewart and while the starting rotation isn’t great top-to-bottom, the Noles have starters in Mike Compton and Boomer Biegalski who can go out and provide quality innings in key situations. FSU isn’t as talented or as talked about as they have been in year’s past, but the college baseball world would be foolish to overlook a team with the pedigree of the Noles.

Here are two reasons why you’ll see Mike Martin and Florida State in the school’s twenty-second College World Series this summer:

An Almost-Certain First Round Draft Pick In D.J. Stewart

Not many teams, even those who will advance deep into the NCAA tournament, can claim to have a future first-rounder lurking in the heart of their order, but that is a distinction and an advantage that Florida State has with D.J. Stewart. Stewart, the reigning ACC Player of the Year, put together another impressive regular season in 2015, posting a .326 batting average to go along with 13 home runs, 50 RBIs, and a .602 slugging percentage.

There really isn’t a reliable way to predict how highly the Noles star junior will go in the June 8 MLB Draft but, by all accounts, he will go in the first round. Stewart possesses elite power, a tantalizing asset that has the potential to vault the All-American to star status at the next level. There is always the chance for him to slip down draft boards into the early second round, but don’t be surprised when a team buys into Stewart’s power and makes him an early selection.

This season, the junior ranks first on the team in runs, hits, home runs, RBI, total bases, slugging percentage and walks. Stewart simply does it all for Mike Martin’s ball club. He ranks first in the entire country in walks with 62, eight more than any other player, and it is the outfielder’s keen eye at the plate that sets him apart from many other talented hitters. His BB:K ratio is nearly 2 to 1, which has catapulted his on-base percentage to an astounding .514, but Florida State needs to provide the star player with protection in the lineup to make a run in Durham and beyond.

D.J. Stewart has the potential to carry the Noles deep into postseason play with his plate prowess, but the likes of John Sansone and Quincy Nieporte need to get on base more so it isn’t so easy to pitch around Stewart to find easy outs elsewhere. Look for the Noles leading source of offense to continue yet another stellar season with solid performances during the postseason this summer.

Magic Number: 6

The number six is significant to Florida State’s chances at success for a couple different reasons. First, the Noles are 28-3 when scoring six runs or more this season, including a 14-0 mark when compiling at least 10 runs. Second, FSU posted a 25-2 record in the regular season when leading after six innings. Jim Voyles and the aforementioned closer Billy Strode, who has 12 saves to date, have been terrific in relief, recording ERAs of 2.01 and 2.36 over 22.1 and 26.2 innings of work, respectively. Despite those solid numbers, going to the bullpen has been a roller coaster ride at times for the Noles. The team’s two most-used relievers have been Dylan Silva and Alec Byrd, both of whom own ERAs north of 4.4 on the year. Silva, however, has 62 strikeouts in his 46.1 innings of work, an impressive number of Ks given his workload. Byrd also has a knack for punching batters out, as evidenced by his 47 Ks in 42.2 innings pitched.

The potential is absolutely there for Florida State, but finding a way to string solid performances together is a must heading down the home stretch this season. FSU would also benefit from an improved Cobi Johnson, another frequently used reliever with a high ERA (7.17 in 42.2 IP). The team is struggling right now, but a group with the playoff experience and success of Florida State has the potential to turn it around at any time. If the Noles can hit their “magic number” of six by holding leads heading into the final third of games while also scoring 6+ runs, FSU will undoubtedly be successful this postseason. The talent is in place, but the Noles need improved performances from unexpected sources if the team is to make a run to Omaha this season.

Catch fourth-seeded Florida State in action Wednesday when Mike Martin and company open ACC tournament play against fifth-seeded Clemson at 11 a.m.