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January 12, 2008

Top 25 Countdown: No. 21 Florida State

Head coach: Mike Martin
Last season: 49-13, 24-6 in ACC
Postseason: After putting together one of the nation's best regular season records, the Seminoles hosted the Tallahassee Regional. They were unable to get past Mississippi State, but still had another season to remember.
2008 breakdown: Probable starters | Overview | Offense | Starting pitching | Bullpen | Outlook

Overview

Florida State went through much of last season as the nation's best team. But after earning a national seed and hosting the Tallahassee Regional, they were disappointed to not get to Omaha.

The failure to advance last season serves as extra motivation this spring.

Even without key offensive contributors Tony Thomas Jr. and Mark Hallberg, the Seminoles should be in great shape at the plate. Additionally, they welcome back veterans Buster Posey and Jack Rye, among others.

FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
Senior outfielder Jack Rye spearheads another talented offensive lineup.

Probable Starting Lineup
C Buster Posey
1B Dennis Guinn
2B Jason Stidham
SS Tony Delmonico
3B Stuart Tapley
OF Ruairi O'Connor
OF Tyler Holt
OF Jack Rye
DH Mike McGee
SP Ryan Strauss
SP Elih Villanueva
SP Matt Fairel

While the offense is in great shape the pitching staff leaves something to be desired.

The Seminoles welcome back hard-throwing right-hander Ryan Strauss and sophomore left-hander Matt Fairel. Strauss started 16 games last season, while Fairel served as a reliever.

Newcomer Elih Villanueva could be the most pleasant surprise.

Like most teams, the Seminoles will enter the season with some question marks. But like always, they'll be in the ACC title race.

Offense

As the Seminoles put together one of the most impressive regular seasons campaigns in recent years last season, the offense led the charge with an amazing .350 team batting average.

Though FSU must replace Player of the Year Tony Thomas Jr., Mark Hallberg and others, they welcome back catcher Buster Posey and hard-hitting outfielder Jack Rye.

Posey batted .382 with three homers and 65 RBIs last season. He also slugged .520 and had a .453 on-base percentage. Additionally, Posey ended the year with 21 doubles, which was second on the team behind Thomas.

Rye is also coming off a productive campaign. The senior batted .372 with 10 homers and 61 RBIs. He also slugged .551 and had a .451 on-base percentage.

The Seminoles also welcome back Dennis Guinn and Ruairi O'Connor. Guinn hit .286 in 154 at bats last season, while O'Connor hit .296 in 98 at bats. Guinn is also returning to his old position and is coming off knee surgery.

Sophomore infielder Jason Stidham returns after hitting .366 last season, while newcomers Tony Delmonico, Mike McGee and Tyler Holt are expected to have important roles.

Delmonico batted .325 with nine homers and 49 RBIs at Tennessee last season. He also finished the year with 112 total bases.

FSU has some new faces at the plate, but the results should be the same as always very productive.

Starting pitching

Perhaps the most questionable part of the team entering the spring, the FSU weekend rotation has something to prove.

The Seminoles are led on the mound by senior right-hander Ryan Strauss. The veteran has had consistency issues, but had a 10-3 record with a 3.40 ERA in 87 1/3 innings of work last season.

FSU is also expecting consistent starts from newcomer Elih Villanueva and sophomore left-hander Matt Fairel.

Villanueva spent his freshman year at Florida International before spending last season at Miami Dade CC. After a strong fall, the Seminoles expect him to be a front-line starter.

Fairel is assuming a new role.

The talented left-hander made 21 appearances (no starts) as a freshman last season. He had a 2.94 ERA in 33 2/3 innings.

The FSU weekend rotation has some instability, but the talent to succeed is certainly there.

Bullpen

The Seminoles had two relievers with ERAs under four last season Jimmy Marshall and Matt Fairel. Fortunately for FSU, both pitchers are back in action this spring.

Marshall finished last season with 23 appearances and a 1.39 ERA in 32 1/3 innings of work, while Fairel had impressive numbers. For now, Marshall is expected to stay in the bullpen, while Fairel is slated to be a weekend started.

FSU is also expecting Bo O'Dell, Geoff Parker, Ben Francis and Ryan Vigue to log significant innings.

O'Dell made 13 appearances last season, while Geoff Parker and Ryan Vigue are talented freshmen.

Veteran Buster Posey and freshman John Gast are potential storylines.

Posey, the starting catcher, threw just one inning last season. However, there's a chance he could be the team's closer this spring. Meanwhile, Gast is a highly touted left-hander that is coming off an arm injury.

Gast could return to action by April or May.

Like the weekend rotation, the bullpen has some uncertainty. How the unit progresses could be the difference between another early exit and another trip to Omaha.

Outlook with postseason forecast
As the top-ranked team for several weeks last season, Florida State entered the NCAA Tournament with high expectations. Even with a potent offensive lineup, the Seminoles failed to get past Mississippi State. With last season serving as extra motivation, FSU enters the spring with something to prove. The Seminoles must replace weekend starters Bryan Henry and Michael Hyde, but welcome back Ryan Strauss. The pitching staff has question marks, but the offense is in great shape with catcher Buster Posey and second baseman Jason Stidham leading the charge. With another productive offense, the Seminoles should spend most of the season ranked. From there, they will likely host a Regional. Where they go after that depends on what Strauss and the pitching staff are able to accomplish.

Shoes to Fill

If the Seminoles want to reach the College World Series, the pitching staff must rise to the occasion.

FSU has some huge holes to fill on the mound. Not only are they without staff ace Bryan Henry, they must also replace fellow weekend starter Michael Hyde and reliever Danny Rosen. Hyde finished last season with 10 wins, while Rosen had eight saves.

Henry, the toughest player to replace, finished 2007 with a 14-2 record and a 2.60 ERA in 117 2/3 innings of work.

Though the pitching staff leads the charge in this category, the Seminoles must also replace offensive contributors Tony Thomas Jr., Brandon Reichert and Mark Hallberg, among others.

Thomas finished last season with a .430 batting average, 11 homers and 50 RBIs. Meanwhile, Reichert batted .311 while Hallberg ended the year with an impressive .360 average.

FSU has some question marks, but history indicates they will be fine this spring.

Must Step Up

Florida State seems to always have a productive offensive lineup, so that isn't a concern entering the spring.

The same can't be said for the pitching staff.

Though the Seminoles have a plethora of talented arms, many of their pitchers still have something to prove.

Senior right-hander Ryan Strauss is one of those guys.

Strauss has incredible upside, but has yet to assume a lead role. As a junior last season, the hard-throwing veteran went 10-3 with a 3.40 ERA in 87 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 56 and walked 35, while opponents hit him at a .260 clip.

While Strauss is the guy to watch on the mound, many eyes are also on sophomore infielder Jason Stidham.

Stidham had an exceptional freshman campaign, but replaces former Rivals.com National Player of the Year Tony Thomas Jr. at second base. To say the least, those are some tough shoes to fill.

Impact Newcomer

The Seminoles garnered headlines during the offseason with the addition of Tennessee's Tony Delmonico and others.

Delmonico is a talented infielder and replaces Mark Hallberg at shortstop. However, pitcher Elih Villanueva and outfielder Tyler Holt will likely have the most impact.

Villanueva spent his freshman year at Florida International, where he tallied 79 strikeouts in 101 2/3 innings of work. As a sophomore at Miami Dade CC, the talented right-hander struck out 109 batters in 89 innings of work.

With the Seminoles hoping to adequately replace Bryan Henry and Michael Hyde, Villanueva's addition comes at the right time.

Freshman outfielder Tyler Holt is another newcomer to watch.

The Gainesville, Fla., native had a remarkable senior season in high school and put together an impressive fall with the Seminoles. As a high school senior, he hit .608 with six homers and 42 RBIs.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.

Rivals.com is counting down our Preseason Top 25. Coming tomorrow: No. 20.



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