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February 14, 2013
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When FSU opens its season on Friday against Rhode Island, head coach Mike Martin and his staff will get their first live look at how they'll replace a veteran quartet that led FSU to a College World Series appearance a season ago.
Martin's top four hitters from 2012 - James Ramsey, Devon Travis, Jayce Boyd and Sherman Johnson - are all gone, taking their combined 30 home runs, 252 runs scored and 201 RBI.
All totaled, that's 65.2 percent of the total home runs hit, 54.9 percent of the runs scored and 48.6 percent of the runs driven in by FSU last season.
"We're going to piece it together," said FSU assistant and hitting coach Mike Martin Jr.. "This club is better offensively than people realize. I think we're going to be OK. It may not be pretty early, but I think towards the end we'll be where we need to be.
"Of course we've got to stay healthy, but yeah you're not going to replace James Ramsey. I need four guys to equal what he did."
The search for bats begins with shortstop Justin Gonzalez who opted to return for his senior campaign. The Miami native hit .256 with nine home runs and 42 RBI last season.
Gonzalez did strike out at an alarming rate, 73 times in 211 at-bats. This season the senior shortstop said he's just got stay within himself.
"I'm feeling great," Gonzalez said. "Been working on stuff with Meat (Martin Jr.) and 11 (Martin) and just feeling loose. Just trying not to do too much and keeping it simple has been the key aspect in my focus all break and it's paying off."
In addition to Gonzalez, FSU will need returning starters Jose Brizuela, Stephen McGee and Josh Delph to play a bigger role to fill the offensive void.
Brizulea (.226, 38 RBI) and Delph (.267, 20 RBI) had their ups and downs as true freshmen a season ago, but also showed flashes that give the coaching staff confidence in their abilities. Brizuela will move from left field to third base while Delph will stay in right and slide up into the leadoff spot in the order.
McGee drove in 41 runs a season ago but hit just .230. He stayed at the fifth spot in the order despite his lack of power, partly because he walked 61 times and was hit by 16 pitches. This season the redshirt junior catcher said he wants to continue to draw walks, but will make an effort to not let as many borderline pitches go by.
"Just trying to swing maybe a little bit earlier in the counts," McGee said. "Don't let those closer pitches go by as much. Try and really get some good swings on the ball so I can hit the better pitches instead of putting myself in counts below. But other than that I'm just going to go up there and see every pitch. Make sure I'm swinging at good pitches and not just going up there swinging at everything."
The rest of the batting order will be comprised of a trio of true freshman in second baseman John Sanson, center fielder D.J. Stewart and left fielder or DH Jameis Winston. Sophomore John Nogowski will be the likely first baseman, with junior college transfer Casey Smit also pushing for time.
Fellow JUCO transfer Marcus Davis will start at DH or in left, depending on where Winston is penciled in, while another JUCO transfer Brett Knief will play right and hit leadoff against left-handers.
With so many new faces being depended on, Martin admitted that it could be a few weeks into the season before position battles are settled and he truly knows what his team is made of.
"I like to have nine guys that I'm familiar with, that I know what to expect," Martin said. "I don't know what to expect out of Brett Knief, Marcus Davis, D.J. Stewart and John Sansone- dang that's a lot of people. I don't know how they're going to react? it's going to be a little challenging because there are some guys I feel confident with, but yet it's a confidence just because I feel like I know what they're going to do, but I really don't."
Martin said he likes his club more each day as the newcomers continually progress. Gonzalez said he really feels like the lineup as a whole can replace what it lost last season, as long as guys don't try to do it individually.
"I honestly feel like we're not going to be missing too many steps," he said. "It was definitely a huge blow losing guys like Ramsey, Devon, Sherman and Jayce but with the guys we've got in I feel really confident that these guys are going to step up. It's been a fun fall and spring so far to watch these guys hit and develop and mature as baseball players. It's only going to get better."
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