It's been just a little more than two months since the end of fall baseball, yet Florida State head coach Mike Martin has a calm about his team that he didn't have when practice ended.
With his team getting back together at the start of the semester for limited workouts (NCAA rules mandate teams have no more than four players at a time on the field), Martin feels much better about replacing three starting infielders than he did even just a few weeks ago.
I feel a lot better now than I did over the holidays," Martin said. "We've got a couple of guys that came back improved players. We've got outstanding guys that are battling for positions. There's two or three spots wide-open. The competition is fantastic."
Martin will have to replace starters Devon Travis, Jayce Boyd and Sherman Johnson from last year's College World Series squad. He does have senior shortstop Justin Gonzalez back, and sophomore Jose Brizuela will start at third base after playing left field last season.
That leaves two open spots on the right side of the infield for Martin and his staff to fill out before the season opener on February 15 against Rhode Island. Full team practices begin on January 25.
Right now the battle at second base to replace Travis is between sophomore Giovanny Alfonzo and freshman John Sansone. Fellow freshman Alvin Swoope could also factor into the mix at second. At first base junior college transfer Casey Smit looks to have the inside track on sophomore John Nogowski.
No matter who Martin pencils in on opening day, Gonzalez says there won't be much of defensive drop off from his new infield mates.
"I'm telling you right now we're not going to be missing any beats anywhere in the infield," Gonzalez said. "The guys look really impressive, I think the coaches are really pleased with the product they're putting on the field and it's going to be an exciting season no doubt."
Sansone has moved to second after playing shortstop in high school, while Smit also is switching positions after playing mostly second in the fall and playing second and third for College of Central Florida.
"Some of them are playing different positions
(Sansone) moving to second and Smitty to first," assistant head coach Mike Martin Jr. said. "You can tell they worked over the break."
Smit's ability to adapt to first base quickly have allowed FSU to sure up things defensively in the infield. He's also no slouch at the plate according to Martin Jr.
"Casey has been an absolute God-send for us," Martin Jr. said. "His hitting ability, his knowledge of the game, his versatility, he's going to be a good player for us. Really helps."
Nothing is set in stone with Smit and Sansone starting, with full practices yet to begin. Nogowski still has time to push for the starting job, and certainly will see time at DH if he doesn't start at first after hitting .250 with two home runs and 23 RBI as a true freshman last season.
Alfonzo is another player who could have a big role for FSU even if he isn't a starter. Last year the Port St. Lucie, Fla. native hit just .107 in 28 at-bats, but filled in admirably defensively at short when Gonzlaez was injured in a crucial Sunday matchup with Miami, and even came around to score the winning run in an 8-7 win.
In the fall and in early spring drills, Alfonzo has worked everywhere in the infield but first base.. His ability to play solid defense anywhere in the infield is a big boost to the club Martin said.
"He gives you a comfortable feeling in regard to your team," Martin said. "Now there's nothing sealed in concrete that there's three starters ahead of him. He is a guy that will do nothing but battle and that will keep everybody on their toes."
While he knows he has guys in front of him at second, Alfonzo said he was pleased with how he performed at the plate in the fall, and feels comfortable at all three positions. But he's still ready for full practices to begin so he can push for a potential starting spot.
"When spring rolls around it's more trying to show what you've got," he said. "What you worked on over the break. Definitely those juices are flowing and you kind of just want to show the coaches and the teammates essentially what you're going to bring to the team this year."
After being injured in a skydiving accident, Stephen Spradling has been released from the hospital in a wheelchair. He will begin aqua-therapy next week.
Mike Martin Jr. said the two-sport star Jameis Winston will have a role as a position player and a pitcher this spirng.
"He's going to help. There's no question he's going to help," Martin Jr. said of Winston, who will also compete for the starting quarterback job this spring. "Probably on both sides, offensively and pitching. He's fit right in with the guys. The guys you can tell, gravitate right towards him and enjoy being around him. He's going to bring a lot to the table."
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