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Florida State baseball team reloads for another Super Regional run

Florida State coach Mike Martin is used to making wholesale replacements year after year with his baseball team. But few challenges will be as daunting as the one he and his assistants face this season.

Gone are the team’s top four hitters, including St. Louis Cardinals first-round draft pick James Ramsey and former Palm Beach Central standout Devon Travis (a 13th-round pick by the Detroit Tigers). The group combined for 30 home runs, 76 doubles, 201 RBIs and scored 252 of FSU’s 459 runs.

FSU has reached the Super Regionals in 12 of the 14 years since the format was introduced — including five in a row. But if the Seminoles are to return to that round and again challenge for a College World Series spot, they will need significant contributions from a group of 15 newcomers.

“I’m anxious; I’m ready to get started,” said Martin, who begins his 34th season as FSU’s coach today at home against Rhode Island. “Just looking forward to seeing how we develop as the season goes along. We’re going to experience some ups and downs. We do every year.”

While the loss of the team’s top four hitters could have been softened by the return of the Seminoles’ top two pitchers, FSU coaches learned two weeks ago that sophomore right-hander Mike Compton would have Tommy John surgery on his elbow and miss the season. Compton went 12-2 with a 2.87 ERA, earning freshman All-America honors a season ago.

“He will definitely be missed but we also see this as an opportunity for someone else to step in and fill the No. 2 spot in the rotation,” Martin said.

FSU’s unquestioned No. 1 starter is sophomore Brandon Leibrandt, who was 8-3 with a 2.82 ERA as a freshman in 2012. The son of former major-leaguer Charlie Leibrandt is a control pitcher who keeps the ball low and finds success by inducing ground balls.

Leibrandt doesn’t overpower hitters with his fastball, but in 99 innings he had 83 strikeouts and allowed just 29 walks. He has added about 10-15 pounds in the offseason and has also been working to add a fourth pitch, a cut fastball.

“I feel heavier in a good way,” Leibrandt said. “Stronger, a little more explosive and hopefully it will relate to a little more velocity.”

Leibrandt will pitch today.on Friday as FSU opens the season at home against Rhode Island. Senior right-hander Scott Sitz (4-3, 3.72 ERA) and sophomore right-hander Peter Miller (5-2, 3.89 ERA) will start in the games on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

The pitchers will have a familiar face behind the plate. Former Port St. Lucie High standout Stephen McGee, a junior, returns after catching all 67 games last season.

But FSU lost three of four infielders and has just senior Justin Gonzalez back at shortstop. Gonzalez is FSU’s returning leader in home runs (nine), hits (54), runs (42) and RBIs (42).

The 6-foot-2 Gonzalez weighed just 165 pounds when he arrived in Tallahassee as a freshman, but he now weighs in at 205 pounds.

“When you put on that weight you don’t have to try as hard,” Gonzalez said. “You just let the pitcher supply the power. Putting an extra 40 pounds behind that swing definitely helps out a lot. Balls will carry more and hopefully find the gaps.”

FSU’s outfield is still a work in progress, and Martin said he’s looking at a number of platoon situations. Right fielder Josh Delph, who is FSU’s leading returning hitter at .267, could lead off. Freshman DJ Stewart has impressed coaches, and could also earn a starting job in center field.

Jameis Winston, who is vying for the starting quarterback job on FSU’s football team this spring, will also make his college baseball debut. Winston could play left field and might close games after FSU lost Robert Benincasa, who had 16 saves and was drafted by the Washington Nationals last June.

“Jameis Winston has been very impressive,” Martin said.

FSU will also lean on a few junior-college standouts to fill some of the gaps. Brett Knief could start in the outfield, Marcus Davis could be the designated hitter or left fielder and Casey Smit could see playing time at first base.

“Knief, Davis and Smit will be counted on to play a lot this year,” Martin said. “It is good that they have gotten some experience at the junior college level. But they are still freshman as far as I am concerned until they’ve played a few games. It is a lot different at this level.”

Local players for FSU

Giovanny Alfonzo;Lincoln Park Academy;5-11;175;So.;INF

Stephen McGee;Port St. Lucie;6-3;230;Jr.;C

Alvin Swoope;Treasure Coast;5-8;175;Fr.;INF

Dylan Silva;American Heritage;6-1;215;Fr.;LHP

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The Latest News Headlines

  • A 15-year-old Florida teen is in custody at the U.S.-Canada border, hours after police discovered the body of a woman believed to be his missing grandmother in a shallow grave near the boy’s home, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office reported. Logan Tyler Mott was detained by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection as he tried to enter Canada from Buffalo, New York, sheriff’s deputies said. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office had called Mott “armed and dangerous” and a person of interest in the death of his grandmother, 53-year-old Kristina June French. Mott was being watched by French at her Neptune Beach home while his father, a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office corrections officer, was on vacation. Mott’s mother, Carrie Campbell-Mott, said the boy’s father, Eric Mott, was on vacation with his girlfriend. Eric Mott took an Uber home from the airport Wednesday after French never showed up to get them, Campbell-Mott said. When they got home, the door to their home was open and the house was ransacked, Campbell-Mott said. Eric Mott's guns were missing from a gun safe, Campbell-Mott said. French’s home in the Mayport area also was ransacked. Her weapons were gone, along with her Dodge Dart. Mott and French were reported missing after Logan didn't show up to high school on Monday or Tuesday. French also didn't show up for work Monday or Tuesday. A warrant was issued for his arrest Thursday on a charge of auto theft, deputies said. Originally, deputies believed that Tyler Mott and French may have been traveling together in the Dodge Dart. A missing child alert was issued by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The teen and the missing vehicle were spotted Thursday on surveillance video in south central Pennsylvania, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office reported. In a statement, Campbell-Mott she was “relieved” that her son was in custody. “We just ask for everyone to give us time to sort out what happened,” Campbell-Mott said. “That no matter what, Logan is our child and we love him and are standing by him to help in any way. We want to find out what happened to Kristina and we need time for that to happen.” Campbell-Mott said a sheriff’s detective will fly to meet Logan on Saturday. In a statement, the May Institute, a nonprofit organization that employed French, said it was “truly devastated” to learn of her death. “Kristina was a friend and a role model to so many people. … She was a true champion for people with disabilities and advocated tirelessly for human rights. “We have lost a beautiful person and she will be dearly missed. It is a very sad day.”
  • UPDATE 11/24/17 11:16 pm: JSO says Logan Mott has been detained by US Customs and Border Protection, as he tried to enter Canada from the Buffalo, New York area. ORIGINAL STORY: It's a tragic update in the days-long search to find a missing 15-year-old and his grandmother.  The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office announcing Friday afternoon they do believe foul play was involved, as they've recovered what they believe to be the body of 53-year-old Kristina French in the backyard of a Neptune Beach home connected to the two.  'The burial site was excavated today and human remains were located. They appear consistent with the description of Kristina French, but there will be no positive identification until the autopsy is completed by the medical examiner,' says JSO's Director of Investigations, Ron Lendvay.  At this point, JSO says 15-year-old Logan Mott is still missing, as is the silver Dodge Dart. Police say they do believe Mott is alive and in that vehicle.  'We have video surveillance of an individual we believe to be Logan Mott, with what we believe to be the car that's missing in this case, in south central Pennsylvania yesterday at 1:15 pm,' says Lendvay.  JSO says they're in the process of obtaining an arrest warrant for Mott for auto theft. He's also considered a person of interest in connection to the death of the person found in the backyard of the home on Seagate Avenue.  Police say Mott may also be in possession of firearms, as guns had been reported missing from that home, so if you do see him, you’re urged to call 911.
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  • UPDATE Friday morning:  Logan Mott’s mother has posted a heartfelt message on Facebook, pleading for a safe return of her 15-year-old son and his grandmother, Kristina French.  UPDATE 11/23/17 5:40 PM: The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office says there’s no new information to release. ORIGINAL STORY: A missing child alert has been issued for 15-year-old Logan Mott out of Neptune Beach.  The Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Jacksonville Police believe Logan is in the company of his grandmother, 53-year-old Kristina French.  The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office says firearms are missing from a home they are associated with. Our partners at Action News Jax spoke with Logan’s mother who says the home that had the firearms looked like it had been ransacked.  The two are believed to traveling in a 2015 silver Dodge Dart with Florida tag D-L-L-T-4-2.  JSO says with the firearms missing, you should not approach them if you see them. You are asked to call 911. This is a developing story, check back for more updates. 

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