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Quote:Patience key for young FSU team
By Steve Ellis
Tallahassee Democrat

Mike Martin doesn't want the word "rebuilding" to become part of his daily vocabulary.

But for a second consecutive season, Martin's baseball team must replace key position players, including three infielders, and  starting pitchers.  And FSU also loses its best hitters in shortstop Stephen Drew and outfielder Eddy Martinez-Esteve.

"This is a start-over point when you start freshmen up the middle," said Martin, who is entering his 26th season at FSU. "We like the opportunity this lineup presents for us. But the key is definitely going to be (having patience) for a club that will have three or four freshmen in (the starting lineup)."

The departure of pitchers Rhett James and Eddie Cannon is yet another reason the Seminoles are not ranked among Baseball America's top25 for the just the third time since the poll began in 1981. FSU wasn't ranked in that publication's top25 in 1993 and 1984.

Seminoles fans might find reason for hope in the fact that Miami was anked 31st in Baseball America's 2003 poll and reached the College orld Series. But the road to the postseason won't be easy for No.27 FSU.

When the team begins preseason practice today - first pitch is just three weeks away - newcomers will be the top players at second, short and third. FSU does return Ryne Malone at first and team leaderAaron Cheesman behind the plate.

"This ballclub revolves around one guy - Aaron Cheesman is the unquestioned leader of our ballclub," Martin said of Cheesman, who already has earned an undergraduate degree. "Guys like Aaron Cheesman come around very rarely with me. He was our leader last year, and this year he is our leader."

Nick Francis, who played at Godby, has the inside track at shortstop.  Ryne Jernigan or Tony Thomas Jr. will compete at second base, where Bryan Zech started last season. Bryan Henry, a sophomore whoplayed at Florida High and North Florida Community College, is the top third baseman.

Martin praised Francis' range and liked Jernigan's hitting before he injured a finger in fall practice. Henry was applauded for his feel for the game and being a tough out. And Martin called Thomas one of the biggest surprises of fall practice and said he he can do the little things such as bunting runners over.

Doing the little things offensively will be important for a team that will lack pop following the departure of Martinez-Esteve and Drew, who combined for 36 home runs a year ago. But Malone hit 12 home runs as a freshman.

"We don't have a Martinez-Esteve or Drew that people will be scared of," Martin said. "We do have some who can do damage, and Ryne Malone comes to mind."

In the outfield, freshmen Ryan Strauss and Jack Rye will compete in right field. Senior Gibbs Chapman and sophomore Shane Robinson expect to start in left field and center field, respectively. Freshman Rauri O'Connor, who graduated from high school early and began attending FSU classes Wednesday, could also be in the mix either in the outfield, in the infield or as the third catcher.  O'Connor is from Chicago.

Martin said he plans to use a four-man rotation this spring. Gone are Cannon and James, who combined for 19 victories a year ago. The competition for the starting rotation includes Glen Simon and Hunter Jones - who are returning from surgery. Mark Sauls, Barret Browning and Brian Schultz will also vie for spots in the rotation. Martin said he expects Tyler Chambliss to be the closer and Kevin Lynch and Matt DiBlasi to be the first out of the bullpen.
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