Players and coaches who spent time around USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team last summer insist Luke Weaver was the life of a tight-knit clubhouse. That's surely no surprise to his Florida State teammates and coaches—or anyone else who has ever spoken with Weaver. He smiles and jokes easily and often, keeping his teammates loose on days he isn't pitching. His energy and charisma are infectious.
"I think he enjoys life," Florida State pitching coach Mike Bell said. "It's not to the point where he's arrogant, but he enjoys day-to-day humor, he enjoys being loose, loosey-goosey, for six days. When it's time to work, it's time to work. When it's time to have fun, hey, let's enjoy life. But on Friday when it's 6 o'clock, it's a different guy."
A junior righthander who figures to be drafted in the top 50 picks this June, Weaver is the Friday tone-setter for the fourth-ranked Seminoles. FSU coach Mike Martin points to Weaver's April 11 start against Georgia Tech as a prime example of Weaver's toughness and leadership—because it wasn't his best outing, and he persevered and gave his team a chance to win.
"It’s just really been fun watching that guy," Martin said. "He goes out against Georgia Tech, and we just didn’t play well. We didn’t do some things that we normally do defensively, and Luke ends up with five runs on the board in the first inning against Georgia Tech. He could have been out of the inning with literally no runs scored. But did he come over to the bench and complain or sulk? No. He came over to the bench, sat down, went into his little cocoon, goes back out there on the mound and gives a very good Georgia Tech team six zeroes to allow his team to get back into the game, and just showed what kind of player and pitcher he is. Because that could have been a sign of, 'OK, nobody seems to be doing what they’re supposed to be doing; how can I win?' In other words, there was no pity party. It was just business as usual. That’s such a great leadership trait. And that’s Luke Weaver.
"Then the next weekend he pitches against Wake Forest and goes nine innings and gives up one run."
Weaver has carried that momentum through the second half, throwing seven shutout innings in each of his final two regular-season starts against North Carolina and Duke and finished the regular season at 8-3, 2.66. His stuff has also gotten sharper down the stretch; for much of the first half he worked around 88-91 mph, but he sat 90-93 through the first five innings against UNC and touched 95, before settling in at 87-89 in the late innings.
"The big velocity that arose last year, the 96s and 7s, has not been there," Bell said. "But when he needs to go get it, he can go get a 4 or 5 when he needs it. He's going to pitch 90-92, three quality pitches. The change is a plus pitch, and he can throw it anytime he wants to against righties and lefties. The slider has shown plus at times, other times it's just average, but he complements it very well with a plus change for a quality three-pitch mix. It's command of the fastball to both sides of the plate, and more than anything he knows how to compete. He's probably one of the most athletic pitchers I've ever coached, and he holds runners well."
Weaver said a major key to his development from his freshman year to now has been learning not to worry about being so fine with his fastball.
"You don't know how to pitch until you really get into the system. Some guys figure it out earlier than others," Weaver said. "For me, it was just a simple thing: throwing to thirds instead of the black, just really throwing over the plate. You know, hitting's hard, so why not throw over the plate? They've got to put a perfect swing on it. So that's just the mentality I take."
He has also adjusted his approach over the course of the spring.
"I think teams have done a great job with scouting reports, because last year I feel like a lot of teams were taking early," Weaver said. "Since I'm a guy who really likes to pound the strike zone and not walk people, a lot of guys are swinging early. So it's really made me change my game plan. So from me, you'll see a lot more inside stuff to try to get the hitters looking away and in, mixing it up a little bit."
Weaver said his changeup has always been a weapon he could rely upon, but his slider remains a work in progress. Scouts project it as an average pitch, but sometimes he throws below-average sliders now, and other times it flashes plus.
"The problem with that I think is really trying to do too much with it, getting out of my mechanics, really opening up and dragging," Weaver said. "It's such a similar grip to my fastball that I feel confident with it. There's days it's better than others. When I can get into a mindset and into a groove with it, and know I don't need to do that much and just let the grip do the work, then that's when I can really just hone in and throw it whenever I want. I think it's going to come along and be a vital pitch down the stretch here."
Weaver is peaking at the right time, for the Seminoles and for his draft stock. However the next month plays out, Weaver is going to enjoy the ride.
"This game can humble you quickly, but a lot of people take it seriously," he said. "It's just one of those things, you've got to have fun with it."