A five-year member of the Florida Gators baseball team playing under head coaches Pat McMahon and Kevin O’Sullivan, former catcher Teddy Foster is now attending law school after serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets last season. He joined OGGOA in 2012 as a baseball columnist who will now provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2013 season.
The Florida baseball team finds itself in the midst of a five-game losing streak, which includes being swept at home by Florida Gulf Coast and bookending that series with losses to Georgia Southern and North Florida. Only nine games into the season, it is probably too early to push the panic button as fans but from a scout’s point of view, I guarantee you the coaches have already slammed that button.
The first big blow suffered by the Gators came before the season even started when junior right-hander Karsten Whitson went down with what was at first called “shoulder fatigue.” That fatigue turned into minor surgery for Whitson and he is now out for the season, dealing a major blow to Florida’s starting rotation. He and classmate RHP Jonathon Crawford were poised to be one of the top one-two pitching duos in the nation. Most scouts have both players at the top of their draft boards with almost all of them believing they will be off the board in the first two rounds.
While the Gators have had freshman pitchers play well in the past, it is not an easy task to expect what is basically a high school student to come in and pitch on weekends, especially against top-notch teams like those Florida will face in Southeastern Conference play. It was a sense of comfort for the Gators that they had two potential first-round picks at the top of their rotation. Now that one of them has gone down, team morale is suffering (as is Whitson’s draft stock).
Read the rest of this edition of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
The Whitson injury further exposes Florida’s youth. The lineup and starting rotation is full of freshmen and sophomores, which is not always problematic (see 2010), but star freshmen like Preston Tucker and Mike Zunino are rare. Gators fans have been spoiled recently with the amount of MLB talent Florida has been able to put on the field. When I look at the Gators’ lineup as it is currently constituted, I don’t see any hitter that I would fear as an opposing pitcher.
There is no Tucker, Zunino or Matt LaPorta. Sophomore second baseman Casey Turgeon, a solid hitter, is in the three hole, but no pitcher is losing sleep over facing him. Florida has no real power threat (despite the fact that redshirt sophomore third baseman Zack Powers hit two grand slams in one game) and that makes it easier for opposing pitchers to attack the lineup reservation.
The freshmen have to learn how to work deeper counts, foul off tough pitches and find different ways to get on base. At this level, you need hit by pitches, walks and bunts for batters to get on base; you cannot just hack away like most of these freshmen did one year ago in high school. This knowledge comes with experience, but these freshmen need to learn on the fly or the Gators’ offense will continue to struggle.
Experience is not everything though. I was part of a team that was ranked No. 1 before we even played a game, but we failed to live up to those lofty expectations. Florida only has two seniors this season, neither of whom is going to be a high draft pick. They do, however, have tons of experience given the Gators’ success the past few years. If there’s anyone who knows what it takes to make it in the SEC, it’s centerfielder Cody Dent and first baseman Vickash Ramjit. They need to lead by example and provide a spark on the field, as well as in the dugout and clubhouse.
This team is off to a rough, rough start to the season, but it’s too early to throw in the towel. The freshmen need to learn on the fly, the seniors need to lead the freshmen, and the entire team needs to come together. Let’s see how Florida attempts to bounce back against Miami as there are still two weeks to go until SEC play begins.