Teddy’s Catch: Gators, O’Sullivan hot right now

A five-year member of the Florida Gators baseball team playing under head coaches Pat McMahon and Kevin O’Sullivan, former catcher Teddy Foster put together a solid senior campaign in 2009 with seven homers, 25 RBIs and 11 walks while batting .321 and earning 29 starts (including 15 at catcher, 12 at designated hitter and two at first base). No longer with the team and now serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets, he has joined OGGOA as a baseball columnist and will provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2012 season.

Florida baseball is heating up again, and it could not be coming at a better time for the Gators. After cruising through the Gainesville Regional, Florida learned it would have a few days off before they take on N.C. State in Super Regional action beginning on Saturday. However, before that could occur, many of the team’s players had their minds slightly preoccupied as the 2012 MLB Draft was held Monday-Wednesday. Nine Gators were selected in the first 20 rounds, all of which are likely to leave the team before next season. With this life-changing event now behind them, Florida’s most talented players can now focus on what lies ahead – a potential College World Series berth.

UF’s attention has turned to N.C. State, which defeated Southeastern Conference powerhouse Vanderbilt in the finals of the Raleigh Regional. Despite that impressive performance, the Wolfpack is unlikely to be able to similarly stop the Gators. Sophomore right-hander Johnathon Crawford is coming off an impressive no-hitter against Bethune-Cookman and juniors righty Hudson Randall and lefty Brian Johnson both had strong outings. Randall will begin the Super Regional on the hill for Florida, which also has an extremely solid bullpen that has continued to build its confidence.

It is also good to see the Gators’ offense back on track. Florida had sputtered offensively at times this year but putting up 15 runs against a solid Georgia Tech team in their last regional game is certainly promising. The return of freshman third baseman Josh Tobias has also been a lift for the Gators because that pushes junior Cody Dent, a massive offensive liability, out of the lineup.

Junior catcher Mike Zunino continued his dominance of college pitching with another pair of homers, and Florida’s lineup finally appears to be both balanced and healthy. This is especially important for the Gators because it makes the practice of “pitching around players” (walking them instead of throwing pitches in the strike zone) a waste of time for the opposition in most circumstances.

To quote my old friend Joakim Noah: “The Gator boys are hot right now!”

Read the rest of the latest edition of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!

Florida also had a number of high school signees selected in the draft Monday-Wednesday, including six in the top three rounds. This will obviously have a huge impact on the future of the program. The Gators got lucky two years ago when top-ten pick RHP Karsten Whitson turned down a multi-million dollar offer in favor of playing for Florida but that was a rare occurrance.

UF will need to persuade some of these highly drafted prospects that college is a better option for them long-term. If head coach Kevin O’Sullivan can convince some of them that they will have the opportunity to improve immensely under his tutelage, get drafted higher in three years and therefore receive more guaranteed money, there is an outside chance that a few could reject their offers and play for the Gators.

This is especially important this year with the amount of talent leaving the team. If all of the current Florida players drafted sign their professional contracts, which is highly likely, O’Sullivan is going to have a ton of holes to fill. The Gators have been lucky in recent years to have a deep roster filled with talent but with this year’s draft taking away so many current and prospective players, Florida may have some speed bumps to overcome in the next few years.

One positive to seeing so many Gators drafted is that O’Sullivan and the program received a ton of positive, free publicity. He can puff out his chest and show his high school recruits what can happen if they attend UF and commit to giving him three years of hard work. They will compete for a national championship, have no problem getting drafted again and most likely go much higher than they did initially.

Local high school players are now spurning Miami and Florida State to attend Florida because they are the dominant team in the state and are consistently having more players drafted into the professional ranks. If O’Sullivan keeps churning out pro prospects like he has been the last few years, he’s going to continue to receive commitments from the best-of-the-best high school stars (granted some of those may still wind up being plucked away by MLB teams).

O’Sullivan has gone from a pitching coach at Clemson to arguably the best college baseball coach in the country, one that has some of the nation’s best players dying to play for him and don the orange and blue.

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