Preview: Florida Gators in the 2012 MLB Draft

Though it may be to less fanfare than its football and basketball counterparts, the 2012 MLB Draft officially begins Monday night at 7 p.m. live on MLB Network. One year after the Florida Gators saw a school-record 11 team members selected, Florida may have more players picked in the first round than ever have been previously in a single draft.

The MLB’s first-year player draft consists of 40 rounds and is open to both high school players and juniors and seniors in college. Round one (including compensatory selections) will take place Monday with rounds 2-15 occurring Tuesday beginning at noon and Rounds 16-40 concluding the draft on Wednesday beginning at noon. High school players and juniors in college have the opportunity to decline their rookie contracts and continue playing amateur baseball should they choose to do so.

Thirteen members of the Gators baseball team (five seniors, eight juniors) are eligible to be selected this year including some of the most talented players in the program. OGGOA, with some help from baseball columnist and New York Mets scout Teddy Foster, takes a look at where they might wind up and what their future holds.

Junior catcher Mike Zunino
Projection: First round, pick 1-10
Rankings: No. 3 overall by MLB, No. 6 overall by ESPN
Lowdown: The consensus best catcher in the draft of any age, Zunino has proven he can do it all at any level by playing stellar defense (.994 fielding) and hammering home runs on offense. Originally selected in the 30th round of the 2009 draft, Zunino instead decided to attend Florida and became just the second Gators baseball player to be named SEC Player of the Year, earning the honor in 2011. He was a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award in 2011 and also named an All-American that year, garnering first-team honors by three of five voting bodies. Still not having completed his third year with the team, Zunino already holds the UF career record for sacrifice flies (17) and is having a solid junior campaign with team-highs of 18 homers and 60 RBIs along with 50 runs scored, 28 walks, a .316 batting average and a .667 slugging percentage. There is no questioning Zunino’s potential; the only thing left to figure out is his draft slot.

Junior left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson
Projection: First round, pick 20-supplemental
Rankings: No. 36 overall by MLB, No. 28 overall by ESPN
Lowdown: Though he will get looks as a batter, Johnson’s true value (both in the draft and long-term in pro baseball) will likely come from his work on the mound. He will likely wind up a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher as he can throw four pitches for strikes and has good breaking pitches in addition to a fastball around 90 mph. “Johnson is just too good on the mound and has too much potential to not focus on pitching,” Foster wrote in April. “He is not the first and certainly will not be the last two-way player to end up on the mound. Johnson knows his destiny is as a pitcher.” A 27th round selection in the 2009 draft, Johnson was unanimous Freshman All-American who made the SEC All-Freshman Team as both a pitcher and designated hitter. During his sophomore season he was a semifinalist for the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award and Dick Howser Trophy and earned a first-team All-SEC nod for his work at the plate. This season he is 8-4 on the mound with a 3.56 ERA and a 68/15 K/BB ratio while pitching a team-high 86.0 innings. Johnson is also hitting .310 with five homers, 40 RBIs and 10 walks.

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Teddy’s Catch: Now the real fun begins…

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.

Now the real fun begins.

Florida Gators baseball team enters the postseason as the number one overall seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament and will open up by once again hosting a regional this weekend. Ask any college baseball player and they will tell you the NCAA Tournament is the highlight of the season, but it takes something special to make a run to Omaha, NE – the site of the College World Series.

As a member of the Florida team that was the national runner-up in 2005, I can tell you that just getting there is the hardest part. Your team has to be at the top of their game every single time they step on the field because one loss can be tough to overcome in a Regional or Super Regional. Mistakes are more costly, errors seem to always lead to bad innings, and fundamentals like bunting and baserunning become extremely important because moving a runner up can lead to an extra run (and most postseason games are tight with that one run making the difference in the final score).

With this much added pressure, it’s important to stay as loose and relaxed as possible. The 2005 team liked to play practical jokes to lighten the mood. The old “Icy Hot in the jock strap” trick never got old. Whatever a team does, whether it be practical jokes, team outings to places like the zoo, card games or anything else for that matter, a team needs ways to lessen the stress of the marathon that is the NCAA Tournament.

Much like that team, this year’s Gators are loaded with pitching, power bats and experience. The 2005 team had four quality starters and a suffocating bullpen; it featured a lineup that had a mixture of speed and power, too. Florida has four legitimate starters, which is a huge advantage in the regional tournaments that can last up to four or five games if a team suffers an untimely loss. Also like the 2005 team, these Gators have a good mixture of guys that have a high on-base percentage like senior outfielder Daniel Pigott and junior shortstop Nolan Fontana as well as power hitters like junior catcher Mike Zunino and senior right fielder Preston Tucker. These similarities in the pitching staff and lineup give me and other scouts confidence Florida should be able to battle their way back to Omaha.

UF just wrapped up a good showing in the 2012 SEC Tournament, reaching the semifinals only to be eliminated by Vanderbilt. While many are disappointed, as a scout, the way the players performed in the tournament provided a glimpse of why Florida not only can but should make a run at the national title.

The first three games saw the Gators starting pitcher absolutely dominate the opposing team. Sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford, junior RHP Hudson Randall and junior lefty Brian Johnson each pitched exceptionally well; to have three hot pitchers going into the postseason is extremely valuable. Although sophomore Karsten Whitson struggled in the Gators’ fourth game, the bullpen, especially senior RHP Greg Larson, picked up the slack and shut down the opposing team until junior closer Austin Maddox unraveled in the ninth inning.

Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Now the real fun begins…

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Vanderbilt swipes victory from Florida baseball, eliminates Gators from SEC Tournament

Down one with three outs to go, the Vanderbilt Commodores (33-25) rallied to score five runs on five hits in the top of the ninth inning and pulled off an 8-6 win over No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (42-18) in the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday at Regions Park in Hoover, AL.

Junior closer Austin Maddox imploded for Florida after coming on to get the final three outs, giving up a lead-off double to right and eventually allowing Vanderbilt to tie the game after a sacrifice bunt, hit batter and suicide squeeze.

Unfortunately for the Gators, it only got worse from there.

The Commodores attempted a double steal and advanced a runner to third with another being thrown out at second. Vanderbilt then hit an infield single (the runner stole second on the play) to go up 5-4 and loaded the bases following an intentional walk, double steal and another intentional walk. With the bags full, the Commodores pulled off a triple steal to score their third run of the inning. A two-run single followed to give Vanderbilt an 8-4 advantage and increase Florida’s suffering.

The Gators allowed more stolen bases in one frame (seven) than had ever been executed in an entire SEC Tournament game in the history of the event.

VU scored two runs off of sophomore right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson in the top of the first and sent him off after a rough 2.1 innings. Whitson gave up five hits and three runs (two earned) with two walks and no strikeouts in his outing.

Florida responded with a run in the bottom of the first and tied the game at 3-3 in the third when junior designated hitter Brian Johnson (4/5, 4 RBI) hit a two-run double to right center scoring junior catcher Mike Zunino (2/5, 2 R) and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/5, 3 R).

The Gators achieved what they thought would be the game-winning run in the fourth as junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (2/4, RBI, BB) singled to score junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (2/4, R) and added two more runs in the ninth though the late offensive outburst was too little too late for Florida.

Though Whitson and Maddox both struggled for the Gators on the mound, Florida’s middle relief – senior RHP Greg Larson (4.0 IP, H, BB, 3 K) and junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (1.2 IP, H, K) – was fantastic.

Despite UF’s struggles on Saturday, the Gators have shown signs of hitting their stride over the last two weeks. Florida has scored six or more runs in five of seven games and lost two contests by just one run.

The Gators will remain a top-ranked team on Monday when they learn of their seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament; Florida will find out whether or not they are one of 16 regional host sites for the event on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

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FOUR BITS: Parsons, Beal, lacrosse, baseball

1 » Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons is back in Gainesville, FL continuing rehabilitation on a partially torn right labrum he suffered during the season. OGGOA learned of Parsons’s injury on Friday and was told that he has already been rehabbing the shoulder for a month and is not allowed to have any contact until June at the earliest. He did not undergo shoulder surgery as it was not required by doctors. Houston plans to have Parsons, a 2012 NBA All-Rookie second team member, in action during their summer league games. He will likely participate in one or two contests and spend the rest of the time practicing and working out with his teammates.

2 » Just over a month away from the 2012 NBA Draft, Florida Gators freshman guard Bradley Beal continues to be a hot name amongst scouts and front office executives. Not only is he almost cemented in to be a top-five overall selection, Beal is seen by many to be one of the three best players available and could go as high as No. 2 overall according to ESPN’s Andy Katz, who notes that his “physical stature and his ability to make shots mean he’s ready to contribute.” Continued…

NBA.com’s David Aldridge:

Beal, who finished second on the Gators in scoring last season, is the choice of just about every pro scout and evaluator I’ve spoken with, and there isn’t one of them who believes he won’t be taken in the top five or higher in June’s Draft.

“I’m not comparing him to Ray [Allen], but he’s the best I’ve seen since Ray in terms of being able to catch and shoot,” said an official from a Southeast Division team — who, indeed, just compared the 6-foot-3 Beal to Allen, the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers. […]

“He has a chance to be really good,” said a Central Division personnel man. “Super high-character guy, too. He can do a lot more than he’s shown. Works his tail off. Just all of the things you want. He’s like the flavor of the month.”

Said a Northwest Division scout: “He’s not tall, but he’s big and thick and strong. He has a lot of poise to him. I think he has upside. He didn’t have an elite shooting year, but it’ll get better. His stroke is good. It’s just a matter of taking more shots and making them.” […]

“The one thing that hindered him was Boynton and Walker were chuckers,” said a Southwest Division scout. “I saw him against Arizona and I wanted Bradley to get (ticked): ‘Why don’t y’all pass the ball?’ But he stayed in his lane. If Bradley had played with a better point guard, he probably would have had better numbers.” […]

“I think he can guard people,” the Northwest scout said. “He’s really, really strong, very physical. I think he takes it personally. He wants to guard. And if you’re going to play for Billy (Donovan) you have to have some of that in you.”

3 » Set to participate in their first Final Four on Friday, members of No. 1 Florida lacrosse learned earlier in the day that they had been awarded prestigious honors by WomensLax.com. The organization, one of three nationally that hands out awards each postseason for women’s lacrosse, named Amanda O’Leary the Coach of the Year, junior Mikey Meagher the Goalie of the Year and placed four Gators – Meagher, junior attacker Kitty Cullen, junior midfielder Brittany Dashiell and freshman M Shannon Gilroy – on their list of All-Americans. Cullen is the only player who was honored in the same way last season and becomes the first player in team history to earn consecutive All-America selections.

4 » Two members of No. 2 Florida baseball – juniors Brian Johnson and Austin Maddox have been named to the watch list for the 2012 John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award. Johnson (6-4, 3.88 ERA, .310 avg., 5 HR, 34 RBI) has done more two-way work than Maddox has this season, earning 45 starts as a hitter and 14 as a pitcher. Maddox (3-2, 12 S, 1.43 ERA, .265 avg., 5 RBI) has appeared in 28 contests as a closer/reliever but has only hit in 25 games with 18 of those coming as a starter.

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Florida tops Auburn in SEC Tournament opener

No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (41-16) continued their winning ways over the Auburn Tigers (30-27), outscoring their opponents 6-1 in the opening round of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Tuesday at Regions Park in Hoover, AL.

Florida just concluded the 2012 regular season with a three-game series at Auburn last Thursday-Saturday. The Gators picked up two wins over the Tigers and outscored their hosts 20-6 over the three-day period.

UF sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford was excellent in his outing, improving to 5-2 by allowing just one run (unearned) on two hits with four walks and a career-high nine strikeouts in 5.2 innings. Junior lefty Steven Rodriguez, senior RHP Greg Larson and junior closer Austin Maddox combined to toss the remaining 3.1 innings, allowing a single hit while striking out two and walking one.

Freshmen batters provided most of the offense for Florida on Wednesday. Left fielder Justin Shafer (2/4) drove in three runs (two in the second, one in the sixth), and second baseman Casey Turgeon (1/3, R) smacked a two-run double in the sixth. The Gators also got a RBI from junior catcher Mike Zunino (1/4), whose two-out double extended UF’s lead to 6-1 in the seventh.

Florida will have a day off before facing a yet-to-be-determined opponent on Thursday.

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FOUR BITS: transfer, Noah, baseball, Brantley

1 » The Florida Gators announced Wednesday that 6’6” center Vicky McIntyre has decided to transfer to the University of Florida and will be eligible to play in 2013-14 after sitting out a year per NCAA transfer rules. McIntyre, who has played at Oklahoma State the last two season and will have two years of eligibility remaining after a year off, decided to transfer after two coaches she was extremely close to perished in a plane crash in Nov. Once she steps on the court for practice, McIntyre will be the tallest player to play for Florida women’s basketball in the program’s 40-year history. “We get a kid with her size and length but now combine that with the experience she gained in [a] Big 12 program, plus the work ethic, attitude and excitement about being a Gator,” head coach Amanda Butler said. “That’s a winning combination.” McIntyre averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds during her freshman season and hopes to regain that form.

2 » Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah was forced to miss the final two games of his team’s first-round playoff series after severely spraining his left ankle during Game 3 and is becoming increasingly frustrated with how often he has been injured over the last two seasons. Noah said on Monday that he plans to strengthen his ankles in the offseason and do whatever he can to ensure he is in tip-top shape heading into next season. “I’m just frustrated because I really feel like I really worked hard on trying to keep my body right,” he told ESPNChicago.com. “I feel like the ankle injury was unfortunate. I think just going full speed onto somebody’s ankle and landing on somebody’s foot – that could have happened to anybody. It’s frustrating but nobody died. You learn from it and move on.” Despite his most recent setback, Noah still plans to participate in the 2012 London Olympics as part of the French National Team. “I’m gunning for it. I’m hoping that I’ll be healthy and be able to play,” he said.

3 » ESPN’s Keith Law released his first mockup for the 2012 MLB Draft on Tuesday and slotted Gators junior catcher Mike Zunino as the No. 5 overall selection in the first round by Kansas City. Zunino is widely believed to be a top-five prospect and the highest-ranked college baseball player. Law has also listed juniors left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson (No. 28), shortstop Nolan Fontana (No. 44) and lefty reliever Steven Rodriguez (No. 71) on his general list of top-100 players. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker, and junior righties Hudson Randall and Austin Maddox are also “potential top 200 picks,” according to ESPN’s Jason A. Churchill.

4 » The United States Social Security Administration this week released the country’s most popular baby names for the past year (2011) and noted that the name with the biggest jump in popularity for males is Brantley. From the press release: “For the boys, there could be some controversy over Brantley – depending on whether you are a fan of college football or country music. Arguments could be made that the popularity of the name comes from John Brantley, the quarterback for perennial powerhouse The University of Florida, or from Brantley Gilbert, the singer with the number one country hit ‘Country Must Be Country Wide.’ If you like both football and country music, you’re a winner either way!” Yes, that is from a real government press release.

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Zunino’s bomb powers Gators to series victory

A solo home run by junior catcher Mike Zunino in the eighth inning on Sunday powered No. 5 Florida Gators baseball past the No. 25 Mississippi State Bulldogs 2-1 and delivered the team’s second series victory in as many weekends.

Florida (38-14, 16-11 SEC) took down Mississippi State (31-20, 13-14 SEC) on Friday (4-1) before being shutout for only the second time this season on Saturday (2-0). Sunday’s 2-1 triumph marked UF’s fifth win in the last seven games and a victory in their final home series of the regular season.

The Bulldogs and Gators each posted zeroes in the first two innings before both scoring a single run in their respective frame in the third inning. MSU’s came via a solo shot while UF’s crossed the plate thanks to a rally concluded by a RBI groundout by senior right fielder Preston Tucker (0/4, RBI).

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson got the start for Florida but lasted just 3.1 innings. He struck out four and allowed just two hits and an earned run but coughed up five walks, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch as well.

Five Gators relievers closed out the contest for Whitson with juniors lefty Steven Rodriguez and RHP Austin Maddox doing most of the heavy lifting. Rodriguez struck out three and walked two in 2.0 innings while Maddox (3-2) pitched the final 2.1 innings and struck out two. He received the victory thanks to the game-winning bomb by Zunino (1/2, HR, RBI, R, 2 BB) in the eighth.

Florida committed three errors in the contest but none led to runs.

UF will take on Samford on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and will remain in the state of Alabama to conclude the regular season with a three-game series against Auburn.

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Teddy’s Catch: Gators grinding through SEC slate

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.

Midseason slumps happen – every team has at least one – though the one Florida Gators baseball went through (losing five of seven games from March 30 – April 7) may have been especially painful for fans.

Florida has seen the light though. As much was obvious over the last two weekends as junior left-hander Brian Johnson helped power the Gators to a series win at Tennessee and senior center fielder Daniel Pigott picked up the offensive slack against Georgia. Florida won both series but did not necessarily do so in the convincing fashion that many fans are accustomed to seeing. This is what SEC baseball is all about.

The biggest issue the Gators have is their offense. It was a question mark to start the season and remains a concern going forward. Their pitching and defense remain outstanding, especially considering the injuries that sidelined sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson and Friday night ace junior RHP Hudson Randall.

During one of my first columns here, I mentioned how Florida had nine players capable of hitting .300. At his point in the season only Pigott, Johnson, junior catcher Mike Zunino, junior shortstop Nolan Fontana and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (five players) have eclipsed that mark.

The Gators’ lineup has become top-heavy. After these first five hitters, Florida’s lineup is manageable for opposing pitchers. Freshman Taylor Gushue has cooled off from his hot start and Zunino is hitting sub-.250 in SEC play. Every team goes through midseason struggles but to see some of the veterans off of their game is a bit alarming.

Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Gators grinding through SEC slate

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