2014 Florida baseball primer: Bounce back year?

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

The unanimously top 25-ranked Florida Gators are hoping to bounce back from a disastrous 2013 campaign that saw the team go 29-27 in the regular season and get bounced out of both league and national postseason play without winning a single game.

UF also lost five players to the 2014 MLB Draft – including three top pitchers – and enters 2014 with a young but talented roster filled with up-and-coming prospects.

In the offseason, seventh-year head coach Kevin O’Sullivan signed a top-notch 2014 recruiting class ranked No. 1 nationally by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball and Perfect Game. The 15-member class makes up 43 percent of Florida’s roster, which features two fourth-year players (redshirt juniors) but not a single senior.

One year ago, the departures of nine MLB draft selections loomed large on opening night. This Friday, when UF begins the 2014 campaign with a three-game home series against Maryland, the most notable absence from the lineup card will be a current Gators outfielder in sophomore Harrison Bader. Bader was indefinitely suspended after police suspected alcohol played a role in a Feb. 2 scooter accident. Without him, Florida lacks its best hitter (.312) and one of only four designated outfielders.

Here’s what O’Sullivan (252-132) has to work with as the Gators open the 2014 campaign looking to bounce back from last season’s disappointments and begin moving in the right direction toward another College World Series berth.

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Five current Gators, 10 baseball commits selected in 2013 MLB Draft; Florida QB Jeff Driskel, too

Florida Gators baseball had five current players selected in the three-day, 40-round 2013 MLB Draft, though it is unknown as of press time how many of the players that were selected will wind up leaving the program.

Junior right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford, selected by the Detroit Tigers with the No. 20 pick in the first round on Thursday, tweeted Saturday that he be leaving Florida and collecting the $2 million assigned value to his draft spot. “Excited to be apart of @tigers organization,” he wrote. “Looking forward to getting to work. Truly an honor and a blessing to be a Tiger!”

A Gators football player was also picked on Saturday as junior quarterback Jeff Driskel was nabbed by the Boston Red Sox with the No. 863rd overall pick in the 29th round of the draft. Boston retains Driskel’s rights until the 2014 MLB Draft next June and will only have its pick pay off should the player choose to give up football after the 2013 season. Driskel, who initially planned to play football and baseball at Florida, was a talented outfielder in high school who would have been drafted in 2011 had he not been dead-set on playing college football.

Below are the current Gators, 2014 Florida commitments and other notable players selected during the draft from Thursday-Saturday.

CURRENT PLAYERS

Round 7 – No. 210
Daniel Gibson, LHP
Arizona Diamondbacks


Height: 6’131″ – Weight: 220 lbs.
B/T: L/L – Class: Junior

The Gators’ top lefty reliever, Gibson will likely remain in the bullpen on the next level as he does have four solid pitches but is most effective when throwing his fastball and slider. Some teams view him as a potential starter, however. He appeared in 32 games for Florida in 2013, finishing the year 2-1 with a 4.42 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 38.2 innings. As a sophomore, Gibson went 1-1 with a 2.96 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 24.1 innings. He was originally drafted with the No. 789 overall pick in the 26th round of the 2010 MLB Draft by the Milwaukee Brewers but instead chose to go to college. It appears likely that Gibson will leave college, at least according to the Twitter account he established after being drafted. “So excited to be an Arizona Diamondback!” he wrote. “Ready to get out and play! #dreamcometrue”

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Teddy’s Catch: Gators prepare for 2013 MLB Draft

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 continue to provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2013 season.

The 2013 season was a disappointing one for Florida baseball, but head coach Kevin O’Sullivan should be pleased about his team’s prospects going forward because there’s a promising future ahead considering the returning talent and the number one ranked recruiting class coming in. While the Gators will be returning plenty of players, the team will no longer have seniors Vickash Ramjit and Cody Dent in the fold, and chances are junior right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford will be gone, too. The future of righty Karsten Whitson, whether he returns for his redshirt junior season or decides to accept wherever he is going to be picked in the 2013 MLB Draft this week, remains to be seen. You can be sure O’Sullivan – and every Florida fan, for that matter – hopes Whitson returns for a fourth season and anchors a young rotation.

So now that you have a grasp on what Florida stands to lose as the offseason begins, let’s take a closer look at the players mentioned above and their draft prospects.

Junior right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford
The only player guaranteed to be drafted out of this group, Crawford was seen as a potential top-10 pick coming off his sophomore year when he was hitting 97 mph regularly with a knockout slider and strong results in SEC and NCAA competition. Heck, he even threw a no-hitter last year that put scouts on notice had they not been looking at him previously. Unfortunately for Crawford, he failed to live up to the hype in 2013. Not only has his fastball velocity dropped to the low 90s, his command has raised some eyebrows about his future as a full-time, top-of-the-rotation starter.

Crawford started the year slowly, working more 90-92 mph pitches, but gradually built himself back up to the 90-95 range. His fastball has great sink and arm-side run, but he struggles to repeat his non-traditional delivery, which causes inconsistency with his pitch location. He throws too many balls over the heart of the plate and too many fastballs get yanked away from his arm-side (down and away to a right-handed hitter). His slider is above-average, not plus, with good tilt; he has the ability to throw it for strikes but relies on the pitch too often because he can’t locate the fastball.

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Gators baseball quickly eliminated from SEC Tournament, NCAA hopes in jeopardy

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

Coming off losing three of their last four regular season games, eight-seed Florida Gators baseball (29-28) went one-and-out in the 2013 Southeastern Conference Tournament, losing 6-3 to the nine-seed Texas A&M Aggies (31-25) in a single-elimination first round game on Tuesday.

After going on a winning streak in April where they won 11-of-12 games, the Gators looked to have significantly improved their chances of participating in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Florida has not done itself any favors since, losing nine of its last 13 games and putting its NCAA Tournament hopes in the hands of the selection committee, which must weigh UF’s difficult schedule against its disappointing finish to the season.

The Gators got the start they were looking for on Tuesday, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning. Florida first got on the board without a hit as sophomore right fielder Justin Shafer (0/4, R) reached on an error, advanced to second on a balk, moved up to third on a failed pick-off attempt and scored on a ground out by senior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (0/4, RBI). The Gators got their second run of the inning off three singles with sophomore designated hitter Zack Powers (1/4, R) crossing the plate when senior shortstop Cody Dent (1/2, RBI) knocked him home.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Johnny Magliozzi (6.2 IP, 4 H, 5 R [4 ER], BB, 6 K) started smooth by retiring the first 10 batters he faced but ran into trouble in the middle innings Aggies third baseman Hunter Melton tilted the score 3-2 in Texas A&M’s favor with a three-run homer in the fourth inning.

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Florida baseball ends skid, routs FAMU, FAU

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

Despite riding a wave of momentum (and an 11-2 record over the previous 13 games) into their latest weekend series, Florida Gators baseball (27-23, 12-12 SEC) failed its toughest test yet as it was swept on the road while taking on the No. 3 LSU Tigers (43-6, 19-5 SEC). Yet while Florida struggled away from home, the Gators got back into the swing of things as it closed its non-conference schedule this week with a pair of dominant wins over in-state opponents.

LSU snapped Florida’s streak of three-straight SEC series wins, taking all three games over the weekend in Baton Rogue, LA.

In the series opener, the Gators battled but came out on the short end of a 3-2 decision. Tigers ace Aaron Nola silenced his opponent’s bats and tossed his fourth-consecutive complete game in a 5-0 victory that clinched the series for the home team on Friday. Florida tried seven different pitchers in the series finale but none of them could contain LSU in what would eventually become a 18-6 blowout and series sweep.

The ESPNU Thursday Night Game of the Week creates a dilemma for SEC managers. Do you start your ace in game one or let him go Friday night (game two) to keep him in his regular routine? Tigers coach Paul Mainieri saved his top starter, Nola, for Friday, but Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan opted to go with his ace, junior right-hander Jonathon Crawford, in Thursday’s series opener. Crawford (5.1 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 K) did enough to keep Florida in the game but struggled with his command, only throwing 56 of his 98 pitches for strikes.

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Teddy’s Catch: Glimmer of hope for UF baseball

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 continue to provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2013 season.

Just a few weeks into the 2013 college baseball season, most fans probably decided to stop following Florida because, let’s face it, the team was playing poorly. While the Gators are still under .500, Florida captured their its SEC series of the year last weekend against a very talented Ole Miss club that was ranked No. 11 going into the series. These past few games have shown signs of improvement from a young and inexperienced team. Though those improvements may not foreshadow a deep postseason run, they do at least shows signs of a bright future.

The Gators have improved in almost every area of the game, but this team is still making too many mental errors, even for a young squad. Against Florida State, the Seminoles loaded the bases with nobody out and Florida was able to respond with two quick outs while keeping the FSU off the scoreboard. Before they could get the third out though, UF walked a run in. While the result is acceptable (one run scored after having the bases loaded with no outs), coaches and scouts notice things like this. Mental toughness is a huge aspect of what they look at when evaluating pitchers for the draft. The good news is that many of these pitchers are young and have another year or two to mature and grow both physically and mentally.

Read the rest of this edition of Teddy’s Catch…after the break!
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Teddy’s Catch: Freshmen need to learn on the fly

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!
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Teddy’s Catch: Florida’s worst-case scenario

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 serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets and has joined OGGOA as a baseball columnist to provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2012 season.

Florida’s baseball season has ended earlier than anyone expected. While it is a bit disappointing that the Gators did not make a deeper run in the College World Series, it is still an achievement to just get to Omaha, NE and perform against the top teams in the country. While many may be quick to point fingers at players, coaches and umpires, let’s take a deep breath, step back and evaluate the two games UF played before jumping to conclusions. Florida could not buy a break – and sometimes that’s just the way baseball goes – but there are some things that could have been done to help the team get through both games without suffering losses.

In the South Carolina game, UF was cruising along, leading USC midway through the game. Then in the fifth inning, junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson completely lost his usually good control. While that is hard to predict in the middle of the game, it is an easier fix than most people thin…and no, I’m not talking about taking him out of the game. Johnson couldn’t locate his fastball, but his curveball still effective; he could have gone to that and his changeup and hoped to find his fastball later. Instead, head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and junior catcher Mike Zunino continued to call fastballs during the inning and Johnson kept serving them up over the middle of the plate. Zunino also stayed put and did not take charge of the situation, heading out to the mound to try and straighten out Johnson. Showing leadership when your pitcher is struggling is key to being a good catcher, and it is something that Zunino usually does with great success.

There are plenty of things to point your finger at throughout that game other than Johnson’s bad fifth inning. The Gators made too many errors, failed to sacrifice bunt runners over, and struggled with the basic catch-and-throw fundamentals they are usually so good at doing. Those things happen in baseball, though usually not all in the same game for the top team in the nation. Sometimes you can’t help those things but that’s not to say that nothing could have been done to give Florida a better chance.

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