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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Kent State outlasts No. 1 Florida baseball 5-4, eliminates Gators from 2012 College World Series

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (47-20) was swept out of the College World Series for the third time in team history after falling 5-4 to the Kent State Golden Flashes (47-19) on Monday in an elimination game at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE.

After losing 7-3 to No. 8 South Carolina on Saturday, Florida fell to Kent State by giving up four unearned runs, committing two errors and missing numerous opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position.

Junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall started on the hill for the Gators but did not last long due to a health scare. Sophomore RHP Jonathon Crawford replaced him and picked up the loss despite not being expected to see the mound on Monday.

After suffering some bad luck in the top of the first, things got worse for Florida in the bottom portion of the inning. A throwing error by junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (1/4, R, BB) allowed Kent State to get a runner on base; he soon came around to score unearned after Randall gave up consecutive singles. There was then a delay in action as Randall (1.0 IP, 2 H, R, K) was spotted breathing heavily on the mound. He was treated for dehydration but remained on the hill to get the final two outs before calling it quits for the day with heat-related symptoms.

A fielding error by Gators freshman third baseman Josh Tobias gave the Golden Flashes life again in the second. Kent State plated their second run of the game three batters later after Tobias was unable to field an infield single and added two more immediately afterward thanks to a pair of singles up the middle. KSU registered four unearned runs on six hits with two errors committed by UF in the first two innings alone.

Florida got one back in the third as junior catcher Mike Zunino plated Tobias from second with a single up the middle, reducing their deficit to 4-1. Tobias (0/3, R) was on base after being hit by a pitch to lead off the inning.

The Gators gave the four-run lead back to the Golden Flashes one inning later, however, after Crawford (3.0 IP, 8 H, 4 R [1 ER], 3 K) threw a pair of wild pitches to allow a runner to score all the way from second.

Despite hitting numerous balls hard early in the contest, Florida had plenty of bad luck go their way as most found the gloves of Kent State defenders. UF was able to cut KSU’s lead down to three runs again in the sixth after a two-out RBI double by freshman left fielder Justin Shafer scored senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott (1/4, R), who reached base earlier in the frame on a single to left.

The Gators loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh courtesy of a base on balls and a pair of singles. Zunino hit an RBI single to score one run, and junior designated hitter Brian Johnson helped one cross the plate by hitting into a 4-6-3 double play that cut Florida’s deficit to just one run.

Senior left-hander Greg Larson (2.2 IP, 2 H, BB, K) filled in nicely for the Gators but was pulled for junior RHP Austin Maddox (1.1 IP) after placing runners on first and second with two outs in the seventh. Maddox went the rest of the way.

Florida freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon began the eighth with a single, but the Gators ended the frame by stranding two on base after Fontana lofted a ball to short, putting elimination three outs away.

UF began the ninth in similar fashion with senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/3, 2 BB) walking on four-straight pitches, the sixth time that a lead-off runner got on base for Florida in the contest. Zunino (2/4, 2 RBI, BB) followed by also getting on board via four-straight balls (split over two pitchers), and sophomore Cody Dent (0/0) was called upon to pinch hit for Johnson and advance the runners. With one out, the game-tying run 90 feet away and go-ahead run on second, Turgeon (1/5) struck out on two questionable pitches and Shafer (2/5, RBI) hit his first pitch into right to end the game with a fly out.

Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan falls to 3-6 in his three-straight CWS appearances with Florida being swept both in 2010 and 2012; UF’s only two losses in 2011 came in the Championship Series to eventual national champion South Carolina.

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Teddy’s Catch: Gators primed for CWS (Part II)

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.

Below is the second of a two-part look at Florida heading into the College World Series. Part one of Teddy’s Catch was published Thursday morning.

On an extremely positive note, many of the freshmen on this Florida baseball team have continued their solid seasons and gained some much-needed confidence and experience down the stretch. The Gators have seen some solid postseason play from freshmen infielders Casey Turgeon and Josh Tobias. Tobias has made a number of spectacular defensive plays at third base but also had two extremely clutch hits on Sunday (lead-off double in the ninth and the RBI single in the 10th to pad the lead).

It may have only been one measly double, but it was huge for his confidence as a hitter since he has struggled at the plate this year. Turgeon at second base joined Tobias at the bottom of the order with some clutch hits of his own and has also been playing quite well in the field. You can see him getting more and more comfortable at the plate not only game-to-game but also at bat-to-at bat.

These two freshmen are getting it done but Florida has also seen some fantastic outings from their young pitchers including sophomore starter Jonathon Crawford and a number of their bullpen arms. These guys are crucial to UF succeeding in Omaha.

One youngster who has been the odd man out lately as it pertains to the Gators’ weekend rotation is sophomore righty Karsten Whitson. It has been a tough season for Whitson who battled injuries early in the season and lost his spot in the rotation to the red-hot Crawford. Whitson, however, kept his head and confidence up and came through with what I think was the MVP performance of the Super Regional. He came into the game in the ninth with runners on base, struck out two, preserved the tie and extended the game into extra innings.

A former early first-round pick, Whitson showed exactly why he earned that designation on Sunday. He was pitching between 92-94 mph with an incredible slider and even mixed in a changeup or two that made the left-handed hitters look foolish.

Some scouts have been concerned about Whitson’s health and have said in recent weeks that they would be hesitant to draft him in the first round again next season. If he can stay healthy and pitch next year like he did against N.C. State in a short relief outing, he will be one of the first college pitchers taken in the MLB Draft – guaranteed.

Florida will open up against two-time defending national champion South Carolina on Saturday. The Gamecocks will likely throw their ace, southpaw Michael Roth, who was a ninth-round pick in the MLB Draft this year but is nonetheless extremely talented. He rarely throws harder that 86 mph, but his movement and repertoire of pitches is impressive, much like former Gators lefty Stephen Locke.

Junior lefty will take the mound for Florida and make his first start since the SEC Tournament. Johnson has experience both pitching in the CWS and against South Carolina. While he may have been the second- or even third-best starter in the Gators’ weekend rotation, he will be the first pitcher used this time around and for good reason: Johnson has won both games he started against the Gamecocks this year. The most recent decision was a complete game win in which he only gave up two earned runs in a nine-inning masterpiece.

Johnson’s ability to throw his fastball in the low 90s and mix in a slow curveball and deceptive changeup make him an easy choice to keep USC’s power hitters off-balance. South Carolina’s big slugger is first baseman Christian Walker, who struggles with left-handed pitchers’ change-ups. In the end it was a relatively easy choice for head coach Kevin O’Sullivan and not much of a surprise at all. Should Johnson continue his dominance of USC, the Gators’ pitching staff will be set up great for a deep run.

UF will have to beat one of the best teams in the country to stay in the winner’s bracket and must do so against their best pitcher and with the team’s collective chest out as they have not lost a postseason game in more than two years. It will be tough, but Florida has the better team on paper. It is time to put up or shut up and for O’Sullivan and the boys, there is no time like the present.

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Teddy’s Catch: Gators primed for CWS (Part I)

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.

Below is the first of a two-part look at Florida heading into the College World Series.

Florida Gators baseball is back in the College World Series. While everyone expected Florida to return to Omaha, NE this season riding the bats of junior catcher Mike Zunino and senior right fielder Preston Tucker and the arms of juniors righty Hudson Randall and lefty Brian Johnson, the Gators have also relied on youth both at the plate and on the mound to fill in some important gaps.

Playing in the CWS in unlike anything else a player will experience in college baseball. It pales in comparison to playing Florida State in Tallahassee, FL or even against Miami down in Coral Gables, FL. The stands are packed with 20,000-plus fans and the field is bigger than most that you play on during the year. Preparing for the event is nearly impossible if you’ve never been there before as a player.

My freshman year, the Gators defeated the Seminoles in the Super Regionals for the opportunity to head to Omaha, and it was crucial that we had an experienced senior-laden team to keep everyone grounded and focused. Fans should feel confident when cameras showed Zunino rallying the troops in the ninth inning against N.C. State; that leadership and ability to take control of the team not only by his words but by what he does on the field is immensely important.

Florida will be going to Omaha for the third-straight year, so their abundance of experience should play a critical role in keeping the younger players focused and hungry for that elusive championship. Your first trip to Omaha as a player is overwhelming, but this tournament is all business for the Gators as they strive to finally bring home the national title that has eluded the program for so long.

While everything may seem positive heading into the CWS, there is an issue with one of Florida’s most important players that has drawn my attention both as a scout and fan. Junior closer Austin Maddox again blew a ninth-inning lead in the second game of the Super Regional – his second destructive outing this postseason. While it was not anywhere near as statistically concerning as what he did against Vanderbilt in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, it was still tough to watch as someone whose years of experience have allowed him to develop a sense about pitching prospects.

Maddox has struggled mightily for two reasons. First, he has slowly lost velocity on his fastball as the season has progressed. Initially pitching between 92-94 mph, Maddox was hitting around 89-92 mph against N.C. State. While this might seem like a minimal dropoff, this small difference is enormous at the plate and makes it easier for hitters to handle fastballs, especially inside pitches that become easier for hitters to react to and turn on. Second, Maddox’s slider has been downright horrendous. He bounced one behind a hitter at one point and hit a batter another. He could not locate his slider and therefore was forced to throw his now-average-velocity fastball over the heart of the plate because his slider had put him behind in the count so often. He may have simply been gripping the ball too hard or too tight when trying to throw the slider, hoping to give it more break and bite, but “choking” the ball also leads to less control.

Maddox is not injured, at least not to anyone’s knowledge, but his being overused this season has caused him to wear down the further the Gators go into the postseason.

Hopefully head coach Kevin O’Sullivan can tinker with Maddox’s slider grip and give him a few extra days of rest before he is called on to pitch in the CWS because he is one of the Gators’ most important players. Otherwise UF may have a major question to answer: Who can/would/should be called on to get them to the finish line in close games?

Part two of Teddy’s Catch will be published Friday morning!

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FOUR BITS: Miller, Capital One Cup, Black, Tebow

1 » Former Florida Gators guard/forward Mike Miller has denied a Monday ESPN report that said he plans to retire following the 2012 NBA Playoffs. “I’ll re-evaluate my health after the season. But I don’t have anything set up. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said, according to the Palm Beach Post. Miller has been the depiction of the walking wounded especially over the last two seasons. He had hernia surgery in the offseason which many believe stemmed from a serious back problem that continues to bother him. Miller had surgeries to correct problems with his wrist and thumb last summer and often has to lie down when not on the court to keep his back from tightening up. Despite his health issues, Miller has $18.6 million remaining on his contract over the next three seasons (the third year is a player option) and would be hard pressed to give that up; however, the newly established amnesty clause could be used on Miller to rid his team of his contract and likely send him into retirement.

2 » The latest standings have been released for the 2012 Capital One Cup and Florida (89 points) currently has an 11-point lead in the men’s category coming in that many points ahead of LSU with one sport left to play. The Gators are currently participating in the 2012 College World Series (LSU is not) along with sixth-placed UCLA (64) points, 17th-placed Arkansas (39 points), 25th-placed Arizona (30 points) and 28th-placed Florida State (29) points. Schools earn points for top ten finishes in NCAA Championships and final official coaches’ polls with baseball being one of the largest scoring categories. In other words, Florida has not clinched victory and must at least finish quite high in the CWS to bring home the cup for the second-straight year (UF won the first-ever cup in 2011).

3 » Coming off an injury- and opportunity-shortened 2011 season, Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Ahmad Black is ready to prove Raheem Morris right in believing in him and going so far as to select him with a fifth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft (even if Morris is no longer his head coach). “It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “We have a new coaching staff, so to get in here and learn the defense a little bit quicker and better – by the time the season comes around it [will be] a plus for us.” Black told the Pewter Report that he has been installed as the back-up free safety behind 16-year veteran Ronde Barber and should see plenty of playing time as he will likely be on the field both for dime packages and when Barber needs to take a spell. “When we go to dime, Ronde goes to the dime [cornerback] role and I go to free safety. I’ll do whatever [I can] for my team and do what’s best us,” he said.

4 » Prior to his team’s first mandatory minicamp practice on Tuesday, New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan said matter-of-factly that quarterback Tim Tebow will solely be “running with the twos” while Mark Sanchez takes all of the snaps as starting signal caller. Though fans and media may be trying to create a quarterback controversy in New York, it appears as if the organization itself has remained steadfast in keeping Sanchez as the entrenched starter…for now.

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Field announced for 2012 College World Series

The 2012 College World Series field has officially been set after the final three teams qualified for the final segment of the 2012 NCAA Tournament by winning their respective Super Regionals on Monday.

Though the event will begin at 5 p.m. on Friday at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE, the No. 1 Florida Gators will participate in the last “first round” game when they take on the No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday at 9 p.m. live on ESPN.

The CWS is split up in two four-team brackets, each of which is double elimination and can consist of up to seven games. The victors of each bracket will square off in a best-of-three Championship Series beginning on June 24.

Florida (47-18) has been placed in the second bracket along with South Carolina (45-17), No. 20 Arkansas (44-20) and Kent State (46-18). The Gators are 4-3 against that field and 3-0 against the first bracket after registering a season sweep of No. 3 Florida State (48-15). No. 4 UCLA (47-14), No. 11 Arizona (43-17) and Stony Brook (52-13) make up the remainder of the first bracket.

UF is making their third-straight appearance at the CWS for the first time in school history. Florida fell in consecutive contests to UCLA and FSU in 2010 but made it to the Championship Series before being swept by USC last season. South Carolina has won back-to-back national titles and is also making their third appearance in a row.

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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!
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Florida named No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament

Florida Gators baseball was awarded the No. 1 overall national seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament on Monday as the bracket was released for the event. It is the first time in school history that the Gators have received the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament.

Hosting one of 16 regional sites for the event, Florida will take on Bethune-Cookman in the first game of the Gainesville Regional on Friday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Georgia Tech and College of Charleston will also play in Gainesville in the first portion of the event.

Should the Gators advance past the regional stage, they will take on the winner of the Raleigh Regional featuring North Carolina State, Vanderbilt, UNC-Wilmington and Sacred Heart. The winner of that series would advance to the College World Series.

Florida is 2-0 this season against Bethune-Cookman with victories on Feb. 21 (8-6) and April 25 (10-1). Georgia Tech is coming off a victory in the 2012 ACC Tournament and is on a five-game winning streak heading into action in Gainesville on Friday.

The Gators are making their 28th all-time appearance in the NCAA Tournament with the program still looking to win its first national championship. Florida has reached the College World Series seven times and played for the national title twice (2005, 2011).

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