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.

Continue Reading » Preview: Florida Gators in the 2012 MLB Draft

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Gators rout Yellow Jackets 15-3 in Gainesville Regional final, advance to Super Regional

The rout was on at McKethan Stadium on Sunday evening in the finals of the Gainesville Regional as No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (45-18) scored in four of the first five innings and advanced to the Super Regionals for the fourth-straight season with a 15-3 demolition of the No. 24 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (38-26).

In addition to a 15-run performance from the Gators’ offense that included a pair of homers and multiple two-out RBIs, UF received a solid outing from junior left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson, who only had to pitch five innings but gave up just one earned run on three hits with four strikeouts.

Florida immediately got on board in a big way, using a pair of two-RBI hits to take an early 4-0 lead on Georgia Tech in the first. Senior right fielder Preston Tucker and junior Mike Zunino got on via one-out walks and were brought home on a double down the right field line by senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott. Freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon was walked and joined Pigott on the bags; the duo each advanced a base when a pick-off attempt rolled into center and came around to score on a single up the middle by freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (1/4, 2 RBI).

The Gators wasted no time in increasing their already substantial lead, using a three-run homer by Zunino to jump ahead 7-0 in the bottom of the second. Florida once again had men on first and second with one out after Fontana singled up the middle and Tucker followed suit through the right side. Zunino then crushed the second pitch he saw to left-center, smacking his second bomb in as many games.

GT put a small dent in their deficit as LF Evan Martin hit a solo shot to left in the third, but Zunino quickly got UF’s seven-run advantage back with his school record-tying 17th career sacrifice fly to score Fontana from third base in the fourth inning.

It did not take long for the Gators to start piling on the runs again as Florida plated seven more in the fifth. After Turgeon doubled with one out and junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (0/3, R, BB) joined him on base via a four-pitch walk, freshman third baseman Josh Tobias (1/3, 2 RBI, R) smacked a two-out, two-RBI double to clear the bags. He was brought home one batter later as Fontana (2/4, RBI, 3 R, BB, SB) singled through the left side to put the Gators ahead 11-1.

The onslaught did not stop there for Florida’s bats, however, as a single by Tucker (2/4, 3 R, BB) and wild pitch on a third strike to Zunino 1/3, HR, 4 RBI, 3 R, BB) loaded the bags for Johnson, who was walked to score another run for the Gators. Pigott (2/4, 4 RBI, R, BB) followed with a two-RBI single, and Turgeon (2/3, RBI, 2 R, BB) joined the party with a single through the right side to plate Johnson (0/3, RBI, R, BB) and increase UF’s advantage to 15-1 through five innings.

Johnson’s outing came to an end after five innings. He was replaced in the sixth by freshman LHP Bobby Poyner (1.0 IP, H, ER, K), who gave up a solo homer to the second batter he faced, 3B Sam Dove, that reduced Florida’s lead to 15-2. The Gators used a combination of sophomore right-hander Karsten Whitson (1.0 IP, 2 K), freshman RHP Johnny Magliozzi (0.2 IP, H, ER), senior LHP Greg Larson (0.1 IP) and junior RHP Austin Maddox (1.0 IP, H, K) to close out the contest.

Florida will begin Super Regional action on Friday or Saturday at McKethan Stadium against the winner of the Raleigh Regional. Two-seed Vanderbilt has the upper hand with a 2-0 record in the double-elimination event and is in the process of playing one-seed North Carolina State (2-1) in the finals (as of press time).

Gators on the 2012 Gainesville All-Regional Team: Zunino, Tucker, Fontana, Crawford, Turgeon (most outstanding player)

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Florida advances to Gainesville Regional finals with 6-2 victory over Georgia Tech

A complete team effort including clutch hitting and solid defense led No. 1 Florida Gators (44-18) to a 6-2 victory over the No. 24 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (37-25) on Saturday at McKethan Stadium and into the finals of the Gainesville Regional portion of the 2012 NCAA Tournament set for Sunday at 6 p.m.

Four players drove in runs for the Gators over two innings, and junior right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall stayed composed and efficient despite being knocked around a bit in his outing. Randall only gave up one earned run but allowed eight hits and walked one batter while striking out five in 5.2 innings.

Florida fell behind early after Randall gave up three-straight singles in the bottom of the second; luckily for UF he was able to induce a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning with just one run being scored. The Gators did not stay down for long, however, as junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit doubled to lead off the third, moved over on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a sacrifice fly by junior shortstop Nolan Fontana to tie the game 1-1.

A strange situation then occurred in the bottom of the third when Randall struck out Georgia Tech 1B Jake Davies and UF retired to their dugout. Instead of ending the inning, umpires reversed the strikeout call by pointing out that the ball was tipped by Davies’s bat and hit the ground. Randall returned to the mound and struck out Davies anyway as a raucous home crowd cheered his effort.

Perhaps fueled by what they deemed to be an unfair decision, Florida got right back on the board in the fourth as junior catcher Mike Zunino (1/4, HR, RBI, R) stepped up to the plate and hit a solo homer to center on the second pitch he saw. The Gators extended their newfound lead to 4-1 thanks to a quick rally including an RBI single by freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (1/4, RBI) to score senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott (0/2, R, BB, SB) and sacrifice fly to left by Ramjit (2/3, RBI, R) to score freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (1/3, R, BB).

Another odd incident went down in the bottom of the fifth when Yellow Jackets head coach Danny Hall began arguing with the umpires after Fontana (2/3, RBI, R, BB, SB) slid into second on a double. Hall aggressively argued that the umpires gave Fontana a time out too quickly and was tossed for apparently using explicit language.

Randall remained in the contest until the sixth when he was pulled after registering an important strikeout with runners on the corners and one out. Junior left-hander Steven Rodriguez relieved him and forced a fly out to right on his first pitch to end the inning.

Still on in the eighth, Rodriguez gave up a run that may have been prevented had his defense played better but nonetheless allowed Georgia Tech to reduce their deficit to 4-2. He was tagged for a lead-off single that advanced to second on a groundout before allowing an RBI single with two outs. Instead of having a close play at the plate, Florida gave up an easy run as Shafer’s throw from left field was quite short of home.

UF’s offense quickly negated that run by adding a pair of insurance runs in the top of the ninth as senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/5, HR, 2 RBI, R, SB), previously hitless on the evening, smacked a two-run bomb out of the park.

Rodriguez (3.1 IP, 4 H, ER, 2 K) stayed on for the ninth and retained the four-run lead by retiring the side for the Gators.

Florida will wait to learn their opponent for Sunday night’s regional final as Georgia Tech and College of Charleston must first play an elimination game at noon with the winner advancing in the double-elimination tournament and the loser going home.

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Notes and quotes from Crawford’s no-hitter

Florida Gators sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford threw the fourth solo no-hitter in school history and seventh in the history of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night at McKethan Stadium as part of the 2012 Gainesville Regional. Following the wrap-up video are some notes and quotes about Crawford’s gem and how it unfolded.

» As you already know, Crawford’s no-hitter was the first solo one for Florida – and also the first to occur in the NCAA Tournament – since May 23, 1991, when then-sophomore John Burke threw one against Furman for a 2-0 victory. However, ESPN’s Stats & Info Twitter account also pointed out Friday night that May 23, 1991 is also the last day there was a postseason NCAA no-hitter as well as one in the MLB. Just like Crawford’s was overshadowed by the no-no thrown by the New York Mets’ Johan Santana, Burke’s was secondary to a no-hitter tossed by Tommy Greene of the Philadelphia Phillies.

» Speaking of Burke, he was out for dinner with his family in Colorado when he caught a glimpse of a television and saw what Crawford did 21 years after he threw his no-no. “Great stuff,” Burke told Florida’s GatorZone.com. “I’m always pulling for Florida. I knew it was eventually going to happen, that somebody was going to throw one.”

» Though Crawford’s gem was the Gators’ first solo no-hitter since 1991, Florida actually saw two pitchers combine for one in 1993 when Doug Brennan (7.0 IP) and Chris Nelson (2.0 IP) took down Pace on March 19 of that year.

» Considering there have only been seven no-hitters thrown in the history of the NCAA Tournament, it should be no surprise that Florida is the only school to have two players accomplish the feat. Coincidentally, Crawford’s no-hitter was the first since Burke’s, meaning the Gators have the last two NCAA postseason no-nos on record.

» Crawford hit 98 mph on the pitching gun three times in the bottom of the ninth. He had not thrown the ball above 95 mph in any of the previous innings. “The last batter, I was throwing as hard as I could,” he said.

Read the rest of the notes and quotes on Crawford’s no-hitter…after the break!
Continue Reading » Notes and quotes from Crawford’s no-hitter

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Jonathon Crawford throws a no-hitter, leads Florida to 4-0 shutout of Bethune-Cookman

Sophomore right-hander Jonathon Crawford was nearly perfect for No. 1 Florida Gators baseball on Friday, throwing the fourth solo no-hitter in school history and seventh all-time in the NCAA Tournament to lead Florida over the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats 4-0 on the first day of the Gainesville Regional at McKethan Stadium.

Crawford faced just 27 batters in his first career NCAA Tournament appearance, registering five strikeouts and retiring the side in every inning but the third. Junior catcher Mike Zunino threw out the only base runner Crawford allowed via a base on balls. Crawford tossed the first no-hitter for both the team and in the event since UF’s John Burke threw one against Furman in the 1991 NCAA Tournament.

Despite his unbelievable effort on the mound, Crawford received tons of help both at the plate and in the field from freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon (3/4, HR, 4 RBI, R), who registered a career-high four RBIs on the evening and snagged a liner with two outs in the top of the ninth to preserve his pitcher’s no-hitter.

Senior centerfielder Daniel Pigott (1/3, 2 R, BB, SB) led off the bottom of the second with a single, stole second, moved over to third on a wild pitch and eventually scored on an RBI single by Turgeon. The Gators, however, got three-straight outs with two runners on base and ended the inning with a 1-0 lead.

Florida had a number of opportunities to plate runners in the next two innings but failed in that mission and was just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position. UF ended the game 2-for-15 in such situations.

Turgeon provided that second hit with a three-run blast in the fifth though the Gators quickly fell back into the swing of things (or lack thereof) by getting out thrice more with the lead-off runner on second in the bottom of the sixth.

Crawford (9.0 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, BB, 5 K) threw just 98 pitches in his no-hit outing and was consistently hitting 98 mph in the ninth inning.

[OGGOA Extra: Mick Hubert calls Jonathon Crawford's no-hitter]

Florida (43-18) advances to the winner’s bracket of the Gainesville Regional where they will take on Georgia Tech on Saturday at 7 p.m. GT defeated College of Charleston in the regional opener; CoC face Bethune-Cookman (34-26) on Saturday at 1 p.m. with the loser being eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.

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FOUR BITS: All-Americans, The Swamp, Harvin

1 » Four Florida Gators were named to various All-American teams on Thursday. Junior baseball players catcher Mike Zunino and left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson were both honored as Louisville Slugger All-Americans by Collegiate Baseball newspaper, while softball’s senior centerfielder Michelle Moultrie and sophomore right-hander Hannah Rogers were awarded by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. Zunino and Moultrie earned first-team honors, and Johnson and Rogers were named to the second team.

2 » A press release issued on Thursday announced that the University of Florida and LIDS® Sports Group have reached an agreement for the retailer “to operate and manage the official team stores” located within Ben Hill Griffin Stadium “as well as other special event concessions for the University’s baseball, basketball, and gymnastics athletic programs, among others.” The now-former Florida Gators Sports Shop will be re-branded as the Gator Locker Room, a name similar to the LIDS Locker Room storefronts that can be found throughout the state of Florida. The two stores inside The Swamp “will be equipped with custom embroidery and screen printing capabilities…which will allow fans to personalize their game day apparel.” There will also be a loyalty card available that “provides points with every purchase that earns rewards such as exclusive discounts and promotional offers, as well as access to special products and events.” LIDS also plans to leverage Gators merchandise in existing locations throughout the state, which will give Florida fans a greater choice of merchandise outside of Gainesville, FL. “We wanted a company that offered what Gator fans are looking for – a vast variety of quality merchandise available at convenient store locations around the state,” athletic director Jeremy Foley said in the release. “LIDS fits those requirements, as it is among the nation’s premier sports retailers. We are confident Florida fans will find just what they are looking for at the Gator Locker Room or at LIDS Locker Room locations.”

3 » Speaking with reporters on Wednesday, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin explained that he is sitting out of organized team activities as a precaution not because his recently operated upon shoulder is requiring him avoid physical activity. “I feel great. No limitations. Got all my strength back. It’s just precaution,” Harvin said, according to the Associated Press. “They don’t want me to fall or do anything crazy right now during these drills. Hopefully next week I should be back out here.” Even less stressed about Harvin’s absence from the field (he is still at the facility running and exercising) is head coach Leslie Frazier. “I gave him a big hug when he showed up,” Frazier said. “He texted me Monday night, Memorial Day, because I wasn’t sure what his flight schedule was going to be. He said, ‘I’m in town, what doctors do I have to see tomorrow morning?’ I texted him back, ‘Is this the Percy Harvin? The real Percy Harvin?’ So just great for our meetings, great for our coaches to see him around.”

4 » In a new edition of the Gatorade online series Inside the Edge, former Florida striker and current U.S. Women’s National Team member Abby Wambach is filmed at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute as she learns “how to properly prepare her body from the inside out before hitting the field.”

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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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Gators baseball racks up 2012 All-SEC honors

A league-high four Florida Gators baseball players received 2012 All-SEC First Team honors on Tuesday as voted on by the 12 confernece coaches.

Junior catcher Mike Zunino, the 2011 SEC Player of the Year, led the way for Florida on the first team and is joined by senior right fielder Preston Tucker, junior left-handed pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson and junior lefty reliever Steven Rodriguez. Zunino, Tucker and Johnson also made the 2011 All-SEC First Team.

Junior shortstop Nolan Fontana earned 2012 All-SEC Second Team recognition, third baseman Josh Tobias was chosen as a 2012 SEC All-Freshman Team member, and both Fontana and Zunino received placement on the 2012 SEC All-Defensive Team.

» SEC Player of the Year: Raph Rhymes, LSU
» SEC Pitcher of the Year: Chris Stratton, Mississippi State
» SEC Freshman of the Year: Austin Cousino, Kentucky
» SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year: Michael Roth, South Carolina
» SEC Coach of the Year: Gary Henderson, Kentucky

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