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!
Continue Reading » Teddy’s Catch: Freshmen need to learn on the fly

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FOUR BITS: SEC titles, Harvin, Tebow, Zunino

1 » Florida Gators swimmers brought home four league titles on Thursday during the third night of the 2013 SEC Swimming & Diving Championships, which are being held for the first time in College Station, TX. Junior Elizabeth Beisel started off the title wins by capturing the SEC Championship in the women’s 400-meter individual medley for the third-straight year. She broke the four-minute mark at 3:59.53, which is also a personal record and the best time in the nation this season. Also winning a title for the women’s team was freshman Natalie Hinds, who swam the 100-meter butterfly in 51.70 (also the top time in the country this season) to win her first SEC Championship. Junior Marcin Cieslak matched Beisel with his third-straight SEC title in a single event by winning the men’s 100-meter butterfly in 46.02, a season-best mark. Duplicating Hinds’s accomplishment for the men was freshman Pawel Werner, who swam the men’s 200-meter freestyle in 1:33.82 to win the SEC Championship.

At the close of action on Thursday, Florida (748.0 points) led 16-time defending champion Auburn (630.5) by 117.5 points. The Gators men’s team has won the most SEC team championships in league history (33) but has not brought home the top spot since 1993. On the women’s side, Florida (676.0) trails Georgia (790.0) by 114 points. UF’s women’s team has also won the most SEC team titles in league history (17) but has not come in first since 2009; UGA is looking to win its fourth-straight championship. Two days of competition remain with the event concluding Saturday night.

2 » Tracked down by a St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter at his home in Fleming Island, FL, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin refused comment about his situation with the team. “I’ve got nothing to say about any of that,” he said. At the 2013 NFL Combine on Thursday, Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman reiterated that he has no plans to get rid of Harvin and expects him to be in training camp on time. “We have no intent to trade Percy Harvin,” he said. “Anything related to his contract … will all be kept internally.” This story continues to be interesting.

3 » The New York Jets contingent spoke with the media on Thursday and of course one of the highlights of their media availabilities was everyone tip-toeing around the subject of quarterback Tim Tebow. Head coach Rex Ryan noted that Tebow is “under contract to be a New York Jet, so we’ll see how things go in the offseason. But Tim is under contract.” New general manager John Idzik, who inherited Tebow on his roster, praised the player’s work ethic but did not speak in specifics about whether or not he would be with the team to compete going forward. “My view on Tim Tebow is he is a highly competitive athlete. Everywhere he’s been, he’s been a highly competitive athlete,” he said. “And what we do, we’re going to provide as much competition as we can on a daily basis, at every position, quarterback included, and we’ll see how that rolls out. I would think Tim would be game for that. He’s a competitor.”

4 » New Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, has been competing with his future teammates in Peoria, AZ over the last few days and is looking every bit the player the Mariners hoped. Larry Stone of The Seattle Times caught up with Zunino this week and wrote that the player is quickly winning over other players and manager Eric Wedge. “He’s a complete player, very comfortable in his own skin for a young man,” Wedge said. “You can tell already he has a great respect for the game. You can tell already he’s a student of the game. I’m very impressed with the way he handles himself catching bullpens, just handling a pitching staff early on. Fundamentally, he’s been very impressive both from the offensive and defensive side.” To his credit, Zunino says he is in no rush to get to the majors. But if he continues to play the way he has over his last two college seasons, he will be there soon enough. “I’m going to do the best I can, put my work in every day, and try to be the best player I can be, and the best teammate I can be,” he said. “Eventually, wherever the chips may fall, that’s when I’ll make that next jump.”

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Florida RHP Karsten Whitson out for 2013 season

Florida Gators junior right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson will not play college baseball in 2013 after undergoing a shoulder procedure on Thursday, according to Kendall Rogers of Perfect Game USA.

Renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews performed the procedure in order to clean up the joint and relieve pain that bothered Whitson since his freshman season.

The silver lining in this situation is that Whitson didn’t have major arm surgery. University of Florida doctors were unable to find any shoulder or labrum damage, and Andrews came to the same conclusion. Andrews, however, cleaned up a few areas in Whitson’s shoulder, the procedure carried out without needing to cut on him, or full-blown surgery.

Kent Whitson, the player’s father, told Rogers that his son is “relieved” after having the procedure and that Andrews gave him “a thumbs up” when all was said and done.

“Whitson’s rehabilitation will take at least four months, just in the time for the MLB draft,” Rogers reports. “But while that may indicate Whitson could sign the dotted line with a professional organization this summer, the Whitsons believe it would need to be a perfect situation for him to do so.”

He also noted on Twitter that “Whitson said his son is fully prepared to return to Florida as a redshirt junior next season if things don’t work out.”

The Gators announced Wednesday that Whitson was sidelined indefinitely with “shoulder fatigue.” Baseball America reported shortly thereafter that he would be consulting with Andrews about the next step to take in order to heal his shoulder. UF not has confirmed Whitson’s season-ending procedure but head coach Kevin O’Sullivan discussed the news with Rogers on Thursday.

“We’re very disappointed that Karsten won’t be able to pitch for us this season. But on the other side of it, we’re very excited he’s going to be 100 percent at the end of this process,” he said. “We look forward to getting him back on the mound in ’14.”

Whitson originally joined Florida before the 2011 season rather than signing a $2.1 million contract offer from the San Diego Padres, which selected him with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft.

He went 8-0 with a 2.45 ERA as a freshman starter, registering 8.51 strikeouts per nine innings and a 3.29 strikeout-to-walk ratio. However, Whitson pitched just 33.1 innings during a sophomore campaign in which he was severely limited due to injury. He concluded the 2012 season with a 4-0 record, 3.51 ERA, 5.40 K/9 and 1.11 K/BB.

A hard-throwing pitcher, Whitson can hit the mid-90s with his fastball and compliments that pitch with a devastating slider. He was slotted to be the Gators’ No. 2 pitcher in 2013, and his absence will be a huge loss for a program currently in rebuilding mode.

Photo Credit: Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY Sports

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2013 Florida Gators baseball primer: Rebuilding

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

Florida Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has his work cut out for him in his sixth season in Gainesville, FL. Ranked No. 13, No. 17 and No. 24 in the various preseason top 25 polls, the Gators are looking up at anywhere from four to six Southeastern Conference foes listed ahead of them.

Right now, the core of the team that achieved three consecutive College World Series appearances is focused on MLB spring training instead of its spring semester at Florida. There are a few returning faces spread out across the diamond, but the Gators will have to find at least multiple new starting pitchers, a new closer and a new way to produce runs without relying so much on the long ball.

O’Sullivan has proven he knows how to identify some of the best young talent in the country. On a Florida team loaded with freshmen and sophomores, he has to develop that talent fast to fill the void left by the nine Gators selected in the 2012 MLB Draft.

Florida opens its 2013 campaign on Friday when it starts a three-game home series against Duke at McKethan Stadium.

Continue Reading » 2013 Florida Gators baseball primer: Rebuilding

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FOUR BITS: Henry, Whitson, Harvin, Wambach

1 » The Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday announced that former Florida Gators punter Chas Henry has received a one-year contract. Henry, signed as an undrafted free agent by the Philadelphia Eagles before the 2011 season, remained the team’s starter heading into 2012 but was replaced at the start of the season with Mat McBriar. He tried out with other teams throughout the year but was not able to find a new job when all was said and done. In Tampa Bay, Henry will start out as training camp competition for incumbent starter Michael Koenen, who is signed through 2016. Henry averaged 44.0 yards per punt during his time with the Eagles; Koenen averaged 45.3 yards per punt during the 2012 season and also handles the Bucs’ kickoff duties.

2 » Florida junior right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson, expected to enter the 2013 season as the team’s No. 2 starter, will be sidelined indefinitely with shoulder fatigue, the school announced. Whitson, who has missed significant time with multiple injuries during his sophomore season with the Gators, is a power pitcher with a mid-90s fastball and devastating slider. He went 8-0 with a 2.45 ERA in 2011 but pitched just 33.1 innings in 2012 and went 4-0 with a 3.51 ERA. His shoulder has long been an issue, however, and Baseball America reported on Wednesday that he met with Dr. James Andrews for a consultation. As of press time, the results of that meeting are unknown. Whitson originally joined Florida rather than signing a $2.1 million offer from the San Diego Padres, which selected him with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. “We knew there was a possibility he might not pitch the first two weekends,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We were kind of prepared for this, so it hasn’t really changed a whole lot in regards to this weekend.”

3 » As the 2013 NFL league season gets closer to starting (March 12), reports about wide receiver Percy Harvin and the Minnesota Vikings continue to swirl. Now that it is out in the open that Minnesota is almost definitely trading Harvin before the season begins, reports are noting Harvin is looking for a new contract similar to what top-tier wideouts Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald have received (eight years, $130-150 million with $50-60 million guaranteed) and will holdout from minicamp and training camp if he does not receive one. And while the Vikings are looking to trade Harvin due to a combination of cost and questionable off-the-field demeanor, running back Adrian Peterson – who won the league’s most valuable player award this past season – does not want the only other playmaker on his team going anywhere. “To be honest with you, I don’t know if we will or not. But me, individually, and giving you my opinion, I wouldn’t trade him for nothing,” he said on KFAN-FM in Minneapolis, MN. Harvin was garnering MVP consideration during the first half of the season and still led Minnesota in receptions (62) and receiving yards (677) despite playing just nine games (leaving the last one early after injuring his ankle).

4 » U.S. Women’s National Team captain and former Gators striker Abby Wambach played in her 200th international match on Wednesday, scoring a goal at 51’ and helping lead the United States past Scotland 3-1. Now the eighth American to play at least 200 games as a member of the USWNT, Wambach is also inching closer to former teammate Mia Hamm’s world-record international goals mark. Her shot into the net on Wednesday marked the 153rd of her career (63rd on a header), moving her within five goals of Hamm’s record of 158.

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FOUR BITS: Harvin, transfers, track & field, O’Day

1 » According to Mike Max of Minnesota CBS affiliate WCCO, former Florida Gators wide receiver Percy Harvin is on the Minnesota Vikings’ trading block. As was speculated previously, Max reports that “the No. 1 reason Percy Harvin left the team this season was not his injury, but it was motivated by a blowup he had with Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier.” Harvin, who reportedly got in a verbal argument with former Minnesota head coach Brad Childress and once reportedly attempted to choke former Gators wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales after the two got in an argument during practice, supposedly “had an embarrassing tirade directed towards Frasier, disrespecting the coach during the season when Harvin was sidelined with an injured ankle.” Shortly thereafter, the Vikings put him on injured reserve. A MVP candidate during the 2012 season until he got injured, Harvin is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He will likely command a second-round pick with some additional compensation but not the first-round selection his talent deserves as front offices have concerns about his injury history and demeanor within a team environment. Harvin can be traded when free agency begins for the 2013 league year on March 12.

2 » Two players Florida would love to have in uniform right now while the team’s roster is under siege by injuries are transfers junior center Damontre Harris and sophomore forward Dorian Finney-Smith. Unfortunately for the Gators, the two are sitting out their NCAA-mandated redshirt season; fortunately for UF, the duo is forming a close bond and preparing to contribute in 2013-14. Harris, who is still recovering from surgery he had on a torn labrum, told Florida’s school website that “the worst part” of the whole situation is “put[ting] in the work everybody else puts in, but you don’t get to show or perform or demonstrate all that work.” He added, “I think about it every day…actually wearing a Gator uniform. I’ve even had dreams about it but then I wake up knowing I still have to wait ‘till next year.” Finney-Smith is equally anxious. “I just wish I’d signed with Florida out of high school,” he said. “Can’t do nothing about it now, though, but practice hard and wait for my time to get here.”

3 » Gators track and field was split up over the weekend with half of the No. 2 men’s team and No. 7 women’s team participating in the 2013 Husky Classic (Seattle, WA) and 2013 Virginia Tech Elite Meet (Blacksburg, VA). In the latter meet, sophomore Marquis Dendy posted a 7.99m/26-2.75 in the men’s long jump, becoming the new NCAA leader in the event in the process. Also making noise in Blacksburg was junior sprinter Eddie Lovett, who matched his own Florida school record with time of 7.66 in the men’s 60-meter hurdles. Dendy and Lovett had their success on Friday with Saturday being all about sophomore Taylor Burke, who participated in the same meet and broke the school record in the women’s high jump with a personal best of 1.86m/6-125. Burke, a dual-sport star who started at goalkeeper for the soccer team this season, is expected to continue her track career as a professional after graduation.

4 » Headed for arbitration with the Baltimore Orioles, right-handed pitcher Darren O’Day agreed to a two-year, $5.8 million deal with the club, according to CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman. As a reliever in Baltimore last season, O’Day went 7-1 with a 2.28 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and a 4.9 K/BB ratio. He was a contributor to the Orioles’ huge turnaround in 2012 and certainly a piece that management wants to have around for the foreseeable future.

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FOUR BITS: Andrades, Nixon, Saunders, baseball

1 » Preseason-ranked No. 13/17 Florida Gators baseball opened the 2013 season on Friday with its very first practice of the new campaign. For those unaware that he would be doing so, freshman wide receiver Raphael Andrades is practicing with the team as an outfielder and is on the official roster for this season. At 6’0 and 190 lbs., Andrades is an accomplished baseball player who was actually selected in the 36th round of the 2012 MLB Draft by the Kansas City Royals. After being drafted by the Royals, Andrades took a trip out to Kansas City to take batting practice with the team and even hit a home run while doing so. The Royals were unable to sign him to a deal, which was no surprise whatsoever, but the Gators told Andrades during his recruitment that a roster spot on the baseball team was available if he felt like he could juggle both sports. He will wear No. 18 for the team and is the first student-athlete to participate in both sports since wide receiver/outfielder Riley Cooper (2007-09).

2 » While running back Mike Gillislee is turning heads during practices for the 2013 Senior Bowl, it appears as if offensive tackle Xavier Nixon is diverting eyes away from his play. According to the National Football Post‘s Russ Lande, Nixon is one of eight players that has struggled the most over the last few days.

From the first practice it was clear that Nixon was over-matched athletically playing offensive tackle. He could not kick-slide out in time to protect the corner vs speed rushers and lacked the feet and agility to re-direct and adjust to fast pass rush moves back inside. His lack of quickness also hindered his ability to get into good run blocking position and often led to him grabbing and holding his man. Nixon slid inside and played some guard this week and was more effective there, but his struggles to bend knees and block with leverage hindered him there too. Nixon is not going to be a high draft pick, but will likely be selected late because of his size, long arms and experience starting three plus seasons at Florida.

Measurements are also in for both players from day one of Senior Bowl practices:
- Gillislee: 5’11 1/4″, 207 lbs., 8.75 in. hands, 30.75 in. arms, 74.25 in. wingspan
- Nixon: 6’5 1/2″, 311 lbs., 10.25 in. hands, 33.75 in. arms, 80.75 in. wingspan

The 2013 Senior Bowl will be played on Saturday at 4 p.m. and air live on NFL Network.

3 » Former Florida safety De’Ante Saunders has decided to transfer to Tennessee State. According to the Orlando Sentinel‘s Chris Hays, Saunders is already enrolled at TSU. He is the second UF player to move on to the program in the last 12 months as tight end A.C. Leonard chose to transfer before the season. As Tennessee State is an FCS school, Saunders (like Leonard was) is able to play immediately and does not have to sit out the NCAA-mandated redshirt season he would’ve had to if he transferred to another FBS school. Leonard had great success at TSU in 2012, leading the team in receiving with 733 yards and six touchdowns in just 10 games; he has one year of eligibility remaining while Saunders has two more seasons of college football left.

4 » Head baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan met with the media on Friday to take an early look at the Gators baseball team heading into the season. Though Florida will once again have solid pitching and defense, the offense is undergoing a makeover with so many home run hitters no longer with the program. “I do feel good about our offense. It’s just there’s going to be some ups and downs,” he said. “There’s going to be a learning curve, but we certainly have the personnel to be OK. Our offense is going to be different this year. … Our personnel is different. It is what it is. It certainly can be as successful, we’re just going to have to do it a different way.”

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FOUR BITS: Speights, Floyd, Zunino, Fason

1 » The Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday traded reserve center Marreese Speights to the Cleveland Cavaliers after signing him to a two-year, $8 million contract in the offseason. Speights, who was originally acquired via trade by Memphis one year ago, played a big role for the Grizzlies last season as a fill-in for injured starter Zach Randolph. With Randolph healthy and Speights seeing limited minutes, including him in a package made sense for Memphis. He is averaging 6.6 points and 4.7 rebounds in 14.5 minutes per game this season.

2 » Former Florida Gators defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd published a second “thank you” letter to fans, following up the first placement in The Independent Florida Alligator with a second in The Gainesville Sun. Below is the text of Floyd’s second letter:

Dear Gator Fans:

When I came down here from Philadelphia three years ago, you rolled out the red carpet for me and welcomed me warmly. My three years in Gainesville have been the best years of my life. As much as I would like to remain here for another year and win and SEC Championship, the opportunity for me to enter the NFL draft now was one I could not turn down. I am very excited about the opportunity to represent the University of Florida in the National Football League with my Gator brethren. I promise to come back from time to time to visit old friends and root the Gators on to another National Championship. Thanks to all of the Gator fans who have supported me and the team the last few years. You are the best!

Sincerely,

Sharrif Floyd
Gator for Life

Check out two VIDEO BITS…after the break!
Continue Reading » FOUR BITS: Speights, Floyd, Zunino, Fason

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