FOUR BITS: Hernandez, Nelson, Young, Yeguete

1 » New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who underwent minor shoulder surgery back in April, was originally supposed to miss a few weeks of action before rumors popped up that he could start the season on the physically unable to perform list. Instead, according to reporters in attendance, Hernandez was already back on the field catching passes (non-contact) during organized team activities this week. In other words, he should be healthy enough to be fully cleared for practice during training camp over the summer. With teammate Rob Gronkowski looking like he will not be able to start the season on time, Hernandez has the opportunity to once again be a big-time playmaker for New England’s offense.

2 » Cleveland Browns wide receiver David Nelson is also working his way back from an injury, a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) that kept him out the entire 2012 campaign. Nelson, signed by Cleveland in early April, will be competing for a roster spot during training camp and told Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he will be good to go by the time it opens on July 26.

3 » Florida Gators senior basketball players center Patric Young and forward Will Yeguete often participate in charitable work both on behalf of the school and on their own. The duo, which are close friends off the court, recently befriended a three-year-old named Kaedyn Ballew who was diagnosed with cancer when he was just 10 months old. This story from the Florida Times-Union takes a look at the friendship forged between Ballew, Young and Yeguete and how it has extended well past the players’ initial visit. “Some [people] are impressed by our size,” Yeguete told the paper. “Kaedyn is not. He thinks that he’s stronger than us. He’s really confident. That’s pretty cool.” Ballew, who has been given a 50 percent chance at a full recovery, hopes to watch the Gators play in person next season while eating “nachos with lots of cheese.”

4 » OGGOA mistakenly overlooked the start of the 2013 MLB, forgetting to put together a short preview of former Florida baseball players on big league rosters. Therefore, here is a listing of the five Gators playing in MLB on Opening Day and how they have fared just over two months into the season.

Right-handed pitcher Darren O’Day (Baltimore Orioles): GP (27), W/L (3-0), SV (1), ERA (1.78), WHIP (1.11), K/9 (1.04)
Catcher David Ross (Boston Red Sox): GP (18), AVG (.189), OBP (.283), SLG (.453), OPS (.736) – Hit .125 in May.
Left-handed pitcher Nick Maronde (Los Angeles Angels): GP (3), W/L (0-0), ERA (11.57), WHIP (2.14), K/9 (0.95) – Sent down to the minors.
Second baseman Mark Ellis (Los Angeles Dodgers): GP (35), AVG (.270), OBP (.319), SLG (.352), OPS (.671)
Left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez (Los Angeles Dodgers): GP (27), W/L (1-2), ERA (2.75), WHIP (0.71), K/9 (1.04)

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FOUR BITS: NFL, Team USA, Fontana, Tebow

1 » Now that the undrafted free agents have been scooped up and rookie minicamp is in the books, the newest Florida Gators in the NFL have plenty of work to do to remain on their teams heading into the 2013 season, which starts in exactly four months. As of press time, there are 41 total Gators spread across 19 different NFL rosters. Below is a list of teams corresponding with the number of Florida players currently on their rosters and set to participate in their respective training camps.

(4): Miami, Washington
(3): Baltimore, New England, N.Y. Giants, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay
(2): Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Jacksonville, Seattle
(1): Houston, Kansas City, Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Francisco, St. Louis

2 » Gators guard Sydney Moss has accepted an invitation to try out with USA Basketball for a spot on the under-19 team that will compete in the 2013 FIBA U19 World Championships from July 18-28. Team trails are being held May 16-19 in Colorado Springs, CO. Florida head coach Billy Donovan will be coaching the men’s team in the same event from June 17-July 7. He will begin his duties on June 14 in Colorado Springs as he tries to whittle down a 25-player tryout to the 12 that will earn spots on the final roster.

3 » Former Gators shortstop Nolan Fontana is raising eyebrows inside the Houston Astros organization with the way he is currently playing for the Class-A affiliate Lancaster JetHawks in the California League. Fontana (as of Tuesday) is leading the league in batting average (.369), walks (30), runs (29), on-base percentage (.504) and on-base plus slugging (1.071); he is also second in hits (41). As expected, Fontana is also proving to be an excellent defensive shortstop.

4 » Attorney John Morgan (of the law firm Morgan & Morgan) out of Orlando, FL has commissioned the below television commercial (which is also running as a radio spot) to support quarterback Tim Tebow and entice the Jacksonville Jaguars to sign the local product. Considering general manager Dave Caldwell made it perfectly clear months ago that Jacksonville was not interested in Tebow, Morgan is basically just wasting his money and using these advertisements to promote his name and business.

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SIX BITS: Masters, Zunino, baseball, Elam, Horford

1 » A pair of Florida Gators will be competing at the 2013 Masters this week at Augusta National Golf Club, one of whom is a current University of Florida student and a member of the school’s golf team. Senior T.J. Vogel, a 22-year old amateur, will be playing in his first ever major and has decided to properly take in the moment. Over the weekend, he and his caddie arranged his schedule so he could “bump” into Tiger Woods during an early-morning tee time. “I basically ran into him and we talked for a few minutes,” he said according to the Orlando Sentinel. Vogel has been playing at Augusta as much as possible in preparation for the Masters and will get his big opportunity starting on Thursday. He will be joined in Augusta by former Gators golfer Brian Gay, who has played as a professional since 1994 and has four PGA Tour wins but has never finished better than 20th in a major (2008 PGA Championship).

2 » Former Florida catcher Mike Zunino, the highest-drafted baseball player in school history (No. 3 in the 2012 MLB Draft), is breaking out in a major way while playing minor league baseball for the Seattle Mariners. Currently assigned to the Tacoma Rainiers of the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A), Zunino is simply crushing the ball. On Tuesday night, Zunino smacked a grand slam and has now hit a homer in three-straight games. He has hit four home runs in five games and boasts a MiLB-high 16 RBI while batting .429 and slugging an absurd 1.238 with an on-base percentage of 1.696.

Read four more Florida Gators news BITS…after the break!
Continue Reading » SIX BITS: Masters, Zunino, baseball, Elam, Horford

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Gators add 23-year-old quarterback Chris Wilkes

The competition at back-up quarterback for the Florida Gators will get even more interesting this summer as the program now has not one but two new players set to enroll to compete for the job behind junior starter Jeff Driskel.

According to a report from the Orlando Sentinel’s Chris Hays, 23-year-old signal caller Chris Wilkes (Orlando, FL) gave a pledge to head coach Will Muschamp on Saturday after the 2013 Orange & Blue Debut.

Wilkes (6’4”, 225 lbs.), originally a member of the 2008 recruiting class, was rated by Rivals at the time as a two-star quarterback. He had committed to play for Ole Miss but instead chose to try his hand at professional baseball. Wilkes was selected by the San Diego Padres with the No. 675 overall pick in the 22nd round of the 2008 MLB Draft.

In five seasons in the minor leagues, Wilkes, a right-handed pitcher, compiled a 16-13 record with a 3.57 ERA, 2.43 K/BB ratio and five saves. He went 7-1 as a rookie in 2008 but posted a 9-12 record over the duration of his career.

Wilkes is not the first quarterback to sign with a major program later in life after trying his hand at baseball. Two well-known players who have taken a similar path include Florida State’s Chris Weinke and Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden. He will walk on.

Also enrolling this summer at Florida is three-star freshman Max Staver (Brentwood, TN). Both players will complete with redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg for the second- and third-string quarterback jobs.

A portion of ESPN’s scouting report on Wilkes from 2008:

This young man is a ways away from being what he could be, but he has the measurables and a monster of an arm for coaches to work with and develop. Wilkes has a cannon for an arm and can make all the throws anywhere on the field. […] He is a big, strong pocket passer with adequate athleticism, but needs to be protected to be at his best. He shows great velocity on all throws and can fit the ball into tight spots. […] Flashes the ability to throw on time and read progressions. At this stage, he is all arm and Wilkes must learn to be a quarterback. He lacks great feet and quickness in his drop and set up. Can be heavy footed a bit. Is not a guy that will create much on his own and when he gets rushed, he will hold onto the ball too long. As much as you like his arm, he will spray the ball around and can be erratic. Must improve footwork to improve accuracy. Isn’t consistent yet in his production.

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FOUR BITS: Mitts, Florida basketball, Zunino

1 » Former Florida Gators defender Heather Mitts, who announced her retirement from soccer in May before the 2012 London Olympics, participated in the games, won a gold medal and has now completed the victory tour with the U.S. Women’s National Team. On Wednesday, Mitts officially ended her career by sending out a long message on her Facebook page. Below is a truncated version of Mitts’s message, which can be read in full by clicking here.

The time has come for me to move onto a new stage of my career. I truly appreciate the women who paved the way, to my friends and dear teammates that I will never forget.

I will miss the little things… the travel by plane, train and mini van, the locker room moments, keeping my teammates on their toes and nothing will ever compare to putting on that US jersey. It’s been an amazing journey with some obstacles but in the very end I feel so fortunate that we were able to close on a golden note. […]

A special thanks to Ohio ODP, my numerous club teams, St. Ursula Academy and the University of Florida. To Becky Burleigh, Vic Campbell & Mark Kirkorian for preparing me to reach the next level & James Galanis for helping me reach my full potential. […]

Its amazing how 28 years of playing a sport I love and always will, can fly by. From my first cap til now, the growth of the sport has been profound. […] I leave with so much gratitude to US Soccer for allowing us the right to play for our country. Lastly the fans. Your constant love and support for the sport and this team is among the best in the world. I look forward to joining you to cheer on this amazing team.

2 » According to The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway, Florida basketball “saw a modest gain in home attendance” during the 2012-13 season, averaging 10,667 fans in paid attendance as compared to 10,434 from a year ago. The Gators sold out six games (all Southeastern Conference contests) but still finished sixth in the league in attendance behind Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama and Missouri. All five schools have larger arenas and greater seating capacities than Florida.

3 » The esteemed Ken Pomeroy, who runs KenPom.com and churns out advanced analysis of college basketball, released his “All-kenpom” team for the SEC. Interestingly enough, the team was comprised of all five Gators starters – junior center Patric Young (his Player of the Year), senior forward Erik Murphy, senior guard Kenny Boynton, redshirt senior G Mike Rosario and junior point guard Scottie Wilbekin. He also discusses how Florida’s “lack of success in close games” is over-criticized and provides his projections for the 2013 SEC Tournament.

4 » According to CBSSports.com baseball insider Jon Heyman, the Seattle Mariners are thrilled with how 2013 MLB Draft No. 3 overall pick catcher Mike Zunino is playing but are not prepared to call him up to the major leagues just yet. Seattle will enter the season with Jesus Montero and Kelly Shoppach as catchers despite Zunino hitting .360 in Single-A and Double-A minor league ball last season. In spring training action, Zunino is just 4/19 (.211) with a homer. His time will most certainly come with the Mariners, but it does not appear as if it will be this season.

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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!
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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