2014 Florida baseball primer: Bounce back year?

By Andrew Olson – OnlyGators.com Contributor

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

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

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

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

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

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Teddy’s Catch: Gators prepare for 2013 MLB Draft

A five-year member of the Florida Gators baseball team playing under head coaches Pat McMahon and Kevin O’Sullivan, former catcher Teddy Foster is now attending law school after serving as an associate scout for the New York Mets last season. He joined OGGOA in 2012 as a baseball columnist who will continue to provide his unique perspective on the team throughout the 2013 season.

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

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

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

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

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

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

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

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

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

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

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Florida baseball falters, drops series to Auburn

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

With the season is winding down, Florida Gators baseball (28-25, 13-14 SEC) is limping to the finish line rather than charging towards it the way head coach Kevin O’Sullivan had envisioned. UF dropped two of three games to the Auburn Tigers (31-20, 11-16 SEC) in its last home series of the regular season and once again fell below .500 in conference play. Florida has now come up short in six of its last seven Southeastern Conference contests, dropping back-to-back series to LSU and AU.

The Gators struggled to hit consistently all weekend, falling behind early in all three games. In Friday’s series opener, the Tigers jumped out to a 6-0 lead, notching three runs apiece in the fourth and fifth innings. A four-run seventh helped UF get back in the game but ultimately did not change the outcome as AU held on for a 7-4 victory.

Junior right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford (4.0 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 3 K) did not have his best stuff in the series opener and Auburn took advantage. O’Sullivan yanked Crawford early, hoping his bullpen could tame the Tigers, but the move did not work.

AU busted the game open, scoring three more runs to extend its lead to 6-0. Florida fought back, but the deficit proved to be too much. Sophomore catcher Taylor Gushue (2/5, RBI) and freshmen outfielders Harrison Bader (1/4, RBI, R) and Richie Martin (1/4, RBI, BB) knocked runners home in UF’s four-run seventh, but the Tigers kept the Gators off the board in the other eight innings.

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Florida baseball continues rise; 6-2 in last eight

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

No. 19 Florida Gators baseball (25-20, 12-9 SEC) has continued its upward momentum, going 6-2 (with two series victories) since it swept South Carolina in mid-April. Over the last two weeks, Florida has gone 3-1 both at home and on the road.

Following a big three-game sweep over a Southeastern Conference powerhouse like No. 15 USC, many teams might suffer a letdown game against a non-conference foe on the road…but not the Gators. Florida had plenty of motivation to pick up a revenge victory in Fort Myers, FL against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles after having been swept by FGCU in Gainesville, FL back in February.

Sophomore left-handed pitcher Bobby Poyner tossed 5.1 innings, a career-high, allowing only one run in UF’s 5-3 victory on April 16 before sophomore closer Johnny Magliozzi got the job done with a five-out save. Sophomore catcher Taylor Gushue (2/4, 2 RBI, R, BB) smacked a double to help fuel a three-run seventh inning. Redshirt senior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (2/4, RBI) and sophomore outfielder Justin Shafer (2/5, R) also contributed to the hit parade.

Junior right-hander Jonathon Crawford overcame a rough beginning to his Friday start on April 19 to earn his third win in an 8-6 victory over the Missouri Tigers. Crawford allowed four hits in a four-run first but settled down for the next 4.2 innings and left the game with a 6-4 lead. The Gators’ offense was not done, however, scoring two more runs on four hits to spot the relievers four runs. Magliozzi picked up another five-out save, securing a much-needed series-opening win on the road for Florida.

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Florida baseball sweeps No. 8 South Carolina; Gators above .500 for first time since Feb. 20

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

It has been a season of ups and downs for Florida Gators baseball (19-18, 8-7 SEC), but the home team was able to end the week on a major high note by completing a three-game sweep of the No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks (27-10, 8-7 SEC) on Saturday at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

The series sweep was Florida’s first of the season. Saturday’s victory pushed the Gators above .500 for the first time since Feb. 20 while simultaneously extending their winning streak to five games including four-in-a-row over top-10 ranked opponents.

Following a big come-from-behind 4-3 victory over No. 7 Florida State on Tuesday in Tallahassee, FL, Florida started its series against South Carolina on Thursday with its ace – junior right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford – on the mound.

Crawford (2-5) carried his team with a solid 6.2-inning outing in which he allowed only two runs to help UF pick up the 3-2 victory.

It was Crawford’s second longest outing of the season and an indication that he may finally be ready to return to his role as staff ace. Crawford was bumped from the No. 1 spot in the rotation after he struggled in non-conference play, but he has won his last two home SEC starts and looks to be the Gators’ top starter going forward.

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Florida baseball at 13-16 after tough March

By Andrew Olson – OGGOA Contributor

The month of March started the way it ended for Florida Gators baseball, with a series victory. Unfortunately for Florida, in between its victories in the Miami and Ole Miss series, the team went 6-8, dropping three-consecutive weekend rubber matches and two midweek contests to in-state rival Florida State.

For the Gators, February ended on a five-game losing streak, including a surprising three-game sweep by Florida Gulf Coast in Gainesville, FL.

Florida opened March with a series against then-No. 21 Miami. UM claimed the series opener 3-2, extending UF’s losing skid to six games. Determined to right the ship, the Gators did just enough on the mound and at the plate to capture the next two games 6-4 and 6-3. The deciding factor of the series was the Hurricanes’ poor defense (seven errors), a problem that frequently plagues Miami in Gainesville.

The positive momentum from the UM series continued when Florida took back-to-back games from Jacksonville. Again, the Gators benefited from an opponent’s fielding issues. This time, UF cashed in on JU’s eight errors over the two games.

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FOUR BITS: softball, tennis, baseball, basketball

1 » No. 4 Florida Gators softball (23-1) continued its stellar start to the 2013 season by upending the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (22-1) on Wednesday in Tuscaloosa, AL. Florida handed Alabama its first loss of the season in the non-conference showdown (the game was scheduled outside of league play) by scoring six runs in the final two innings to turn a 4-2 deficit into an 8-4 victory. Junior right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers (11-1, 5.0 IP, 6 H, 4 R [2 ER], 3 BB, 5 K) threw well but was victimized by a pair of untimely errors before leaving the contest. Sophomore RHP Lauren Haeger (1.0 IP, 2 BB, 4 K) replaced her in relief and ensured that the Gators maintained the advantage they gained early in the top of the seventh. A two-RBI double by freshman pinch hitter Taylore Fuller (1/2, 2 RBI) put Florida ahead in the seventh. Haeger (2/3, RBI, R, BB), senior right fielder Kelsey Horton (2/4, RBI, R) and junior third baseman Stephanie Tofft (2/4, RBI, R) each knocked in runs for the Gators.

2 » No. 5 Florida women’s tennis (8-2) bounced back from its tough loss on Sunday with a 4-0 sweep of the No. 16 Florida State Seminoles (8-3) on Wednesday in Tallahassee, FL. The Gators debuted some new doubles pairings in the contest after struggling to win the doubles point in recent matches. The switch worked out for Florida on Wednesday as it took the doubles point before running through singles action as No. 11 junior Sofie Oyen earned a 6-0, 6-1 victory, No. 1 Lauren Embree picked up a 6-1, 6-1 win, and No. 53 junior Alex Cercone took her match 6-4, 6-3. UF improved to 53-1 all-time against FSU, according to the school.

3 » Gators baseball (7-7) has fought hard over the last four games to get its record back to .500 after losing six-straight games from Feb. 20 to March 1. In a home-and-home series against the Jacksonville Dolphins (4-9) on Tuesday and Wednesday, Florida came from behind twice to pick up a pair of victories. On Tuesday, the Gators trailed 5-4 heading into the top of the seventh but scored four runs over the final three innings to pick up the 8-5 victory in Jacksonville, FL. Back at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Wednesday, Florida rallied to score two runs in the bottom of the ninth including a walk-off RBI single by sophomore PH Connor Mitchell (1/1, RBI) that brought home senior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (3/4, 2 R, BB), who was intentionally walked earlier in the wild frame. UF looks to extend its four-game winning streak this weekend when it hosts Indiana for a three-game series from Friday-Sunday.

4 » Nine-seed Gators women’s basketball (18-13) delivered in the first round of the 2013 SEC Tournament on Thursday, taking down the eight-seed Arkansas Razorbacks (18-12) to advance to the quarterfinals against one-seed Tennessee on Friday at noon. Florida pulled off the 64-59 victory by going on a game-ending 10-2 run to erase a three-point deficit late in the contest. Junior guard Jaterra Bonds scored a game-high 17 points (12 in the second half) by hitting 10-of-12 free throws; she made just 3-of-10 field goals. Freshman G Sydney Moss also struggled from the field (3-of-11) but was just as solid from the line, draining 7-of-8 attempts to finish with 13 points.

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