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!
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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.

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South Carolina downs Florida 7-3 in CWS opener

An explosive five-run fifth inning for the No. 8 South Carolina Gamecocks‘ offense erased an early lead by No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (47-19) and allowed South Carolina (46-17) to top Florida 7-3 on Saturday night in both teams’ first game of the 2012 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE.

With the loss, UF fell to 27-6 when scoring first and move on to the loser’s portion of the double-elimination tournament where they will have to win four-straight games in order to advance to the Championship Series for the second-straight season, something that has happened only six times dating back to 1988.

Gamecocks left-handed pitcher Michael Roth (6.1 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 3 BB, 3 K) earned the victory despite giving up the most earned runs of any of his CWS appearances. Gators LHP Brian Johnson (4.0 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 5 K) got out of jams in the first four innings but came apart at the seams in the fifth.

South Carolina threatened first by loading the bases in the opening frame thanks to an error, single and walk, but Johnson struck out the side to save Florida. The Gamecocks squandered another opportunity to score in the third but failed to score a runner from 90 feet away following a lead-off double and sacrifice fly.

It was the Gators that got on the board first with a rally in the third. Freshman left fielder Justin Shafer (2/4, R) and junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit singled to start the inning, but Florida found themselves with runners on the corners following a failed bunt and groundout. Junior right fielder Preston Tucker then stepped up and cleared the bases with a two-out, two-RBI double to deep left, giving UF an early 2-0 lead.

The Gators were in another tough situation in the fourth after Johnson allowed the first two batters on via a single and walk, but Florida’s deft defense registered three-straight outs to get out of the frame.

UF was not as lucky the next inning as Johnson started by loading the bases without recording an out. He then gave up a bases-clearing triple followed by double to deep right, allowing USC to take a 4-2 lead before being pulled. Senior LHP Greg Larson (1.0 IP, 2 H, K) replaced him and got the Gators out of the jam but not without giving up another run and allowing the Gamecocks to extend their lead to 5-2.

Florida cut into South Carolina’s three-run lead in the bottom of the fifth as a sacrifice fly by junior catcher Mike Zunino scored freshman third baseman Josh Tobias, who had moved over to third after getting on base with a lead-off single.

The Gators threatened again in the bottom of the seventh but came up empty after Ramjit (2/3) and Tobias (2/3, R) led off the frame with singles. The duo moved over to second and third on a sacrifice bunt but never made their way home. Florida ended the inning with Tucker (2/5, 2 RBI) flying out to shallow left and Johnson (0/4) hitting a hard line out to right after Zunino (0/2, RBI, 2 BB) was intentionally walked to load the bases.

UF sophomore right-hander Keenan Kish (3.0 IP, H, ER, BB, 3 K) kept USC at bay but walked the lead-off batter in the ninth, who eventually came around to score after advancing via a ground out and a pair of wild pitches, the second of which came from junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (0.1 IP, H, R, K). One out away from ending the frame, the Gators committed two fielding errors and gave up an infield single in between, allowing the Gamecocks to add another insurance run and increase their lead to 7-3.

Florida will face Kent State (46-19) on Monday at 5 p.m. in an elimination game that will air live on ESPN2. The winner will take on either Arkansas or South Carolina (Monday at 9 p.m.) in another elimination game on Wednesday.

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No. 1 Florida Gators baseball advances to College World Series with extra-inning 9-8 victory

No. 1 Florida Gators baseball (47-18) advanced to the College World Series for the third-straight season after completing a 9-8 victory in an extra-inning affair on Sunday against the No. 16 N.C. State Wolfpack (43-20) in the second game of Super Regional action at McKethan Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Florida swept the Super Regional from N.C. State after picking up a 7-1 victory on Saturday but needed seven pitchers, three clutch home runs and 10 full innings to register the come-from-behind win on Sunday.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Jonathon Crawford started on the hill for UF and threw 17 pitches in his first two innings of work before a weather delay forced the teams off the field. He wound up returning following a 2:23 delay though his opponent, ace Carlos Rodon, ended his day with three strikeouts over three no-hit innings.

Upon returning to the mound, Crawford gave up a lead-off double to end a streak of 14.2 innings without allowing a hit dating back to May 22. He was then hit for an RBI double two batters later as the Wolfpack took a 1-0 lead through three innings.

The Gators did not waste time taking back control of the game as senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/4, HR, RBI, R, BB, SB) led off the top of the fourth by turning on the first pitch he saw and sending it out of the park to tie the contest. The onslaught continued against N.C. State reliever Anthony Tzamtzis as Florida juniors catcher Mike Zunino and designated hitter Brian Johnson hit back-to-back doubles to put runners on second and third with no outs.

Freshman second baseman Casey Turgeon followed two batters later with an RBI single to right to score Zunino, giving UF a 2-1 lead and sending Tzamtzis to the showers. The Gators added two more runs to increase their advantage to 4-1 with freshman left fielder Justin Shafer hitting a sacrifice fly to center that scored Johnson, and Turgegon coming around to score after stealing a base and being knocked in via an RBI single to left by junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (1/5, RBI).

The Wolfpack similarly responded by tagging Crawford (3.2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, BB, 5 K) for three-straight two-out hits in the bottom of the fourth. With runners on first and second, RF Brian Austin smacked a two-RBI double to deep center that reduced his team’s deficit to 4-3 and brought senior RHP Greg Larson out of the bullpen.

Read the rest of the Florida-N.C. State game story…after the break!
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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.

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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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Vanderbilt swipes victory from Florida baseball, eliminates Gators from SEC Tournament

Down one with three outs to go, the Vanderbilt Commodores (33-25) rallied to score five runs on five hits in the top of the ninth inning and pulled off an 8-6 win over No. 2 Florida Gators baseball (42-18) in the semifinals of the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament on Saturday at Regions Park in Hoover, AL.

Junior closer Austin Maddox imploded for Florida after coming on to get the final three outs, giving up a lead-off double to right and eventually allowing Vanderbilt to tie the game after a sacrifice bunt, hit batter and suicide squeeze.

Unfortunately for the Gators, it only got worse from there.

The Commodores attempted a double steal and advanced a runner to third with another being thrown out at second. Vanderbilt then hit an infield single (the runner stole second on the play) to go up 5-4 and loaded the bases following an intentional walk, double steal and another intentional walk. With the bags full, the Commodores pulled off a triple steal to score their third run of the inning. A two-run single followed to give Vanderbilt an 8-4 advantage and increase Florida’s suffering.

The Gators allowed more stolen bases in one frame (seven) than had ever been executed in an entire SEC Tournament game in the history of the event.

VU scored two runs off of sophomore right-handed pitcher Karsten Whitson in the top of the first and sent him off after a rough 2.1 innings. Whitson gave up five hits and three runs (two earned) with two walks and no strikeouts in his outing.

Florida responded with a run in the bottom of the first and tied the game at 3-3 in the third when junior designated hitter Brian Johnson (4/5, 4 RBI) hit a two-run double to right center scoring junior catcher Mike Zunino (2/5, 2 R) and senior right fielder Preston Tucker (1/5, 3 R).

The Gators achieved what they thought would be the game-winning run in the fourth as junior shortstop Nolan Fontana (2/4, RBI, BB) singled to score junior first baseman Vickash Ramjit (2/4, R) and added two more runs in the ninth though the late offensive outburst was too little too late for Florida.

Though Whitson and Maddox both struggled for the Gators on the mound, Florida’s middle relief – senior RHP Greg Larson (4.0 IP, H, BB, 3 K) and junior LHP Steven Rodriguez (1.2 IP, H, K) – was fantastic.

Despite UF’s struggles on Saturday, the Gators have shown signs of hitting their stride over the last two weeks. Florida has scored six or more runs in five of seven games and lost two contests by just one run.

The Gators will remain a top-ranked team on Monday when they learn of their seed in the 2012 NCAA Tournament; Florida will find out whether or not they are one of 16 regional host sites for the event on Sunday at 3:30 p.m.

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