Thursday, December 15, 2016

2017 Gator Baseball Preview

As the 2017 season approaches, the Florida Gator baseball team is yet again loaded for another run at the first National Championship in program history. Despite losing eight players to the draft, the Gators still look very competitive with 18 players returning. By class, Florida boasts one redshirt freshman, eight sophomores, eight juniors, and two seniors.

Looking at the freshmen joining the team this season, head coach Kevin O'Sullivan signed the sixth best recruiting class in the nation. Here's a brief look at all 11 newcomers to the Gator baseball program:

Nate Brown - RHP
Nick Long - RHP
Austin Bodrato - RHP/OF
Kirby McMullen - RHP/OF
Billy McKay - RHP
Cameron Weinberger - RHP

Garrett Milchin - 3B/RHP
Tyler Dyson - 3B/RHP

Keenan Bell - OF/1B
Austin Langworthy - OF/LHP
Andrew Baker - OF/LHP

Early Contributors
What's interesting about this freshmen class is that seven of them are two-way players (meaning they can either play the field or pitch if needed). This adds much versatility to the 2017 squad and gives Sully a ton of different options for various in-game scenarios.

Earlier in October of this year, Sully went on the Steve Russell Show and gave his thoughts on the team's progression through fall ball. He hinted that many freshmen might play right away, which has become a common practice within Florida's program nowadays.

Among some freshmen who may see the field early are Andrew Baker, Austin Langworthy, Garrett Milchin, and Keenan Bell. In a perfect world, I see Baker getting the start in center field on opening day with perhaps Langworthy or Milchin filling right field and Bell at first base. I'll get into projected lineups later, but I feel like Sully will have a good dose of freshmen playing in the opener.

Offensively the Florida Gators were 121st in batting average (.278), 98th in on base percentage (.370), 78th in slugging percentage (.418), and 41st in runs scored (408) last season. Out of 295 teams, these numbers are by no means bad at all. However, they can definitely be improved.

Florida lost some serious power and speed with the departures of first baseman Peter Alonso (48th overall) and center fielder Buddy Reed (64th overall) to the draft. As a result, Sully will have to make a few minor tweaks to the lineup for the 2017 campaign.

Here's what I think Florida's projected starting lineup will look like on opening day:
  1. Dalton Guthrie - Shortstop 
  2. Jonathan India - Third Base 
  3. J.J. Schwarz - Designated Hitter 
  4. Mike Rivera - Catcher 
  5. Nelson Maldonaldo - Left Field 
  6. Deacon Liput - Second Base 
  7. Keenan Bell - First Base 
  8. Andrew Baker - Center Field 
  9. Austin Langworthy - Right Field 
Lineup Breakdown

1. Dalton Guthrie

A defensive whiz at first and a catalyst in the leadoff spot, Guthrie is the bonafide leadoff hitter in this loaded lineup. Last season, he batted .305/.367/.366 with a team-high 85 hits, 22 RBI's, 47 runs scored, 25 walks, eight stolen bases, and six hit by pitches. Guthrie's batting average was the second best among his teammates last year, and I expect him to lead the team in this category in 2017.

2. Jonathan India

After an All-American season as a freshman, India makes for a good two-hole guy after batting in this spot for the majority of the 2016 season. India is a jack of all trades. He slashed .303/.367/.440 with 71 hits, four home runs, 40 RBI's, 43 runs scored, 22 walks, and 13 stolen bases.

As these numbers indicate, India knows how to manufacture and produce runs. Not only that, he presents a speed threat as his 13 stolen bases were tied for second most on the team last season.

3. J.J. Schwarz

Despite having a "down" season where he only hit seven home runs, J.J. Schwarz is still one of the most fearsome hitters in all of college baseball. Despite dealing with a sophomore slump, the two-time All-American hit .290/.397/.456 with 73 hits, seven round-trippers, a team-high 60 RBI's, 47 runs scored, and a team-high 45 walks.

Pitchers will approach J.J. very differently out of respect for his power. Fortunately, he has cracked the code. His walks saw an increase and he led the team in runs driven in. I believe JJ is poised for a monster year, and will cement his status as a first round draft pick.

4. Mike Rivera

The compliment to J.J. who is known more so for his defense, Rivera made significant improvements from a power standpoint. As a prime candidate for the clean-up spot, the junior hit nine long balls last year while driving in 47 runs.

He slashed .245/.347/.419 with 56 hits, 33 runs scored, 28 walks, and nine hit by pitches. Rivera's home runs and hit by pitch totals were both good for second most on the 2016 squad.

5. Nelson Maldonado

"Nelly" came in and proved to be a fantastic contributor as a freshman last season. He batted .256/.350/.405 with 50 hits, six home runs, 30 RBI's, 35 runs scored, and 25 walks. Look for his power numbers to increase this season.

6. Deacon Liput

Liput is an absolute speedster as his 13 stolen bases rivaled Jonathan India for second-most last season. In addition, Liput banged out four triples for second-best on the team as well. His eye at the plate is probably one of the best among returning Gators as he drew 34 walks in his freshman campaign (third-highest on the team last season).

As a freshman, he slashed .270/.363/.398 with 65 hits, three long balls, 36 RBI's, 39 runs scored, 34 walks, and 13 stolen bases. He will be an integral part of the Gator offense at the bottom part of the order.

7. Keenan Bell

Entering his collegiate career at Florida, Bell presents a great option at first base as a left-handed hitter and fielder. In his senior year at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville, he batted .275 with two home runs, seven doubles, and 17 RBI's. He has garnered many awards ranging from:
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region First Team
  • 2015 Under Armour All-America Game participant
  • 2014 All-First Coast Team

If Bell does win the starting first base job, it will be interesting to see how he fills the shoes of Peter Alonso and contributes on the college level.

8. Andrew Baker

Baker was selected in this year's MLB Draft by the Cleveland Indians in the in the 36th round, but still chose to come to Florida. Versatile as both a pitcher and a hitter, Baker would be a perfect fit as the starting center fielder. It would be shades of Buddy Reed, who started opening day at center field back in the 2014 season.

At Ridge Community High School, Baker hit .399 with 47 RBI's and 65 runs scored throughout his high school career. Last season he batted .421 with 17 runs driven in and 14 stolen bases. This would be good enough to earn him a selection to the 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region First Team.

9. Austin Langworthy

A local product from Williston, Florida, Langworthy was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 31st round of this year's MLB Draft. He knows what success is, as he helped Williston High School win back-to-back state championships in both his junior and senior seasons.

Another two-way guy, Langworthy makes a case to be predominantly a hitter as he batted .403 with 11 home runs and 85 RBI's throughout his high school career. Last season, he batted .453 while driving in 27 runs, scoring 31 runs, doubling seven times, and hitting one long bomb.

He has quite a decorated high school career as some of Langworthy's honors include:
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region First Team
  • 2016 MaxPreps Small School Second Team All-American
  • 2016 American Family Insurance All-USA Florida All-State Second Team
  • 2015 & 2014 Gainesville Sun’s Small School Player of the Year
  • 2016, 2015, & 2014 First Team All-Area selection

On the mound, Florida's pitching took care of business last year as the Gators ranked sixth in ERA (2.91), first in strikeouts per nine innings (9.8), and third in WHIP (1.11). Replicating those numbers will be difficult, as the pitching staff has taken quite a hit with the departure of A.J. Puk (6th overall) and Logan Shore (48th overall) in this past year's MLB Draft.

However, Alex Faedo still remains and will be called upon to anchor down the staff as the now undisputed ace. With the Tampa product leading the charge, here is what the 2017 Florida Gator pitching rotation will look like:

  1. Frank Rubio
  2. Nick Horvath
  3. David Lee
  4. Eddy Demurias
  5. Michael Byrne
  6. Nate Brown
  7. Nick Long
  8. Austin Brodrato
  9. Kirby McMullen
  10. Billy McKay
  11. Cameron Weinberger
  12. Tyler Dyson
  13. Garrett Milchin
Starting Rotation Breakdown

1. Alex Faedo

Faedo has been throwing like an ace for the Gators since the moment he stepped on campus two seasons ago. Now a junior and officially given the title of "ace", the 6'5 Faedo will look to terrorize opposing hitters yet again. Last year he led the Gators with a 13-3 record in 17 starts while recording a team-high 133 strikeouts with 21 walks and a 3.18 ERA in 104.2 innings pitched. Look for him to once again win 10+ games.

2. Brady Singer

An absolute flamethrower who can touch the mid-to-upper 90s, the 6'5 Singer will be pitching in a bunch of potential series clinchers as the No. 2 starter. As a freshman out of the bullpen last season, Singer boasted a 4.95 ERA with a 2-2 record in 23 appearances. He threw 43.2 innings, notched one save, struck out 38 batters and issued 17 walks.

Singer has started one game in his career, and that came against Alabama in the SEC Tournament. He worked six innings, allowed four earned runs on five hits, walked two, and struck out no one on route to a no decision.

3. Jackson Kowar

Sidelined after April due to an injury, Kowar is another 6'5 guy that can run the ball up there real nicely in the mid-to-high 90's. Starting in 6 of his 12 appearances as a freshman, Kowar racked up a 3-0 record with a 3.37 ERA. He tossed 34.2 innings while fanning 44 batters and allowing 10 free passes.

4. MacGregor Hines

Redshirted during his freshman season, Hines can be utilized as a spot starter in the event of an injury or the need to rest one of the three pitchers above. I don't know much about Hines to be honest, but based on his performance in this past summer I can't help but be excited.

Playing for Brazos Valley Bombers, Hines started in 7 of the 10 games he appeared in. In that span he maintaned a 1.15 ERA with a 5-0 record and 43 strikeouts. He threw 46.2 innings and helped the Bombers win a fourth consecutive TCL Championship.

Bullpen Breakdown
1. Frank Rubio

Appearing in a career-high 23 games last season, Rubio will be counted on as the returning senior in the bullpen. As a junior, he sported a 4.46 ERA with a 3-1 record, one save, 21 strikeouts, and eight walks in 34.1 innings pitched. Although Sully said he would be doing a closer by committee, Rubio could seize that role with a couple good outings right out the gate.

2. Nick Horvath

A two-way guy, Horvath did well in his first season as a Gator after transferring over from Santa Fe. In 15 appearances, he went 2-1 with a 2.08 ERA, one save, eight strikeouts, and five walks in 13 innings pitched. 

3. David Lee

A local product from Gainesville who attended Bucholz High School, Lee played for one year at Florida International University and one year at Santa Fe College. Prior to transferring to Florida, he was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 38th round of this year's MLB Draft.

In his lone season at Santa Fe, Lee made 14 starts and went 6-2 with a 4.00 ERA. He tossed 54 innings and struck out a total of 58 batters.

4. Eddy Demurias

Seeing sparse playing time as a freshman, Demurias served more as a mop up man as he would enter the game with Florida either up big or down big. In five appearances last season, he posted a 13.50 ERA with two strikeouts and four walks in 3.1 innings pitched.

5. Michael Byrne

Possibly a spot starter option for mid-week games, Byrne did fairly well in his freshman season as a Gator. In 15 appearances, he maintained a 3.94 ERA with an 0-1 record, 15 strikeouts, and three walks in 16 innings pitched.

6. Nate Brown

Hailing from Wisconsin, Brown has received comparison from Sully to Gator legend Logan Shore. He is a mature strike thrower who can throw three of his pitches consistently over the plate. The top-rated pitcher out of Wisconsin, he was selected by the New York Yankees in the 40th round of this year's MLB Draft. In his senior season at Arrowhead Union High School, he posted a 7-1 record with a 0.89 ERA.

Some of his accolades include:
  • 2016 First Team All-State and First Team All-District
  • 2016 Top Senior Pitcher Award Finalist
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Central Region First Team
  • 2016 2016 Super 60 Participant
  • 2015 Honorable Mention All-District Honors

7. Nick Long

Due to an injury, Long did not pitch that much in his senior season at Sarasota High School. He was rated the No. 6 right-handed pitcher in the state of Florida and was selected to the 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region First Team.

Despite not pitching too often, he swung the bat well his senior year with a .415 average, 32 RBI's, and four home runs. Long's usage in various in-game situations this season will be interesting to observe nonetheless.

8. Austin Bodrato

Coming down south from New Jersey, Bodrato was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 24th round of this year's MLB Draft. In his high school career, he posted a 14-5 record with 129 strikeouts and won a state championship as a sophomore in 2014. Last season, he went 5-1 with 60 strikeouts in 36 innings pitched.

Some of his accolades include:
  • 2016 Big North Conference Player of the Year and First Team All-State
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Northeast Region First Team
  • All-Tournament Selectee at the Perfect Game WWBA World Championships in Jupiter
  • Top Prospect Team Selectee at the Perfect Game National Showcase in Fort Myers

9. Kirby McMullen

Carrying on the legacies of "Kirbys" coming out of the bullpen, McMullen maintained a 1.14 ERA in his four years at Forest High School. He finished his high school career 20-6 with 208 strikeouts and 59 walks in 184.1 innings pitched.

His accolades include:
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region Second Team
  • 2016 Florida Athletic Coaches Association Class 8A All-State Team
  • 2016 Ocala Star-Banner Player of the Year
  • 2015 Star-Banner Pitcher of the Year 

10. Billy McKay

Prior to Florida, McKay went 14-7 with a 1.16 ERA, 180 strikeouts, and 31 walks in 156.1 innings pitched at Plant City High School. Last season he maintained a 1.53 ERA while striking out 66 hitters in 59.1 innings of work. He has tossed two career no hitters, both in his junior season.

11. Cameron Weinberger

From Boca Raton, Florida, Weinberger posted a 1.06 ERA in 10 appearances during his senior year at Spanish River High School. He struck out 52 batters in 56 innings of work last season as well.

His accolades include:
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region Second Team
  • 2016 Honorable Mention All-Palm Beach County Honors

12. Tyler Dyson

Despite being ranked the seventh best third basemen in the state, Dyson could see initial action in the bullpen due to the fact that Jonathan India currently has the third base job locked up. Interestingly enough, Dyson did not become a pitcher until his senior year at Braden River High School.

Needless to say that transition went very smoothly. Dyson did not allow a single earned run throughout the regular season last year and notched 63 strikeouts to just 13 walks. He finished his senior year with a 6-1 record an 0.38 ERA in 55.2 innings. At the plate, he batted .333 with two home runs, 17 RBI's, and 14 runs scored in 26 games.

His accolades include:
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region Second Team
  • 2016 Bradenton Herald All-Area Player of the Year in 2016

13. Garrett Milchin

Milchin is another guy who may have to start his collegiate career in the bullpen until an infield spot opens up. He was selected by the Detroit Tigers in the 39th round of this year's MLB Draft and came into the University of Florida rated the fourth best third basemen in the state. 

During his senior year at The First Academy, Milchin maintained a 2.13 ERA while going 8-2 on the season. At the plate, he hit .390 while driving in 24 RBI's.

Some of his accolades include:
  • 2016 Rawlings-Perfect Game Preseason Florida Region First Team
  • 2016 FACA District 10 Player of the Year
  • 2016 Orlando Sentinel Second Team All-Area selection
  • 2016 Louisville Slugger Preseason All-America Second Team selection

Once again, the defense remained a strong point for the Gators as they finished with the third best fielding percentage (.982) in 2016. With that in mind, here are the error totals for the projected lineup as well as the starting rotation:

  1. Dalton Guthrie - 8
  2. Jonathan India - 12
  3. J.J. Schwarz - 0
  4. Mike Rivera - 3
  5. Nelson Maldonaldo - 0
  6. Deacon Liput - 5
  7. Keenan Bell - N/A
  8. Andrew Baker - N/A
  9. Austin Langworthy -  N/A
  1. Alex Faedo - 0
  2. Brady Singer - 0
  3. Jackson Kowar - 0
  4. MacGregor Hines - 0
That's a total of 28 errors from the starting lineup with obviously none coming from the starting rotation. J.J. shouldn't really count because he DH's two out of three games of a series. So really, the only truly flawless full-time fielder is Nelson Maldonado. I tip my hat to him as he has recorded 78 putouts with two assists last season.

Although errors hurt the Gators down the stretch in the SEC Tournament and the College World Series, the numbers speak for themselves. Florida will once again be another great defensive team and finish in the Top-5 within the category when it's all said and done.

2017 Schedule
I remember waiting so anxiously for this schedule to be released, and now it is my honored privilege to reveal Florida's opponents for this upcoming season:

17th: William & Mary
18th: William & Mary
19th: William & Mary

21st: @Jacksonville
22nd: Jacksonville
24th: Miami
25th: Miami
26th: Miami
28th: UCF

1st: @UCF
3rd: Columbia
4th: Columbia
5th: Columbia

7th: @FGCU
8th: FGCU
10th: Seton Hall
11th: Seton Hall
12th: Seton Hall

14th: FSU
17th: @Auburn*
18th: @Auburn*
19th: @Auburn*
21st: @Stetson
24th: LSU*
25th: LSU*
26th: LSU*

28th: FSU
31st @Missouri*

1st: @Missouri*
2nd: @Missouri*
4th: Stetson
7th: Tennessee*
8th: Tennessee*
9th: Tennessee*

11th: @FSU
13th: @Vanderbilt*
14th: @Vanderbilt*
15th: @Vanderbilt*
18th: UNF
20th: South Carolina*
21st: South Carolina*
22nd: South Carolina*

28th: @Georgia*
29th: @Georgia*
30th: @Georgia*

2nd: Florida A&M
5th: Ole Miss*
6th: Ole Miss*
7th: Ole Miss*
9th: USF

12th: @Alabama*
13th: @Alabama*
14th: @Alabama*
18th: Kentucky*
19th: Kentucky*
20th: Kentucky*

*Denotes SEC game
Home games in bold

Final Takeaway
Another baseball season presents itself another opportunity for the Florida Gators to capture that elusive National Championship. After a very brief appearance in the College World Series last year, this team has the makeup to get right back to Omaha and do some damage.

The lineup is experienced, the pitching staff is led by a first rounder who is complemented by two flamethrowers, the bullpen has the perfect mix of veterans and rookies, and the defense is nearly impeccable.

The freshmen will get thrown into the fire real quick and sort out who can or cannot play at this level. Freshman experience and production has been a big part of this program for awhile, and I expect nothing different this year.

Hopefully 2017 is the year that all the woes and shortcomings finally end. Hopefully it's the year that the Florida Gators can claim their rightful spot as National Champions in the ultra-competitive world of Division I collegiate baseball.



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