Gator Rotation Shaping Up

If there is one certainty this spring, it's that the Florida pitching rotation isn't likely the end the season the way starts. There is depth on the staff that provides five capable starters to pitch on the weekend, which has raised the level of competition on the team. The battle is on for the three spots in the weekend rotation to start the year.

The positive for the coaching staff is that there are plenty of options. Four of the five options come with starting experience in the SEC, and freshman Karsten Whitson brings some of the most electric pitches on the staff.

Here's my best guess at the rotation:

Friday: LHP Brian Johnson (6-4, 4.03)
The sophomore left-hander was third on the team last year with 14 starts. He stuck out 51 batters in 73.2 innings on the season. However, he did allow 88 hits and 14 walks in that span. He needs to cut down on the base runners allowed, but Johnson has big upside.

Johnson didn't throw many innings this fall. He pitched for Collegiate Team USA over the summer, and teammate Nolan Fontana was the starting shortstop. Johnson had his innings cut back during fall practice since he threw so many during the spring, as well as being a valuable part of Team USA's bullpen.

This spot could easily go to Hudson Randall as well. The benefit of depth is that the Gators have experienced options for this spot. Johnson and Randall went through the SEC grind last season as freshmen while Alex Panteliodis was a sophomore, so they shouldn't be rattled by the environments they will see on the road.

Saturday: RHP Karsten Whitson
The freshman will have plenty of hype around him this season. He turned down $2.1 million from the San Diego Padres after being selected as the No. 9 overall pick in the MLB Draft. His mid-90s fastball and low-80s slider made him the second high school pitcher taken in the draft. He also has a changeup that will serve as his third pitch.

Based simply on upside, Whitson could easily take the reigns as the Friday night pitcher. However, it's not worth the risk of throwing a freshman into SEC road environments if it's not necessary. With the experienced arms on the staff, there isn't a need to throw Whitson into a high-pressure environment.

Sunday: RHP Hudson Randall (8-4, 3.24)
This is where the depth of the Florida staff is shown, as it's easy to find a scenario where the pitcher who led the conference in ERA during SEC play is slated to start on Sundays. He posted a 2.63 ERA and was named SEC Freshman of the Week twice.

Randall's velocity looked like it jumped some during the fall. Most freshmen aren't used to the long demands of a college season, and they wear down as the season progresses. That wasn't the case with Randall. However, a summer of rest looked like it might have been just what he needed. He was sharp, sometimes unhittable, during fall practice, getting ground balls and strikeouts with ease.

It's scary to think how many games Randall would win if he starts the season as the Sunday pitcher, since teams traditionally use their third best starting pitcher in that spot. If Randall does start the season as the Sunday pitcher, it wouldn't be surprising if he didn't stay there for long.

Wildcards: Keep in mind this is my projection for the rotation when the season begins, which would explain the absence of Alex Panteliodis. The junior left-hander led the team in wins last season, going 11-3 with a 3.51 ERA. He had hip surgery during the fall and didn't throw an inning. He is expected to be healthy for the beginning of the season, but the coaches won't rush him. With the depth on the mound, there is no reason to risk bringing him back too soon. Just my opinion, but I think it would be a good idea to give him a few midweek starts early in the year, as that allows him to start against Florida State on March 1 in Tampa, then evaluate the rotation after that.

It's hard to imagine a scenario where Panteliodis isn't in the weekend rotation. It's even harder to pick the pitcher that will come out of it for him.

Tommy Toledo is the veteran of the staff, and he has experienced plenty of bad luck during his career. He missed his second year on campus after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder. Last season, he missed two months after being hit in the face with a line drive.

Toledo started last year as the Friday night pitcher. He ended the season 3-2 with a 4.39 ERA. He struggled at the beginning of fall practice, but he improved as it went on. He ended it with a successful start on the final weekend of the fall. It will be interesting to see what role he finds himself in.

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