Talented Gator Bullpen Defining Roles

The depth of the Florida pitching staff carries into the bullpen. The Gators lost closer Kevin Chapman to the MLB Draft, but they have plenty of proven, experienced arms to replace him. The issue in the bullpen won't be talent. It will come down to finding what role each pitcher will fill.

The Kansas City Royals selected Chapman in the 4th round with the 119th overall pick. Chapman went 3-0 last season with a 1.65 ERA and 11 saves. It was his first consistent season at Florida after arm troubles in the past, but his mid-90s fastball overpowered hitters from the opening weekend of the season through the College World Series.

The bullpen took another hit that isn't getting as many headlines, but it could prove to be as damaging. Jeff Barfield didn't put his name into consideration for a high draft pick, likely because he didn't throw in the mid-90s. Sometimes his fastball struggled to get into the 90s at all. He didn't need it.

Barfield proved to be a valuable right-handed setup man out of the bullpen with his variety of off-speed pitches. He went 4-0 with a 3.38 ERA. Opposing batters hit only .221 against Barfield.

Chapman was first on the team with 31 appearances, and Barfield was tied for second with 25.

The loss of 81 innings between the two pitchers will be difficult to replace, especially with the innings being thrown at a high level.

Before the other roles are filled, the Gators need to find their closer. Don't be surprised if it isn't completely decided on by the time the season starts. Last year Nick Maronde was expected to close, but Chapman was unhittable early in the season and won the job.

The two most likely candidates this year are Maronde or sophomore Steven Rodriguez.

Maronde was difficult to hit last season. No one questions his pitching ability, but his control was non-existent. The left-hander walked 24 batters in 26.1 innings pitched. He also struck out 37.

This fall, Maronde looked like a different pitcher. His control was much better, and he was one of the more dominant pitchers on the staff over the fall.

Rodriguez made his mark on the team last year as a freshman. The left-hander throws in the low 90s, but it's his cutter that makes him tough to hit. Last season, scouts called the cutter "major league caliber" and raved over his poise. Rodriguez went 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA last season. He recorded one save last season after two scoreless innings to end a 5-2 victory over Vanderbilt at the SEC Tournament.

Both pitchers will see plenty of innings, regardless of who wins the job as closer.

Greg Larson is expected to be the right-handed setup man. He has been the ground ball specialist out of the bullpen for each of his first two seasons. The junior went 3-1 with a 5.70 ERA last season. He struggled early on in the season before dialing in and throwing the ball better as the year went on. Larson was on the mound when Florida defeated Miami to clinch a berth in the College World Series.

Maronde wasn't the only one who had a disappointing 2010 season. Anthony DeSclafani was a consistent starter in 2009 as a freshman, but he was hit hard in 2010. He gave up 60 hits in 40.2 innings pitched, ending the season with a 2-3 record and 7.08 ERA.

Word out of fall practice is that DeSclafani has put it all together. He has an arm capable of throwing in the mid 90s, but that doesn't mean anything when his control struggles. The control took a step in the right direction this fall. He will be counted on to get big outs from the bullpen this season.

Michael Heller has the potential to be a trusted arm in the back of the bullpen. He just hasn't harnessed it yet. He has a powerful arm that earned him an Aflac All-American selection out of high school.

Heller tore his ACL two summers ago. By the time he was healthy enough to pitch, most of the bullpen roles were already solidified. Heller now comes into the start of spring practice healthy and ready to compete.

Watching Justin Poovey pitch in a low-pressure environment makes him look like he could be a weapon out of the bullpen. He has a lively arm and gets good movement on about every pitch he throws.

It has been a different outcome when he gets into a game. Poovey posted a 7.20 ERA last season, giving up 33 hits and ten walks in 20 innings pitched. They toyed with his arm angle last season, moving it a little lower.

Matt Campbell was the mop-up pitcher last season. He was a walk-on before the 2010 season. He had a 9.53 ERA, but he was mostly used in blowout games. Campbell was selected in the 43rd round of last year's MLB Draft. I assumed he would sign and give professional baseball a shot. However, he returned to Florida, and I was immediately told that his role could expand this year.

There are multiple freshmen that could contribute out of the bullpen. Left-hander Daniel Gibson, right-hander Keenan Kish and right-hander Jonathan Crawford will all contribute immediately.

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