Gators Find Room for McMahan's Bat

It wasn't a secret that Ben McMahan's bat needed to be in the Florida lineup. The only mystery came in finding out how to do it. Thanks to some defensive improvements and position changes in the field, the junior may find consistent playing time this spring for the first time since stepping on campus.

McMahan is a catcher by trade, but sophomore Mike Zunino blocks that after winning the job before the start of his freshman year. It's still possible that McMahan could start once a week behind the plate to give Zunino a breather.

To fit McMahan in the lineup every day, there were things that needed to happen in the offseason. First, Preston Tucker had to prove he was capable of playing right field.

"Preston is my roommate, and he said he moved out to the outfield so I could get more time at first," McMahan said with a laugh.

Austin Maddox also needed to improve his defense at third base. He struggled with the glove at third last season, but he played the position with limited practice time and has looked much more comfortable this spring after a full offseason of work.

That opened one hole in the infield, coming at first base. Sophomore Brian Johnson, who had four home runs and 21 RBIs in one-third of the at-bats his teammates had, needed to get in the lineup. Johnson used the offseason to get comfortable playing first base, the position he played when he wasn't pitching in high school.

The smooth transitions of those three players opened up the designated hitter spot, one that McMahan is expected to occupy for most of the season. However, Johnson will pitch once a week. He has proven capable of pitching and hitting during the same game, which eliminates the designated hitter and opens a hole at first base.

That's where McMahan comes in.

He has used the spring practices to become acclimated to first base. He has good footwork from catching, and he is an above average athlete behind the plate. Those two characteristics have made it easy for him to move.

"I've been working on ground balls," McMahan said. "I think I've shown a lot of improvement in the past couple weeks. I'm pretty comfortable. All the work I've been doing with Brad (Weitzel) and Craig (Bell) has me a lot more comfortable over there."

Whenever McMahan needs some encouragement, his roommate is there to help. Tucker played first base for the last two seasons, allowing him to work with McMahan on the basics of the position.

"He's a real athletic guy," Tucker said. "He shouldn't have too hard of a time adjusting. He's improved a lot. At first, he didn't look too comfortable, but I think everyone expected that. He's improved tremendously. He'll be a big asset for us at first."

McMahan is just happy to head into a season expecting to be in the lineup almost every day. He performed whenever given an opportunity last season, including a walk-off home run against Georgia. McMahan also started the game that Florida clinched the SEC Championship by beating South Carolina after Zunino had a thumb injury.

He ended the season hitting .325 with two home runs and 11 RBIs last year in 77 at-bats.

"I did what I could with my opportunities," McMahan said. "I always keep a positive attitude, and whenever I get a chance to go in there, I always do my best to provide for the team. It wasn't much frustration, just being ready all the time to do what I can."

If there was one sign needed that McMahan was ready, it came over the summer. He spent the summer playing in the Cape Cod League, a wood bat league that showcases the top prospects in college baseball and is traditionally dominated by pitching.

McMahan had the fourth highest batting average in the league, hitting .323 (21-for-65) with two home runs, 10 RBIs, six doubles and 13 runs.

"I feel like I can transition it from the Cape to here, given an opportunity," McMahan said. "I just have to take my same approach from the Cape over to here."

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