Zunino Highly Respected

There is a quietness to catcher Mike Zunino that garners respect from his teammates. He is calm in the worst situation and brings composure to one of the toughest positions on the field. It's why Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan trusts him, even though he is only a sophomore.

"He doesn't get overlooked in the clubhouse or from the coaching staff," O'Sullivan said. "He gives us a lot that doesn't show up in the stat sheet. We're very pleased with where he is."

Zunino started as a freshman in 2010, and his defense behind the plate was impressive from the beginning. He made only two errors in 393 chances during his first season of college baseball.

But that wasn't the most impressive part.

He came to campus having to learn about every pitcher on the team. He had to learn tendencies that each pitcher had in every situation. When the game was at a crucial point, what pitch did each pitcher feel the most comfortable throwing to get an out? The freshman had to figure it all out.

And he did.

His hitting struggled early in the season, likely because of his responsibilities on the defensive side of the game. Zunino still managed to end the year hitting .267 with nine home runs and 41 RBIs.

This season, the head coach wants to see increased leadership from his sophomore catcher.

"He needs to lead," O'Sullivan said. "In our system with me working with pitchers, I lean on the catcher a lot," O'Sullivan said. "I would like for him to call a majority of the pitches, if not all. He's got the best look. There are certain things you have to do to have a championship team, and having a catcher with some leadership skills is one of them.

"He does a great job with in-game adjustments. He talks to the pitchers in between innings, and he's got a quiet demeanor about him where he relates to the guys and can express his feelings in a way players listen."

OFFSEASON IMPROVEMENT: O'Sullivan was asked to pick a position player and a pitcher who had improved the most since the beginning of the fall. His answer to the position player came without hesitation.

"I feel really good about Zack Powers," O'Sullivan said about the freshman third baseman. "He has really improved defensively, and he has really improved his swing at the plate."

On the mound, O'Sullivan pointed to two of the veterans on the pitching staff. They're expected to come out of the bullpen to start the season, but there are two big arms that should be high picks in the 2011 MLB Draft.

"I'm really anxious to get Anthony DeSclafani and Nick Maronde back out there after they didn't have as good of years (in 2010) as they wanted to," O'Sullivan said. "They've both thrown outstanding. We're looking forward to them bouncing back and having big years for us."

ROTATION ANNOUNCED SOON: The Gators will announce their weekend pitching rotation on Wednesday night. Stay tuned to FightinGators.com for the latest as the coaching staff has tough decisions to make.

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