Gators Shining in the Big Leagues

McKethan Stadium isn't the only place where the Florida program is experiencing success this spring. Multiple former Gators have started out the season well at the Major League level, and those in the minor leagues are building momentum that could find them in the Major Leagues some day soon.

Cleveland Indians first baseman Matt LaPorta is hitting .263 with four home runs and 15 RBIs. He has fueled the bottom of the batting order and helped the Indians to a 19-8 record and a surprising first place in the AL Central.

Detroit Tigers utility player Ryan Raburn is hitting .243 with four home runs and 14 RBIs. The most memorable moment involving Raburn early in the season came when he was playing left field last week against the Mariners. He was running back towards the warning track, when he leaped to make the catch, but the ball bounced off his glove and over the fence to allow Mariners catcher Miguel Olivo a home run.

Atlanta Braves catcher David Ross came into the season as the backup for Brian McCann, one of the best catchers in baseball. Ross has hit three home runs already this season in a backup role, and manager Fredi Gonzalez said on Monday that Ross will now catch most of Jair Jurrjens' starts, meaning he should be in the lineup once every five days.

Texas Rangers reliever Darren O'Day was expected to be one of the setup men for reigning AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Felz, but O'Day was placed on the 60-day disabled list on April 27 after surgery to repair a partial tear of the labrum in his left hip.

Oakland Athletics second baseman Mark Ellis is struggling out of the gates. He is currently batting .186 with no home runs, five RBIs and just four runs scored. The former Florida middle infielder only has a .224 on-base percentage, which has bounced him into different spots of the order.

Bryan Augenstein made the St. Louis Cardinals roster out of spring training as a reliever. He is currently 0-1 with a 9.53 ERA in the long reliever role out of the bullpen.

Recent Florida teams have multiple prospects rising through the minor leagues.

After patrolling center field at McKethan Stadium last year for the Gators, Matt den Dekker is already turning heads in the New York Mets system after they selected him in the 5th round of the 2010 MLB Draft.

den Dekker is hitting .373 with 13 doubles, four triples and a home run in 102 at-bats for the High-A St. Lucie Mets. Even more impressive, the left-handed center fielder is crushing left-handed pitching, hitting .425 in 40 at-bats against left-handed pitching.

Avery Barnes has gotten off to a slow start for the Ashville Tourists. He is hitting only .209, but he has eight extra-base hits in 67 at-bats. Barnes played outfield at Florida and early in his minor league career, but he has moved to second base this season in the Colorado Rockies organization.

Second baseman Cole Figueroa looked to be a quick mover when he was taken as a draft-eligible sophomore for the Gators. He has already worked his way to AA for the Tampa Bay Rays, playing for the Montgomery Biscuits. Figueroa was part of the package San Diego sent to Tampa Bay in the Jason Barlett trade over the offseason.

Figueroa is hitting .253 with five extra-base hits, one of those a home run, while driving in eight runs in 83 at-bats this season.

Jonathan Pigott, who played in the Florida outfield with den Dekker last season, is currently in extended spring training with the Atlanta Braves.

It's the pitching arms that Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan has developed that are flying through the minor leagues.

Kevin Chapman, Florida's closer in 2010, is already the closer High-A for the Wilmington Blue Rocks. He is one of many talented arms in the Kansas City Royals organization. The left-hander has recorded five saves but has a 4.82 ERA because of one bad outing where he allowed four runs in two innings on April 24. Chapman has a 15-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 9.1 innings out of the bullpen this season.

Chapman took the closer reigns for the Gators in 2010 after Billy Bullock was the key stopper in 2009. Bullock was traded from Minnesota to Atlanta before the season started, and he is pitching for the AA Mississippi Braves. He has recorded two saves this season. Like Chapman, Bullock has a high ERA (7.59) because of one bad outing where he allowed four runs in 2/3 of an inning on April 21. In his last four outings, Bullock has allowed one base runner and recorded four strikeouts.

Former Florida starting pitcher Patrick Keating was moved to the bullpen after the Kansas City Royals drafted him, and the move has been ideal. Keating is the closer for the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals. He has recorded three saves and struck out nine hitters in 9.2 innings.

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