Gator Baseball Will Return Plenty of 'O'

The Florida offense didn't live up to expectations at the College World Series. It wasn't a secret to the hitters as the Gators made the trip back to Gainesville, falling just two wins short of a national championship. There is optimism, though. After putting up big numbers before the College World Series, Florida could have most of that same offense return for next season.

Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan won't know the layout of his team until the August 15 deadline, designed for current players and recruits to sign professionally or return to school, passes. Even if the Gators get zero breaks with players returning, there is a talented junior class coming back to campus that will lead the team.

INFIELD: The anchor will be 2010 SEC Player of the Year Mike Zunino, who returns behind the plate. His return gives the Gators an immediate presence in the middle of the lineup next season, but it also brings back one of the best defensive catchers in America. Zunino isn't just a good defender, making only three errors in 2010, but he also handles the pitching staff well.

The Gators will have a logjam at the corner infield spots. Austin Maddox and Vickash Ramjit will return as experienced bats that can play either first or third. Brian Johnson returns and can play first base. Cody Dent, Zack Powers and Jeff Moyer come back as possible solutions at third base, and freshman Sean Trent is also expected to get in the mix. It's likely that the designated hitter will come from these two positions, with Johnson most likely getting the nod during most games in 2012.

The decisions could be complicated if first baseman/designated hitter Daniel Vogelbach elects to come to campus instead of signing with the Chicago Cubs, who took him early in the second round. It's a problem O'Sullivan would love to have, but the expectation is that Vogelbach will sign.

Nolan Fontana has the shortstop position under wraps. He is spending the summer playing for the collegiate Team USA and will be a fixture in the leadoff or two-hole of the Florida order next season. There aren't many teams in college baseball in better hands at shortstop for 2012.

Second base is where things get fuzzy. The departure of Josh Adams leaves a hole at the plate and with the glove. Dent could slide over to play second base, but freshmen Casey Turgeon and Josh Tobias could also play into process. I lean towards Turgeon here.

OUTFIELD: The big question mark for the Florida team in this draft comes in right field. The Colorado Rockies selected Preston Tucker in the 16th round of the draft, and it sounds like he is truly split on whether he should move on to professional ball or return for his senior season. Returning would give the Gators another cornerstone for the 2012 offense, but his departure would mean saying goodbye to one of three hitters to surpass 200 career RBI at Florida, with former big leaguer Brad Wilkerson and Cleveland Indians first baseman Matt LaPorta being the other two.

Daniel Pigott is expected to return next season. Tyler Thompson was a 46th-round pick to the Washington Nationals, but there are rumors he could elect to sign after his injury-plagued year.

If Tucker returns in right, Pigott could play left field while Thompson slides to center. If one of the two decides not to return, it could make room for an instant impact from a freshman. Tobias is versatile to play anywhere in the infield or outfield, but his 6.35-speed could find a home in center field. Justin Shafer could also fit into the mix.

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