Weekend Rotation Returns for Gator Baseball

After having the 16th best ERA in the country this season, the Gators will return their starting rotation for the 2012 season. It's a luxury few teams in the country will experience. With the tests that each starter went through this season, it should help Florida, despite a lack of proven arms in the bullpen.

It starts with the return of Hudson Randall, who will be a junior. The right-hander went 11-3 with a 2.17 ERA, but he is a difference kind of ace. Randall struck out just 73 hitters in 124.1 innings pitched, but opponents hit only .227 against him. He located four pitches for strikes all season to keep hitters off balance, making his upper-80s mph fastball look even quicker. He walked just 13 hitters.

Randall saved his best for when it counted, allowing just two earned runs in 14 innings pitched for Florida in College World Series starts against Texas and South Carolina.

While Randall depends on location, Karsten Whitson could turn into a power starting pitcher ace. During his freshman season, the right-hander struck out 92 hitters in 97.1 innings but walked a team high 28, which was 13 more than the next highest.

Whitson must improve his ability to go deep into games. It's a common issue for freshmen, but he only averaged 5.1 innings pitched in his starts this season. If he wants to be a frontline starting pitcher as a sophomore, he must prove capable of pitching into the later innings.

Brian Johnson and Whitson will battle for the No. 2 spot in the 2012 weekend rotation. Johnson brings experience after going through the grind of a college baseball schedule for two years, finishing his sophomore campaign with an 8-3 record and a 3.62 ERA. Johnson also missed at least three starts because of a concussion suffered at the SEC Tournament.

The bullpen is where the Gators will need to reload. Juniors Nick Maronde (0-1, 2.09), Alex Panteliodis (6-2, 3.71), Tommy Toledo (6-3, 3.99) and Anthony DeSclafani (5-3, 4.33) are all expected to sign professionally and not return for their senior seasons. Each was taken in the top 13 rounds of the MLB Draft and threw over 38 innings this season.

Greg Larson (1-1, 2.09) will be an important one to watch. The Anaheim Angels took him in the 29th round of the draft, but it sounds like Larson is expected to return to Gainesville for his senior season. He threw 38.2 innings and was an important sinkerball pitcher for the Gators.

If Larson returns, he will join Austin Maddox (3-0, 0.67) and Steven Rodriguez (4-2, 1.91) as a solid nucleus. Maddox was handed the closer's job after the midway part of the season and recorded five saves, while Rodriguez was dominant all season.

The Gators will need to use fall practices to find other arms to step up behind the three. Left-hander Daniel Gibson and right-hander Keenan Kish will both be sophomores and should blossom into more trusted roles. Jonathon Crawford will also be given a shot to be trusted on the mound.

The freshman class is full of arms, too. John Magliozzi and Corey Stump could see immediate time on the mound. Michael Kelly, Hudson Boyd and Kyle Smith would be important pitchers for the Gators if they made it to campus, but both were selected in the top four rounds of the MLB Draft and will be tough to get to Gainesville.

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