Tucker's Decision Key for Gators Future

The key to the offseason for Florida baseball won't come during fall practice or conditioning. It will be decided in the next month. Drafted players and high school signees have until August 15 to sign professionally or play for the Gators, but for head coach Kevin O'Sullivan, the biggest recruit is convincing Preston Tucker to return for his senior year.

O'Sullivan wants what is best for Tucker, but in this situation, it sounds like that could be returning to Florida. Most players elect to sign professionally after their junior seasons because that's when they have to most leverage to play against the professional teams. They can still return for their senior years, and that helps that earn a higher bonus from professional teams.

However, Tucker fell to the 16th round, where the Colorado Rockies selected him. Reports surfaced before the draft that Tucker had a high asking price if teams wanted him to sign, with numbers as high as $500,000 being floated. It's unlikely that the Rockies would give him that as a 16th round pick.

That doesn't mean he is a lock to return. It's not out of the question that Tucker could still sign with the Rockies if they give him a bonus close to what he has been asking.

It comes down to what Tucker wants. In the last two years, there have been two prime examples in Gainesville of players returning for their senior year and coming out on the positive end of it. The Pittsburgh Pirates selected former Florida center fielder Matt den Dekker in the 16th round of the 2009 MLB Draft, and he elected to return to Florida for his senior season. He was then taken in the 5th round by the New York Mets and is already playing in AA.

Josh Adams went undrafted in 2010 after a down season for him. The Florida Marlins took him in the 13th round during last month's draft.

The only difference for Tucker is that his three seasons have seen him put up big numbers. He is already one of three players in Florida history to reach the 200-RBI plateau, with Cleveland Indians first baseman Matt LaPorta and former big leaguer Brad Wilkerson being the other two. There isn't much left for Tucker to prove in Gainesville, which could be the reason he elects to move on with his career.

For some players, it's about more than that. Tucker enjoys college life and Gainesville, which could bring him back for his senior year.

Having Tucker for one more year would give the Gators another returning bat in the middle of the order to a team that is already predicted to be preseason No. 1. Pairing Tucker with SEC Player of the Year Mike Zunino in the middle of the order would be important, with key bats like Nolan Fontana, Brian Johnson and Austin Maddox all returning, too.

The season is bright for the Gators regardless of what Tucker decides to do. If Tucker signs, six of nine regulars will return to the Florida lineup, as well as all three weekend starting pitchers.

However, the key to a national championship run in 2012 begins with Tucker's decision. If he goes, the Gators will need some newcomers to step up and play immediately. If he returns, Florida will use the same core of players to make a run at the school's first national title.

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