Tucker Excited About Senior Year

Two weeks ago, Preston Tucker didn't know where he would be spending the spring of 2012. The Colorado Rockies selected him in the 16th round of the MLB Draft and had the opportunity to meet his asking price and place Tucker in their farm system. The Rockies wouldn't match the number Tucker wanted, and there was zero hesitation from Tucker in returning to Gainesville for his senior year.

As Monday night's midnight deadline to sign professionally or return to school passed, Tucker didn't even speak to the Rockies. The last time the two sides were in contact came two weeks ago, when Colorado said they didn't expect to meet the price Tucker was asking.

Before that conversation, Tucker admitted he was "a little up in the air."

"They were just hoping they could get me to sign for less money than I originally asked for, and they realized it probably wasn't going to work out," Preston Tucker said Tuesday afternoon. "That's when I realized that going back to school would be the right decision for me."

There are plenty of reasons Tucker threw out a high asking price. It was well known among professional teams that Tucker had a high number he was asking in order to forgo his senior season.

Some athletes go to school to put their minimum time in and head to the professional ranks, but that's not Tucker. The Florida outfielder has enjoyed his first three years in college and was in no hurry to give up the last one.

"What the Rockies were willing to pay me wasn't worth giving up my fourth year and the opportunity to get my degree," Tucker said. "And obviously, there's the opportunity to hopefully go back to Omaha this year. Those were the two main things."

Colorado's inability to sign Tucker turned into Florida's fortune. The Gators will now get four years out of a player that will likely end his career as one of the best players in school history.

In his three-year career, Tucker has twice been named First Team All-SEC, including once during the 2009 season when he was named SEC Freshman of the Year.

Tucker has recorded 208 RBIs in his first three seasons, just six behind Brad Wilkerson's school record. Tucker's 41 career home runs put him in third place and 14 behind Wilkerson for second place. Matt LaPorta has the school record of 74.

Tucker also has 53 doubles and is eight behind Mark Ellis for that career record. Tucker is in seventh place with 257 hits, and a good season could see him surpass Mark Ellis' school record of 319 career hits. He will also make a run at the school records for games played and games started.

With a healthy senior season, Tucker should see his name plastered all over the Florida record book.

"Anytime you can get back your three-hole hitter for his senior year, it's a huge lift," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "These are the types of things that need to happen if you want to be in the championship run again. It's impossible to replace his bat. We feel very fortunate and very excited that he's coming back."

After playing in the Cape Cod League last summer, Tucker took this summer off from playing in a wood bat league. He spent most of the summer at home in Tampa, working out and hitting.

However, he heard from plenty of his teammates during the summer. There were a few sales pitches from teammates, but most were done as a joke, with the players just hoping Tucker would make the best decision for himself.

The sales pitch from other players didn't influence his decision, but the players returning to Gainesville with Tucker did. The Gators lost second baseman Josh Adams and center fielder Bryson Smith off last year's team but will return every other starting position player in 2012.

Florida also brings back Hudson Randall, Karsten Whitson and Brian Johnson, the three pitchers who started most of the weekend games until Johnson suffered a concussion in the postseason. With all three members of the weekend rotation and three trusted bullpen arms coming back, Tucker adds a key piece to the middle of the order the Gators yet again.

"Playing in Omaha last year, we weren't really missing any piece of the puzzle," Tucker said. "Now, we've got freshmen coming in that can replace the guys who had a lot of success and left last year. If some of our younger guys step up like we know they can, we've got a good shot at being a very good team this year."

The Gators don't need anything different from what Tucker has done in his previous three seasons. Florida has been fortunate in recent years to get players back in this situation. Matt den Dekker returned in his senior year in 2009 and Josh Adams did the same in 2010. Both put up statistically improved seasons and went out on a positive note.

If Tucker puts up numbers similar to those of his first three years, the Gators will be just fine.

"He's just got to do what he has been doing for us," O'Sullivan said. "He has improved himself defensively, playing first and the outfield. If he can consistently hit from day one, I think he'll put himself in position to be one of the best hitters in the country."

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