Eye on 2013: Pitchers

OMAHA, Neb. – The weekend rotation hasn't been much of a competition in recent years. Brian Johnson and Hudson Randall were penciled in while Karsten Whitson and Jonathon Crawford split duty as the third starter. With Johnson and Randall likely headed to start their professional baseball careers and the bullpen losing its three best, there are plenty of open spots on the 2013 pitching staff.

STARTING ROTATION

There are two pitchers that are close to locks to be in next year's starting rotation.

Jonathon Crawford emerged this season as a trusted arm for Florida. The sophomore started the season as the midweek pitcher but after Karsten Whitson injured his arm during the second weekend of the season, Crawford stepped into the rotation and didn't allow a drop off.

As a starting pitcher, Crawford had a 2.34 ERA during the 2012 season to go with a 7.56 ERA out of the bullpen. He is best when used as a starting pitcher, and that's what he will be in 2013. Some early draft projections have Crawford as a potential first round pick because of his mid-upper 90s fastball and plus slider that gave opponents nightmares.

This is a big offseason for Karsten Whitson. The former No. 9 overall pick of the San Diego Padres had a wasted year in Gainesville with arm injuries holding him back from spending much time on the mound in the early season. He threw just 33.1 innings and had a 3.51 ERA, the fourth highest on the team.

Whitson's velocity was down and his slider wasn't as sharp when he returned from injury. The best way for him to regain both is in low-pressure innings. There weren't many of those in the postseason for the Gators. He'll get that opportunity if he elects to pitch in summer ball or when the Gators start fall practice.

If Whitson's arm doesn't return to form, then his spot in the rotation could be in jeopardy, but most feel confident that he will rebound with an offseason to straighten out his arm and mechanics.

The pitchers listed below will likely battle it out in the fall and

BULLPEN

We'll handle this list alphabetical because there are a lot of arms to go through.

Daniel Gibson had a dominant half season of relief. Through 30 games in the season, his 1.10 ERA was the lowest on the team. He's a power left-handed arm that can get swings and misses. It's a valuable piece of the puzzle, especially for a head coach like Kevin O'Sullivan who greatly values playing matchups late in games.

It'll be interesting to see if he is pigeonholed as a reliever next year or if Gibson gets a shot at the third starter's job. Expect a big year out of him either way, especially with another offseason in the books. After tossing 2.2 shutout innings to close Florida's first win at South Carolina in late March, Gibson was getting a lot of buzz from scouts about the 2013 MLB Draft.

It's hard to project roles this far out from the 2013 season, but I think Ryan Harris projects as a perfect replacement for Greg Larson. It's a lofty expectation to replace a reliever who left Florida with the second most appearances (122) in school history, but Harris is the same type of pitcher.

He threw 16 innings as a freshman with a 3.38 ERA, allowing 12 hits and four walks while striking out 12. His sinker gives hitters fits, and he can get a ground ball when needed.

Keenan Kish didn't see much action in the first month of the season, but he worked his way up after throwing in blowout games and keeping the opposition down. The biggest moment of his season and career came when he recorded the final two outs of the Gainesville Super Regional over North Carolina State to clinch Florida's third straight berth in the College World Series.

The issue for Kish has been his ability to throw strikes. In the second half of the 2012 season, his control was better and earned him more time on the mound. The fastball-slider combination can make him a dominant reliever, but the development of a third pitch could help Kish make a run at a spot in the starting rotation.

John Magliozzi earned some midweek starts throughout the year. If he can take a jump while pitching in the Cape Cod League this summer, Magliozzi could be the third starter. He showed flashes as a freshman of the type of pitcher he can be when his off-speed pitches are working.

Magliozzi is listed generously at 5-10, and his lack of height can sometimes force his fastball to straighten out and get hit. He neutralizes that with his plus changeup that has plenty of depth. He has a big, 12-6 curveball that can create plenty of swings and misses, but Magliozzi struggled with commanding the pitch all year. If he can master it this offseason, he could make a play for a spot in the rotation.

Bobby Poyner came to Gainesville for his freshman year still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, but once the season rolled around, he looked like he never missed time. The left-hander quickly became one of O'Sullivan's favorite because of his ability to throw strikes and locate.

He doesn't blow up the radar gun, but he locates and mixes pitches to be effective. His 3.18 ERA in 22.2 innings as a freshman showed he recovered from the surgery well, and he should be even better in 2013 after being further from the surgery and recovery.

Zack Powers was mentioned in the hitters story as he makes his comeback to get in the lineup, but before his torn labrum surgery, Powers was working out as a side-armed reliever for Florida. We'll see if O'Sullivan elects to try it again or scrap the idea because of the surgery.

Aaron Rhodes didn't see the mound in 2012 because of an injury early in the season. By the time he was healthy, there wasn't time to get him prepared for innings. The Venice High School product can have an impact in 2013. He has a breaking ball described as a "Frisbee," and his fastball has natural sink in the 88-92 mph range. He can carve out a role in the bullpen in 2013.

Justin Shafer was mentioned for his hitting and likely spot in the middle of the order on opening day, but don't forget that he struck out seven hitters in six innings of work early in the season. When Brian Johnson and Austin Maddox were freshmen, O'Sullivan had them focus on one part of the game before expanding their roles as sophomores. Don't be surprised if Shafer does the same and becomes a two-way player in 2013 in some capacity.

There's no reason to predict it this early, but my breakout pitcher in 2013 is Corey Stump. He's got a huge ceiling and a frame that should add muscle this offseason. The comparison for Stump has always been former Florida Gulf Coast ace and current Chicago White Sox starter Chris Sale because of their similar frames and both being from Lakeland.

Stump told me all through high school that he came to Florida because he realized the need for him to gain weight. He's listed at 6-5, 220, but his lanky frame presents an opportunity for him to add weight, and in turn, velocity. O'Sullivan loves developing left-handers. Stump allowed one earned run in four innings of work this season.

The freshman class brings plenty of capable arms to Gainesville when they get on campus at the end of June. Eric Hanhold is the only drafted pitcher coming to Gainesville, but multiple others fell because they told scouts they would prefer to pitch at Florida.

Hanhold was the baseball version of Mr. Irrelevant, as the Philadelphia Phillies took him with the final pick in the 2012 MLB Draft. The right-hander from East Lake High School was a late bloomer.

Hanhold put on 20 pounds before his senior season and watched his velocity jump to the low 90s. Some scouting websites said Hanhold's mechanics in his lower half could be tweaked to produce even more velocity. His fastball was 92-93 mph at the annual Sebring All-Star Classic over Memorial Day weekend. There's a lot of untapped potential in this one.

Jason Carmichael is another right-hander with some room to grow. The Mariner High School graduate touches 92 on the mound with a frame that should fill out in college. He features a curveball and changeup with control of both pitches. Perfect Game ranked him as the 34th best prospect in the state.

There's not a lot of projection in Tucker Simpson's body, and that isn't a bad thing. The 6-7, 220-pounder is a massive physical specimen and touched 94 mph the fall before his senior season but lives in the low 90s with his fastball. Simpson originally committed to Georgia Tech before deciding he didn't want to go to school in a big city. He called O'Sullivan after de-committing and made his decision to play in Gainesville.

Mike Vinson helped Columbus High School finish in second place in Florida for the 8A classification. He entered his start in the state semifinal with an 8-0 record and a 0.88 ERA. Vinson was 88-92 with his fastball during his senior year and comes to Florida with room to fill out.

Parker Danciu comes to Gainesville as a left-hander who knows how to pitch. He touched 89 mph at some showcases at the end of his high school career, but he mostly pitches in the mid-upper 80s with good location. He's 6-4, 200 pounds with a loose arm that some think could add velocity in college.


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